March 7 – It’s National Reading Month

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About the Holiday

In February we show our love with valentines, candy, and flowers. How can we continue to prove our love through the month of March? With books! National Reading Month is the perfect time to say “I love you,” by buying your family members and/or friends a special book they’ll cherish. Reading with your kids also gives you time to relax, giggle, talk, and enjoy some precious moments together. Why not start with today’s book, which is all about family love! 

I’d like to thank Tammi Sauer for sharing a copy of Lovebird Lou with me for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

Lovebird Lou

Written by Tammi Sauer | Illustrated by Stephanie Laberis

 

“Lou came from a long line of lovebirds.” His relatives all loved sharing the love, and Lou loved being a lovebird “until his flock visited the other side of the island.” There he saw pelicans who could fly in figure eights, flamingos who could stand on one leg, and nightingales who sang beautiful songs. Lou looked at his ordinary family and decided he wanted to be a pelican.

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Image copyright Stephanie Laberis, 2022, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2022. Courtesy of Union Square Kids.

Not wanting to quash his dreams, his mom said, “‘Okay, cupcake.'” Lou took off from the branch and flew through the air, doing intricate patterns just like the pelicans. His family members were all supportive. “‘We love you, Lou!'” they shouted, and when Lou bonked into a tree, his mom and dad caught him before he fell.

Lou thought maybe he’d make a better flamingo, so he joined the big pink birds in the shallow water and adopted the pose while his family cheered him on. “‘We love you, Lou!'” they all squawked. He was doing great until he lost his footing and splashed down. His parents were right there to dry him off and encourage his next dream to become a nightingale.

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Image copyright Stephanie Laberis, 2022, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2022. Courtesy of Union Square Kids.

When Lou joined the ethereal chorus, he opened his beak and… well… his family members were his only fans. Back with his parents, Lou was disappointed that he couldn’t be a pelican, flamingo, or nightingale. “‘Maybe I’ll just be a rock.'” Lou said. His parents were all in and they even found a perfect place for him to sit and made him a “#1 Rock” sign to accompany him.

All day, Lou excelled at sitting in his spot until darkness and then rain fell. Lou was downhearted, wet, and scared. Lou knew the pelicans, flamingos, and nightingales couldn’t help him. He hurried his tail feathers back to his lovebird family, who welcomed him with lots of reassurances and “‘We love you, Lou!'” “‘I love you too!’ said Lou.”

The pelicans, flamingos, and nightingales thought that was so sweet. In fact, the next day they all shared their love in their own way too. As for Lou, he now understood that “lovebirds were good at the most important thing of all.”

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Image copyright Stephanie Laberis, 2022, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2022. Courtesy of Union Square Kids.

Tammi Sauer’s sweet story shows kids that every family has their own traditions and talents that are just right for them. When Lou is dazzled by the pelicans, flamingos, and nightingales – who all seem more exciting than his one-note family – and wants to emulate them, his parents’ hilarious support of his endeavors are spot on and will make both kids and adults laugh with recognition. Sauer’s quick pace, silly endearments, and frequent choruses of “‘We love you, Lou!'” will have kids wanting to hear the story over and over to chime in on each expression of love.

Stephanie Laberis’s vibrant lovebirds – first introduced in pairs of cuddly closeness and with Lou sandwiched between mom and dad – are charming and, in one funny image, look comically clueless as they watch the other birds demonstrate their special abilities. Little Lou is adorable as he tries his best to keep up with the other birds, tumbling with the pelicans, balancing with the much bigger flamingos, and scaring the nightingales with his raucous squawk. Despite his setbacks, Lou is always ready to try again, which makes both his dejected and his hopeful expressions touching. And hearts will be full when Lou – and the other birds – learn that all-important lesson about love.

A humorous and moving book about family togetherness, Lovebird Lou will be a well-loved addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 8

Union Square Kids, 2022 | ISBN 978-1454941880

Discover more about Tammi Sauer and her books on her website.

To learn more about Stephanie Laberis, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Reading Month Activity

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Lovebirds Coloring Page

 

Get cozy with your loved ones and color these adorable lovebirds!

Lovebirds Coloring Page

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You can find Lovebird Lou at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

February 17 – It’s Black History Month

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About the Holiday

Black History Month celebrates the achievements and contributions of African Americans in United States History. Originally a week-long observance initiated by writer and educator Dr. Carter G. Woodson in1926 and occurring during the second week in February to commemorate the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, Black History Month was officially established in 1976 by then president Gerald Ford. The holiday is now celebrated across the country with special events in schools, churches, and community centers.

The theme for 2022 is “Black Health and Wellness” and focuses on the legacy of not only Black scholars and medical practitioners in Western medicine, but also on alternate ways of practicing medicine throughout the African Diaspora. The 2022 theme considers activities, rituals, and initiatives that Black communities engage in to live healthy lives.

To learn more about Black History Month, find information on this year’s events, access resources for more research, and find content for teachers, visit the BlackHistoryMonth.gov

The Faith of Elijah Cummings: The North Star of Equal Justice

Written by Carole Boston Weatherford | Illustrated by Laura Freeman

During the summer of 1962, when Elijah Cummings was eleven years old, he and other African American children marched for the integration of a Baltimore city pool. They were met with a white mob who shouted at them to “‘Go back where you came from!'” and threw rocks and bottles at them. This protest, organized by civil rights lawyer Juanita Jackson Mitchell, inspired Elijah to consider becoming a lawyer also.

Elijah’s parents had moved to Maryland from South Carolina in the 1940s, where they had worked the land where their parents had once been enslaved and where “Blacks were beaten for seeking voting rights. Elijah, his parents, and his six siblings lived in a four-room row house, where his mother and father – having only a fourth-grade education – stressed the importance of schooling. But for inquisitive Elijah, the nuts and bolts of reading and writing were elusive. Because of the cramped conditions at home, Elijah took to studying at the library, where the librarians tutored him after their shifts and made it possible for Elijah to succeed.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2022, text copyright Carole Boston Weatherford, 2022. Courtesy of Random House Studio.

Through hard work, scrimping, and saving, Elijah’s parents were able to buy a house with more room and a yard. Here, Elijah’s mother became a preacher and grew her small group of women who met in their home’s basement into a small church, the Victory Prayer Chapel. In addition to leading services, Elijah’s mother lived what she believed by helping those in need. Elijah’s father inspired him to become all that he could be. 

Even as a young boy, Elijah worked hard and, on Sundays after church, he listened to Rev. Martin Luther King’s speeches by transistor radio. He watched as African American boys were put into reform school, and he vowed to become a lawyer, but his high school guidance counselor tried to dissuade him. With the help of his parents and the pharmacist at the drug store where he worked, Elijah attended Howard University, where he was a standout student and leader. He became a lawyer and in 1983 was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2022, text copyright Carole Boston Weatherford, 2022. Courtesy of Random House Studio.

“In 1996, Elijah Cummings was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives,” and later became the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. “He spoke out to ensure that everyone was treated fairly and equally.” Even though he was a leader in Washington DC, Elijah continued to live in his inner-city Baltimore neighborhood, and during the protests against police brutality in 2015, he appealed for calm as he walked “with residents singing an African American spiritual: ‘This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.'” Before his death in 2019, Elijah Cummings was named chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, where, as he had for his entire career, he advocated for change now and for the future our children will inherit.

Quotes by Elijah Cummings on his inspirations, work, and beliefs included throughout the story allow readers to hear in Cummings’ own words his passion and dedication to creating a more equitable and caring America for all. 

A Foreword reprints remarks given by Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi at Elijah Cummings’ funeral on October 25, 2019. Back matter includes an excerpt of the statement from the Congressional Black Caucus upon Cummings’ death on October 17, a Timeline of his life and work, a Bibliography, and Source Notes for the Cummings’ quotes found throughout the story.

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Image copyright Laura Freeman, 2022, text copyright Carole Boston Weatherford, 2022. Courtesy of Random House Studio.

Carole Boston Weatherford’s moving biography of Elijah Cummings highlights the strong and supportive family unit that inspired and sustained Elijah as he grew from a thoughtful and hardworking boy into an empathetic and influential leader. Her focus on formative events in Cummings’ life depict how early experiences often shape the person children become while continuing to inform their opinions, beliefs, and occupations. Through his own words, Weatherford reveals Cummings’ commitment to the children who will read this biography as well as to all young people who will benefit from and carry on his work.

In her rich and expressive illustrations, Laura Freeman recreates pivotal events, touching examples of the Cummings’ family solidarity, and community-based actions inspired by the family’s religious faith to paint a portrait of Elijah’s youth and young adulthood. As he rises to the highest levels within the US Congress, while never losing touch with the neighborhood and people he loved, Freeman’s striking images will entice readers to learn more about Elijah Cummings’ legislative legacy and the workings of Congress and to, perhaps, become involved in their own community.

A masterful biography of Elijah Cummings that deftly interweaves the internal and external influences of his youth with their lifelong effects on his principles, his work, and his lasting influence, The Faith of Elijah Cummings is highly recommended for home bookshelves and a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 6 – 9 

Random House Studio, 2022 | ISBN 978-0593306505

Discover more about Carole Boston Weatherford and her books on her website.

To learn more about Laura Freeman, her books, and her art, visit her website.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-faith-of-elijah-cummings-cover

You can find The Faith of Elijah Cummings at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

February 3 – Celebrating the Lunar New Year

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About the Holiday

The Lunar New Year began on February 1—ushering in the Year of the Tiger, which is known for bravery, wisdom, and leadership—and celebrations take place until February 15. Also known as the Chinese New Year and, in China, as the Spring Festival, the New Year is a time for festivities that include lion and dragon dances, fireworks, visiting friends and relatives, family meals, and special decorations. The Lunar New Year is the busiest travel season of the year as family members return home to spend the holiday with loved ones. Lunar New Year celebrations end each year with the Lantern Festival. To learn more about the history of the Lunar New Year, how to celebrate, and the signs of the zodiac, click here.

Amah Faraway

Written by Margaret Chiu Greanias | Illustrated by Tracy Subisak

 

Walking through the airport, Kylie’s stomach was full of butterflies. She and her mom were about to get on a plane from their home in San Francisco to visit Kylie’s Amah in Taiwan. Kylie’s mother was excited – and trying to get Kylie excited too. “We can…eat yummy new foods. We can… go to pretty new places. We can…have an adventure! And, we get to see Amah. It’ll be so fun.”

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Image copyright Tracy Subisak, 2022, text copyright Margaret Chiu Greanias, 2022. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Kylie connected with Amah every Saturday on the computer, and Amah told stories, sand songs, and showed Kylie snacks. She always spoke simple and slowly. But thinking about actually seeing Amah again, “Kylie jittered and jiggled in her seat.” She wished they didn’t have to go so far away, but when they got to the airport in Taiwan, Amah was waiting and holding a sign with Kylie’s name on it.

Kylie was excited to see her, but, still, she stayed close to Mama. When Amah talked she kind of understood, and when they got to “Amah’s apartment, everything seemed strange.” Except the faces in the photographs “were happily familiar.” Kylie got to meet her aunts, uncles, and cousins at a banquet just for her and Mama. There were ten, twelve-person tables full of family “(actual…or not?)” and food, but Kylie ate only the rice.

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Image copyright Tracy Subisak, 2022, text copyright Margaret Chiu Greanias, 2022. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Amah showed Kylie Taipei – “the city she loved” – and treated them to her favorite Chinese donuts, yóutiáo. They were different than the ones Kylie ate – “no frosting,  no filling, no CHOCOLATE.” At the park, Amah played like a child. “Lái wán,” she said. “Come play!” And they went to the night market. “Everywhere they went, Kylie trailed behind Amah and Mama.” Until the day they visited the hot springs.

Kylie dipped her toe in the warm water. It was so inviting, and Amah beckoned to her from the pool. “Kylie loved splashing,” and she jumped in. Suddenly, “it was a brand-new day.” Now Kylie led Amah and Mama through the night market, she shouted for them to play at the park, and she loved the Chinese donuts. She saw all the beauty in Taipei and enjoyed all of the food at another family “(actual or not)” banquet.

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Image copyright Tracy Subisak, 2022, text copyright Margaret Chiu Greanias, 2022. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

As Kylie and Mama got ready to go home, Amah’s apartment looked strange with their folded clothes and suitcases out. At the airport, “Kylie held tight to Amah” and asked why they had to go. Back home, Kylie and Amah resumed their Saturday video chats. Now Kyle spoke “simply and slowly,” showed Amah snacks, sang songs, and told stories. While they didn’t get to see each other in person often, a day did come when Kylie and Mama happily returned to the San Francisco airport – to welcome Amah for a visit!

Back matter includes notes from Margaret Chiu Greanias and Tracy Subisak about their relationships with their grandmothers who, like Kylie’s amah, lived in Taiwan; a discussion about the structure of the story; and short descriptions of the Taipei sights Kylie visits in the story as well as the meanings of certain Taiwanese foods.

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Image copyright Tracy Subisak, 2022, text copyright Margaret Chiu Greanias, 2022. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

In her heartwarming story, Margaret Chiu Greanias realistically depicts the emotions children often feel when visiting relatives after a long absence or in new surroundings. Her mirrored storytelling effectively demonstrates how, often, one familiar event can open children’s eyes to common bonds and traditions that help families bridge long distances and to help them appreciate cultural differences while developing strong relationships despite their separation. Speech bubbles incorporating Taiwanese and English, and also written with traditional Chinese characters, can teach nonChinese-speaking kids some simple words and will be a welcome addition for those children who do speak Chinese or Taiwanese.

Tracy Subisak’s mixed media illustrations create absorbing snapshots of Kylie’s interactions with Amah both at home in San Francisco and in Teipei. Rich colors and charming abstract depictions of the landmarks the family visits invite kids to linger over each page spread. More detailed and realistic portrayals of the family banquet, the donut shop, and the hot springs accentuate these places where Kylie and Amah share a bond over food and friendship. The mirror theme of the story is effectively portrayed throughout the story as in the first pages Kylie is led by Amah through the city while after the visit to the hot springs, Kylie does the leading. The weekly video chats also give readers a chance to see the growth of their relationship and how similar this grandmother and grandchild are.

A lovely and loving story for those with family faraway or nearby, Amah Faraway is highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 7

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2022 | ISBN 978-1547607211

Discover more about Margaret Chiu Greanias and her books on her website

To learn more about Tracy Subisak, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Celebrating the Lunar New Year Activity

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Year of the Tiger Coloring Page

 

Celebrate the Lunar New Year and the Year of the Tiger with this printable coloring sheet!

Year of the Tiger Coloring Sheet

 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-amah-faraway-cover

You can find Amah Faraway at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

January 6 – Blog Tour Stop for My Grandma’s Photos

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My Grandma’s Photos

Written by Özge Bahar Sunar | Illustrated by Senta Urgan | Translated by Amy Marie Spangler

 

Ali and his mother are visiting his grandmother, who cannot see or hear very well anymore and often does not recognize Ali or his sister. Today, they have brought old black-and-white photographs to share, but Grandma doesn’t look at them, instead falling asleep as she holds them. Overcome with emotion, Ali’s mother leaves the room, but Ali stays. When Grandma awakens, she notices the photos in her hand and asks if they are of one of Ali’s friends.

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Image copyright Senta Urgan, 2022, text copyright Özge Bahar Sunar, 2022; translation Amy Marie Spangler, 2022. Courtesy of Amazon Crossing Kids.

At first Ali doesn’t recognize the person in the picture, but then he notices a beauty mark on the person’s cheek and realizes that it’s a photo of his grandma when she was a young girl. When he tells her, his grandma suddenly remembers the day it was taken and the garden in which it was taken. She begins to look at the other photographs and recognizes a family picnic and her wedding day. Suddenly, Ali’s grandma becomes very animated and invites him to see her world.

“At that moment I felt as if I were being pulled into the photo,” Ali says. “Together with Grandma, I traveled into the past.” Ali sees his grandma as a child his own age, climbing a tree and leaping from branch to branch. When Ali joins her, his grandma whispers to him, ‘”It can’t really be taught with words. You have to find yourself a tree and climb it every day.'”

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Image copyright Senta Urgan, 2022, text copyright Özge Bahar Sunar, 2022; translation Amy Marie Spangler, 2022. Courtesy of Amazon Crossing Kids.

Grandma jumps down and runs into another photo with Ali right behind her. Here, Grandma is a teenager riding a ferry, feeding seagulls, and dreaming of her future. Another photo takes them to the shop where she worked as a master seamstress. “A young woman tried on the skit Grandma had made for her. She twirled and laughed, and said she loved it. Grandma’s face beamed proudly, and mine did too,” Ali says.

The last photograph takes them to Grandma’s wedding. ‘”Let me show you how much you look like your grandpa,'” Ali’s grandma tells him. Grandma is wearing a “gorgeous wedding gown she’d made herself” and Grandpa looked so handsome as they dance together. At last, Ali’s grandma tells him it’s time for him to go home. When Ali asks if she’s coming too, she replies that she’s happy there. “‘I’m going to dance with y our grandpa a little longer. … Your grandpa and I have been apart for such a long time, you know.'”

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Image copyright Senta Urgan, 2022, text copyright Özge Bahar Sunar, 2022; translation Amy Marie Spangler, 2022. Courtesy of Amazon Crossing Kids.

Ali protests and says he wants to stay there with her, but Grandma tells him that he must go “‘to collect memories and photos of your own.'” She reminds him that if he misses her, she will always be there in the photos and that she “‘won’t forget anyone or anything ever again.'” Tears spring to Ali’s eyes. He hugs and kisses his grandma one last time. When he opened his eyes, Ali was back in the present. Now his family has hung most of Grandma’s photographs on the walls of Ali’s room. “Whenever I miss her,” he says, “I look at her photos. I’m sure she’s still there, at peace, dancing away….”

Note: While the male pronoun is used on the book’s jacket flap and in this review, the story contains no pronouns associated with Ali and the illustrations depict a child with short hair and wearing overalls.

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Image copyright Senta Urgan, 2022, text copyright Özge Bahar Sunar, 2022; translation Amy Marie Spangler, 2022. Courtesy of Amazon Crossing Kids.

Özge Bahar Sunar’s beautiful tribute to the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren, first published in Turkey, offers an emotional bond between generations as Ali joins his grandma in formative moments during her life and discovers that they share many of the same experiences and dreams. Readers will be captivated by Sunar’s conversational storytelling and empathize with Ali’s gentle acceptance of his grandma’s failing memory.

As Ali’s recognition of his grandmother as a young girl in one of the photos and her recollection of the picnic it portrays leads to a magical trip back in time, readers will likewise become interested in learning more about their own grandparents and other relatives. For Ali and readers, his grandma’s passing takes place in the world of the photographs as Grandma chooses to remain dancing with her husband. Ali’s sweet and comforting hugs and final kiss for his grandmother before returning to the present reassures children that the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren continue endlessly through time.

Senta Urgan’s wispy pastel pencil illustrations, sprinkled with collage fabrics and sewing items, flowers, coins, and other elements as well as photographs of the author’s and illustrator’s families combine to create a moving, dreamlike feel that immerses readers in the story’s enchanting travel through time. As Ali’s grandma tells him that he must go while she stays behind, she is shown in a loving embrace with her husband on their wedding day, reinforcing the idea that for her, death is a comforting coming home to a place where she will be forever young. Flowers, vines, and trees that surround and support the characters create a motif that death is a natural part of life and that one’s love for another nurtures and grows.

A beautiful and tender way to talk about the life and death of a grandparent, family member, or beloved friend, My Grandma’s Photos is highly recommended for home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 5 – 8

Amazon Crossing Kids, 2022 | ISBN 978-1542031158

Özge Bahar Sunar is a former teacher turned children’s author. She has written multiple picture books, including the bestselling The Hedgehog and the Exhibit, illustrated by Ceyhun Şen, which was translated into seven languages. Sunar lives with her two children in Antalya, Turkey, where she loves to think up new stories while hiking in the wild. You can find her on Instagram @ozgebaharsnr.

Senta Urgan is a graduate of Mimar Sinan University, where she studied sculpture. Since 2010 she has been illustrating books for children, including picture books and novels, and also works as a graphic designer. She is the founder of the brand Mala Hermana Handmade, where she exhibits her illustrations and ceramic art. You can connect with her Instagram @toporulkesindekikes.

Amy Marie Spangler is a cofounder of Istanbul-based AnatoliaLit Agency, and a commercial and literary translator with numerous books and short stories to her credit. You can connect with Amy on Twitter @Amy_Spangler.

Thank you to Amazon Crossing Kids and Blue Slip Media for sharing a copy of My Grandma’s Photos with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

My Grandma’s Photos Blog Tour Activity

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Spool Photo Holder

 

With this easy craft you can make a personalized photo holder for your favorite pictures of friends and family!

Supplies

  • Wooden spool with hole through the middle, top to bottom. (A spool without a hole also works if you make a hole in the top with a hammer and nail), 1 ½ -inch or larger, available at craft stores
  • Colorful twine or light-gauge yarn, 3 to 4 yards
  • Alternatively: you can buy a wooden spool of colorful twine at some discount stores
  • 3 pieces of light-gauge wire 12 to 15-inches long
  • Clay or play dough
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Glue

Directions

  1. Fill hole in spool with clay or play dough, pushing it well in to provide a base for the wire
  2. If using your own twine or yarn: wrap the twine or yarn around the spool to desired thickness and glue the end down to keep it from unraveling
  3. With the needle-nose pliers, roll one end of each wire to create a small coil
  4. Cut the three wires to different lengths to provide room for all three photographs
  5. Fit wires into the center hole on the top of the spool and push them into the clay until they are secure
  6. Clip photographs into the coils

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-my-grandma's-photos-cover

You can find My Grandma’s Photos at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 22 – National Cookie Exchange Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday got its start during the Middle Ages, when spices and dried fruit were becoming popular additions to baked goods. These ingredients were expensive, however, and most families could only afford to bake cookies at the holidays. To celebrate, they held parties to share and appreciate these delicious treats. This tradition lives on in today’s cookie exchanges. To celebrate, organize your own cookie exchange or simply share your favorite cookies with your friends and family members.

Christmas Cookie Day!

Written by Tara Knudson | Illustrated by Pauline Siewert

 

Mama bear and her little bear get ready for one of the most fun days of the year. “Cooke day, / Time to bake. / Aprons on, / Lots to make!” The little one cracks an egg into the bowl while the butter, flour, and sugar wait their turn. Mom pours warm melted butter and lets her little bear stir it into dough.

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Image copyright Pauline Siewert, 2018, text copyright Tara Knudson, 2018. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

With the dough rolled smooth, it’s time to use the cookie cutters to make…”Christmas tree, / Reindeer, bell. / Snowman, star, / Cookie smell.” The pair add angels, candy canes, and drummer boys before sliding the tray into the oven and watching them bake. At last the timer rings but they still must wait. Finally “ready, set… / Decorate!”

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Image copyright Pauline Siewert, 2018, text copyright Tara Knudson, 2018. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

It’s so much fun spreading the frosting and shaking out sprinkles to create green trees, yellow stars, and red-and-white striped candy canes. Even the bakers can’t resist nibbling a few. But not too many, because these are special “cookie gifts. / Made with care. / Pack them up, / Cooke share!” It’s time to invite friends and family for a yearly treat—“Christmastime, / Spirits bright. / Family hugs, / Cookie night.”

A delectable Christmas Cookie Day Recipe follows the story for all little bakers to try.

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Image copyright Pauline Siewert, 2018, text copyright Tara Knudson, 2018. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

Tara Knudson’s jaunty rhyming story captures all the giddy anticipation and fun of a day baking Christmas cookies. Short, lively verses follow Mom and her cub step-by-step as they make and decorate special treats for their annual cookie party and invite little ones to join in on repeat readings. Knudson delights in the enjoyment Mom and her little one feel during their day of baking and goes on to celebrate the deeper meaning and joy of Christmas as the two wrap up their cookies and give them to family and friends.

With tender smiles for each other, Pauline Siewert’s Mama bear and her cub spend a snowy day baking cookies in their cozy kitchen accompanied by a helpful mouse. Siewert’s vibrant colors mirror the cheerful companionship mother and child share on this much-loved day, and her engaging details, like a dusting of flour on the cub’s nose, will charm children. A double-spread scattering of the cookies the two make give little ones a chance to show their knowledge of shapes and Christmastime figures. The heartwarming final scene of the cookie party might just inspire a party of your own. Little ones will also be enchanted by the sparkly cover that opens this adorable book.

The absence of personal pronouns and a red apron for the little cub make Christmas Cookie Day! gender neutral.

A sweet story to spark a fun family tradition and share the joy of giving, Christmas Cookie Day! makes an endearing addition to a child’s home library.

Ages 2 – 6

Zonderkidz, 2018 | ISBN 978-0310762898

Discover more about Tara Knudson, her books, and her other writing for children on her website.

You can connect with Pauline Siewert on Instagram.

Meet Tara Knudson

CPB - Tara Knudson Interview - head shot

I’m excited to be talking today with Tara Knudson about her sweet book, her favorite cookie, and how being a teacher inspires her work.

Christmas Cookie Day has such a joyous feeling. Do you have any special memories of baking with your family when you were a child?  What is your favorite kind of cookie?

I’m so glad that you think CHRISTMAS COOKIE DAY has such a joyous feeling! The story evokes happy memories of baking Christmas cookies with my mom and sisters when I was a child. I remember gathering the cookie cutters from the cabinet, excited to get started! We all stood around the kitchen table and decorated our cookies with sprinkles, frosting, and candy pieces. It was so fun!

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While I do enjoy eating Christmas sugar cookies, my favorite kind of cookie is chocolate chip, especially ones with dark chocolate chips and a little salt. Yum!

As a regular contributor to children’s magazines like Highlights Hello, Highlights High Five, Baby Bug, and Ladybug, you write stories and poetry for the youngest readers, what do you like about writing for this age? What are a few of the most important ingredients in stories for little ones?

I love writing for little ones because they are so curious about everything in the world around them—sights, smells, sounds, tastes, new experiences, and people. They take it all in as they learn, develop, and grow. I like to be a part of that.

My poems and stories for this age group often include short and simple sentences with some fun words added that young readers may not be familiar with.

You’ve said that you loved to write even as a child. Can you describe your journey to becoming a published writer?

My journey as a writer has been a long one. I still have my creative writing stories from second grade. Reading them now makes me laugh! Growing up, the stories were always special to me, but I did not know yet that I wanted to be a writer.

CPB - Tara Knudson Interview - school writing folder

I started writing poetry when I was in high school. As I dealt with the problems and frustrations that adolescence can bring, I often wrote poems to express my feelings. After college, I became a Spanish teacher and I often used children’s picture books in the          classroom. I would spend hours at bookstores searching for favorite ones. It was during that time that I fell in love with picture books and decided that I wanted to write them.

In pursuit of my goal, I won a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship that allowed me to take a break from my teaching job and live in Barcelona, Spain for a year and experiment with writing for children. I wrote many poems and rhyming stories for children. I continued to write after my return to the U.S. As years passed, I sold articles and poems to children’s magazines and continued to work on my picture book manuscripts as I worked as a teacher and later took care of my two sons. Finally, I signed with an agent who helped me sell my first book.

Can you talk a little about your work as a teacher? How do your experiences influence your work?

My teaching background is unique because I have taught different subjects to students of many ages. I started my teaching career as a high school Spanish teacher. Then, while in Barcelona, I taught English to middle school students. Upon my return to the U.S., I taught Spanish to grades K-2 and then math to grades 1-4. 

Whichever subject I teach, and to whichever grade level, there is always something for me to gain as a writer when I work with students. Whether it be from something that happens in the classroom or something that a student says that sparks a writing idea, being around children gets my creative juices flowing! I hope to get back in the classroom soon.

What’s up next for you?

My next book, EASTER EGG DAY, will be released in February, 2020. Also, I’m happy to announce that a third book in my holiday board book series will follow. I will share details about that book soon. I have plenty of non-holiday projects as well that I hope will make their way into the world in the near future.

What’s your favorite holiday?

My favorite holiday is Christmas. I love the excitement that leads up to it, the beautiful decorations, the spirit of giving, and the true meaning of the season. It’s such a magical and joyous time for people of all ages filled with traditions and love. I’m so happy that CHRISTMAS COOKIE DAY can be a part of it all!

CPB - Tara Knudson Interview - making cookies

Thanks so much for chatting with me, Tara! I wish you a wonderful holiday and much success with all of your writing!

You can connect with Tara Knudson on

Her website | Instagram | Twitter  

National Cookie Exchange Day Activity

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Gingerbread Kids Ornaments

 

All cookies don’t have to be edible! With this easy craft children can make gingerbread kid ornaments to decorate your tree or windows or to give to family and friends!

Supplies

  • Printable Gingerbread Girl and Boy Template
  • 2 Brown foam sheets
  • White paint (or any color you like)
  • Glitter in two colors
  • Paint brush
  • 2 Small heart buttons (optional)
  • Mounting squares (for mounting)
  • Thread  and needle (for optional hanging)

Directions

  1. Trace gingerbread kid templates on brown foam sheets and cut out
  2. Paint around the edges with the white paint then add trim to the edge of the dress and the top of the socks 
  3. Add buttons
  4. Add faces
  5. Paint the hands of each figure then sprinkle glitter over the wet paint to make mittens
  6. To use as decoration, attach mountable squares. To use as an ornament, use a threaded needle to make a hole in the top of each figure and tie the thread to create a hanger.

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You can find Christmas Cookie Day at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 21 – National Flashlight Day

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About the Holiday

The founders of Flashlight Day chose the Winter Solstice to shine a little more light on today’s celebrated object. As today is the winter solstice and the shortest of the year, you may find that a flashlight comes in handy during that extra bit of darkness. If you’re wondering about the history of the flashlight, it all goes back to the invention of the dry-cell battery in 1887. These portable power sources inspired new products, such as the flashlight or torch (as it’s called outside of North America), which was invented in 1899. So indispensable is the flashlight, that it is even incorporated into our phones! To celebrate today’s holiday, why not turn off the lights tonight and tell stories, play games, or go exploring illuminated only by your flashlight!

Flashlight Night

Written by Matt Forrest Esenwine | Illustrated by Fred Koehler

 

Three brave explorers—a boy, a girl, and a little brother—set out from their tree house at night armed only with their flashlight. In the golden beam, the picket fence turns dilapidated and overgrown as it weaves in and out among the gnarled trunks of a dense forest. The children follow “past old post and rail / along a long-forgotten trail / into woods no others dare, / for fear of what is waiting there.” Soon, they find a crawlspace under the deck of their house and venture in. They can hear the sound of rushing water and the yowl of a big cat. Before joining his friend and her little brother, the boy shines his flashlight around the yard, illuminating a wild waterfall and a tiger on the prowl where a tabby had dozed just minutes ago.

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Image copyright Fred Koehler, 2017, text copyright Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2017. Courtesy of mattforrest.com.

The three friends crawl deep into the dusty crevices of the tunnel, where the flashlight shows them bones and lost treasures of ancient Egypt “as inky shadows rise and fall, / dancing… / to no sound at all.” They come to “a peculiar door that opens to… / a foreign shore.” From the pool stairs they step into a rubber boat and sail across the sea to the pirate ship dead ahead in the circle of light. A parrot swoops low and a kraken reaches its writhing tentacles from the roiling waves just as the treasure chest is found.

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Image copyright Fred Koehler, 2017, text copyright Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2017. Courtesy of mattforrest.com.

With the ship engulfed and sinking, the stream of light from the “shows a stealthy way to flee—….” The three kids run across the sandy beach and around the umbrella palm then scramble up a steep slope. But the angry pirate, brandishing his sword, is looking for his treasure; the kraken has scaled the wall and nabbed the girl; and the tiger approaches with a hungry look in its eyes.

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Image copyright Fred Koehler, 2017, text copyright Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2017. Courtesy of mattforrest.com.

Quickly, the older boy swings himself onto the ramparts of an old stone castle and reaches for the outstretched hand of his friend as she dangles upside down in the kraken’s arm. Her brother distracts the beast with his teddy bear, which transforms into a mighty grizzly that scares off the tiger, the pirate, and the astonished kraken. The littlest explorer is hailed as a hero as he is lifted through the window to safety.

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Image copyright Fred Koehler, 2017, text copyright Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2017. Courtesy of mattforrest.com.

Happily back in the tree house, the three snuggle under a blanket, reading 20,000 Leagues under the Sea while flanked by stacks of the classics, including Around the World in 80 Days, Treasure Island, and Mysteries of Egypt. And even though “weary eyes fight off the sleep, / adventure lingers, stirs about— / “until a voice says, ‘Shhh…lights out.’”

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Image copyright Fred Koehler, 2017, text copyright Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2017. Courtesy of mattforrest.com.

Flashlight Night is that perfect combination of text and illustrations that creates a reading experience that immerses a reader in an alternate world. Matt Forrest Esenwine’s rhyming story entrances with an atmosphere of mystery and intrigue created with language that sets the imagination racing—inky shadows, time-forgotten tomb, slyly sneak, and craggy mountainside is just the beginning.

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Image copyright Fred Koehler, 2017, text copyright Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2017. Courtesy of mattforrest.com.

Accompanying this beguiling narration are Fred Koehler’s masterful, dual-duty illustrations. Outside of the flashlight’s beam, charcoal-colored images depict the reality of the children’s yard and treehouse. Inside the beam, the children’s imaginary game is fully illuminated. At the sharp edges between the two, reality and imagination blend together as seamlessly as children traverses both worlds. Under the deck, a forgotten baseball meshes with the rounded body of Egyptian pottery, the wall of the deck morphs into a rocky cliff, the stern of the rubber raft gives way to a wooden dinghy, and the top of the treehouse stretches to become the ledge on a castle.

The classic stories the children read in their tree house inform the friends’ nighttime jaunt and come to life in Koehler’s engrossing illustrations that are themselves scavenger hunts for small details, foreshadowing clues, bits of humor, and literary allusions.

Flashlight Night is a beautiful tribute to adventure classics. It is a fantastic book to cuddle up with for cozy bedtime reading (flashlight highly recommended), to take along for campfire storytelling, or to spark imaginary play. Flashlight Night would be a great gift and welcome addition to any child’s home bookshelf or classroom library.

Ages 4 – 8

Boyds Mill’s Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-1629794938

Discover more about Matt Forrest Esenwine and his books on his website.

To learn more about Fred Koehler, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Flashlight Day Activity

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Flashlight Fun Maze

 

Three friends want to do a little nighttime reading. Can you help the glow of the flashlight reach them so they can enjoy their favorite book in this printable Flashlight Fun Maze? Here’s the Solution.

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You can find Flashlight Night at these booksellers

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

YouPicture Book Review

December 20 – Get Ready to Celebrate New Year’s Eve

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About the Holiday

As we get ready to celebrate New Year’s Eve and the beginning of a new year, adults and kids often look for opportunities to reflect and grow while sharing the traditions that keep our families and friendships strong. Today’s book embraces all three of these parts of New Year’s Eve and is a reassuring and uplifting read aloud for the holiday and throughout the year.

Thanks to Albert Whitman & Company for sharing a copy of Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela!

Written by Alexandra Alessandri | Illustrated by Addy Rivera Sonda

 

Ava Gabriela and her mamá and papa were visiting her grandmother’s farm for the New Years holiday. Her aunts, uncles and cousins were there too, but she had never met her tías and tíos or primas and primos before, and they “didn’t feel like familia yet.” When her mother prompted her to say hola, Ava Gabriela nervously opened her mouth, but no words came out. And when Abuelita asked if a mouse had nibbled her tongue, Ava hid behind Mamá. But then Tía Nena approached with her hand extended and asked, “‘Want to help us make buñuelos?’ Ava hesitated. But the fried cheesy fritters were her favorite.” Ava took Tía Nena’s hand and went into the kitchen.

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Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

There she found her cousins Sarita and Javier. Together they made the dough. As Tía Nena rolled it out, Sarita and Javier laughed and talked, but Ava watched silently. Even when Tía Nena sprinkled flour in her hair, Ava couldn’t call for a food fight like she wanted to but only giggled. After the buñuelos were finished, Ava’s cousins ran outside. Ava wanted to call after them to wait, “but her voice hid like a mouse in its hole” so Ava explored the farm by herself. When she found her mamá talking with Abuelita, she quietly asked her why she was so shy. Mamá reassured her that when she was ready, her voice would “come out and play.” After a hug, Ava felt a little better.

In another part of the house, Ava found her primo Pedro blowing up balloons for “el Año Viejo,” the balloon doll they would pop when the old year turned into a new year. When Pedro asked if she’d like to help, her words stuck in her throat again, but Pedro invited her to build the Año Viejo while he blew up balloons. When the doll’s clothes were all stuffed, Pedro handed Ava the marker to add the face. In her heart she was saying thank you, and then she realized that “she could say thank you. ‘Gracias,’” she said. “The word was whispery soft but tasted sweet like dulce de leche.”

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Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

The next morning, when Ava saw Mamá and Abuelita filling cups with twelve grapes that would bring good luck in the new year, Ava “plucked one and said a silent wish: Please let me not be shy today.” Then she ran outside. This time when her tía and Pedro talked to her, she answered back, but when Tío Mario called out, her voice disappeared again. Soon it was time to change for the celebration. Outside, lanterns twinkled and the table was spread with delicious food. While everyone else talked and played, Ava sat next to the Año Viejo. “Don’t you want to play? It seemed to ask.”

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Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Just then fireworks burst across the sky. Ava ran out into the yard. Her cousins came out too and asked if she’d like to play tag. Once again she knew she could and would say yes. “With her heart galloping, Ava blurted, ‘Sí.’ Her cousins cheered.” As she ran off with her primos, Ava felt feliz. When midnight came, Ava helped pop the Año Viejo and joined in as they all called out “‘¡Feliz Año Nuevo!’”

In an Author’s Note, Alexandra Alessandri reveals more about the Christmas season, which is celebrated from December 7 through January 6, in her native Columbia and across Latin America and the Caribbean. She describes the food, music, traditions, and superstitions associated with New Year’s Eve and talks about the significance of the Año Viejo. A glossary of words and phrases used in the story is also provided in the back matter.

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Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Alexandra Alessandri’s lovely story organically combines Spanish and English to create a smoothly flowing story that brings to life the Columbian traditions of New Years and el Año Viejo while acknowledging how big gatherings of family and friends can be intimidating for some children. Through beautiful, lyrical language that incorporates imagery from Spanish idioms, food, animals, and musical instruments, Alessandri portrays a realistic picture of the emotions shyness can cause in children – and adults. Readers will be charmed by sweet and thoughtful Ava Gabriela and empathize with her feelings as she has small successes as well as setbacks on her way to feeling comfortable and finding her voice with her family. Hesitant and shy children will recognize themselves in Ava and welcome Alessandri’s sensitive depiction of her inner conflict. The understanding Ava’s mamá gives her is full of heartfelt love and models the kind of support that helps shy children thrive.

Addy Rivera Sonda’s fresh, cheerful illustrations will captivate readers with details that paint an enchanting portrait of this loving family and Abuelita’s tidy farmhouse from the opening scene, in which Ava’s family is welcomed home, to the tiled accents, chickens in the yard, and preparations for the New Year’s celebration. Sonda does an excellent job of portraying Ava’s fluctuating emotions—giggling at silly things but then too hesitant to say the words on the tip of her tongue and wandering the farm alone when she’d like to be playing with her cousins. Children who celebrate el Año Viejo will be excited to see their fun and meaningful tradition depicted here and kids who are not familiar with it will be intrigued to learn more. As Ava’s family gets ready for New Year’s Eve, children will also enjoy seeing other parts of the celebration that are aimed at bringing good luck for the next year.

A beautiful and superbly composed book rich in Columbian and Latin American culture that can also ease discussions about shyness, Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! will be a favorite on home bookshelves for all kids. The book would also spark fun and educational cross-curricular activities, making it a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company, 2020 | ISBN 978-0807504505

Discover more about Alexandra Alessandri and her books on her website.

To learn more about Addy Rivera Sonda and view a portfolio of her work, visit her website.

Get Ready for New Year’s Eve Activity

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New Year’s Eve Coloring Page

 

Celebrate the New Year with this printable coloring page! You might even want to add some glitter to make the fireworks even more spectacular!

New Year’s Eve Coloring Page

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You can find Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review