May 24 – National Brother’s Day

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About the Holiday

Today we take time to celebrate brothers! Whether you grew up with a brother (or a few) or have a friend you love like a brother, today’s holiday gives you a terrific reason to get in touch, relive some old memories, and make new ones! This year, as we’re spending more time working and playing with family, today’s book is certainly a home run!

Brothers at Bat: The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team

Written by Audrey Vernick | Illustrated by Steven Salerno

When the weather warms and kids’ thoughts turn to sports, the afternoon air rings with the sounds of slamming doors as players race from home to the baseball diamond. Back in the 1920s and ‘30s, the same door slammed not once or twice, not three or four times, not even eight or nine! The door shut behind 12 brothers! Anthony, Joe, Paul, Alfred, Charlie, Jimmy, Bobby, Billy, Freddie, Eddie, Bubbie, and Louie Acerra. These 12 boys also had 4 sisters—but this is a story about baseball, and back then girls didn’t play ball.

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Copyright Steven Salerno, 2012, courtesy of stevensalerno.com.

It could be said that “baseball set the rhythm of their lives.” Neighbors couldn’t remember a time when Acerra boys weren’t throwing or hitting a ball or running the bases at the local park. And there was an Acerra on the high school baseball team for 22 years in a row!

In 1938 the nine oldest brothers formed a semi-pro team and competed against other New Jersey teams and teams from New York and Connecticut. Their dad was their coach. The brothers all had different skills—Anthony could hit homeruns, and even hit a couple into the Atlantic Ocean from a seaside park; Charlie was a slow runner; and Jimmy had a knuckleball that was unhittable and uncatchable.

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Copyright Steven Salerno, 2012, courtesy of stevensalerno.com.

But playing had its dangers too. In one game Alfred was going to bunt, but the ball bounced badly off the bat and hit him in the face. He was rushed to the hospital, but the accident caused him to lose an eye. Everyone thought he would never play again. But after he healed, his brothers helped him recover his skills and his courage.

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Copyright Steven Salerno, 2012, courtesy of stevensalerno.com.

During World War II six of the brothers joined the war effort and spent years apart. Far from home they dreamed of the days when they played together on warm afternoons. When the war ended all the Acerra boys came home to their very happy mother. The brothers got back to what they loved doing best. Now Anthony was their coach, and from 1946 to 1952 they won the Long Branch City Twilight Baseball League championship four times—much to the pleasure of the crowds that came out to watch the Acerras play.

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Copyright Steven Salerno, 2012, courtesy of stevensalerno.com.

As time went on the Acerras got jobs, married, and had families of their own. In 1952 the brothers played their last game as a team, having made history as the longest-playing, all-brother baseball team ever. Even though the Acerras played many, years ago, people have not forgotten them. In 1997 they were honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame. The surviving seven brothers made the trip along with one sister and more than a hundred relatives. Now Jimmy Acerra’s uniform and glove are on display alongside exhibits about Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Willie Mays. If you visit the Baseball Hall of Fame, you can see them too!

Interesting and personal author’s and artist’s notes follow the text.

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Copyright Steven Salerno, 2012, courtesy of stevensalerno.com.

Baseball fans will love Audrey Vernick’s exciting, true story of this most unusual team. Her focus on the close relationship of the Acerra brothers elevates the tale from merely a sports story to one that reveals deep affection and support during difficult times. The different personalities of the brothers shine through in Vernick’s easy, conversational tone, and the inclusion of the Acerra brothers’ induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame shows that this story lives on for all generations.

Steven Salerno’s evocative illustrations will transport readers into a past where neighborhood leagues enjoyed the same level of loyalty as the majors. Capturing the brushed style, colors, and portraiture of pictures of the period, Salerno shows kids not only what it meant to be a baseball player in the 1930s and 40s, but what it meant to be a family.

Ages 4 – 9

Clarion Books, 2012 | ISBN 978-0547385570

Discover more about Audrey Vernick and her book on her website.

To learn more about Steven Salerno, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Brother’s Day Activity

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Best Brother Award Certificate

Today is all about your brother and how great you think he is! Print and fill out this Best Brother Award Certificate and give it to your brother—or brothers!

You can find Brothers at Bat at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 23 – It’s National Tennis Month

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About the Holiday

When the weather turns warm, thoughts turn to love. Not romantic love, but tennis! Tennis can’t be matched for thrilling one-on-one competition, exercise, and fun. While this year the world’s great tennis tournaments may be cancelled, outdoor tennis courts may be open, allowing you to reap the benefits of this favorite sport. Even though tournament viewing is limited this summer, you can always immerse yourself in a stirring biography of the game’s great players––starting with today’s book that’s all about love––of tennis and family!

Serena: The Littlest Sister

Written by Karlin Gray | Illustrated by Monica Ahanonu

 

On that day when “Serena stood in Arthur Ashe Stadium and kissed the trophy,” her fans, sisters, and parents cheered. How had that day come about? It started thirteen years earlier when Serena, then four years old, joined her older sisters on the tennis court where their dad coached them. As he showed Serena how to swing, her sisters celebrated when she hit one and ran after the ones she didn’t. Mostly, the equipment they used was old and donated. Sometimes the balls had even lost their bounce, but “their father explained that it was good practice for Wimbledon—a Grand Slam tournament where the balls bounced lower because the tennis court was made of grass.”

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Image copyright Monica Ahanonu, 2019, text copyright Karlin Gray, 2019. Courtesy of Page Street Kids.

When they weren’t on a real tennis court, the girls played a pretend game of tennis on the sidewalk. Serena loved when she won these games “because, well, Serena loved being the star.” As they grew, their father never allowed them “to use the word can’t.” Their mom told them, “‘Whatever you become, you become in your head first.’ So the girls dreamed of what they could become.” While the other sisters became a nurse, a lawyer, and a singer, Venus and Serena became top tennis players.

Venus was taking the tennis world by storm with her hard hitting, speed, and 100-miles-per-hour serve. Serena wanted to play in tournaments too, but her father said she wasn’t ready. But one day, Serena noticed an application for a tournament Venus was playing in. Serena filled it out and sent it in. At the tournament, Serena snuck off to play on one court while her parents watched Venus on another. Serena ran her opponent ragged and won the match.

Serena thought her father might be angry, but instead he was proud and began teaching her how to play against her next opponent. “Serena won all her matches, moving up and up until…she faced her big sister in the final match.” During the match, Serena asked Venus to let her win one game, but Venus ignored her plea. Later at home, though, Venus traded her gold trophy for Serena’s silver one. “Serena cherished that trophy.” Serena idolized Venus and did everything she did until her father reminded her that she was her own person. Some people didn’t think Serena would have the success Venus did, but her oldest sister told her, “‘You’ll have your day. And it’s gonna be even bigger.’”

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Image copyright Monica Ahanonu, 2019, text copyright Karlin Gray, 2019. Courtesy of Page Street Kids.

After several years of winning, Serena, Venus, and her family moved to Florida for training. On those courts the girls stood out for their skin color, their beaded braids—and “their powerful strokes.” When Venus was fourteen, she was allowed to enter professional tournaments. She won her first match. When Serena turned pro, she didn’t win. The two teamed up as doubles partners, and by the time she was sixteen, Serena had grown in both height and confidence. She had her own style of play too.

The sisters continued to play as a doubles team, and in 1999 they won the French Open Doubles competition. Venus was eighteen and Serena was seventeen. That same year, the sisters entered the US Open, the tournament Serena had long dreamed of winning. Surprisingly, Venus was knocked out early, but Serena kept winning her matches. In the finals she met the player who had beaten Venus. Serena served eight aces and “her fierce forehand earned her point after point.” Serena won the match and became “the first black woman to win a Grand Slam singles tournament in more than forty years.” At the awards ceremony, Serena thanked her dad, her mom, and her sisters for all of their support. The crowd cheered as cameras flashed. “And one of the many headlines of the day read, Little Sister, BIG HIT!”

An Afterword highlights other victories Serena and Venus have enjoyed during their careers, follow-ups on their sisters, and quotations from each of the five sisters.

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Image copyright Monica Ahanonu, 2019, text copyright Karlin Gray, 2019. Courtesy of Page Street Kids.

Karlin Gray’s masterful biography of Serena Williams shows young readers the determination, confidence, and strong familial bond that followed Serena through her life and made her one of tennis’s most influential women players. The family’s remarkable life and focus on what one can achieve will inspire all kids, no matter what their dream is. Choosing seminal events in Serena’s and Venus’s life, Gray follows Serena’s reputation on the court as she loses and wins matches, building suspense until that day when she accomplishes her goal and wins the US Open. Her inclusion of articles and comments that cast doubt on Serena’s future success, demonstrates that even the greats face opposition and naysaying, and Serena’s sister’s advice to ignore it is sound.

Monica Ahanonu’s textured, collage-style illustrations leap off the page with vibrant images full of action and the girls’ personalities. As the girls race onto a court for practice, their eager expressions show their love of the game and being together. Even as a four-year-old Serena has the steely eyed gaze of a champion as she watches the bouncing ball and lines up for her swing. Ahanonu’s use of various perspectives and shadowing create dynamic scenes on the court, and tennis lovers will be thrilled at the many illustrations of Venus and Serena playing their sport. The bond between the sisters is evident in images of Serena interacting with one or more of her sisters. Those who remember Serena’s win at the 1999 US Open will recognize her joyous win.

Perfectly aimed at young readers who are the same age as Serena and Venus when they began developing their skills and sport, Serena: The Littlest Sister is an inspirational biography of a present-day role model that is sure to spark an “I can” attitude. Adults who have followed the Williams sisters’ rise to tennis stardom will be equally enthralled with this beautiful biography. The book would make a stirring addition to home, classroom, and library collections.

Ages 8 – 11

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624146947

Discover more about Karlin Gray and her books on her website.

To learn more about Monica Ahanonu and her work, visit her website.

National Tennis Month Activity

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Tennis Love Word Search Puzzle

 

If you’re a tennis ace, you’ll enjoy finding the tennis-related words in this printable word search puzzle.

Tennis Love Word Search Puzzle | Tennis Love Word Search Solution

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You can find Serena: The Littlest Sister at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million 

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

BookshopIndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

May 22 – It’s National Family Month

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About the Holiday

In the weeks between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day we celebrate National Family Month. The holiday was established by KidsPeace to encourage families to spend more time together. It also gives us the opportunity to honor everything that makes a group of people a family. Common experiences, shared memories, and unconditional love create that unique feeling in the heart that defines family. This year, the bonds of family have taken on a whole new meaning. To celebrate, gather your family together, talk about some things you’ve learned about each other, what you love about each family member, and, of course, have some fun!

I received a copy of Otis P. Oliver Protests for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

Otis P. Oliver Protests

by Keri Claiborne Boyle and Illustrated by Daniel Duncan

By Jakki Licare

Otis has no interest in taking a bath now or anytime in the future. In fact, he believes no one should have to take a bath, but with three big sisters no one really listens to him. Otis has to take four baths every single week,  “…especially when he’s excessively grubby. And since worm farms aren’t going to build themselves, Otis is usually excessively grubby.”

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Image copyright Daniel Duncan, 2020, text copyright Keri Claiborne Boyle, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Otis’s family insists he should take a bath. So Otis decides that if he wants people to listen to him, he needs the right look and the right speech. At the playground Otis calls out to his friends that they must unite together for “bath-time rights.” Together they march through the streets until they all plop down on Otis’s front lawn. They will not move until they have been heard. 

Otis’s oldest sister passes him a note from their mom who is wondering what is going on. Otis responds: “No More Baths! Love Otis (P.S. What’s for dinner? I don’t like mystery meatloaf.)” Otis’s middle older sister brings out another note from their mom who doesn’t understand why he doesn’t want to take a bath. She also reassures him that it is lasagna night. Otis explains that he hates how his pajamas cling to him after his bath. Otis’s youngest older sister delivers a new note. Their mother tells him he doesn’t have to wear pajamas if he doesn’t want to. After consulting his group he finally agrees to his mother’s terms.

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Image copyright Daniel Duncan, 2020, text copyright Keri Claiborne Boyle, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

After Otis’s friends head home, the family dog brings Otis another note. “My lil grub worm, So glad we reached a compromise. Now get in the tub before you’re grounded for life! Hugs and kisses, Mom. (P.S. No dessert on school nights.)” Otis hurries in to take his bath, but before he jumps in he writes his mom one last note. He tells her that he is all set to take his bath, but he won’t be using soap. But if he was allowed to have dessert tonight, then he would be happy to negotiate.

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Image copyright Daniel Duncan, 2020, text copyright Keri Claiborne Boyle, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Otis P. Oliver is a smart, charismatic little boy who will walk right off the page and demand admission into your heart. Children will sympathize with his problem of not wanting to take a bath and will cheer him on as he takes on the parental establishment. The notes passed between mother and son through Otis’s sisters add to the hilarity. Each note has a post script discussing what’s for dinner which will make young readers giggle.

Keri Claiborne Boyle’s detailed attention to her characters makes each page a pleasure to read. Each sister’s distinct personality comes through as she stomps or rolls her eyes or pirouettes off the page. Boyle uses the rule of three to trick the readers into thinking that the negotiations are over after the third sister delivers her note. However, Boyle then sends a fourth note out with the dog, proving that Otis’s mom is a master negotiator. Otis still has one trick up his sleeve, though, as he points out the loophole that he never agreed to use soap.

Daniel Duncan’s colorful pencil-lined characters are amplified by his detailed attention to each character’s personality. Otis P. is charming as he wears his father’s oversized coat with dirt patches on his cheeks and knees and wavy stink lines steaming off of him. The illustrated details of fishnet stockings for the oldest sister, bubble gum blowing for the middle older sister, and ipod-carrying and tutu-wearing youngest sister perfectly compliment Boyle’s text and make each sister’s personality pop. Children and adults will giggle at the  hilarious signs that Duncan adds to Otis’s sit in: “I feel bath wrath” & “Occupy Dirt.”  The entire family dynamic is perfectly illustrated through a simple picture of the family’s stairway. The three sisters each have their pictures hung perfectly in descending order while Otis’s picture is propped on the second step at the same level as the family dog.

Ages  6 – 9 years old

Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534110434

Discover more about Keri Claiborne Boyle and her books on her website

To learn more about Daniel Duncan, his books, and his art, visit him on The Drawn Chorus Collective website.

Budding politicians, bath-averse children, and everyone in between should have this book on their shelves. Otis P. Oliver Protests is the perfect book for kids and adults to share giggles and talks about compromises either at home or in the classroom. A top pick for public libraries too.

National Family Month Activity 

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Recycled  Bathtub Catapult Battleship 

If your kiddo isn’t interested in taking a bath like Otis P. Oliver then you should give this craft a try! Blast the bubbles away as you sail your battleship in the tub.

Supplies

  • Applesauce or yogurt cup
  • Skewer
  • Plastic spoon
  • Popsicle stick
  • 10-15 pennies
  • Rubber band
  • Hot glue gun
  • Scissors
  • Paper
  • Crayons (are best since they are waterproof)
  • Tape

These supplies are just suggestions. Play around with different recycled materials and see what works!

Directions

To Make the Mast

  1. Cut the bottom of the popsicle stick off so the end is flat

  2. Take the cut-off part of the popsicle stick and hot glue the flat side to the popsicle stick, one inch down from the top. This will help hold the rubber band in place

  3. Hot glue the popsicle stick to the center of your yogurt or applesauce cup.

To Make the Catapult

  1. Cut off the pointy ends of skewer

  2. Hot glue the handle of the plastic spoon to the skewer

  3. Hold the catapult at an angle and hot glue the skewer next to the popsicle stick

To Make the Flag

  1. On paper draw a triangle and color in.

  2. Cut out triangle and tape to popsicle stick as a flag

To Finish

  1. Place pennies in front of popsicle stick to balance it out for floating (mine needed 12 pennies to keep it from tipping over backwards)

  2. Attach rubber band around popsicle stick and skewer

  3.  Float in bathtub and attack those bubbles!

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You can find Otis P. Oliver Protests at these bookstores

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million 

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

Picture Book Review

May 19 – It’s National Pet Month and Interview with Sarah Kurpiel

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About the Holiday

Pets give us unconditional love, provide companionship, and add entertainment and fun to our lives. This month is set aside to focus on our pets. To celebrate spend extra time with your furry friend, make sure they have everything they need to stay healthy, and give them a little extra treat now and then. This year, our pets may be feeling stressed from stay-at-home restrictions. To help, try to keep your pet’s routines as normal as possible. Dogs may benefit from extra walks––just like Maple in today’s story!

I received a copy of Lone Wolf from Greenwillow Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own. 

Lone Wolf

By Sarah Kurpiel

 

Maple, a Siberian husky, loved living with the Parkers. He loved playing tug-of-war with Jax, reading with Avery, extra treats from Mom, and especially long walks with everyone. “But on her walks, people would say… ‘Dude, that dog looks like a wolf.’” Some little kids clung to their mom’s leg when they saw her, some older people asked if maybe she wasn’t just a little bit wolf, and even babies shouted “‘WOLF! WOLF! WOLF!’”

The Parkers tried to explain the differences between Maple and a wolf, but eventually, “even Maple had her doubts.” After all, when she compared herself to other dogs, she saw that so many had floppy ears or lots of fluff or handsome spots. She wasn’t like them at all. Plus, she was good at digging, howling, and hunting just like a wolf.

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Copyright Sarah Kurpiel, 2020, courtesy of Greenwillow Books.

She began to think that she belonged in the wild, and one day when the gate was left open, she bounded out into the woods. But here the ground was hard, not soft like the Parker’s garden; squirrels were faster and harder to catch than Avery’s shoes; and sticks were pretty boring without Jax. Being a wolf was not as much fun as it seemed. As nighttime came and the sky darkened, Maple decided to head home.

On the way, she saw a flashlight and behind it familiar faces. Someone was looking for her. It was the Parkers—her pack! Now when people call Maple a wolf, she doesn’t have doubts. She knows just who she is and exactly where she belongs.

Sarah Kurpiel’s multilayered story about a husky who is often mistaken for a wolf will delight dog and pet lovers as it gently introduces the ideas of identity, self-doubt, and self-discovery. Her charming storytelling provides an excellent opportunity for adults and kids to discuss these important topics of individual growth with the backdrop of a supportive family. Children, familiar with being peppered by questions about what they’re doing and who they want to be (as opposed to who they are) as well as by comparisons to others, will relate to Maple. Maple’s exploration of what she considers her wolf-like abilities is humorous and models a positive self-analysis that is honest and non-judgmental while also embracing one’s unique qualities.

Kurpiel’s lovely color palette and rounded shapes are fresh and welcoming while her use of directional lines allows readers to dash along with Maple from one enchanting detail to another. Her use of various perspectives puts kids in Maple’s point of view while providing depth to this enthusiastic pup’s experience. Maple is adorable, and his wondering nature is clearly visible in his expressive face. Kurpiel’s images of family love begin on the copyright page with sweet framed family pictures, many of which include Maple. Avery, who is shown using a power wheelchair, is a welcome portrayal of a child with a disability. The final snapshot of the Parker family and Maple snuggling together is heartwarming and reminds readers that individual attributes are what make each person so special.

Touching and uplifting, Lone Wolf will charm children and adults anew with every reading. The book would make a favorite addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Greenwillow Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0062943828

Discover more about Sarah Kurpiel and her art on her website.

You can download a Lone Wolf Activity Kit from HarperCollins here.

Meet Sarah Kurpiel

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Sarah Kurpiel is a librarian and artist inspired by nature and animals. She grew up in the Midwest with a Siberian husky named Mikayla. Consequently, most of her childhood was spent removing dog fur from her clothes. Lone Wolf is her first book. Sarah Kurpiel lives with her family (which includes her wonderfully goofy dog, Roxie) in Downers Grove, Illinois.

I was really excited to have a chance to talk with Sarah Kurpiel about her debut picture book, how it came to be, her illustration work, and more! Jack and Steve, who are also dog lovers, are back with lots of questions for Sarah too.

After reading––and loving––Lone Wolf, they wondered:

Do you have a dog?

Yes! My family has a dog named Roxie. We adopted her from a local animal shelter. We think she’s part Border Collie and part Retriever. She loves herding us around and rolling in the grass.

We have a miniature poodle. What breed of dog is your favorite?

Miniature Poodles are adorable! My favorite breed of dog is giant by comparison: the Borzoi. Borzois look a bit like extra-large, extra-furry greyhounds.

 Have you ever seen or heard a wolf?

I’ve never seen or heard a wolf in the wild, but I have seen Mexican Gray Wolves in a zoo. The Mexican Gray Wolf is one of the most endangered wolf subspecies in the world. Thankfully, there are recovery programs working to change that.

We’ve been taking our dog on lots of walks (just like the Parker family!) during this quarantine. What have you’ve been doing to keep busy?

I’ve been hanging out with my family and our pets, reading, catching up on Star Trek, and drawing lots and lots of cats for my next picture book.

Hi Sarah! Jack and Steve had so many terrific questions! Maple, the star of Lone Wolf, really connects with readers on so many levels. Through your story you introduce a wonderful way for kids and adults to talk about identity and belonging. This issue is really important, especially as children are developing their self-confidence and self-esteem. What was the spark for this story? What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

The main character in Lone Wolf, Maple, is inspired by my childhood dog, Mikayla, a Siberian husky who had loads of personality. As anyone with a husky would probably attest, huskies often get compared to wolves. My dog was no exception. When translating this idea into a picture book, I asked myself, “What would a dog think about people comparing her to a wolf again and again?” I found I could relate to her feelings of self-doubt, as I think many people can. Lone Wolf is a cute, funny story, but like you mentioned, identity and belonging are at its heart. I hope readers will take away self-confidence to stay true to themselves despite assumptions others might make about them.

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celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-lone-wolf-Mikayla

Lone Wolf is your debut picture book. Can you take readers on the book’s journey from idea to being published? Have you always wanted to illustrate and write children’s books?

When I was a kid, I loved to draw, but I don’t remember dreaming about becoming an illustrator. I don’t think I even knew it was a job! Throughout my life, drawing has always been a relaxing hobby. Years ago, I made a few comic strips about my family’s husky just for fun. Then, in 2018, while brainstorming picture book ideas, I reflected back on those comic strips. The one about wolf comparisons had potential for layers, but it wasn’t a story. So, over the course of a few weeks, I built out the idea, created a dummy, and sent it off to the agents who were considering representing me (and who later became my co-agents).

They sent me a few rounds of feedback, which pushed me to develop the story further. The point-of-view moved from first-person to third-person and the story arc evolved. I revised on and off for about three months. Then the story went out on submission, and I (very happily!) accepted Greenwillow’s publication offer. In the weeks that followed, I revised the dummy based on the editor’s helpful feedback before getting the go-ahead to start the final art. I learned a lot during this process that I expect will help me navigate future projects.

Just as you do, the little girl in this story uses a wheelchair. Can you discuss what it means to disabled children to see themselves in the books they read? Can you discuss the impact that having disabled characters in books for all ages has on society as a whole?

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I’m glad you noticed this connection! When I was 11, I was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy, and by 18, I had transitioned to a power wheelchair. The character Avery in Lone Wolf also uses a power wheelchair. She isn’t the main character. She’s just a girl who’s part of a family that has an awesome dog. Her presence is only notable because we don’t usually see kids in power wheelchairs in picture books. In fact, I can’t think of a single fiction picture book that includes a kid who uses a power wheelchair. I’m not saying there aren’t any out there, but if there are, I haven’t come across them yet. Kids who use manual wheelchairs are represented more often, but they’re still few and far between. And despite good intentions, some representations of disability are problematic. I think it’s important for kids with mobility disabilities to see themselves in happy stories where they are neither problems to solve nor sources of inspiration. For society as a whole, it helps normalize disability.

I love your illustration style that often mixes lovely rounded shapes with equally lovely lines, as a self-taught illustrator how did you develop your style?

I learned to draw when I was younger by sketching everything around me and from books I checked out from my public library. In 2016, I started drawing digitally. It opened up so many new possibilities. I started drawing every day, following illustrators on Instagram, thinking consciously about what made me like one illustrator’s work more than another, and taking part in a few fun, informal art challenges on Instagram. In 2017, one such challenge (a Harry Potter 20th Anniversary challenge, to be precise!) led me to draw a hippogriff. I tried some digital brushes I hadn’t used before and very desaturated colors. In that moment, I had never liked something I drew as much as that simple, imperfect hippogriff. It felt right. So I continued in that direction, drawing animals using digital dry media brushes, desaturated colors, flowy shapes, weathered edges, and sketchy, wobbly lines until, after a while, it was my style—and still is, at least for now!

As I looked at the portfolio of your art, I was moved by how uplifting the scenes are. In so many of them, the animals are looking into the sky or tenderly interacting with another animal or a person. Can you talk a little about the themes of your art and the colors you choose? What about nature inspires you the most?

It’s true! I love drawing animals looking up at the sky. It’s my go-to subject these days! Like many people, I’m drawn to the vastness of nature: the night sky, the ocean, mountains, wide open fields. A few years ago, I visited the Grand Canyon and was not prepared for how awe-inspiring it was. The vastness of nature stirs up all kinds of emotions and memories, and also a sense of interconnectedness. I like placing people and animals in those environments. For those drawings, I tend to use quiet, desaturated colors, which I’m naturally drawn to. But there’s this other side to me that’s enamored with cute, funny, whimsical characters. Lately, I’ve been trying to use vibrant colors when I draw them. So I feel like there’s these two separate sides to my work. I like both, so do both.

When you’re not drawing or writing, you can also be found working as a librarian. What are your favorite parts of your job? How exciting will it be to see your own book on the shelf and share it with patrons?

I’m an academic librarian focused in digital services, so what I enjoy most is simplifying processes and improving access (which might sound pretty dull!). My first library job was a cataloger, so I was weirdly excited to see Lone Wolf’s Library of Congress MARC record and my Cutter number at the end of the call number for the first time. It’ll be gratifying to see my book on library shelves one day when the pandemic subsides. I’ll probably pull out my phone and snap a picture!

What are you most looking forward to in sharing your book with readers? Although you’re just getting started, what has been the best part of becoming a published children’s author?

I’d love to show kids how to draw the main character, Maple, themselves. When I was in 2nd grade, my teacher demonstrated on the chalkboard a simple way to draw a face. I still remember exactly how she did it. After that, I became obsessed with drawing stylized faces and that never really went away for me. I’d love to spark a little creativity like my teacher did for me.

So far, the best part of becoming a published author/illustrator is feeling empowered to talk more openly about my interests. Few people outside of my immediate family knew I draw. It’s also been wonderful to make connections with people I never would have met otherwise.

What’s up next for you?

My next picture book will be about another popular pet: cats! I’m busily working on the final art right now.

Thanks, Sarah, for sharing so much about your life and work! I wish you all the best with Lone Wolf and can’t wait to see your next book.

You can connect with Sarah Kurpiel on

Her website | Instagram | Twitter

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You can find Lone Wolf at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Anderson’s Bookshop (Sarah’s local indie) | Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

 

May 14 – National Dance Like a Chicken Day

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About the Holiday

You know what this holiday is all about! You can hear the tune taking over your brain, can’t you? And your elbows – they’re bending and bouncing just a little bit, aren’t they? Then jump up, gather the kids, and… Na na na na na na na. / Na na na na na na na. / Na na na na an na NA. / clap, clap, clap, clap….

A Little Chicken

Written by Tammi Sauer | Illustrated by Dan Taylor

 

“Dot was a little chicken…who, let’s face it, was a little chicken.” There weren’t many things Dot wasn’t afraid of, including garden gnomes. Even though “Dot tried to be brave,” even the simplest things and the gentlest creatures frightened her. One day, though, while she was adding making their coop more secure, Dot knocked one of her siblings off the nest. All she could do was watch it roll away.

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Image copyright Dan Taylor, 2019, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Or was there something else she could do? She plucked up her courage and ran after it. The egg was just within reach when it bounced away and took two hops across lily pads into the middle of the pond. Dot swung over the egg on a tall strand of grass and was just about to grab it when it was catapulted into a tall tree.

Dot climbed the tree and inched out onto a long branch. “She was this close when…” the branch broke and the egg broke away too—”into the deep…dark…woods.” She took one look and…decided “this was no time to be a little chicken.” She ran down the path in pursuit of her little brother or sister and finally caught that egg just as it began to crack. These days, while Dot is still afraid of many things, her little sister and the other chickens think she’s a hero—just “a big hero” who’s “just a little chicken.”

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Image copyright Dan Taylor, 2019, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Tammi Sauer’s upbeat story of a timid chicken who overcomes her fears in order to save her sibling is suspenseful, fast-paced, and sprinkled with humor. The story will have even the most cautious little ones cheering Dot on her quest and finding their own brave along the way. Dot’s sense of responsibility sparks the action and serves as a second gentle lesson in this well-conceived story. The ending, which embraces Dot’s wary nature while also revealing her heroic accomplishment, is a welcome message for hesitant children who are courageous in their own way.

Dan Taylor’s sweet Dot, with her oversized glasses and bright red overalls, will charm children looking for a hero who’s just their size. As Dot sets in motion her unhatched sibling and the story while installing a huge security camera and monitor in the coop, kids will alternately gasp and giggle at the suspenseful and humorous details on each page. The other chickens are delightfully supportive of Dot, which lends a sense of inclusiveness as they all rush out to cheer her heroic catch. Dot scrambles over a green meadow, hangs perilously over a lily pad covered pond, scurries up a tall tree, and flaps her way through a dark forest populated with a wolf, bears, and—most frightening of all—three garden gnomes.

A story of finding one’s courage at eggs-actly the right moment, A Little Chicken would be a heartening addition to home, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 3 – 7

Sterling Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1454929000

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

To learn more about Dan Taylor, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Chicken Dance Day Activity

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Egg Carton Chickens and a Basket Full of Games

 

With twelve little chickens you can come up with lots of games to play! This fun craft and game activity is eggs-actly what you need to start hatching some real fun!

Supplies

  • Cardboard egg carton
  • White craft paint
  • Markers: red, yellow, black for the face; any colors you’d like for wings and eggs
  • Paint brush
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Construction or craft paper in white and a color of your choice

Directions

  1. Cut the notched flap off the egg carton and set aside
  2. Cut the top off the egg carton
  3. Cut apart all the egg cups and trim slightly so they sit flat
  4. Paint the egg cups with the white paint, let dry
  5. Add the face, comb and wings to the chicken with the markers. Make six chickens with one color wings and six chickens with another color wings.
  6. From the egg carton flap cut thirteen small egg-shaped playing pieces
  7. With the markers, decorate twelve of the eggs in pairs—each egg in the pair with the same design
  8. Color one egg yellow and add a beak, eyes, and wings to make it a chick

Games to Play

Tic-Tac-Toe (2 players)

  1. On a 8 ½” x 11” piece of paper draw a regular tic-tac-toe board or make it fancy – like the picket fence-inspired board in the picture
  2. To make the fence-inspired board on a colored background, cut 2 9-inch-long x 3/4-inch wide strips of white paper, cutting a pointed tip at one or both ends. Cut 2 white  8-inch x 3/4-inch strips of paper with a pointed tip at one or both ends. Glue the strips to the background.
  3. Each player chooses a set of chickens with the same colored wings
  4. Play the game as you usually do

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Find the Matching Eggs (2 or more players)

  1. Have one player hide one egg under each chicken
  2. Shuffle the eggs around and form them into three lines of 4 chickens each
  3. Another player lifts one chicken at a time to find matching eggs. If the eggs don’t match, put both chickens back and start again

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Where’s the Chick?

  1. Use as many chickens and eggs as you want (fewer for younger children, more for older)
  2. One player hides the chick under one of the chickens and eggs under the others.
  3. Another player has three chances to find the chick

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I’m sure you can also design your own games for your adorable chickens to play! With more chickens you can even make a checkers set or replicate another of your favorite board games!

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You can find A Little Chicken at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

You can support your local independent bookstore, by ordering from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

April 29 – It’s National Month of Hope

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About the Holiday

Founded in 1991, National Month of Hope encourages people to bring hope to those in need both emotionally and physically. Reaching out to let a friend know you’re there for them, volunteering to help out in the community or on a personal level, and simply sharing a smile with those around you are all ways to show others you care. These days, staying in touch online and checking up on family and friends spreads happiness and hope for when we can all be together again. 

Little Mole Finds Hope

Written by Glenys Nellist | Illustrated by Sally Garland

 

Little Mole felt sad. He didn’t know why he felt bad inside, he just did. His mama told him he needed to find hope. Little Mole wondered where. As she took his paw, Mama said, “‘Sometimes, hope is hiding in the darkness. Sometimes it’s hard to see. But it’s always there.'” Mama led her son out of the tunnel, but on the way she pointed out a “brown, wrinkled” bulb hanging from the ceiling. Little Mole thought it was dead.

But Mama explained that that bulb would someday soon become a lovely daffodil. She asked her son to picture it swaying with the breeze, and when he said he could see it, she told him “That is hope.'” When they crawled out of the burrow, Little Mole saw trees without leaves. “They stretched out like skeleton bones silhouetted against the sky.” Little Mole thought they were dead. But Mama explained that buds and then leaves would soon appear. She asked Little Mole to imagine it. With excitement he told her he could see it. Again, Mama said, “‘That is hope.'”

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Image copyright Sally Garland, 2020, text copyright Glenys Nellist, 2020. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

Mama and her little one continued on past Mr. Rabbit’s garden, where they saw another example of hope hiding in an unexpected place. When they got home, Little Mole was happy.He said he’d had a wonderful day and understood that “there was always hope, even in the darkest places.” Mama tucked her son into bed with a kiss, and Little Mole fell asleep dreaming of the colorful spring to come.

Back matter includes a Discussion Guide for Caretakers that gives them tools for talking about the story, tips on helping a child who feels sad, and how to share their own experiences and where hope can be found.

Glenys Nellist’s uplifting story could not have come at a better time. With children at home and their normal lives disrupted, many may be feeling sad and unusually stressed. While many things have changed, there are still those aspects of life that remain constant. A parent or caregiver’s love is one; signs of spring and summer are another. Nellist’s honest and straightforward storytelling, acknowledges feelings of sadness and the fact that they are often unattributable to any concrete cause. Mama’s gentle acceptance of her son’s emotions and her actions in showing him signs of renewal will resonate with children familiar with the cycles of winter and spring and give adults models for conversations with their own children. Perfectly paced, Nellist’s book provides opportunities for adults and kids to look for other constants in their lives and to reaffirm their love for one another––now and always.

Sally Garland’s textured illustrations, rendered in warm tones that reveal the coziness of the Mole’s home and vibrant, sunny colors as Little Mole imagines springtime, will delight children and draw them into the meaning of the story. As Mama clearly points out the bulb, the bare trees, and a sleepy chrysalis, children will enjoy guessing what each will become and how they represent hope. Readers will also like finding other symbols of hope and signs of Mama’s and Little Mole’s love throughout the story.

Lovely in every way and highly recommended for talking with children about their feelings, Little Mole Finds Hope is a book kids will enjoy for its storytelling and its heart again and again.

Ages 3 – 6

Beaming Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1506448749

Discover more about Glenys Nellist and her books on her website.

You can learn more about Sally Garland, her books, and her art here.

Month of Hope Activity

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Little Mole Finds Hope Activity Pack

 

You can find lots of fun in this printable activity pack found on the Beaming Books website.

Little Mole Finds Hope Activity Pack

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You can find Little Mole Finds Hope at these booksellers

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

 

April 28 – National Superhero Day

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About the Holiday

Today, we celebrate superheroes—both fictional and real—who make the world a better place. While fictional superheroes have uncommon strength, endless courage, and powers that defy nature, it doesn’t take super abilities to make a difference. Especially now, nurses, doctors, first-responders, teachers, and workers at grocery stores, pharmacies, factories, and so many other places are on the front lines of the pandemic response with the commitment and dedication of superheroes. Moms, dads, grandparents, caregivers, and kids all over the world are also stepping up whenever and however they’re needed. Celebrate today by thanking the superheroes in your life.

I received a copy of Superheroes Don’t Babysit for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

By Jakki Licare

Superheroes Don’t Babysit

Written by Amber Hendricks | Illustrated by Kyle Reed

 

Has this ever happened to you? “You’ll be saving the city from the evil Emperor Zog when…your dad asks for a favor.” That is what happened to the little girl in this story. All she wanted to do was to play superheroes when she was asked to watch her little brother. Of course, she doesn’t want to because she has important world-saving plans for her day. “Plans that don’t include little brothers.” And who has ever heard of a superhero babysitting anyway?

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Image copyright Kyle Reed, 2020, text copyright Amber Hendricks, 2020. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

After receiving “the look” from her father, though, she agrees to watch her brother. Of course, immediately after her father leaves, her brother is starving! She consults “the list of Dad-approved snacks (because superheroes follow the rules)” and makes him a healthy “plate of cheese and crackers.”

But her brother has already pulled out all the ingredients for an ice cream sundae and is determined to have one. She just knows “he’ll want to measure and pour, squirt and scoop,” and he does. Resigned, the girl helps him and feels proud for assisting a fellow citizen. That is until she sees how messy the kitchen has become! Just before she begins to wipe everything down, she notices something smells awful. She investigates, looking just where you would look, you know: “the normal places—the trash can, the bathroom, your socks—before realizing the smell is coming from” her brother!

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Image copyright Kyle Reed, 2020, text copyright Amber Hendricks, 2020. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

She gears herself up for the dangerous battle. Diapers are challenging even for superheroes, but she manages to get one on him (with the help of some extra tape). Her revelry is short-lived, though, because her brother decides to play with her action figures and breaks one! Then he cries and she feels like crying too. She might even feel like yelling “‘I wish you weren’t my brother!’”

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Image copyright Kyle Reed, 2020, text copyright Amber Hendricks, 2020. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

But, instead, she closes her eyes and slowly counts to ten. By the time she gets to ten, her brother apologizes and hugs her. He offers her his favorite teddy bear as a replacement, and “that icky feeling inside” melts away. So when he asks her “to read him his favorite story,” she does—“six times.” He falls asleep and even drools a little on her. It doesn’t bother her, though, because “EVERY SUPERHERO NEEDS A SIDEKICK.”

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Image copyright Kyle Reed, 2020, text copyright Amber Hendricks, 2020. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

Amber Hendrick’s use of the 2nd person point of view gives this story a fresh spin and will pull young readers immediately in. Young readers will relate to the main character’s problems of making messes and having her favorite toy broken. Hendrick’s humor will make readers giggle as they watch the girl outfit herself in safety gear just to change a diaper. The fact that the girl wants to yell and rant at her brother and chooses not to is a wonderful teaching opportunity. Adults can point out how boy’s sister takes a moment and counts to ten before reacting. It’s a terrific lesson for readers of any age.

Kyle Reed’s bright primary-colored illustrations make this a superhero theme that’s out of this world. The paneled frames of the father-daughter face off and the girl’s measured count to ten are a nice nod to comic books. Throughout the story, the sister and brother’s facial expressions clearly show readers their feelings as sibling rivalry gives way to their loving bond. When the two siblings make up, the black-and-white pixelated photos that Reed adds in the background are a nice touch to show the connections of family.

For kids who love superheroes or are superhero siblings themselves, Superheroes Don’t Babysit would be a fun and thoughtful addition to family storytimes.

Ages 4 – 7

Beaming Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1506458762

Discover more about Amber Hendricks and her books on her website.

To learn more about Kyle Reed and see a portfolio of his work, visit his website.

National Superhero Day Activity

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Superhero Mask Craft

 

You can be a superhero too by making your own SUPERHEROES DON’T BABYSIT mask

Supplies

  • Printable Superhero Mask Template
  • Paper Plate
  • Pencil
  • Scissors
  • Paint or Colored Pencils
  • String or elastic or ribbon

Directions

  1. Print out template.

  2. Cut out template and eye holes.

  3. Trace template onto paper plate. Don’t forget to trace the eye holes too!

  4. Cut out masks and eyeholes.

  5. Cut a slit towards the top left of the mask for string. Then, make another slit on the top right side.  

  6. Paint or Color your mask

  7. Tie string, elastic or ribbon through slits

  8. Go and save the world!

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You can find Superheroes Don’t Babysit for preorder at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review