June 16 – Father’s Day

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About the Holiday

Today is all about celebrating dads and telling them how much you love them. It’s a great day to think of all the things dads do for their kids and their families and to share a thank-you, a hug, and of course a book! Reading together is one of the best ways for dads and their kids to bond not only today, but every day!

It’s Great Being a Dad

Written by Dan Bar-el | Illustrated by Gina Perry

 

A lovely pink unicorn with a sparkling rainbow horn clip-clops over a grassy hill, a golden castle and a candy forest in the background. The playful animal believes it’s “great being a unicorn. Who wouldn’t want to be a unicorn?” What makes them so special? Well…as she says, “We’re terrific at prancing and we’re very pretty and, best of all, we have an adorable horn just above our eyebrows.” It’s hard to argue with those reasons!

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Image copyright Gina Perry, 2017, text copyright Dan Bar-el, 2017. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

But it seems there are some downsides to this whole unicorn thing. Grazing might be at the top of the list. That shiny horn just always seems to get in the way. There’s no way for teeth to touch the ground, and trying to grab a snack off a table just results in the table being stuck on the “adorable horn.”

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Image copyright Gina Perry, 2017, text copyright Dan Bar-el, 2017. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

How about Bigfoot? What’s it like for him? Let’s ask—here comes Bigfoot now! “It’s great being Bigfoot. I love being Bigfoot. Who wouldn’t want to be Bigfoot?” What’s so great about being…you know…? Well…he’s warm in his furry coat, he’s well camouflaged among the trees, and his super strength “can help unicorns get tables off their heads.” Sounds great! What could go wrong? Hmmm…. It seems those big feet get themselves into some sticky situations—like ending up with a tree trunk lodged around your leg.

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Image copyright Gina Perry, 2017, text copyright Dan Bar-el, 2017. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Maybe being a Robot is better. Indeed! In fact, Robot says, “If I had feelings, I would love being a robot.” Pretty compelling stuff there. Robot is very flashy and has lots of memory and has an arm that can convert into a saw just in time to help “unicorns and Bigfoot with their wood problems.” So what’s not to like? Rain can really mess with the mo(tor)-jo.

Poor Loch Ness Monster! She’s not even going to try being positive. It kind of stinks being a monster—especially when you don’t feel like one. But maybe things aren’t all bad. Unicorn, Bigfoot, and Robot hitch a ride on Nessie’s back across the lake to the hospital. There they meet a “fairy queen ballerina doctor” who loves being a fairy queen ballerina doctor. Who wouldn’t?

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Image copyright Gina Perry, 2017, text copyright Dan Bar-el, 2017. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

This Jill-of-all-trades can prescribe medicine for the sick, “perform a happy dance” for the sad, and wave her magic wand “if you have trouble with your saw arm…or your head horn or your big foot.” Sounds perfect…until a “sneaky flying alligator pirate” swoops in and swipes the magic wand just as the fairy queen ballerina doctor is about the save the day. “Dad!”

Ha! Ha! Here’s a little guy who’s super excited to be a sneaky flying alligator pirate. “I’m sneaky, so you never see me coming. I can fly, so you can never catch me. And… And…that’s enough reasons. So what’s not to like about being a sneaky flying alligator pirate?” Ooof! “Dads, that’s what!”

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Image copyright Gina Perry, 2017, text copyright Dan Bar-el, 2017. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

But how does Dad feel about being a dad? Let’s see: “It’s great being a dad. I love being a dad.” It does look pretty fun! Dad gets to remove pizza box “tables” from hobby horse unicorns; remove stepped-on drums from a brown-fuzzy-hoodied-and-hiking-booted Bigfoot; fix cardboard-saw arms; give medals to super swimmers; and “return magic wands to… to… ‘Fairy queen ballerina doctors. I told you a million times already.’ Right. What she said.” Plus Dad can help little brothers play nicely.

So you must be wondering… “what’s not to like about being a dad? Sudden makeovers, that’s what.”

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Image copyright Gina Perry, 2017, text copyright Dan Bar-el, 2017. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Dan Bar-el’s laugh-out-loud romp through an afternoon of play hits the perfect tone to entertain kids and adults as well. Bar-el’s wry delivery and repetition of the appealing—and not-so—traits of each fantasy character will have readers giggling and eagerly anticipating the next page. The revelation that the characters are kids with big imaginations offers multiple payouts in creativity, personalities, friendship, and family.

Gina Perry’s vibrant, whimsical illustrations riff on all the fantasy clichés to ramp up the humor in this vivacious story. When happily-ever-after turns into happily-never-after for each character, Perry amusingly depicts their dismay, but the next page finds them cheerfully adjusted to their new circumstance and weaving it into a revised storyline. As the story wraps up, readers will enjoy pointing out aspects of the kids’ interests and the parts of the backyard that spurred their imagination in earlier pages. The diverse group of friends is welcome, and good-natured Dad doesn’t really seem to mind his impromptu makeover.

It’s Great Being a Dad is a fantastically fun read-aloud that makes a wonderful gift for dad and would be an often-asked-for addition to home and school bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Tundra Books, 2017 | ISBN 978-1770496057

Discover more about Dan Bar-el and his books on his website!

You find a gallery of illustration work and books by Gina Perry on her website!

Father’s Day Activity

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I Love Dad Building Blocks

 

This craft will stack up to be a favorite with kids! With wooden blocks and a little chalkboard paint, it’s easy for kids to make these unique building blocks that show dad just how they feel about him. They’re also great for gifts, decorating, party favors, or when you just have a little time to play!

Supplies

  • Wooden blocks in various sizes, available from craft stores
  • Chalkboard paint in various colors
  • Paint brush
  • Chalk in various colors

Directions

  1. Paint the wooden blocks with the chalkboard paint, let dry
  2. Write words or draw pictures on the blocks
  3. Have fun!

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You can find It’s Great Being a Dad at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

June 4 – It’s National Camping Month and Interview with Author/Illustrator Gina Perry

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About the Holiday

For some, camping is the best way to spend a vacation. This month’s holiday celebrates that love of adventure and encourages people to explore some of the gorgeous national parks, campsites, and trails all across the country. Of course, there’s giddy excitement for kids in just setting up a tent in the backyard too. So, whether you camp with an RV, pack up the car with tents and other gear, or just enjoy a different vista at home, enjoy camping this summer – and don’t forget the marshmallows!

Tundra Books sent me a copy of Now? Not Yet! for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m thrilled to be teaming with Tundra and Gina Perry in a giveaway of Now? Not Yet! See details below.

Now? Not Yet!

By Gina Perry

 

Geared up for camping, Moe and Peanut head down the path that leads into the woods. They’re still within sight of home (only a few steps away, in fact) when Peanut asks, “‘Can we go swimming now?’” But Moe, with his stout walking stick wants to hike a bit first and answers, “‘Not yet.’” Turn the page and Peanut has spied a glimpse of blue water. Now must be the time for swimming, but Moe has his binoculars trained on an owl, so “‘not yet.’”

When they stop for a snack, Peanut unpacks his swim fins, beach ball, floating ring, and bunny toy on the way to finding his apple and banana, while Moe neatly nibbles trail mix from a baggie. A little farther on, Peanut’s so antsy to swim that he’s doing handstands in his swim fins, but the time’s not right now either because Moe thinks they’re lost.

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Image copyright Gina Perry, 2019, courtesy of Tundra Books.

Poor Peanut, he falls and comes up covered in pinecones and prickly pine needles, which unfortunately get transferred to Moe. Phew! They’ve found their campsite by the lake, and Peanut begs on his knees to go swimming. “‘Now?’ said Peanut. ‘Not yet,’ said Moe. ‘It’s time to make camp.’” This camp-making is kind of fun, Peanut thinks as he hangs the tent poles between two trees and plays limbo, uses a tent pole to draw a picture of Moe in the dirt, and then toddles on tent-pole stilts. Certainly the campsite must be ready by now. Why can’t they just go swimming? Moe says they “need to set up the tent.”

Peanut is starting to lose his patience, and Moe is starting to lose his patience plus he’s being attacked by mosquitoes. There’s just so much to do before swimming. The backpacks need unpacking, the campfire needs to be built, and… “‘where are the tent poles?’” Peanut has a breakdown—“Now! Now! Now!” And Moe has a breakdown—“NOT YET!”

Moe walks off to cool down while Peanut looks around the toy-strewn campsite sadly. He knows what he has to do. He sets up the tent, hangs up the towels and sets out the teapot and mugs, gathers firewood, and misses Moe. But Moe isn’t far away. He peeks over the tent and stealthily puts on Peanut’s swim mask. “NOW!” he announces while running and leaping into the lake. Peanut cannonballs in after him. They play and splash and finally dry off. Warm and cozy in their PJs next to a crackling fire, they happily eat beans from a can. The sky grows dark and Peanut figures it’s time for bed. But “‘Not yet,’” Moe says. They have one s’more thing to do.

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Image copyright Gina Perry, 2019, courtesy of Tundra Books.

In their second story, Moe and Peanut are heading out on an adventure, and like many kids, Peanut is focused on one thing, and one thing only, about the trip—swimming. Meanwhile, Moe is the keeper of all things practical and logistical. As we all know from our own kids or memories, a minute can feel like an hour, an hour like several, and a day like for…ev…er. Gina Perry taps into that feeling with verve and humor drawing out the trip to the campsite with such adult preoccupations as bird watching, map watching, splinter pulling, and the rigors of actually setting up camp. And it’s not that Peanut means to be a bother, he’s just brimming with excitement for fun, fun, fun!

Perry moves these two forces along at a brisk pace with her well-timed traded choruses of “Now?” and “Not yet.” When the clash comes in a two-page spread where each loses their cool in nearly mirror images, both kids and adults will laugh at the truth of it all. As Moe walks off and Peanut takes up the work of setting up camp, adults will understand that their kids are watching, learning, and empathetic, and kids will feel empowered to take control of their feelings and help out. The final pages showing Moe and Peanut swimming and enjoying the campfire offer reconciliation and that fun, fun, fun, Peanut (and Moe) were looking for.

Perry’s art is always bright and inviting and full of clever details. Kids will love Peanut’s antics, toy-laden backpack, and talent with tent poles, while adults will sympathize with Moe who suffers the slings and arrows of mosquitoes, sunburn, and passed-off splinters. The front endpaper depicts Moe and Peanut’s hike from home, through the woods, and to the campsite; the back endpaper portrays Peanut’s drawing of the same hike.

A funny, sweet-natured story that adults and kids will love to share, Now? Not Yet! is an endearing summer read and a must to join Too Much? Not Enough! on home, classroom, and library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 7

Tundra Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1101919521

To learn more about Gina Perry, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Gina Perry

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I’m so thrilled to be chatting with Gina Perry about her inspirations for Moe and Peanut, this duo’s inclusion in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, her early work in the scrapbooking market, and so much more!

Both Moe and Peanut are so sweet-natured. They just have different priorities sometimes. What or who inspired these characters and their particular adventures at home (Too Much! Not Enough!) and while camping (Now? Not Yet!)?

I think that is a lovely way to sum up Moe and Peanut. Their base personalities formed long ago from a lot of playing in my sketchbook. Moe is rooted in myself and other adults who do love play, but in a structured way. Peanut is rooted in all the little energetic kids I knew before having my own children, particularly my niece and nephew.  Their specific adventures are definitely inspired by my own kids. Indoor messes on rainy days, bubble faces, block towers—I had plenty of inspiration for that while raising my son and daughter. And I dedicated NOW? NOT YET! to Piper because of her super-charged love of play and swimming.

Are you a Moe, a Peanut or a little of both? In what way?

I am far more like Moe because I don’t leave home without the map, enjoy looking at birds, and also get a red face when dealing with mosquitos and stress. But the Peanut side of me also loves lakes and drawing in the dirt. I think because I was the youngest and my sisters were four and eight years older, I really remember feeling like a pesky little sister when I was the age of my readers.

In Now? Not Yet! Moe and Peanut go camping. Do you like camping? If so, are you a glamper or a traditional camper? What’s your favorite part of camping?

Camping confession: I have never slept outside! I found bear droppings in our backyard last month so I’m not sure I’ll check the box on backyard camping anytime soon, either. I do love going for day hikes and fondly remember lots of family vacations at rustic cabins on lakes in New Hampshire and Maine. I’ve definitely experienced all parts of Peanut and Moe’s adventure—note how we end the story before bedtime! My favorite part when I’m on a hike is spotting animals. I’m still waiting to see a moose in real life, but I snuck one in the book as an homage to a childhood dream.

Your artistic style is so distinctive—I immediately recognize an illustration as yours before I see your name on it. Can you talk a little about how you developed your style? What changes did Peanut and Moe go through as you worked on Too Much! Not Enough!?

That is a lovely compliment – thank you! I’ve been through lots of experimenting with my illustration style. I think always being willing to try new approaches and following lots of other illustrators and artists has helped me land where I am now. I really enjoy creating very simple but distinct characters and then letting the colors take over. The basic character design for Peanut and Moe was pretty solid early on (and many years before they were published!) but I do appreciate that I had time and confidence to try some bolder color choices that I think made their story shine.

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My editor smartly suggested that we up the level of mess from my dummy. The addition of all those block, glitter, and car elements really improved the book, and the narrow color palette made it still feel friendly even at its messiest. In their first book, I wanted to maintain a cheerful, bold color palette despite the rainy day. In their second book I worried how I would continue that color story in the outdoors. I chose to keep their environment in bright, but natural colors and played up that first color palette in their gear and clothing. I loved designing their evening attire!

This year Too Much! Not Enough! was selected for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. Can you tell readers about this program and how your book was chosen? What does it mean for Moe and Peanut?

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Moe and Peanut do the dishes in Too Much? Not Enough!

I am so thrilled that TOO MUCH! was chosen for this amazing book gifting program that delivers a new book each month for a child from birth to school age. Imagination Library now has programs across the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and Ireland and has mailed over 120 million books at no cost to families. Their Blue Ribbon Committees review and select titles based on their themes and concepts and aligned to one of five age groups. The website does an amazing job describing the program and how books are chosen and I hope all new or expecting parents look into this opportunity for their child. It means that this year, Peanut and Moe will be heading to thousands of young children (2-3 years of age) across Canada. Having so many new readers meet Moe and Peanut is exciting!

Before you concentrated on writing and illustrating books for children, you worked in animation and as an art director for the scrapbooking market. I’ve always wondered how some patterns of paper come to be. What is the process behind creating scrapbook paper and how certain subjects, colors, and designs are chosen.

When I started at that first scrapbooking company they were transitioning from a stencil-based business. The scrapbooking market was booming back then and it was a great opportunity for me to learn a totally new area and get experience as an illustrator. There was a lot of trial and error in figuring out how to make appealing and usable patterns that could be mixed and matched. We tracked fashion and illustration trends by going to trade shows and even shopping trips. Some collections were fashion based, others revolved around the events you would put in a scrapbook – birthdays, weddings, holidays, etc. It was a collaborative process involving designers, art directors, and the sales teams. My favorite job was finding new illustrators to work with, giving them a brief, then seeing the magic they sent back.

I saw on your blog that this year you participated in World Read Aloud Day by having Skype calls with students in New York, Connecticut, Texas, Florida, and Ukraine! That’s a lot of kids to reach! They must be thrilled! Can you talk a little about what you like about Skype calls, what you do during the calls, and how the kids react?

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A class listens to Gina Perry on World Read Aloud Day.

World Read Aloud Day is amazing. I encourage all authors to participate. I spend so much time working alone (especially in the winter!), that it’s a real gift to open up Skype and connect to a classroom full of enthusiastic readers. It’s usually a 20-minute call and most authors follow this formula: read one of your books, take questions from students, then share a few favorite books by other authors. But the variation is in the kids! How do they react to my book and what interesting questions do they have? Kids are so creative and often think of things I haven’t or share personal connections to a character or even to my story about being an illustrator and author.

What’s up next for you?

I have been squirreling away on some fun new projects that I can’t say too much about at the moment. I will say that one book was very much inspired by my school visits and drawing with kids. Another is inspired by welcoming a new puppy into our home this year.

What’s your favorite holiday and why?

I don’t know how you can compete with Halloween. The candy, creative costumes, spooky decorations, all-are-welcome and low-pressure vibe really make it a winner. And did I mention candy?

Thanks, Gina for joining me today! Happy Book Birthday to Moe and Peanut and Now? Not Yet! I wish you all the best with this series and all of your books and can’t wait to see what comes next!

You can connect with Gina Perry on

Her website | Facebook | Instagram | PinterestTwitter

Moe and Peanut Giveaway

I’m excited to be teaming with Tundra Books and Gina Perry in a Twitter giveaway of a Moe and Peanut Prize Package that includes

  • One (1) signed copy of Now? Not Yet! 
  • One (1) signed copy of Too Much? Not Enough!

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

This giveaway is open from June 4 through June 10 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on June 11.

Prizing provided by Tundra Books and Gina Perry

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

National Camping Month Activity

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A Fun In-Home Campfire

 

Kids and their friends and family can enjoy the cozy fun of a campfire in their own family room with this craft that’s easy to make from recycled materials. While the supplies might make the campfire artificial, kids will love it if the marshmallows are the real thing!

Supplies

  • Three or four paper or cardboard tubes
  • Cylindrical bread crumbs or oatmeal container
  • Tissue paper in red, orange, and yellow
  • Brown craft paint
  • Brown marker
  • Brown construction paper or white paper
  • Strong glue or hot glue gun
  • Chopsticks (one for each person)
  • Marshmallows

CPB - campfire craft container

Directions

To Make the Logs

  1. Cover the ends of the tubes with circles of brown construction paper or white paper and glue into place
  2. Paint the tubes and the ends if needed, let dry
  3. Paint the sides of the cylindrical container with the brown paint, let dry
  4. With the marker draw tree rings on the ends of the tubes. Decorate the sides with wavy lines, adding a few knot holes and swirls.

To Make the Fire

  1. Cut 9 squares from the tissue paper (3 in each color, about 8 to 6-inch square)
  2. Layer the colors and gather them together at one tip. Fold over and hold them together with a rubber band.
  3. To Assemble the Campfire
  4. Stack the tube logs
  5. Put the tissue paper fire in the middle of the logs

To “Roast” Marshmallows

  1. Stick marshmallows on chopsticks for “roasting” and eating!

You can keep your logs and fire in the cylindrical log until the next time!

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You can find Now? Not Yet! at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

May 21 – It’s National Family Month and Interview with Galia Bernstein

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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. To celebrate, gather your family together and plan some fun!

I received a copy of Leyla from Abrams Books for Young Readers for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m happy to be teaming with Abrams in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Leyla

By Galia Bernstein

 

Leyla has a BIG family! Besides her and her mom and dad, there are “nine aunts and twenty-three cousins,” and…they all live together. There’s always someone who wants “to hug and kiss her. Yuck!” Her home is noisy and rowdy, and it’s often hard to get some peace—or a nap. So Leyla ran far away until she couldn’t see them, smell them, or hear them. On the way, she hurt her foot on a rock.

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Copyright Galia Bernstein, 2019, courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Out in the quiet wilderness, Leyla met a lizard. She tried to find out its name. She tried to get it to kiss her foot and make it better, but the lizard said nothing. Finally, the lizard opened one eye. “‘Shhh,’ he said. ‘I’m busy.’” It didn’t look like the lizard was busy to Leyla, but it told her he was “busy doing nothing.” Then he showed Lelya how to do nothing too.

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Copyright Galia Bernstein, 2019, courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Leyla and the lizard sat side by side with their eyes closed. They felt the warmth of the sun and listened to the leaves and the insects and thought about nothing. When Leyla finally opened her eyes, it was evening. Leyla missed her family and knew it was time to go home. The lizard told her she could visit any time. Leyla ran until she smelled the familiar smell, heard the familiar noise, and saw her wonderful family. She told them all about her adventure and the lizard. “They thought she was very brave and wanted to know if she was all right.”

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Copyright Galia Bernstein, 2019, courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Well, there was that one thing—Leyla wanted to know if they wanted to kiss her foot better. And, of course, they did! “That night, in her mother’s arms, Leyla didn’t mind the noise.” She remembered her day with the lizard, and “whenever it all got a bit too much,” she went back to see him. “And the lizard was always there.”

An Author’s Note following the text tells a bit about the Hamadryas baboons, who live in large, noisy, and loving families like Leyla and the troop that inspired her story.

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Copyright Galia Bernstein, 2019, courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Any child—whether they’re from a big family, part of a large class at school, a participant in a team or group activity, or a person who just likes a little quiet—will recognize themselves in Leyla. In her sweet and straightforward story, Galia Bernstein lets children know that when the pressures of a day squeeze in, rejuvenation is close at hand. The astute and chill lizard Leyla meets when she runs away from her large, loud, and loving family teaches her and readers methods of mindfulness and meditation, allowing them to shut out the noise and distractions and find peace within. Feeling refreshed, Leyla returns home with a new appreciation for what she has and a story to share.

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Bernstein’s textured illustrations of a Hamadryas baboon troop, rendered in cool earth tones, is a joyful representation of family, with all the care, concern, and caresses that come with them. Kids will giggle when Leyla meets the lizard with a startled EEEEEEEEEP!, and you can bet they’ll close their eyes and meditate right along with Leyla and the lizard. Leyla is adorable and thoughtful, and her troop eyes her with understanding as she returns to the fold. The final two-page spread is warm and comforting.

In Leyla, Gaia Bernstein reminds readers that looking inward as well as outward toward new experiences and beyond their comfort zone brings new perspectives and happiness. The book would be a tender accompaniment to lessons on meditation or mindfulness as well as a reassuring read for home and classroom story times.

Ages 4 – 8

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2019 | ISBN 978-1419735431

To learn more about Galia Bernstein, her books, and her art, visit her website

Meet Galia Bernstein

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Today, I’m really excited to be talking with Galia about her first paying job as an artist, how kids can find their own quiet place, and…a world of cats!

What was your inspiration for Leyla?

As a young child I was terrified of large family gatherings. So many people in the same room who wanted to hug and kiss me, and who wanted, it seemed,  to hear about every single thing that happened to me since we’d last met. It was overwhelming. Over the years, I found that if I took a short break, went to my room for a bit, or walked around the block, I was able to relax myself and was even able to enjoy myself. Years later, I was sitting in the Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn watching a small but energetic troop of, who had recently welcomed a new edition to the family—a baby boy. What if that baby, I thought, is a bit different from the other baboons? What if he couldn’t handle the constant attention? Who will teach it how to take a break? And the idea for Leyla was born.

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Galia snapped this picture of 2 female Hamadryas Baboons and the baby that inspired Leyla.

In addition to gaining an appreciation for her big family, Leyla also learns about mindfulness and the benefits of getting some quiet time. Do you have any advice for kids on how they can carve out some time or a place just for themselves?

If you can, go outside. Of course, make sure that you’re safe and an adult knows where you are, but there is nothing like being outside on a beautiful day and breathing some fresh air. You will immediately feel better. Find a little private spot that’s yours—in the back yard, a near-by park, or even in the school yard—sit down and just breath. If you have time to read, bring a book, or listen to music if you prefer. Lying on a blanket under the old lemon tree in our yard on a summer afternoon with a book and a plate of grapes is a very happy childhood memory for me. Today, I listen to books on tape while I walk my dog and, for a while, clear my mind of everyday worries.

Before you moved to New York to study illustration, you were the art director for two children’s magazines in Israel. Were you always interested in working in publishing, and children’s publishing in particular, or how did that come about?

In Israel, military service is mandatory. When you turn 18, you join the army and serve 2 years if you’re a girl, and 3 if you’re a boy. During this time, many people get to learn a profession that they may be interested in as a civilian, and that’s how it was for me. I was lucky enough to join the Israeli Army’s weekly magazine as a graphic designer and an illustrator/cartoonist. It was my first paying job as an artist and I fell in love with publishing. It’s also really fun to say “artist” when people asked me what I did in the army. Since I was mostly interested in illustration, and a big reader as a child, I was naturally drawn to children’s publishing.

Your debut picture book, I Am a Cat, also published by Abrams, was very well received. I understand the spark of the idea goes back to when you were just thirteen years old. Can you talk a little about that? I’m curious if writing was always part of your repertoire and if not when you began to write as well as illustrate and design.

I Am a Cat started as a cartoon I drew for my father. It showed a little house cat looking very grumpy on one side and a bunch of big cats rolling on the floor laughing on the other. The caption underneath said “Yes, I call myself a cat!” That cartoon is hanging in my dad’s study to this day. I am an illustrator first, but I was always a writer as well. In middle school, I wrote and drew comic books starring all my friends and plays for us to perform in class. When I moved to the US, it took me a while to feel confident enough to write in a second language, a problem I didn’t have with the international language of illustration, so for a while, I was more of an illustrator than a writer.

A look through your portfolio reveals that much of your illustration work features animals. How have animals influenced your work?

I’ve loved animals since before I could walk. They always fascinated me and I always wanted to read about them and learn to draw them. My books are always based on real animal behavior, and I am always happy to teach and talk about the amazing creatures we share this world with.

In your bio you say that your art is heavily influenced by mid-20th century design and Eastern European and Scandinavian folk art. What do you love about these styles?

What I like about Scandinavian and folk art is the minimalism—saying so much with very few details and minimal color. My picture books tell a story through body language and facial expression, and the backgrounds are very simple. I work hard on the look of the entire page—not just the art, but the white spaces in between called the negative space. Sometimes what’s not there can tell a story as much as what’s there. In I Am a Cat, I played with the points of view, allowing the readers to see Simon the cat through the eyes of the big cats, and on other pages be Simon and feel what it’s like to be stared at by a lion, a tiger, a puma, a cheetah, and a panther. In Leyla, I used the colors of dusk and sunset to not only show the passage of time, but also the change in Leyla and the way she sees the world around her, before and after meeting the lizard.

What has been the best part about being a children’s author and illustrator? Do you have a story from any book event or classroom visit you’d like to share?

The best thing about writing for children is the children of course. I love to see how smart kids are and  how interested  they are to learn about animals. We always talk about the animals in the books, where they are from, and how their natural behavior inspired their behavior in the books. The most surprising reaction to I Am A Cat came from… cats! The book came out in 14 languages and I get pictures of actual cats “reading” my book from all over the world. It always makes my day!

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Cats of the world, unite!

What’s up next for you?

I’m taking a little break from writing this year. I have 2 more picture books and one nonfiction book I am going to start working on soon, all as an illustrator only. Right now I am working on a very funny Hanukkah book called 8 Knights. It’s about, well.. 8 Knights. With a ‘K.’ The kind with armor and horses. It’s going to be a very fun book, I can’t wait!

What is your favorite holiday?

Now I feel like I should say Hanukkah… but it is a really fun holiday. Amazing food, open flames allowed indoors (!) and for a kid who, as you might remember from question one, is not a big fan of large family gatherings, a very intimate holiday, at home, with the immediate family.

Thanks so much for chatting with me, Galia! I wish you all the best with Leyla, and I can’t wait to see your upcoming books!

You can connect with Galia Bernstein on

Her website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Leyla Giveaway

I’m excited to be teaming with Abrams Books for Young Readers in a Twitter giveaway of

  • One (1) copy of Leyla by Galia Bernstein

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

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

A winner will be chosen on May 28.

Prizing provided by Abrams Books for Young Readers.

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

National Family Day Activity

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Family Charades

 

Getting together to play charades is a fun way to spend family time with a little bit of thought, a little bit of action, and lots of laughs. You can find lots of charades cards, ideas, and rules at funstufftodo.com.

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You can find Leyla at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

May 9 – It’s National Inventors Month

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About the Holiday

Today we celebrate the creative minds who devise new products, better ways of performing tasks, faster methods of communication, and all kinds of innovative ways to interact with our world. Established in 1998 by the United Inventors Association of the USA, the Academy of Applied Science, and Inventors’ Digest magazine, this month’s holiday encourages people to embrace their creativity and go that extra step toward producing their invention. If you’re a tinkerer, who knows—your product or service could make the world a better place!

Magnolia Mudd and the Super Jumptastic Launcher Deluxe

Written by Katey Howes | Illustrated by Valerio Fabbretti

 

Every Friday, Magnolia Mudd’s favorite adult—her uncle Jamie—visited and spent time inventing with her. He always encouraged Magnolia to think big. One day, Magnolia and Uncle Jamie created their “greatest invention—the Super Jumptastic Launcher Deluxe,” which ran on Mudd Power. Later, after just one experimental launching, Magnolia discovered that she had to build it all over again. When she called her uncle and told him they’d have to repair it next Friday, though, he said she would have to wait. Instead, he was bringing Miss Emily over because they “had ‘something to talk about.’”

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Image copyright Valerio Fabbretti, 2018, text copyright Katey Howes, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Books.

Magnolia didn’t want her time with Uncle Jamie taken up by Miss Emily. As far as Magnolia was concerned Uncle Jamie and Miss Emily had nothing in common, so on Friday when they told her they were getting married, Magnolia was surprised. When Miss Emily asked Magnolia to be their flower girl and showed her the fancy dress she’d wear, Magnolia thought, “no way!” Later, Uncle Jamie said maybe they could find a different way for her to be involved in the wedding.

Magnolia researched all the different things she could do, and experimented with some of them. She read that in India women decorate their hands with henna tattoos. She devised a henna tattoo-painting machine, but it went a little haywire. In Sweden, she learned, guests scared off trolls by bringing bouquets of stink weed. Magnolia built a troll trap, but only caught herself. And in a German tradition, guests throw plates at the couple’s door for good luck, but when Magnolia retooled her “Fantastic Frisbee Flinger,” she only caused a mess of broken pottery.

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Image copyright Valerio Fabbretti, 2018, text copyright Katey Howes, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Books.

Magnolia resigned herself to being “doomed to ruffles and roses.” She was just wishing she could launch the rose petals instead of scattering them when she had an idea. She showed Miss Emily her brainstorm for a bouquet-launcher that worked on Mudd Power. Miss Emily loved it. Together they began to invent. On the day of the wedding, they revealed their “new-and-improved Dual-Directional Super-Jumptastic Flower Launcher Deluxe (with Confetti Blaster),” and as Magnolia and Miss Emily jumped on the launch pad together, Magnolia realized that with Aunt Emily in the family, there was “way more Mudd Power” for inventing.

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Image copyright Valerio Fabbretti, 2018, text copyright Katey Howes, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Books.

Katey Howes’ humorous and clever story is as dual-purpose as Magnolia’s super launcher deluxe. Young readers will love seeing Magnolia’s gizmos that fire rockets, squirt paint, capture trolls, fling plates, and toss the bouquet (maybe a little too far!) while learning about some wedding traditions around the world. The heart of Howes’ story, however, lies in the ideas of family, relationships, communication, and acceptance. Readers will understand that Magnolia’s initial dislike of Miss Emily has more to do with her fear of a changing relationship with Uncle Jamie than with Emily’s dangly earrings or preference for sushi over pizza.

When Magnolia balks at being a flower girl, the adults allow her to be herself and work with her to find a job that makes everyone happy. As Magnolia gets to know Emily better, she takes a chance in suggesting a bouquet launcher and is rewarded when Emily (literally) jumps in with both feet (the fact that Miss Emily works at an art gallery hints at her ability to think creatively too). The final image of Magnolia, Uncle Jamie, and Aunt Emily hard at work in their lab reminds kids of the adage, “the more, the merrier”—or in this case, “the more Mudd power, the merrier.

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Image copyright Valerio Fabbretti, 2018, text copyright Katey Howes, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Books.

Valerio Fabbretti’s bright, cartoon-style artwork is ideally suited to bring out the humor and emotions in Howes’ action-packed story. Magnolia’s and Uncle Jamie’s love of science is on display in both Jamie’s office and Magnolia’s room, where diagrams, chemical equations, test tubes and beakers, and retrofitted home appliances create an eclectic décor. Kids will laugh as Magnolia’s inventions go awry, and cheer when Magnolia and Miss Emily discover the perfect wedding job for Magnolia and complete it together. 

An entertaining and endearing story, Magnolia Mudd and the Super Jumptastic Launcher Deluxe is an inventive book to launch fun story times as well as discussions on individuality, inclusion, change, and family.

Ages 3 and up

Sterling Children’s Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1454921745

Discover more about Katey Howes and her books on her website.

To learn more about Valerio Fabbretti, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Inventors Month Activity

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Sparkle Test Tubes

 

Kids love inventing and experimenting, and these sparkle test tubes give children a fun way to be creative while making a cool way to relax and on those hectic days.

Supplies

  • Plastic test tubes with tight-fitting screw cap, available at craft or science supply stores. Having two or three will allow for more experimentation
  • Glitter glue
  • Hot water
  • Fine glitter
  • Chunky glitter
  • Small glass beads (optional)
  • Neon food coloring (optional)
  • Test tube stand (optional)
  • Whisk
  • Mixing bowl
  • Teaspoon

Directions

  1. Fill a test tube 1/3 full of hot water and pour the water into the mixing bowl
  2. Add 1 – 2 teaspoons of glitter glue (the more glitter glue that is added the thicker the liquid will be and the more the objects will be suspended in the liquid. To allow the objects to flow more freely when the test tube is shaken, add less glue
  3. Whisk the water and glitter glue together
  4. Add chunky glitter, glass beads, or try other small objects
  5. Pour into test tube
  6. Add more water to within a ½ – 1 inch of the top to allow for shaking
  7. Experiment with amount of glitter glue, glitter, and colors

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-magnolia-mudd-and-the-super-jumptastic-launcher-deluxe-cover

You can find Magnolia Mudd and the Super Jumptastic Launcher Deluxe at these booksellers

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

 

 

Picture book review

 

 

May 1 – It’s Children’s Book Week & Interview with Jodi McKay

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About the Holiday

Children’s Book Week, a celebration of reading and books, turns 100 this year! Founded in 1919, this longest-running literacy initiative in the US, was a collaborative effort by Franklin K. Matthiews, the librarian of the Boy Scouts of America, Frederic G. Melcher, the editor of Publishers Weekly, and Anne Carroll Moore, the Superintendent of Children’s Works at the New York Public Library. In 1916, the American Booksellers Association and the American Library Association, in conjunction with the Boy Scouts, sponsored the first Good Book Week.

When the Children’s Book Council was established in 1944, they assumed responsibility of running this important initiative. The holiday is celebrated with special events in schools, libraries, bookstores, and communities across the country with the participation of authors, illustrators, publishers, librarians, teachers, and booksellers. This year the theme of the week is Read Now, Read Forever. To find out more about the week as well as activities to download and locations of events in your area, visit Every Child a Reader.

I received a copy of Pencil’s Perfect Picture from Albert Whitman & Company for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m thrilled to be partnering with Albert Whitman & Company in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Pencil’s Perfect Picture

Written by Jodi McKay | Illustrated by Juliana Motzko

 

Pencil loves his dad so much that he wants to do something special for him. He thinks about baking him a cupcake or giving him a bouquet of flowers, but then he hits on just the right thing. Pencil decides “I’ll draw him the greatest, the best, the most perfect picture he has ever seen!” But there’s a hitch, Pencil doesn’t really know what that is. He heads off to the Art School to find out.

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Image copyright Juliana Motzko, 2019, text copyright Jodi McKay, 2019. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

He finds Brush doing a headstand in a paint can, and after Brush adds a golden swoop to a sunset painting, Pencil asks if that’s what makes the picture perfect. “Perfection?” Brush answers. “Pah! I paint for pleasure.” This answer doesn’t really help, so Pencil goes in search of Marker.

Marker shows Pencil all the fancy moves he uses when drawing. Pencil loves the action in Marker’s work and wonders if that’s what makes it perfect. Marker’s not that interested in perfection though, just in doing his best. Pencil then thinks he’ll go ask Pastel for her opinion. He finds Pastel practicing yoga before she creates. Then she faces her blank paper and in a few minutes has a picture that makes Pencil “feel happy.” Could this be the secret to perfection? Pastel says peace is her aim, but Pencil counters, “I don’t think I’ll find peace until I know how to draw a perfect picture” and walks off to find the crayons.

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Image copyright Juliana Motzko, 2019, text copyright Jodi McKay, 2019. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

The little crayons have all been working hard on their drawings and are proud to show them off. Pencil thinks they’re all perfect and asks how they achieved it, but their teacher reveals that they just “draw because it’s fun.” Pencil’s still no wiser when he meets up with Chalk, but in describing his frustrations, Pencil has a brainstorm.

He hurries home to try a little bit of everything he’s learned. He stands back to take a look at his drawing just as his dad comes in. Pencil explains that he wanted to make a special drawing for him, but he’s just not sure it’s…. His dad studies the drawing and says, “Wow, this picture is PERFECT!” Pencil is excited and wants to know why. As they gaze at the drawing in which Pencil and his dad are smiling and have their arms around each other, Pencil’s dad says, “It’s perfect because YOU drew it for me.”

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Image copyright Juliana Motzko, 2019, text copyright Jodi McKay, 2019. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Jodi McKay so sweetly taps into the desire of little ones to show their parents, grandparents, or other caregivers how much they love them while including that lump-in-the-throat moment adults experience when it happens. Through Pencil’s unwavering determination to find the answer, kids are introduced to all their favorite drawing tools and lots of ways to look at art or any pursuit. Pencil’s enthusiasm is infectious and charming, and readers will be happy to take the journey with him. When Pencil puts his own spin on what he’s learned and creates the drawing for his dad, little ones will see that they too have great creative ideas. The reaction of Pencil’s dad is reassuring and teaches an important lesson about anything children pursue—that “perfection” is personal and in the eye of the beholder.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-pencil's-perfect-picture-crayons

Opening the cover of Pencil’s Perfect Picture is like stepping into a classroom full of color and joyful kids eager for fun. Juliana Motzko’s adorable Pencil with his stick arms and legs and expressive smile and eyebrows is just the kind of friend readers would love to spend time with. Cleverly, Motzko depicts the other drawing tools as other influences that children meet along their way in life—teachers, coaches, and classmates. Readers will love seeing all of the drawings these artists create and may even want to try drawing some of them themselves (in their own style, of course!). Every page will make kids and adults smile, and the final spreads in which Pencil and his dad stand with their arms around in real life and in the portrait make for the perfect ending.

Sprinkled with humor, Pencil’s Perfect Picture is an adorable and endearing read that would quickly become a favorite on home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 5

Albert Whitman & Company, 2019 | ISBN 978-0807564769

Discover more about Jodi McKay and her books on her website.

To learn more about Juliana Motzko, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Jodi McKay

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Jodi McKay lives in Michigan with her husband, son, and two furry friends. She is the PAL coordinator for SCBWI-MI, and is active in several online writing groups. She has two books published by Albert Whitman & Co., WHERE ARE THE WORDS? (2016) and PENCIL’S PERFECT PICTURE (May, 2019). Jodi is represented by Linda Epstein of Emerald City Literary Agency.

Today, I’m excited to chat with Jodi McKay about Pencil’s origin, how adults can help kids develop and keep their own style, and some of the best parts of book events.

What inspired you to write Pencil’s Perfect Picture?

I actually wrote Pencil’s Perfect Picture thinking that it would be a companion book to my first book, Where Are The Words? That story ends with the characters asking Pencil to draw them pictures for the story they just wrote. I figured book number two would show Pencil trying to draw pictures for them, but not just any pictures, they had to be perfect. That idea came from watching my son struggle with drawing something “just right.” He had developed a sense of perfection when it came to his art and that broke my heart a little. I realize that kids start to compare themselves to their peers or others as they grow up, but I didn’t want that to affect how he approached his creativity. I had to make sure the story addressed that idea of perfection especially when it comes to art. My editor suggested that I change who Pencil draws his picture for to include more of a family theme which I loved. It adds a layer of heart that is relatable to kids as they often draw pictures for their parents or loved ones.

I love the message of Pencil’s Perfect Picture. As you say, children seem to learn so quickly to compare their work and themselves to others. What are a couple of ways that adults can help them appreciate and embrace their unique view of the world.

Yes, agreed! I know it has to do with some developmental stage where the self becomes less important and peer opinions more important, but it’s imperative not to lose that sense of self. We have to celebrate our individuality, explore what makes us unique, and find ways to express ourselves with our imaginations. Parents have a special job when it comes to fostering all of that, and for me it really comes down to creating a judgement-free zone not just with art, but with all aspects of life. For the sake of time let’s stick with art here.

  • Provide your child with different types of art supplies: markers, crayons, paint, fabrics, clay, etc. Let them pick what they want to use and how they want to use it (watch where those small pieces go!).
  • When your child is finished, talk to him or her about what they made, how it made them feel, what is their favorite part about their art project. Keep it positive.
  • Remember, art is never wrong. Emphasize that to your child. It is awesome because they imagined it and brought it to life. No one else can make that same picture.
  • Consider creating with your child. I think kids love to see their parents use their imaginations so grab a marker or a crayon and draw together! Need a fun idea? Try to draw a perfect picture together.

Here’s what you will need:

  • Paper
  • Pencil, crayon, marker, whatever is fun to draw with

Instructions:

One person starts by drawing something simple, a shape, a line, etc. Take turns adding elements to the picture until you both decide it’s perfect. Enjoy your masterpiece!

Another wonderful aspect of your book is that you include so many different personalities in Brush, Marker, Pastel, and the Crayons. Which do you identify with most and why?

I really like this question! It’s taken me a minute to think about it and the one I have chosen is not an obvious answer if you know me. I think I’m most like Marker. I’m not particularly sporty or a fan of sweat bands, but I am organized like him. He’s a “First, Next, Last” kind of guy which is how I can be when it comes to tackling a project. Also, his motto, “Do your best” resonates with me.

When my son was young, he and his friends took to sharpening old pencils down to the eraser to see how small they could get them. We loved those cute nubbins! Your first book, the very clever Where Are the Words? also has a pencil character. Do you have a special place in your heart for pencils, a favorite pencil or a special memory involving pencils or writing instruments?

I know, it must seem like I have a thing for pencils, but I’m sorry to say that I don’t. I used to draw a ton with pencils, color and plain. Lots of doodles in the margins of notebooks, drawing pads full of patterns, cartoons, likenesses. I never write with pencils though, I use pens for the most part which makes one wonder why I didn’t include a pen in the story, right? I do have a favorite pen—it has a sloth on it, which makes me very happy.

On your website you mention that The Story of Ferdinand was your favorite book as a child. Me too! In fact, I just found a boxed edition for $3.00 at my wonderful local used book store and snapped it up. I really identified with Ferdinand, but there’s also so much sage advice in that book. What is about that book that made it a favorite for you?

There is so much to love about that book—the sense of calm I feel when I read it, the way pacing is used to create both tension and ease, the words Leaf chose that paint beautiful pictures (smelling flowers under a cork tree), and how Ferdinand stayed true to himself. LOVE it!

One fun part of being a children’s author must be visiting schools and holding other events. What do you like best about meeting your readers? Do you have any anecdote you’d like to share?

Yes! I love meeting readers and chatting with them about books—what they like, what they don’t like, and listening to their story ideas. It’s such a great feeling to see kids get excited about writing and reading, it makes me think that I’ve done my job as an author.

Some of my favorite moments happen when I see a young reader connect with the humor in my books. I love the laughs and the, “aha!” moment of understanding the joke. Some of my funnier experiences have happened during school visits. There’s always the question, “How old are you?” and the follow up comment, “My mom is that old!” or the looks I receive when the kids walk into the room and say, “That’s her!” and “She’s the author!” I’ve never seen myself as that person and hearing their whispers is funny to me. Of course, there are also sweet moments filled with hugs and thank you’s from the students.

What’s up next for you?

At the moment I am busy preparing for upcoming book-signing events as well as a few future events for the Michigan SCBWI members. Otherwise, I am still writing, writing, and writing some more. I have a couple of stories ready to send to my agent, one ready for submission to editors (fingers crossed!), and a bunch waiting for revisions or reworking.

What’s your favorite holiday?

Christmas all the way. I love the joy of the holiday, the shared excitement, the smells and sounds, and the colorful, glittery décor. It’s all about family, love, and giving. There’s not much better than that!

Has a holiday ever influenced your work?

Christmas definitely has inspired some stories (surprise!), however I was informed that holiday, Christmas specifically, stories are really hard to sell. I’m not giving up hope though, I will just need to find the right spin on a holiday theme and maybe it will become one of those few that are chosen.

Thanks so much Jodi! This was fun! I wish you all the best with Pencil’s Perfect Picture, Where Are the Words, and all of your future projects!

You can connect with Jodi on

Her website | Facebook | Twitter | You can email her at Jodi@JodiMcKayBooks.com

Pencil’s Perfect Picture Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Jodi McKay in a giveaway of:

  • One (1) signed copy of Pencil’s Perfect Picture, written by Jodi McKay | illustrated by Juliana Motzko

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

This giveaway is open from May 1 through May 7 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on May 8.

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

Children’s Book Week Activities

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Pencil’s Draw Your Own Picture Page

 

Are you eager artist? Then Jodi McKay and Pencil have a treat for you—a page where you can create their own “perfect picture!” Download it here and get drawing!

Draw Your Own Picture Page

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Surprise Ferocious Beings Paper Project

 

Today, Jodi’s also sharing one of her favorite craft ideas courtesy of Janette Nyberg’s Craft Whack website. If you love to draw—and add an element of surprise to your work—you’ll love this clever idea! After your kids do this one, they’ll want to take a look at all of the fun ideas on this fantastic site!

Surprise Ferocious Beings Paper Project

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You can find Pencil’s Perfect Picture at these booksellers

Albert Whitman & Co. | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

April 3 – National Walking Day and Interview with Author Jane Whittingham

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About the Holiday

The American Heart Association established National Walking Day in 2007 to remind people of the benefits of taking a walk. Even twenty to thirty minutes a day can improve your health and wellbeing. If you have a desk job or spend long hours sitting, getting up and out can make you feel better and even more connected to your community. While walking through your neighborhood, the park, or the woods take time to notice interesting details and the beauty around you. Walking with a friend, your family, or a group can also be fun and motivating. So grab your sneakers and use today to spark a new habit that will pay dividends now and in the future.

I received a copy of Queenie Quail Can’t Keep Up from Pajama Press for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m happy to be partnering with Pajama Press in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Queenie Quail Can’t Keep Up

Written by Jane Whittingham | Illustrated by Emma Pedersen

 

Twice every day Mama Quail led her ten chicks through the meadow, and while nine hurried and scurried along after Mama, Queenie, the smallest, always lagged behind. Mama and the other chicks chirped and cheeped for Queenie to “hurry hurry hurry,” but it was just so hard when there was so much to see. Queenie loved stopping to look at the “pink blossoms and green grass, shiny stones and fuzzy caterpillars, buzzy bumblebees and wiggly worms.”

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Image copyright Emma Pedersen, 2019, text copyright Jane Whittingham, 2019. Courtesy of Pajama Press.

Her papa admonished her to learn to hurry—“It is what we quails do!” he told her. And Queenie promised to try. She really did try too, but she just couldn’t pass by all her favorite things without stopping to enjoy them. One day, in addition to the blossoms, grass, stones, caterpillars, bees, and worms, Queenie spied a feather. And when she stopped to admire it, she saw “an unusual flash of orange.”

As Queenie watched, the “the furry orange slid softly, smoothly, silently through the green grass.” Queenie followed at a careful distance. Suddenly, Queenie saw that she was following a cat—a cat that was stalking her mama and brothers and sisters. Queenie knew just what she had to do. She raced down the path “hurry, hurry, hurrying,” chirping, cheeping, and warning her family.

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Image copyright Emma Pedersen, 2019, text copyright Jane Whittingham, 2019. Courtesy of Pajama Press.

In the nick of time, Papa heard her and swooped down on the cat. Mama came running too. With a hiss, the cat jumped into the grass and fled. “‘You’ve saved us, Queenie Quail!’ Mama Quail chirped.” And Papa and her little siblings praised her too. Now, when the family heads out along the meadow trail and Queenie can’t keep up, they all ask, “‘What have you found, what have you found, what have you found?’” And they stop and hurry hurry hurry over to take a look too.

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Image copyright Emma Pedersen, 2019, text copyright Jane Whittingham, 2019. Courtesy of Pajama Press.

Jane Whittingham’s story of an adorable quail who stops to smell all the roses is a charming, charming, charming read-aloud that adults will love sharing and kids will enthusiastically chime in on during the fun repeated phrases. Whittingham’s agile storytelling shines with lyrical rhythms and alliteration that bounce along like the little stars of her book. The gentle suspense will keep young listeners riveted to the story, and afterward they’re sure to join Queenie and her brothers and sisters in slowing down to enjoy the world around them.

Readers will immediately fall in love with Queenie and her siblings as Emma Pedersen’s cute-as-can-be, tufted quail babies race and bob along the trail to keep up with Mama. With expressive eyes and tiny beaks that form a perpetual smile, they nestle next to Mama and pile on top of Papa. As they watch out for Queenie, one or two often peer out at readers, inviting them along on their excursions. As the heroine of the story, Queenie is a sweetie, fascinated by everything she sees. Pedersen’s lovely gauche paintings are as fresh as a spring meadow and will entice kids and adults to take a nice slow walk together.

A unique and tender story that will have children entranced from the first page, Queenie Quail Can’t Keep Up will be a favorite on home, school, and public library shelves.

Ages 3 – 7

Pajama Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1772780673

You’ll discover more about Jane Whittingham and her books as well as blog posts, interviews, and lots more on her website.

To learn more about Emma Pedersen, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Jane Whittingham

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Today, I’m excited to be talking with Jane Whittingham an author and librarian from British Columbia, Canada, about the inspiration for her adorable quails, what she loves about being a librarian, and how nature features in her life and books.

I believe Queenie Quail Can’t Keep Up was inspired by your dad and a true story. Can you talk about that a little?

My parents moved to a small town on Vancouver Island when they retired, and their backyard is home to all sorts of wildlife, including families of quails that hurry and scurry here and there. My dad  always liked watching them, and he mentioned to me once that quails would make perfect picture book stars with their round little bodies and their amusing personalities and antics. Well, I was inspired! I’d never really thought much about quails, since we don’t have them where I live, so every time I visited my parents I would spend a bit of time watching the quails for inspiration.

Queenie, the little quail who is just too easily distracted to keep up with her siblings, is definitely inspired by me, and the fact that I’m always falling behind because I have to stop and look at everything! The book is a bit bittersweet to me because my father passed away before it was published, but I know he would’ve gotten a real kick out of it, and he would have probably introduced himself to everyone as my muse!  

Have you always liked to write? Can you talk a little about your process? Do you have a favorite place to write?

I’ve always been a writer, and even before I could physically write I was a storyteller. I was an only child and spent a lot of time using my toys to tell epic stories, which I would then recount breathlessly to my parents in an endless stream of words.

I don’t really have a process – like many people I fit writing around my full-time job (I’m a librarian) and into my busy life, so I snatch moments here and there whenever I can. I write on my phone, I write on scraps of paper, I write on my computer. I write on my commute, at coffee shops, and in grocery store lineups. You never know when inspiration will strike!

Besides Queenie Quail Can’t Keep Up,  you have two more very well-received books out from Pajama Press—Wild One and A Good Day for Ducks. The outdoors features in all of your books in some way. Are you inspired by the outdoors? What is your favorite outside activity or a memorable experience you’ve had?

I am absolutely inspired by the outdoors – even though my childhood wasn’t that long ago in the grand scheme of things, I do feel like I had a very different childhood than many kids experience today. I spent a lot of my free time outdoors, wandering or biking around the neighborhood with a band of kids, making (and falling out of) tree forts, playing kickball on the street, and turning local playgrounds into the settings for all sorts of imaginary worlds. My parents often had no idea where I was, but that was totally normal for the time—I never left the neighborhood, and they knew I would come home when it started to get dark.

Sometimes it feels like I grew up in a whole other era! Through my books I really want to encourage families to get outside, to explore, to learn through doing and through experiencing. Nature is such an incredible source of inspiration, of knowledge, of enjoyment, and even of healing, and we really miss out on so much by cooping ourselves up in front of our screens all day long!

In doing a little research for this interview, I raided your wonderful website and discovered that you made a few resolutions this year. One is to read outside your comfort zone, which includes murder mysteries, historical fiction, and narrative nonfiction. How is that going? Can you give me one mystery title in your comfort zone and one “departure” book you’ve dipped your toes (eyes?) into?

Oh dearie me, you’re holding me accountable! I recently finished a YA novel, which is very, very unusual for me—I never read young adult fiction even when I was a young adult, so this was a major departure for me! It’s called The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali, and tells the story of a young Muslim lesbian whose family discovers her secret girlfriend and sends her off to Bangladesh to straighten her out, as it were. It’s definitely an eye-opening look into a culture and experience very different from my own, and I really enjoyed it.

As for my taste in mysteries, I tend to favour the classic British who-dunnit style, with authors like Dorothy L. Sayers and Ngaio Marsh being particular favorites. I also really enjoy mysteries with historical settings, which allow me to check off two favorite genres at once!

Queenie is an adorable little quail! What was your reaction to seeing Emma Pedersen’s illustrations for the first time? In your blog post “Queenie Quail and the Road to Publication,” you talk about needing to cut your original manuscript. Can you describe one place where the illustration reflects the text that is no longer there? Can you describe a place where Emma included something that surprised or particularly delighted you?

I was absolutely floored when I first saw Emma’s illustrations, they’re beyond wonderful, and even more adorable than I ever could have imagined! It’s a funny thing, being a picture book author, because you craft these characters and this environment, and then you hand the whole thing over to a stranger to make real—it can be a bit nerve-wracking, not knowing what your little characters will end up looking like! I was immensely relieved when I saw Queenie and her siblings, and I think Emma’s classic artistic style perfectly complements my old-fashioned writing style.

One of the aspects of the text that was really shortened related to all the things that distracted Queenie on her daily walks with her family. I described the worms and the bees and the flowers in great detail, which turned out to be entirely unnecessary, since everything appeared so beautifully in Emma’s illustrations!

And as for an illustration that particularly delighted me, there’s a spread where Mama and Papa quail nuzzle Queenie as they thank her for saving the day, and the loving expressions on everyone’s faces really just melted my heart, I loved them so much!

What drew you to becoming a librarian? What is a favorite part of your day?

I am a children’s librarian for an urban library system here in British Columbia, Canada, and I’m responsible for developing and facilitating programming for children and families in an older residential neighborhood. I get to do a lot of fun things in my job—I lead story times for caregivers and their babies, facilitate writing and book clubs for tweens, and get to host and visit local preschools, daycares and elementary schools. I think my favourite part of the entire year is Summer Reading Club, which runs from June – August every year. We spend the entire year planning all sorts of exciting programs to get kids reading all summer long, and it’s so much fun! Sometimes I can’t quite believe I get to do this as my job. I also manage the physical collections in the library, organizing and weeding the books to make sure the collection is in tip- top shape and helps meet the reading needs of my community.

I was raised in a family of voracious readers and I love working with people, so librarianship always seemed like a natural fit, but it took me quite a while to get here. I worked in various jobs for about six years following my initial graduation from university, before finally feeling confident enough to take the plunge and go back to school to do my masters in librarianship. It was a real leap of faith, quitting a well-paying, stable but unfulfilling job to take a chance on a career that everyone around me said was dying out, but it’s certainly paid out for me, so far at least! I can’t stress enough that simply loving books is not enough of a reason to become a librarian, especially not a public librarian – you really do need to love working with people more than anything, because it’s definitely not for the faint of heart sometimes!

On your website you have a gallery of pictures from libraries you’ve visited. How many libraries have you been to? Which library is the farthest from home? Which was your favorite and why?

I love visiting libraries at home and abroad, I find so much inspiration from looking at how other libraries organize their collections, decorate their spaces, and plan their events. I’m not even sure at this point how many libraries I’ve visited. I need to update my website to include the ones I visited on my most recent trip to Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick!

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Jane visits one of her favorite libraries – the Nikko Library – in Japan

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A view of a bridge and beyond in Nikko, Japan

Some of the furthest libraries I’ve visited have been in New Zealand and Japan (which I’ve visited on three separate occasions so far), though I’ve visited libraries in different US states and Canadian provinces, too. I don’t know that I have a single favorite library, but I do particularly enjoy visiting rural libraries – they can be so creative with their often-limited resources, and really do serve as the hearts and souls of their communities. 

What’s the best part about being a children’s author? Can you share an anecdote from an author’s event you’ve held or been part of?

I love everything about writing for kids! I really am a big kid at heart, which is why I’m a children’s librarian, too! I’ve had wonderful experiences reading my books to kids at different author events, and it’s so much fun to get everyone involved.

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Jane and kids act out animals during an exciting author visit.

With Wild One I like to get kids to guess which animal they think the protagonist is pretending to be, and then we act out the animals together, which is heaps of fun, and with A Good Day for Ducks we act out all sorts of fun raining day actions, then talk together about all the things you can do, inside and outside, on a rainy day. I live in a very rainy place, so it’s important to find the joy in even the gloomiest of days! One of the most meaningful events I’ve done was a visit to a local children’s hospice, where I was able to connect with a small group of really amazing children who have been through so much in their short lives. To be able to share my stories with them, and listen to their stories, was an incredibly inspiring and moving experience.

What’s up next for you?

I’m not quite sure! I’ve got a couple of manuscripts that I’m still working on, and some that I’m waiting to hear back about from editors, so I don’t really know yet what’s coming down the pipeline. But I’ll always keep on telling stories, no matter what. 🙂

What is your favorite holiday and why?

My favourite holiday is definitely Christmas. I love Christmas. I love the music, the baking, the food, the decorating, the music, the family get-togethers, I love it all! I don’t actually do any of the decorating or baking or cooking myself, I mostly just listen to Christmas carols for a month straight and watch hours of Christmas movies on TV, but I love it all the same!

Thanks, so much, Jane! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know more about you and am sure readers have too! I wish you all the best with Queenie Quail Can’t Keep Up and all of your books!

You can connect with Jane Whittingham on:

Her website | Instagram

Queenie Quail Can’t Keep Up Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Pajama Press in an Instagram giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Queenie Quail Can’t Keep Up written by Jane Whittingham | illustrated by Emma Pedersen

This giveaway is open from April 3 through April 9 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

It’s easy to enter! Just:

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | Prizing provided by Pajama Press.

National Walking Day Activity

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Whose Shoes? Matching Puzzle

These kids are getting out and enjoying nature! Can you help them find the right shoes so they can start their adventures in this printable puzzle?

Whose Shoes? Matching Puzzle

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You can find Queenie Quail Can’t Keep Up at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

February 27 – International Polar Bear Day

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About the Holiday

Today we celebrate polar bears, the largest member of the bear family and a critical part of the Arctic ecosystem. These beautiful creatures spend much of their time at the edge of ice packs, from which they hunt for food. Their excellent sense of smell allows them to sense food up to a mile (1.6 km) away. Increasingly polar bears are under threat from changes in climate which are shrinking their habitat and affecting their quality of life. In honor of today’s holiday take time to research polar bears and consider donating to a cause for their protection.

Little Polar Bear

By Hans de Beer

 

At last little Lars is old enough to go hunting with his father, and they head out into the white, frozen expanse to find the perfect fishing spot. While Lars watched from the edge of an ice pack, his dad disappeared underwater for so long that Lars began to worry. When he finally surfaced, however, he brought with him a large fish for dinner. After dinner it was time to sleep. Lars’ father showed him how to build a wall of snow to lie behind that would protect him from the wind.

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Copyright Hans de Beer, 2016, courtesy of NorthSouth Books.

During the night as Lars and his father slept, the ice cracked between them, sending Lars floating away by himself. When Lars woke in the morning, he discovered that he was alone and that the warm sun was melting his ice floe little by little. Just as the ice threatened to disappear entirely, a barrel floated by and Lars crawled on top of it. “Then a storm began to rage. As Lars clung to his bobbing barrel he missed his father and his pile of snow more and more.”

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Copyright Hans de Beer, 2016, courtesy of NorthSouth Books.

By the time the storm subsided Lars was far from home. He found himself in a place with no snow or ice; instead “almost everything was green and the sun was very warm.” Lars left the barrel and padded onto the sandy beach. The hot sand burned Lars’ paws, and he ran to the nearby river to cool them. “But just as he was about to plunge in, a very big, tan animal sprung out of the water.” Frightened, Lars ran away, but the hippopotamus followed him and introduced himself. Henry had never seen a white bear, and Lars had never seen a tan animal.

Lars told Henry about his trip and how he wanted to find father. Henry didn’t know how to help, but he figured that Marcus the eagle would know what to do. With Lars on his back Henry started the long journey across the river, through the jungle, and over the mountains. On the way, Lars loved seeing all the different colors, creatures, and vegetation. He climbed trees, met a chameleon, and sniffed at a butterfly. When they came to the mountains, Henry had trouble climbing, but Lars scampered ahead and showed him where to step.

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Image copyright Hans de Beer, 2016, courtesy of NorthSouth Books.

Finally, Henry couldn’t go any farther. He and Lars found a place to rest for the night. The view of the water made Lars homesick, but Henry reassured him. The next day, high on the mountain, Lars and Henry found Marcus. “The eagle looked at Lars and then said, ‘Well, well, a polar bear in the tropics! You’re a long way from home aren’t you, young man?’”

Marcus explained that he could indeed help Lars get home, but they would need the assistance of Samson. In the morning a gray whale swam near shore, and Lars climbed on his back. While Henry was happy that Lars could find his way home, he was also sad to see him go. He and Lars said goodbye to each other. As Henry looked on, Samson and Lars swam out into the open ocean with Marcus flying “along a bit to set them on their way.”

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Image copyright Hans de Beer, 2016, courtesy of NorthSouth Books.

After Samson had swum a long distance, icy cliffs once again appeared on the horizon. As they drew closer, Lars spotted his father standing at the edge of the ice scanning the sea. Lars called out to him, and Lars’ father couldn’t believe his eyes. In thanks for bringing back his son, Lars’s father caught a big fish and gave it to Samson. Lars and his father started toward home, and as they walked “Lars talked about all of the amazing things he had seen.” His father was astonished. “‘You didn’t meet anyone who was white?’” he asked. “‘Nobody, except a chameleon,’ said Lars, ‘but that doesn’t count.’” Lars laughed, but his dad couldn’t understand the joke.

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Copyright Hans de Beer, 2016, courtesy of NorthSouth Books.

Hans de Beer’s sweet, adventurous little polar bear has been long beloved by young readers who have followed his journeys and escapades through many books. This favorite introduction to Lars, his father, and the North Pole was reissued in 2016 and is as timely now as when it was first published. De Beer’s straightforward story of a young bear suddenly taken away from home, surviving by instinct, and discovering new places, friends, and ideas, is at once exciting and comforting. As Lars finds himself in unfamiliar territory populated with animals and creatures he’s never seen before, he doesn’t shy away from the experience, but embraces the diversity of what he sees just as the tropical animals accept him. The kindness and camaraderie shared among the animals is a universal lesson for all.

Little ones love de Beer’s expressive animals and the caring interactions between them. Kids will laugh when Henry pops out of the river to say “boo!” and giggle to see Lars and the chameleon sticking out their tongues together. The soft pastel palette invites kids to linger over the pages and experience both the frozen tundra and lush jungle with the same awe as Lars. Readers will cheer when Lars is reunited with his father, but will also look forward to traveling with their new friend again in his other adventures.

Ages 3 – 8

NorthSouth Books, 2016 (Hardcover) | ISBN 978-0735842649

International Polar Bear Day Activity

CPB - Polar Bear scarf

CPB - Polar Bear Banner

Polar Bear Scarf or Banner

Polar bears aren’t cold in the winter—and neither should you be! Here are directions and printable templates for making a cute scarf to keep you warm, or—if you’d rather—a banner to warm up your room.

Supplies

  • Printable Polar Bear and Igloo Template
  • 1 Strip of blue fleece 4 ½ feet long x 7 inches wide for the scarf
  • 1 Piece of blue scrapbooking paper for a banner
  • Pieces of white, black, blue, and purple fleece or scrapbooking paper to make the polar bear, igloo, snowflakes, and ice floes.
  • String or twine for banner
  • Scissors
  • Fabric or paper glue

Directions for Scarf

To make the fringe at each end of the scarf

  1. Make 7 cuts about 4 inches long
  2. Tie a knot at the top of each fringe section

To make the pieces for the scarf or banner

  1. Trace the polar bear and igloo sections from the Printable Template onto white fleece and cut out
  2. Trace the two ice floes onto blue fleece and cut out
  3. Trace the door of the igloo onto blue fleece and cut out
  4. Trace the polar bear’s scarf onto purple (or any color) fleece and cut out
  5. Cut out round snowflakes
  6. Cut out a small circle from black fleece for the Polar Bear’s nose

On one end of the scarf

  1. Glue the smaller ice floe on one end of the scarf
  2. Tie the bear’s scarf around its neck before gluing the bear to the scarf
  3. Glue the polar bear onto the scarf with its feet on the ice floe
  4. Glue on the polar bear’s nose
  5. Make a small dot for the polar bear’s eye with a marker
  6. Glue snowflakes above polar bear

On the other end of the scarf

  1. Glue the bigger ice floe to the scarf
  2. Glue the three pieces of the large igloo to the scarf, leaving a little space between sections
  3. Glue the small white door of the igloo on top of the last two igloo sections
  4. Glue the small blue door onto the white door
  5. Glue snowflakes above the igloo

Directions for Banner

  1. Cut a point at the bottom of your banner
  2. Follow the directions above to trace the pieces of the polar bear and igloo from the printable template onto scrapbooking paper
  3. Follow the directions above to glue the pieces of the polar bear and igloo to your banner
  4. Attach string or twine to back of banner to make a hanger

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You can find The Little Polar Bear at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review