July 12 – National Simplicity Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday honors transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau, who was born on this date in 1817 and along with his many other talents and interests advocated for a simplified life. As summer heats up with a full calendar of camps, activities, vacations, work, day trips, and more, take today “off” and just enjoy the simple pleasures around you.

I received a copy of Welcome to Morningtown from Bloomsbury Children’s Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m also excited to be partnering with Bloomsbury in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Welcome to Morningtown

Written by Blake Liliane Hellman | Illustrated by Steven Henry

 

It’s the crack of dawn in Morningtown and “everyone is waking.” A little cub rubs his eyes and sees his dad standing at the foot of his bed, fishing pole in hand, tackle box at the ready. The little tyke yawns and stretches along with the birds in the tree outside his room. Down at the pond, the frogs are “hopping, flopping, splashing awake while the turtles and a beaver enjoying the first cup of the day look on. All over Morningtown the animals, the insects, and even the fish are leaving their beds, brushing their teeth, washing up, and getting dressed.

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, text copyright Blake Liliane Hellman, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Next comes breakfast! “Some crunch, some nibble, some sip their morning feast.” Then in houses all around town the windows are opened and the shutters thrown wide. What will the day bring? Perhaps a banjo lesson, a new friend, and chance to help out. The cub dries the breakfast dishes while his mom washes. “Every day’s a surprise, and as the sun rises… busy bees buzz, fun bunnies bounce, and eager beavers slide into the day.” Yes, it’s a busy day in Morningtown. “Everyone is up…except one.” It’s a good thing Mom likes to go fishing too.

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, text copyright Blake Liliane Hellman, 2019. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Blake Liliane Hellman’s lyrical look at morning and all the promise it holds is an enchanting, cheerful way to start the day for little ones—and their adults. As the bear family wakes up in their stone home, the rest of Morningtown’s residents are also rising and greeting the day with all of those little details that go into getting ready to meet the world. Hellman’s evocative verbs, jaunty rhythms, and humorous ending make Welcome to Morningtown a joy to read aloud.

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Accompanying Hellman’s story are Steven Henry’s beyond adorable forest creatures who populate this peaceful hamlet. The sky glows golden and then softens into a clear, light blue as the animals leave their beds. One snoozing butterfly catches a few more winks on her soft dandelion bed, a tiny turtle enjoys another minute on Mom’s back, and Mr. Mole climbs emerges from his “secret” bed underground while three chirping birds wake a little mountain goat on his snowy ledge. Smiles abound, and readers will find themselves smiling too as they follow the little cub as he gets ready to go fishing with Dad. Henry’s clever details and charming perspectives create a rich and, as the title invites, welcoming community that little ones will want to visit again and again.

To start a little one’s day with enthusiasm for what lies ahead, put them to bed looking forward to tomorrow, or share cuddly down time, the charming Welcome to Morningtown is as sweet as it gets and would be an often-asked-for addition to home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 5

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1681198736

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

Welcome to Morningtown Giveaway

I’m happy to be partnering with Bloomsbury Children’s Books in a giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Welcome to Morningtown by Blake Liliane Hellman | illustrated by Steven Henry

To be entered to win Follow me on Twitter @CelebratePicBks and Retweet one of my giveaway tweets.

Bonus: Reply with your or your child’s favorite breakfast for an extra entry. Each reply gives you one more entry.

This giveaway is open from July 12 through July 18 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on July 19.

Giveaways open to US and Canadian addresses only | Prizing provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

National Simplicity Day Activity

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Pancake Flip-Out

 

Pancakes are served in a stack because they’re so delicious each one doesn’t last long! This game gives you the chance to see how many pancakes you can flip onto a plate! You can play this game several ways:

To Play Pancake Toss

  1. Give each player the same number of pancakes and see how many they can toss onto the plate during their turn
  2. Make a target with the plate in the middle and draw 3 concentric circles around it. Hitting the target can earn you 20 points. Getting your pancake in the first circle around the plate earns you 15 point, the second circle is worth 10 points, and the third is worth 5 points. Rotate through the players as many times as you like and add up the points at the end. The player with the most points wins!
  3. Instead of tossing the pancakes with your hands, try throwing them with a spatula!
  4. Make up your own rules—and have fun!

To Play With Dice

  1. Choose a number of pancakes that each player must add to their plate—say, maybe, a baker’s dozen.
  2. Take turns rolling the dice and adding the number of pancakes rolled to the plate. The first player to reach the agreed-upon number is the winner.

Supplies

Directions

  1. Print enough copies of the Pancakes and Breakfast Plates for the game you choose and cut them out. Playing pieces can be printed on card stock or on paper. 
  2. If printing on paper, you can glue the pancakes and plate to poster board, cardboard, or foam to give the pancakes more weight for throwing and the plate more support
  3. Once dry, the game pieces are ready for fun!

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You can find Welcome to Morningtown at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

July 7 -World Chocolate Day

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About the Holiday

The purpose of World Chocolate Day is simple! Most likely instituted to celebrate the introduction of chocolate to Europe on July 7, 1550, the day gives people everywhere the perfect excuse to indulge in this favorite flavor sensation. You know what to do! Bake some brownies, order a double scoop of your favorite chocolate-based ice cream, make a chocolate cake (with chocolate frosting, of course), or whip up a batch of chocolate chocolate chip cookies, and enjoy!

Grandpa Cocoa: A Tale of Chocolate, from Farm to Family

By Elizabeth Zunon

 

It’s a little girl’s birthday, and she and her daddy are making her “family’s special celebration cake” while her mom “goes to pick up another treat.” While they bake, the girl’s father reminds her that “‘chocolate is a gift to you from Grandpa Cacao.” The girl has never met her grandfather since he lives in Africa and she wonders if she is like him. Her father begins to tell her the story of his growing up on her Grandpa Cacao’s Ivory Coast farm.

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Copyright Elizabeth Zunon, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

As they add flour to the bowl, Daddy explains how her grandfather knew just when the fruit was ripe for picking. “Just like the way I can spot the end of summer from tinges of orange at the tips of treetops,” the girl thinks. Then, her father goes on, Grandpa Cacao expertly sliced the pods without damaging any of the beans inside. “‘Did you ever help?’” the girl asks as they melt the chocolate and butter for the cake. Her daddy says that everyone in the village worked together and that when he turned seven, he was allowed to help but only after he’d finished his homework and chores.

The white beans were put into pits lined with banana leaves and stirred periodically until they became light brown. Then they were moved to a cement floor to dry in the sun. The beans had to be taken in each night, and when storms came the beans had to be covered. The girl imagines her grandpa could smell the rain coming the way she could “smell a cold day.”

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Copyright Elizabeth Zunon, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

While they crack and add the eggs, the girl’s father tells her how the beans sounded and tasted when they were ready to sell. The story is making her hungry, and she wonders what Mommy could be bringing home. When he was older, Daddy says, he helped bag the beans to sell to the cacao buyers, who would send them to factories to be made into chocolate. With the money from the cacao beans, they bought “food, school supplies, uniforms, books, and fabric to have out special occasion clothes made.”

The cake batter is ready to pour into the pan, and she carries the big bowl to her daddy. She reminds him of Grandpa Cacao carrying a big basket of cacao pods. The thought makes them both smile. Then the girl’s thoughts return to what her mother is bringing home. Perhaps it’s a new dress or the puppy she wants. Daddy dips his finger in the chocolate batter and the girls licks the spoon. It makes him think of how he and the other kids snuck tastes “of the pulp from the cacao fruits or the candy-sweet drink” they made.

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Copyright Elizabeth Zunon, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Baking in the oven, the cake smells delicious. Just as the timer rings, the doorbell chimes. When the girl opens it, she sees her mommy with an older man she’s never seen before. “‘Happy Birthday!’” he says, and the girl recognizes his voice from their phone calls. He hugs her and then gives her a big orange pod. It’s her birthday present, he tells her. But being with her Grandpa Cacao is “the best birthday present ever in the world.”

An Author’s Note following the text describes Elizabeth Zunon’s childhood in Abidjan, the realities of the cacao trade and Fair Trade products and a bit about how the illustrations were created. There are also brief discussions on the science and history of chocolate as well as a page on how cacao goes from bean to treat. Bakers will also be pleased to see the recipe for the special Chocolate Celebration Cake made in the story.

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Copyright Elizabeth Zunon, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Elizabeth Zunon’s celebration of family and pride in one’s heritage is a compelling read that shines with a strong father – daughter relationship, shared memories, and the joys of working together. The warmth shared by the girl and her daddy is evident as she revels in hearing the story of Grandpa Cacao and identifying with him even though he lives far away. Zunon’s smooth delivery of Grandpa Cacao and Daddy’s story imparts fascinating details of how cacao is grown, harvested, and prepared for sale. While the little girl may wish for a new dress or a puppy, she is happier with the surprise of meeting her grandfather at last.

Zunon’s mixed-media, collage style illustrations beautifully meld the world inside the family kitchen with the girl’s imagining of life in Africa on Grandpa Cacao’s farm. The opaque screen-printed images of Grandpa Cacao, the girl’s father as a child and young man, and the other villagers, are powerful reminders to readers that their family and family history is always with them and supporting them.

A unique book to share during family story time, in the classroom, or during a library program, Grandpa Cacao: A Tale of Chocolate, from Farm to Family would be a much-loved addition to home, school, and public library collections. And don’t forget to include cake!

Ages 3 – 8

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1681196404

Discover more about Elizabeth Zunon, her books, and her art on her website.

World Chocolate Day Activity

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My Kids’ Favorite Brownies from Cookies & Cups, copyright Shelly Jaronsky, January 29, 2019. Courtesy of cookies&cups.com.

Cookies & Cups My Kids’ Favorite Brownies

 

If you’re looking for a scrumptious chocolatey brownie that melts in your mouth, look no further than Shelly Jaronsky’s My Kids’ Favorite Brownies recipe on Cookies & Cups. While you’re there, you’ll want to look around at all of Shelly’s delicious recipes! 

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You can find Grandpa Cocoa: A Tale of Chocolate, from Farm to Family at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

June 25 – It’s National Oceans Month

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About the Holiday

The world’s oceans offer beauty, resources, and mystery. This month we celebrate these vast wonders while committing ourselves to their preservation. We also remember the communities that rely on the oceans for economic stability as well as the men and women who work to protect the oceans and their unique creatures.

Bedtime for Baby Shark: Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo

Illustrated by John John Bajet

 

Who doesn’t love Baby Shark with his big smile, bright eyes, and vivacious personality? Baby Shark could play all day—and night—long, and so could his many friends. But everyone needs a good night’s sleep! Just how do you get a little one off to bed? Fortunately, Mama Shark’s there to show him how to brush his teeth…well…tooth, and Daddy Shark helps him “take a bath, doo doo doo doo doo doo. / take a bath, doo doo doo doo doo doo. / take a bath, doo doo doo doo doo doo. / Take a bath!”

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Image copyright John John Bajet, 2019. Courtesy of Scholastic, Inc.

When Baby Shark is all clean and wet Grandma Shark hands him his cozy jammies, and then it’s time for Grandpa Shark to “read a book doo doo doo doo doo doo. / read a book doo doo doo doo doo doo. / read a book doo doo doo doo doo doo. / Read a book!” When Grandpa closes the book, he turns out the nightlight and the family swims quietly out of his room.

But Baby Shark isn’t tired. He tosses and turns and finally swims out of bed to “run and hide.” Who shows up to stop him? It’s Great White Shark! He waggles his fin and tells Baby Shark, “No more tricks, doo doo doo doo doo doo. / No more tricks, doo doo doo doo doo doo. / No more tricks, doo doo doo doo doo doo. / No more tricks!” Obediently, Baby Shark climbs back into bed. Then with a kiss from Mama Shark, he’s “all tucked in,” and he drifts “off to sleep.”

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Image copyright John John Bajet, 2019. Courtesy of Scholastic, Inc.

Each verse of the story is accompanied by hand motions that make this book a perfect interactive story time favorite.

Little ones who can’t get enough of Baby Shark and his humorous antics will love going to bed (or delaying it a bit) with Baby Shark, his family, and even Great White Shark who shows up just in time to add a giggle or two to this extended story line of the favorite song. Illustrated in vibrant color by John John Bajet, the pages will capture young readers’ attention with up-close encounters with these beloved characters. Touches of humor highlight the action as Baby Shark brushes his one nubby tooth, Daddy Shark sports a shower cap while giving his baby a bath, and Baby Shark pretends to be asleep with one eye open. Befitting his place in the underwater world, Great White Shark spans two pages and will awe kids. As the whole family gathers to say a final goodnight to Baby Shark, little readers should be ready for sweet dreams too.

A sweet sequel to Baby Shark, Bedtime for Baby Shark: Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo is sure to spark giggle-filled fun for kids and adults be a much-asked-for addition to home bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 5

Cartwheel Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1338588989

To learn more about John John Bajet, his books, and his art, visit his website.

You can find printable activity sheets and a guide to the Baby Shark Bedtime Dance on the Scholastic website.

National Oceans Month Activity

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Baby Shark Activity Pages

 

Baby Shark loves to play! He even has two printable activity pages for kids to enjoy! Download the Baby Shark Coloring Sheet and Maze from Scholastic and have some fun!

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Baby Shark in His Jammies Coloring Page 

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 Baby Shark Bedtime Maze

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You can find Bedtime for Baby Shark: Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

 

June 21 – World Giraffe Day & Interview with Author Monica Bond, Illustrator Kayla Harren, and Educator David Brown

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday, established by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, celebrates the animal with the longest neck on the longest day or night of the year, depending on which hemisphere you live in. The purpose of World Giraffe Day is to honor these majestic animals while also promote awareness of the dangers and threats they face. Events supporting these gentle giants are held around the world at zoos and conservation organizations as well as by governments, institutions, and companies involved in education about and protection of the giraffe. To celebrate today, learn more about these animals, visit a zoo or wildlife refuge, or consider donating to the cause of giraffe conservation. To learn more visit the Giraffe Conservation Foundation website.

Juma the Giraffe

Written by Monica Bond | Illustrated by Kayla Harren

 

Juma, a baby giraffe, loved to play with his friends Upendo and Rafiki on the African safari while their mothers watched. “Upendo likes to explore new places” while “Rafiki jokes and makes everyone laugh with his silly faces. Juma is kind and generous.” With his long neck, he’s able to reach the sweet acacia leaves to share with the dik-diks. One day, though, while the giraffes were at the water hole, Juma caught a glimpse of his reflection.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2016, text copyright Monica Bond, 2016. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Looking at himself alongside all the other giraffes, he realized that they all looked the same. “And because they all looked alike, he felt he wasn’t special.” His mama noticed Juma standing alone and sad and asked him what was wrong. He told her that he wished he “looked different from everyone else.”

Juma’s mama gazed at her child lovingly and told him how special giraffes are. “‘There is no other animal in the whole world like us,’” she said. Then she gently reminded him how his long legs and neck help him get food, how his thick tongue and lips protect him from the thorns of the acacia trees, and how his “‘swishy tail sweep away the pesky flies that like to bite us.’” Their brown spots camouflaged them from lions and hyenas.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2016, text copyright Monica Bond, 2016. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Then Mama asked Juma to look closely at his spots and notice that “‘each spot is different from the others and every giraffe has a unique pattern of spots.’” Juma saw that Mama was right. He saw one spot “shaped like a star and another like a flower.” Mama’s spots were different too, and so were Upendo’s and Rafiki’s. Mama reassured Juma that each giraffe was unique outside and inside.

Juma was happy and continued to notice other ways that each giraffe was different, including their various personalities. Then Mama nuzzled her little one and told him that to her he was the “‘most special giraffe of all’” because he was her baby and she loved him.

Fascinating facts about the anatomy of giraffes, newborn giraffes, and where giraffes live follow the text.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2016, text copyright Monica Bond, 2016. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Young readers who are at that stage where they wonder about how they are different from other kids and how they fit into their community will find loving reassurance in Monica Bond’s touching story even as they learn about a giraffe’s distinctive features. The sweet relationship between Juma and Mama, depicted through tender dialogue, will charm little ones. A welcome exchange comes when Mama points out Juma’s unique features and the little giraffe enthusiastically adds more observations of his own. Just as Juma does, young readers will see that they too are special in their own way.

As readers open the cover, Kayla Harren’s stunning panoramic view of the verdant African savanna places them close to zebras, an ostrich, a greater kudu, a grey crowned crane, a stalwart warthog, a family of mongoose, and a herd of elephants. Smiling out from the page is little Juma. As the story progresses, Mama spotlights each of Juma’s attributes, and readers see how he uses them. A shimmering two-page spread of the giraffes lined up at the watering hole and the close-up on the next page will awe kids and adults. Images of smaller animals hiding in rock crevices and big cats and monkeys resting on tree limbs will entice readers to learn more about these creatures. As Mama nuzzles Juma on the book’s final page, adults and little ones are sure to find time to cuddle too.

A sweet story that gives parents, teachers, and other caregivers a way to show the children in their life how special they are, Juma the Giraffe would be an often-asked for addition to home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Wild Nature Institute, 2016 | ISBN 978-0989818292

Learn more about Juma the Giraffe and find videos and teachers resources here.

You can connect with Kayla Harren on

Her website | Facebook | Instagram

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Helping Brother Rhinoceros

Written by Monica Bond | Illustrated by Kayla Harren

 

Brother Rhinoceros and his friend Father Oxpecker went to the waterhole to cool off on a blazing hot day. When they got there, they saw “that most of the water had dried up, leaving a big patch of gooey, sticky mud.” But Brother Rhinoceros lied down in the cool mud anyway and pronounced it “‘Perfect!’” Then Father Oxpecker nestled in behind Brother Rhinoceros’s ear, folded his wings, and the two drifted off to sleep.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2018, text copyright Monica Bond, 2018. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Brother Rhinoceros woke up hungry, but when he tried to leave the waterhole, he discovered that he was stuck in the mud. Father Oxpecker flew off to find help. First he brought back Sister Vervet Monkey, who was good at tying. “She ran around the mud patch looking for something to tie together that might help Brother Rhinoceros. But there was nothing.”

Next, Father Oxpecker brought Grandfather Giraffe, who thought his height could help, but he didn’t know exactly how. So, the bird flew off again in search of someone else. This time he came back with Grandmother Spider, who “produced a delicate thread of beautiful silk from her abdomen. It fluttered in the breeze, of no help whatsoever to Brother Rhinoceros.”

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2018, text copyright Monica Bond, 2018. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Father Oxpecker left once again and returned with Mother Elephant. Although she was big and strong, she could only watch from the sidelines. Last, Father Oxpecker found Brother Weaverbird, who declared that he could “weave anything” if only there was something to weave. All of the animals sat nearby wondering what they could do. “They were all so proud of the things they could do, but none of them could help Brother Rhinoceros out of the mud.”

It was Grandmother Spider who suggested that they combine their talents and work as a team. She began by “spinning long streams of silk.” Brother Weaverbird braided “the silk into a long, strong rope.” Sister Vervet Monkey tied the rope around Brother Rhinoceros, using Grandfather Giraffe’s long neck as a bridge to reach him. Then it was Mother Elephant’s turn. She grabbed the rope, “took a deep breath and began to pull.”

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2018, text copyright Monica Bond, 2018. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Brother Rhinoceros helped push. “Finally, with a big squishy sound, Brother Rhinoceros lifted his body up out of the mud.” He was free! His friends cheered. Brother Rhinoceros thanked each one individually for their special skills that helped to save him. “They certainly made a great team and the best friends a muddy rhinoceros could ever have.”

Back matter reveals facts about Africa’s black and white rhinoceros. A map of Africa shows the historical range and the much smaller current range for each type of rhino.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2018, text copyright Monica Bond, 2018. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

With the lyricism of a fable, Monica Bond weaves a story about individuality and teamwork and how every person has the ability to help others. As Father Oxpecker flies off again and again searching for just the right animal to help, readers will enjoy the suspense and learning each animal’s special ability. When Grandmother Spider suggests they all work together, kids will see that by combining their talents with friends and classmates, they can move mountains. The format of the story makes it a multi-layered choice for teaching the elements of a story, prediction, and comprehension.

Kayla Harren’s sun-drenched pages are bathed not only in the heat of a hot African day but in the warmth of friendship these animals share. Harren’s beautifully textured and realistic depictions of the animals and the surrounding savanna will inspire awe and an enthusiastic desire in kids to learn more about the animals, insects, and birds in the story.

A perfect book for social studies, science, and reading classes and for kids who love nature and animals, Helping Brother Rhinoceros makes an excellent choice for home, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 5 – 10

Wild Nature Institute, 2018 | ISBN 978-1732323414

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Our Elephant Neighbors

Written by Monica Bond | Illustrated by Kayla Harren

 

Robert and his little sister Mary live on their family’s small farm in Tanzania. There are cattle and goats, which Robert helps watch while Mary helps her mother wash clothes and cook. Sometimes they went to the waterhole to get water. “They splash each other with cool water on hot days.” One day, when it was very hot, they saw something amazing at the waterhole. A family of elephants was enjoying the cool water too. “Robert and Mary climbed up a nearby tree to watch and wait for the elephants to leave.”

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2017, text copyright Monica Bond, 2017. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Soon, two elephants came to stand in the shade of the tree, right under the branch where the two children sat. “The elephants looked up and saw Robert and Mary.” They had been taught to fear people. Nervous, they backed up a few steps. Robert and Mary had been taught to fear elephants, and Mary hid behind her brother. The bigger elephant, Tomas, introduced himself and his little sister, Teresa. Robert introduced himself and Mary.

“Robert looked thoughtfully at the elephants below. ‘You are an elephant, and elephants can hurt people,’ Robert pointed out.” Tomas replied, “‘Well, you are a human, and humans can hurt elephants too.’” Even though Mary knew she should be afraid, she liked the elephants. She reached down and touched Teresa’s upturned trunk. Mary said that she could pick things up with her fingers, and Teresa showed her how she could pick things up with her trunk.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2017, text copyright Monica Bond, 2017. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

The elephants and the children talked back and forth about all of their similarities. They were even the same ages. They talked about how all the aunties help out when a baby person and a baby elephant are born, how the mothers, grandmothers, and aunts in both human and elephant families teach the children important lessons and protect them, and how all the members of a both families feel sad when another member dies.

When they talked about the food they liked, Robert said that his “‘father gets angry when elephants eat” the vegetables in their garden.’ Then Tomas told Robert and Mary a secret.” He said that “all elephants hate chili pepper powder” and if they hung chili pepper powder on their fences, it would keep the elephants away. One reason elephants were eating from people’s gardens, Tomas said, was because their habitat was getting smaller as people planted more and more farms. Also “more and more of their family members are being hurt by people, because the elephants have fewer places to go.”

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2017, text copyright Monica Bond, 2017. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Robert promised Tomas that when he grew up and had a farm of his own, he would build it where it would not disturb the elephants. He also promised to report anyone who tried to hurt the elephants. Soon it was time for Robert and Mary to get back home with the water, and Tomas and Teresa heard their mother calling for them. “They shook hands and trunks” and hoped they would see each other again. They knew “they would never forget their new friends from the waterhole.”

Interesting facts about African elephants follows the text.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2017, text copyright Monica Bond, 2017. Courtesy of Kayla Harren and Wild Nature Institute.

Through Monica Bond’s charming story of a sister-brother pair and their elephant counterparts, young readers learn surprising ways in which they and elephants are alike. With similar abilities, family units, and even feelings, people and elephants should be friends, but too often they come into conflict, and the result has been a decrease in the elephant population and at times danger for humans as well. As the adorable Robert and Mary talk with Tomas and Teresa, Bond’s enchanting storytelling and realistic dialogue, draw in children, giving them even more reasons to love these popular animals. A major take-away is how people can protect and care for these gentle and intelligent animals and their habitats now and in the future.

Against gorgeous backdrops of Tanzania and its savanna, forests, and mountains, Kayla Harren depicts one family’s simple farm and a family of elephants enjoying a day at the nearby waterhole. At nine and five years old, Robert and Mary will steal readers’ hearts with their infectious smiles, sweet sibling relationship, and enthusiastic interactions with elephants Tomas and Teresa. Harren juxtaposes illustrations of the elephants’ family with those of Robert and Mary’s family in similar situations, showing readers how alike we really are. The pages are washed in soft-blue skies and glowing peach-hued sunsets, as realistic portrayals of the elephants, birds, and other animals create detailed and awe-inspiring panoramas.

Our Elephant Neighbors is an excellent addition to home, classroom, and public libraries to further understanding of elephants, conservation, and nature.

Ages 4 – 8

Wild Nature Institute, 2017 | ISBN 978-1732323407

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Nature’s Giants Magazine

In this new magazine from the Wild Nature Institute, an enthusiastic dung beetle named Doug invites kids to learn about animal and plant giants of the African savanna through articles, games, crafts, and other activities that will keep them busy having fun and learning for a long time. Let’s get rolling and see what’s inside! Kids love finding stuff and right on the first pages they’re prompted to spot five differences on two identical (?) giraffes and search the pages for five beetles to see which one will would win a beetle race.

Along the way kids will enjoy:

Comics:

  • Doug engages kids in funny and interesting banter about the dung beetle’s ecological importance, including facts on their very, very long family history, three different dung beetle lifestyles, how dung beetles roll their dung balls in a straight line, and various job sites where dung beetles do their work.

Articles:

  • Ele-Fence!: About new ways farmers are protecting their crops from elephant raiders without engaging in Human-Elephant Conflict
  • Lions vs. Giraffes: About ways scientists use scars found on giraffes to study predation
  • Black Mambas: about the women rangers who patrol the Balule Nature Preserve to stop poaching of black and white rhinoceros and who teach environmental education programs in local schools. Since the group was formed “poaching of all species has decreased by 79%.”
  • Barking up the Right Tree: about the beautiful, sprawling baobab trees.
  • Infographic: on elephants, giraffes, termites and a surprising fact about biomass

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Activities:

  • Ideas for backyard or neighborhood science exploration
  • A savanna word search puzzle
  • An illustrated search-and-find animal puzzle
  • Craft instructions for making an Insect Hotel and an African Savana Scene
  • Jokes
  • A maze
  • How to draw an elephant, a giraffe, and a rhinoceros
  • A Giant Birds coloring page

Meet the Team Behind the Books and Magazine

I’m excited to have an opportunity to talk with Kayla Harren, Monica Bond, and David Brown about the work of the Wild Nature Institute, their lovely books that combine nature science with enchanting writing, and their new magazine for children.

Meet Monica Bond

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Hi, Monica! It’s nice to be chatting with you today! The love you have for Tanzania comes through in your stories so clearly and touchingly. Can you talk a little about your work and what brought you to this area?

My partner Dr. Derek Lee—quantitative ecologist and population biologist—and I chose to live and work in Tanzania because this country has some of the best wildlife experiences on Earth. As wildlife scientists, the lure of the African savanna is very strong; it is truly a wildlife paradise. In Tanzania there is incredible biological diversity combined with an extremely high density of mammals and birds, and we still have the full suite of predators and scavengers which means that the food web is intact. Tanzania also holds some of the best habitat for the last remnants of our planet’s pleistocene megafauna — elephant, rhino, and giraffe.

Derek and I are studying giraffes in Tanzania using a computer program that matches each individual’s unique spot patterns from photographs. We are monitoring thousands of giraffes in northern Tanzania, and learning where they spend their time, which other giraffes they hang out with, and how they move around the ecosystem. Our goal is to understand the things that hurt or help giraffes so we can help to preserve these magnificent animals for the future.

What is it like to live so closely to these majestic animals?

Every time I go to the bush and interact with these creatures, I am awed anew. They are so very special. Every day I feel that I am living the dream and I cannot get enough of watching them in their beautiful savanna habitat. Although we work in the bush, we often go back out to the bush on our days off!

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How did the Wild Nature Institute get its start? Can you talk a bit about the organization?

Formed in 2010, Wild Nature Institute conducts scientific research on endangered wildlife and inspires the public to protect wild nature. Next year we will celebrate a decade of work! The Institute was started as a platform for two dedicated wildlife scientists to realize our dream of doing interesting and bold science that protects the earth’s remaining bits of wild nature. The Wild Nature Institute is me and Derek at the core, but with lots of other partners and cooperators in our network (like David Brown and Kayla Harren) who are all critical to accomplishing our important work.

The giraffe is the national animal of Tanzania. As we celebrate World Giraffe Day today, could you talk about the giraffe—it’s importance to its ecosystem, the threats and pressures the animal faces from human and environmental factors, and how people can help protect them?

The gentle, iconic giraffe is popular around the world, but scientists know surprisingly little about them in the wild. We chose to work with giraffes because they are amazingly beautiful and peaceful animals, but they are vulnerable to extinction because people have taken so much of their wild natural habitat for human uses like farming and houses. Poaching is also a serious problem for giraffes. They need our help.

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Tanzania in East Africa is a stronghold for giraffes, supporting more than any other country. Although the Masai giraffe is the national animal of Tanzania, populations have declined here since the 1980s—yet few people are aware of the plight of the beloved giraffe in the wild. It is our job as scientists to bring this problem to light.

How are can families and organizations around the world help in the mission?

What can you do to help save giraffes and wild nature? (1) You can donate money or time to conservation groups like Wild Nature Institute and others. People can use their skills by providing advice, services, or goods in their personal area of expertise that can help the cause. (2) You can raise awareness about the silent extinction of giraffes. Speak up within your social circles and encourage others to donate money or time to saving giraffes. You can raise awareness in your home communities by writing, speaking, and contributing to the global conversation about our planet’s climate and biodiversity crises. (3) You can plant native trees.

Giraffes, elephants, and many other species need native trees, but deforestation continues worldwide. Planting native trees helps fight the global climate crisis and helps biodiversity too! (4) You can support legal protections for wildlife. Laws like the Endangered Species Act and other environmental laws make the world safer for wildlife and people. Call and write to your congressperson, senator, governor, and president telling them you support strong law enforcement to protect wildlife. (5) You can commit to not buying body parts, and if you live in Africa you can commit to not eating bushmeat.

The programs that the Institute sponsors and supports—from education in schools and communities to environmental conservation of animals and land to publishing materials for children—is extensive. How has your work been received? What successes have been achieved and what benefits do you hope to see in the future?

To save wild nature, we must know it and love it, so Wild Nature Institute and our partners developed environmental educational materials for children and teachers. The materials teach biology, geography, science, math, and language skills using focal animals and fun, beautifully illustrated stories. Our first book, The Amazing Migration of Lucky the Wildebeest, was a tri-lingual children’s book about wildebeest migration, and the ecological and economic benefits of conservation. The book was so successful that we created our “Celebrating Africa’s Giants” program to use environmental education to build community support for conservation efforts that will ensure the long-term survival of Africa’s giants giraffes, elephants, and rhinos.

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We now produce and distribute our four multi-lingual storybooks, two Swahili activity books, and seven posters, as well as learning activities to accompany the books and posters, to tens of thousands of children throughout Tanzania. These materials teach ecological and social lessons, build national pride in Tanzanian wildlife, and motivate children to read and learn about their natural world. The learning activities help Tanzanian teachers meet environmental education curricula requirements, and also meet Next Generation Science Standards for American schools.

To ensure the materials are used to their best advantage, we host workshops for teachers, led by our education consultant Lise Levy, a retired high school biology teacher with 32 years of experience in education. At the workshops, teachers have a wonderful time learning the stories and practicing the hands-on activities that they will use in the classroom to accompany the books and posters.

Can you talk a little about the impact that these books and the new Nature’s Giants Magazine have on the children and families in Tanzania?

Every year since we introduced our education program, we have expanded its reach and impact through word-of-mouth. Our books and posters are now recognized and requested by Tanzanian educators throughout Tanzania, from Ruaha and Ruvuma in the south to Serengeti in the west to Dar es Salaam in the east. We hired a Tanzanian education coordinator who regularly visits classrooms, orphanages, and community centers and brings “Giraffe in a Box,” “Elephant in a Box,” and “Rhino in a Box” with all of the materials needed to implement the activities. We made our storybooks into videobooks which are playing on Tanzanian television. We organize “fun days” at the schools to celebrate Africa’s giants where we do tree-planting, sports, drama and arts, and creative learning. 

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We are constantly dreaming up new and fun ways to spread the word about the fascinating animals of the African savanna. Our ultimate goal is to inspire the next generation to love and care for their wildlife and conserve the environment.

On your website you talk about the importance of zoos in supporting the environmental work in Tanzania. How do/can zoos help?

Zoos have an important role to play both in providing financial support for field conservation as well as promoting the conservation of giraffes, elephants, and rhinoceros through environmental education directed at visitors. Many zoos are using our Celebrating Africa’s Giants education program. Zoos also conduct their own scientific research. We couldn’t do our work without our zoo partnerships and we are really grateful for their support.

To learn more about Monica Bond and the work of the Wild Nature Institute, visit their website.

Meet Kayla Harren

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Welcome back, Kayla! I’m thrilled to be talking with you about these three beautiful books and Nature’s Giants Magazine.

How did you get involved with the Wild Nature Institute and this project? What does it mean to you to be part of it?

In 2015 my husband, Peter, who is also an artist, was asked to illustrate a picture book about a baby giraffe that was written by a friend of a friend. He wanted to pursue a different path in his illustration career, so he passed the job to me. I fell immediately in love with the story of Juma. My passions have always been art and animals. Being able to combine those two loves feels incredible.

I feel so lucky to be involved with the Wild Nature Institute because I get to help wildlife in my own way even though I am not a scientist. I am grateful for this opportunity to contribute to wildlife education and hopefully spark a love for nature in other people. It feels like fate the way the first book found me through a friend of a friend of a friend and now it has turned into an amazing partnership.

Your artwork in Juma the Giraffe, Our Elephant Neighbors, and Helping Brother Rhinoceros is stunning and full of such wonderful detail and personality. What kind of research did you do to bring the characters to life? Do Juma—or any of the animals—depict real giraffes, elephants, or rhinos in the area?

Thank you! Monica was incredibly helpful with providing plenty of photographs that she and the other scientists had taken of the scenery and wildlife in Tanzania. It made my job so much easier to know that people who actually lived in Tanzania and knew the area were checking all the details of my work to make sure it was accurate. For each book I was able to look through images provided by Wild Nature Institute of people, landscapes, giraffes, elephants, rhinos, and plenty of birds and animals to add in the background of each illustration. I did study the spot patterns of many giraffes, but Juma is a made-up combination of many giraffes I studied.

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Readers of your many books know what realism and sensitivity you bring to your illustrations of animals. Do you have a special affinity for animals and nature? Where did that come from?

Absolutely! Animals are my favorite. It started with my love of stuffed animals when I was very young. I had a huge collection, and I would spread them all out on my bed so none were hidden and they all got equal attention from me. I was introduced to many animal species through my toys. I remember fondly a stuffed white Bengal tiger that was bigger than me and a plump little panda bear. I loved the zoo, nature shows, and all the pet cats and dogs my family had. I feel most comfortable and relaxed in nature. I love going for walks with my dog because she stops every few steps to sniff something and that makes me pause and look around at all the beautiful shapes and textures and colors of the plants surrounding me. Nature is infinitely inspiring.

Have you ever visited Tanzania?

Not yet. Visiting Tanzania is very high on my list of things I need to do. Seeing a giraffe in the wild would be an absolute dream come true.

I’m going to let David Brown answer the next few questions about “Nature’s Giants Magazine.” David is a biologist, wildlife conservationist, and environmental educator—and he’s the co-creator and major writer of “Nature’s Giants.”

Welcome, David! As a nature lover, puzzle doer, and crafter myself, I love “Nature’s Giant’s Magazine!” There’s so much for kids to fall in love with!

“Nature’s Giants” magazine is full of fascinating articles (I learned a lot!), fun crafts, science prompts, challenging puzzles, and even a funny dung beetle named Doug. Can you talk about how the magazine came to be, what your role in the magazine is. and about how it can be used in the classroom? 

A group of conservationists and educators were meeting about how we could make Celebrating Africa’s Giants accessible and interesting to kids who love giraffes, elephants, and rhinos. We discussed how magazines like “Ranger Rick” and “National Geographic Kids” helped spark and sustain our love of nature when we were young, and we realized that there wasn’t really anything like that for even the most popular animals like giraffes and elephants. We decided to start our own nature magazine to fill that gap. We decided that our host of the magazine should be a dung beetle named Doug Beetle.  Doug Beetle helps show that there are many ways to be a giant in nature beyond physical size.

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My role is to help coordinate the creation of the magazine, develop story and activity ideas, and write the articles that bring those ideas to life. I also write the Doug Beetle comics. Megan Strauss, a wildlife biologist and illustrator, creates activities, crafts, and provides content for the magazine with her scientific expertise.  Kayla creates illustrations to accompany the articles and designs the layout of each page.

Accessible and interesting are perfect adjectives for Nature’s Giants! The magazine really promotes exploration and hands-on activities to engage kids in science learning. Can you describe some of the elements parents, teachers, and kids will find inside?

The magazine can be enjoyed casually for its art, stories, and activities. We also designed it for use in classrooms, zoo education programs, and other learning environments. In the first issue, we have a story about how scientific information can be visualized with infographics and how that helps us see the world in different ways.

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We also have a story about how a scientist makes an observation, asks questions about what she observed, and then solves a scientific mystery. Readers will learn how scientists study animals in the field, and hopefully get inspired to take part in citizen science themselves. 

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Environmental issues around the world are important to all of us. In what ways can children help from home or in their own communities?

The young people of the early 21st century are going to be the deciders of whether big animals like giraffes, elephants, and rhinos and their habitat survive this century and beyond. These animals are beloved around the world. They are the biological equivalent of the great works of art, architecture, and popular culture that are the common heritage of people around the world.

The young people in countries like Tanzania and Kenya, where these species and their habitats live, are the primary decision makers, but these animals need a global constituency of conservationists. They need people to help pay attention to them and keep their conservation needs visible in the world. Just as we pay constant attention to our favorite sports teams, celebrities, and technology products, we need to find ways to keep attention on giraffes, elephants, rhinos, and other animals.

If you love a species, then helping your local social network of family and friends be aware of the animal is a meaningful conservation action. Our goal for “Nature’s Giants” is to help connect young people with these animals and their conservation challenges and find ways to keep that connection growing.

What are the future plans for the magazine? How can teachers or other organizations order copies?

The first issue of “Nature’s Giants” is themed about African animals and plants. If the magazine finds an audience and there is an appetite for future issues, we would love to do a theme issue for each continent. We have also thought about doing an issue about the oceans. There are endless possibilities for issue themes. We would love to explore the future adventures of Doug Beetle.

To order copies of the magazine and all three storybooks, you can contact Monica Bond: monica@wildnatureinstitute.org

If you are interested in ordering Juma the Giraffe, Helping Brother Rhinoceros, and/or Our Elephant Neighbors for your classroom, organization, or yourself, contact Monica Bond monica@wildnatureinstitute.org. Individual copies of the books cost $12.00. Substantial discounts are offered when ordering multiple copies. All prices include shipping and handling.

Individuals, schools, and other organizations can also order single and/or multiple copies of “Nature’s Giants Magazine” for $4.25 each, plus shipping and handling.

You can also download printable posters with illustrations and information about giraffes, rhinos, and elephants from the Africa’s Giants website: www.africasgiants.org

To find the books with major online booksellers, see the information and links below.

Nature’s Giants Books & Magazine Giveaway

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I’m thrilled to be partnering with Wild Nature Institute in a giant giveaway! You could win this prize package that includes

  • One (1) copy of Juma the Giraffe signed by Kayla Harren
  • One (1) copy of Helping Brother Rhinoceros signed by Kayla Harren
  • One (1) copy of Our Elephant Neighbors signed by Kayla Harren
  • One (1) copy of “Nature’s Giants Magazine”

To be entered to win Follow me on Twitter @CelebratePicBks and Retweet one of my giveaway tweets.

Bonus: Reply with your favorite African animal for an extra entry. Each reply gives you one more entry.

The giveaway will be held from June 21 to June 27.

A winner will be chosen on June 28

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

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You can find Helping Brother Rhinoceros at these booksellers

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

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You can find Our Elephant Neighbors at these booksellers

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

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You can find Juma the Giraffe at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

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