January 26 – It’s Celebration of Life Month

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday was established by Food for Health International to encourage people to take a holistic approach to taking care of themselves, benefitting not only their bodies but their emotional health as well. Celebrating all that life has to offer and taking time out from work to enjoy time with family and friends goes a long way towards greater happiness and health. The events of this past year have prompted all of us to find new ways to spend time together, help each other, find comfort, and celebrate successes and good times. Today I’m celebrating the Book Birthday of a moving reminder that there are always better days ahead. 

There Is a Rainbow

Written by Theresa Trinder | Illustrated by Grant Snider

 

As two children add the finishing touches to their rainbow chalk drawing—clouds at both ends—Theresa Trinder’s tender story opens with “There are two sides to a story.” And just like the ends of a rainbow, every story has “something in between.” The girl and boy say goodbye, and the boy heads down the block to his house.

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Image copyright Grant Snider, 2021, text copyright Theresa Trinder, 2021. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

The girl sits on her front stoop and watches the rain fall and the colors of their rainbow flow into each other on the wet sidewalk. She goes inside and picks up her computer, where “on the other side of [her] screen” are her classmates. She waves at them and smiles while she does her work. At home, the boy begins painting stripes on the windows—stripes that form another rainbow for all the neighbors to share.

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Image copyright Grant Snider, 2021, text copyright Theresa Trinder, 2021. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

Later the boy crosses the street to put a letter into the mailbox—a letter that connects him to his grandma across town. Night falls, and the girl cuddles a stuffed rabbit as she looks at a photo of the friends she misses. But “on the other side of sadness,” the girl knows as she seeks out her mom, “there are hugs.” A rainy day brings the boy and girl together again as they race down the sidewalk toward each other and stop to see that in a puddle “there is a rainbow.”

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Image copyright Grant Snider, 2021, text copyright Theresa Trinder, 2021. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

Theresa Trinder’s lovely book, written at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic that altered the way we interact with others, is a reassuring reminder for children, and adults as well, that they are not alone and that better days do lie ahead. Through her spare text, Trinder allows even very young children to make the clear connection between a barrier and a bond or a challenge and a solution. Trinder’s inspirational storytelling includes concrete concepts that will resonate with kids, such as using a computer or looking out of a window to embrace their world of neighbors, friends, and the familiar, as well as more abstract ideas that will broaden their understanding of the promise that exists. She includes both a river and a mountain, two objects that can seem mysterious or insurmountable, and reveals that even these lead to hopeful possibilities. A poignant and meaningful book to share during these times, Trinder’s story also promises uplifting assurance any time it is needed.

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Image copyright Grant Snider, 2021, text copyright Theresa Trinder, 2021. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

Grant Snider’s scribbled childlike illustrations are moving reflections of the lead kids took in responding to the pandemic lockdowns as well as their seemingly infinite capacity for optimism and resilience. Readers will respond to Snider’s vivid rainbow hues and images that are as current as distance learning and rainbows in windows and as comforting as playing with friends, talking with loved ones, and helping neighbors. Kids will like pointing out all of the actual rainbows and messages of hope in the illustrations as well as discovering how the promise of rainbows can be found in the colors all around them.

A superb and timely book to read and discuss with children, There is a Rainbow offers comfort, understanding, and hope when it’s needed most. The book is highly recommended for home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 7

Chronicle Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-1797211664

Discover more about Theresa Trinder and her books on her website.

To learn more about Grant Snider, his books, and his art visit his website.

Meet Theresa Trinder

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Theresa Trinder spent a decade at Hallmark Cards, where she wrote and edited children’s books. She has also developed literacy curricula and has an MFA in Poetry. She was inspired to write this book by the rainbows made by her family during the COVID-19 Shelter in Place in Greenlawn, New York.

Hi Theresa! Congratulation on your Book Birthday today! I’m excited to get a chance to talk with you today about your beautiful book. 

There Is a Rainbow is an especially comforting story for all that kids are going through right now as well as being reassuring for any time. Can you talk a little about how this story came to be?

In short—the rainbows. When I started writing, New York was in a bad place. Everyone was either suffering or afraid. Or both. We’d just said goodbye to my mom and dad, not sure when we were going to see them again, and my kids didn’t get it. They were so incredibly sad. And there were (and still are) so many families going through so much worse. But then, these beautiful rainbows started popping up everywhere. A neighbor friend drew a message for my son on our driveway. And kids everywhere were making signs for health care and essential workers, thanking them and cheering them on. With all our kids were going through themselves, they just kept lifting everyone else up. To me, kids are the heroes of this moment, and, to me, that’s what the book is really about.

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Theresa’ children painting rainbows

As someone who writes in various genres and who has achieved the goal of becoming a published author, can you briefly describe your journey? Did you write as a child and always want to have a career in writing, or did your interest in writing come later?

I’ve always loved books, and I’ve always loved writing. I’ve always had to earn a living, though, too—so my path to publication was a little winding. But I’ve somehow managed to always have books in my life. I started as an intern in the Scholastic book clubs, then moved on to educational publishing, then into the Books division at Hallmark Cards. Over the years I’ve gotten to make all kinds of books for all kinds of readers. But I stopped working full time when my second child was born, and I realized: if I want to make books now, I’m going to have to write them myself. Which was sort of freeing—and sort of terrifying. But here we are!

What does it mean for you as an author to give families a way to share their love and encouragement not only in There Is a Rainbow but also in the books you wrote for Hallmark Books—All the Ways I Love You, I’m Thankful for You, and interactive board books Hello, Baby!, Look, Baby! and Peekaboo, Baby!

I don’t know about There Is a Rainbow yet. When it’s out there in the world, I hope it does give families a way to connect—and a way to feel hopeful about what’s to come. And it’s my first trade publication, so it’s very exciting. And the board books are fun. It’s so amazing to see tiny baby fingers try to figure things out. But All the Ways I Love You was a one-of-a-kind experience. Hallmark developed a technology that allowed someone to record their own voice reading, then play it back as a child turned the pages. And we got so many letters from so many people, telling us things like “My husband is deployed overseas but now he ‘reads’ to our daughter every night” and “My mom recently lost her battle with cancer but left her grandson this book, and it’s helping to keep her memory alive.” You can’t really get much closer to people than that. To me, that’s everything.

It’s so true that those cozy moments with a book are unforgettable bonding experiences. Can you talk a little about how important it is for children to be read to often?

What does the data say? Kids need to hear something like 20,000 words per day? And they can’t all be “No,” “Shh,” “Get off the table,” “Please don’t eat that,” etc? So, yes, books are an excellent way to fill the gap, especially on days when you just…can’t. Which I think all parents are feeling right now.

Grant Snider’s illustrations for There Is a Rainbow are so wonderfully distinctive. Can you share a little about Grant was chosen to illustrate the book? What were your first thoughts when you began to see his illustrations? Did they undergo many changes? How was the cover chosen?

I’m not privy to the whole process but Grant literally brought all the color to this book. The text is purposely pretty spare, and he created the visual story arc. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll just say it was really neat to see his thought process—how he created these characters and brought them full circle at the end.

The books you’ve written give families an opportunity to share fun and thoughtful moments together. How has your own family supported you in your writing career?

I had—and still do have—the kind of parents who always said you can be whatever you want to be. Though I do remember my mom telling me to “Stop reading and go outside” every now and then, which was annoying at the time but is actually pretty good advice. My husband and kids are the same way. We’re just…really busy at home these days. It’s hard to carve out the time, but I think everyone reading this right now can probably say the same. (Though I’m super grateful they’re spending their precious little time reading this interview!)

In your bio, you say two of your favorite things is hearing a funny joke and making weird faces. It sounds as if you have an ear and eye for humor. Does your sense of humor influence your writing? Would you like to share a favorite joke?

Ha! I’m quite deadpan, actually. But my kids have been practicing telling jokes, so we have been laughing a lot—but mostly because they tend to botch them a bit. For example, “How do you make a tissue dance?” (Long pause) “You put a little burger in it!” Hahaha, see what I mean?

HaHa! That’s so great! I miss those days in my own house!

What’s the best thing about being a children’s writer?

For me, it’s being able to do the thing I love. So few people actually do, so I know how rare and amazing it actually is. I feel grateful every day.

What’s up next for you?

Piles of laundry, probably. But after that I hope to get back to a picture book I’m working on. I recently scrapped the latest and started from scratch—which I needed to do, but then I needed to walk away from it for a few weeks. I think it’s safe to go back now.

Thanks, Theresa for talking with me today—it’s been a joy! I wish you all the best with There Is a Rainbow and all of your books. 

You can connect with Theresa Trinder on

Her website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

There is a Rainbow Giveaway

I’m thrilled to be teaming up with Chronicle Books in a giveaway of

  • One (1) copy of There is a Rainbow, written by Theresa Trinder| illustrated by Grant Snider

To Enter:

This giveaway is open from January 26 through February 1 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on February 2. 

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

Celebration of Life Month Activity

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Mini Rainbow Magnet

 

If you’d like to see a rainbow every day, you can make this mini rainbow to hang on your fridge or in your room.

Supplies

  • 7 mini popsicle sticks
  • Paint in red, orange, yellow, green, blue, Indigo, violet (ROYGBIV)
  • Adhesive magnet
  • OR: ribbon, string, or fishing line
  • A little bit of polyfill. Cotton balls can also be used
  • Paint brush
  • Glue or hot glue gun

Directions

  1. Paint one popsicle stick in each color, let dry
  2. Glue the popsicle sticks together side by side in the ROYGBIV order, let dry
  3. Fluff a bit of polyfill into a cloud shape and glue to the top of the row of popsicle sticks
  4. Attach the magnet to the back of the rainbow
  5. OR: attach ribbon, string, or fishing line to make a rainbow hanging

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You can find There is a Rainbow at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

January 13 – Skeptics Day

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About the Holiday

If you’re attuned to holidays like I am, you may be thinking, “Wasn’t Skeptics Day October 13?”, or even, “I thought Skeptics Day is celebrated on November 4.” And it seems from my research that you’d be right—on both counts, which might lead you to be, well… skeptical about the validity of today’s holiday. But perhaps that was the point the founder or founders of this holiday were trying to make. Instead of simply accepting what you’re told, a skeptic questions what they hear or read and looks for facts to back it up. Kids are born skeptics, always asking “Why?” “When?” “Where?” “Who?” and “How?” To celebrate today, why not spend some time with your kids learning more about a subject you’re interested in.

There Must Be More Than That!

By Shinsuke Yoshitake

 

A little girl stands at the sliding glass doors looking out at the pouring rain. She’s disappointed because her father had said the day would be sunny. She thinks to herself, “…you can’t always trust grown-ups.” Then her big brother comes along and tells her all about the apocalyptic events that may possibly doom the earth and their futures. Things like running out of food, wars, even alien invasions. He heard it from a friend, who heard it from an adult. His sister is shocked and afraid.

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Copyright Shinsuke Yoshitake, 2020, courtesy of Chronicle Books.

With a heavy heart, she goes to her grandma’s room and reveals what her brother has told her. “Ah, I see…,” Grandma responds. She reassures her granddaughter that no one really knows what will happen and that along with the bad, good things happen too. “Grown-ups act like they can predict the future… but they’re not always right,” she says. And when there’s a choice to be made, they often provide only two things to pick from, when there are actually many more and it’s okay to choose from those.

The little girl realizes that more choices means more possible futures, and she tells her brother so. She already has lots of ideas about the cool things the future might bring—like “a future where it’s okay to spend the day in pajamas…. A future where someone always catches the strawberry you drop…. A future where your room has a zero-gravity switch.” Her brother thinks the strawberry idea sounds great.

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Copyright Shinsuke Yoshitake, 2020, courtesy of Chronicle Books.

The little girl is jazzed to think about other futures. She thinks about alternatives to throwing away old shoes, hiding uneaten carrots, and even keeping her mom from getting mad if she gets paint on her clothes. “I’m a slow runner,” she confesses, “but does that mean I’ll never come in first place? No! I might be ‘first place’ in a funny-face contest!”

Her thoughts begin to branch out, and she decides that between polar opposites like “‘love it or hate it,’” “‘good or bad,’” “‘friend or enemy,’” there may be many more emotions to choose from. In fact, the little girl is so excited by her new perspective that she tells her grandma that she wants to make a career out of “thinking up different futures.” Her grandma thinks that’s marvelous, but gently tells her that she probably won’t be around to see them. But the little girl is determined and imagines several scenarios that mean a brighter and longer life for her grandmother. Grandma laughs and agrees that “there must be more for me than that!”

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Copyright Shinsuke Yoshitake, 2020, courtesy of Chronicle Books.

Cheered, the little girl goes to the kitchen to find out what’s for dinner. Although they’re just having leftovers, Mom offers to make her an egg. “Boiled or fried?” she asks. Exasperated, the girl tells her mom about all the other ways an egg can be cooked, used, and played with. They can be scrambled or rolled, painted or stickered, and put in a shoe, a book, or a belly button. They can even be stacked on top of each other or used to make a tall tower. Her mother gets the idea and says she can have her egg made any way she wants. “Hmmm,” the little girl ponders. What do you think she chooses?

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Copyright Shinsuke Yoshitake, 2020, courtesy of Chronicle Books.

Shinsuke Yoshitake’s profound observations, expressed in kid-friendly, sometimes even silly examples, emboldens children to look beyond the choices they’re given by others and create the present and future they desire. Yoshitake touches on serious subjects that children hear discussed by adults, on the news, and in school that can lead to a frightening sense of no control but flips the narrative to show kids that they do have the power to influence events and change them for the better. The choices Yoshitake poses—love or hate, good or bad, friend or enemy—will get kids thinking about other such pairs they’re presented with every day and the nuanced scales between them that more correctly represent their feelings. After showing the little girl giving her grandma a pep talk and convincing her mom that there are a myriad things to do with eggs, Yoshitake ends the story on a comic note so attuned to kids’ enthusiasm for new ideas.

Yoshitake accompanies his story with laugh-out-loud illustrations of a little girl who cycles through emotions from anger to doomed to thoughtful to determined and finally to joyful after her brother reveals bad news about the future. Kids will be fully onboard for the fantastical future the girl envisions and the whimsical ways Yoshitake depicts the multitude of options that are available with just a little more thought. A two-page spread with twenty-three different types of eggs will set kids giggling and no doubt wanting to try them all. Likewise, the book’s cover hints at what’s inside with a display of many things a simple piece of cloth can become.

There Must Be More Than That! is a smart, sophisticated, and lighthearted way to shift a child’s perspective and empower them to shed the burdens of the world and create the life they want—on both a small and large scale. The book is sure to be a favorite on home, classroom, and public library shelves.

Ages 5 – 8

Chronicle Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1452183220

Skeptics Day Activity

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Find the Differences Puzzles

 

Are you someone who looks at things skeptically? Do you want to learn the facts before you believe what you see or hear? If so, you’ll enjoy these printable puzzles and see for yourself whether they are the same or different.

Kids Reading Puzzle (easier) | Kid’s Bedroom Puzzle and Solution | Girl Selling Flowers Puzzle and Solution

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You can find There Must Be More Than That! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookseller, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

January 1 – New Year’s Day Book Birthday of First Day of Unicorn School

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About the Holiday

Starting a new year and discovering a new book make a perfect pair, so I’m happy to be celebrating the book birthday of First Day of Unicorn School by Jess Hernandez and Mariano Epelbaum. Sharing today’s book, which is full of the same kinds of dreams, new experiences, friendships, and even laughs that await kids over the next twelve months, with your kids is a terrific way to start 2021.

Thanks to Capstone Press for sending me a copy of First Day of Unicorn School for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

First Day of Unicorn School

Written by Jess Hernandez | Illustrated by Mariano Epelbaum

 

When the acceptance letter from Unicorn School finally arrived, Milly was thrilled. “Unicorn School taught only the best and the brightest unicorns.” Milly knew she was the “best” and the “brightest,” but Milly also knew that she wasn’t a unicorn—she was “a donkey in a party hat.” While the pictures of her wearing a cone-shaped hat had fooled the admissions counselors, Milly began to worry that the other students would notice something amiss. For a moment, Milly considered staying home. But then she remembered the school’s rainbows, “sparkling fountains…and dragon-taming class.”

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Image copyright Mariano Epelbaum, 2021, text copyright Jess Hernandez, 2021. Courtesy of Capstone Editions.

With her hat firmly in place, Milly confidently entered the gates of Unicorn School on her first day. As Milly looked around at her fellow classmates, she was taken with their sparkly hooves and shiny horns. Just then she bumped into “a big unicorn with a tall horn.” Milly apologized, but with an odd look and a cry of “‘Mooo-ve it!’” the big unicorn stomped away. Milly was so distracted that she ran into a wooly unicorn, collided with a three-horned unicorn, and just got too close to a lumpy unicorn who actually spat at her. They all warned her to stay away with the same unusual expression.

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Image copyright Mariano Epelbaum, 2021, text copyright Jess Hernandez, 2021. Courtesy of Capstone Editions.

Teary-eyed and with her hat slipping sideways, Milly decided to leave school. “She was a donkey. And that’s all she’d ever be.” Then Milly took one last glance back and was shocked to see that all of the unicorns’ “horns were crooked.” She had to know the answer to a very particular question and asked, “‘Are any of you real unicorns?’” The animals hemmed and hawed until one horse finally admitted that his horn was “‘an ice cream cone.’” Then the other animals revealed that they weren’t unicorns either and told how they’d each fashioned their glittery horns. They all had a good laugh together, and Milly realized she’d finally found where she belonged.

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Image copyright Mariano Epelbaum, 2021, text copyright Jess Hernandez, 2021. Courtesy of Capstone Editions.

In her silly and insightful story, Jess Hernandez reveals that readers don’t need to pretend to be something they aren’t in order to be their “best” and “brightest.” She also touches on the prevalent and distorting notion that  beauty is found only within a narrow spectrum or even a single ideal. As Milly comes close to exposing the other animals’ disguises and sets off their harsh rebukes, Hernandez demonstrates that transformations can extend past the physical to affect one’s personalities and the way they treat others. When the animals can be their true selves again, however, they’re able to become friends and create a happy community where all are welcome. For children facing a new experience or worried about fitting in, Hernandez’s story shows them that everyone has the same types of feelings at one time or another.

Mariano Epelbaum’s candy-colored illustrations are a unicorn-lover’s paradise. Milly luxuriates in a room as pink as cotton candy and filled with the fluff and glitz of glamour. Likewise, Unicorn School—with its rainbows, shining stars, manicured grounds, and dragon to be vanquished—has all the trappings of a child’s sweetest daydream. As Milly and the other students trot up the pathway to the school building, kids will love finding and guessing at the false horns on each animal’s head. Epelbaum’s clever variety of headgear will bring plenty of giggles and is sure to inspire kids to create their own horn from household items. The final page reminds readers that they fit in just the way they are, unadorned with pretense.

A light-hearted look at a subject many kids grapple with, First Day of Unicorn School gives children and adults a charming way to talk about being yourself and finding where you fit in, whether it’s at school, sports, or other activities. The book would be a delightful addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 7

Capstone Editions, 2021 | ISBN 978-1684462797

Discover more about Jess Hernandez and her writing on her website.

To learn more about Mariano Epelbaum, his books, and his art, visit his website.

First Day of Unicorn School Book Birthday Activity

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Unicorn Mask and Coloring Page

 

How do you think it would feel to be a unicorn? Color and cut out this printable unicorn mask, cut out the eyes, and add a string or elastic to pretend to be a unicorn. You can also enjoy coloring this printable unicorn picture. And don’t forget to use plenty of glitter!

Unicorn Mask | Unicorn Coloring Page

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You can find First Day of Unicorn School at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookseller, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 31 – Universal Hour of Peace Day

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About the Holiday

Created by Dr. Barbara Condron at the School of Metaphysics, the Universal Hour of Peace encourages people worldwide to live conflict free for one hour – from 11:30 p.m. December 31 to 12:30 January 1 – and enter the new year in a spirit of love and hope. The holiday was first celebrated on October 24, 1995 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the United Nations and the autumnal equinox. In 1996 the holiday was moved to January 1st and took place at noon GMT. It now spans the transition from the outgoing year to the new year. Where can you find peace? You’ll find many ideas in today’s book.

Peace is an Offering

Written by Annette LeBox | Illustrated by Stephanie Graegin

Peace comes in many forms, as simple as “an offering” of “a muffin or a peach. / A birthday invitation. / A trip to the beach.” Peace is being thankful for the wonders of nature, a parent’s love, the coolness of rain or morning dew, even a steaming “bowl of hot stew.” Peace is those times when we are together, in a hug, with sweet words, or cuddling to hear a story. Peace comes in reassurance to the questions that might worry: “Will you wait when I’m slow? / Will you calm by fears? / Will you sing to the sun / to dry my tears?”

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Image copyright Stephanie Graegin, 2015, text copyright Annette LeBox. Courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

Where is peace found? In so many places! In a picture or a “belly laugh.” And even when tragedy strikes or “in your darkest hour,” peace can be found, for “peace is a joining, not a pulling apart. It’s the courage to bear a wounded heart.” Peace is finding safety and a “freedom from fear.” It’s found when you “offer a cookie…comfort a friend…sing a quiet song.” When you’re open to catching “a falling star” then peace will “walk beside you / wherever you are.”

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Image copyright Stephanie Graegin, 2015, text copyright Annette LeBox. Courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

Annette LeBox builds beautiful phrase upon beautiful phrase until midway through her inspiring story when she takes readers gently by the heart and shows them the way forward through any event that disrupts inner peace. LeBox reveals that capturing or recapturing those simple joys that make up a fulfilling life—and more importantly offering that kindness, help, and inclusion to others—brings hope, healing, and happiness not only to others but to yourself as well.

Stephanie Graegin excels in pairing text with quietly powerful images of togetherness and the tranquility such closeness brings. As diverse groups of friends, siblings, and families go about their day at school, eat out, navigate puddles and long walks, and enjoy time playing and laughing with each other, readers will be moved by Graegin’s tender details and will enjoy following and pointing out the characters who return from page to page. Images of loss (a mother hugs her two children close as they sit on a park bench overlooking a cityscape and little boy gazes at a picture of his dog) offer poignant opportunities for adult and kids to discuss life changes and events in the news that affect us all. Illustrations of uplifting ideas and gestures that children can use to express their vision of kindness and peace will inspire young readers.

A stirring and heartfelt look at the ways children and adults can share peace, comfort, and encouragement, Peace is an Offering is superb book to add to home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 3 – 8

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2015 | ISBN 978-0803740914

Discover more about Annette LeBox and her books on her website.

To learn more about Stephanie Graegin, her books, and her art on her website.

Universal Hour of Power Day Activity

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Soaring with Peace Coloring Page

A peaceful feeling inside can make your spirits soar like balloons in the air. Decorate the balloons in this printable page in your favorite colors (maybe even add a bit of glitter!) and hang it where seeing it will make you happy.

Soaring with Peace Coloring Page

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You can find Peace is an Offering at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

December 28 – Get Ready for New Year’s Eve

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About the Holiday

It’s safe to say we’re all happy to be saying goodbye to 2020 and looking forward to 2021 with hope and resolve. A new year offers opportunities for reflection and growth as well as sharing the traditions that keep our families and friendships strong no matter what challenges we face. Today’s book celebrates all three of these parts of life at the New Year or any time.

Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela!

Written by Alexandra Alessandri | Illustrated by Addy Rivera Sonda

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-feliz-new-year-ava-gabriela-new-years-eve

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

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

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

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

Ages 4 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company, 2020 | ISBN 978-0807504505

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

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

Get Ready for New Year’s Eve Activity

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New Year’s Eve Coloring Page

 

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

New Year’s Eve Coloring Page

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

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 18 – Get Ready for Christmas

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About the Holiday

Traditionally, the holidays are a time for special choir performances, plays, and orchestra and band concerts that can be exciting – or a little nerve-wracking – for kids. For parents and caregivers, these performances bring pride and even a tear or two. While this year holiday celebrations may be different, kids and adults are still finding ways to use their talents to make Christmas fun. Reading holiday stories together is one of the best ways to share favorite traditions. 

The Star in the Christmas Play

Written by Lynne Marie | Illustrated by Lorna Hussey

While Raffi usually ran to savannah school, today “he dragged his hooves.” When his mother asked what was wrong, he told her that he worried he was too big to get a part in the Christmas play. His mother reassured him that he was “just the right size” and that someday he would appreciate being so tall. When Raffi got to school, all of his classmates were in line for auditions, and they all knew exactly what part they wanted to play.

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Image copyright Lorna Hussey, 2018, text copyright Lynne Marie, 2018. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

Raffi felt downhearted—he “could never be a star,” he thought. When his turn came to audition, everyone told him he’d done an excellent job of reading Joseph’s part. Perked up, Raffi galloped home to tell his mother that maybe he could be a star after all. She gave him a nuzzle and said, “‘You’re my star.’” In the morning Raffi raced to school, eager to find out who got which parts. As Mrs. Ostrich read off the names and their parts, Raffi listened for his name. The parts of Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, the wisemen and shepherds, and the animals all went to his friends. Raffi watched sadly as they celebrated their parts. He wished he could go home.

Just then Mrs. Ostrich said his name and added, “‘I’ve not yet assigned your role….’” Raffi whispered his fear to his teacher, and she agreed that he was too big to play some parts. Still, she said, they would think of something. Raffi gazed at the stage, hoping he could be up there too.

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Image copyright Lorna Hussey, 2018, text copyright Lynne Marie, 2018. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

Then he remembered what his mother had told him and he had an idea. He quietly shared it with Mrs. Ostrich. She thought it was wonderful. On the day of the play, all the little animals took their places behind the curtain as their parents found seats on the benches. When the curtain rose, Raffi knelt near the manger. A large, shining star surrounded his head. “Raffi beamed.” He was a star-—the star who guided the wise men and the shepherds to find the baby Jesus in the stable.

CPB – the star in the christmas play nativity

Image copyright Lorna Hussey, 2018, text copyright Lynne Marie, 2018. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

Lynne Marie’s sweet story of a little giraffe trying to find his place is endearing through and through. Children will empathize with his wish to be included in the Christmas play and his worries about his size. Raffi’s loving mother offers encouragement and snuggles, and their trusting relationship in which Raffi feels comfortable revealing his doubts is a highlight of the story. By allowing Raffi to create an important part for himself, Marie also empowers readers to find their own perseverance, creativity, and voice. Raffi’s beaming smile as he sits straight and tall while playing the Christmas star, shows children that they should always be proud of who they are and their important role in the world. Marie includes many opportunities for kids and adults to discuss various emotions and aspects of friendship—from celebrating others’ accomplishments to feeling left out of the fun—making the book an excellent choice at any time of the year.

Lorna Hussey’s savannah animal children are adorable as they demonstrate why they’d be perfect for their preferred roles in the play. Kids will enjoy studying the clues and guessing which part each animal wants to play. Contrasting their exuberance with Raffi’s bent neck, droopy ears, and sad expression, readers can clearly see how Raffi’s worries weigh on him. The tender love between sunny-spotted Raffi and his mother will touch readers. The final spread of the Nativity play is lovely and uplifting, and children will love lingering over this page to point out all the details.

A heartening and layered story for Christmas and throughout the year, The Star in the Christmas Play is highly recommended for making every child feel like the star they are. The book would be charming addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Beaming Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1506438139

Discover more about Lynne Marie and her books on her website.

A Chat with Lynne Marie

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Lynne Marie is the author of Let’s Eat! Mealtime Around the World, illustrated by Parwinder Singh (Beaming Books, 2019); Moldilocks and the 3 Scares, illustrated by David Rodriguez Lorenzo (Sterling, 2019); The Star in the Christmas Play, illustrated by Lorna Hussey (Beaming Books, 2018); Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten, illustrated by Anne Kennedy (Scholastic, 2011); and Hedgehog’s 100th Day of School, illustrated by Lorna Hussey (Scholastic, 2017). Her stories, poems, and folk tales have appeared in many magazine markets, including Family FunHighlightsHigh FiveSpiderBaby Bug, and more.

Hi, Lynne! I’m excited to have the chance to talk with you a little about Lorna Hussey’s adorable art. Lorna adds such a sweet dimension to your story, and Raffi will melt readers’ hearts. How did you two get together to create this moving, family story?  

I absolutely LOVED Lorna Hussey’s art in my second picture book, Hedgehog’s 100th Day of School. But for some reason, I didn’t have anyone in mind for this book. Then, when Beaming Books editor Naomi Krueger said I could offer up a list of illustrators whose styles I would like them to consider, I posted an open call on my Facebook Page for Illustrator friends to hit me up with their African Animals. People quickly posted samples, including Lorna, who posted a picture of a Lion, and I knew right away she was the one, without any doubts!

Beaming Books loved her work too, and she was offered a contract. However, she didn’t know it because her Agent was on holiday for three weeks. When the Agent returned, everything came to light, but due to no response, Beaming Books had offered the contract to another artist. Lorna and I fought very hard to win back the contract under the extenuating circumstances and we won! 

I am so totally *over-the-moon* pleased with how the book turned out and have just hung some of the original art from both books in my office! Lorna also provided pictures for me to use as a Christmas postcard and a Christmas card! 

I am honestly trying very hard to find another project to work with Lorna on! She’s so talented and such a kind soul! 

What a wonderful story! I’m glad – I’m sure readers are too – that Lorna found her place on your creative team! I wish you all the best with The Star in the Christmas Play and all of your books!

You can discover more about Lynne’s inspiration for her story, what she’d like children to learn from it, and a favorite family Christmas tradition, read an interview with Carolyn Bedford on the Beaming Books website.

Get Ready for Christmas! Activity

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Tell the Good News! Word Search Puzzle

Find the sixteen words about the first Christmas in this printable Tell the Good News word search puzzle.

Tell the Good News! Word Search Puzzle | Tell the Good News! Word Search Solution

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You can find The Star in the Christmas Play at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 2 – It’s Picture Book Month

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About the Holiday

November is all about picture books thanks to Picture Book Month founder author and storyteller Dianne de Las Casas and co-founders author/illustrators Katie Davis, Elizabeth O. Dulemba, Wendy Martin, and author Tara Lazar. This month-long international literacy initiative celebrates print picture books and all that they offer to young (and even older) readers. With gorgeous artwork and compelling stories, picture books open the world to children in surprising ways. They entertain, explain, excite, and help children learn empathy and understanding. If you want to learn more about the holiday and read engaging daily posts about why picture books are important by your favorite authors, illustrators, and others in the children’s publishing industry, visit picturebookmonth.com

The Song for Everyone

By Lucy Morris

 

There was a tiny window “too high in the eaves to be noticed from below and too small to let in much daylight.” But one day a “delicate tune” wafted from it’s open panes and floated along the street. A boy trudging to school alone heard it and stopped to listen. As the music swirled around him, he felt happy and he skipped along on his way. Soon an old woman, slow and bent with age, walked by on her way to the market. As she passed under the window, “the sound flowed down and wrapped itself around her weary body.” Suddenly, she felt strong and joyful. A homeless cat followed stray notes from this tantalizing music and was led to two children “who longed for a cat of their own.”

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Copyright Lucy Morris, 2020, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

The music continued to float from the open window, always seeming to know who needed to hear it and making the townspeople begin to care for and connect with each other in new ways. The town grew content and peaceful. But then one morning, the music stopped. The town seemed gray and lifeless, and the people felt sad, lonely, and weary. The people held a meeting and decided to see what was behind the open window. The little boy who’d first heard the music climbed up the ladder of townspeople and clambered inside.

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Copyright Lucy Morris, 2020, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

There he found a little wren. She was tired and hungry and her song had left her. The boy promised to help her and he yelled down to the people gathered below. They gathered food and provisions and sent them up to the window in a basket. Two days passed, but the wren stayed silent. But then early one morning…! “A melody, a song. A sound so sweet” once again floated into the air and through the streets. Everyone rushed from their homes and crowded together under the window. There they saw “the boy and the wren making music together. Singing the song for everyone.” A they listened, the central square came alive with dancing, twirling, and playing.

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Copyright Lucy Morris, 2020, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Lucy Morris’s lovely story—in both words and pictures—reveals the power of one person’s voice and/or actions to transform lives. The wren, singing from a darkened window offers her song, a melody that brings happiness and makes passersby realize they are not alone. Readers can imagine the cheered schoolboy, old woman, and new cat owners sharing their new-found joy with classmates, store clerks, other shoppers, parents, and friends, who also pass their sudden optimism to others until this small community embraces each other as never before. But one wren (or person) cannot sustain it alone. As the townspeople in Morris’s story discovers, it takes a group effort, and it is that coming together that truly creates change.

Morris’s beautiful, lyrical language is as light and buoyant as the wren’s song. Her word choices evocatively describe both the angst, weariness, and world view of the townspeople before the wren’s appearance and the joy, peace, and hopefulness they acquire after accepting her song.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-song-for-everyone-dancing

Copyright Lucy Morris, 2020, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Morris’s charming illustrations, rendered in a serene color palette portrays a town where, despite the close proximity of the homes and buildings, the people are apparently distanced from each other. The wren’s music is depicted as a garland of flowers that once released into the air do not scatter, but remain strongly together to fill the streets, wrap around the needy, lead the lost, shelter the cold, and lift up those who need a boost.

While the loss of the wren’s song brings sadness, readers will also see that the wren has already accomplished much. Instead of returning to their solitary lives, the townspeople now gather together to discuss a solution. As a little girl addresses the group, kids will understand that their voice is important too. Images of the townspeople each contributing to the wellbeing of the wren and then celebrating her recovery reinforces Morris’ message of community.

A moving and triumphant story that will touch all readers and encourage them to use their individual talents to benefit others, The Song for Everyone will become a thoughtful favorite and is highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 8

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1547602865

To learn more about Lucy Morris, her books, and her art, visit her website

Picture Book Month Activity

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Books to Love, Books to Read Book Bag

 

True book lovers can’t go anywhere without a book (or two or three) to read along the way. With this easy craft you can turn a cloth bag into a kid-size book bag!

 

Supplies

  • Printable Templates: Books to Read Template | Books to Love Template
  • Small cloth bag, available from craft or sewing stores—Recyclable Idea: I used the bag that sheet sets now come in
  • Cloth trim or strong ribbon, available from craft or sewing stores—Recyclable Idea: I used the cloth handles from shopping bags provided from some clothing stores
  • Scraps of different colored and patterned cloth. Or use quilting squares, available at craft and sewing stores
  • Pen or pencil for tracing letters onto cloth
  • Scissors
  • Small sharp scissors (or cuticle scissors) for cutting out the center of the letters
  • Fabric glue
  • Thread (optional)
  • Needle (optional)

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Directions

  1. Print the sayings and cut out the letters
  2. Trace letters onto different kinds of cloth
  3. Cut out cloth letters
  4. Iron cloth bag if necessary
  5. Attach words “Books to Read” to one side of bag with fabric glue
  6. Attach words “Books to Love” to other side of bag with fabric glue
  7. Cut cloth trim or ribbon to desired length to create handles
  8. Glue (or sew) handles onto the inside edge of bag

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-song-for-everyone-cover

You can find The Song for Everyone at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review