January 10 – Houseplant Appreciation Day

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About the Holiday

Missing the green leaves and colorful flowers of spring and summer? Maybe it’s time to recreate the sights of warmer days inside with houseplants! Placed in a sunny window, some plants will continue blooming all winter long, making you feel happier. Houseplants also provide health benefits as they produce oxygen, release moisture into that dry winter air, and improve air quality. Add a few herb plants and even cooking will take on new life. Whether you add just one plant or create an indoor garden, today’s the perfect day to get started.

Nobody Hugs a Cactus

By Carter Goodrich

 

Hank, a little cactus, sat in his window and looked out with pleasure on the “empty…hot, dry, peaceful, and quiet” desert. Sometimes, though, visitors came by—like Rosie the Tumbleweed, who cheerfully greeted Hank and commented on the beautiful day. “Hank ignored her. He just wanted to be left alone.” Hank was happy when Rosie passed by without stopping.

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Copyright Carter Goodrich, 2019, courtesy of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

But then a tortoise ambled by to say hello. Hank shouted for him to get off his property. As he was yelling a jackrabbit bounded by. “‘Hiya, Prickles,’ she shouted,” and Hank turned his fury on her. It wasn’t long before a coyote appeared. Hank shooed him away, but not before the coyote commented, “‘You are as prickly on the inside as you are on the outside.’”

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Copyright Carter Goodrich, 2019, courtesy of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

When a passing cowboy was told to get off the grass, he countered that there was no grass and added that it seemed “‘somebody needed a hug. Too bad nobody hugs a cactus,’” he added. A lizard on the wall was quickly dispatched with a warning that Hank did not want a hug. That was just fine with the lizard, who didn’t want to give him one anyway.

By now, nighttime had fallen, and an owl landed on the roof of Hank’s house. Hank gazed at the owl, and the owl gazed back. Begrudgingly, Hank offered to give the owl a hug. But the owl flew off, and “for the first time, Hank began feeling a little lonely.” The next morning, Hank felt a little sad and had begun reconsidering that hug.

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Copyright Carter Goodrich, 2019, courtesy of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Just then the wind picked up, and a Styrofoam cup flying by stuck to Hank’s face. Rosie tumbled by and knocked it off before rolling on. Hank thought about Rosie’s kindness and felt bad about all the times he’d been mean to her. He decided he wanted to make amends. Over several days he grew a beautiful flower, and when Rosie passed by again, he called out and offered it to her with a big smile. “Rosie was so surprised, she jumped up and gave Hank a big hug. It felt so nice Hank didn’t want to let go.” Which was a good thing, because they were stuck together. But they don’t mind; they like being stuck together better than being alone.

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Copyright Carter Goodrich, 2019, courtesy of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Well-known for his talent for creating charming characters who steal your heart, Carter Goodrich takes on the cantankerous among us—or those cranky days—and shows that kindness does soften even the prickliest of shields. Carter’s diminutive grouch may be discourteous but he’s also adorable, hinting at the softie that lies below the prickles and turning those dissuasive phrases hurled at his neighbors into lines that will elicit giggles from kids and adults. Carter’s thin-limbed and elongated jackrabbit and cowboy are also stylishly humorous. The tortoise that sits in front of Hank’s house hiding in his shell throughout the story serves dual purposes, showing how rejection makes others feel while also demonstrating what it looks like to be truly isolated and alone. Hank’s slow change of heart rings true and the act of selflessness that brings him and Rosie together makes for another funny scene and a satisfying ending.

A story that is sure to be embraced for crabby days and cheerful days, Nobody Hugs a Cactus would be a favorite on home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers | ISBN 978-1534400900

To learn more about Carter Goodrich and his books, film work, and art, visit his website.

Houseplant Appreciation Day Activity

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Flip-Flop Plant Holder

 

Flip-flops aren’t only for your feet—or for summer! With this easy craft you can make a whimsical way to hang succulents and other light plants on walls or even windows!

Supplies

  • Child’s flip-flops with elastic heel straps
  • Buttons or charms
  • Small plastic solid-bottom pot
  • Small plant
  • Dirt
  • Hot glue gun
  • Heavy duty mounting strips
  • Small shovel or spoon

Directions

  1. Place the flip-flop toe down on your work surface. With the hot glue gun, attach the buttons to the plastic toe straps of the flip-flops.
  2. Add dirt to the pot
  3. Add plant to the pot
  4. Slip the pot into the elastic strap and gently push down so it is also supported by the plastic toe straps
  5. To hang, use appropriate-weight mountable strips.
  6. To make an interesting and attractive arrangement, use various sizes of flip-flops

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

Picture Book Review

January 7 – Old Rock Day

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About the Holiday

Do you love rocks—the history they tell, their versatility, their intricate patterns? Today’s holiday celebrates these wonders of nature and encourages geologists—both professionals and amateurs—to indulge their passion. To celebrate today, take a walk in your area or even in your own backyard, pick up a few rocks, and research a little more about them. Then build a rock cairn or have fun with today’s craft.

Lubna and Pebble

Written by Wendy Meddour | Illustrated by Daniel Egnéus

 

As Lubna and her father disembarked from the boat onto a new shore, Lubna bent down and picked up a pebble. “It was shiny and smooth and gray” and it became her best friend. She fell asleep in her father’s arms and when she woke up in the morning, she was in “a World of Tents.” With one hand, she held onto Daddy’s fingers and with the other she “gripped her pebble. Somehow, she knew they’d keep her safe.”

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Image copyright Daniel Egnéus, 2019, text copyright Wendy Meddour, 2019. Courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

With a marker that she found in one of the tents, Lubna drew a smiley face on her pebble. Lubna told Pebble all of her stories about home, about her brothers, and about the war. Pebble was a good listener and made her feel better when she was frightened. “‘I love you, Pebble,’ Lubna said with a sigh.” Winter came with snow and bitter winds, but Daddy kept Lubna warm. Lubna worried about Pebble: how would it stay warm? What if it caught a cold? Daddy gave her a shoebox and a tea towel, and Lubna settled Pebble in and gave it a kiss before going to sleep.

Not long after, a little boy named Amir arrived. He and Lubna played together, but every night Lubna reassured Pebble that it was still her best friend. One day Daddy brought happy news. He had found them a new home; they were leaving the World of Tents. Lubna was happy too. “Then sad. Amir cried.” That night Lubna lay in bed wide awake. “She asked Pebble what to do,” but Pebble remained silent.

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Image copyright Daniel Egnéus, 2019, text copyright Wendy Meddour, 2019. Courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

In the morning, though, Lubna had her answer. She found Amir and gave him “the shoe box with Pebble and the pen.” Amir wanted to know what to do if Pebble missed Lubna, and she told him to “‘draw the smile back on.’” And when Amir asked what he should do if he missed Lubna, she told him to talk to Pebble. Amir and Pebble watched as Lubna sailed away on the sea. “‘Good-bye, Pebble, Lubna whispered,’” while Amir greeted his new best friend.

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Image copyright Daniel Egnéus, 2019, text copyright Wendy Meddour, 2019. Courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

At once heartrending and uplifting, Wendy Meddour’s story about the resilience of children will resonate not only with children who have experienced major life changes but also with those sensitive to the ups and downs of growing up. Meddour captures the beauty of children’s ability to find strength and comfort in inanimate objects, creating in Pebble a fourth main character that readers will care about. Lubna’s selfless act in giving Pebble to Amir will ring true with young readers, whose hearts are generous and kind. Meddour’s straightforward storytelling is more powerful for its brevity and inclusion of well-chosen details that kids will recognize and empathize with. Lubna’s new home and Amir’s adoption of Pebble end this story on the note of hope and optimism embodied naturally in our children.

In his gorgeous collage-style illustrations, Daniel Egnéus uses the power of shadow and light, of darkness and color to create the real and imaginative worlds that Lubna and Amir traverse. The play with imagery begins on the title page, where the ship carrying Lubna, her father, and other refugees seems to be poised for flight as vibrant flowers are projected on its dark hull. Readers first meet Lubna eye-to-eye in a two-page spread as she gazes upon Pebble, while the next page zooms out to show her crouched on the beach beneath two hulking ships and a golden sliver of moon. The “World of Tents” is represented with laundry lines filled with towels and clothes that present both a barrier and a welcome to Lubna and her daddy. As Lubna tells Pebble about her old life, her memories take her back to a day when her brothers’ kites shared the sky with three fighter jets, the kites’ strings mirrored in the planes’ contrails. Alert readers will notice that Egnéus often depicts Lubna’s daddy with his arms cradling his daughter, creating the same rounded profile of comfort as Pebble. Ingenious touches of floral motifs add to the meaning and impact of this beautiful story.

A stirring story with many applications for discussing kindness, courage, and friendship, Lubna and Pebble is highly recommended for home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2019 | ISBN 978-0525554165

Discover more about Wendy Meddour and her books on her website.

To learn more about Daniel Egnéus, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Old Rock Day Activity

CPB - Nasty Bugs magnet II (2)

Rock This Craft!

 

Smooth stones can give you a natural canvas for your creativity! With a little bit of paint, pins or magnets, and some imagination, you can make refrigerator magnets, jewelry, paper weights, and more!

Supplies

  • Smooth stones in various sizes
  • Paint or markers
  • Small magnets, available at craft stores
  • Jewelry pins, available at craft stores
  • Paint brush
  • Strong glue

Directions

To make magnets

  1. Design and paint an image on the stone
  2. Attach a magnet to the back with strong glue, let dry
  3. Use to hang pictures, notes, or other bits of important stuff on your refrigerator or magnetic board

To make jewelry

  1. Using a smaller, flatter stone, design and paint an image on the stone
  2. Attach a jewelry pin to the back with the strong glue, let dry
  3. Wear your pin proudly

To make a paper weight

  1. Using a large stone, design and paint an image on the stone
  2. Let dry
  3. Display and use on your desk to keep those papers in place

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You can find Lubna and Pebble at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

December 21 – It’s Read a New Book Month

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About the Holiday

There’s nothing better than spending the chilly days of winter snuggled up with a new or favorite book. If you’re still looking for gifts to give, it’s not too late to head to your local bookstore to find stories that will make kids (and adults) eyes light up. And if you’re a post-holiday shopper (and who isn’t?), make sure to check out those bookstores again. After all, it’s a loooong winter!

Odd Dog Out

By Rob Biddulph

 

Busy dogs all dressed in black and white make their way to work while dogs at play in identical stripes take to the soccer field. At the pool, swimmer dogs don yellow caps and yellow tubes while sailor dogs in their uniform uniforms pilot their yellow boats. In fact, “soldier…scout…. They all blend in. / No dog stands out. / But wait.” On a certain street, you’ll see “someone…is dancing to a different beat.”

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Copyright Rob Biddulph, 2016, courtesy of HarperCollins.

Wrapped in a rainbow-colored scarf, “this dog flies low” when others fly high, and “when they say ‘Kick!’…this dog ways ‘Throw!’” It’s plain to see that this dog just “does not fit in.” Having tried her best to be like the others, this unique pup packs her bag and leaves town. As she walks, the seasons change from winter to spring to summer to fall. She traverses the sea and climbs mountains until she comes to Doggywood and wonders if this is the place for her.

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Copyright Rob Biddulph, 2016, courtesy of HarperCollins.

She takes a look and her eyes light up. “‘Well, bless my bow-wow, can it be? / A hundred others just like me!’” There are dogs playing guitar and riding bikes, gliding on the wind, and playing basketball. And coming and going on the street, dogs in rainbow-colored scarves stream by. “But wait.” Are they really all alike? Do you see? “Somebody this afternoon / is whistling a different tune.”

The newcomer thinks that she can help. She approaches this dog with his black cap and sweater to commiserate and tell him she knows how he feels being the “‘Odd Dog Out.’” But it turns out that this dog is proud of being unique and standing out. And he tells her that she should feel that way too. After a bit of thought, she has to agree “‘…there’s nothing wrong with being me.’”

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Copyright Rob Biddulph, 2016, courtesy of HarperCollins.

Then she knows just what to do. She grabs her bag and takes a flight. And when she lands in her old hometown, all those busy dogs and playing dogs turn to look. “‘They cheer! They clap! They whoop! They shout! / ‘We’ve really missed our Odd Dog Out!’” It seems that while she was away, some of these “identical” dogs did some thinking. Now what do you see? “Each one a doggy superstar… So blaze a trail. / Be who you are.”

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Copyright Rob Biddulph, 2016, courtesy of HarperCollins.

Through his charming rhymes and bouncy rhythm, Rob Biddulph creates a surprising tale that highlights that well-known advice: “bloom where you are planted.” When a dog who does her own thing amidst a sea of uniformity leaves home and finds a place where she fits in, readers will notice that she just replaces one homogenous place for another. The dog may feel more “at home” surrounded by other dogs who wear colorful scarves, soar on wind gliders, play guitar, and ride bikes, but is she really stretching herself and building her self-esteem? It can be difficult for kids (and people of all ages) to display their full personality, but when that happens they can’t display their full potential either. Biddulph encourages kids to be proud to let their uniqueness show while demonstrating that differences are recognized and appreciated more than they might think.

Kids will love Biddulph’s enchanting dachshunds and especially the sweet “Odd Dog Out.” His vibrant digital illustrations are superb at showing the cookie-cutter sameness of all the other dogs in humorous two-page spreads and smaller snapshots that remind one of the patterns of wrapping paper. When our colorful heroine appears among a cadre of black-suited business dogs, her satisfied smile and dancing feet stand in stark contrast to the other, serious dogs that have their feet firmly planted on the ground. Many clever spreads that readers will want to linger over bring them to the final pages where they’ll have fun pointing out and talking about the dogs who have decided to embrace their true natures.

Under the book jacket, a delightful cityscape and a “Where’s Waldo?” type of challenge awaits.

A terrific book offering lots of opportunities to talk about self-acceptance, accepting others, and the value of being different (and showing it), Odd Dog Out is highly recommended for home, classroom, and public library collections.         

Ages 4 – 8

HarperCollins, 2019 | ISBN 978-0062367266

To learn more about Rob Biddulph, his books, and his art, visit his website.

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You can find Odd Dog Out at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

December 10 – It’s Read a New Book Month

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About the Holiday

You’ve heard the saying “Too Many Books, Too Little Time,” right? Well, this truism has spawned not only one, but two Read a New Book Month celebrations! Both December and September have been designated as times to make special plans to search out and read new books. These can be books that are newly published or books that are new to you. And if you find yourself putting a few old favorites in the pile, that’s okay too! It’s also a great time to think about adding books to those gift lists!

Snow Globe Wishes

Written by Erin Dealey | Illustrated by Claire Shorrock

 

A fierce winter blizzard brings snow and ice and knocks out electricity all over town. Without lights or computers, people leave work and school and head home on frozen white ribbons of roadways. At home, in front of a roaring fire and with candlelight, a family eats take-out from one of the few restaurants that was still open.

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Image Claire Shorrock, 2019, text copyright Erin Dealey 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The brother and sister create a fort with blankets and chairs, and everyone (including the cat and dog) skootches in to hear Dad read a story by lantern light. While her mom, dad, and brother sleep under the blanket tent, the little girl gazes into her snow globe that holds a tiny town dotted with evergreens and makes a wish as “snowplows rumble lullabies.”

The family wakes up to a winter wonderland and “a whisper from the snow. / Do you hear its soft Hello?” They bundle up and race outside where other families are sledding, making snow angels, and patting the white fluff into snowballs, snowmen, and even snowcats.

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Image Claire Shorrock, 2019, text copyright Erin Dealey 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

In the air there is also an invitation for all: “Who’ll be the first to grab a hand / that grabs a hand / and then another— / neighbors, strangers, sisters, brothers?” Then one-by-one the townspeople come together around the decorated evergreen. Young and old form a circle, holding hands and smiling. In that moment there is “peace on earth. / Right now. / Right here. / Peace for all / throughout the year!”

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Image Claire Shorrock, 2019, text copyright Erin Dealey 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Erin Dealey’s lovely ode to wishes for community and peace took me back to the winter of 2012 when a  nor’easter knocked out electricity in parts of my town for a week and families and businesses that did have power offered those who did not the comforts of home and other help. Every year, across the country and the world, communities deal with similar experiences, making Dealey’s story one that will resonate with readers. Her gentle verses capture the excitement kids feel during snow days and other surprise events and invite readers into a family’s cozy home for an evening of fun and togetherness. Children can easily imagine this peace extending to homes throughout the story’s town, to their own city, and to the world beyond. Dealey’s use of a snow globe to represent the world is inspired, and the beautiful metaphor continues as neighbors join hands and create a circle around the town’s decorated tree. Her call for all people to cease their busy lives for a moment and answer the snow’s beckoning is sure to inspire children and adults to take a snow globe day of their own.

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Image Claire Shorrock, 2019, text copyright Erin Dealey 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Working perfectly in tandem with Dealey’s vision, Claire Shorrock depicts the snow-covered town and the family’s home in calming hues of yellows, grays, and blues punctuated with earthy oranges. The family’s heartwarming love for each other glows in the candlelight, fire, and lantern that light the family’s picnic dinner and story time. As the little girl happily gazes into her snow globe while her family sleeps, the globe is surrounded by a magical glow of stars that mirror the starlight in the sky visible in the window. Shorrock depicts the circular motif throughout her illustrations from the paving stones on the town square and the fat, fluffy snowflakes swirling in the air to the cat curled up on the chair and the family’s home décor to the snowballs, snowmen, and even a snow globe the townspeople make on the morning after the storm. The image of the neighbors holding hands around the tree is uplifting and hopeful. On the final page this spontaneous camaraderie appears inside the snow globe, leading readers to wish that such togetherness can be preserved for all.

An enchanting read aloud for winter story times (or any time of the year), Snow Globe Wishes would be a favorite on home, classroom, and public library bookshelves to inspire individual acts of kindness and promote universal peace.

Ages 5 – 7

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1534110311

Discover more about Erin Dealey and her books on her website.

To learn more about Claire Shorrock, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Read a New Book Month Activity

Snow Globe Wishes Activity Sheet from Sleeping Bear Press

Snow Globe Wishes Activity Page

Draw your own wishes for yourself, your town, or the world inside this beautiful snow globe provided by Sleeping Bear Press. You can find the sheet to download on the Sleeping Bear Website here:

Snow Glove Wishes Activity Page

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You can find Snow Globe Wishes at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Sleeping Bear Press

Picture Book Review

 

December 7 – It’s Root Vegetables and Exotic Fruits Month

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About the Holiday

With all the special baking, cooking, and dining that takes place this month, it’s a good time to celebrate some staples of our diets as well as some unusual ingredients. Root vegetables, such as potatoes, onions, yams or sweet potatoes, celery root, turnips, and parsnips make meals homey and delicious, while exotic fruits, such as persimmon, dragonfruit, sapodilla, durian, and jackfruit, make for special and festive sides and desserts. This month try some new recipes that highlight two nutritious ingredients.

Potato Pants!

By Laurie Keller

 

Potato is so excited that Lance Vance’s Fancy Pants Store is selling potato pants that he’s doing a little dance—the robot, which he calls the “po-bot,” of course! He dances all the way to the store where potatoes are pouring in from all over and even delivered by Spud Bus, Tater Taxi, and Tuber Uber. They’re all rushing to Lance Vance’s because the sale is “Today Only” and “once they’re gone, they’re gone.” Potato knows just want he wants “…a stripey pair just like the ones in the window with stripey suspenders for added stripey-ness.”

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Copyright Laurie Keller, 2018, courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

But then, through the window, Potato spies an eggplant—and not just any eggplant. It’s the same eggplant who, in his hurry to Lance Vance’s for the eggplant pants sale yesterday, ran into Potato and knocked him into a trash can. Now, Potato worries, “If he sees me in Lance Vance’s Fancy Pants Store, he’ll push me again—and ruin my brand-new potato pants!” All Potato can do is watch from outside as all the other potatoes find just the pants for them.

He finally thinks to call the grocery store. Since they have potatoes, they just might carry potato pants too, he reasons—and he could avoid that eggplant altogether. But the grocery store doesn’t have potato pants, spud slacks tater trousers, or even yam chaps, so Potato has to think of another way to get his pants while avoiding the eggplant. And time is running out. “There’s only one pair of pants left on the rack.”

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Copyright Laurie Keller, 2018, courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

The dire situation emboldens Potato. He barrels toward the store and bursts through the door knocking Eggplant aside and ripping his new eggplant pants. Potato is too late anyway; the last pair of potato pants has just been sold. Potato is steamed and he lets loose with a tirade about how “that eggplant ruined everything” and how “he has brand-new perfect eggplant pants” while Potato has nothing and how unfair it all is.

Just then another spud points out that Eggplant’s pants aren’t perfect anymore since Potato tore them. Now Potato is scared as Eggplant gets right in his face and tells him that the only reason he was at Lance Vance’s in the first place was to…turn Potato into mashed potatoes? the spud wonders…apologize for pushing him. Eggplant is hoping that Potato will forgive him.

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Copyright Laurie Keller, 2018, courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Potato agonizes over this dilemma and finally decides to…forgive him and offer his own apology for tearing Eggplant’s pants. At that, the store clerk appears to tell Eggplant they can fix his pants and that Potato can have the stripey potato pants in the window. Both Eggplant and Potato are so happy they leave the store doing the po-bot and the egg-bot in their perfect new pants.

An Author’s Note introduces kids to the creator of potato pants—Tubérto—and unveils his latest collection of pants for “both the active and the couch potato.”

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Copyright Laurie Keller, 2018, courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

A laugh-out-loud, tongue-tickling read aloud, Laurie Keller’s Potato Pants! is silliness at its best with lots of heart to boot. Keller’s clever mix of narration and dialogue draw kids into the mind of Potato as he bounces from the excitement of possibly getting stripey pants to the fear of facing his nemesis to the disappointment of missing the sale to plucking up the courage to forgive and apologize to Eggplant. Speech bubbles bring these dapper spuds to life as they negotiate the racks at Lance Vance’s Fancy Pants Store (adult readers should be prepared to read that name over and over!).

Keller’s bright, mixed-media (including potato stamps) illustrations are full of action, dynamic perspectives, and a community of potatoes and yams as delightfully bumpy, lumpy, and unique as those seen at any grocery store or farmers market. Kids will love picking out their own favorite potato pants from Tubérto’s fabulous collection, and you can bet they’ll jump up to do the Po-bot dance too.

Fun for all, Potato Pants! will inspire many tuberific story times at home, in the classroom, and at public and school libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, 2018 | ISBN 978-1250107237

To learn more about Laurie Keller, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Root Vegetables and Exotic Fruits Month Activity

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Veggie Dot to Dots

 

You can dig up some fun with these three printable root vegetable dot-to-dot coloring pages.

Carrot Dot-to-Dot | Onion Dot-to-Dot | Radish Dot-to-Dot

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You can find Potato Pants! at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

December 6 – Mitten Tree Day

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About the Holiday

It’s a tradition here at Celebrate Picture Books to commemorate the holiday with the book that started it all. Originally published in 1997, The Mitten Tree has endured and continues to spark programs in schools, libraries, and communities around the country. The feel of a cozy mitten on freezing fingers is one of the luxuries of wintertime. But where did mittens come from? You might be surprised to discover that the word “mitten” comes from the French word mitaine, which was an old nickname for a cat, because early mittens were typically made of animal fur. The earliest mittens, dating to around 1000 AD, were used as sheaths for gloves, adding extra protection for cold hands. So now that it’s time to get out favorite mittens or buy (or knit) a new pair, enjoy the season with today’s book!

The Mitten Tree

Written by Candace Christiansen | Illustrated by Elaine Greenstein

 

In a small house at the end of a lane Sarah lives all alone. Her own children have grown and moved away, but as she watches the kids gather at the blue spruce tree to wait for the school bus she remembers all the years that she walked her son and daughter to this same spot. As she makes her way down the lane to her mailbox, she wishes the children will wave and smile, but they never seem to notice her. Still, it makes Sarah smile to see them.

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Image copyright Elaine Greenstein, 2009, courtesy of Fulcrum Publishing.

One winter morning Sarah notices all the kids throwing snowballs and making snowmen—all except one little boy dressed all in blue who lacks the mittens needed to join his friends. All day Sarah worries about the boy with no mittens. As the sun goes down Sarah digs “through the basket of yarn scraps she had saved for many years.” She finds her needles and four shades of blue wool. Then Sarah begins to knit.

With the rising sun Sarah hurries to the bus stop and hangs the new blue mittens on the spruce tree. Then she hides behind a hedge to watch. The little boy in blue is the first to arrive at the bus stop. When he sees the mittens hanging there, he tries them on and finds that they fit perfectly. With a big smile he makes “a perfect snowball” and throws “it high into the winter sky.” Soon Sarah sees a little girl with mismatched mittens. That night she finds the perfect color of wool and knits a pair to match the girl’s red coat.

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Image copyright Elaine Greenstein, 2009, text copyright Candace Christiansen, 2009. Courtesy of Fulcrum Publishing.

Every morning Sarah watches the children, looking for any who have no mittens. During the day her needles are busy making gifts for these children. The next morning before anyone else is up she rushes to the spruce tree and adorns it with the mittens she has knitted. The children have warmed to the “game,” and each day search “under every branch and bough for another pair of mittens.” Once or twice Sarah thinks the boy with her blue mittens sees her, but his eyes don’t linger.

On the day before the school’s winter break Sarah fills her knitting basket with the latest mittens she’s knit. She heads out the door and down the lane. When she reaches the blue spruce, she hangs “mittens on every branch.” When the children arrive, they stand “very still for a few minutes looking at the mysterious, beautiful mitten tree.” As they board the bus, each child is wearing a new pair of mittens. Sarah sees them appear one by one in the bus windows, but none see Sarah.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-mitten-tree-basket

Image copyright Elaine Greenstein, 2009, text copyright Candace Christiansen, 2009. Courtesy of Fulcrum Publishing.

Sarah goes home feeling happy and with her heart as full as it was “when the sounds of her own children had filled her house.” But what awaits Sarah? As she climbs the stairs to her porch, she notices a “basket woven with thick brown vines and decorated with a large white bow.” She’s surprised to see that it is filled to the brim with balls of colorful yarn. Even today Sarah knits new mittens for all the children in town, and “every time her basket is empty, a new full one appears.” Sarah doesn’t know who brings the basket, just as the children don’t know who supplies the mittens. “But someone must….”

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Candace Christiansen’s heartwarming story of kindness given and reciprocated will inspire kids to see that anyone can make a difference in the lives of others by using their talents to fill a need. This gentle, quiet tale offers suspense that will pique readers’ curiosity from page to page, and the mystery surrounding the never-empty basket of wool provides a satisfying and moving ending that also reassures kids that deeds of thoughtfulness and compassion are noticed. The grandmotherly Sarah and familiar school bus stop setting and winter activities will resonate with readers.

Elaine Greenstein’s softly colored, folk-style illustrations give the story a cozy feeling—perfect for cold-weather reading, The variety of intricately knitted mittens, with their hearts, stripes, snowflakes and cables, are charming, and the enchanting image of the blue spruce decorated with mittens makes it easy to see how The Mitten Tree continues to inspire so many acts of kindness and charity.

Ages 3 – 7

Fulcrum Publishing, 2009 (paperback) | ISBN 978-1555917333

Mitten Tree Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-mitten-match

Mitten Match & Coloring Page

 

Mittens often get lost or mismatched in the fun of winter activities. Find the pairs in this printable Mitten Match & Coloring Page and then decorate them!

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You can find The Mitten Tree at these booksellers

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

Celebrate Picture Books

December 4 – National Cookie Day

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About the Holiday

Whether you call them cookies or biscuits, these yummy treats have been around for quite a long time. Originating in Persia in the 7th century, cookies conquered Europe by the 14th century and came to America with the earliest settlers. Of course cookies are great any time of the year, but the holidays just wouldn’t be the same without the delicious snap or soft melt-in-your-mouth goodness of favorite cookies. Baking together is one of the joys of the season for adults and kids, and you can bet that with each batch, good memories are being created too.

Hanukkah Cookies with Sprinkles

Written by David A. Adler | Illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler

 

A little girl watches out the window every morning as her mother goes to work, seeing other people hurrying along too. Across the street is Sol’s Market, and every morning Sol puts out a box of bruised fruit and vegetables for anyone to take. One day, an old man “takes out an apple and puts it on his shoulder. The apple rolls down his arm and into his hand. Then he takes a bite.” Sara wonders why he ate an apple with bad spots, and her grandmother tells her that the man is “probably poor and looking for something to eat.”

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Image copyright Jeffrey Ebbeler, 2015, text copyright David A. Adler, 2015. Courtesy of Apples & Honey Press.

Sara thinks about the man all day at school. When snack time comes, she wraps the cookie her teacher gave her in her napkin and puts it in her pocket. The next morning, she asks her mom to leave it in the box at Sol’s Market. Later, she sees the man find the cookie and eat it. The next day at school, Sara tells her friends about the man, and they wrap up more cookies and their teacher gives them a container of juice to add to the bag. At home, Sara helps her mom make the man a sandwich to go with the cookies.

On Friday, Sara and her family go to synagogue and stay for the oneg Shabbat get together afterward. There, she sees the old man enjoying challah and grape juice. “After that, every day, when the man comes by Sol’s there is something for him to eat.” At school the kids are getting ready for Hanukkah. Their teacher talks about the origins and meaning of Hanukkah then the children make menorahs with “tiles, bottle cap, paint, and glue.” Sara brings her menorah home. Her grandmother says that it’s beautiful and puts it in the window. Before Sara’s mother comes home, she and her grandmother make latkes and Hanukkah cookies shaped like menorahs and dreidels with extras to spare.

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Image copyright Jeffrey Ebbeler, 2015, text copyright David A. Adler, 2015. Courtesy of Apples & Honey Press.

Later, Sara shows her mother her new menorah and asks her to put the one she made last year in the box at Sol’s. At first her grandmother is afraid she is throwing it out, but Sara tells her she is “‘giving tzedakah. I’m giving it to someone who has less than we have,’” she says. The bag also contains “latkes, cookies with sprinkles, and Hanukkah candles.” The next morning, she sees the old man find her gift and wipe away tears that she hopes are happy ones.

On Friday, Sara helps her mom and grandma fix a Shabbat and Hanukkah dinner, and at synagogue she asks if they can invite the old man to their house to join them. After speaking to the rabbi and learning that the man’s name is Morris Berger and that he helps at the synagogue, Sara and her mom ask if he’d like to join them.

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Image copyright Jeffrey Ebbeler, 2015, text copyright David A. Adler, 2015. Courtesy of Apples & Honey Press.

Mr. Berger says yes. During dinner he talked about the days when he worked in a circus. He shows Sara some tricks and juggles small pieces of challah, which he then catches one-by-one in his mouth. After dinner, Sara’s mom brings out a plate of the Hanukkah cookies she made. “Now Mr. Berger knows who has been leaving cookies, sandwiches, and milk for him. He knows who left the menorah and candles.” Quietly, he says thank you.

Mr. Berger shows Sara a magic trick by pulling a cookie from behind her ear and making it disappear in one bite. “‘That’s okay,’” she says. “‘We have lots to share.’” Morris says he has things to share too and offers to teach Sara magic tricks and tell circus stories. Sara wants to learn how to juggle, but juggling, Mr. Berger says, “takes lots of practice.” Sara’s mom agrees that she will need many lessons. “Morris smiles. He knows that lots of lessons mean lots more Shabbat dinners with us.”

An Author’s Note about the meaning and traditions of Hanukkah, the game of dreidel, and thinking about giving tzedakah follows the story.

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Image copyright Jeffrey Ebbeler, 2015, text copyright David A. Adler, 2015. Courtesy of Apples & Honey Press.

David A. Adler’s touching story about a little girl who sees someone in need and generously provides help is a heartening story for Hanukkah and any time of year. Adler’s straightforward storytelling, told from Sara’s first-person point of view, invites young readers to look out the window with her and join her as she saves a cookie for the old man and goes on to provide more food and finally companionship to him. The fact that Mr. Berger is a member of Sara’s synagogue reminds readers that people in need of help of all kinds are part of our community, are part of us. Readers will be charmed by Mr. Berger’s circus past and will learn from him that the gifts we have to share with others do not always need to be monetary to have value.

Jeffery Ebbeler’s enchanting illustrations of the city, complete with an adorably narrow Sol’s Market, take readers into Sara’s world, where she sees examples of people in need and those who have plenty. Sara’s contemplations about Mr. Berger and his plight are shown as she considers the full bowl of fruit on her kitchen table, watches someone ask for two hot dogs at the corner cart, and decides to save her cookie at school while the other kids eat theirs and reach for seconds. These same kids, however, happily give up their snack the next day to fill Sara’s bag for Mr. Berger. Classroom scenes and the image of Sara showering her cookies with sprinkles are familiar for all children celebrating holidays at school and at home. The family’s joyful Hanukkah dinner is doubly fun as Mr. Berger performs tricks that even the cat tries to do.

A moving story for Hanukkah and for sharing the spirit of giving all through the year, Hanukkah Cookies with Sprinkles is a fantastic addition to all home, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Apples & Honey Press, 2015 | ISBN 978-1681155005

Discover more about David A. Adler and his books on his website.

To learn more about Jeffrey Ebbeler, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Cookie Day Activity

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Catch the Cookie! Maze

 

Sometimes you just need a cookie! Help the little girl find her way to her favorite cookies with this printable Catch the Cookie! Maze and Solution.

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You can find Hanukkah Cookies with Sprinkles at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review