September 18 – It’s Friendship Month

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About the Holiday

Do you have friends you haven’t seen or talked to in a while? Is there someone new at work or school who could use a friend to show them the ropes or grab lunch with? If so, this month’s holiday gives you the opportunity to reach out and say hi. Instituted a decade ago by the Oddfellows organization in the UK, Friendship Month is a super time to show kindness to those you know and those you don’t—yet!  

Superbuns! Kindness Is Her Superpower

By Diane Kredensor

 

Superbuns had everything she needed to be super kind: “listening ears, big caring eyes, [a] warm happy smile,” and a “huge heart.” While other people appreciated her kindness, her big sister Blossom was dismissive. To her, her little sister was just “Buns.” She didn’t possess any “real” superpowers like super strength, super speed, or the ability to leap over tall buildings. Still, Superbuns went around the neighborhood putting out the trash cans for an elderly lady, helping a younger bunny fly his kite, and offering an umbrella to someone just in the nick of time.

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Copyright Diane Kredensor, 2019, courtesy of Aladdin.

Blossom was a self-proclaimed know-it-all. She knew lots of facts, which she was happy to spout while she and Buns walked over to Grammy’s house with a freshly baked carrot cobbler. On the way, Superbuns complimented a little bunny’s smile, fed a fish who was enjoying a little sun on a windowsill, and helped a busy rabbit flip pancakes through an open window. She even made balloon animals for two bunnies. “Blossom thought all this kindness was slowing them down” and she didn’t want to deliver a cold cobbler to Grammy.

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Copyright Diane Kredensor, 2019, courtesy of Aladdin.

But Superbuns just couldn’t help herself. When Blossom (and the cobbler) was about to be splashed by a biker riding through a puddle, and when she needed help opening the grocery store door (because everyone knows you can’t eat cobbler without cold milk), Superbuns was there. In fact, Miss Fox was also entering the store, and Superbuns held the door for her too. Seeing this, Blossom had a tizzy. She screamed, slipped, and lost control of the cobbler.

Flat on her back, Blossom shouted for Buns to run. She knew “all about foxes. First she’ll gobble up the cobbler. Then she’ll gobble up us,” she cried. Miss Fox gazed at the dish of cobbler that had fallen into her hands and then at Superbuns who was cheerfully waving at her. “Here you go,” Miss Fox said, handing the cobbler to Buns.

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Copyright Diane Kredensor, 2019, courtesy of Aladdin.

Turned out little Miss Fox wasn’t interested in gobbling up the cobbler or the bunnies. She just needed directions home because she was lost. Blossom couldn’t believe it. “Lost?” she asked. She grabbed Miss Fox by the hand and pulled her down the sidewalk with Superbuns and the cobbler in tow. Blossom, it seemed, knew “EVERYTHING about being lost.” She knew the most commonly lost items, where Bun’s lost homework had eventually been found, about the city of Atlantis and the colony of Roanoke, grammar and spelling facts about the word lost, and, of course, just how to get to Foxtrot Trail where Miss Fox lived.

When they finally stood outside Miss Fox’s house, Miss Fox gave Blossom a big hug and said, “Thanks for helping me not be lost, Superblossom.” Blossom smiled. “And just like that, Blossom learned she didn’t know everything about everything.” She even decided that kindness “was kind of… super.”

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Copyright Diane Kredensor, 2019, courtesy of Aladdin.

Diane Kredensor’s bouncy story of an irrepressible spirit will have readers convinced that kindness is indeed a superpower in a hop, skip, and a jump. As big sister Blossom leads the way through town nattering on about all the facts she knows and her opinion on kindness, Buns trails in her wake with her red cape fluttering and her eyes open for ways she can help. Kids will laugh at Blossom’s know-it-all persona and breathless recitations from her vast store of knowledge, but they’ll smile and “aww” as Superbuns springs into action all along their route. When they encounter Miss Fox, Blossom slips up in more ways than one and learns that you can’t always read a book by its cover or know everything about everything. As Blossom accepts a grateful hug from Miss Fox, kids will join Blossom in understanding that while knowing facts may be useful, knowing love is super.

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With her buck teeth, wide eyes, slightly goofy-but-always-ready grin, and superhero outfit, Superbuns is an endearing friend that kids will fall in love with. Kredensor, an Emmy award-winning director and producer of, creator of, and contributor to children’s programming across the network spectrum, fills her pages with all the charm of a favorite cartoon combined with the immersive details of animation. Her well-paced storytelling leading to the pratfall that changes Blossom’s perspective will keep readers rapt until the sweet ending.

Sure to be a hit during any story time, Superbuns! Kindness Is Her Superpower would be an often-asked-for addition to home, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Aladdin, 2019 | ISBN 978-1481490689

To learn more about Diane Kredensor, her books, her animation work, and more, visit her website

Friendship Month Activity

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Give Me Your Hand! Interchangeable Puzzle

 

In this printable Give Me Your Hand! Puzzle, everyone is welcomed with a handshake. The interchangeable pieces can be mixed and matched as the animals become friends with one another. 

Supplies

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Directions

  1. Print the puzzle: to make the puzzle sturdier: Print on heavy stock paper or glue the page to poster board
  2. Color the pictures with colored pencils or crayons
  3. Cut the pieces apart
  4. Switch the pieces around to make many alternate pictures

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You can find Superbuns! Kindness Is Her Superpower at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

September 17 – It’s Friendship Month

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About the Holiday

Established by the Oddfellows, an organization dedicated to philanthropy and charity, about ten years ago, Friendship Month encourages people to spend more time with their friends, get in touch with those they haven’t seen or talked to in a while, and especially to reach out to others who are alone or need a friend. As school gets underway, there are plenty of opportunities for kids to meet new people and form friendships – some of which may last a lifetime.

I received a copy of Two Tough Trucks from Scholastic for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m excited to be teaming with Scholastic in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Two Tough Trucks

Written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez | Illustrated by Hilary Leung

 

One morning, two trucks are ready “for their first day of class.” But Rig’s “riding the brakes” while Mack’s “hitting the gas.” In their classroom, their teacher Miss Rhodes pairs these two up for a practice run on the track. First up is the circuit, with twists and a hairpin turn. Rig feels shaky, but Mack’s “a speedy red blur.” Mack picks up speed going into the turn and keeps on going, but Rig hits the brakes and skids off the course.

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Image copyright Hilary Leung, 2019, text copyright Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez, 2019. Courtesy of Orchard Books.

Next comes learning to downshift while climbing a hill. Mack breezes up as Rig carefully inches along. First to the top, Mack gloats, “‘I knew I was fast.’” And although Rig tried his best he “finished dead last.” Mack thought Rig was just dragging him down. For Rig, Mack just seemed liked a braggart. As he vroomed, Mack fumed and left Rig “in the dust.”

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Image copyright Hilary Leung, 2019, text copyright Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez, 2019. Courtesy of Orchard Books.

The students moved on to practicing backing up. As they moved around traffic cones,  “they veered and corrected, / they turned and reversed. / Rig had good instincts, but Mack was… the worst.” Rig aced the course, but Mack? He was ready to quit until Rig steered him right. “Vroom! Zoom! / They backtracked and bumped. / A Mack making progress, / a Rig feeling pumped!”

Mack was surprised that Rig had helped him, but for Rig it was just the right thing to do. They headed back to the track and took it by storm. These two trucks were “now the fastest of friends.”

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Image copyright Hilary Leung, 2019, text copyright Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez, 2019. Courtesy of Orchard Books.

Like life’s road itself, this original story of two trucks with distinct personalities and different strengths has lots of twists and turns and takes little ones on a multilayered journey of discovery. While Mack is rarin’ to go on his first day of truck school, Rig is more hesitant. When these two are teamed up for the day, Mack’s fast and daring approach to the track seems to be the right one as he nails the sharp curve and is the first to reach the peak of the hill, leaving Rig far behind. These early successes cause him to honk his own horn and complain about Rig.

But then in a clever literal and metaphorical reversal, Rig’s thoughtful restraint makes backing up his forte. In Mack’s reaction to being last, Schwartz and Gomez gently ramp up life lessons about perseverance and losing gracefully. In addition, Rig goes on to demonstrate another winning trait in his generosity to teach Mack the finer points of driving in reverse. Mack’s acceptance of Rig’s kindness shows that the experience has taught him to be humble. Kudos to Miss Rhodes for creating a track that leads to strong bonds and friendship.

A book by Schwartz and Gomez always charms with smart rhyming and jaunty rhythms and Two Tough Trucks is no exception. Ingenious puns, evocative and active vocabulary, and plenty of “vrooms” and “zooms” for kids to chime in on make this book a lively read aloud.

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Image copyright Hilary Leung, 2019, text copyright Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez, 2019. Courtesy of Orchard Books.

Hilary Leung’s textured and boldly colored pages will thrill little readers as Mack and Rig take center stage on the dusty, western track. Mack’s confidence shows in his straight, crisp lines and grinning grill while Rig’s wariness takes the form of wobbly tires, bent frame, furrowed brow, and grimacing grill. Fittingly, the Truck School building is shaped like a parking garage, complete with a spiral ramp that takes students to the second and third story. Cacti, roadrunners, and craggy rock formations dot the sun-drenched desert track where Mack, Rig, and the rest of the students strut their stuff.

A joy to read out loud and offering so much repeat readability, Two Tough Trucks is highly recommended for home bookshelves, preschool and kindergarten classrooms, and public libraries.

Ages 3 – 5

Orchard Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1338236545

Discover more about Corey Rosen Schwartz and her books on her website.

To learn more about Rebecca J. Gomez and her books, visit her website.

To view a portfolio of work by Hilary Leung and learn more about his work, visit her website.

Two Tough Trucks Giveaway

I’m happy to be partnering with Scholastic, Inc. in a giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Two Tough Trucks, written by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez | illustrated by Hilary Leung

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

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

This giveaway is open from September 17 through September 23 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on September 24.

Giveaways open to US and Canadian addresses only | Prizing provided by Scholastic, Inc.

Friendship Month Activity

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Racing for Friendship Game

Here’s a racing game that kids will love making and playing with friends or family! With poster board, paper, and chalk or other art supplies, kids can place their track in, a city, the country, the desert, or even in outer space! Then get out your own toy cars and trucks to play with or use the printable truck tokens included below. Use a traditional playing die or the included printable 8-sided playing die. The first player to the finish line wins—or shake it up a bit and make the last person to the line the winner.

Supplies

  • Black poster board, thick poster board, or tri-fold display board. I used a 12-inch by 4-foot section of a tri-fold board in my example. This allows you to fold up the board for easier storing.
  • White paper
  • Chalk, crayons, or colored pencils
  • Glue or tape
  • Scissors
  • Toy trucks or cars
  • Printable Truck Tokens (optional)
  • Printable 8-sided Playing Die

Directions

  1. Cut about 30 4- or 5-inch by 1½-inch strips from the white paper
  2. Have kids lay out a track on the board using the white paper strips (each strip is one space) leaving room in between the rows for scenery
  3. Glue or tape the strips in place
  4. Cut trees, buildings, landmarks, or other scenery from paper and color. Glue or tape to board. Alternately, draw scenery on the board with chalk
  5. Print and assemble 8-sided playing die with tape (optional)
  6. Gather one toy truck or car for each player. Alternately, print and cut out included Truck Tokens. (To make them sturdier, print on heavy paper or glue them to cardboard)
  7. Choose a player to go first
  8. Players take turns rolling the die and moving the appropriate number of spaces
  9. The first (or last) player to the finish line is the winner

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You can find Two Tough Trucks at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

September 16 – It’s Read a New Book Month

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About the Holiday

Read a New Book Month is a fantastic time to scour your local bookstore and library for books that have recently been published or books that are new to you. Finding a book that you’ve never read before is exciting at any age, and discovering a new book about a favorite topic or in a favorite series is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Today’s book shows how books can spark an interest that can lead to a new hobby or even a future career.

Lola Dutch When I Grow Up

By Kenneth and Sarah Jane Wright

 

Lola Dutch is a little girl whose mind swirls with all the possible things she could be when she grows up, and she wants to decide right now. Bear thinks it would be nice to talk about it over tea, but Lola’s in a hurry. “‘Quick, to the den!’” she says. Bear’s den is spectacular! It’s lined floor to ceiling with books on all topics, a comfy couch and an armchair beckon, and a fireplace keeps it nice and toasty. Today, Lola spies a book about opera and settles in.

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Image copyright Kenneth and Sarah Wright, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

After reading, Lola is convinced the stage is for her. In fact, it’s time to rehearse right now—as in full dress rehearsal. So, “Gator built the set. Pig composed the orchestrations. Crane designed the costumes.” And Bear brought the bouquet of roses for Lola’s final bow. At the end of the performance, Bear thinks Lola slayed it. But looking around at all of the intricate, moving props, Lola has decided that maybe she’d like to be an inventor. “Lola’s imagination soared” as she thought of all the aspects of being an inventor.

But then Lola wonders if perhaps she is “supposed to be something else when [she] grew up.” Suddenly, the fragrant flowers and buzzing bees catches her attention, and she thinks that being a botanist would be awesome. Prepping the soil, planting seeds, and caring for seedlings to “‘make the earth laugh with flowers’” is just what Lola wants to do. As Lola trims a topiary, Bear remarks, “‘Lola Dutch, you’ve grown so much.’”

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Image copyright Kenneth and Sarah Wright, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

And yet, Lola’s not finished growing. She ponders whether she should be a judge, an Egyptologist, a pastry chef, a chemist, and a whole host of other professions. The choices are endless, and Lola just can’t make up her mind. Bear has some sage advice. He asks her what she wants to be right then. Lola confides that she’s happy being a kid and learning about the world, and Bear encourages her to be just that. This sounds wonderful to Lola because, as she says, “‘I have a few more things I’d like to be tomorrow.’”

A surprise awaits readers on the the book jacket. On an extended flap at the back of the book are paper dolls of Lola Dutch and Pig as well as Lola’s voluminous opera gown. Turning the jacket to its reverse side, kids find an opulent, full-color stage, complete with airship, a topiary carousel, landmarks from Ancient Egypt, and Bear waiting to watch the performance. A glance at the copyright page reveals the creators in history who influence Lola’s imagination.

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Image copyright Kenneth and Sarah Wright, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Welcome to childhood—that time when imagination and reality mesh, allowing kids to be and do anything they can think of. Kenneth and Sarah Jane Wright tap into that energy and enthusiasm as Lola contemplates all the things she could be when she grows up. All she needs to do to find plenty of brilliant career choices is to look around her surroundings. Acting? Check. Inventing? Yep. Botony, cooking, or chemistry? Yes, yes, or yes. But does she have to rush into it? There’s so much more to explore. The Wright’s brisk compilation of professions and the subsets that make them so interesting will entice any child to follow Lola’s example and make their own discoveries. 

Sarah Jane’s vibrant pencil, gouache, and watercolor illustrations shimmer with charm, and exuberance, reflecting that buoyant feeling of confidence and possibility of children interacting with their world. Fans of the first Lola Dutch book will love meeting up with Bear, Pig, Gator, and Crane once more and looking forward to the now—and the future—with such good friends.

Lola Dutch When I Grow Up is an inspiring sequel to Lola Dutch and will be a favorite and often-asked-for addition to home, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1681195544

To learn more about Kenneth and Sarah Jane Wright, their books, and other ventures, visit their website.

Read a New Book Month Activity

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Kids who know just what they’d like to do when they grow up or those who are still exploring the options will enjoy filling out this printable Dream Job Application. After making the easy briefcase, kids will be ready to take the world by storm!

Supplies

Directions

To Make the Body of the Briefcase

  1. Cut a rectangle of poster board in proportion to child’s size. Leave ½ inch on either side of the shorter cut to glue the briefcase together. The longer side should be double the height you’d like the finished briefcase to be. (My example was made from a 12-inch by 20-inch strip.)
  2. Fold the poster board in half
  3. Glue the side edges together

To Make the Handle

  1. Cut a narrow strip of poster board
  2. Fold the right side of the strip toward you and down, pinching it tight; repeat on the left side

Print out the Dream Job Application and fill it in!

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You can find Lola Dutch When I Grow Up at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

 

September 12 – National Day of Encouragement

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday got its start when a group of high school students attending a leadership conference were asked to devise a solution to what was perceived as a major problem facing young people: a lack of encouragement. Their solution led to the establishment in 2007 of a National Day of Encouragement on which people are prompted to perform deliberate acts of encouragement to cheer and inspire others. The theme for 2019 is “Share a Smile.” To celebrate, smile at those you meet, say a kind word, mail a card, make a call, or send a text to anyone who needs a little more encouragement to complete a goal, deal with a problem, or just to have a good day. You can also print and give out the Encouragement Cards below.

Bloomsbury Children’s Books provided me with a copy of Ruby Finds a Worry for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m thrilled to be teaming with Bloomsbury in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Ruby Finds a Worry

By Tom Percival

 

“Ruby loved being Ruby.” She was happy swinging on her swing set and exploring her backyard. But one day, she “discovered a Worry.” It wasn’t too big. At first it was just a little nudge, but then it started to grow…and grow. Then it began following her around—everywhere. It sat opposite her at the breakfast table and hung around while she brushed her teeth. Ruby was sure her teacher and the other kids in her class would see it, but they didn’t, “so Ruby pretended that she couldn’t see it either.”

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Copyright Tom Percival, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Ruby kept hoping that it would go away. Then she began to worry that it would never go away. Ruby’s worrying just made the Worry grow even bigger. It was soon so enormous that Ruby felt squeezed for space at home and in the school bus. The Worry filled up all of her thoughts; she couldn’t do the things she loved anymore and “it seemed like she would never feel happy again.”

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Copyright Tom Percival, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Then one day, Ruby saw a boy sitting glumly on a park bench. She recognized that look—and the Worry floating just behind him. For the first time, Ruby realized that other people had Worries too. She sat next to the boy, and they began to talk. As the boy told her what was troubling him, “his Worry began to shrink.” Then Ruby told the boy about her Worry, and it shrank away too. With both Worries gone, the world seemed brighter, and the boy and Ruby jumped for joy. Ruby “felt like her old self again.”  Ruby still found Worries sometimes, “but now that she knew how to get rid of them, they never hung around for long.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ruby-finds-a-worry-disappearing-worry

Copyright Tom Percival, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Tom Percival’s reassuring story is so welcome for children who tend to let their worries crowd out other thoughts and even their happiness. Percival’s straightforward and honest depictions of the stages of worrying—first twinges, growing fears, pretending everything’s okay, and overwhelming anxiety—are both educational and helpful for kids struggling with these feelings. Two stand-out sentences in which Percival directly reveals to readers the worst and best things they can do with a Worry provide excellent guides for dealing with this common emotion.

Working hand-in-hand with the text, Percival’s clear illustrations show Ruby’s progression from a happy, carefree little girl to a child paralyzed by her worries. Ruby’s initial curiosity and courage, shown through full-color spreads, gives way to uncertainty and reticence as her once-happy expression turns sad and the world around her is washed in somber grays. As the Worry keeps up its constant presence, Percival depicts three vignettes—Ruby’s birthday, Ruby riding her bike, and Ruby practicing the piano—that depict activities that can cause worry but also be spoiled by it. Ruby’s discovery that other people also have worries comes with another bit of insight. As Ruby talks to the boy, she reveals that she—perhaps instinctively—knows just what he needs to feel better. Helping kids implement this awareness to advocate for themselves as well is what this book is all about.

A supportive and encouraging book for kids who have a high sensitivity for worrying as well as for those who have periodic doubts, Ruby Finds a Worry should be part of every classroom and public library collection and would be a comforting book to own and share for home libraries too.

Ages 3 – 6

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1547602377

To learn more about Tom Percival, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Ruby Finds a Worry Giveaway

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

  • One (1) copy of Ruby Finds a Worry by Tom Percival

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

This giveaway is open from September 12 through September 19 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on September 20.

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

National Day of Encouragement Activity

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Random Acts of Encouragement Cards to Share

 

Today’s a day to spread a little encouragement to friends, neighbors, teachers, and anyone who looks as if they could use some cheering up.

Random Acts of Encouragement Cards 1Random Acts of Encouragement Cards 2

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You can find Ruby Finds a Worry at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

September 11 – National Quiet Day

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About the Holiday

We’re surrounded by noise every day. Cars whoosh by on the street, TVs drone on, and voices fill the air in the office and at school. Sometimes it seems as if you don’t hear the constant din, but you do. Quiet Day was established to give people an opportunity to experience the benefits found in silence. Not only did the founders envision a day in which you sought out quiet places, but they suggest that you don’t speak at all for the entire day. Reconnecting with yourself and your thoughts can make you feel more relaxed and give you new perspectives that can stimulate creativity and better communications.

Albert’s Quiet Quest

By Isabelle Arsenault

 

With an “Ugh!” Albert heads out to his backyard to escape all the noise inside. He opens the gate to the alley, and there he sees, tossed away with an old lamp and some other trash, a painting of the setting sun shimmering on a calm ocean. Albert has an idea. He retrieves a chair and sits back, relaxing in front of the painting. In Albert’s imagination the hard, straight back chair becomes a beach lounger and the stony asphalt turns to soft sand.

Soon, two girls enter the alley. They’re repotting a green, leafy plant and ask Albert if he’d like to join them. “No, thanks, I’m reading. I’m fine,” Albert answers. Albert picks up the book on his lap and while he reads, the girl’s flowerpot turns into a beach pail, their coats become summer dresses, and the crown one girls is wearing softens into a wreath of flowers. Instead of potting a flower, they are building a sandcastle.

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Copyright Isabelle Arsenault, 2019, courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers.

In a few more minutes Albert’s brother Tom comes out with badminton racquets clutched in his arms. He’s been looking for Albert to play with, but Albert tells him he’s reading. It doesn’t look like he’s reading to Tom since Albert is just sitting in a chair with a book on his lap, but then one of the girls says she’ll play with Tom. The sandcastle grows as one girl pats sand into turrets and stairs while Tom and the other girl bat around an enormous birdie with oversized racquets.

Suddenly, another girl appears, strolling her doll in a green carriage. She wants Albert to watch her doll while she goes back to get her cat. Albert starts to object, but the girl is already gone. When she returns with her cat, she proclaims Albert “so sweet.” But the beach is now quite crowded and the baby doll is crying and crying. The sandcastle has sprouted taller towers and a grand entrance. Albert tries to shut it all out by putting his nose in his book.

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Copyright Isabelle Arsenault, 2019, courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers.

Just then a boy from down the block shows up with his radio. The music blares through the alley, calming the baby, inviting dancing, and attracting another child to join in. Albert sits on his beach chair with his head on his fist scowling at the huge boom box, the caterwauling baby, the dancing kids, and that enormous birdie. And you should see the castle! It’s now big enough to stand on.

Then Jimmy comes rolling in on his skateboard. He scares the cat, tips over the potted plant, causes the birdie to “thunk!” into the painting, and in Albert’s imagination causes everything to go kerflooey. Albert slams his book shut, steps onto his chair, and lets loose about how all he wants to do is read. All the kids in the alley stare sadly at him as they gather up their stuff and head back home. Albert climbs down from his chair and sits, a bit forlornly. Then he hears the “KRRRRRR!” of a scraping chair. Tom is back with his own seat and book. Soon, there’s a “Clomp! Clomp,” a “Tap Tap Tap,” a “Zzoooom,” a “tip tap,” and a “TTRRRRR,” and all of the kids are back with their own books.

Albert looks around at all of his friends sitting nearby quietly reading and smiles. He says, “Hey, guys… I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—.” The kids all turn to him and say, “SHHH! SHHH!” Albert gazes at them and they gaze at Albert. Then they all erupt in laughter and enjoy the last moments of the sunset on the beach.

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Copyright Isabelle Arsenault, 2019, courtesy of Random House Books for Young Readers.

Isabelle Arsenault’s clever story nimbly switches back and forth between Albert’s imagined day at the beach and the reality in the alley, which little-by-little overtakes Albert’s quiet interlude. Each child, intent on their own activity, is not aware of or not bothered by the collective noise, but for Albert the din takes him to the breaking point. When Albert loses his cool, these children—first met in Arsenault’s Colette’s Lost Pet—flee, but not away from Albert. They empathize, and soon return with books of their own to fulfill Albert’s quest for quiet and show true friendship.

Arsenault’s buoyant cartoon-inspired line drawings alternate between the gray-scale background of the alley and the beach scenes rendered in tranquil tones of aqua and orange—the same colors that define Albert and his book. Details like the crying “baby” and the growing badminton set and radio as well as Albert’s meltdown provide opportunities for kids and adults to talk about how noise is perceived by people who thrive in a quieter atmosphere.

A charming mix of imagination, humor, and friendship, Albert’s Quiet Quest would be a delightful addition to home and public library bookshelves and a conversation starter for elementary school classrooms.

Ages 3 – 7

Random House Books for Young Readers, 2019 | ISBN 978-0553536560

To learn more about Isabelle Arsenault, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Quiet Day Activity

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Make Your Own Sensory Sand

 

You can have quiet fun with this sensory sand that you can mold or just let slip through your fingers.

Supplies

  • 1 cup sand
  • ½ tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon dish soap
  • Water as needed – about ¾ cup
  • Bin or bowl for mixing dry ingredients
  • Bowl for mixing dish soap and water

Directions

  1. In the bin combine the sand and cornstarch and mix well
  2. In the bowl combine the dish soap and water until the water is bubbly
  3. Slowly add the water mixture to the dry ingredients, mixing and adding water little-by-little until the desired consistency is reached. The grain of the sand will determine how much water is needed.
  4. The sand can be formed with cookie cutters, molds, hands, etc. and is strong enough to stack.

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You can find Albert’s Quiet Quest at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

September 6 – National Read a Book Day and Interview with Blake Liliane Hellman & Steven Henry

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About the Holiday

Avid readers, rejoice! Today is your day! Just as its name implies, National Read a Book Day celebrates one of the best ways to spend our spare time: reading! If there’s a book you’ve been wanting to read, find some quiet time during lunch, after dinner, or before turning out the light to snuggle in with a cup of tea and that great book. Kids will enjoy some extra reading time as well. Make it a family event! Not only is reading together fun, it’s an important way to help children develop skills that will benefit them far into the future. 

Get to Know Blake Liliane Hellman and Steven Henry

Today, I’m celebrating National Read a Book Day by talking with Welcome to Morningtown author Blake Liliane Hellman and illustrator Steven Henry. This husband-and-wife team combine their talents for art and writing to create adorable picture books with characters and storylines kids love.  

First up, I’m chatting with Blake about how Welcome to Morningtown came to be and how her visual arts background influences her storytelling. 

Welcome to Morningtown is composed of only 119 words and yet readers get the feeling of a joyful day bursting with possibility and promise while the story also reflects the common routines of a morning for little ones. The story includes a wonderful feeling of camaraderie and inclusion, plus it ends on a humorous note. That’s a masterful use of words and rhythm! Can you describe how you approached the story, chose your words, and structured the cadence of the story? Did the story start out this short or was there a whittling process involved?

This book started out as a phrase Steve would use to wake up his little one in the morning. We knew we wanted to make it into a children’s book but we weren’t sure what it was going to be about. We had long discussions on the world of Morningtown—the setting, the season, the homes, and the creatures who lived there. We even designed maps for fun. There were many iterations. The text was much wordier at first, but I always knew it was going to be a prosaic style of book rather than a classical narrative. I’m a fan of Mary Lyn Ray (STARS, A LUCKY AUTHOR HAS A DOG) who uses words in a lyrical and economical way, without depending on rhyme. Similarly, I curated my word choices so Steve’s illustrations could shine.

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

Your background is in journalism, English, and filmmaking. You’re also an abstract painter. How did you become interested in writing picture books? How does your experience in all of these disciplines help you write your stories?

My background in filmmaking helped me learn how to tell stories visually. Years of crafting song lyrics taught me to express myself concisely and poetically. Journalism gave me a great foundation in writing, and painting abstractly taught me to get used to making mistakes—that mistakes are just the path to success. As a writer, you’re going to make a lot of bad stuff. If you accept that, you won’t give up. If you don’t give up, you get better.

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Diamond (acrylic on canvas) by Blake Liliane Hellman, 2015

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Iris (acrylic and mixed media on canvas) by Blake Liliane Hellman, 2015

As an artist, do you have a vision for your stories’ illustrations? In addition to working with Steven on Welcome to Morningtown  and the forthcoming GoodnightSleepyville (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020) and Something Smells! (Atheneum, 2018), you have a third picture book, Cuddle Monkey, coming out from Atheneum in 2020, illustrated by Chad Otis. Were you able to work closely with Chad on the adorable illustrations for this book?

As a filmmaker and visual designer, I absolutely have a vision for my stories when I’m writing them. It might be unusual for the writer to have a say in the illustrations, but I’ve been lucky in this. Both Steven Henry, my husband, and our good friend Chad Otis, (CUDDLE MONKEY, OLIVER THE CURIOUS OWL) have design agency backgrounds and are used to collaborating, so designing picture books with them is a no brainer—and a delight. I don’t think I would have been able to sell my earlier manuscripts without the artwork because to my mind, in a picture book manuscript, half of the story just isn’t there! But as I establish myself as a writer, I’m learning that a professional picture book manuscript should be precise and uncluttered. It should speak for itself without relying on illustration notes.

What do you find to be the best part of being a children’s author?

I get to create fantastical, funny, heartfelt worlds and share them with kids and parents. When you see someone enjoying your work, it validates your imagination.

Steven, you also bring a varied background in design and illustration to your picture book career. Early on you worked as a window display artist for Tower Records and Macy’s Department Store. What are the challenges of this kind of work? What elements are important for capturing the attention of passersby and enticing them into the store? Is there a correlation to creating a book’s cover?

In both retail display and illustration, I’ve always tried to set up a visual hierarchy that leads the eye and gives the viewer the most important information first. To do this, first I figure out my visual storytelling goal (or goals). Once I understand what I’m trying to “say”, then I’ll ask myself what the reader should see first. Are any other elements distracting from this? Whenever possible I try to keep things simple in an engaging way. 

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What drew you to focus on illustrating picture books?

I started drawing superheroes and dinosaurs in grade school. My first-grade teacher noticed my doodles in class and, rather than scolding me for not working on my lessons, asked me if I’d like to draw dinosaurs on the chalkboard for the class at the end of the day. I don’t remember how I got the nerve up to do it, but I got up in front of the room and drew a big Tyrannosaurus, explaining how tall he was and who he fought with. I became a minor classroom celebrity for a couple of days, but that, along with encouragement from my parents, was enough to keep me inspired to draw. 

My parents got rid of our TV in the 70’s, so we spent many hours at the library and brought stacks of books home. Seuss, Sendak, and Scarry were—and still are—big heroes. As a teenager I became more interested in drawing comic book art, but I eventually returned to my picture book roots in 2004 with Ella The Elegant Elephant.  

The characters in Welcome to Morningtown are cuter than cute, and the whole book is like a warm hug. How do you achieve this look and feeling? Why do you think such sweet illustrations are important for little readers? I’m also thinking in particular of the final spread of the busy town that glows with friendship and happiness. Can you talk a bit about some of the elements adults can point out as they share the book with their kids?

When I’m designing characters, I try to make combinations of pen marks on paper that remind me of the kinds of books I loved as a kid and continue to resonate with me emotionally. In order to get to a point where I can communicate certain feelings visually, the boring secret has been practice. I really do believe the adage that, if you spend 10,000 hours doing something, you’ll become an expert. 

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Ladybug concept for Welcome to Morningtown by Steven Henry.

I still use a simple mechanical pencil to do most of my line work. I also try to stay well within my skill set when I’m working on a book. I try to save things like experimentation and pushing boundaries for the concept work that precedes actual book production. Usually, but I’m not always successful—haha.

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

As I mentioned earlier, I pay close attention to the visual hierarchy of an illustration to make sure the most important things stand out. But I also like to include little details that the reader may not catch the first time around, or I include a visual storyline that’s not necessarily a part of the text. In Welcome to Morningtown, there’s no mention of a bear family, for instance; but the illustrated exploits of the little bear and his family provide a gently funny counterpoint to the text. Whenever I can, I like to tell a parallel or separate story with the pictures, so parents and young readers should definitely keep their eyes open—and maybe even check the pictures more than once!

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Image copyright Steven Henry, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Multiple readings of Welcome to Morningtown are definitely a must! As a husband and wife team collaborating on picture books, could you both tell readers about your process for completing a book that inspires such enthusiasm? Does the story come first and then the illustrations or do you work on the whole project together?

We’re always thinking of new ideas for books, usually they start with a title or concept, a funny thing we see while on a walk or overhear on the street. There’s a lot of silly wordplay at our house.

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Steve working on the picture book dummy for Welcome to Morningtown.

I throw a lot of ideas at Steve and not all of them stick. He’s particular. And for good reason. It takes a lot of work and commitment to illustrate a book. When we decide, we roll up our sleeves and get to work. Part of our process is to make a ‘dummy,’ which is a roughly laid out version of the book that we create with a program called InDesign. It has the text laid out alongside rough sketches. This step helps clarify the pacing and can validate or invalidate the story structure. It provides opportunities for improvement. We do a lot of iterating before giving it to our agent.

Blake, you work as an interactive and user experience designer and, Steven, you used to work for Smashing Ideas, which also provides these kinds of serves to clients. Can you briefly describe this work for readers? Can you talk a bit about your work for kids in this area? How do these techniques influence your work with picture books?

I’m a UX Designer and Steve is a Design Manager and we use user experience design principles, including white boarding, prototyping, and wire framing to make picture books! It sounds funny, but it’s actually a great way to work. The only thing we don’t do is user testing because it’s hard to find people who are willing to be honest with you about your picture book. (Unless it’s my mom, she’s very honest.)

Conversely, we’ve found that the process of making picture books helps us in our office environments. Making a picture book forces one to be very organized. There’s a lot to cover in just thirty-two pages! If you can master this kind of efficiency, you can apply it most anywhere.

I’ve had several comments from adults wishing they could live in Morningtown. What can readers look forward to in your upcoming companion book Sleepyville (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, date)?

In the companion book to this one, Sleepyville is a cozy seaside village just a hop, skip and jump from Morningtown. It’s bustling with animals who are getting ready for bedtime. Keep your eye out for a library in a giant tree, a candy shop, and camping worms.

 What’s up next for both of you?

We have a few book ideas we’re developing—one of which Steve has written. I’m currently shopping a manuscript on my own about a rambunctious river.

Since my blog is holiday themed, can’t let you get away without asking what your favorite holiday is and why?

My favorite is the Fourth of July. There’s a current of excitement that runs through the air on the Fourth of July. All the explosions, smoke, and fire—the bursts of colors in the night sky—break the routine of other days. But I’d be happy with just black snakes and sparklers. I especially love the smell of fireworks, which conjures hot summer pavement, watermelon picnics, and swimming pools.

I love the sensory details in this last sentence, Blake! I can almost feel my bare feet sizzling and taste that cool watermelon!

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BLAKE LILIANE HELLMAN is a picture book author and senior UX designer. She and her husband Steven Henry live in Seattle and collaborate on books such as Welcome to Morningtown, Goodnight, Sleepyville, and Something Smells!, which was nominated for the Washington State Book Award. Take a peek into their world by viewing her Instagram page and Facebook page.

STEVEN HENRY (né D’Amico) is the illustrator of many picture books, including the award-winning Ella the Elegant Elephant Series, It’s Raining Bats & Frogs, and Herbert’s First Halloween. He currently serves as an art director at Committee for Children, a nonprofit organization promoting social and emotional learning.

You can take a peek into Blake and Steven Henry’s world on

Instagram | Facebook

You can connect with Steve on

His Website | Twitter

National Read a Book Day Review

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Welcome to Morningtown

Written by Blake Liliane Hellman | Illustrated by Steven Henry

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ages 3 – 5

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

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You can find Welcome to Morningtown at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

September 2 – It’s National Chicken Month

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About the Holiday

For over twenty years, the National Chicken Council has used the month of September to promote chicken sales as the summer grilling season winds down. The endeavor has been so successful that September is now known as National Chicken Month! While chicken on the dinner plate or in a sandwich is delicious, chickens also make good pets and—as today’s book proves—great friends!

Bear and Chicken

By Jannie Ho

 

On a cold winter day, Bear was coming home from his morning walk when “he saw a chicken, frozen in the snow!” He picked her and her knapsack up and brought them inside, where a warm fire crackled in the fireplace. “How does one defrost a chicken? thought Bear.” Bear took a blanket and wrapped the chicken like a burrito and held her tight until her eyes opened. When that happened, Bear smiled and Chicken found herself staring into two rows of very sharp teeth.

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Copyright Jannie Ho, 2017, courtesy of Running Press Kids.

Bear took Chicken into the kitchen, where carrots and onions sat on the counter. Bear picked up his cookbook and began to read. “‘You are just in time,’” he said to Chicken. Chicken looked on worriedly as Bear filled a huge, chicken-sized pot with water and put it on the stove to boil. When Chicken inadvertently knocked over a pot of basil, Bear decided it was a perfect addition to his recipe.

With a newly sharpened knife, Bear chopped up carrots, celery, and onions. “‘Hmmm…what else is missing?’ said Bear,” looking right at Chicken. Bear lifted Chicken up to the pot of hot, bubbling broth. Imagining what would happen next, Chicken wriggled out of Bear’s grasp and ran away as fast as she could and out the front door.

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Copyright Jannie Ho, 2017, courtesy of Running Press Kids.

Bear chased after her, and even though Chicken “zig-zagged through the trees,” Bear caught up with her. She glanced at the big stick Bear had raised over her head, and thought it was the end for her. But Bear, his feelings hurt, was just holding out Chicken’s knapsack. “‘You forgot this,’” he said. Surprised, Chicken blurted out, ‘”You’re not going to eat me?’” Now it was Bear’s turn to be surprised, and he explained that he was making lunch for both of them.

Still wary, Chicken protested that she wasn’t hungry, but her grumbling tummy gave her away. The two laughed, and after Bear promised to help Chicken find her way home, they went inside to enjoy delicious bowls of vegetable soup.

An adorably illustrated recipe for Bear’s Vegetable Soup and a note about the diet of Black Bears follow the text.

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Copyright Jannie Ho, 2017, courtesy of Running Press Kids.

Kids will love the suspense and humor of Jannie Ho’s mistaken purposes story. Her clever culinary puns set the action directly in the kitchen and put young readers in the same mindset as poor Chicken when she wakes up to a very suspicious smile. As Chicken stews about her predicament, little ones will empathize with her while older readers may have fun predicting Bear’s intent. The chase through the woods provides gentle suspense while the sweet reconciliation will have readers giggling along with Chicken and Bear.

Ho brings her distinctively cute artwork to her debut as an author/illustrator with great effect as Bear and Chicken exchange meaningful looks—but is Bear serious about cooking Chicken or just serious about his cooking? Kids will fall in love with little chicken from the moment she’s found in the snow and snugged into a warm blanket. Her worried expression will further endear her to readers, and who can blame them for a bit of worry of their own when Bear’s décor includes such things as a picture of bacon and eggs and the prominently displayed Chicken Cookbook?

A cozy Cozy for the youngest mystery lovers, Bear and Chicken would be a welcome guest on any home, classroom, or public library bookshelf.

Ages 3 – 6

Running Press Kids, 2017 | ISBN 978-0762462667

Discover more about Jannie Ho, her books, and her artwork on her website.

National Chicken Month Activity

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A Chicken to Crow About

 

A long-handled wooden turner makes a plucky decoration for your room or kitchen—and a great reminder to bring your passions to every job! In a few simple steps, you’ll have a cute companion you’ll want to crow about!

Supplies

  • Printable Comb and Scarf Template
  • Long-handled wooden turner, available in kitchen supply stores
  • Red felt
  • Yellow bakable clay
  • Fabric, 12 inches square
  • A small piece of white felt or fleece (optional)
  • White paint (or any color you would like)
  • Black marker
  • Fabric glue
  • Glue gun
  • Paint brush

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Directions

  1. Paint the wooden turner, let dry
  2. Cut the scarf from the piece of fabric
  3. Make a beak from the yellow clay and bake it according to package directions

To make the comb

  1. Cut out the comb from the red felt
  2. Fold the felt in half and glue the end together with the fabric glue
  3. Cut short strips from the folded top of the felt, about ½-inch to ¾ -inch in length
  4. Round the corners of the strips slightly

To make the scarf

  1. Fold the fabric in half
  2. With the long, straight edge of the scarf template along the fold, cut out the scarf
  3. With the fabric glue, glue the two sides of the scarf together so that you have two “right” sides
  4. Let dry

To assemble the chicken

  1. Pinch the bottom of the comb together so that the strips open and the felt pleats a little
  2. With the glue gun attach the comb to the back of the painted turner, keeping the bottom pinched together
  3. Attach the beak to the front of the turner
  4. Draw eyes on the chicken with the black marker
  5. Tie the scarf around the neck of the handle, hold in place with a drop of glue in the back if necessary
  6. To make tail feathers in a turner with a hole in the handle, pinch together a small folded piece of white felt or fleece and push it through the hole in the handle of the turner.
  7. Cut or arrange to look like feathers

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You can find Bear and Chicken at these booksellers

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