May 14 – It’s Get Caught Reading Month

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About the Holiday

Launched in 1999 by the Association of American Publishers and managed by Every Child a Reader, Get Caught Reading Month hopes to instill a love of reading in every child and encourages people of all ages to read more. Celebrities, authors, illustrators, and others participate by sharing pictures of themselves reading an old favorite or new book on social media. Special materials are available for and programs held in schools, libraries, bookstores, and community venues all month long. Why not join in by finding a new book to lovelike today’s book?! For more information and to find resources, visit the Get Caught Reading website.

Chip and Curly, The Great Potato Race

Written by Cathy Breisacher | Illustrated by Joshua Heinsz

 

Spud City was about to hold its annual festival, and everyone was excited. Chip was practicing for the sack race. This year “he was determined to win the first-place prize: a Golden Bushel Award.” But a new spud in town—Curly—had a “spring in his step” and seemed to be real competition. Even though the other potatoes cheered him on, Chip was nervous.

On the day of the festival, the race route was lined with spectators. The couch potatoes lounged near the path while “the French Fries stood with their Tater Tots.” Even the sweet potato cheerleaders were waving pompoms and shouting. Just before the race began, Curly took a place next to Chip at the starting line.

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Image copyright Joshua Heinsz, 2019, text copyright Cathy Breisacher, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When the whistle blew, Chip took off. He was in the lead until he heard someone behind him. “‘Look out!’ the BBQ Chips shouted. ‘Here comes a hot potato!’” Chip raced on, but then Curly bounced in front of him and even though Chip gave it his all, he couldn’t catch up. A moment later, though, Curly tripped and fell, leaving the path—and the race—wide open for Chip.

Chip hopped past Curly and was in clear sight of the finish line when he realized “he felt rotten.” He glanced back and “hashed it over in his mind.” He decided the only right thing to do was to go back. He offered Curly a hand up, and together they bounded down the route and past the other racers. But Curly was too quick for Chip, and he broke through the tape first. “In an instant, Chip’s dreams of winning were mashed.” 

Chip was just about to leave when Curly asked him to be his partner in the relay race. Curly thought they made a great team. They practiced until they found their groove. Everything was looking good until a new team showed up….

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-chip-and-curly-practicing

Image copyright Joshua Heinsz, 2019, text copyright Cathy Breisacher, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Kids will devour Cathy Breisacher’s pun-filled romp that takes them to Spud City’s annual festival, where Chip and Curly face off to win a Golden Bushel Award in the sack race. While Chip pulls out to an early lead, Curly bounces back and threatens Chip’s years-long dream to win. A misstep by Curly gives Chip the opportunity to achieve his goal, but in his decision, Breisacher shows readers true sportsmanship and integrity. Curly also displays the qualities of a gracious winner, and as the two work together to perfect their relay skills, a friendship sprouts. The final scene offers a funny “oh, no!” moment while also reminding readers that winning can be fleeting, but friendship and staying true to oneself endure.

Joshua Heinsz populates Spud City with a wide array of taters—from tots to waffle fries, sweet potatoes to twice-bakeds, French fries to home fries, and more. Heinsz adds plenty of visual humor to the mix with clever street sign and shop names, and the couch potatoes are, ingeniously, those impossible-to-peel curved ones that lurk in many a 5-pound bag. Kids will love picking out their favorite kind of potato, and the expressive spuds will have readers captivated from the very first page.

For rollicking story times that also offer opportunities to discuss the nature of competition and friendship, Chip and Curly, The Great Potato Race is one to add to your home, classroom, or library shelf.

Ages 5 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1585364084

Learn more about Cathy Breisacher and her books on her website.

To learn more about Joshua Heinsz, his books, and his art on his website.

A Chat with Cathy Breisacher

011CB

It’s so great to be talking with you again! This must be a really exciting—and busy!—time for you, so I’m thrilled to have you stop by!

You’ve mentioned that the inspiration for this story was a local potato festival. Can you describe that event a bit and tell what sparked the idea for Chip and Curly?

Every year, on the last Saturday in September, a town not far from where I live holds a Potato Fest.  The county where it is located is the second-largest supplier of potatoes in the state. People come from all around and a good portion of the downtown area is closed off for the event. There are tons and tons of vendors selling a variety of crafts, and the food vendors whip up all kinds of potato treats: sweet potato fries, potato candy, baked potatoes, perogies, potato soup, French fries, potato bread, etc. There is live music as well as games for the kids. I love the fall season, and this is a great kick-off to the fall. I try to attend every year. So, in 2016 when I wrote this story, I thought about the potato festival and all of the kinds of potatoes that are sold at the event.  The names CHIP AND CURLY came to me and the idea for the story just flowed from there.

Of course, I have to ask—what’s your favorite kind of potato? Do you have a favorite recipe? Would you like to share it?

 I love twice baked potatoes. They are probably my favorite. But, there really isn’t a potato I don’t like. I also love perogies and sweet potato fries. Oh my goodness…it’s hard to choose just one. 

I’ll share a recipe for Cheesy Hash Brown potatoes that are gobbled up at many family events. They are so easy to make.

CHEESY HASH BROWN POTATOES

26 oz. Bag of frozen shredded hash brown potatoes (thawed)
2 cups Sharp cheddar cheese (shredded)
16 ounces sour cream
1 (10 1/2 ounce) can cream of mushroom soup
1 ½ sticks butter
3 cups Crushed corn flakes
1 teaspoon garlic salt and pepper to taste

Thaw the hash browns.  Melt 1 stick of butter and mix it with the hash browns.  Pour into 9 x13 pan.  Mix the sour cream, soup and cheese in a bowl. Spread over the potatoes. Melt ½ stick of butter and mix it with the crushed corn flakes.  Sprinkle over the potatoes. Bake at 350 degrees for an hour.

Being competitive can take so many forms. Do you consider yourself competitive? If so, in what way?

Yes, I’m definitely competitive. I always want to put 110% into things that I do. If there is a challenge of some sort, I am in it to win it. J In the past couple of years, I’ve been intrigued with Escape Rooms and trying to solve all of the clues before the time runs out. Recently, I heard of an Escape Room that no one has “broke out of” yet.  I want to be the first! J

Chip and Curly is loaded with puns and really clever word play! The story must have been a blast, but also challenging to write. Can you talk a little about how you put it all together?

Chip and Curly was definitely a fun story to write. I just pulled out my first version of this story, and it has so few puns in it. I didn’t initially write this story to be punny.  But, as I was doing my first set of revisions, a pun popped in my head.  More puns came to me as I continued to revise. It wasn’t long before I knew this had to be a story that centered on potato puns. I scoured the Internet to find words associated with potatoes. I must have looked at every list that exists online. The tricky part was to include those words and phrases that fit nicely with the story. I didn’t want to include something just to include it if the word or phrase really didn’t flow with the storyline. My amazing editor, Sarah Rockett, had excellent suggestions for tweaking the story a bit more after she acquired it. And I was delighted with the fun, playful, colorful art provided by the illustrator, Joshua Heinsz.

After practicing for a year to win a Golden Bushel Award for the sack race, Chip makes a surprising decision part way through the race. What would you like kids to take away from the story?

This is the crucial part of the story. I want kids to know that competing can be a lot of fun. And it can feel good to win at something, too. However, practicing good sportsmanship is important and helps build character. When we show respect toward our opponents, we can still have fun and compete, but it helps us to keep our focus on what’s most important—treating one another the way we want to be treated.

Since CaveKid Birthday was released in March, what’s been the best part of being a published author? The most surprising? As a librarian, how does it feel to see your own book on your library’s shelf?

Gosh, there is so much I am enjoying about being a published author. I love meeting new people (kids and adults) at book events and talking with them about stories. It has also been a treat to see friends and family who I haven’t seen for a while. Being a school librarian, I get an extra treat when kids ask to check out my book. That has truly meant the world to me. When my students tell me they love my books, my heart just completely melts.

During our first interview for CaveKid Birthday how did I miss that you’re from Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania? Does the town live up to its celebratory name? Do you have a favorite town celebration or spot to write or visit?

Hmmm…very good question. The town where I live is a true community. People really get behind and support the schools, sports teams, agencies, fundraising events, etc. So I guess you can say that the people who live in Hollidaysburg celebrate one another’s aspirations and accomplishments. I am proud to live in this town. I do have a few favorite spots that I like to visit. There are a couple of parks that are so beautiful and serene. They are a great place to spend timejyeither alone or with family and friends. As for a favorite town celebration, I would have to say the Winterfest Light-Up Night that is held at the end of November each year. There are festivities in the downtown area and everything is decorated for Christmas. Local restaurants hold soup samplings and people vote on their favorite. Santa arrives and a giant tree is lit up that evening. There are ice carvings, too. It’s such a fun night and everyone is in the holiday spirit.

Thanks, Cathy! I can’t wait to try those delish-sounding potatoes! I know you’ll have lots of fun with Chip and Curly, and I wish you all the best with all of your books!

You can connect with Cathy Breisacher on

Her website | Facebook | Twitter

Chip and Curly, The Great Potato Race Giveaway

I’m excited to be teaming with Sleeping Bear Press in this giveaway of

  • One (1) copy of Chip and Curly, The Great Potato Race written by Cathy Breisacher | illustrated by Joshua Heinsz

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

BONUS: Reply with your favorite kind of potato or potato dish for an extra entry

This giveaway is open from May 14 through May 20 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on May 21.

Prizing provided by Sleeping Bear Press.

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

Get Caught Reading Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-appealing-potatoes-game-cards

Appealing Potatoes Game

 

If you love potatoes, you can never get enough! Race to fill your plate with all six kinds of potatoes in this fun game!

Supplies

Directions

  1. Print a game board and set of game cards for each player.
  2. Choose a player to go first.
  3. Taking turns, each player rolls the paper die and places a game card matching the rolled potato to their plate
  4. Or: If using a regular playing die, use the corresponding number and kind of potato listed below
  5. The first player to add all six kinds of potatoes to their plate is the winner.

Corresponding Numbers and Potatoes:

  1. Mashed Potatoes
  2. French Fries
  3. Potato Chips
  4. Baked Potato
  5. Twice-baked Potato
  6. Sweet Potato Fries

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-chip-and-curly-cover

You can find Chip and Curly, the Great Potato Race at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

May 13 – It’s National Egg Month

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About the Holiday

This month we celebrate the amazing egg! Since ancient days people have relied on eggs for protein and other nutrients as part of a healthy diet. Eggs also provide delicate canvases for incredible works of art. If you’re fond of eggs—on their own or whipped up into a quiche, frittata, or other delicacy—crack a few open and enjoy your favorite recipe!  

The Good Egg

Written by Jory John | Illustrated by Pete Oswald

 

Have you ever met an egg that was so good he would rescue a cat from a tree, “…carry your groceries, …water your plants,” or “paint your house?” Well, you have now! And this isn’t some fly-by-night goodness, this little egg has always been this way even though all the other eggs in the carton exhibited less-than-stellar behavior.

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Image copyright Pete Oswald, 2019, text copyright Jory John, 2019. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

What did they do? Are you ready for this? “They ignored their bedtime. They only ate sugary cereal.” There were tantrums…and it only got worse. The good egg tried to help—after all, he was “a verrrrrry good egg,” but no one paid any attention. Eventually, the good egg cracked under the pressure of  trying to make his carton buddies as good as he was.

The good egg decided to leave the market and the other eggs behind. Did they care? It didn’t seem like it. The egg traveled far and wide and into his very own heart. The egg “took walks” and “read books.” He took up writing, painting, and meditation. Slowly, the cracks began to heal. Feeling better, the egg made a big decision. He decided to go back to the market and his friends. But this time, he would “try not to worry so much” and he’d be good to the other eggs and himself.

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Image copyright Pete Oswald, 2019, text copyright Jory John, 2019. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

The good egg had discovered that he missed the other eggs, but how would they feel about his come back? He needn’t have worried. They welcomed him home with egg-citement. It seems that while the good egg was gone, the other eggs became a little better behaved. And now? Here’s what the good egg “realized: The other eggs aren’t perfect, and I don’t have to be, either.” The whole experience gave the good egg a whole new perspective, and he’s glad to be home.

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Image copyright Pete Oswald, 2019, text copyright Jory John, 2019. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

Behavior studies have never been as bewitching as in Jory John and Pete Oswald’s The Good Egg, a sequel of sorts to The Bad Seed. Everywhere he looks, the good egg finds ways to be helpful, peaceful, and…well…good. But his friends are a rowdy bunch, given to messes, tears, destruction—badness. When the good egg’s perfectionism meets this unruliness, he cracks. When the good egg leaves the carton in search of healing, John invites readers to consider the line between fun and rotten behavior from both sides.

Children prone to perfectionism see that it’s okay to give themselves a break and let go at times, while those who tend to be wild learn that reigning in some impulses can lead to more enjoyment. John’s clever egg names, funny examples of good and rotten behavior, and pun-filled wordplay will have kids giggling from the first page while his nod to self-care practices and the empowering ending give them moments for thoughtful contemplation.

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Image copyright Pete Oswald, 2019, text copyright Jory John, 2019. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

Pete Oswald dishes up a full menu of visual jokes from the wrinkled bacon slice getting help with her groceries to the intravenous yolk drip the good egg gets on his trip to the doctor to the stack of books with eggs-centric titles that are part of the good egg’s recovery. The dozen eggs—all with distinct personalities—may be “fresh” as the carton proclaims, but they make for eggsellent companions on this journey of self-discovery.

Witty and ingenious, The Good Egg will be an often-asked for addition to home, school, and public libraries for perfectly fun-filled story times.

Ages 4 – 8

Harper Collins, 2019 | ISBN 978-0062866004

Discover more about Jory John and his books on his website.

To learn more about Pete Oswald, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Take a crack at The Good Egg book trailer!

National Egg Month Activity

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Egg Carton Chickens and a Basket Full of Games

 

With these cute egg-carton chickens you can come up with lots of games to play! This fun craft and game activity is eggs-actly what you need to start hatching some real fun!

Supplies

  • Cardboard egg carton
  • White craft paint
  • Markers: red, yellow, black for the face; any colors you’d like for wings and eggs
  • Paint brush
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Construction or craft paper in white and a color of your choice

Directions

  1. Cut the notched flap off the egg carton and set aside
  2. Cut the top off the egg carton
  3. Cut apart all the egg cups and trim slightly so they sit flat
  4. Paint the egg cups with the white paint, let dry
  5. Add the face, comb and wings to the chicken with the markers. Make six chickens with one color wings and six chickens with another color wings.
  6. From the egg carton flap cut thirteen small egg-shaped playing pieces
  7. With the markers, decorate twelve of the eggs in pairs—each egg in the pair with the same design
  8. Color one egg yellow and add a beak, eyes, and wings to make it a chick

Games to Play

Tic-Tac-Toe (2 players)

  1. On a 8 ½” x 11” piece of paper draw a regular tic-tac-toe board or make it fancy – like the picket fence-inspired board in the picture
  2. To make the fence-inspired board on a colored background, cut 2 9-inch-long x 3/4-inch wide strips of white paper, cutting a pointed tip at one or both ends. Cut 2 white  8-inch x 3/4-inch strips of paper with a pointed tip at one or both ends. Glue the strips to the background.
  3. Each player chooses a set of chickens with the same colored wings
  4. Play the game as you usually do

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Find the Matching Eggs (2 or more players)

  1. Have one player hide one egg under each chicken
  2. Shuffle the eggs around and form them into three lines of 4 chickens each
  3. Another player lifts one chicken at a time to find matching eggs. If the eggs don’t match, put both chickens back and start again

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Where’s the Chick?

  1. Use as many chickens and eggs as you want (fewer for younger children, more for older)
  2. One player hides the chick under one of the chickens and eggs under the others.
  3. Another player has three chances to find the chick

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I’m sure you can also design your own games for your adorable chickens to play! With more chickens you can even make a checkers set or replicate another of your favorite board games!

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You can find The Good Egg at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

May 7 – It’s Get Caught Reading Month and Interview with Author Cathy Ballou Mealey

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About the Holiday

Reading is great all the time, but this month we celebrate actually being seen with a book in hand laughing at a funny line, shivering over a suspenseful scene or maybe even tearing up over an unexpected plot twist. Throughout the month, authors, illustrators, actors and actresses, athletes, business people, teachers, and students all upload pictures of themselves reading to encourage others to discover the joys of this fun and important pastime. To learn more about the holiday and find resources to download or order, visit the Get Caught Reading website.

I received a copy of When a Tree Grows from Sterling Children’s Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m thrilled to be partnering with Sterling Children’s Books in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

When a Tree Grows

Written by Cathy Ballou Mealey | Illustrated by Kasia Nowowiejska

 

We all know that age-old question “When a tree falls in a forest does it make a sound?” Inexplicably, this riddle seems to forget all about the adorable woodland animals—many of which we meet in this hilarious book that poses many thought-provoking conundrums of its own. For instance: “When a tree grows in the forest, two things can happen. It becomes a scratching post for Moose’s itchy antlers, and the tree sways gently side to side. OR… CRASH-BOOM! Moose pushes a little too hard, the tree falls on a cave, and the bear inside wakes up.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-when-a-tree-grows-scratchcelebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-when-a-tree-grows-scratch

Image copyright Kasia Nowowiejska, 2019, text copyright Cathy Ballou Mealey, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

But how does Bear react? He can stay inside… OR come out to see what all the ruckus is about. And when he comes outside? Well, the domino effect could take over the forest… OR not. Alert readers will notice that Bear’s not the only one affected by the falling tree. Squirrel loses his home, but does he find the perfect replacement when a Nifty Nuts truck loaded with acorns gets entangled in this roller-coaster ride of a story… OR not?

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-when-a-tree-grows-bear

Image copyright Kasia Nowowiejska, 2019, text copyright Cathy Ballou Mealey, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

As readers follow the action, they’ll wonder—will Squirrel discover a lifetime supply of nuts? Fame and fortune? An empty spot in his heart? And when (if?) “Scribble-Scratch! He writes a letter to Moose,” will Moose eat it or read it? The answers to these forest-related questions lead to a fantastic welcome-home feast with party hats and decorations and, of course, lots and lots of acorns that Squirrel will either gobble all up… OR….

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-when-a-tree-grows-squirrel

Image copyright Kasia Nowowiejska, 2019, text copyright Cathy Ballou Mealey, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Nuttiness abounds in this funny story that will have kids on the edge of their seats and excitedly chiming in as each situation plays out, leading to more and more consequences for Squirrel. Cathy Ballou Mealey’s action-packed storytelling, punctuated with onomatopoeia, makes each page a joy to read aloud. Underlying all of the shenanigans is a sweet friendship story that will tug at readers’ hearts as the gently suspenseful circumstances seem to take Squirrel farther and farther away from the forest. Kids will cheer along with Moose, Bear, and a bevy of other cute animals as they celebrate Squirrel’s homecoming and enthusiastically approve of what Squirrel does with his windfall to guarantee that all the friends can stick together forever.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-when-a-tree-grows-bear-awake

Kasia Nowowiejska populates this most friendly of forests with adorable, wide-eyed animals whose expressions perfectly reflect their dilemmas without giving away the secret answers. Kids will laugh out loud to see Moose nervously clinging half-way up a tree as Bear growls, applaud squirrel’s aim with a slingshot, and wish they could join in the party when Squirrel comes home. Nowowiejska’s beautiful earth-tone color palette provides depth and texture to the lush foliage while highlighting each animal’s choices in clever and original ways that kids will love. The onomatopoeic phrases are spotlighted with vibrant, bold lettering, ensuring that readers will add their own spin to this fun element of the story.

No “OR…”s about it, When a Tree Grows will be a hit for lively, animated story times and would be an often-requested addition to home, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 3 and up 

Sterling Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1454921202

Discover more about Cathy Ballou Mealey and her books on her website.

To learn more about Kasia Nowowiejska, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Cathy Ballou Mealey

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Cathy-Mealey-headshot

Cathy Ballou Mealey lives with her family north of Boston, where she delights in watching silly squirrel antics and is waiting patiently for a moose to appear. Her favorite nut is the hazelnut and her favorite cupcake is cardamom crème.

Thank you for inviting me to the fabulous Celebrate Picture Books! I am delighted to join your celebration of Get Caught Reading Week by talking about writing inspiration and what we might learn from our hobbies and jobs, and also sharing a story starter for a favorite fall holiday!

I’m delighted that we get to talk about all of these things—and more! So let’s get started at the beginning of your journey with When a Tree Grows!

What was the spark of inspiration that led to When a Tree Grows?

When A Tree Grows was inspired by a distant creaky Crash! that I heard in the woods while hiking with my family. Was it a falling tree? An animal? I wondered: What if that crash had scared a bear or frightened a deer?

Building on that “OR” question, I framed a wacky story with two different possible outcomes, one rather expected and one funny, unexpected outcome. Readers will find that “OR” spotlighted on the bottom corner of each recto page with a clever curled paper art effect.

You must have had fun coming up with the alternate scenarios in your book. Can you share any that didn’t make the cut?

An early draft had a sweet city scene between Squirrel and a pigeon, but it didn’t make the final cut. It was tender and poignant, but needed a funnier alternative outcome to move the storyline along. In the end, I am happy that only Squirrel, Moose and Bear share the spotlight!

I love Kasia Nowowiejska’s illustrations that combine adorable, expressive animals with silly antics. Do you have a favorite spread? Did anything in the illustrations surprise you? 

I agree! Kasia is from Poland, and I loved the European flair in her forest sketches. Seeing the warthog was a complete, delightful surprise. Warthogs are not animals we would typically see in a North American woodland, and that leads to great discussions with young readers.

You have degrees in psychobiology and classical civilization. Can you describe these a bit and how they are connected? Does your study of psychobiology help inform the character development in your stories?

Psychobiology is the study of the brain, behavior and cognitive processes. I found it fascinating to research why and how we think, feel and do the things we do! I learned how to be a good observer, listener, and follower of the empirical method. I also studied classical civilization because I loved Latin, and the professors were extremely gifted storytellers. They brought ancient texts to life through dramatic readings and captivating extemporaneous performances. Exactly how these field of study inform my present work is unclear, but a liberal arts education really does cultivate curious minds!

In your bio, you also say that you were a crossing guard, hash-slinger, gift-wrapper, and pet sitter. This sounds like perfect prep for becoming a picture book author! Have any of these jobs inspired a story? Do you have a funny or surprising experience you’d like to share?

Writers DO find a way to wring fictional purpose out of anything, don’t we? I have found that one common theme across many of my stories is work. In When A Tree Grows, Squirrel gets a job in the Nifty Nuts factory as a quality control inspector. That’s one job I have not done! But working as a department store gift-wrapper was a job where quality mattered. Customers could buy a specialty paper/ribbon combination or choose the free “store wrap” which was red with tiny white checkered squares. The squares had to line up perfectly, no matter how lumpy or bumpy the item was, or the boss would make us re-wrap it. Wrap a floor lamp? Rocking chair? I like to imagine one of my co-wrappers invented printed gift bags out of desperation.

In previous interviews, you’ve described how you wrote your first picture book to enter the Cheerios “spoonful of stories” contest. But did you always like to write? What kinds of writing did you do? What inspired you to try the picture book form?

As a kid I loved to write and illustrate greeting cards, so my earliest efforts were short and to the point, just like picture books. I also wrote scripts for Muppet-like puppet shows, assigning the best roles to myself, of course. When school assignments piled up and writing lost its luster, I stopped scribbling for pleasure. Decades later, having children led to reading many picture books and to many boxes of Cheerios. So those factors definitely helped re-ignite my passion for writing and picture books specifically.

When a Tree Grows was released on April 2. What have you found to be the best part of being a published author? If you’ve held any book events, can you describe the reactions of kids to your story?

Of course seeing Tree on bookstore shelves and in readers’ hands is delightful. Hearing people laugh at the funny spots is a thrill! I like to ask a helper to wave a big sign that says “OR” to dramatize the page turns during readings. And kids love to see Squirrel scooping coins out of the fountain to buy a bus ticket home – so naughty!

What’s up next for you?

Next up for me is a still-secret, super funny picture book with an amazing publisher in Canada. A sloth and a squirrel team up for a special mission. Look for an announcement soon, and a book sometime in 2021!

What’s your favorite holiday and why?

Halloween – because it is in the fall, my favorite season. It also happens to be my birthday! Costumes, candy, glowing pumpkins, being outside after dark – all these elements make magical memories for kids. And on top of all that I got a cake, candles, and presents too? Pretty great.

Has a holiday ever influenced your work?

What a great idea! Let’s imagine re-casting When A Tree Grows as a Halloween story.

When an Owl hoots in the forest on Halloween, two things could happen.

Warthog blows out the candle in her pumpkin. Trick or treat is over.

OR…

Eek! Warthog is startled and tosses her candy into the air.

When Warthog tosses her candy into the air, two things could happen.

What do YOU think should happen next?

Oh my! Let’s see…

Bat neatly snatches all the candy out of the air with her trick-or-treat bag.

OR…

A candy corn ricochets off a tree and bonks bat, sending her wildly off course.

Readers? What do YOU think? Add your ideas in the comments section below!

Well, this was tons of fun, Cathy! I’m so glad we had a chance to chat! I wish you all the best with When a Tree Grows!

You can connect with Cathy Ballou Mealey on

Her website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

When a Tree Grows Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Sterling Children’s Books in a giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of When a Tree Grows written by Cathy Ballou Mealey | illustrated by Kasia Nowowiejska

To Enter:

Leave a comment here on this post answering the story starter at the end of my interview with Cathy or mention your favorite kind of forest animal.

OR…

Follow me @CelebratePicBks and Cathy @CatBallouMealey on Twitter and Retweet a giveaway tweet

This giveaway is open from May 7 through May 13 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on May 14.

Prizing provided by Sterling Children’s Books

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

Get Caught Reading Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-moose-headband-craft-when-a-tree-grows

Moose starts a whole string of events in today’s book! What will you get up to in your own moose antlers?

Supplies

  • Stiff brown paper
  • Brown hair band
  • Pencil
  • Scissors
  • Tape

Directions

  1. Trace your hands with fingers spread on the brown paper. Leave a 1 – 2 inch tab on the end of the wrist for wrapping around the head band
  2. Cut out the hand prints
  3. Place one hand print on the right side of the headband with the thumb of the hand pointing up.
  4. Wrap the tab around the headband and secure with tape
  5. Place the second hand print on the left side of the headband with the thumb pointing up.
  6. Wrap the tab around the headband and secure with tape.

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You can find When a Tree Grows at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

May 2 – It’s Get Caught Reading Month

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About the Holiday

The Get Caught Reading campaign was initiated in 1999 by the Association of American Publishers with the idea to promote literacy and language development through reading to children and encouraging them to read on their own. Research shows that early experience with language and reading stimulates a child’s brain and gives them an advantage in learning and school. As part of the campaign, celebrities, dignitaries, and even fictional characters are pictured book-in-hand and enjoying reading. Posters of these readers are available for schools, libraries, and other organizations, and the excitement of reading also takes over social media all month long. To celebrate this holiday, make sure you stock up your shelves with new and favorite books and get caught reading!

We Are (Not) Friends

Written by Anna Kang | Illustrated by Christopher Weyant

 

This big, brown, fuzzy bear and little, purple, fuzzy bear have been through a lot together—disagreements, fear, problems with sharing—but nothing has prepared them for the blue, fluffy rabbit who bounces onto the scene and into their friendship. When the newcomer asks to join them just as they’re about to explore the stuff in the big, green trunk, Big Bear is all for it, but Little Bear is wary. Rabbit pulls two canes from the trunk and, handing one to Big Bear, suggests they perform a duet. Big Bear’s in, but Little Bear feels left out.

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Image copyright Christopher Weyant, 2019, text copyright Anna Kang, 2019. Courtesy of Two Lions.

Big Bear and Rabbit do a tap routine in perfect sync. Then Little Bear shows his stuff with flying feet that aren’t exactly in rhythm. When they all toss their hats in the air, Big Bear and Rabbit neatly catch theirs on their heads while Little Bear’s bonks him on the noggin and bounces off. Little Bear storms off and comes back with a fan so powerful it blows Rabbit’s hat nearly off the page. “What? It was getting hot,” Little Bear replies to Big Bear’s questioning look.

When Little Bear wants to “play dinosaur hunters,” Big Bear looks for their new friend. Little Bear, for his part, denies all knowledge of who he’s talking about. “Our friend—” Big Bear begins to explain, but Little Bear counters “We are friends. We are not friends with—” But then Rabbit’s back and a game of dinosaur hunters gets underway without Little Bear.

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Image copyright Christopher Weyant, 2019, text copyright Anna Kang, 2019. Courtesy of Two Lions.

Little Bear then has a brainstorm that Rabbit likes, and a new duo is formed that doesn’t include Big Bear. Now Big Bear’s feeling left out. Rabbit decides they can combine both games and proclaims Big Bear a dinosaur. “Yeah! Attack, T. rex!” Little Bear urges. Big Bear lets out a tiny roar, then a bigger roar, and finally a huge “ROAR!!!” at which Rabbit Whumps him over the head with a net. Big Bear begins to cry and shouts “WE ARE NOT FRIENDS!!!”

Shaken, the two quiet down and look on sadly. Little Bear gazes at Big Bear and understands. He lays his paw on Big Bear’s arm and clarifies: “We are best friends.” And Bear offers, “And this is our new friend?” That’s exactly it! With everyone satisfied, they’re all happy playing spies, until….”

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Image copyright Christopher Weyant, 2019, text copyright Anna Kang, 2019. Courtesy of Two Lions.

Anna Kang continues to develop the relationship between her sweet friends in this funny and heartwarming story about how to make room for new buddies in a well-established relationship. Kang perfectly captures the fluctuating dynamics that occur when a new person joins a group and through honest dialogue portrays the hurt feelings and misunderstandings that can happen while children play together. Little Bear’s sensitivity to Big Bear’s feelings strengthens their friendship while allowing it to grow. The story gives adults and children an opportunity to discuss this complex challenge that’s a common part of growing up.

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Image copyright Christopher Weyant, 2019, text copyright Anna Kang, 2019. Courtesy of Two Lions.

Christopher Weyant’s lovable and beloved fuzzy friends are joined by an equally cute character who brings new energy and ideas into the relationship between Big Bear and Little Bear but also dismay. Weyant portrays the actions that lead to hurt feelings clearly through images of Big Bear and Rabbit dancing perfectly in synch while Little Bear flounders and then Little Bear and Rabbit building a car that has no room for Big Bear. The characters’ changing facial expressions also provide distinct emotional clues that lead young readers to recognize and empathize with each friend’s experience.

A touching ride through the sometimes-choppy waters of friendship, We Are (Not) Friends reassures young readers that there’s room enough for all. The book is a must for fans of the series and a great place to start if you have not yet been introduced to these adorable characters. We Are (Not) Friends will be a much-asked-for addition to home, classroom, and public library shelves.

Ages 3 – 7

Two Lions, 2019 | ISBN 978-1542044288

Discover more about Anna Kang and her books on her website.

To learn more about Christopher Weyant, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Get Caught Reading Month Activity

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Catch a Book! Maze

 

One boy has a whole stack of books to share with his friends! Can you help him through this printable Catch a Book! Maze? Here’s the Solution!

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You can find We Are (Not) Friends at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

 

April 23 – It’s National Humor Month

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National Humor Month was established in 1976 by comedian and author Larry Wilde who is also the director of the Carmel Institute of Humor to promote all things funny and raise awareness of the benefits of laughter and joy. The health benefits of an optimistic outlook are well documented. Lightheartedness also improves communication skills and boosts morale. Reading funny books is a fantastic way to share a laugh—for kids and adults—and to encourage a love of literature. In fact, there’s even a Funny Literacy Program that offers lots of resources and activities to fill your days with humor! Click here to learn more. Get started with today’s book and enjoy a good guffaw not only during April but everyday! 

Too Much! Not Enough!

By Gina Perry

 

It’s bedtime and Moe is just trying to get to sleep. “‘Too much jumping,’” Moe calls up from the bottom bunk. But Peanut’s still wide awake and thinks there’s “‘Not enough time to play!’” When pint-sized Peanut and towering Moe head out into the rain to go to the store, Peanut loves stomping in the puddles, but Moe’s not so crazy about all the splashing.

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Copyright Gina Perry, 2018, courtesy of Tundra Books.

When Moe’s tummy is grumbling, Peanut springs into action and whips up a breakfast in which there’s never “too much” of anything. When Moe and Peanut sit down to the food-laden table, though, Moe’s shocked to see “‘too much food.” Peanut’s only concerned is that there’s “‘Not enough syrup!’” Washing up, playtime, and art time also bring some gentle differences of opinion until Peanut, teetering on a stack of chairs to add to his growing block building, crashes to the floor sending toys, musical instruments, and even half a sandwich flying.

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Copyright Gina Perry, 2018, courtesy of Tundra Books.

Moe loses it and shouts “TOO MUCH!” Grabbing a book about the stars, Moe steps outside and sits on the porch as rain pours down. With a remorseful look, Peanut peeks out the window and watches Moe sadly reading about the constellations. Peanut wipes away a tear and begins to clean up all of the “too much” around the house. Meanwhile, Moe, lonely among the “not enough” on the porch, begins to have a change of heart. Moe comes back inside to see a perfectly clean house. Peanut worries and asks if it’s a bit “‘too much?’” But with a hug Moe reassures Peanut that it’s “‘Just enough.’”

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Copyright Gina Perry, 2018, courtesy of Tundra Books.

Gina Perry takes on those differences of opinion that can vex even the most devoted friends and siblings in her humorous and charming story of two besties who, together, aren’t “too much” or “not enough” but just perfect. Perry’s enthusiastic, dialogue-rich storytelling makes for an engaging read aloud that young readers will love chiming in with. Young actors and actresses would have a blast acting out the story, and the facial expressions on Perry’s sweet and caring characters give adults and kids lots of opportunities to talk about empathy, understanding, and listening to one another.

Moe and Peanut, drawn in Perry’s smile-inducing signature style may seem like opposites in every way—Peanut is small with a button nose and long ears while Moe is tall, aqua, and sports a large pink nose between his tiny ears—but their love for each other is evident. Readers will notice it’s clear that Peanut looks up to Moe (in more ways than one): When Moe is hungry, Peanut makes breakfast; while Moe washes dishes, Peanut entertains; during art time, Peanut creates a portrait of Moe; and when Moe explodes, Peanut worries and is sorry. Perry’s vibrant pages are full of details that kids will love lingering over, naming, and counting—and don’t forget to keep an eye out for that half sandwich!

A fun and funny book that adults and kids will love sharing, Too Much! Not Enough! makes a terrific choice for pre-readers and early readers at home, in the classroom, and for public libraries.

Ages 3 – 7

Tundra Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1101919507

To learn more about Gina Perry, her books, and her art and to find fun activity sheets—including ones on how to draw Moe and Peanut—visit her website.

You can’t get too much of this Too Much! Not Enough! book trailer!

National Humor Month Activity

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Silly Balloons

 

You can have lots of silly fun with balloons! Try some of these ideas—they’re sure to make you laugh!

Goofy Faces

Blow up a balloon and draw a funny face on it. Rub the balloon on your shirt or a blanket and stick it to the wall, your shirt, or even your mom or dad!

Crazy Hair

Rub a blown-up balloon on your shirt or a blanket (fleece works well) then hold it near your hair and watch it go a little crazy!

Bend Water

This bit of balloon magic will amaze you! Rub a blown-up balloon on a blanket (fleece works well). Turn on a faucet to a thin stream of water. Hold the balloon near the stream of water and watch it bend toward the balloon. 

Volleyballoon

This is a fun game for two or more people played like volleyball—but with balloons! All you need is a balloon and a line on the floor. Players form teams and bat the balloon back and forth over the line, keeping it in the air.as long as possible. A team wins a point when the opposing team can’t return the balloon.

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You can find Too Much! Not Enough! at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

April 19 – National Hanging Out Day and Interview with Author/Illustrator Catherine Lazar Odell

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About the Holiday

National Hanging Out Day began in 1995 as a way to encourage people to use less electricity by hanging out their laundry. A look at social media shows that it’s also celebrated at a day to get out and enjoy some time with friends. Why not combine them both? While your wash is drying, take a break with your friends or family and do something fun—or learn a new skill like the Pepper in today’s story!

I received a copy of Pepper and Frannie from Page Street Kids for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m excited to be teaming with Page Street Kids in a giveaway of two copies of the book. See details below.

Pepper and Frannie

By Catherine Lazar Odell

 

“Pepper is practical and prepared, and follows the rules. Fannie is fancy and free, and follows her own path.” They are best friends. They love to go on adventures together and enjoy activities in their own particular way. This weekend they’re heading off to the forest—Pepper to photograph a wildflower and Frannie to participate in the Wheels in the Woods skateboarding festival.

As Pepper passes the bus stop on her motorcycle, she’s flagged down by Frannie, who has missed her bus. When they get to the festival, Pepper’s interested in what’s going on, and Frannie convinces her to stay. “Pepper is mesmerized. She snaps photos of perfect flips, ollies, and tailstalls on the half pipe,” as Frannie joins the skaters.

Then Frannie wants Pepper to try skating. When she stands on the board, she feels a bit shaky, but Frannie is right there to support and teach her. When Frannie thinks Pepper is ready, she lets go of her friend. Pepper glides along until…she falls. Then “Pepper is done skating.” But Frannie has her up and trying again and again until…she’s got it. The two speed down the forest path with the other skaters. Pepper’s success inspires her to dream of all the things she could accomplish. They spend the rest of the day skating and helping each other when they fall. It becomes a weekend adventure to remember.

Catherine Lazar Odell takes kids out to the skate park in her fresh and original story about friendship and the courage to try new things. For more cautious Pepper, succeeding on the skateboard is a revelation and leads her to contemplate all the things she might be and do. Frannie exemplifies the kind of enthusiasm, camaraderie, and support a good friend shows to a more reluctant companion, and the friends’ love and concern for each other is a highlight of the story.

Odell’s evocative and action-packed mixed-media illustrations will charm readers as Frannie hops up and down and waves her arms with excitement and Pepper gets up again and again while learning her new skill. Images of the skateboarding characters doing tricks on their boards will thrill young skaters and would-be skaters. Early images of Pepper reading a “stay on path” sign but then leaving the path to photograph a wildflower and her choice of a motorbike for transportation both hint at Pepper’s unrecognized bravery.

A lovely book sure to encourage and inspire kids to reach out of their comfort zone as well as to support friends in their varied pursuits, Pepper and Frannie would be heartening addition to home, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624146602

To learn more about Catherine Lazar Odell, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Catherine Lazar Odell

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I’m excited to be talking with Catherine Lazar Odell today about how her world travels influences her work, the most rewarding part about being a children’s author, the value of community and more. 

Pepper and Frannie is your debut as an author-illustrator. You’re also the illustrator for the recently released I’m Done! with Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan. What inspired you to start writing and illustrating for children?

To be honest, writing and illustrating books was not the career I had been dreaming of since I was little. I’ve never had that kind of clarity. But I’ve always loved drawing, and I’ve always loved things that were deceptively simple. I was visiting my parents at a point when I wasn’t totally sure what I was going to do next. I had worked at a fancy design job, and I had toured as a musician in a band, and I was just getting by on freelance design gigs and starting to dedicate more time to drawing from my imagination. My mother had kept a couple shelves of my favorite books from childhood and I found myself in the basement flipping through them, absolutely flooded with memories and excitement. I couldn’t believe how much had stuck with me after all these years. It was almost like I could see some of the blueprints to my own way of thinking.  It was actually my brother who suggested I give it a try. He’s always been my biggest fan.

You’ve traveled all over the world and called many places home. How did those experiences influence your creative development? What’s one thing you’ve learned that you’d like to pass on to kids?

As we flew from one side of the world to the other, I remember thinking about all the people we were passing over, all the different countries, cities and towns, and how different their lives were from mine. I was fascinated by all the ways you could grow up, and while I felt like I was getting a sampling platter, I knew that others were having very specific experiences—on a farm, in a city, somewhere hot, somewhere cold, in a big house, or a little hut. I guess this might have contributed to my obsession with the idea that we are all different, but we are the same. I believe that it’s important to celebrate and honor our unique stories, and then to remember that those differences make us stronger when we work together.

You’ve created designs for many companies. Can you reveal one or two designs we’d recognize?

Nothing that really made it to a shelf. Most of the work I’ve done for recognizable companies was what we call ‘blue sky’ design, so it was more conceptual and behind the scenes—great work for a dreamer. That work also helped develop my interest in storytelling, because at the end of the day it’s less about the object and more about the story it tells or the one it is a part of. I learned a lot about everything that goes into making a single bottle of shampoo, or a diaper. Yes, I worked on diapers, and I can tell you that the technology and design behind those things is riveting. 

As a new author, what are some of the things you’re enjoying most about the process and engaging with readers?

I love hearing the responses I get while sharing the book—comments, questions, interruptions—attention is a wonderful gift. When I see young minds giving thought and consideration to something I spent many, many hours developing, it’s the best reward. I’m also thrilled about meeting all the people that have such a passion for books and helping to bring them to young readers.

I love Pepper and Frannie and their seemingly opposite personalities. One of my favorite parts of your book comes when Pepper skateboards for the first time without Frannie’s help, but then falls. The simple line that follows—“Pepper is done skating.”—is such an honest reaction, and it sets up a wonderful sense of suspense in the story. What is some advice you’d give for encouraging a child (or an adult) to keep trying?

I have been stopping at this page during readings and asking kids if they think Pepper will try again. I feel like it’s pretty obvious—all the great stories have so much failure before the success! But I’ve been shocked to hear some “no’s” from a few children at readings. I want to come to a full stop and talk to them, but instead I turn the page and hope that they can get a different perspective by the end of the book. One girl who said no at my last reading came up and gave me an unannounced hug before leaving. That might be the best moment so far. I want to remind folks (at any age) that the enjoyment is in the effort, and every time you try, you’re one step closer to getting it.

Skating is a perfect example because it’s so literal: falling is an inescapable part of learning. Really great skaters have fallen a lot more than skaters with less skill. It’s the same with writing, or playing an instrument, or baking…everything! I’ve always been drawn to perseverance. My favorite book when I was very small was The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss. That little boy planted a seed and he believed the carrot would come up. He watered it and tended to it, and it didn’t look like anything was happening, but he believed.  And, of course, underneath, things were happening. He remained faithful through the constant skepticism from others and guess what—the carrot came up. Ugh, I still get the feels just thinking about that final page turn.

Animals feature prominently in your work. What do you love about animals and nature?

What’s not to love? I think it’s easy to forget that we share this place, and to think of ourselves as separate from the natural world. But I think anything that deepens our sense of connection is really important, from a good poem, to a community garden, or a walk in the park, or… bunnies on skateboards. Making art takes a lot of time, so it’s good to make art about things you love.

You can be found at the Portland Saturday Market selling your work, at P & Q’s Market holding Sip and Sketch gatherings with a friend. Can you describe both of these and talk a little about how connecting with the community this way inspires you?

Let’s see, The Portland Saturday Market is a craft market that is open every weekend March – December, and it has been running for over 40 years. It’s a big attraction for visitors to the city, and I’m in my 6th season now—not sure how that happened! It has been a wonderful way to connect with others through my work. I get to people watch for two days a week, and it takes me out of my bubble. People are an endless source of inspiration. I get to watch facial reactions, and hear what memories come up for people when they look at my drawings. I also see what doesn’t resonate. It’s all helpful.

P’s and Q’s is entirely different. It’s more like a neighborhood restaurant with a small food market. It’s the epitome of quaint, and the perfect place to have a group sit around a farm table and enjoy each other’s company. Selfishly, hosting a drawing night has been a great reason for me to get out of the house, eat a delicious meal and draw without purpose—it’s more like art therapy. I always come home with some new insight or perspective or curiosity, and maybe a new friend. Hosting our drawing night at a space like P’s and Q’s means that all ages are welcome to join—which is important to me. Connecting with other humans in real spaces is something we are doing less and less, and I don’t think that it’s benefiting us. I’m inclined to think that gathering together is almost a subversive act at this point. A casual drawing night is very low key, and it takes off some of the social discomfort for introverts.

What’s up next for you?

Book 2 for Pepper and Frannie! I’m deep in the final art-making phase right now, and really excited that I get to continue their story. The second book experience has been totally different from the first, mainly because I’m more comfortable with the process of making a book. It’s such a long timeline, but now that I know more about what to expect I’m able to settle in and enjoy it more. I’m also spending more time with the same characters. I already know them, so we can skip the getting to know you phase of character development  and jump right into a new situation. Really, I’m just digging into a different part of my own past.

What’s your favorite holiday and why?

I’m particularly fond of the New Year. I love the global awareness that comes with the idea of time sweeping around the planet. I suppose technically it’s the planet spinning and orbiting, but it kinda feels the other way around. (I know everyone doesn’t celebrate the New Year on the same day, but I’ll have to pull from my own experiences here.) I love the reflective aspects of this holiday. Looking back and looking forward, and everyone around you doing the same.

Did a holiday ever influence your work? If so, how?

Can’t say that has yet, but anything is possible.

Thanks so much Catherine for chatting with me today and sharing so much about your life and work! It’s been so nice getting to know you! I wish you the best with Pepper and Frannie and their next adventure too!

You can connect with Catherine Lazar Odell on

Her website | Instagram | Twitter

Pepper and Frannie Giveaway

I’m excited to be teaming with Page Street Kids in a Twitter giveaway of

  • One (2) copies of Pepper and Frannie by Catherine Lazar Odell

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

This giveaway is open from April 19 through April 25 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

Prizing provided by Page Street Kids.

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

National Hanging Out Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-Shredding-is-Fun-Skateboarding-Word-Search

Shredding is Fun! Word Search Puzzle & Coloring  Page

 

There are so many cool tricks to learn in skateboarding! Can you find the names of fifteen tricks in this printable puzzle? Then color the skateboard in your own style!

Shredding is Fun Word Search Puzzle | Shredding is Fun Word Search Puzzle 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-pepper-and-frannie-cover

You can find Pepper and Frannie at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

April 18 – It’s National Garden Month

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About the Holiday

April is the month when the earth comes alive again after a long winter! Flowers bloom in brilliant colors, trees bud and blossom with pale, green leaves, and the birds and animals prepare for new life to come. Today, enjoy the warmer weather, plan a garden or flower bed, or visit a nursery or park and take in the sights and smells of spring!

Growing Season

By Maryann Cocca-Leffler

 

El and Jo weren’t only best friends, they were the smallest kids in their class. They did everything together, even helping “each other reach the unreachable.” On picture day, Jo and El always got to be in front, and during reading time they could both fit into the comfy reading chair. “But in springtime, something BIG happened.” Jo began to grow. Their teacher, Mr. Diaz, said she was “growing like a weed.”

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Copyright Maryann Cocca-Leffler, 2019, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

She no longer needed El’s help to water the plants on the windowsill, and she had graduated to needing a bigger desk. On the last day of school, when Mr. Diaz told everyone they could take a plant home for the summer, El was overlooked and reached over as the other kids took all the colorful flowers. By the time El got to the windowsill, the only plant left was an aster, with no blooms at all.

Mr. Diaz told her that “aster means ‘star.’” El didn’t think her plant was a star, but Mr. Diaz encouraged her to wait and see. “Jo looked over at El’s sad plant, and then at her own” and offered to let El have her zinnia since she was going to be away all summer anyway. El said she’d plant them side by side, and Jo said they could be best friends.

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Copyright Maryann Cocca-Leffler, 2019, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

At home, El planted her aster and Jo’s zinnia. She cared for them and waited. They grew bigger, but while the zinnia had many colorful flowers, El’s aster still had none. All summer long, El and Jo wrote letters to each other. El sent a photograph of her zinnia to Jo and told her that waiting for aster was hard. Finally, Jo came home. It was the last day of summer, and the two girls ran to the garden. There, they saw that “something BIG had happened. Aster had finally bloomed…and so had El!”

An Author’s Note on plant life cycles describes the differences between annual, perennial, biennial, and tender perennial flowers and includes fun facts about peonies, dahlias, marigolds, and foxgloves.

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Copyright Maryann Cocca-Leffler, 2019, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

With her signature warmth and attention to children’s feelings, Maryann Cocca-Leffler offers a sweet story about growth and how each child’s experience is as varied as garden flowers. El and Jo, as the smallest kids in the class, are natural best friends—a relationship which, in a welcome demonstration of steadfastness, remains strong even when Jo begins to grow. As summer comes, El’s focus is not on herself but on caring for the aster and zinnia and staying in touch with Jo.

When Jo returns, readers will see that something more has happened over the summer too. As the two girls hug, excited to see each other again, children will notice that they are now the same height—a surprise that El and Jo also seem to share with smiles and sidelong glances at each other. The purple asters that greet the reunited pair, remind kids that growth in many forms follows the natural path for each individual.

Cocca-Leffler’s fresh and cheerful gouache, colored pencil, and collage illustrations present a diverse classroom and school details that will be familiar to readers, making this a highly relatable story. Mr. Diaz shows kindness and understanding as he crouches down to talk with El about the aster and offer encouragement.

A gentle, reassuring story, Growing Season would make an excellent story to pair with plant or garden lessons as well as to remind children that everyone grows and develops at their own pace for home, classroom, and library story times.

Ages 4 – 8

Sterling Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1454927044

Discover more about Maryann Cocca-Leffler, her books, and her art on her website.

National Garden Month Activity

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Flip-Flop Plant Holder

 

Starting to dig out the flip-flops for warmer weather and finding they’re a little too small? Don’t get rid of them! Make them into this sandal-ightful 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
  • Hot glue gun
  • Heavy duty mounting strips
  • Small plant
  • Dirt
  • 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

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You can find Growing Season at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review