July 10 – Teddy Bears’ Picnic Day

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About the Holiday

The classic picture book The Teddy Bears’ Picnic, written by Jimmy Kennedy and illustrated by Michael Hague has inspired kids for more than two decades to pack a basket of treats, grab their favorite teddy bear, and find a sunny or shady spot to enjoy a picnic. Today’s holiday reminds kids and their families of this simple summer pleasure and encourages them to celebrate with a teddy bear picnic of their own. Today’s book—a sweet, updated take on the original—as well as the  accompanying activity kit will spark ideas for fun, friendship, kindness and a picnic any time of the year.

I received a copy of Teddy Bear of the Year from Tundra Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

Teddy Bear of the Year

Written by Vikki VanSickle | Illustrated by Sydney Hanson

 

Ollie loved his job as Amena’s teddy bear. During the week his shift ran from three in the afternoon to after breakfast the next day. “On weekends and in the summer he was on call twenty-four hours a day.” Every day, Ollie looked forward to the moment when Amena came home and told him all about her adventures. “At night, when he snuggled in next to Amena, he would think about her stories and smile.”

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Vikki VanSickle, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

One night as Amena slept, Ollie saw a “shining silver sailboat” outside her window. The captain (Snuggles, aka The Snug) called to him and told him he was there to bring Ollie to the Teddy Bear’s Picnic. The picnic, Snuggles explained, was put on each summer by the Teddy Bears’ Association “to celebrate the year in teddy-care.” Ollie was excited but wondered about how Amena might feel if she woke up and he wasn’t there.

The Snug told him that for her time would stand still until Ollie returned. With one more cuddle for Amena, Ollie stepped aboard the sailboat. The Snug was impressed by Ollie’s knowledge of his “ABCs: Always Be Cuddling.” Soon, they arrived in the woods, where strings of lights glowed and a stage was set up. When they got closer, “Ollie saw teddies of all shapes and sizes.”

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Vikki VanSickle, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Ollie met some of Snuggles’ friends, ate delicious sweets, played games, and even sang “bearaoke.” At last, Pinkie, the president of the Teddy Bears’ Association, took to the stage to begin the awards ceremony. Boo Bear won a star for comforting her boy through a long hospital stay. Fang received a star for accompanying “his girl, Tina, on her first sleepover party.” And Snuggles was given a star for his years of service to a family of six children and his many adventures.

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Vikki VanSickle, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

As Pinkie pinned stars on each of the teddy bears, Ollie “tried to think of a single thing that he had done that deserved a star, but nothing came to mind.” He felt that “he was just an ordinary bear.” But then he hear Pinkie announcing the Teddy Bear of the Year Award and…his name! Ollie couldn’t believe it. “‘I haven’t done anything special at all!’” he said.

But then Pinkie showed him how he’d helped Amena when she fell off her bike and “turned a bad day into a good day” by using the ABCs of teddy-care. The ability to do this is very special Pinkie told him. “‘Even the smallest actions—a cuddle, a kind word, a hug—have great impact’” and help their children feel strong. Pinkie pinned the star on Ollie’s chest and then all the teddy bears celebrated. When the picnic ended, The Snug sailed Ollie home. As Ollie snuggled in next to Amena, he whispered to her all about his adventures, and Amena smiled.

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Vikki VanSickle, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Vikki VanSickle’s well-conceived teddy bear world will captivate readers with its sweet combination of magic and reality. Details such as Ollie’s shift schedule and his excitement to hear Amena’s stories when she got home hit just the right note, mirroring both a young child’s imagination and their experience, especially if they have siblings. VanSickle’s message about the importance of kindness and providing comfort is woven naturally into the storyline, increasing its impact and allowing readers to see that simple acts of friendship are just as valuable, and often more so, than large, dramatic acts. Her Teddy Bear Picnic is sprinkled with humor and the kind of fun that makes it a party any child would love to attend.

Sydney Hanson’s illustrations are as soft and fuzzy as Ollie and as warmly glowing as a comforting nightlight. As Amena and Ollie snuggle side by side, the wispy bedroom curtains sway gently then frame the magical sailboat that arrives to take Ollie to the Teddy Bear’s Association picnic. From afar, the get-together in the woods twinkles with shimmering light. As Ollie and readers get closer, they meet a wide variety of teddy bears, from a pirate bear to a lavender koala riding a lavender-and-brown horse to teeny-tiny bears in a rainbow of colors. Kids will recognize the picnic activities from birthday parties and school events, and as all of the teddies gather around the stage, their anticipation for the awards will grow just as Ollie’s do. As readers watch scenes from Amena’s bad day along with Ollie, they see a specific example of how friendship can make anyone feel better.  

Cuddly and endearing, Teddy Bear of the Year will be a favorite for snuggly bedtimes with little ones (and their teddies, of course). The book would be an often-asked-for addition to home, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 7

Tundra Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0735263925

Discover more about Vikki VanSickle and her books on her website.

A Chat with Vikki VanSickle

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Welcome back, Vikki! The last time we chatted your mythical and funny If I Had a
Gryphon had just been released. Since then If I Had a Gryphon has been named as a Best Book for Children and won multiple other honors, has been released as a paperback and a board book, and has even been recorded as a rap by some creative students. You’ve also published a award-winning middle grade novel, The Winnowing. Can you catch readers up on these successes and what else you’ve been doing?

Isn’t it bananas how much can happen in four years? I’ve been very fortunate, as you kindly pointed out, to receive such accolades for my books. A highlight was certainly winning the Red Maple Award for The Winnowing at the 2018 Festival of Trees. There’s nothing like bursting into tears in front of your peers and a few hundred readers! I’ve also had a lot of smaller, personal moments with readers who have shared their own artwork or story ideas with me, which I consider a great privilege. In addition to writing and presenting to kids, I am the director of marketing and publicity for the young readers program at Penguin Random House Canada, which means I get to work on amazing kids’ books all day, every day.

Teddy Bear of the Year is super sweet and a great reminder that kind acts are recognized and appreciated. What inspired you to write this story?

Small acts of kindness has always been a big theme for me and it shows up in a lot of my work. In my first novel, Words That Start With B, I wanted to address the idea of bravery with a lower-case b—meaning actions that might not appear typically brave or even noteworthy but made all the difference in the world to someone. This idea has manifested in many ways in all of my work. I am less interested in narratives about saving the world at large, and more interested in what little things we can do every day to change the lives of people around us.

When you’re a kid, so many goals seem huge and out of reach to you. Especially in an increasingly loud and bombastic society it’s easy to feel small or helpless or insignificant. But every major feat consists of a series of smaller actions and decisions and it’s the smaller, everyday things that can change a person’s entire outlook.

Ollie and the other teddy bears in your book reminded me of my own childhood teddy bear, Brownie, who is still with me even after much fur loss and a long-ago surgery to remove the music box that made him a little less cuddly than I wanted. Is there an Ollie in your life? Can you tell readers a little about this special friend?celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Vikki-VanSickle-and-Teddy-Bear-Gang

Vikki and her Teddy Bear Gang

I had a number of cherished stuffed animals that held major roles in my imaginary play and nighttime rituals. I was constantly worried that one would feel ignored or less loved, and therefore took great pains to treat them equally, including rotating which stuffed animal I slept with each night. But one toy did stand out above the rest, and that was a stuffed rabbit named Bunny. I’ve had Bunny as long as I can remember. He’s in pretty rough shape, but currently lives a quiet life of retirement in my closet.

Sydney Hanson’s soft illustrations are so dreamy and I love how all the different teddy bears mirror different kids and what they like. What was your reaction when you first saw her sweet interpretation of your story? Do you have a favorite spread?

I was so thrilled with Sydney’s sweet, fuzzy illustrations. A bedtime story is only as cozy as the art, and I think she really nailed it. I really enjoy the group scenes, especially the spread when Ollie arrives at the picnic for the first time and gets a glimpse of the snacks table. I love how all of the bears, even the unnamed ones, have their own personalities and storylines you can follow throughout the book.

Two of my favorite parts of your story are the Teddy Bear ABCs—which is inspirational for everyone, especially on National Hugging Day—and the idea of Teddy Bear Magic.  What ideas about friendship would you like young readers to take away from your story?

I love that those things resonated with you! The working title of the book was Teddy Bear Magic, which Ollie and the reader first associate with the magic of the flying sailboat and the stoppage of time, but eventually come to realize that the bigger magic is how kindness, comfort, and support can transform someone’s experience. I hope readers recognize that by being kind you have the magical ability to transform someone’s day.

The ABCs of Teddy Care—aka “Always Be Cuddling”—is a reference to the phrase “Always Be Closing,” a business philosophy made famous by the movie (and play) Glengarry Glen Ross. I modeled the Teddy Bear’s Picnic depicted in the book on contemporary office parties, and I got a kick out of taking such a cold corporate mantra and turning it into something warm and fuzzy.

I always enjoy watching your appearances on Your Morning, the Canadian breakfast-time show. You’re such a natural on camera and a fantastic advocate for children’s books. Can you talk about the segments you do and how you became involved with them? Where can people see past segments and when is your next one?

Thanks so much! I’m very much enjoying it. I read a lot and curating lists is something I have always loved doing. It must be my bookselling roots! I had visited CTV Your Morning as an author and chatted with the book producer about themed segments for major book-buying moments, such as back to school, summer reading, and the holidays. The first few segments were popular and so we’ve continued to find other themes—such as building your baby’s library and kids’ books that address mental health and wellness, which aired on January 20th of this year—that would resonate with their audience outside those traditional moments. You can find past clips at theloop.ca, and I also post them on my own website at www.vikkivansickle.com.

From the long events and presentations list on your website, I can tell you love meeting your readers! Do you have an anecdote from any event that you’d like to share?

I really love meeting readers! It’s important for me to stay connected to the audience, especially since I no longer work in a bookstore and I have less “kid contact.” One of my favorite anecdotes happened at an IF I HAD A GRYPHON event with second grade students. I noticed one boy in the front frowning the whole time—which was unusual, not to mention disconcerting— and when it came time for questions his arm shot up and he asked, “Do you know how many species of dragon there are?” I told him that no, I did not know, and he broke into a smile and responded, “Nobody knows. That was a trick question.” I realized he had spent the whole presentation waiting to ask me that question, wondering if I would trip up or give him false information. You can never lie to kids—they smell it a mile away—and it’s important to treat every question seriously. If you don’t respect your audience, why should they respect you?

Before you go, I’m sure readers would love to know how they can hold their own Teddy Bear Picnics.

Tundra also created an amazing downloadable Teddy Bear of the Year event kit so anyone can hold a similar event. You can find that kit below.

Teddy Bears’ Picnic Day Activity

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Teddy Bear of the Year Activity Kit

 

You can hold your own Teddy Bear Picnic with this fun activity kit that includes a puzzle, a coloring sheet, a headband, and even a Teddy Bear of the Year certificate for your special friend. You’ll also find ideas for hosting your own Teddy Bear Service Awards!

Teddy Bear of the Year Activity Kit

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You can find Teddy Bear of the Year at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 7 – Celebrating the Book Birthday of I Got the School Spirit

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About the Holiday

A new book in a favorite series is always something special as is a child’s first day on their school journey. When you put those events together, you get today’s Book Birthday celebration of a beautiful and inspirational story that will have kids enthusiastic to start the new school year – whether they’ll be in a traditional school environment or homeschooled.

Thanks to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for sharing I Got the School Spirit with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

I Got the School Spirit

Written by Connie Schofield-Morrison | Illustrated by Frank Morrison

 

A little girl gets up and stretches, rummages through her drawers for just the right shirt, and smiles throughout brushing her teeth. Why? She says: “Summer is over. / My first day is here. / I got the spirit to start the new school year!” In fact, this girl has a spirited attitude toward the whole day. She laces up the spirit in her new shoes, eats a good breakfast to keep her going until lunchtime, and fills her backpack with enough positivity to last all day.

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Image copyright Frank Morrison, 2020, text copyright Connie Schofield-Morrison, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

At the bus stop, she waits eagerly for the ride to school and, once on the bus, comforts another little girl next to her who isn’t so sure about this new experience. In the classroom, she answers roll call with enthusiasm then sings about the ABCs and 123s with gusto. At lunch she shares an orange with a new friend across the table, and at recess her kick sends the ball soaring.

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Image copyright Frank Morrison, 2020, text copyright Connie Schofield-Morrison, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Back in the classroom and gathered on the rug, the little girl says, “I listen as the spirit weaves a story. / Once upon a time….” When the bell rings at the end of the day, she packs up, rides the bus home, and runs into her mom’s waiting arms for “the spirit in a big ol’ hug. / Squish, Squeeze!” This smart little girl already knows: “The school spirit helps us all strive and grow. / I can’t wait to see what I’ll learn tomorrow!”

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Image copyright Frank Morrison, 2020, text copyright Connie Schofield-Morrison, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

A new book in Connie Schofield-Morrison and Frank Morrison’s I Got… series is always a cause for celebration. In her uplifting story of a little girl enjoying her first day of school with a true zest for life, Schofield-Morrison encourages children to find the spirit in each activity and to share their own spirit of kindness and community with others. Heartening feelings of inclusion and openness to new experiences shine on every page, infusing readers with a buoyant optimism and confidence to meet the challenges and opportunities of school. Schofield-Morrison’s storytelling is specially empowering for children who may be hesitant about beginning or returning to school. The jubilant rhythm makes this a perfect read aloud and invites kids to join in on subsequent readings.

As in each book in this series, Frank Morrison’s oil paintings are spectacular representations of home life, friendship, participation, and kids being kids. The little girl and the diverse group of children at the bus stop, flanked by their parents, and in the classroom display a wide range of emotions from casual poses to wide-eyed glee to serious attention to the teacher. At lunch and on the playground, the kids enjoy those well-earned sandwiches and their playtime with expressions that can’t help but make readers smile too. Rich colors, realistic details, and outstanding perspectives, make every page a showstopper that readers will want to linger over.

A must for all kids, whether they’re just beginning their school journey or returning for a new year, I Got the School Spirit will be an often-asked-for favorite on home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 6

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1547602612

You can connect with Connie Schofield-Morrison on Facebook.

To learn more about Frank Morrison, his books, and his art, visit his website.

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You can find I Got the School Spirit at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 5 – Build a Scarecrow Day

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About the Holiday

With so many crops – from corn to berries to peppers to squash – ripening in fields across the country, it’s time for farmers on small and large farms to put up a scarecrow to watch over all that bounty. To celebrate, gather some old clothes, a bale of straw or other filling, and a pole and put your imagination to work. This is a fun activity for the whole family – even if you don’t have a farm! 

The Scarecrow

Written by Beth Ferry | Illustrated by The Fan Brothers

 

Golden autumn has quieted the fields. The hay is rolled and the scarecrow waits for spring. The animals and the crows stand at a distance, afraid of this figure that does his job so well. “He never rests. / He never bends. / He’s never had a single friend, / for all the woodland creatures know / not to mess with old Scarecrow.”

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Image copyright The Fan Brothers, 2019, text copyright Beth Ferry, 2019. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

Winter comes with gentle snow, and Scarecrow dreams of “spring…of buds and blooms and things that sing.” When spring dawns with warm sun and green grass, a tiny crow—with a “broken wing?”—“drops from midair” and attracts Scarecrow’s attention. Then Scarecrow does a most surprising thing: “He snaps his pole, / bends down low, / saves the tiny baby crow.” He tucks the baby in the straw near his heart, and as he sleeps and settles in, Scarecrow “sings the sweetest lullaby.”

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Image copyright The Fan Brothers, 2019, text copyright Beth Ferry, 2019. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

The baby heals and the two become the best of friends. As the little crow grows, he and Scarecrow “will laugh and wish on stars, forgetting who they really are…” Spring turns to summer, and Scarecrow proudly watches as Crow learns to fly, but with the return of autumn, he knows that Crow must leave. Through late autumn and the frigid winter, Scarecrow slumps on his pole, alone—“Broken heart. Broken pole. Nothing fills the empty hole.” Then with the spring rains, the crow returns with wings wide open and Scarecrow welcomes him with a hug. The crow mends Scarecrow’s broken pole and refreshes his hay and then he says, “‘I’m here to say.’”

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Image copyright The Fan Brothers, 2019, text copyright Beth Ferry, 2019. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

Crow and his mate build a nest in the spot where he grew up. Soon, “five small eggs are tucked unseen,” and Scarecrow watches over them for he knows that soon they will hatch baby crows. “And they will love him from the start, and they will grow up in his heart.” Throughout the year, these friends and more keep Scarecrow company and love him so.

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Image copyright The Fan Brothers, 2019, text copyright Beth Ferry, 2019. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

In her story of a scarecrow and a baby crow who form a family, Beth Ferry’s gorgeous, lyrical language sweeps readers into Scarecrow’s world and lets them stand with him through the changing seasons and the progression of his transformation from a lonely existence as bleak as winter to a life as bountiful as summer. Ferry’s alternating short, staccato lines and longer, flowing rhythms create an emotional bond between the reader and Scarecrow. With a single sentence, in which Scarecrow and Crow forget “who they really are,” and through her periodic use of future tense, Ferry sparks hope and welcome reassurance for the future—not only for these two characters, but for us all. Crow’s return to raise his own family where he learned love and security and to help the aging Scarecrow is a moving portrayal of home, and the reciprocal devotion between Scarecrow and the crows will bring a tear to readers’ eyes.

Through their softly hued and textured mixed-media illustrations, The Fan Brothers create a tapestry of rural life, with its sometimes generous, sometimes harsh conditions.  As autumn turns to winter, Scarecrow is seen from a distance as animals look on, showing the divide in this natural landscape and the fear that rules it. But when a baby crow drops into the scarecrow’s life, he changes the dynamic, as children often do. With this life-changing event, The Fan Brother’s images become brighter, and the gauziness of the first spreads—so effective in depicting the barrier between Scarecrow and the rest of the world—clears. In turns Scarecrow is tender and proud, wistful and overjoyed—images that will tug at adults’ hearts. As Scarecrow once again stands tall and is surrounded by his crow family and the other animals on a sunny fall day, The Fan Brothers bring readers full circle in this story where the seasons of bounty and hardship mirror so well the cycles of life.

A thoughtful and beautifully conceived masterpiece, The Scarecrow is a must for home, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

HarperCollins, 2019 | ISBN 978-0062475763

Discover more about Beth Ferry and her books on her website.

To learn more about The Fan Brothers, their books, and their art, visit their website.

Build a Scarecrow Day Activity

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Silly Scarecrow Coloring Page

 

Building a scarecrow with old clothes, some twine, and just the right amount of stuffing is creative fun! If you’d like a simpler way to make a scarecrow, enjoy this printable Silly Scarecrow Coloring Page!

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You can find The Scarecrow at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

July 3 – International Drop a Rock Day

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About the Holiday

International Drop a Rock Day was instituted in 2015 by Word Rocks Project as a way to spread positivity and bring people together. By leaving rocks painted with uplifting words, phrases, and designs in places where others could find and enjoy them, the founders of today’s holiday hoped to spread joy and a feeling of community. Each year more and more people participate across the United States and around the world. This year’s theme is Togetherness. To join the movement, gather some rocks, wash and dry them, then decorate! Add #wordrocks to the back to let others know about the project and help spread the word. You can find out more at wordrocks.me. You can read about two kids who really appreciate rocks and would love the fun of today’s holiday in today’s book!

Thanks go out to Charlesbridge for sending me a copy of Cavekid Birthday to for review consideration. All opinions are my own. 

Cavekid Birthday

Written by Cathy Breisacher | Illustrated by Roland Garrigue

 

In two neighboring caves on the very same day, Caveboy and Cavegirl were born. They did everything together and grew to be best friends. “Eventually Caveboy discovered that he loved…rocks!” He showed Cavegirl his collection of shiny, spiny, smooth, and colorful rocks to Cavegirl and even taught her how “to play stone toss.” Cavegirl developed a love of tools—tools that she could dig, build, and paint with. She shared her tools with Caveboy and “taught him how to create masterpieces on cave walls.”

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Image copyright Roland Garrigue, 2019, text copyright Cathy Breisacher, 2019. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

As their birthdays neared, Cavegirl tried making Caveboy a present, but her efforts failed. She decided to go to Caveman’s Collectibles to see what she could find. There, she spied a “‘Box for Caveboy’s rocks!’” Caveman was happy to make a trade. Cavegirl said, “‘Have nothing to trade except…tools!’” It took all ten of Cavegirl’s tools to get the box, but she knew Caveboy would love it.

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Image copyright Roland Garrigue, 2019, text copyright Cathy Breisacher, 2019. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

Meanwhile, Caveboy was making a present for Cavegirl. He had no luck either, so he hurried down to Caveman’s Collectibles. Inside, he spied the perfect gift: “‘Box for Cavegirl’s tools,’” he told Caveman. This box cost twenty rocks—all that Caveboy had—but he knew Cavegirl would love it. When they exchanged gifts, they ripped off the wrapping and…. Without tools or rocks to keep in the boxes, they found other uses for them. They were great for playing hide-and-seek and making carts to race in, but they began to miss their old favorite things.

They went back to Caveman Collectibles and told Caveman their dilemma. “‘Make trade?’ they asked.” For their rocks and tools, Caveboy and Cavegirl gave Caveman a shiny polished and painted store. And Cavegirl and Caveboy? They had best birthday ever!

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Image copyright Roland Garrigue, 2019, text copyright Cathy Breisacher, 2019. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

Cathy Breisacher knows how much kids love to rock their birthdays. In her original story set in a precociously prehistoric time, Breisacher chisels a funny and touching tale about the true meaning of friendship. Cavegirl and Caveboy only pause for a moment before trading their most precious belongings to get a gift for the other. Without things to put inside the boxes, Caveboy and Cavegirl—like kids of all eras—find other creative ways to use them. When they begin to miss their rocks and tools, instead of feeling regret they work together to devise an innovative way to get them back—and make Caveman happy too. Kids will be wrapped up in the suspense and enjoy hearing—and repeating—Breisacher’s cavespeak, and in the end will take the ever-timely lesson to heart.

There are plenty of hairy moments in Cavekid Birthday, and Roland Garrigue takes full advantage to create wild and wooly (mammoth) illustrations to accompany the story. Caveboy and Cavegirl play hide-and-seek among dinosaur bones, race their bear and elephant ancestor pets, and may be the world’s first collector and artist. Hilarious modern-primitive mash-ups—like furry, animal skin wrapping paper—will have kids laughing and pointing out the anachronisms.

Children would love finding Cavekid Birthday among their gifts, and adding the book to home, classroom, and library shelves will ensure a sweet and timeless story time.

Ages 4 – 8

Charlesbridge, 2019 | ISBN 978-1580898768

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

You can read an interview with Cathy here!

To learn more about Roland Garrigue, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Book trailer good! Watch. Fun!

International Drop a Rock Day Activity

CPB - rock painting craft

Rock This Craft!

 

Smooth stones can give talented artists like yourself a natural canvas for your creativity! Use your imagination to design rocks to leave for people to find on paths or sidewalks, near a store, or anywhere in your neighborhood. You may even want to leave one outside your local library. That’s where I found the rock pictured here!

Supplies

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

Directions

  1. Find stones in your yard or neighborhood or buy them at a craft store or garden center
  2. Wash and dry rocks as needed
  3. Design and paint an image on the stone
  4. Have fun finding spots to leave your works of art!

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You can find Cavekid Birthday at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop| IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

July 2 – Kat and Juju Book Tour Stop

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About the Holiday

Today I’m happy to be participating in the Kat and Juju book tour! The months of summer vacation often provide an opportunity for growth, change, and the kind of self-discovery that comes without the constraints of a regular schedule and school assignments. This can be especially true for hesitant children or those who prefer more studied steps into new experiences. Today’s book may spark discussion and ideas for integrating internal feelings and external opportunities when they come along.

Thanks to Two Lions Publishing and Barbara Fisch of Blue Slip Media for sharing Kat and Juju with me for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

Kat and Juju

By Kataneh Vahdani

 

Kat had her own special way of doing things. While other kids scribbled outside the lines, she preferred to stay inside them. “She found wonder in places no one else thought to look.” And her confidants were decidedly of the strong, silent, and leafy type. She was too timid to talk to the other kids, who always seemed to be laughing and talking and playing. She did feel lonely sometimes.

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Copyright Kataneh Vahdani, 2020, courtesy of Two Lions.

Kat’s birthday was coming up, and she was looking forward to the moment when “her very best friend would arrive,” just as “had happened to all the other kids.” She wasn’t disappointed. At her door on her birthday was Juju—a huge, red, dapper bird who’d brought her a bouquet of flowers and a definitely different perspective on things. She loved him immediately. Juju was fearless and encouraged her to be brave. “Sometimes,” he said  as he hopped from foot to foot and spun on the floor, “you’ve just got to LET GO and do a HAPPY DANCE.” Kat thought it looked like fun, but she just couldn’t get herself to do it.

 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kat-and-juju-drawing

Copyright Kataneh Vahdani, 2020, courtesy of Two Lions.

Then one day. Kat and Juju found a lost baby bird. Kat could relate to the fear in its eyes. With Juju’s help, she overcame her initial doubts about her ability to take care of it. She wrapped the birdie up, fed it, and, when it was stronger, took it on adventures—adventures that even took Kat out of her comfort zone. The birdie loved them, and pretty soon so did Kat.

It didn’t take long for the birdie to feel “brave enough to fly on its own.” Kat was so excited for her little friend that she forgot all of her inhibitions and broke out into a happy dance. The other kids suddenly saw Kat in a whole new way. Now, Kat still does things her own special way, but she has friends to do them with.

A good conversation-starter on the value of trying new things while staying true to yourself, Kat and Juju makes a fun read on the journey and would be an inspiring choice for home, school, and public library collections.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kat-and-juju-birthday

Copyright Kataneh Vahdani, 2020, courtesy of Two Lions.

In her thoughtful story, Kataneh Vahdani explores the emotions of a girl who has a hard time letting go of her fears and inhibitions to reach outside of her comfort zone. When Juju—a buoyant, larger-than-life bird—enters Kat’s life, he brings spontaneity and courage closer, but it’s not until the little birdie needs her that Kat participates in Juju’s silly fun and daring adventures. Over time, Kat discovers she likes these escapades too, and when the little bird is ready to fly, so is she. It’s a truism that we will often do things for a friend or our children that we might not do for ourselves.

Kat is a sweet companion for readers on their own road to discovering the bravery inside themselves, and Vahdani’s storytelling gives adults and children a starting point for discussion. She provides metaphorical examples—coloring inside the lines, a special birthday present that gives her a new start, learning to fly—as well as honestly depicted nagging internal doubts to help readers articulate and share their feelings. Vahdani also includes an important reminder that branching out doesn’t mean losing one’s unique qualities, instead it allows them to grow.

Kataneh Vahdani’s textured gray-scale and red and blue digital illustrations, punctuated with the little yellow fluff of a birdie, puts the focus on Kat and Juju, who sport red clothing and feathers. Kat’s wide-eyed, expressive face reflects her emotions clearly and Juju is a sweetie with smiling eyes who’s always ready with a hug or a bit of encouragement or reassurance.

Ages 3 – 7

Two Lions, 2020 | ISBN 978-1542043281

Kataneh Vahdani is a children’s book author and illustrator. Kat and Juju is her first picture book series. She is currently directing her original feature animation movie. Kataneh has been a professor for over seventeen years and she also rescues fallen baby birds. Together with her students, they have raised more than thirteen fallen injured baby birds and set them free once they were ready to fly away. Sometimes in her classes, birds fly from the head of one student to the other.

Visit Kataneh on Instagram: @KatandJuju

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kat-and-juju-cover

You can find Kat and Juju at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 29 – It’s National Oceans Month

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About the Holiday

During National Oceans Month, we celebrate the wondrous diversity of sea life. A majority of the earth’s surface is covered in water and yet we know only a fraction of what the oceans have to show us. With new technology scientists are diving deeper and deeper and discovering some of the most unique creatures in the world. The holiday also gives us an opportunity to pledge our help to preserving the fragile ecosystems that exist in and near the world’s oceans from climate change, pollution, and habitat destruction. To join in on this month’s holiday, visit a beach or aquarium, learn more about the animals and resources of the sea, and consider donating to or volunteering with an organization dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans. To learn more about the world’s oceans, including information on ocean health, life, science, and trivia; find education resources, podcasts, videos, and more, visit the National Ocean Service website.

Down Under the Pier

Written by Nell Cross Beckerman | Illustrated by Rachell Sumpter

 

A group of kids are having fun on the pier. They ride the Ferris wheel and the roller coaster and “gobble clouds of cotton candy” as they walk in the sunshine. On the carousel they vie for the one goat to sit on. “Up on the pier,” they tell readers, “we feed the machines, roll Skee-Balls, whack moles, and trade our tickets for toys.” When their money runs out, “is the fun all done?” Not at all. For these kids, it’s just begun.

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Image copyright Rachell Sumpter, 2020, text copyright Nell Cross Beckerman, 2020. Courtesy of Cameron Books.

They pad downstairs and kick off their flip-flops. “Down under the pier, it’s dark and cool. We inhale sea spray and squish slimy sand through toes.” They listen to the waves crash and when the water recedes, they “find creatures clinging. Mussels, barnacles, sea stars, and anemones festoon a forest of pilings.” Gently they touch these creatures, let crabs tickle their palms.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-down-under-the-pier-seaweed

Image copyright Rachell Sumpter, 2020, text copyright Nell Cross Beckerman, 2020. Courtesy of Cameron Books.

“Sanderlings scamper, their stick legs a blur” as they lead the children in a race down the beach. Here they find long strands of kelp, strong enough for a game of tug-of-war, wild enough to make a seaweed monster costume. Down under the pier they “collect seashell souvenirs” and watch the changing rainbow colors of the setting sun in the quiet twilight away from the blinking lights, clanging bells, and ringing voices on the pier. “Fun is free,” they know, “and the world is ours.”

Through an Author’s Note at the beginning of the book, readers learn that a portion of the proceeds from Under the Pier are donated to Heal the Bay Aquarium, an educational nonprofit located under the Santa Monica Pier, where visitors can see and touch one hundred local sea creatures. An illustrated guide to seven sea creatures found in an intertidal community follows the story.

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Image copyright Rachell Sumpter, 2020, text copyright Nell Cross Beckerman, 2020. Courtesy of Cameron Books.

Lyrical, entrancing, and full of the wonder of childhood, Nell Cross Beckerman’s story will transport readers to a languid summer day where a group of friends spend the afternoon reveling in the rides, games, and treats of the pier and then continue their fun under the pier, where nature provides as many delights as the carnival above. Through her detailed and evocative language, readers can hear the thrill of the crowds, taste the cotton candy, and run with the kids to be the first to claim the goat on the carousel.

But it is when the kids “slip down the stairs” to the sand below that Beckerman’s descriptions truly shine with the deep and lasting impressions of new discovery. The children’s mindful awe of the sea creatures they find when the tide goes out and their creative games played out with relished spontaneity reflect this one trip to the beach but also all moments of free play that this group of friends—and readers—will experience and remember as they grow up.

Rachell Sumpter’s glorious artwork blends realism and that feeling of magic that expands a child’s world. Her gorgeous soft pinks, yellows, greens, and blues, embroidered with lacy white accents, swirl with the kids on the carousel and beckon them downstairs. Here, with the page turn, the colors burst into vibrancy as the sea tickles their toes and sea creatures climb the pilings and blanket the rocks and sand. Frothy waves and pearled outlines create a dazzling backdrop to the children’s fun. As they wrap themselves in nature-made costumes and art, the fiery sun sets on a perfect day.

A mesmerizing escapade children will want to join in on, Down Under the Pier is highly recommended for home bookshelves and is a must for school and public library collections. The book would pair well with lessons on marine science and United States geography, giving it cross-curricular appeal.

Ages 4 – 8

Cameron Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1944903862

Discover more about Nell Cross Beckerman and her books on her website.

To learn more about Rachell Sumpter, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Oceans Month Activity

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Kinetic Sand

 

Sand is so much fun to play with at the beach that you just wish you could bring it home. Now you can! With this easy recipe you can create your own kinetic sand to form or let run through your fingers. It makes a great anti-stress reliever too!

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. Or just let it drip and ooze through your fingers.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-down-under-the-pier-cover

You can find Under the Pier at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

June 27 – National Sunglasses Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday has been long in the making. Tinted glasses have been around since judges in ancient China used them to disguise their emotions. Modern sunglasses were first sold in 1929 by Sam Foster on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, and Bausch and Lomb was commissioned in the 1930s by the Army Air Corps to create glasses to ease the high-altitude glare pilots faced. In 1936 Polaroid filters were first used to protect eyes from  damaging UV rays in Ray Ban sunglasses.Since the 1970s movies have helped escalate the popularity of many styles of sunglasses as fans strive to look like their favorite actors and actresses. Today, grab your sunglasses or shop for new ones because—you know why…sing it with me… “The future’s so bright, I gotta have shades!”

Chu’s Day at the Beach

Written by Neil Gaiman | Illustrated by Adam Rex

 

As readers of this series know, “when Chu sneezed, big things happened.” With this tantalizing and slightly-ominous-in-a-way-kids-love statement, Chu’s latest adventure begins. Turning the page kids discover that Chu and his family have headed out to the beach. Chu is having a great time: the octopus selling ice-cream gives him an extra scoop of vanilla, and Chu meets a crab in a rock pool; even Chu’s mom is enjoying a book under the umbrella and his dad is wading in the ocean.

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Image copyright Adam Rex, 2015, text copyright Neil Gaiman, 2015. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

Chu takes his sunglasses off to better enjoy the bright, sunny day, but suddenly Chu’s nose tickles. The tickle grows until it fills his whole head and he can’t hold it in anymore—“AAH- AAAAH- AAAAAH- CHOoOoOoOO!” Chu looks out to sea. “‘Uh-oh,’” he says. Everyone on the beach comes down to the water’s edge to look at the huge suspended wave Chu has sneezed up.

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Image copyright Adam Rex, 2015, text copyright Neil Gaiman, 2015. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

Like standing in front of an aquarium exhibit, the beachgoers find themselves eye-to-eye with sea creatures who are suddenly encased in the wall of water. The fish, turtles, whales, and merpandas are sad—“‘With the sea broken, I cannot go home,’” one whale explains. The ice-cream vender tells Chu to sneeze again and put the sea “‘back the way it was.’” But try as he might, Chu can’t sneeze. A seagull tickles Chu’s nose with a wing feather and the octopus offers Chu a fizzy drink with bubbles that go up his nose, but nothing elicits a sneeze.

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Image copyright Adam Rex, 2015, text copyright Neil Gaiman, 2015. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

All seems lost until Tiny the snail reveals that sometimes he sneezes when he looks at the sun. Chu removes his sunglasses and gazes into the light. “AAAAACHOOOOO!” “‘There, said Chu. Everything is back just as it was before.’” The sea creatures are happy that they get to return to their homes, the ice-cream seller is so pleased that she scoops up another cone for Chu, and Chu? He declares that it was the best day at the beach ever.

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Image copyright Adam Rex, 2015, text copyright Neil Gaiman, 2015. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

With his singular style Neil Gaiman conjures up a story for kids that combines just the right amount of sweetness and absurdity to keep the giggles going from the first page to the last. We all experience those uncontrollable mishaps and “oh no!” moments where a little help and empathy is appreciated. And what child wouldn’t love to stop the ocean, even if only for a moment? Gaiman’s repeated sneezes will have kids “Aah-chooing” along, and an animated reading of the chorus “AAH. AAAAH. AAAAAH. NO.” is sure to bring laughs and requests for “Again! Again!”

If only the beach was as full of interesting creatures as Adam Rex portrays in his vivacious illustrations! Crossing the dunes Chu and his family encounter an intriguing array of animals stretched out on towels—from a tiny cricket to a pangolin to a hunky frog with his clever insect-snack-strip-adorned umbrella and more. Ice-cream vendors no doubt wish they had the eight arms of Rex’s frozen-treat seller, and there’s even an ostrich with his head in the sand. Chu’s tidal wave teems with surprised sea creatures, some stuck mid-way between their ocean world and the dry outside. Chu remains as cute as ever, inviting kids to join him on his latest adventure.

Chu’s Day at the Beach makes for fun summer reading and would be a favorite on home bookshelves. Check out Chu’s Day, and Chu’s First Day of School too!

Ages 2 – 7

HarperCollins, 2015 | ISBN 978-0062223999 (Hardcover) | HarperFestival (Board Book, 2016) | ISBN 978-0062381248

Discover more about Neil Gaiman, his books for children, and all of his work on his website.

To learn more about Adam Rex, his books, and his art on his website.

National Sunglasses Day Activity

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Perfect Sunglasses Matching Puzzle

 

The summer sun is so bright that these friends need sunglasses before they go out to play! Can you follow the paths to match each child with the perfect pair? Get the printable Perfect Sunglasses Matching Puzzle and have fun!

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You can find Chu’s Day at the Beach at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound