February 13 – Get a Different Name Day

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About the Holiday

It can be fun to try out new names or special nicknames in forming your identity. For those who are not so fond of their birth name, choosing a new name offers comfort, control, and happiness. Actors, writers, and other creative types sometimes change their name to something that is more memorable, easier to say, is flashier, or has more cred. To celebrate today’s holiday, try on a few different names. If you were going to change yours, what would you pick?

My Name Is Not Isabella: Just How Big Can a Little Girl Dream?

Written by Jennifer Fosberry | Illustrated by Mike Litwin

 

Mom opens her daughter’s bedroom door with a cheery “‘Good morning, Isabella. It’s time to get up and out of bed.’” But the little girl yawns and stretches and most emphatically states, “‘My name is not Isabella!’” Mom plays along, wondering who has then been sleeping here. “‘My name is Sally,’” Isabelle states, “‘The greatest, toughest astronaut there ever was!’” Having Sally Ride in the house is fine with Mom, as long as she puts on her space suit and comes down for breakfast.

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Image copyright Mike Litwin, 2010, text copyright Jennifer Fosberry, 2010. Courtesy of Sourcebook Jabberwocky.

When the little girl comes to the table, it seems she is no longer Sally. Hmmm… her mother says. She doesn’t know who will eat the delicious waffles she has made. Annie, the greatest, fastest sharpshooter, grabs the syrup and aims for her target.

Soon it’s time for school, but when the bus arrives, Annie is nowhere to be found. In her place is “‘Rosa, the greatest, bravest activist that ever was.’ ‘Well, Rosa’” her mother says, “‘March over there and take your seat on the bus.’” School ends, but the bus doesn’t drop off Rosa. Instead, the freshly made chocolate chip cookies will be enjoyed by “‘Marie, the greatest, smartest scientist who ever was.’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-my-name-is-not-isabella-rosa-parks

Image copyright Mike Litwin, 2010, text copyright Jennifer Fosberry, 2010. Courtesy of Sourcebook Jabberwocky.

Her mom is happy to see Marie and offers to get the cookies while Marie discovers the answers to her homework. Well, the cookies must fill Marie up, because when dinner rolls around, Elizabeth Blackwell shows up to set the table. At bath time, Elizabeth doesn’t feel like soaking in the relaxing bubbles, so she sends “‘Mommy, the greatest, sweetest mother who ever was,’” instead.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-my-name-is-not-isabella-marie-curie

Image copyright Mike Litwin, 2010. Courtesy of Sourcebook Jabberwocky.

With pajamas on and teeth brushed the “little girl climbed into bed, [and] the mother says, “‘Good night, Mommy.’” But Mommy is standing near the starlit window, so who is sleeping in the little girl’s bed? “‘Isabella, the sweetest, kindest, smartest, bravest, fastest, toughest, greatest girl that ever was.’” And as she sleeps, she “dreamed about who she would be tomorrow.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-my-name-is-not-isabella-annie-oakley

Image copyright Mike Litwin, 2010. Courtesy of Sourcebook Jabberwocky.

In Jennifer Fosberry’s inspiring story, it’s not that the little girl doesn’t want to be Isabella, it’s that she wants to be the best Isabella she can be. In thinking about her role in the world, she’s chosen to emulate five of the most amazing women the world has ever known—and that’s just on day one. Fosberry’s ending, with its view toward tomorrow, allows children to consider all of the influential women throughout history and working today as role models. Her inclusion of “Mommy” as one of Isabella’s heroines is a welcome tribute to the job of motherhood. After all, it’s clear from the way Isabella’s mother supports her daughter’s alter egos without a “Sally who? or a “Rosa who?” that she has taught Isabella about these “greatest” women. It’s just one lesson this mother—and all mothers—teach their children.

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Mike Litwin will enchant readers with his colorful illustrations of Isabella and her transformations. Whimsical details and even the way Isabella’s stuffed toy mouse changes into a real companion for Sally, Rosa, Annie, Marie, and Elizabeth mirrors the power of imagination and education in the formation of a child’s identity and the discovery of their particular talents. Isabella is adorable with her purple hair—just another proof of her individuality—and inspirational in her can-do attitude

Short biographies and portraits of Sally Ride, Rosa Parks, Annie Oakley, Marie Curie, and Elizabeth Blackwell follow the text.

A book that will charm as well as educate, My Name is Not Isabella is a classic that makes a great introduction to the women mentioned in the story and can spur further discovery for younger readers. It would be a welcome addition to home and classroom bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2010 | ISBN 978-1402243950

Discover more about Jennifer Fosberry and her books on her website.

Learn more about Mike Litwin, his books, and his art on his website.

Get a Different Name Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-initial-bookend

First and Last Initials Bookends

 

You can show your pride in your name (or play with changing it) with this easy craft that will keep all your books tidy on their shelf! This makes a great gift too!

Supplies

  • Sturdy wooden letter blocks in the child’s first and last initials. Or, if the child would like to try on a new name or nickname, the first letter of their new name.
  • Chalkboard or acrylic paint
  • Colored chalk
  • Paint brush

 

Directions

  1. Paint the letters, let dry
  2. With the chalk write words that describe you or names of your heroines and/or heroes
  3. Display your bookends

Picture Book Review

February 10 – National Umbrella Day

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About the Holiday

When you grab your umbrella and open it (not indoors of course!), do you ever think about what an ancient device it is? The umbrella was invented over four thousand years ago and appears in art from ancient Greece, Egypt, China, and Assyria. The Chinese developed waterproof umbrellas to use in the rain by waxing and lacquering paper umbrellas. One of the first umbrella shops opened in London in 1830 and is still open for business there today. If it’s raining or snowing where you are today, celebrate the holiday by taking your umbrella for a spin. If you’re having fair weather, why not get yourself a new umbrella? After all, spring is coming!

The Green Umbrella

Written by Jackie Azúa Kramer | Illustrated by Maral Sassouni

 

On a gray and rainy day, Elephant went out walking with his green umbrella. He met a hedgehog who hailed him and said, “‘Excuse me. I believe you have my boat.’” Elephant was perplexed, so Hedgehog expounded on his theory. “‘I crossed deep oceans on my boat and faced the crash of icy waves. I saw dolphins leap two by two and tasted the salty spray of whales. The stars were my guide and my boat a faithful friend.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-green-umbrella-hedgehog

Copyright Maral Sassouni, 2017, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2017. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

This poetic travelogue did not convince Elephant of the umbrella’s provenance, but he offered to let Hedgehog ride along and share in its protection. The two came upon a Cat, who took one look at the green umbrella and recognized it as her tent. Hmmm…said Elephant and Hedgehog. It was true replied Cat, and she related how when she visited the woods to study plants and flowers, she would rest in its shade and drink a cup of tea.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-green-umbrella-bear

Copyright Maral Sassouni, 2017, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2017. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

This story seemed no more plausible than Hedgehog’s, but Elephant invited Cat to ride along and share in the umbrella’s protection. As they continued on, the Bear approached, sure that they had his flying machine. “‘Your what?’ asked the Elephant, the Hedgehog, and the Cat.” The Bear got a faraway look in his eyes as he said, “‘I soared through clouds high up in the air and saw Northern Lights glimmer above rolling hills. I floated on wings free and far from the noise of busy towns below.’”

Well, Elephant could play this game too. The umbrella was his and his alone. When he was a child, Elephant said, the umbrella was his pirate sword, his tightrope balance, and his baseball bat. By this time the rain had stopped. Elephant rolled up his umbrella and said good-bye to the Hedgehog, the Cat, and the Bear. The three couldn’t stand to see their boat/tent/flying machine taken away, so they clung to the Elephant.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-green-umbrella-tea-party

Copyright Maral Sassouni, 2017, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2017. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

A moment later they met an old Rabbit. “‘I believe you have my cane,’” he said. The others thought he was wrong. But this handy stick, the Rabbit explained, had helped him climb pyramids, hike mountains to ancient ruins, and navigate dark caves full of treasure. Again the Elephant objected, but seeing the old Rabbit mopping his forehead, he opened it and shaded the Rabbit from the sun. The Cat offered to make a pot of tea, and the Bear and the Hedgehog helped lay out a picnic lunch.

Under the cool umbrella, the five “shared their stories, drank tea, planned adventures, and became fast friends.” From then on when it was sunny, they went “Sailing, Camping, Flying, and Hiking” together. “And when it rained they stayed dry under the green umbrella.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-green-umbrella-friends

Copyright Maral Sassouni, 2017, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2017. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

Jackie Azúa Kramer’s multi-layered story delves into the large points and small nuances of relationships old and new. The Elephant’s green umbrella is both a subject of envy and a uniting object. It also serves to demonstrate Elephant’s ability to stick up for himself as well as his willingness to share. As each animal presents an imaginative and compelling reason why the green umbrella belongs to them, the Elephant rejects the story while accepting the friend. In each animal’s lushly described imagination, Kramer does a beautiful job of showing readers how each of these friends are similar. She reveals that while friends can have different opinions, they can still find common ground.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-green-umbrella-followers

Copyright Maral Sassouni, 2017, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

Maral Sassouni’s dream-like illustrations are both exotic and homey. Village houses give way to turreted and domed towers, and the imaginative stories the animals tell are accompanied by details as free, cozy, or eccentric as their tales. The Elephant’s account is cleverly rendered in sepia tones, showing the age of the memories and who the original owner of the coveted umbrella really is. The final images of the five new friends sharing adventures in the green umbrella are sure to delight little ones.

The Green Umbrella is a perfect book to share on rainy days or sunny days. With humor and creativity, the book provides an opportunity to talk about the nature of friendship and sharing with children. It would make an often-read addition to public, classroom, and home libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

NorthSouth Books, 2017 | ISBN 978-0735842182

Discover more about Jackie Azúa Kramer, her books, and a fun book-related activity on her website!

Learn more about Maral Sassouni and her artwork on her website!

Don’t wait for a rainy day to watch The Green Umbrella book trailer!

National Umbrella Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-rain-stick-craft

Rain Stick Craft

 

The steady sssshhhhhh of gentle rain is a sound that never fails to relax. With this easy craft, you can create your own rainfall for whenever you need  to de-stress.

Supplies

  • Heavy cardboard tube
  • Aluminum foil
  • Wrapping paper or other paper 
  • Rice or popcorn – 1/3 to 1/2 cup
  • Paint (optional)
  • Paint brushes (optional)
  • Rubber bands – 2

Directions

  1. Paint the cardboard tube, let dry (optional)
  2. Cut the paper into 3-inch or 4-inch squares
  3. Cover one end of the tube with paper and secure with a rubber band
  4. Crumple and twist two or three long pieces of foil 
  5. Put the foil strips into the tube
  6. Add the rice or popcorn to the tube
  7. Cover the open end of the tube with paper and a rubberband
  8. Turn the tube end-to-end and listen to the rain

Picture Book Review

January 30 – It’s Creativity Month

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About the Holiday

Kids are born creative, that’s for sure! With their huge imaginations and love for pretending, almost anything goes! Parents trying to keep up with their little charges need to stay on their toes and be inventive too. Answering all the “what,” “why,” and “how” questions takes some ingenuity, managing sibling rivalry takes finesse, and introducing new foods, getting a room cleaned, or making sure homework’s done? Well, “innovative” doesn’t begin to describe the brainstorms that (sometimes) lead to success. But at the end of the day (literally and figuratively) adults are inspired by their kids and wouldn’t trade their role for a minute. Yes, it’s great being a mom, grandmother, grandfather, teacher, dad—as you’ll see in today’s book!

It’s Great Being a Dad

Written by Dan Bar-el | Illustrated by Gina Perry

 

A lovely pink unicorn with a sparkling rainbow horn clip-clops over a grassy hill, a golden castle and a candy forest in the background. The playful animal believes it’s “great being a unicorn. Who wouldn’t want to be a unicorn?” What makes them so special? Well…as she says, “We’re terrific at prancing and we’re very pretty and, best of all, we have an adorable horn just above our eyebrows.” It’s hard to argue with those reasons!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-it's-great-being-a-dad

Image copyright Gina Perry, 2017, text copyright Dan Bar-el, 2017. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

But it seems there are some downsides to this whole unicorn thing. Grazing might be at the top of the list. That shiny horn just always seems to get in the way. There’s no way for teeth to touch the ground, and trying to grab a snack off a table just results in the table being stuck on the “adorable horn.”

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Image copyright Gina Perry, 2017, text copyright Dan Bar-el, 2017. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

How about Bigfoot? What’s it like for him? Let’s ask—here comes Bigfoot now! “It’s great being Bigfoot. I love being Bigfoot. Who wouldn’t want to be Bigfoot?” What’s so great about being…you know…? Well…he’s warm in his furry coat, he’s well camouflaged among the trees, and his super strength “can help unicorns get tables off their heads.” Sounds great! What could go wrong? Hmmm…. It seems those big feet get themselves into some sticky situations—like ending up with a tree trunk lodged around your leg.

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Image copyright Gina Perry, 2017, text copyright Dan Bar-el, 2017. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Maybe being a Robot is better. Indeed! In fact, Robot says, “If I had feelings, I would love being a robot.” Pretty compelling stuff there. Robot is very flashy and has lots of memory and has an arm that can convert into a saw just in time to help “unicorns and Bigfoot with their wood problems.” So what’s not to like? Rain can really mess with the mo(tor)-jo.

Poor Loch Ness Monster! She’s not even going to try being positive. It kind of stinks being a monster—especially when you don’t feel like one. But maybe things aren’t all bad. Unicorn, Bigfoot, and Robot hitch a ride on Nessie’s back across the lake to the hospital. There they meet a “fairy queen ballerina doctor” who loves being a fairy queen ballerina doctor. Who wouldn’t?

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Image copyright Gina Perry, 2017, text copyright Dan Bar-el, 2017. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

This Jill-of-all-trades can prescribe medicine for the sick, “perform a happy dance” for the sad, and wave her magic wand “if you have trouble with your saw arm…or your head horn or your big foot.” Sounds perfect…until a “sneaky flying alligator pirate” swoops in and swipes the magic wand just as the fairy queen ballerina doctor is about the save the day. “Dad!”

Ha! Ha! Here’s a little guy who’s super excited to be a sneaky flying alligator pirate. “I’m sneaky, so you never see me coming. I can fly, so you can never catch me. And… And…that’s enough reasons. So what’s not to like about being a sneaky flying alligator pirate?” Ooof! “Dads, that’s what!”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-it's-great-being-a-dad

Image copyright Gina Perry, 2017, text copyright Dan Bar-el, 2017. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

But how does Dad feel about being a dad? Let’s see: “It’s great being a dad. I love being a dad.” It does look pretty fun! Dad gets to remove pizza box “tables” from hobby horse unicorns; remove stepped-on drums from a brown-fuzzy-hoodied-and-hiking-booted Bigfoot; fix cardboard-saw arms; give medals to super swimmers; and “return magic wands to… to… ‘Fairy queen ballerina doctors. I told you a million times already.’ Right. What she said.” Plus Dad can help little brothers play nicely.

So you must be wondering… “what’s not to like about being a dad? Sudden makeovers, that’s what.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-it's-great-being-a-dad

Image copyright Gina Perry, 2017, text copyright Dan Bar-el, 2017. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Dan Bar-el’s laugh-out-loud romp through an afternoon of play hits the perfect tone to entertain kids and adults as well. Bar-el’s wry delivery and repetition of the appealing—and not-so—traits of each fantasy character will have readers giggling and eagerly anticipating the next page. The revelation that the characters are kids with big imaginations offers multiple payouts in creativity, personalities, friendship, and family.

Gina Perry’s vibrant, whimsical illustrations riff on all the fantasy clichés to ramp up the humor in this vivacious story. When happily-ever-after turns into happily-never-after for each character, Perry amusingly depicts their dismay, but the next page finds them cheerfully adjusted to their new circumstance and weaving it into a revised storyline. As the story wraps up, readers will enjoy pointing out aspects of the kids’ interests and the parts of the backyard that spurred their imagination in earlier pages. The diverse group of friends is welcome, and good-natured Dad doesn’t really seem to mind his impromptu makeover.

It’s Great Being a Dad is a fantastically fun read-aloud that would be an often-asked-for addition to home and school bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Tundra Books, 2017 | ISBN 978-1770496057

Discover more about Dan Bar-el and his books on his website!

You find a gallery of illustration work and books by Gina Perry on her website!

Creativity Month Activity

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Family Charades

 

Getting together to play charades is a fun way to spend family time with a little bit of thought, a little bit of action, and lots of laughs. You can find lots of charades cards, ideas, and rules at funstufftodo.com.

Picture Book Review

January 28 – International Have Fun at Work Day

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About the Holiday

Are you working today? Then have some fun! Listen to music, dress up or down or even a bit silly, enlist your coworkers for some games, share some jokes, or even throw a party—just don’t forget to include your boss!

Snowmen at Work

Written by Caraline Buehner | Written by Mark Buehner

 

One day, a little boy says, he woke up to find that “more snow had fallen soft and deep” overnight, but there was something odd: the sidewalk and the walkway were already shoveled. The snowman that he’d made the night before was standing in its spot, yet the boy wondered, “Was he the one who shoveled with a snowman shoveling crew? / Could it be that I don’t see that snowmen have jobs too?”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-snowmen-at-night-sidewalk

Image copyright Mark Buehner, 2012, text copyright Caralyn Buehner, 2012. Courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

The boy imagines other jobs that snowmen might do.  Maybe there are snowmen dentists who drill “bits of coal to fix a snowman’s smile” before sending him “home in style.” If your sled has “crooked runners” perhaps snowmen mechanics can make them straight again. And the grocer at the snowmen’s favorite store would stock shelves “with food snowmen love to eat: / Frozen peas and Frosty Flakes / And ice cream for a treat.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-snowmen-at-night-shovel

Image copyright Mark Buehner, 2012, text copyright Caralyn Buehner, 2012. Courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

How about snow kids? Just like real kids, they’d like having pets too! They’d love to go to the snow pet store to see the snow pups and the swimmers in the cold fish tank. The snow baker would be an artist creating frozen treats and frosted cake—“enough for everyone.” Of course snow children would go to snow school where they’d be taught “To count snowflakes one by one. / And how to spell Antarctica, / Refrigerate, and fun.”

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Image copyright Mark Buehner, 2012, text copyright Caralyn Buehner, 2012. Courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

Snow magicians could do cool tricks, and when a snow cat got stuck in the branches of a tree, snow firefighters would get them down easy as can be. There could be snow librarians to read to little ones, and snow deliverymen to bring “frozen pizza to your door.” At the factory, snow workers would make toys for snow boys and girls, and snow truck drivers could haul “frozen goods to town.”

Yes, the little boy thinks as he goes back inside his home, “My snowman really might have / Shoveled, and I never knew / That all around us snowmen / Have a lot of work to do!”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-snowmen-at-night-night-plowing

Image copyright Mark Buehner, 2012, text copyright Caralyn Buehner, 2012. Courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

Caraline and Mark Buehner’s snowmen are favorites of little ones with their sunny smiles and busy secret lives. In Snowmen at Work, young readers will love getting a sneak peek at how their favorite winter creations might fill jobs around town that they’re familiar with. The idea of snow puppies and kittens, snow school, and a snowman to do their chores will delight kids. Frosted cakes, frozen pizza, and frosty flakes are clever twists on children’s best-loved treats and may have kids thinking up other cold meals and tidbits they might enjoy.

Mark Buehner’s riotously colorful illustrations offer maximum joyfulness as the snowmen go about their jobs with ever-present grins. Children will want to linger over the pages to catch all the details and jokes tucked here and there: A framed quote on the dentist’s wall reads “Be true to your teeth or they’ll be false to you,” and the snow magician’s lion has a mane made up of mittens, just to name two. And is that snowman outside the little boy’s home reaching for his shovel again just as he closes the door?

The perfect antidote to gray winter days and a cheerful addition to those brilliant blue ones, Snowmen at Work would be welcome on any child’s bookshelf.

Ages 3 – 7

Dial Books, 2012 | ISBN 978-0803735798

Learn more about Caralyn and Mark Buehner and their books on their website.

International Have Fun at Work Day Activity

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Fun at Work! Word Search

 

When you love your job, work is fun! Find the names of thirty professions in this printable Fun at Work! Word Search Puzzle.

Fun at Work! Word Search Puzzle | Fun at Work! Word Search Puzzle Solution

Picture Book Review

January 14 – Organize Your Home Day

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About the Holiday

Sometimes it seems that clutter multiplies while you’re not looking. The beginning of the year offers an opportunity to clean out those closets, pantries, and basements that can be breeding grounds for mess. Getting the house back in shape can be fun if you get the whole family involved. Kids will appreciate being asked for their suggestions on organizing their rooms and may have some pretty creative ideas—just like the boy in today’s book! 

If I Built a House

By Chris Van Dusen

 

While Jack’s mother digs in the garden and their dog snoozes in the sun, Jack is reconsidering his house. It’s just like the others in the neighborhood, he says—“boxy and boring and basically bland. / It’s nothing at all like the house I have planned.” Sure, his house will have function and flow, but the rooms inside are where his real genius will show. Then with the flair of an HGTV host, Jack invites his mom in to see what he means.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-if-i-built-a-house-dreaming

Copyright Chris Van Dusen, 2012, courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

First up is the kitchen that has a mind—and arms—of its own. In this “Kitchen-O-Mat,” Jack tells his mom, “You don’t have to cook and you don’t have to clean. / It’s done by a space-age robotic machine. / It makes all the meals, and the food is deeelish. / Then it washes and puts away every last dish.” The living room is every kid’s dream of an indoor playground, with furniture that spins, a ball pit, and two trampolines.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-if-i-built-a-house-playground-room

Copyright Chris Van Dusen, 2012, courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

The bathroom is built assembly-line style with no shower or tub—just an ingenious “Scrub-a-Dub-Dub. / Just step on the belt and it washes you clean— / Even the places that you’ve never seen!” Jack’s bedroom’s a penthouse of glass in the round, with a 200-feet long twisty slide that deposits you into the Art Room through a round door in the wall. The wall is great for drawing on too, but “…don’t worry, it’s cool. / Hung way up high, on a big giant spool, / Is a huge roll of paper that hangs to the floor. / Just draw till you’re done, / Then pull down some more.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-if-i-built-a-house-kitchen-larger

Copyright Chris Van Dusen, 2012, courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

If you’ve ever wanted to explore outer space, Jack’s Flying Room is the place for you. With just a flip of the switch on the wall, you’re floating here and there, totally free. In Jack’s house you’d go from flying to racing in the Racetrack Room, which “features a racetrack that loops all around / with superfast go-karts that don’t make a sound.”

Are you more of a swimmer? Well, Jack’s thought of that too with a Fish Tank Room where you can snorkel and dive with turtles, stingrays, an octopus, and all sizes of fish. Tired of houses that just sit in one place? Then you’ll love the room that Jack’s left for last. “Literally speaking, this room is a BLAST! / “So welcome. Sit down, I’ll seal up the hatches. / This Plexiglass Playroom completely detaches!” Powered by jets, you can soar all around the neighborhood. For Jack, “this room is as good as it gets!”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-if-i-built-a-house-racetrack-room

Copyright Chris Van Dusen, 2012, courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

With all of these features and incredible rooms, Jack tells his mom, “My house will be nifty. My house will be neat. / My house will stand out as the best on the street.” Wistfully dreaming of his modern design, Jack says, “If I built a house, that’s just what I’d do.”

Chris Van Dusen knows how to tap into the mind of a child with all of its fantastic imaginings and anything-is-possible daring. Young readers will love seeing what Jack dreams up in his kid-perfect house that combines the best of features of their favorite playgrounds and attractions. Dusen’s sprightly verses pair uncommon words amid complex sentences, and the jaunty rhythm is a joy to read aloud.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-if-i-built-a-house-front-door

Copyright Chris Van Dusen, 2012, courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

Dusen’s retro illustrations are bold and vibrant with plenty of cool and ingenious details in each room to fascinate kids. The snaking arms that busily cook in the kitchen, merry-go-round coffee table, replaceable wallpaper, and loop-de-loop racetrack offer the kinds of playful pandemonium that kids crave. If only all smart houses looked this cool.

Funny and imaginative, If I Built a House would be a lighthearted choice to inspire creativity at home or in the classroom.

Ages 3 – 7

Dial Books, 2012 | ISBN 978-0803737518

To learn more about Chris Van Dusen, his books, and his illustration work, visit his website.

Organize Your Home Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-shark-jar-craft

Shark Organizer Jar

 

Does your room need a little organizing? This fun Shark Organizer Jar will take a bite out the messiness and make your room look awesome too!

Supplies

  • Wide-mouth plastic jar, like a peanut-butter jar
  • Gray craft paint
  • White craft paint
  • Black craft paint
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Find a point in the middle of the jar on opposite sides of the jar
  2. Mid-way between these points on the other sides of the jar, find a point about 1 1/2 inches above the first points
  3. From the first point draw an angled line up to the higher point and down again to the lower point to make the shark’s upper jaw
  4. Repeat Direction Number 3 to make the shark’s lower jaw
  5. With the gray paint fill in the jar below these lines to make the shark’s head
  6. Along the jawline, paint jagged teeth with the white paint
  7. Add black dots for eyes on either side of the shark’s head
  8. Let dry

Picture Book Review

December 24 – Christmas Eve

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About the Holiday

While traditions may vary, children around the world look forward to Christmas Eve night with its sense of wonder and magic. Anything, it seems, is possible on this special night—just as today’s book shows.

The Little Reindeer

By Nicola Killen

 

Ollie, dressed in her reindeer pajamas, had just drifted off to sleep when she heard a faint “jingle, jingle, jingle.” She woke and “rushed to the window, but all she could see was a blanket of fresh snow!” She picked up her sled and headed outside. Just as Ollie caught a falling snowflake, “she heard the magical sound again. Jingle, jingle, jingle.” She flopped on her sled and zipped down a hill, following the sound as it became clearer and clearer.

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Copyright Nicola Killen, 2017, courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

When Ollie came to the edge of the woods, she could hear the bells jangling louder and louder. “She took a deep breath and, feeling very brave, she ran into the darkness.” There, she saw a red collar “circled with silver bells.” She wondered whose it was. Suddenly, “a reindeer stepped through the crisp snow toward Ollie.” The reindeer knelt down as Ollie attached his collar. Then he bent lower to allow Ollie to climb on his back.

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Copyright Nicola Killen, 2017, courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

While Ollie thought that they might ride through the forest, she found herself soaring “up into the night sky, leaving the trees far below!”  They flew over the town and the bay, over fields and forests through the snowy night. The reindeer brought Ollie home, landing softly in the snow right outside her door. Ollie didn’t want to leave her new friend, but she knew “there was someone very special who needed the reindeer’s help that night.”

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Copyright Nicola Killen, 2017, courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

Ollie quietly climbed the stairs to her room and quickly fell asleep, “dreaming of her magical journey.” She didn’t hear the jingle of the bells as her reindeer once more streaked across the sky. In the morning, Ollie unwrapped a very special gift that would  remind her of her new friend until they met again next year.

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Copyright Nicola Killen, 2017, courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

Nicola Killen’s tale of imagination and the magic that children can find in Christmas will charm young readers. Adorable Ollie dreams of reindeer not only at night but all the time, as children can see in Ollie’s room that is filled with reminders of her favorite animal, including a book about reindeer, a reindeer bookend, reindeer sheets, reindeer wallpaper, a reindeer plush, and plenty of reindeer drawings.

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Copyright Nicola Killen, 2017, courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

Killen’s story has a dreamy feeling, prompting readers to wonder: is this nighttime jaunt real or not? A clue may lie in the fact that the reindeer wears a blanket of the same pattern as Ollie’s bedspread. Killen’s gray-scale illustrations are beautifully accented with touches of red and sprinkled with silver that glints from the sleigh bells, snow-topped trees, and in the magical swoop of the reindeer’s flight. Several die-cuts invite readers to follow Ollie into the night and through the woods and offers a peek out Ollie’s window to see her reindeer pass by as she sleeps.

A sweet story for little dreamers, The Little Reindeer is a classic tale that will enchant children around the holidays and beyond and would be a favorite addition to home bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2017 | ISBN 978-1481486866

Discover more about Nicola Killen, her books, and her art on her website

Christmas Eve Activity

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Hanging Stockings Coloring Page

 

Hanging stockings by the fireplace is a fun Christmas Eve tradition! Get your crayons, colored pencils, or markers and enjoy this printable Hanging Stockings Coloring Page.

Picture Book Review

December 21 – National Flashlight Day

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About the Holiday

In a clever bit of cause and effect, the founders of Flashlight Day chose the Winter Solstice to put a bit more…light, shall we say?…on today’s honored object. As the first day of winter is the shortest of the year, people may find that a flashlight comes in handy during that extra bit of darkness. If you’re wondering about the history of the flashlight, it all goes back to the invention of the dry-cell battery in 1887. These portable power sources inspired new products, such as the flashlight or torch (as it’s called outside of North America), which was invented in 1899. So indispensable is the flashlight, that it is even incorporated into our phones! To celebrate today’s holiday, why not turn off the lights tonight and tell stories, play games, or go exploring illuminated only by your flashlight!

Flashlight Night

Written by Matt Forrest Esenwine | Illustrated by Fred Koehler

 

Three brave explorers—a boy, a girl, and a little brother—set out from their tree house at night armed only with their flashlight. In the golden beam, the picket fence turns dilapidated and overgrown as it weaves in and out among the gnarled trunks of a dense forest. The children follow “past old post and rail / along a long-forgotten trail / into woods no others dare, / for fear of what is waiting there.” Soon, they find a crawlspace under the deck of their house and venture in. They can hear the sound of rushing water and the yowl of a big cat. Before joining his friend and her little brother, the boy shines his flashlight around the yard, illuminating a wild waterfall and a tiger on the prowl where a tabby had dozed just minutes ago.

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Image copyright Fred Koehler, 2017, text copyright Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2017. Courtesy of mattforrest.com.

The three friends crawl deep into the dusty crevices of the tunnel, where the flashlight shows them bones and lost treasures of ancient Egypt “as inky shadows rise and fall, / dancing… / to no sound at all.” They come to “a peculiar door that opens to… / a foreign shore.” From the pool stairs they step into a rubber boat and sail across the sea to the pirate ship dead ahead in the circle of light. A parrot swoops low and a kraken reaches its writhing tentacles from the roiling waves just as the treasure chest is found.

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Image copyright Fred Koehler, 2017, text copyright Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2017. Courtesy of mattforrest.com.

With the ship engulfed and sinking, the stream of light from the “shows a stealthy way to flee—….” The three kids run across the sandy beach and around the umbrella palm then scramble up a steep slope. But the angry pirate, brandishing his sword, is looking for his treasure; the kraken has scaled the wall and nabbed the girl; and the tiger approaches with a hungry look in its eyes.

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Image copyright Fred Koehler, 2017, text copyright Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2017. Courtesy of mattforrest.com.

Quickly, the older boy swings himself onto the ramparts of an old stone castle and reaches for the outstretched hand of his friend as she dangles upside down in the kraken’s arm. Her brother distracts the beast with his teddy bear, which transforms into a mighty grizzly that scares off the tiger, the pirate, and the astonished kraken. The littlest explorer is hailed as a hero as he is lifted through the window to safety.

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Image copyright Fred Koehler, 2017, text copyright Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2017. Courtesy of mattforrest.com.

Happily back in the tree house, the three snuggle under a blanket, reading 20,000 Leagues under the Sea while flanked by stacks of the classics, including Around the World in 80 Days, Treasure Island, and Mysteries of Egypt. And even though “weary eyes fight off the sleep, / adventure lingers, stirs about— / “until a voice says, ‘Shhh…lights out.’”

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Image copyright Fred Koehler, 2017, text copyright Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2017. Courtesy of mattforrest.com.

Flashlight Night is that perfect combination of text and illustrations that creates a reading experience that immerses a reader in an alternate world. Matt Forrest Esenwine’s rhyming story entrances with an atmosphere of mystery and intrigue created with language that sets the imagination racing—inky shadows, time-forgotten tomb, slyly sneak, and craggy mountainside is just the beginning.

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Image copyright Fred Koehler, 2017, text copyright Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2017. Courtesy of mattforrest.com.

Accompanying this beguiling narration are Fred Koehler’s masterful, dual-duty illustrations. Outside of the flashlight’s beam, charcoal-colored images depict the reality of the children’s yard and treehouse. Inside the beam, the children’s imaginary game is fully illuminated. At the sharp edges between the two, reality and imagination blend together as seamlessly as children traverses both worlds. Under the deck, a forgotten baseball meshes with the rounded body of Egyptian pottery, the wall of the deck morphs into a rocky cliff, the stern of the rubber raft gives way to a wooden dinghy, and the top of the treehouse stretches to become the ledge on a castle.

The classic stories the children read in their tree house inform the friends’ nighttime jaunt and come to life in Koehler’s engrossing illustrations that are themselves scavenger hunts for small details, foreshadowing clues, bits of humor, and literary allusions.

Flashlight Night is a beautiful tribute to adventure classics. It is a fantastic book to cuddle up with for cozy bedtime reading (flashlight highly recommended), to take along for campfire storytelling, or to spark imaginary play. Flashlight Night would be a great gift and welcome addition to any child’s home bookshelf or classroom library.

Ages 4 – 8

Boyds Mill’s Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-1629794938

Discover more about Matt Forrest Esenwine and his books on his website.

To learn more about Fred Koehler, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Flashlight Day Activity

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Flashlight Fun Maze

 

Three friends want to do a little nighttime reading. Can you help the glow of the flashlight reach them so they can enjoy their favorite book in this printable Flashlight Fun Maze? Here’s the Solution.

Picture Book Review