May 16 – National Biographers Day

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About the Holiday

National Biographers Day commemorates a very special meeting that led to one of the most celebrated biographies in English literature. On May 16, 1763, James Boswell met with Samuel Johnson for the first time in a Covent Garden, London bookshop. Thirty years later, Boswell, who was also a poet, essayist, editor, literary critic, and lexicographer, published his biography of Samuel Johnson. Today’s holiday honors all those who delve into the life of others to bring their often fascinating and inspiring stories to readers. To celebrate today, read up on one of your favorite people and introduce your kids to biographies—like today’s book—that can encourage them to follow their dreams.

Write On, Irving Berlin!

Written by Leslie Kimmelman | Illustrated by David C. Gardner

 

In September of 1893 Moses and Lena Baline and their six children, including 5-year-old Israel, sailed into New York Harbor hoping “to start a new life in a new country.” They came from Russia, where their home had been burned down by “gangs of angry men” who “rode from village to village in pogroms, destroying Jewish homes and hurting the people who lived in them.” In America, the Balines had a small apartment, little money, and little food. But they did have freedom.

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Image copyright David C. Gardner, 2018, text copyright Leslie Kimmelman, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

At school, Izzy—as Israel was nicknamed—paid less attention to his schoolwork than to the music in his head. When Izzy was only thirteen, his father died. Izzy knew that money was tight, so he moved out and made his own living singing in saloons, in the chorus line of New York shows, and even as he waited tables.  Irving as Izzy now called himself, became a professional song writer when he was paid 37 cents for his first song.

Irving continued to write the tunes that filled his head. When Ragtime was all the rage during the early 1900s, Irving tried this new, jazzy kind of music, and his “‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’ was a smash.”  Irving married, but his wife died only a few months after their wedding. Irving consoled himself by writing. He became an American citizen, and when he was drafted into the US Army during WWI, he wrote songs to encourage his fellow soldiers. When he married again, he was inspired to write a song called “Always” about a love that lasts forever.

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Image copyright David C. Gardner, 2018, text copyright Leslie Kimmelman, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Irving never seemed to be without a tune in his head. He “wrote music for plays, for movies, for friends, for strangers. He scribbled ideas on napkins and on the sleeves of his shirt. He wrote songs in elevators and in taxicabs. He wrote songs in the bathtub.” During World War II, one of his older songs—“‘God Bless America’ became a HUGE hit.” In the winter of 1942, Irving wrote “White Christmas.” It’s sentimental words and catchy tune inspired the “American soldiers fighting fierce battles all around the world.”

Since Irving was too old to fight in the war, he developed a show called “This is the Army” that he took around the world to entertain the troops. His “cast was completely integrated—black and white soldiers lived, ate, and traveled together, which was rare in those days.” Even after the war ended, Irving continued to write songs that people still love today.

An Author’s Note about Irving Berlin and his songs as well as books for further reading follow the text.

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Image copyright David C. Gardner, 2018, text copyright Leslie Kimmelman, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Leslie Kimmelman brings to life the story of one of America’s most prolific and beloved song writers with enthusiasm and wit and the kinds of details that capture kids’ attention and inspire them to learn more. Timely for this year’s 100th anniversary of the writing of “God Bless America” and the 80th anniversary of its public appearance, Write On, Irving Berlin would make an excellent centerpiece of school music units when paired with Berlin’s songs, many of which kids will recognize. Berlin’s success, as revealed in Kimmelman’s well-paced, upbeat, and converstional storytelling is a powerful motivator for any child with big dreams.

David C. Gardner’s beautiful, softly-washed and detailed paintings take readers from the New York neighborhoods, restaurants, and dance halls of the early 1900s to the battlefields of World Wars I and II to the bright lights of Broadway, where his last musical, “Annie Get Your Gun” is advertised on the marquee. Along the way, kids see Irving as a child, a young man, and an older professional, always with a pencil and paper in hand. Images of the Statue of Liberty seen throughout the book tie together the theme of the immigrant’s experience, Berlin’s love of America, and one of his most famous works, “God Bless America.”

Write On, Irving Berlin! is an excellent biography that should find a home in classroom, school, and public libraries as well as on home bookshelves for children who love history, music, and biographies and who have big ideas of their own.

Ages 6 – 9

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585363803

Discover more about Leslie Kimmelman and her books on her website.

To learn more about David C. Gardner, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Write On, Irving Berlin! Giveaway

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I’m thrilled to partner with Sleeping Bear Press in this giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Write On, Irving Berlin!

To be entered to win, just Follow me on Twitter @CelebratePicBks and Retweet a giveaway tweet during this week, May 16 – 22. Already a follower? Thanks! Just retweet for a chance to win.

A winner will be chosen on May 23.

Giveaways open to US addresses only. | Prizing provided by Sleeping Bear Press.

National Biographer’s Day Activity

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I Am…  Biography Page

 

How well do you know yourself – or your friends? This printable I Am… Biography Page can be fun to fill out and share with friends. Make a game of it and see if you can answer the questions for someone else in your family or among your friends!

 

Picture Book Review

February 14 – International Book Giving Day

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About the Holiday

February 14th is all about love! Sharing Valentines, sharing hugs, candy, and fun, and… sharing books! There’s no better way to show a child how much they mean to you than by giving them a book. Unfortunately, many children don’t have access to or own books. International Book Giving Day was established to encourage people to buy, share, and donate books so that the children in their lives and communities can know the pleasure and educational benefits of reading. To learn more about today’s holiday and to find some tips on easy ways to get involved, visit the official International Book Giving Day website.

A Different Pond

Written by Bao Phi | Illustrated by Thi Bui

 

A little boy yawns and rubs the sleep from his eyes as his dad wakes him even before the sun has risen. His dad has already made sandwiches and packed the car for their fishing trip. As they drive out of town, the streets are silent and a chill tinges the air. The little boy’s father entertains him with stories. As he listens, the boy thinks of the kid at school who says his dad’s “English sounds like a thick, dirty river.” To him, though, his father’s “English sounds like gentle rain.”

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Image copyright Thi Bui, 2017, text copyright Bao Phi, 2017. Courtesy of Capstone Young Readers.

Even at this early hour the bait shop is open while the Mexican restaurant next door is dark. The bait man comments that the pair are earlier than usual, and the boy’s father explains that he has to work at his second job later that morning even though it’s Saturday. The little boy carefully carries the bag of minnows, feeling them “swim like silver arrows in my hands.” They stop the car along the road, climb over the guard rail, and gingerly make their way “through the tangle and scrub” to the pond.

As the boy holds his father’s calloused hand, he wonders why they still need to fish for food if his father has a second job, and his dad answers that “everything in America costs a lot of money.” Sometimes, they meet other men fishing at the pond, but today they are alone under the stars that look “like freckles.” While his father sets up their equipment, the boy gathers sticks and rocks and makes a small fire ring to provide warmth.

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Image copyright Thi Bui, 2017, text copyright Bao Phi, 2017. Courtesy of Capstone Young Readers.

The little boy wants to help with the fishing, but he can’t bring himself to put the minnow on the hook. His father smiles, understanding how he feels. For breakfast they eat the bologna sandwiches the father made. “‘I used to fish by a pond like this one when I was a boy in Vietnam,’” the dad tells his son. The boy looks into his father’s face and asks if he fished with his brother. His father “nods, then looks away.” The boy knows that his father and uncle fought in the war side by side until the day when his dad’s “brother didn’t come home.”

When the bobber dips, the boy’s father pulls in a crappy and soon after, another. This time the boy holds the fish between his hands “to help guide the fish into the bucket. The fish feels slimy and rough at the same time,” and the boy makes a face that makes his dad laugh. His father is happy because they caught “a few fish and he knows [they] will eat tonight.”

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Image copyright Thi Bui, 2017, text copyright Bao Phi, 2017. Courtesy of Capstone Young Readers.

As they walk back to the car, the boy wonders “what the trees look like at that other pond in the country [his] dad comes from.” The sky is just brightening as they reach home and show Mom the fish they’ve caught. She smiles, even though she’s tired, and asks her son to help with the fish before she too goes to work. Their praise for his help in catching that night’s dinner, makes the boy feel that he is growing up.

The little boy waves to his mom as she bicycles away to her job comforted by the knowledge that he, his brothers and sisters, and his mom and dad will all be together again that night around the dinner table. They’ll share crispy fried fish, rice, and funny stories. Then later they will go to sleep and “dream of fish in faraway ponds.”

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Image copyright Thi Bui, 2017, text copyright Bao Phi, 2017. Courtesy of Capstone Young Readers.

As deep and quietly moving as a fishing pond, Bao Phi’s tribute to family, parental sacrifice, and the profound understanding of children wrenches your heart with its beautiful and honest language and touching details. Phi uses the fishing trip—which at first seems to be simply a fun outing for father and son, but is in fact an act of survival—to relate one family’s relationship with their adopted country while also delving into the universal bond between children and parents or other adults. Taken before sunup, the trip provides moments—both spoken and unspoken—for the little boy to learn and internalize the stories, feelings, and history of his heritage at a time when his own identity is dawning. The camaraderie at the dinner table is one more time to connect with and be connected to family and traditions old and new.

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Image copyright Thi Bui, 2017, text copyright Bao Phi, 2017. Courtesy of Capstone Young Readers.

Thi Bui’s detailed illustrations are washed in the mysterious and hopeful blues and grays of early morning sprinkled with stars and lit with the glow of streetlamps. The pond shimmers with moonlight—a unifying link to that other pond so far away. A No Trespassing Keep Out sign that marks the place where the little boy and his father pull over to access the pond offers an opportunity for readers to reflect on wider immigration and refugee issues. Bui’s captures the nuanced expressions passed between the loving parents who are doing everything they can to provide a better life for their children, and their  equally loving children who are dreaming of and learning what that life is. 

Extensive notes from Bao Phi and Thi Bui follow the text.

A Different Pond is an exquisite story with wisdom and insight that will impact readers during quiet story times at home and in the classroom. The book would be a warm and welcome addition to home, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 6 – 9

Capstone Young Readers, 2017 | ISBN 978-1623708030

Discover more about Bao Phi and his books on his website.

Learn more about Thi Bui, her books, and her art on her website.

You’re invited to go fishing in this A Different Pond book trailer!

International Book Giving Day Activity

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International Book Giving Day Bookmark and Bookplate

 

Get the official bookmark and bookplate of today’s holiday! With this energetic little character in your books, you’ll always have a fun reading buddy nearby! Poke around the website and find more great bookmarks and bookplates from previous years available for download too!

International Book Giving Day Bookmark | International Book Giving Day Bookplate

Picture Book Review