August 13 – Happiness Happens Month

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About the Holiday

It’s all up to you to make his month-long holiday happen. It offers an opportunity for each person to ask: What makes me happy? During these last weeks of summer, be sure to include those things that truly bring you and your children joy. While many of the usual activities may not be available, finding new ways to use your talents or to help others can bring a new kind of happiness, as you’ll see in today’s book.

Dewdrop

by Katie O’Neill

Little Dewdrop, an adorable axototl, runs to join the line to sign up for the Sports Fair. He asks his friends if they’re going to go too. Mia, a turtle, says she’s entering the “pebble-throwing contest,” Newman the Newt tells Dewdrop that he’s going to be writing “a song to cheer everyone on, and three minnows are using their cooking talents to make the food. Dewdrop says he’s working on a cheerleading routine, but he wants to help everyone else too.

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Copyright Katie O’Neill, 2020, courtesy of Oni Press.

When Mia wears herself out training, Dewdrop brings her healthy snacks. Then he joins in on the recorder while Newman composes his song, but he falls asleep before they finish. Next, Dewdrop is happy to supply ingredients for the minnows’ concoction. Everyone is busy building the tents and stands for the fair, while the participants train. Mia sweats it out lifting rocks, but then she sees Bear lifting a heavy barbell with one arm. She feels dejected and wonders if there’s even a point in competing.

Writing a song seemed easy to Newton, but now none of his tunes are coming out just right. The ground around him is littered with balled-up paper. The minnows are worried that the food they’re making is too boring and think maybe a new recipe would be better. Dewdrop, on the other hand, is leaping and dancing and shaking his pompoms. “WOW! I am so good at cheerleading!” he says to himself.

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Copyright Katie O’Neill, 2020, courtesy of Oni Press.

The next day Dewdrop goes off to see if his friends need any help. He finds Mia struggling to lift a barbell as big as Bear’s. She manages to raise it over her head as Dewdrop applauds. Then he asks her to lift him the way she used to when they were younger. She does it easily, and Dewdrop is impressed by how much stronger she’s gotten. As Dewdrop runs off to find another friend, Mia realizes that Dewdrop is right and that she doesn’t need to compete against anyone but herself and should just “try to do better than [she] did yesterday.”

Dewdrop finds Newton down in the dumps. He still hasn’t written a song he likes. Dewdrop encourages him to relax and listen quietly to his inner voice. When he does, a beautiful tune bursts out. Next, Dewdrop follows his nose to where the minnows are trying yet another recipe, worried that no one will like what they make. Dewdrop has a solution to that. “I will bravely volunteer to lay my life on the line…and taste test for you,” he says. He dips his spoon into what one minnow calls “a boring old stew” and declares it…”probably the best thing I have ever tasted!” Cheered by this news, the minnows realize they can’t please everyone and go to work creating dishes that would make them happy.

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Copyright Katie O’Neill, 2020, courtesy of Oni Press.

At last the day of the sports fair comes. The stage and playing fields are ready; the stands are packed, and the food court is open. Newton steps up to sing his song that he says expresses his feelings about the sports fair. The audience smiles and claps along. First up, it’s time for Mia to show her stuff at the pebble pitch. When she steps up to the line, Dewdrop performs his special cheerleading routine just for her. She throws…. The rock sails over the-much-bigger Bear, Tortoise, and Lobster’s heads. At the end of the competition, the judge presents her with a medal for “New Personal Best.”

At lunchtime everyone rushed to get in line at the minnows’ booth. When Dewdrop finally gets to the front, one minnow tells him that they made something special for him and that Mia and Newman are waiting for him to join their picnic. Dewdrop finds them in a field, and they present him with a basket to thank him for everything he’d done to remind them about “what’s important.” Dewdrop lifted the cover and discovered… a Worm Pie! Which made this “the best day ever.”

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Copyright Katie O’Neill, 2020, courtesy of Oni Press.

Everyone needs a little encouragement now and then and Katie O’Neill’s endearing axototl, Dewdrop, is just the one to deliver it. A natural cheerleader, he helps his friends and readers learn a simple, but most-important lesson about growing up and growing into your individual talents. As Dewdrop enthusiastically gives his friends a hand when they worry, strain, and struggle to become the very best at the fair, kids will see that comparing oneself to others and trying to please everyone is a losing proposition and actually stifles ones creativity and ability. When Mia, Newton, and the minnows succeed at the fair by being themselves, kids will understand that it’s only when they are true to themselves that they are really winners. O’Neill adds humorous touches throughout the story that will charm kids and fleshes out the characters’ personalities. Comics’ and graphic-novel-loving kids will be drawn to O’Neill’s candy-colored illustrations that prompt them to examine and empathize with the actions and emotions of excitement, disappointment, pride, and friendship depicted.

Fun and confidence-boosting, Dewdrop would make a thought-provoking addition to home, school, and public library collections. 

Ages 6 – 9

Oni Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1620106891

Discover more about Katie O’Neill and her books on her website.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dewdrop-cover

You can find Dewdrop at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million 

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 19 – It’s National Pet Month and Interview with Sarah Kurpiel

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About the Holiday

Pets give us unconditional love, provide companionship, and add entertainment and fun to our lives. This month is set aside to focus on our pets. To celebrate spend extra time with your furry friend, make sure they have everything they need to stay healthy, and give them a little extra treat now and then. This year, our pets may be feeling stressed from stay-at-home restrictions. To help, try to keep your pet’s routines as normal as possible. Dogs may benefit from extra walks––just like Maple in today’s story!

I received a copy of Lone Wolf from Greenwillow Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own. 

Lone Wolf

By Sarah Kurpiel

 

Maple, a Siberian husky, loved living with the Parkers. He loved playing tug-of-war with Jax, reading with Avery, extra treats from Mom, and especially long walks with everyone. “But on her walks, people would say… ‘Dude, that dog looks like a wolf.’” Some little kids clung to their mom’s leg when they saw her, some older people asked if maybe she wasn’t just a little bit wolf, and even babies shouted “‘WOLF! WOLF! WOLF!’”

The Parkers tried to explain the differences between Maple and a wolf, but eventually, “even Maple had her doubts.” After all, when she compared herself to other dogs, she saw that so many had floppy ears or lots of fluff or handsome spots. She wasn’t like them at all. Plus, she was good at digging, howling, and hunting just like a wolf.

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Copyright Sarah Kurpiel, 2020, courtesy of Greenwillow Books.

She began to think that she belonged in the wild, and one day when the gate was left open, she bounded out into the woods. But here the ground was hard, not soft like the Parker’s garden; squirrels were faster and harder to catch than Avery’s shoes; and sticks were pretty boring without Jax. Being a wolf was not as much fun as it seemed. As nighttime came and the sky darkened, Maple decided to head home.

On the way, she saw a flashlight and behind it familiar faces. Someone was looking for her. It was the Parkers—her pack! Now when people call Maple a wolf, she doesn’t have doubts. She knows just who she is and exactly where she belongs.

Sarah Kurpiel’s multilayered story about a husky who is often mistaken for a wolf will delight dog and pet lovers as it gently introduces the ideas of identity, self-doubt, and self-discovery. Her charming storytelling provides an excellent opportunity for adults and kids to discuss these important topics of individual growth with the backdrop of a supportive family. Children, familiar with being peppered by questions about what they’re doing and who they want to be (as opposed to who they are) as well as by comparisons to others, will relate to Maple. Maple’s exploration of what she considers her wolf-like abilities is humorous and models a positive self-analysis that is honest and non-judgmental while also embracing one’s unique qualities.

Kurpiel’s lovely color palette and rounded shapes are fresh and welcoming while her use of directional lines allows readers to dash along with Maple from one enchanting detail to another. Her use of various perspectives puts kids in Maple’s point of view while providing depth to this enthusiastic pup’s experience. Maple is adorable, and his wondering nature is clearly visible in his expressive face. Kurpiel’s images of family love begin on the copyright page with sweet framed family pictures, many of which include Maple. Avery, who is shown using a power wheelchair, is a welcome portrayal of a child with a disability. The final snapshot of the Parker family and Maple snuggling together is heartwarming and reminds readers that individual attributes are what make each person so special.

Touching and uplifting, Lone Wolf will charm children and adults anew with every reading. The book would make a favorite addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Greenwillow Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0062943828

Discover more about Sarah Kurpiel and her art on her website.

You can download a Lone Wolf Activity Kit from HarperCollins here.

Meet Sarah Kurpiel

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Sarah Kurpiel is a librarian and artist inspired by nature and animals. She grew up in the Midwest with a Siberian husky named Mikayla. Consequently, most of her childhood was spent removing dog fur from her clothes. Lone Wolf is her first book. Sarah Kurpiel lives with her family (which includes her wonderfully goofy dog, Roxie) in Downers Grove, Illinois.

I was really excited to have a chance to talk with Sarah Kurpiel about her debut picture book, how it came to be, her illustration work, and more! Jack and Steve, who are also dog lovers, are back with lots of questions for Sarah too.

After reading––and loving––Lone Wolf, they wondered:

Do you have a dog?

Yes! My family has a dog named Roxie. We adopted her from a local animal shelter. We think she’s part Border Collie and part Retriever. She loves herding us around and rolling in the grass.

We have a miniature poodle. What breed of dog is your favorite?

Miniature Poodles are adorable! My favorite breed of dog is giant by comparison: the Borzoi. Borzois look a bit like extra-large, extra-furry greyhounds.

 Have you ever seen or heard a wolf?

I’ve never seen or heard a wolf in the wild, but I have seen Mexican Gray Wolves in a zoo. The Mexican Gray Wolf is one of the most endangered wolf subspecies in the world. Thankfully, there are recovery programs working to change that.

We’ve been taking our dog on lots of walks (just like the Parker family!) during this quarantine. What have you’ve been doing to keep busy?

I’ve been hanging out with my family and our pets, reading, catching up on Star Trek, and drawing lots and lots of cats for my next picture book.

Hi Sarah! Jack and Steve had so many terrific questions! Maple, the star of Lone Wolf, really connects with readers on so many levels. Through your story you introduce a wonderful way for kids and adults to talk about identity and belonging. This issue is really important, especially as children are developing their self-confidence and self-esteem. What was the spark for this story? What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

The main character in Lone Wolf, Maple, is inspired by my childhood dog, Mikayla, a Siberian husky who had loads of personality. As anyone with a husky would probably attest, huskies often get compared to wolves. My dog was no exception. When translating this idea into a picture book, I asked myself, “What would a dog think about people comparing her to a wolf again and again?” I found I could relate to her feelings of self-doubt, as I think many people can. Lone Wolf is a cute, funny story, but like you mentioned, identity and belonging are at its heart. I hope readers will take away self-confidence to stay true to themselves despite assumptions others might make about them.

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celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-lone-wolf-Mikayla

Lone Wolf is your debut picture book. Can you take readers on the book’s journey from idea to being published? Have you always wanted to illustrate and write children’s books?

When I was a kid, I loved to draw, but I don’t remember dreaming about becoming an illustrator. I don’t think I even knew it was a job! Throughout my life, drawing has always been a relaxing hobby. Years ago, I made a few comic strips about my family’s husky just for fun. Then, in 2018, while brainstorming picture book ideas, I reflected back on those comic strips. The one about wolf comparisons had potential for layers, but it wasn’t a story. So, over the course of a few weeks, I built out the idea, created a dummy, and sent it off to the agents who were considering representing me (and who later became my co-agents).

They sent me a few rounds of feedback, which pushed me to develop the story further. The point-of-view moved from first-person to third-person and the story arc evolved. I revised on and off for about three months. Then the story went out on submission, and I (very happily!) accepted Greenwillow’s publication offer. In the weeks that followed, I revised the dummy based on the editor’s helpful feedback before getting the go-ahead to start the final art. I learned a lot during this process that I expect will help me navigate future projects.

Just as you do, the little girl in this story uses a wheelchair. Can you discuss what it means to disabled children to see themselves in the books they read? Can you discuss the impact that having disabled characters in books for all ages has on society as a whole?

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I’m glad you noticed this connection! When I was 11, I was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy, and by 18, I had transitioned to a power wheelchair. The character Avery in Lone Wolf also uses a power wheelchair. She isn’t the main character. She’s just a girl who’s part of a family that has an awesome dog. Her presence is only notable because we don’t usually see kids in power wheelchairs in picture books. In fact, I can’t think of a single fiction picture book that includes a kid who uses a power wheelchair. I’m not saying there aren’t any out there, but if there are, I haven’t come across them yet. Kids who use manual wheelchairs are represented more often, but they’re still few and far between. And despite good intentions, some representations of disability are problematic. I think it’s important for kids with mobility disabilities to see themselves in happy stories where they are neither problems to solve nor sources of inspiration. For society as a whole, it helps normalize disability.

I love your illustration style that often mixes lovely rounded shapes with equally lovely lines, as a self-taught illustrator how did you develop your style?

I learned to draw when I was younger by sketching everything around me and from books I checked out from my public library. In 2016, I started drawing digitally. It opened up so many new possibilities. I started drawing every day, following illustrators on Instagram, thinking consciously about what made me like one illustrator’s work more than another, and taking part in a few fun, informal art challenges on Instagram. In 2017, one such challenge (a Harry Potter 20th Anniversary challenge, to be precise!) led me to draw a hippogriff. I tried some digital brushes I hadn’t used before and very desaturated colors. In that moment, I had never liked something I drew as much as that simple, imperfect hippogriff. It felt right. So I continued in that direction, drawing animals using digital dry media brushes, desaturated colors, flowy shapes, weathered edges, and sketchy, wobbly lines until, after a while, it was my style—and still is, at least for now!

As I looked at the portfolio of your art, I was moved by how uplifting the scenes are. In so many of them, the animals are looking into the sky or tenderly interacting with another animal or a person. Can you talk a little about the themes of your art and the colors you choose? What about nature inspires you the most?

It’s true! I love drawing animals looking up at the sky. It’s my go-to subject these days! Like many people, I’m drawn to the vastness of nature: the night sky, the ocean, mountains, wide open fields. A few years ago, I visited the Grand Canyon and was not prepared for how awe-inspiring it was. The vastness of nature stirs up all kinds of emotions and memories, and also a sense of interconnectedness. I like placing people and animals in those environments. For those drawings, I tend to use quiet, desaturated colors, which I’m naturally drawn to. But there’s this other side to me that’s enamored with cute, funny, whimsical characters. Lately, I’ve been trying to use vibrant colors when I draw them. So I feel like there’s these two separate sides to my work. I like both, so do both.

When you’re not drawing or writing, you can also be found working as a librarian. What are your favorite parts of your job? How exciting will it be to see your own book on the shelf and share it with patrons?

I’m an academic librarian focused in digital services, so what I enjoy most is simplifying processes and improving access (which might sound pretty dull!). My first library job was a cataloger, so I was weirdly excited to see Lone Wolf’s Library of Congress MARC record and my Cutter number at the end of the call number for the first time. It’ll be gratifying to see my book on library shelves one day when the pandemic subsides. I’ll probably pull out my phone and snap a picture!

What are you most looking forward to in sharing your book with readers? Although you’re just getting started, what has been the best part of becoming a published children’s author?

I’d love to show kids how to draw the main character, Maple, themselves. When I was in 2nd grade, my teacher demonstrated on the chalkboard a simple way to draw a face. I still remember exactly how she did it. After that, I became obsessed with drawing stylized faces and that never really went away for me. I’d love to spark a little creativity like my teacher did for me.

So far, the best part of becoming a published author/illustrator is feeling empowered to talk more openly about my interests. Few people outside of my immediate family knew I draw. It’s also been wonderful to make connections with people I never would have met otherwise.

What’s up next for you?

My next picture book will be about another popular pet: cats! I’m busily working on the final art right now.

Thanks, Sarah, for sharing so much about your life and work! I wish you all the best with Lone Wolf and can’t wait to see your next book.

You can connect with Sarah Kurpiel on

Her website | Instagram | Twitter

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You can find Lone Wolf at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Anderson’s Bookshop (Sarah’s local indie) | Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

 

May 18 – International Museum Day

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About the Holiday

On today’s date, museums around the world typically hold special exhibits, events, and activities with visitors in their buildings and other venues. This year, however, the COVID-19 pandemic means that the 40th anniversary of International Museum Day will be celebrated online through digital activities. The theme for this year’s remembrance is “Museums for Equality: Diversity and Inclusion.” The International Council of Museums––a global network of more than 44,000 museum professionals at 20,000 museums in 138 countries––”hopes that this special day will ‘become a rallying point to both celebrate the diversity of perspectives that make up the communities and personnel of museums and champion tools for identifying and overcoming bias in what they display and the stories they tell.'” To take part, visit the website of your local museums or a favorite museum elsewhere in the world and see what treasures they have to share.

Rocks in His Head

Written by Carol Otis Hurst | Illustrated by James Stevenson

 

Carol Otis Hurst tells the story of her father, who—even when he was a boy—loved everything to do with rocks. He collected them and in his spare time walked “along stone walls and around old quarries, looking for rocks.” Everyone said “he had rocks in his pockets and rocks in his head,” and he had to agree. When he thought about what he wanted to do when he grew up, he imagined it would have something to do with rocks, and when he was told “‘There’s no money in rocks,’” he was okay with that. In the end, though, he opened a gas station in Springfield, Massachusetts with his father’s help. He called it the Antler Filling Station.

In the back of the filling station, Carol’s father displayed his rock and mineral collection. “He carefully labeled each rock to show what kind it was and where it had come from.” When the Model T automobile came out, more people could afford to buy a car. Carol’s father learned every inch of the Model T by taking it apart and reassembling it many times. He thought that someone who could repair the car and sell spare parts would have a good business, so he began collecting parts for the Model T—so many that “the pile of parts was bigger than the filling station.”

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Image copyright James Stevenson, 2001, text copyright Carol Otis Hurst, 2001. Courtesy of Greenwillow Books.

Most people in town said he “had rocks in his head” if he thought he would sell all those parts, but pretty soon drivers were flocking to the Antler Filling Station for gas and fixes to their cars. They also came inside to see the rocks, ask questions, and hear the stories of each rock and gemstone. Then the stock market crashed and people didn’t have the money for gas or to fix their cars. Things slowed down at the Antler, and when things were really slow, Carol, her father, and her friends would pile into their Model T and go searching for more rocks.

But while the collection at the filling station grew, people stopped coming because they were all out looking for jobs. Soon the Antler Filling Station closed and the family had to move to a new house. The house was falling apart, but Carol’s father began repairing it—after building shelves in the attic for his rock collection. When he wasn’t repairing the house, he was studying more about rocks. Along the way, he looked for work, taking any job he could even if they only lasted a day or two.

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Image copyright James Stevenson, 2001, text copyright Carol Otis Hurst, 2001. Courtesy of Greenwillow Books.

On days when he had no work, Carol’s father went to the Springfield Science Museum, where “they had a whole room full of glass cases containing many rocks. Sometimes he’d spend the whole day in that room.” One day, he met a woman who asked him what he was looking for. He answered “‘I’m looking for rocks that are better than mine.’” Out of the hundreds of rocks in that room, he told her, he’d only found ten, “‘maybe eleven,’” that were better. They smiled at each other.

Then the lady introduced herself as Grace Johnson, the director of the museum. “‘These rocks have come from all over the world,’” she told him, and he said that his had too. She wanted to see his collection, and so they drove out in her big car. Carol’s father showed her up to the attic. After looking around, she told him that while the board of directors wouldn’t allow her to hire him as a mineralogist because he lacked a college degree, she did need a night janitor. When he heard that the job sometimes included cleaning rocks, he took it.

One day, Mrs. Johnson discovered him correcting a label on one of the rocks. She smiled and told him that she had told the board of directors that she needed “‘somebody with rocks in his head and rocks in his pockets.’” Then she asked, “‘Are you it?’ Maybe I am,’” Carol’s father answered. “‘Maybe I am.’” And he was!

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Image copyright James Stevenson, 2001, text copyright Carol Otis Hurst, 2001. Courtesy of Greenwillow Books.

Carol Otis Hurst’s lovely and affectionate memoir of her father offers young readers a snapshot of history while introducing them to a man who stayed true to himself and his life-long love of rocks despite obstacles and good-natured jibes by those around him. Hurst’s easy-going, conversational storytelling represents her father well, allowing children to get a feel for his personality and steady outlook on life. His acceptance as a mineralogist (and ultimate position as director of the Springfield Science Museum as told in the author’s bio on the jacket flap) will satisfy readers.

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James Stevenson’s familiar watercolor-and-ink illustrations are infused with charm, taking children beside an old stone wall that meanders through the woods, back to old-style filling stations and Model-T cars, and into the heart of a true collector. Images of the author’s father attentively setting up his collection in the filling station and later in the attic will resonate with any young collectors reading the book, and the full-page illustration of Grace Johnson and the author’s father talking and smiling together is happy validation that kindred spirits do cross paths in life.

For children who love collecting, history, museums, and biographies, Rocks in His Head is a delightful choice for home libraries and would make am appealing lead in to science lessons or museum field trips for elementary classrooms.

Ages 4 – 8

Greenwillow Books, 2001 | ISBN 978-0060294038

International Museum Day Activity

CPB - Cookie Jar Museum (2)

Create a Museum Exhibit

 

Every item has a story. A fun and educational way for kids to learn family stories and interact with their own history is to create a museum exhibit of objects in your home. Maybe there’s a funny anecdote behind a knick-knack on the shelf. Perhaps the family’s favorite serving dish holds sentimental value. How about your child’s best-loved toys or  drawings or crafts they’ve made? This can be a fun way to spend some time while staying at home and let everyone see common objects in a whole new light.

Supplies

  • A number of household 
  • Paper or index cards
  • Marker, pen, or pencil
  • A table, shelf, or other area for display

Directions

  1. To get started help children gather a number of items from around the house to be the subjects of their exhibit. An exhibit can have a theme, such as Travel Souvenirs, or it can contain random items of your child’s choice, like toys, plants, tools, or artwork.
  2. Using the paper or cards, children can create labels for their exhibit items. Older children can write the labels themselves; younger children may need adult help.
  3. Spend a little time relating the story behind each object: where it came from, how long you’ve had it, and when and how it was used in the past. Include any funny or touching memories attached to the item. Or let your child’s imagination run free, and let them create histories for the objects.
  4. When the labels are finished, arrange the items on a table, shelf, or in a room, and let your child lead family members on a tour. You can even share the exhibit with family and friends on FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, or other app.

Museum Coloring Pages

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Museum Coloring Pages

 

You may not be able to visit a museum in person right now, but you can enjoy three of the most amazing museums in the world with these coloring pages. 

New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art | London’s British Museum | The Louvre in Paris

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You can find Rocks in His Head at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

BookshopIndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 8 – It’s Get Caught Reading Month

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About the Holiday

The Get Caught Reading campaign was initiated in 1999 by the Association of American Publishers with the idea to promote literacy and language development through reading to children and encouraging them to read on their own. As part of the campaign, posters of celebrities, dignitaries, and even fictional characters enjoying a book are available for schools, libraries, and other organizations to hang where kids will see them. The excitement of reading also takes over social media all month long, which this year is more important than ever. To celebrate this holiday, make sure you stock up on new and favorite books or download ebooks or audiobooks from your library and get caught reading! Learn more by visiting the Get Caught Reading website and the Every Child a Reader website.

I received a copy of Two Tough Trucks from Orchard Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

Two Tough Trucks

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-two-tough-trucks-sunset

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

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

A joy to read out loud and a story kids will want to hear again and again, Two Tough Trucks is highly recommended for home bookshelves, preschool and kindergarten classrooms, and public libraries.

Ages 3 – 5

Orchard Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1338236545

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

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

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

Get Caught Reading Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-truck-racing-game-wood

Racing for Friendship Game

 

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

The track can be laid out on the floor and taped in place or created on poster board or paper with the supplies below:

Supplies

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

Directions

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

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You can find Two Tough Trucks at these booksellers

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

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Vroom and zoom with Mack and Rig in Two Tough Trucks Get Lost!, a new  adventure coming on September 1! You can preorder it here

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

 

April 23 – National Frog Month

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About the Holiday

As the weather gets warmer, rain falls, and swampy areas and wetlands swell with water, the peeps and throaty croaks of frogs begins to fill the nighttime air. April is the perfect time to learn more about frogs and their importance to the ecosystem. Frogs are vital to the food system, and they eat insects that are harmful to crops and carry disease. Because they don’t drink water but absorb it through their skin, frogs are particularly susceptible to pollution. This, in addition to habitat destruction, climate change, and an increase in invasive species, threaten the frog population, making the conservation of their environment of utmost importance. This month, visit an aquarium, nature preserve, or zoo where you can learn more about these fascinating creatures.

By Jakki Licare

Pokko and the Drum

By Matthew Forsythe

Pokko’s parents believe that giving Pokko a drum was the biggest mistake they have ever made. There had been other questionable gifts: Once, Pokko had tried to launch herself with the slingshot they had given her. The llama had been another poor choice since it liked to sit on Pokko’s parents. When Pokko’s parents had given her a balloon, it had carried Pokko away. “But the drum was the biggest mistake.” 

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Copyright Matthew Forsythe, 2019, courtesy of Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster.

Pokko’s father tries to complain to his wife about giving Pokko the drum, but she shouts back that she can’t hear him over the noise. In bed that night, Pokko continues to beat her drum. Her father continues to complain, but still no one can hear him. The next day, Pokko’s father suggests that Pokko take the drum outside. She can’t be too loud though, he explains, because they are a quiet family who likes to keep to themselves. Pokko agrees and takes the drum outside.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-pokko-and-the-drum-bed

Copyright Matthew Forsythe, 2019, courtesy of Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster.

“It had just rained, and the forest was sparkling like an emerald.” Pokko thinks the forest is a little too quiet. She narrows her eyes and decides it is definitely too quiet. She starts to gently hit her drum. Behind her something moves. A raccoon playing a banjo emerges from the forest and joins Pokko. Pokko plays her drum proudly. Then a rabbit playing a trumpet tags along while Pokko continues to tap her drum. Next, a wolf appears and happily joins the parade. Pokko leads the group, continuing to beat her drum.

Suddenly, the wolf eats the rabbit and they all stop. Pokko turns to the wolf and tells him he can’t be in the band if he eats band members. The wolf apologizes. They continue on and play their instruments. A huge crowd gathers with instruments and joins them. More animals emerge from the forest. “And they were all following Pokko.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-pokko-and-the-drum-raccoon

Copyright Matthew Forsythe, 2019, courtesy of Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster.

Pokko’s father shouts to her that dinner is ready, but Pokko doesn’t respond. Far away her father can hear music playing. He stands in the kitchen and can hear the music getting louder… and louder. The animal crowd spills into the house, sweeps up Pokko’s parents, and carries them off into the forest. Her father notices that Pokko is leading all the animals and listens thoughtfully. He admits to Pokko’s mother that Pokko is a great drummer. The music is too loud and no one can hear him speaking, but if they had…. “they all would have agreed.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-pokko-and-the-drum-crowd

Copyright Matthew Forsythe, 2019, courtesy of Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster.

“The biggest mistake Pokko’s parents ever made was giving her a drum.” This beautiful beginning sentence sets the readers up for the witty adventures of Pokko. This book has the perfect combination of spirited characters, playful text, and illustrative humor. Pokko is a strong froglet who isn’t afraid of her individuality like her frog family is. She is warned not to attract attention to herself, but she can’t stand how quiet the forest is. She makes her beautiful music unashamed of the attention, and the forest animals can’t help but to follow her. 

Forsythe’s visual humor delivers  punchline after punchline, making young readers giggle throughout this book. He illustrates a balloon carrying Pokko away, the parent’s legs sticking out from under the llama’s body, and Pokko launching herself with a slingshot. But through all this humor there is a sweet message of female empowerment. Pokko is the leader of the band and she bravely admonishes the wolf for eating the rabbit. Forsythe also paints the father making dinner and wearing an apron through the whole story.  

Forsythe’s glowing watercolor and colored-pencil illustrations make for a magical world of cozy toadstool homes in the colorful forest. Forsythe uses close ups of his characters to show emotions and to add humor. The first close up  is when Pokko decides the forest is too quiet. Her narrow-eyed determination builds the reader’s anticipation for her to start drumming. The second zoom-in comes when Pokko’s father hears the music getting louder and closer. The father is wide-eyed and, once again, the reader cannot wait to see what will happen next. 

A fun read aloud that could be accompanied by a variety of instruments and/or hand clapping, Pokko and the Drum is a multi-award-winning book that will quickly become a favorite for home, school, and public library collections. 

Ages  4 – 8 years

Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2019 | ISBN: 978-1481480390

To learn more about Matthew Forsythe, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Frog Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hopping-frog-craft

Hopping Frog

Ready to hop to the beat of your own drum? Follow the instructions below to make your own hopping frog.

Supplies

  • Paper Plate
  • Scissors
  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • Crayons, colored pencils, or paint

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hopping-frog-craft

Directions

  1. Fold plate in half

  2. Fold the bottom of the plate (folded side) 2 inches up.

  3. Now fold the same part back down a one inch. This creates a zig zag fold and will make the spring for the frog to hop.

  4. Copy the shape in this picture onto your plate. You can make your frog bigger or smaller just be sure the triangles are the same height.

  5. Cut out your frog

  6. Fold triangles down to make front legs

  7. Color your plate green and add color in eyes

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-pokko-and-the-drum-cover

You can find Pokko and the Drum at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

April 3 – National Find a Rainbow Day

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About the Holiday

April brings plenty of showers and downright downpours that give rainbow lovers lots of opportunities to see this colorful phenomenon. Legend has it that at the end of every rainbow waits a pot of gold—but if you aim to find it, watch out! It’s guarded by a tricky Leprechaun. Rainbows result when light from the sun reflects and refracts through water droplets in the sky, creating a spectrum of colors. Whether people ooh and ahh over the luck, the science, or the beauty of rainbows, there’s no denying that they always attract attention and create smiles.

I received a copy of Ava and the Rainbow (Who Stayed) from HarperCollins for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

Ava and the Rainbow (Who Stayed)

By Ged Adamson

 

After the rain was over and the sun began to peek out from behind the clouds, Ava was excited because she knew she’d get to see a rainbow. When she reached the perfect rainbow-viewing spot, she was amazed. Up in the sky was “the most beautiful rainbow Ava had ever seen.” She wished it could stay forever. That wish even carried over into her dreams that night, and when she woke up Ava thought she might actually still be asleep. Why? Because when she looked out the window, “the rainbow was still there!”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ava-and-the-rainbow-who-stayed-beautiful-rainbow

Copyright Ged Adamson, 2018, courtesy of HarperCollins.

It was even still glowing over the town that night. It didn’t take long for people to start coming from all over to see the famous “rainbow who had decided to stay.” The townspeople loved all the attention—and the customers. Shopkeepers held rainbow-inspired sales, rainbow souvenirs like T-shirts, snow globes, and toys flew off the shelves, rainbow science became one of the most popular lectures by university professors, and a rainbow even became the new town mascot. For weeks there were special events and festivities all centered around the rainbow.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ava-and-the-rainbow-who-stayed-ava-wakes-up

Copyright Ged Adamson, 2018, courtesy of HarperCollins.

Ava loved to talk to the rainbow. “She introduced him to her friends…sang to him…and showed him all her favorite books and toys.” The rainbow even stayed throughout the winter, shivering in the cold. When spring rolled around, people seemed to have forgotten all about the rainbow. They didn’t look at him like they used to. In fact, they didn’t look at him at all.

As Ava walked around town, she saw rainbow souvenirs in the trash and graffiti covering signs advertising the rainbow. When she saw the rainbow, Ava was shocked to see him plastered with ads and sporting antennae of all kinds. The rainbow was sad. “‘How could they do this to something so special?’ Ava said in despair.” She cheered up when she saw a crowd of people with cameras rushing toward her and the rainbow, but they were only interested in a little bird in a nearby tree.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ava-and-the-rainbow-who-stayed-rainbow-stayed

Copyright Ged Adamson, 2018, courtesy of HarperCollins.

It seemed that the bird was a Russian water sparrow and would only be there for a few hours before continuing its flight. “We’re so lucky!’” someone said. “‘Such a rare and precious sight!’” The rainbow overheard this exclamation and thought about it. The next morning when Ava went to visit the rainbow again, he was gone. Ava hoped that someday he’d return, and every time it rained she looked for him. One day he did come back, and was “a rare and precious sight indeed.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ava-and-the-rainbow-who-stayed-sweet-rainbow

Copyright Ged Adamson, 2018, courtesy of HarperCollins.

Seeing a rainbow after a storm never ceases to cause awe and amazement. Often we’re not finished following its arc before it vanishes from the sky. But is it just that quality that makes a rainbow so special? In his multi-layered story Ged Adamson explores a spectrum of ideas about the fleeting moments in life—from dreams to fads to fame—as well as about the dangers of going against ones true nature to please others. Through the townspeople’s rush to celebrate and then capitalize on the rainbow only to ignore and mar its beauty as its presence becomes commonplace, Adamson provides adults and children an opportunity to discuss the nature of celebrity, respect, and individual rights. Readers will learn along with Ava that truly appreciating ephemeral experiences as they happen and knowing when to let go goes a long way towards enjoying a happy life.

As enthusiastic Ava and the adorable rainbow forge their unique friendship, readers will be captivated by Adamson’s whimsical art. Scenes of the town’s celebration will cheer kids and savvy observers will recognize the implications of images depicting the proliferation of souvenirs and accolades. Children will empathize with the rainbow as it becomes covered in ads and its height is used as a support for antennae and be happy as the rainbow realizes its true value and once again becomes a rare and precious thing.

An enchanting story in itself and a wonderful way to engage children in discussions of true value and happiness, Ava and the Rainbow (Who Stayed) would make a terrific addition to home and classroom bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

HarperCollins, 2018 | ISBN 978-0062670809

Discover more about Ged Adamson, his books, and his art on his website.

National Find a Rainbow Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-rainbow-magnet-craft

Mini Rainbow Magnet

 

If you’re stuck on rainbows, you can make this mini rainbow to stick on your fridge or locker!

Supplies

  • 7 mini popsicle sticks
  • Paint in red, orange, yellow, green, blue, Indigo, violet (ROYGBIV)
  • Adhesive magnet
  • A little bit of polyfill
  • Paint brush
  • Glue or hot glue gun

Directions

  1. Paint one popsicle stick in each color, let dry
  2. Glue the popsicle sticks together side by side in the ROYGBIV order, let dry
  3. Roll a bit of polyfill into a cloud shape and glue to the top of the row of popsicle sticks
  4. Attach the magnet to the back of the rainbow

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ava-and-the-rainbow-who-stayed-cover

You can find Ava and the Rainbow (Who Stayed) at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

Picture Book Review