August 9 – National Book Lovers Day

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About the Holiday

Simply stated today’s holiday gives those who love to read an opportunity to indulge their passion. With so many amazing books available, both old and new—like today’s book—it’s easy to fill the day reading for yourself and with your kids!

I received a copy of A Boy Like You from Sleeping Bear Press for review consideration. All opinions are my own. I’m happy to be teaming with Sleeping Bear Press in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

A Boy Like You

Written by Frank Murphy | Illustrated by Kayla Harren

 

In his loving tribute to all the things a boy can be, Frank Murphy speaks directly to his boy readers, telling them that out of all the billions of people in the world, “you are the only YOU there is! And the world needs a boy like you.” What kind of boy does he mean? One who is “kind and helpful…smart and strong.” But “strong” doesn’t only mean tough and muscled, instead Murphy says, “maybe your ‘strong’ is making sure everyone has a chance to play.”

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2019, text copyright Frank Murphy, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

And while you’re playing, always do your best, play fair, be complimentary, and be a good teammate. But boys shouldn’t look only to sports. There are so many other amazing things they can do—like gardening and baking, music and writing, science and exploring. Learning to do these things takes smarts and bravery. The kind of bravery it takes to jump off the high-dive, but also the willingness to “take a risk and raise your hand” because “smart kids ask questions,” and “the more you know—the less you’ll fear.”

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2019, text copyright Frank Murphy, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

While learning and exploring, boys are told, don’t forget to dream…and “dream big” then work hard to make it happen. Listen to others—all kinds of people—and learn their stories, and “don’t forget to tell your own story too.” While growing up boys will want a support group too, so they’re encouraged to stay close to their family and friends while also meeting new people. By keeping their head up and eyes open, they’ll see opportunities to leave every place they visit better than it was and “every person better than [they] found them.” 

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2019, text copyright Frank Murphy, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

But the most important thing, Murphy says is to be you—“the you that is ALL you…. Not a little you and a little someone else.” After all, “you are an original” and “the world needs…a smart boy, a brave boy, a kind boy. Oh boy, a boy like YOU!”

An Author’s Note from Frank Murphy—an elementary school teacher, coach, and parent of boys—about what it means to be strong and the messages boys receive about masculinity follow the text.

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Image copyright Kayla Harren, 2019, text copyright Frank Murphy, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Frank Murphy’s appeal to boys—and the adults who raise, teach, coach, and befriend them—is a timely and welcome discussion on the often overlooked or rejected ideas that “real” boys and men embody a full range of emotions, thoughts, talents, and dreams. As Murphy presents examples and reassurance from page to page, he also reveals how much boys—and the world—miss out on when they are held to a narrow definition of boyhood, manhood, and masculinity. Many boys—some perhaps hearing words like these for the first time—may be surprised and feel a sense of relief to have their true views validated. Murphy’s conversational and caring tone draws readers in while his direct address to the child allows the words to sound as if they are coming from the parent, teacher, or other caregiver reading the story, reinforcing the message in a personal way.

As readers open the book to the first page, a sea of diverse people from around the world with all manner of abilities, skin color, dress, and hairstyles welcomes readers and the little boy who carries the story. Kayla Harren, an artist who masterfully depicts people in action and displaying emotion, goes on to show this boy playing sports for fun and friendship, helping his mom in the garden and his dad in the kitchen, playing music with his baby sister, and creating a volcano with his lab partner at school. In all of these illustrations, the boy’s enthusiasm shines. At school, he ask a question, and while learning to ride his bike he shows uncertainty and wipes a tear away as his mom bandages a scraped knee.

A two-page spread takes readers into the mind of the boy as he considers all the professions and looks he can aspire to. In snapshots and lush panoramas, Harren populates the world of A Boy Like You with real kids and adults and realistic situations in which one person can make a difference, whether it’s tying a sibling’s shoes, holding a door open for a bag-laden shopper, alerting someone to a lost wallet, hugging a friend goodbye, or bringing a grandparent a cup of tea. Harren’s color palette glows with warmth and happiness, inviting all children to become the best they can be.

Gorgeous in story, art, and spirit, A Boy Like You is highly recommended and belongs in all classrooms and public libraries. The book is also an inspirational addition to home bookshelves for boys and girls and makes an empowering gift for kids as they go back to school.

Ages 4 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1534110465

Discover more about Frank Murphy and his books on his website.

To learn more about Kayla Harren, her books, and her art, visit her website.

A Boy Like You Giveaway

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

One (1) copy of A Boy Like You written by Frank Murphy | illustrated by Kayla Harren

To enter:

This giveaway is open from August 9 through August 15 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on August 16.

Prizing provided by Sleeping Bear Press.

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

National Books Lovers Day Activity

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Books to Love, Books to Read Book Bag

 

Has your state gone plastic bag free? Here’s an easy craft for turning a cloth bag into a kid-size book bag! 

Supplies

  • Printable Templates: Books to Read Template | Books to Love Template
  • Small cloth bag, available from craft or sewing stores—Recyclable Idea: I used the bag that sheet sets now come in
  • Cloth trim or strong ribbon, available from craft or sewing stores—Recyclable Idea: I used the cloth handles from shopping bags provided from some clothing stores
  • Scraps of different colored and patterned cloth. Or use quilting squares, available at craft and sewing stores
  • Pen or pencil for tracing letters onto cloth
  • Scissors
  • Small sharp scissors (or cuticle scissors) for cutting out the center of the letters
  • Fabric glue
  • Thread (optional)
  • Needle (optional)

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Directions

  1. Print the sayings and cut out the letters
  2. Trace letters onto different kinds of cloth
  3. Cut out cloth letters
  4. Iron cloth bag if necessary
  5. Attach words “Books to Read” to one side of bag with fabric glue
  6. Attach words “Books to Love” to other side of bag with fabric glue
  7. Cut cloth trim or ribbon to desired length to create handles
  8. Glue (or sew) handles onto the inside edge of bag

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You can find A Boy Like You at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 1 – It’s Get Ready for Kindergarten Month

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About the Holiday

So Big!

By Mike Wohnoutka

 

With six words and cover-to-cover cuteness, Mike Wohnoutka takes kids on a journey from home to school, making stops along the way to experience many of the emotions of that very first day. Little Bear wakes up with a smile on his face. On the calendar hanging by his bed, the day is circled with a big red star, and this bear knows he’s not so little anymore. In fact he’s “so big.” How big? “So-o-o…big” that he can dress himself, reach the cereal box on the counter, and make his own breakfast.

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Copyright Mike Wohnoutka, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

He’s “So, so, big” that he can pack up his backpack, tie his shoes, and walk to the bus stop all by himself. He waits proudly next to a little elephant who looks a bit uncertain and a tiny squirrel who’s in awe of the much bigger Bear. But then the bus pulls up, and it is “SO big.” Now it’s Bear who looks a little uncertain as he climbs in and in awe of the much bigger elephants, rhino, and giraffe he sits near.

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Copyright Mike Wohnoutka, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

When the bus drops him in front of the school, Bear looks up and up at the enormous building. It’s “SO BIG!” While the little elephant he met at the bus stop heads through the open doors, Bear sits on the steps and sheds a few tears, feeling “not so big.” But then the squirrel approaches and looks up, up, up, up at the enormous building and bursts into a flood of tears at the “TOO big” school. Bear notices his distress and even though he’s a little intimidated himself, he reaches out his hand to Squirrel and they enter the school together.

The hallway seems okay—it’s “not so big…,” and when their teacher welcomes them to their room, they see that the desks and the other kids are “just right!”

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Copyright Mike Wohnoutka, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Mike Wohnoutka’s bright, honest look at the first day of school through a child’s eyes and from their perspective is encouraging in every way. As Bear gets ready for his first day of school, his independence will spark confidence in readers. Squirrel’s reaction to meeting Bear and Elephant at the bus stop, and Bear’s feelings on seeing the bus and the school building encourage kids and adults to discuss the emotions involved in the first day of school and other new experiences. Bear’s kindness to Squirrel will help readers develop a sense of camaraderie between the themselves and their new classmates while also fostering an early appreciation for empathy and friendship during this transformative time.

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Wohnoutka’s minimal text takes on various meanings with a touch of italics or the juxtaposition of Bear and Squirrel to their surroundings, allowing for further conversation about internal feelings and physical size. His clever uses of these simple phrases combined with illustrations that put the characters in proportional proximity to kitchen counters, a child’s backpack, the school bus, larger and smaller children, the school building, and more also provide adults with clear visual portrayals of relative size that can encourage math talk and exploration at home or in the classroom.

So Big!—a story that offers so much for kids just starting school or other activities—is highly recommended for children taking new forays into the world. The book makes for a sweet and satisfying go-to story for home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 6

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1547600793

Discover more about Mike Wohnoutka, his books, and his art on his website.

Get Ready for Kindergarten Month Activity

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Let’s Ride the Bus! Coloring Page

 

Riding the school bus is fun! With this coloring page you can fill the bus with your friends—and don’t forget to add yourself! Then grab your colored pencils, markers, or crayons and color it in!

Let’s Ride the Bus! Coloring Page

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You can find So Big at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

July 30 – Share a Hug Day

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About the Holiday

There’s something about a hug that’s restorative. Today’s holiday was established for people to share this spontaneous and heartfelt gesture with others who look as if they could use some extra encouragement or with family and friends to remind them how much they mean to you. Celebrate the day by giving out plenty of hugs—whether they’re bear-sized or, as today’s book shows, teeny-tiny dinosaur-sized.

Tiny T. Rex and the Impossible Hug

Written by Jonathan Stutzman | Illustrated by Jay Fleck

 

Tiny T. Rex notices right off that his friend Pointy looks pretty sad. He asks Pointy if he’s okay, and Pointy tells him he’s too sad to play. The little dino wants to give his friend a hug, but his arms are so short that a hug seems almost impossible. Even though he grows, Tiny tells readers, his arms never do. But that’s not going to stop him. After all, he says, “Pointy needs me.”

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Image copyright Jay Fleck, 2019, text copyright Jonathan Stutzman, 2019. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

He asks his dad for advice, but his solution seems too logical. “Rexes are thinkers, not huggers,” Tiny’s dad explains while offering a mathematical equation to solve the problem. Math is not Pointy’s forte, though, so the little rex seeks out his Auntie Junip. He finds her practicing yoga and making cucumber juice—at the same time. Auntie Junip suggests balance is the answer.

Tiny goes to find his mom. While she is encouraging and complimentary, she can’t tell her son how he can hug with his tiny arms. His brother and sister tell him he must practice, and he takes this advice to heart. He begins a regimen to become stronger and develop his hugging ability. He practices on books, flowers, balls, an ice cream cone (messy!), and a cactus (sticky!).

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Image copyright Jay Fleck, 2019, text copyright Jonathan Stutzman, 2019. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

At last, he thinks he’s ready. With just one more hug under his belt, he’ll be ready to cheer up Pointy. But it’s not a tree trunk he’s hugging—it’s the leg of a pterodactyl! And now he’s soaring way up in the sky. “From up here, everything looks tiny, like me. I could hug anything I wanted,” he says. Then as suddenly as he was flying, he’s falling… with no hope of finding Pointy for that hug. Unless… he lands right on top of him.

Tiny tells Pointy all about his search for the perfect hug and explains that even though his “hugs are still tiny”… he will do his best “because you are my very best friend.” He embraces Pointy as hard as he can—and that itty-bitty hug turned out to be the “biggest hug ever.”

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Image copyright Jay Fleck, 2019, text copyright Jonathan Stutzman, 2019. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

Tiny dinosaurs are adorable, but Jonathan Stutzman’s tiny dinosaur with lots of love to give will melt your heart. Stutzman’s T. Rex sweetie is as earnest as any little one and wants only to help his friend feel better. As the little dino seeks advice from the adults in his life, readers will giggle at their world views that don’t quite hit the mark. When his brother and sister offer a way forward, though, kids will recognize that with practice, self-confidence, and self-reliance anyone can accomplish their goals—and that helping a friend is one of the best ways to use your talents, big or small.

Jay Fleck’s tiny T. Rex with his nubbin arms and sincere expression will endear him to children and adults alike. His diminutive size is evident as he stands atop his father’s head, walks along the chalk tray of a chalk board, and gets lost in a side-table drawer. As the little T. Rex determines to practice his way to the hug he so wants to give, Fleck humorously shows that there are flubs and fails along the way to a winner—just as there are in any endeavor. During Tiny’s first attempts at the game of ping-pong his siblings are playing, he suffers whiffs, plunks, and even a bonk on the head before giving the ball a solid Wham! Hugging an ice cream cone leaves him dripping with chocolate and strawberry ice cream, and he comes away from squeezing a cactus completely covered in prickles. When Tiny finally gives Pointy the hug he needs, you can bet that readers will be smiling as wide as Tiny and Pointy.

Kindness, friendship, and droll humor go (tiny) arm-in-(tiny)-arm in Tiny T. Rex and the Impossible Hug, a charming, original story that will be a favorite on home, classroom, and public library shelves.

Ages 3 – 5

Chronicle Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1452170336

Discover more about Jonathan Stutzman and his books on his website.

To learn more about Jay Fleck, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Share a Hug Day Activity

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Free Hug Coupons

 

Everyone needs a hug now and then! With these printable Free Hug Coupons you can be sure that all of your favorite people get a sweet hug when they need it most.

Free Hug Coupons

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You can find Tiny T. Rex and the Impossible Hug at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

June 6 – National Great Outdoors Month

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About the Holiday

Getting outside is one of the joys of summer, but with all the fun games to play and not-so-fun-but-necessary chores to do inside, sometimes a day, a week, or even the whole summer can go by without your ever really getting to enjoy the sunshine, fresh air, and outdoor activities As schools close, leaving more time for leisure pursuits, make sure to take the opportunity of this month-long holiday to plan some time to explore the great outdoors through hiking, biking, swimming, camping, and just plain playing. 

Bear Out There

By Jacob Grant

 

While Bear had tea, Spider was showing him the kite he had made. “He was very excited to fly it out in the yard.” Spider loved everything about the outdoors—the sun, the gentle breeze, the plants, and even the bugs. Bear loved everything about staying indoors. He was looking forward to cleaning up his house and having another cup of tea.

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Copyright Jacob Grant, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

But then Spider’s kite took off on its own and because Bear was a good friend, he said he would help look for it. But he reminded Spider: “…you know I do not like the forest.” In fact, Bear did not like anything about the forest—the “filthy ground…the itchy plants…the pesky bugs.” Spider, on the other hand, thought a search through the forest would be fun.

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Copyright Jacob Grant, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

As they walked, Bear grumbled and complained about the fragrant weeds, the noisy owls, and all the other “unpleasant” things all around them. They had still not found the kite when it started to rain. Now, not even Spider was having a good time, and Bear was more miserable than before. “‘Surely this search cannot get any worse!’ he said. But it could.”

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Copyright Jacob Grant, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Bear gave up. He was ready to go home and have a cup of tea in his comfy chair. But then he saw Spider sitting on a rock. Rain drops splashed off his tiny button hat and he looked bedraggled and disappointed. Bear relented. “‘Maybe we could look just a little farther,’” he said. Spider was happy just to be with Bear.

The rain lessened and Bear and Spider looked up at the clearing sky. There, stuck in the branch of a tree, was Spider’s kite. Back home, they soaked in a hot bath, patched the rips in Spider’s kite, made one for Bear, and, of course, had tea—which they enjoyed while flying their kites from Bear’s comfy chair out in the yard.

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Copyright Jacob Grant, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Jacob Grant’s seemingly odd-couple friendship between a big black bear and an itty-bitty spider is as charming and comforting as it gets. While Spider loves the outdoors, Bear is a homebody; but when his friend needs help, Bear puts his own feelings aside to help. It doesn’t take long—only one page, in fact—for Bear to give up the tidy day he had planned for a tromp through the woods in search of Spider’s lost kite. As the hunt grows long and conditions worsen, Bear begins to grumble until he finally gives up. Again, though, one glance at disappointed Spider spurs him on to continue the search. And for Spider, just having Bear by his side makes things all right.

The dynamics between Bear and Spider are pitch perfect, mirroring the love and trust between parents and kids, best friends, teachers and students, and other adult-child pairs. A story isn’t a real story without change, and here, too, Grant offers an inspiring truism. The final scene in which Bear and Spider both enjoy flying kites while sipping tea and lounging in Bear’s chair shows the joy of sharing and embracing another’s favorite activity.

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Copyright Jacob Grant, 2019, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Grant’s gentle, soft-hued illustrations are full of meaning and humor, of the forest’s allure that Bear doesn’t see, and of Spider’s feelings that he does. Although Bear is a neat-freak—scrubbing, dusting, and sweeping—he’s careful to leave Spider’s resting spots intact. In the woods, Bear grumbles about the smells, the noise, and the general unpleasantness while readers see a beautiful bouquet of flowers, a topsy-turvy turn of events in an owl’s nest, and a scenic panorama complete with waterfall and butterflies. Coming back to their home with its inviting pink teapot and orange chairs is the perfect antidote to any busy or stressful day.

Bear Out There is an endearing read and would be a welcome addition to home, classroom, and public library bookshelves for its sweet depiction of what true friendship between adults and kids or among children is all about. Readers won’t want to miss Jacob Grant’s first Bear and Spider adventure, Bear’s Scare.

Ages 3 – 6

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1681197456

To learn more about Jacob Grant, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Great Outdoors Month Activity

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Let’s Go! Maze

 

These four friends want to ride their scooters together. Can you help the girls find their way along the path to the boys?

Let’s Go! Maze | Let’s Go! Maze Solution

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You can find Bear Out There at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

April 23 – It’s National Dance Week and Interview with Author/Illustrator Anne Lambelet

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About the Holiday

The National Dance Federation wants everyone to fall in love with dance, and National Dance Week is just the time to do it! With so many types of dance, there are ways to enjoy this activity throughout one’s life. This week has been established to introduce the fun and benefits of dance in schools, community centers, dance studios, and through special performances. If you—or your kids—feel your toes tapping or a desire to get up and move as soon as the music starts, why not check out the opportunities for learning your favorite dance styles in your community?

Maria the Matador

By Anne Lambelet

 

Even more than “tea parties and dancing and wearing her hair in pigtails…Maria loved churros.” So when she saw that a lifetime supply of churros went to the matador who could remain in the arena with the bull the longest, she knew she had to enter the contest. But as “one of the smallest girls in all of Spain,” could Maria pull it off? She knew she couldn’t outrun the bull, intimidate him, or overpower him. So, what could she do?

Maria wandered through the streets of town, gazing at the posters on the walls advertising the brave matadors who would challenge the bull as well as the Feria de Mayo, with its beautiful dance performances, looking for inspiration. When the big day came and Maria walked into the room where the other matadors had gathered, they burst out laughing. “‘You should just give up now,’ they all agreed. ‘There is no way such a little girl could ever fight such an enormous bull.’”

Maria kept her mind on the grand prize even though she was growing worried. Soon the bullfight began. The fastest matador was quickly run out of the arena, the strongest matador was soon lying on the ground, and the biggest matador was nothing but a plaything for the big bull. At last it was Maria’s turn.

She entered the ring and saw “the most ferocious-looking bull she had ever seen, but she marched up to him anyway…and asked the bull to dance.” The bull was charmed by the little girl’s kind request and offered his hoof to her outstretched hand. The bull, it turned out, was a very good dancer. Around and around the ring they danced, and when the men carrying trays of churros entered the arena, “the crowd burst into thunderous applause.” And Maria and the bull? They enjoyed a churros tea party!

Anne Lambelet’s highly original story shows young readers that with motivation, confidence, and creative thinking they can accomplish their heart’s desires. With a pragmatic take on her situation, Maria realizes she’s not fast enough, strong enough, or big enough to best the bull the usual way, and lacking anyone to ask for advice, she comes up with her own solution. Lambelet’s storytelling is rich with examples of Maria’s courage in the face of adversity and her own misgivings, allowing kids to see that bravery comes in many forms. And Lambelet’s clever solution to Maria’s dilemma demonstrates that kindness wins out. The humorous frame of Maria’s churros obsession will resonate with kids, who all seem to have their own favorite motivators to rely on.

Lambelet’s stylized illustrations combine the texture of wood etchings with the colors and feeling of a small Spanish village. The brown, maroon, and purple palette sprinkled with bits of blue is striking and lends depth, light, and shadow to the tale. Kids will love the expressive crowd as they “ooh,” “ahh,” and gasp at the formidable bull. (One mother even shields her son’s eyes with her hand.) When tiny Maria marches out into the ring the crowd’s disbelief brings pointing and shocked faces, but cheers and celebration erupt as Maria and the bull take their bows.

Maria the Matador is a story that kids will embrace as it sparks ideas for creative problem solving with more than a dash of kindness thrown in. The book will be asked for again and again and would be a welcome addition to home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624146565

To learn more about Anne Lambelet, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Anne Lambelet

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I’m excited to be chatting with Anne Lambelet about art, influences, inspiration and what she might do to get her favorite treat!

What was the inspiration behind Maria the Matador?

Maria the Matador, as crazy as it might sound, actually started out as a dream I had about having to fight a bull! I woke up and instantly felt like that was the sort of silly idea that could, just possibly, be perfect for a children’s book. From there though, it had to go through a lot of development. I had to return to my roots and really examine my original picture book influences…The Story of Ferdinand, World-famous Muriel, Madeline, etc. Using those as inspiration, I figured out what it was that had made me love them as a child (silliness, whimsy, problem-solving, getting paid in food), and tried to combine that with what made them stick with me now that I’m an adult…(peaceful, fun solutions in situations where it seems like violence is the only answer, indictments of toxic masculinity, female empowerment, culturally immersive settings). Maria was a long road of editing and re-writing to try and get my favorite elements to co-exist in the same story.

You’ve enjoyed success as an illustrator since your college days. Can you talk a little about how you developed your style and how it’s changed over the years?

In high school I’d say my artistic style leaned more towards photo-realism. Like most high school students, I accepted a sort of un-original, generic idea of what it means to make a “good drawing,” and, although I wasn’t terrible at hitting that mark, I wasn’t making anything very special either. Without a real sense of artistic individuality and purpose, I shied away from going to college for art and instead chose to major in computer science after graduating. I was, perhaps unsurprisingly, miserable during most of those four years, and I ended up pouring all my free time into discovering new artistic outlets to assuage that misery. What I discovered (online t-shirt design competitions, lowbrow pop surrealism, street art, artists like Gris Grimly, Brandi Milne, Lori Early, Mark Ryden, etc.) gave me a new, darkly humorous and whimsical artistic voice as well as newfound confidence in my skills. 

So, I put together a portfolio of monsters and creepy, big-eyed women and returned to college to give illustration an honest shot. The classes I took at the University of the Arts exposed me to so many new influences. Each one opened my mind to new, fascinating approaches to illustration, and my style fluctuated dramatically in relation to whatever artist was my latest craze. As a result, most of my sophomore/junior work just looks like one bad rip-off after another. The more influences I accumulated though, the more I began to figure out what about each “rip-off” had worked with my own identity and what didn’t. I started cherry-picking little bits of each style I’d loved and mushing them together into an amalgam of aesthetics and techniques that could begin to be called a “unique style.” Instead of stealing everything from one artist I liked, I stole one thing from every artist I liked, and, by the end of my senior year, that resulted in basically what you see now!  Style takes a lot of failing and soul-searching and figuring yourself out. I feel like I’m still evolving and changing to this day, but the increments of change get smaller and smaller every time. 

What were your favorite books growing up? Who were your artistic influences when you were a child and now?

Oh wow, picking favorite books is so hard. There are so many to love, and it’s a struggle to narrow them down! I’ll try though! For picture books some favorites were World Famous Muriel by Sue Alexander, The Jolly Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett, Santa Calls by William Joyce, and The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base.  I also adored almost all Dr. Seuss books, but especially McElligot’s Pool and Happy Birthday to You. I liked picture books that were whimsical and imaginative while being infused with a sense of humor as well as emotional poignancy. Interactive elements like the letters in The Jolly Postman or the hidden picture puzzles in The Eleventh Hour were always great too.  

Then, as I grew out of picture books, I began a love affair with middle grade fantasy that has persisted to this day. Favorites then became Harry Potter, Brian Jacque’s Redwall series, Dinotopia by James Gurney, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster and The Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce.  Also, although it’s not fantasy per se, I think Holes by Louis Sachar is one of the greatest kid’s books of all time. 

Because of my love for fantasy, I spent most of my childhood drawing dragons and fairies and other mythical creatures. As such, major artistic influences back then were Brian Froud, John Howe, Jan Brett and James C. Christensen. I also loved looking at my older brother’s Magic: The Gathering cards and watching Jim Henson movies like Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal. Unfortunately, as previously mentioned, I lost sight of that important self-defining nerdy-ness in my high school art. I guess I was trying to be “too cool” or something, haha.  I re-discovered them again later, though, and incorporated them into new influences I’d found that also dealt with whimsy and nostalgia. My current greatest influences are Eyvind Earl, Carson Ellis, Julia Sarda, Rankin/Bass’s The Last Unicorn and Cartoon Saloon’s Song of the Sea

In Maria the Matador, Maria will do anything—even get in the ring with a bull—for lifetime supply of churros. What’s your favorite treat and what would you do for an endless supply?

I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I think my greatest food weakness is doughnuts. If a doughnut enters my field of vision, I just can’t not be immediately hungry for doughnuts. I don’t know what I would do for them. Right now, I feel like the struggle is to stop myself from eating them, not to get more. I do really dislike public speaking and cleaning the toilet, but I think I’d probably clean the toilet while reciting the Gettysburg Address in front of a very large audience if I was promised a bunch of doughnuts afterwards! 

When did you become interested in writing and illustrating picture books? Can you describe your journey to publication?

Since before I can remember, I’ve always been making up stories and characters and illustrating them, but, like I said, I didn’t always believe in my ability to leverage those skills into a viable career. I think what really changed my mind was being introduced to online t-shirt design competitions where I got hooked on having to design around certain prompts and parameters, meet deadlines, and then sometimes (miraculously) even get paid for my work! I realized the potential to build a career on doing that professionally and that’s when I officially decided to go back to school for illustration.  

Then, throughout all that soul-searching for style I previously mentioned, I discovered that a key, defining aspect of my art is nostalgia. I realized that, all along, every drawing had been an attempt to re-open the floodgates of imagination that had flown so freely in my childhood games of pretend. At some point in my time at the University of the Arts, I figured that if childhood was where my heart was, then the people that I should make illustrations for were children!

After that I joined SCBWI which provided me with a ton of essential resources for embarking on the journey to publication. I got an agent through a local SCBWI pitch day and we workshopped Maria a little bit but ultimately made the mutual decision to go our separate ways. I regrouped after that setback, used the SCBWI handbook to create a small list of dream agents, and sent my portfolio out to all of them. A little while later, I got an email from Stephanie Fretwell-Hill at Red Fox Literary and immediately felt like she was a great fit. Stephanie helped me re-visit Maria and while we were polishing that up together, I attended the SCBWI winter conference in New York where I went to a breakout session hosted by Kristen Nobles of Page Street Kids.  She said she was on the hunt for new manuscripts so almost as soon as I got back, Stephanie and I made sure to get Maria in front of her. Luckily, she liked it, and within a few months, we’d signed a contract for my very first author-illustrated picture book!

You have another book coming soon from Page Street called Dogs and Their People. Can you give readers a sneak peek? In your bio you mention that you have a dog Eevee (that’s such a cute name!). What kind of dog is she, and is she like you or anyone in your family? If so, how?

Dogs and Their People is basically an anthology of different types of people-dog relationships tied together by who the narrator sees on her walk home from school. There are small people with tall dogs, people and dogs who share ice cream, and even pairs with matching mustachios. Some people are just like their dogs and some are very different, but no matter what, each person and each dog is clearly with their very best friend.  When the girl finally makes it home, the best friend that she has waiting for her provides a surprising comedic twist to the story’s end.

My dog, Eevee is a chowbrador (a mix between a labrador and a chow-chow). I definitely think she and I have a lot in common. She’s a little aloof for a dog, and it takes her a little while to warm up to new places and new people. However, once you’re “in” her enthusiasm to hang out with you will verge on embarrassing. She’s completely comfortable spending time alone, but she’s still very excited when she gets to have all her favorite people in one place. And lastly, like me (and Maria for that matter), she is highly food motivated and loves her snacks!

What advice would you give a young person who would like to pursue art as a career?

Never be ashamed of what you love even if—actually especially if—it’s something that you feel like no one else loves. Your personal combination of unique interests is going to be what makes your artistic style something the world has never seen before. Also, understanding why you love that thing that no one else loves will be a big clue to figuring out your ultimate purpose as an illustrator and/or author and the types of messages you want to convey. 

What’s up next for you?

After Dogs and their People, I illustrated another picture book called The Traveler’s Gift by Danielle Davison. That’s set to hit shelves in October of this year. I’ve also just begun work on two new picture books, How to Build an Insect by Roberta Gibson for Millbrook Press and The Poisoned Apple, my third author/illustrated book with Page Street Kids. Both of those are set to come out fall of 2020. I’m super excited about both of them!

What’s your favorite holiday

Oh boy…another hard choice to make.  It might be cliché, but I’ve always loved Christmas. I love the decorations and the lights and the food, and I love spending time with my family and re-visiting all the good memories and traditions we’ve built since I was small. I also consider myself a champion gift-giver and getting to see other people open gifts from me is way more fun (in my opinion), than getting to open my own.

A close second, though, would be Halloween. Once I’ve thought of a costume idea I really like, I feel giddy anticipation about it for weeks to months in advance. 

Do you have any anecdote from a holiday that you’d like to share? (Alternately, has a holiday ever influenced your work?)

I remember one Christmas Eve when I was very little, my mom was reading me a bedtime story. Meanwhile, my dad went outside, stood under my bedroom window and shook a set of sleigh bells. My mom convinced me that it was the sound of Santa’s sleigh flying by overhead.  It was probably one of the most magical moments of my life, and I love that my parents were so enthusiastic about making the magic of Christmas seem real for me. One of my favorite things about both Christmas and Halloween is that, as a kid, they made me feel like there was actually magic tucked away in the unseen corners of the world…whether that be toy-making elves at the North Pole or a ghost in an old, abandoned house or just the promise that if you put on a mask, you can become whoever you want. I think the best children’s books bring that same promise of magic to the world, and that will always be something that motivates what I create.

Thanks, Anne for this amazing talk and the reminder that people should always embrace their uniqueness and be true to themselves. I wish you all the best with Maria the Matador and all of your upcoming projects!

National Dance Week Activity

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Get up and Dance! Word Search Puzzle

 

There are so many different kinds of dances to learn and enjoy! Can you find the sixteen styles in this printable puzzle?

Get up and Dance! Word Search Puzzle | Get up and Dance! Word Search Solution

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You can find Maria the Matador at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

April 8 – National All is Ours Day

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About the Holiday

National All is Ours Day is about noticing nature and the world around you and taking pleasure in the beauty you see. The holiday also encourages people to appreciate our surroundings and embrace the gifts that we all have in common. Being grateful for and sharing what we have while not dwelling on what we don’t is a way to extend the meaning of the day and to live more simply and more happily.

Mine. Yours.

Written by Marsha Diane Arnold | Illustrated by Qin Leng

 

There are picture books that tell their story with no words and picture books that charm with hundreds of words, and then there is Marsha Diane Arnold’s Mine. Yours., which fills the pages with the abundance of emotions and opportunities life offers using only three words. As a little panda meanders through the forest, he comes upon a cave and wanders in. He wakes up the older panda sleeping there with his question: “Yours?” The older panda gets up and with a wave of his hands and one word, he makes it clear—the cave is “Mine” and the little one belongs outside.

But the little guy is undeterred and returns hoping for a bit of breakfast. While the big panda chows down on a full plate of bamboo, his visitor is handed a plate with two meager twigs of this favorite meal. Perhaps, though, the adult panda is softening. While he clasps his bamboo-gathering basket close, reminding the child that it is “Mine,” he spies a kite hanging from a shelf and hands it down: “Yours.”

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Image copyright Qin Leng, 2019, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2019. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

The tyke runs into the forest to find a place to fly the kite, but—as kites do—it has a mind of its own. It careens into a pangolin pounding a drum, a fox and raccoon playing a board game, a fishing cat with his pole in the water, an otter rafting down the river, and more unsuspecting animals trying to go about their day. They each proclaim their ownership over their possessions and remind him that the kite is his.

But the kite is more in control than the panda, and the string begins to snag everything it touches and fly away with it all—including the little panda. The alarmed animals give chase, grab onto the end of the string, and find themselves airborne. The big panda, returning from bamboo gathering, sees the commotion at the end of a kite and wonders, “Mine?” The little panda, hoping for rescue, shouts down, “Yours!”

With a tug, the big panda brings all the animals and all the stuff back to earth in a heap. They cheer, and with a new perspective, shout, “Ours!” This brings many changes of heart and an invitation from the big panda to a party in the cave—complete with plenty of food, fun, and games to share.

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Image copyright Qin Leng, 2019, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2019. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

Not only is Mine. Yours. a book about sharing, it is truly a book to be shared. The prompts of Marsha Diane Arnold’s thought-provoking “mine” and “yours,” combined with Qin Leng’s expressive illustrations provide many opportunities to discuss the various meanings and emotions behind these words and the actions they elicit. Readers will be enchanted by Qin Leng’s pen-and-ink and watercolor images that are full of humor and consternation as the little panda innocently interrupts the regular routine in the forest. As the suspenseful drama ensues the animals, who are for the most part engaging in individual pursuits, are brought together and discover that the friendship of “ours” is liberating—and more fun too.

Children will enjoy discussing the action and how each animal feels about what is happening, which is clearly readable in their facial expressions. While the animals react crossly to the initial disruptions, subtle changes in attitude are apparent—especially when they see that the little panda is in danger and hurry to help. Opportunities abound for talking about the ideas of kindness and compassion, accidents and intension, inclusiveness and community, and even the fact that learning continues throughout one’s life.

A list of the Asian animals featured in the story can be found at the beginning of the book.

An excellent book for opening discussions that allow children to express their ideas and relate their experiences concerning possessions, community, and sharing, Mine. Yours. would be a welcome addition to home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 7 and up

Kids Can Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1771389198

Discover more about Marsha Diane Arnold and her books on her website.

To learn more about Qin Leng, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Meet Marsha Diane Arnold

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Called a “born storyteller” by the media, Marsha Diane Arnold’s award-winning picture books have sold over one million copies and been called “whimsical” and “inspiring.” She has two new picture books out this spring – Mine. Yours. and Badger’s Perfect GardenBorn and raised on the Kansas prairies, Marsha lived most of her life on a hill overlooking redwoods and oaks in Sonoma County, California, and now lives with her husband in Alva, Florida, surrounded on two sides by nature preserves. Family and nature are her two great loves.

I’m happy that Marsha dropped by again to talk a little about her inspiration for Mine. Yours. and how it all came together—fascinating!

When you conceived this story, did you have a specific situation or incident in mind? What was the inspiration for Mine. Yours.?

This story was meant to be a follow-up to Lost. Found. The minimal text of Lost. Found. was only 18 words, two words repeated. I wanted another title with just two words and I knew those two words had to allow a story to unfold. Of course, for Mine. Yours. a third word needed to be in the text – “Ours.”

The idea for Lost. Found. came to me in a dream. Though both stories were challenging, Mine. Yours. took more time to figure out and more rewrites, as there wasn’t the same dream inspiration that assisted me with Lost. Found.

Created with just two words, this picture book is a true collaboration between you and illustrator Qin Leng. Can you describe the process that went into bringing this book to life?

As with Lost. Found., I wrote very specific art notes to go with each word, to show what I envisioned for each particular page. Qin Leng and I never spoke after the manuscript was accepted and I had minimal contact with my editor. They faithfully “followed my lead.” Qin’s gorgeous details and whimsical facial expressions make the book come alive. Just look at grumpy Big Panda giving Little Panda a teeny-tiny bit of bamboo and Little Panda’s disappointed face! It’s amazing how much expression Qin is able to get with just a few lines.

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Image copyright Qin Leng, 2019, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2019. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

I’ve had so many questions from writers about how I formatted the manuscript. Some have even thought I just sent the words to an editor with no art notes! Not at all!! Here’s a little of the submitted manuscript with the two spreads they go with:

[Wind picks up moderately. Kite rises, leading Little Bear toward river. Kite exits right

followed by Little Panda.] 

[Kite crashes into Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus), fishing in river. His

fishing pole flips away. Fishing Cat runs into the stream to snatch it.]

“Mine!”

[Frowning, Fishing Cat points at kite as it moves higher.]

“Yours!”          

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Image copyright Qin Leng, 2019, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2019. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

          

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Image copyright Qin Leng, 2019, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2019. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

Qin Leng infuses the story with so much suspense and humor. What was the most surprising detail of the illustrations for you? What is your favorite spread?

I know! I love the suspense and humor and was thrilled when I first saw Qin’s gorgeous illustrations. However, there were no surprises, as I had specified exactly what was to happen. The only spread that is different from my notes is the final spread, but when my editor and Qin wanted to go a different way with it, my editor shared about that prior to my seeing it.

I do love the image above with Little Panda and the kite along the stream. It feels so serene, a calm before more storms. And the page with the word “Ours”, after all the animals have come together to save Little Panda, is a favorite.

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Image copyright Qin Leng, 2019, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2019. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

There’s such a depth of emotion in the words “mine” and “yours” for kids and adults (from the positive pride one feels in accomplishments to the not-so-positive proprietary side of things), and sharing can be difficult for anyone regardless of age or what one has. What would you like for readers to take away from your story? 

Mine. Yours. is about kindness, compassion, and community and I’d love for my young readers to take those feelings away from the story. It’s a bit like my 2018 book May I Come In? in its theme of inclusiveness and opening your door to friends who knock. I actually haven’t thought about this before, but look at the final pages of each one. Community! Ours!

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Image copyright Jennie Poh, 2018, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

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Image copyright Qin Leng, 2019, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2019. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

Thank you for letting me be part of the Celebrate Picture Books community!

Thank you, Marsha! I always enjoy our chats about your books and your generous, thoughtful answers!

You can connect with Marsha Diane Arnold on

Her website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Mine. Yours. Giveaway

I’m excited to be teaming with Kids Can Press in a giveaway of

  • One (1) copy of Mine. Yours. written by Marsha Diane Arnold | illustrated by Qin Leng

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

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

Prizing provided by Kid Can Press.

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

National All is Ours Day Activity

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Mine. Yours. Activity Pages

 

You’re welcome to make these activity pages yours—why not print two or more copies and create some “ours!” fun!

Mine. Yours. Activity Pages

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You can find Mine. Yours. at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

March 13 – National Good Samaritan Day

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About the Holiday

A Good Samaritan is a person who sees someone in need of help or kindness and generously offers assistance or a smile. For today’s holiday, people are encouraged to notice those moments when someone could use a hand and go to their aid. You never know when a small gesture can have far-reaching effects. Children are particularly good at noticing those who need help or cheering up. You can foster their natural kindness by supporting their ideas and actions for helping their community.

The Princess and the Café on the Moat

Written by Margie Markarian | Illustrated by Chloe Douglass

 

There once was a little princess who lived in a very busy castle. Every morning knights brought news of “enemies defeated, dragons seized, and citizens rescued.” Upstairs, ladies-in-waiting were given their duties for “silks to sew, invitations to ink, and chandeliers to shine.” The princess wanted a special job too, but her voice was never heard above the din, so she went in search of something to occupy her time.

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Image copyright Chloe Douglass, 2018, text copyright Margie Markarian, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When she met the court jester, he told her he was too busy learning a routine for the evening’s guests to teach her how to juggle. The wandering minstrel who was playing his mandolin told her, “‘Your fingers are too delicate to pluck these wiry strings.’” And the wise wizard banished her from the tower because his potions were too dangerous. Even the royal baker thought her kitchen was no place for a princess. “The princess’s kind heart and eager spirit were not easily discouraged.” As she wandered past the front gate, she wondered if there were people beyond it who could use her help. Just then the drawbridge descended, and when the guard turned away for a moment, the princess crept by him and ran outside.

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Image copyright Chloe Douglass, 2018, text copyright Margie Markarian, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Right outside the castle, she met a “sad old man holding a scrolled parchment.” She approached him and asked why he was so sad. He told her that he had a letter from his far-away son, but because of his weak eyesight, he couldn’t read it. “‘I have time to read your letter and sit awhile,’ said the princess, happy to have found a task so quickly.” Next, she met a worried widow with five children coming down the path. The princess asked why they looked so tired.

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Image copyright Chloe Douglass, 2018, text copyright Margie Markarian, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The woman told her that she had no one to watch her children as she traveled the long way to the village market. The princess happily offered to watch the woman’s children. Soon, “a brave squire limped by the palace where the princess, the old man, and the widow’s children were telling stories and playing games.” When the princess asked the squire what pained him, he told her “‘I gashed by knee in a skirmish many miles ago but have not stopped to tend to it.’” The princess quickly cleaned and bandaged the squire’s knee so he could continue on to the castle.

Back at the castle, though, everything was in an uproar as the king and queen and staff hunted everywhere for the princess. Through a window the king suddenly heard laughter and singing. When the king looked out, he saw that the sound was coming from the princess. Everyone in the castle paraded out through the drawbridge to join the princess and her friends.

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Image copyright Chloe Douglass, 2018, text copyright Margie Markarian, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The princess ran to her mother and father and told them about all the things she had done for the old man, the widow, and the squire. The king and queen “were proud to have such a kindhearted daughter.” The king suggested that they “all celebrate together with treats and refreshments.” From that day on in the afternoon, the drawbridge was dropped and tables and chairs set up. Then the “princess welcomed townspeople and travelers from far and wide to her café on the moat.”

Here, the court jester practiced his juggling, the minstrel shared his music, the wizard made drinks, and the baker created delicious treats. The old man and the widow with her children often came by to meet new friends and relax. And the brave squire enjoyed refreshments while he guarded the castle. The café on the moat welcomed everyone, and “indeed, they all lived happily and busily ever after.”

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Image copyright Chloe Douglass, 2018, text copyright Margie Markarian, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

An Afterword about fairy tales and a kindness activity for children follow the story.

Margie Markarian’s sweet story is an enchanting fairy tale for today’s socially conscious and active kids. Instead of needing rescue, this princess looks for opportunities to help others. When she’s turned away inside the castle, she leaves the comfort of home and reaches out to her community, an idea that children will embrace. Through her cheerful storytelling, Markarian also shows readers that in their talents and kind hearts they already have what it takes to make a difference to others. As the princess opens her café on the moat, children will see that the adults also find ways to support her efforts. Markarian’s language is charmingly “medieval,” making the story fun to read aloud while inspiring listeners.

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Image copyright Chloe Douglass, 2018, text copyright Margie Markarian, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Chloe Douglass’s adorable princess is a terrific role model for young readers. Her eagerness to help and positive spirit are evident in her smiles and persistent requests for a job to do. When she ventures out of the castle, she displays obvious empathy for the people she meets, and children will recognize her joy at being able to brighten the townspeople’s day. Despite their busy days, the king and queen are happy and supportive of their daughter. Children will love the bright and detailed images of the castle and town, where the crest of love rules.

The Princess and the Café on the Moat is a charming flip on the traditional fairy tale—one that children will want to hear again and again. It would make a great spring gift and an enriching addition to home and classroom bookshelves.

Ages 5 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585363971

To discover more about Margie Markarian and her picture book and to find fun activities, visit her website. 

Read an interview with Margie Markarian.

Learn more about Chloe Douglass, her books, and her art on her website.

National Good Samaritan Day Activity

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The Princess and the Café on the Moat Activities

 

The Princess likes to help people relax and have fun together! You can help her too with these four activity pages!

The Princess and the Café Coloring Page |Castle Matching PageStory Sequencing Page Write a Fairy Tale Page

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You can find The Princess and the Café on the Moat at these booksellers

Amazon | An Unlikely Story | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Sleeping Bear Press