June 1 – National Say Something Nice Day

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About the Holiday

Starting off the month of June with a compliment, encouragement, or praise for the people in your life can only make the summer brighter for everyone. In today’s world where too often bullying and negativity are evident, a single nice word or action can make a tremendous difference in how people feel about themselves and those around them. To celebrate today’s holiday, look for opportunities to say something nice to your family members, friends, and those you meet during the day. But don’t just make this a one-day thing, whenever you see that you can share a smile or a laugh, tell someone they’re doing a good job, or help out—do it!

Be Kind

Written by Pat Zietlow Miller | Illustrated by Jen Hill

 

At school during snack time when Tanisha spilled grape juice on her new dress, the class burst out laughing. One student remembered that their mom always taught them to be kind and tried to make Tanisha feel better by saying, “Purple is my favorite color.” The student thought Tanisha would smile, but she just ran away. All during art class, Tanisha’s classmate thought about what they should have done instead, wondering, “What does it mean to be kind anyway?”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-be-kind-spilled-juice

Image copyright Jen Hill, 2018, text copyright Pat Zietlow Miller, 2018. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

They think, “Maybe it’s giving.” Like baking treats for someone who lives alone, or giving away old clothes to someone who can use them. Helping out might also show kindness. For instance, “putting dirty dishes in the sink” or taking care of a pet. Paying attention to others could be another way to show you care. Like noticing someone’s new shoes, offering to be the new girl’s partner in class, or even just listening to someone’s stories—even if you’ve heard them before. Sometimes being kind is easy, but there are other times when it can be challenging or even scary—“like sticking up for someone when other kids aren’t kind.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-be-kind-in-the-neighborhood

Image copyright Jen Hill, 2018, text copyright Pat Zietlow Miller, 2018. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

The child decides that maybe all they can do for Tanisha is to sit near her and paint her a picture of purple and green—of pretty violets. They hope that small acts like these will join with other people’s and that they will expand, fanning out from school into the community, across the country, around the world, and back. “So we can be kind. Again. And again. And again.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-be-kind-around-town

Image copyright Jen Hill, 2018, text copyright Pat Zietlow Miller, 2018. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Miller’s tender prose is perfect for planting the seeds of kindness and opening discussions about what it means to be caring and compassionate. With more and more children speaking up and creating change, Miller’s gentle and affirming story shows readers that it’s often the little things that count the most. Some of the examples she gives are acts that many children may do already, confirming their innate sensitivity, while others may spark new ideas and expand readers’ definition of kindness.

Jen Hill’s soft-hued illustrations beautifully depict the emotional tug at the heart that Tanisha’s spilled grape juice sets in motion for the protagonist and young readers. As one caring child wonders what kindness really is, Hill clearly portrays diverse children helping out at home, at school, and in their community locally and—as the kindness spreads—around the world. Hill draws the caring student with gender neutral clothing and hair, allowing all children to relate to the story’s main character. 

Be Kind is a lovely perceptive and sensitive book that would be an asset to any home or classroom library.

Ages 3 – 6

Roaring Brook Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1626723214

Discover more about Pat Zietlow Miller and her books on her website.

To learn more about Jen Hill, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Say Something Nice Day Activity

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Say Something Nice! Cards

 

Do you want to give someone a nice surprise? Print out these cards and give one to a friend, to someone you’d like to know, or to anyone who looks like they need a pick-me-up! If you’d like to make your own cards, print out the blank template and write and/or draw your own message! You can also print these on adhesive paper and make your own stickers.

Say Something Nice! Cards | Say Something Nice! Cards Blank Template

Picture book review

April 10 – National Siblings Day

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About the Holiday

Today we celebrate our brothers and sisters! Whether you’ve had a lifetime with your siblings or are just getting started with a new little person to grow up with, today is for remembering and making memories to be cherished. To honor the day, spend some time together with your siblings or get in touch and have a bit of fun!

Mela and the Elephant

Written by Dow Phumiruk | Illustrated by Ziyue Chen

 

When Mela headed out to explore the banks of the Ping River, her little brother wanted to go too, but Mela would only take him if he had something to give her in return. When he said he had nothing, Mela told him, “‘Then you stay home.’” When she reached the river, she jumped into her uncle’s boat to try and catch the big fish that swam in the sparkly water. She tossed out her net and nabbed the fish in her net, but he swam on, carrying Mela downstream. Soon, Mela found herself deep in the jungle.

When “the boat caught against a tangle of tree roots, Mela stepped out onto a large rock.” She looked around and realized she was a long way from home.  A crocodile happened by and Mela asked him if he could tow her boat back home. “‘What will you give me for my help?’” the crocodile asked. Mela told him he could have her fish, and the crocodile agreed. But as soon as Mela gave him the fish, he grabbed it and swam away.

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Image copyright Ziyue Chen, 2018, text copyright Dow Phumiruk, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Mela had just begun to walk in the direction of home when “a leopard slinked into sight.” Mela asked her if she knew how to get to the village. She did, but would only show Mela if she gave her something. Mela thought, then took off her sweater and gave it to the leopard, saying, “‘It will keep your cubs warm on cool nights.’” The leopard “snatched it up and leaped away.”

Mela continued on and was soon walking down a narrow path, where three monkeys swung from vines in the trees. Again Mela asked for help finding her way home. “‘What will you give us if we help you?’ one chattered. Mela held out her backpack.” It would be helpful for carrying fruit, she told them. As soon as the largest monkey grabbed the backpack, the three disappeared into the forest.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-mela-and-the-elephant-mela-fishing

Image copyright Ziyue Chen, 2018, text copyright Dow Phumiruk, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Mela began to cry. She had no idea how to get home, and night was coming. Just then “she heard the rustling and snapping of branches.” She looked up to see an elephant approaching. The elephant asked Mela if she were lost. When Mela said, yes, the elephant offered to give her a ride. Mela told him that she had nothing to give him. But the elephant said, “‘It would make my heart happy to help you. I don’t need anything else in return.’”

Then he allowed Mela to climb up his trunk and onto his back and they started off. When they reached the village, Mela thanked the elephant and he gave her a last hug with his trunk. The next day when Mela’s brother asked to accompany her to the riverbank, she remembered what the elephant had taught her and agreed to take him. And “from then on, she offered many kindnesses to others, asking nothing in return.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-mela-and-the-elephant-riding-elephant

Image copyright Ziyue Chen, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

In her lovely story, Dow Phumiruk reminds children that the heartfelt rewards of kindness are more precious than material gain. Such inner happiness often radiates to others, creating strong bonds and long-lasting happiness. It’s interesting to note that Mela is actually inherently thoughtful, offering each potential rescuer an object that is useful to them. But this inner generosity is lost when she interacts with her brother and brushes off his friendship. Through her experiences in the jungle, however, she comes to empathize with her brother. Back at home, she embraces and includes him, and shares the lesson she’s learned with others as well.

As Mela wanders deeper and deeper into Ziyue Chen’s lush jungle of Thailand, readers will understand that while she may be lost, she is also finding her way on her path in life. The animals that approach her initially look friendly and helpful, but as soon as they have their payment, they turn their back on Mela and desert her. The elephant, on the other hand, has kindly eyes and a gentle manner. The final scene in which Mela takes her little brother by the hand as they begin an adventure together demonstrates her change of heart and growth along life’s road.

An Author’s Note includes information about the history, geography, and customs of Thailand, where there story is set, introducing readers to the diverse culture of the country.

Mela and the Elephant employs a mix of traditional storytelling with today’s focus on kindness, empathy, and generosity. The book would make an excellent addition to home and classroom libraries for story time and to prompt discussions about compassion and helpfulness.

Ages 4 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1-58536-998-0

Discover more about Dow Phumiruk, her books, and her art on her website

To learn more about Ziyue Chen, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Come along on the adventure with this Mela and the Elephant book trailer!

National Siblings Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hand-print-elephants-craft

Elephant Handprint Craft

 

This easy craft is fun for siblings to do together and can make a nice decoration for a child’s room or a gift for mom, dad, or other family members.

Supplies

  • Craft paint in two colors of the children’s choice
  • Yellow craft paint
  • Black fin-tip marker
  • Crayons, markers, or colored pencils to make a background
  • Paper
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Paint one child’s hand and press it on the paper. The thumb is the truck and the fingers the legs.
  2. Paint the second child’s hand and press it on the paper near the other “elephant.” A couple of examples are: the elephants standing trunk to trunk or trunk to tail 
  3. After the paint has dried, draw on ears and an eye
  4. Add a sun with the yellow paint
  5. Add grass, trees, or other background features

Picture Book Review

 

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’m happy to be partnering with HarperCollins in a giveaway of a copy of Ava and the Rainbow (Who Stayed)! You’ll find the details below.

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.

Like a rainbow itself, Ged Adamson’s story is multi-layered and reveals a spectrum of ideas about the often-fleeting moments in life—from wishes and dreams to the unusual or funny even to fads and fame. Learning how to truly appreciate these ephemeral experiences as they happen, to let go of what can’t or shouldn’t be controlled, and to stay true to your own nature goes a long way towards living a happy life. Children will be captivated by Adamson’s charming tale and his lush, whimsical art, which is always expressive of a child’s joy and empathy and which sweetly depicts the better understanding they gain as they grow through life’s experiences.

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

It’s an Ava and the Rainbow (Who Stayed) Giveaway!

I’m happy to partner with HarperCollins in this giveaway of

  • one copy of Ava and the Rainbow (Who Stayed)!

To be entered to win, just Follow me on Twitter @CelebratePicBks and Retweet a giveaway tweet during this week, April 4 – April 10. Already a follower? Thanks! Just retweet for a chance to win.

A winner will be chosen on April 11.

Giveaways open to US addresses only. | Prizing provided by HarperCollins

Picture Book Review

March 30 – Passover

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About the Holiday

Passover is a Jewish spring festival that celebrates the Jews liberation from slavery in Egypt and their freedom of a nation under Moses. The holiday begins on the fourteenth day of the Hebrew month Nisan, which is the first ecclesiastical month and occurs in March or April and continues for seven or eight days. The holiday begins with a seder meal, for which family and friends gather to remember their history, have symbolic dishes, and celebrate the joy of freedom.

Kar-Ben Publishing sent me a copy of Paulie’s Passover Predicament to check out. All opinions are my own. I’m also excited to be giving away one copy of the book! See details below.

Paulie’s Passover Predicament

Written by Jane Sutton | Illustrated by Barbara Vagnozzi

 

Paulie was a moos-ician who loved practicing his guitar in his basement studio, but today he had to cut it short because there was so much to do. Passover was starting that night, “and Paulie wanted his Passover seder to be perfect!” He headed to the grocery store to buy everything he needed for the meal. At the store he ran into two friends, Sally and Irving. They were excited about coming to Paulie’s house later that day.

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Image copyright Barbara Vagnozzi, 2018, text copyright Jane Sutton, 2018. Courtesy of Kar-Ben Publishing.

With his cart loaded with boxes of matzah, grape juice, two moose shaped candles, and other supplies, Paulie was ready. As soon as he got home, Paulie began cooking. Each dish was delicious. He set the table and “hummed happily as he placed the matzah cover over the matzah.” He smiled at the attractive picture of a moose printed on it. “‘Perfect!’ he thought.”

There was much excitement as Paulie’s friends arrived. They complimented Paulie on the yummy-smells from the kitchen and his decorated table. “‘The candles are very ‘you,’ Paulie, said Evelyn,” while Sally commented on the unusual matzah cover. When they sat down to eat, Moe noticed the extremely large egg on the seder plate. “‘Yes,’ said Paulie, beaming. ‘An egg is a sign of new life. I used an ostrich egg to make sure everyone could see it.’” Sally pointed out that the salt water representing the tears of their ancestors looked different too. As Paulie explained, he thought he heard a few giggles.

When Evelyn tasted the charoset that reminded them of the bricks and mortar their “ancestors used to build the pyramids,” she questioned the recipe. Paulie admitted that he liked it with apples and pinecones instead of walnuts. In place of the usual parsley, Paulie had used his “favorite green thing”: grass. This was met with some chuckles. Paulie had taken the horseradish maror rather literally and carved a horse from a radish. Hearing this, Horace couldn’t help but laugh out loud. And the lamb’s wool in place of the lamb bone set everyone else “roaring with laughter.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-paulie's-passover-predicament-cooking

Image copyright Barbara Vagnozzi, 2018, text copyright Jane Sutton, 2018. Courtesy of Kar-Ben Publishing.

“Big tears formed in Paulie’s eyes,” but his friends hugged him and told him that although his seder plate was a bit different, each element reminded them “‘of the meaning of Passover—in a Paulie way.’” Cheered, Paulie and his friends continued with the blessings, the Four Questions, and telling the Passover story. They ate and recited the Ten Plagues. Then it was time for Sally to hide the afikomen.

Paulie felt better, but he really wanted to find the afikomen. He looked under the table and behind the couch then Paulie went to look in the basement. The afikomen wasn’t under his drum set or in the laundry basket. Paulie finally found it in the dryer, but when he tried to go upstairs, the door was locked! No one heard Paulie calling for help. He sat down on the stairs and considered his Passover seder. It “was not perfect at all…. And now he was stuck in the basement. ‘What a predicament!’ he thought.”

Just then he had an idea. He slipped the afikomen under the door, alerting his friends. They swung the door open, and Paulie was free! Paulie’s friends were excited to see that he had found the afikomen and would get the reward. But Paulie told them that being free like their ancestors was enough for him. Then everyone sang the song Dayeinu, happy to be together and free.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-paulie's-passover-predicament-seder-dinner

Image copyright Barbara Vagnozzi, 2018, text copyright Jane Sutton, 2018. Courtesy of Kar-Ben Publishing.

A short description of Passover follows the story.

Young readers will empathize with and cheer for Paulie in Jane Sutton’s sweetly emotional Passover story. In his excitement to host the perfect Passover seder, Paulie can’t help but include his favorite things instead of the traditional offerings. Even though his friends chuckle at Paulie’s missteps, they show their love for him with understanding and hugs. When he is freed from the basement, Paulie demonstrates the true spirit of Passover in his happiness to be with his friends again. Kids will giggle along at each unique seder dish while they also learn their symbolic importance.

Barbara Vagnozzi’s bright, joyful lllustrations reflect the excitement children feel as they prepare for Passover—shopping, cooking, and setting the table with special foods and decorations. The camaraderie of the friends is infectious as they explain the various parts of the seder, enjoying Paulie’s unique, moose-centric spin on it. These good friends, smiling, talking, happily hunting for the afikomen, and singing together are adorable companions for this special holiday.

A fun and meaningful introduction to Passover for children and adults of all faiths, Paulie’s Passover Predicament would be a delightful addition to home and classroom bookshelves for any time of year.

Ages 3 – 8

Kar-Ben Publishing, 2018 | ISBN 978-1512420975

Discover more about Jane Sutton and her books on her website.

To learn more about Barbara Vagnozzi and view a portfolio of her books and artwork, visit her website.

It’s a Paulie’s Passover Predicament Giveaway!

I’m excited to partner with Kar-Ben Publishing in this giveaway of:

  • one copy of Paulie’s Passover Predicament!

To be entered to win, just Follow me on Twitter @CelebratePicBks and Retweet a giveaway tweet during this week, March 30 – April 5. Already a follower? Thanks! Just retweet for a chance to win.

A winner will be chosen on April 6.

Giveaways open to US addresses only. | Prizing provided by Kar-Ben Publishing

Passover Activity

Celebrate Passover! Word Search

Celebrating Passover means honoring history, eating special foods, and having fun! Can you find the twenty words related to Passover in this Celebrate Passover! Word Search?

Celebrate Passover! Word Search Puzzle | Celebrate Passover! Word Search Solution

Picture Book Review

March 24 – It’s National Umbrella Month

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About the Holiday

The rainy season is coming—do you know where your umbrella is? March, with its unpredictable weather has been designated National Umbrella Month to commemorate those useful objects that keep us dry in the rain and shaded from the sun’s rays. Invented in China over 4,000 years ago, the umbrella underwent many changes before becoming the pocket-sized helper it is today. To celebrate this month, check on the condition of your umbrella or treat yourself to a new one!

The Big Umbrella

By Amy June Bates | Cowritten with Juniper Bates

 

A red umbrella sits at the front door, waiting…. “It is a big, friendly umbrella.” No matter if raindrops or sunshine or even autumn leaves are falling, the umbrella is ready to go to work. “It likes to spread its arms wide” and offer shelter to whomever needs it.

Under the umbrella there’s room for four—and more. The umbrella welcomes anyone, no matter what you look like or what you’re wearing or “how many legs you have.” And if it seems crowded, don’t worry—there’s always room for more. So come on under! You’ll be amazed at what you find!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-big-umbrella-picking-up-umbrella

Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2018, text copyright Amy June and Juniper Bates, 2018. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

In Amy June and Juniper Bates’ sparing text, there’s a world of freedom and welcome. Amy June’s gorgeous watercolors of a rain-soaked day complete the story as a walk down a city street creates a microcosm of life under the umbrella.

The sweet, red umbrella smiles at every one who comes by  looking for shelter, always stretching to accommodate another. When a ballerina and a runner need protection from the pelting rain, they easily join two already under the umbrella with room to spare. The very tall webbed creature the four meet next doesn’t even fit on the page, but it does fit nicely under the umbrella. And the cute hairy guy who’s carrying a briefcase and is as tall as the bus stop sign? Sure! There’s plenty of room!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-big-umbrella-two

Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2018, text copyright Amy June and Juniper Bates, 2018. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

As the group continues on its way, readers can see the legs of young and old, cowboys and roller skaters, dogs and chicks all walking together and protected by the ever widening umbrella. Children will like to predict what will happen when the umbrella passes a crowded crosswalk. In a double-page spread the sun begins to peek out from behind the clouds just in time for this diverse group to enjoy an afternoon at the park—all shaded by the red umbrella.

When readers turn from the mottled blue and green rainy-day pages where the faces of the fellow travelers are hidden onto Bates’ final light and bright two-page park scene, they can’t help but smile and feel their heart lift even more. As the individuals are revealed, the sense of inclusion is heartening and affirming. The park, dotted with daisies, bustles with kids and adults of all ethnicities, abilities, and personalities playing, talking, biking, painting, and gathering together.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-big-umbrella-a-group

Image copyright Amy June Bates, 2018, text copyright Amy June and Juniper Bates, 2018. Courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

The Big Umbrella is an uplifting and inspiring story that children of all ages will respond to. The book would be an excellent choice for classroom libraries to open discussions of inclusion and a sweet addition to home bookshelves for rainy day or sunny day story times.

Ages 4 – 8

Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1534406582

To learn more about Amy June Bates and see portfolios of her art and books, visit her website.

National Umbrella Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-umbrella-match-up-puzzle

Find the Matching Umbrellas

 

These umbrellas and raincoats were mixed up in the wind! Can you find the matching pairs? Look carefully! How will you match them up?

Rainy Day Mix Up Umbrellas Matching Puzzle

Picture Book Review

March 13 – Good Samaritan Day

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About the Holiday

A Good Samaritan is someone who sees someone in need of help or kindness and generously offers assistance or a smile. Today, people are encouraged to spend a little extra time to look around and notice those moments when someone could use an extra 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—just like the little girl’s in today’s book!

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.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-princess-and-the-cafe-on-the-moat-kingdom

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.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-princess-and-the-cafe-on-the-moat-wizard

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.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-princess-and-the-cafe-on-the-moat-minstrel

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. 

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

Meet Author Margie Markarian

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I was thrilled to talk with Margie Markarian about her new book, the allure of fairy tales, her amazing interactive storytimes, and so much more!

What inspired you to write The Princess and the Café on the Moat?

I wanted to spread a message about being kind, sharing talents, and building a sense of community.  I was inspired, in part, by the idea that kids need and welcome a sense of responsibility, purpose, and belonging just as much as adults. I was also inspired by the idea that children innately have ways of contributing and making a difference. The young princess in the Princess and the Café on the Moat knows this and finds a way to make a difference that ends up bringing the whole kingdom together.

Was there a certain reason you chose the classic fairy tale setting?

Well, I love fairy tales. Children love fairy tales. I felt the traditional fairy tale format would work but that I could modernize it with a café. Also, in a fairy tale, there’s usually a message being played out. I thought my message would play out more subtly and more sweetly as a fairy tale than as a story that takes place in the present day. When I introduce the book to an audience, I call it “a tale for our time from once upon a time.”

I love the can-do attitude and the kindness of the princess. Was there also a reason you chose this character?

I thought a young princess in a very busy castle would create an element of wonder for readers. After all, why would a princess who lives in a castle full of such colorful characters want to dash across a drawbridge to the other side of the moat? Kids often ask me why I called her the “young princess” versus a specific name. It’s because I want all children to be able to see themselves in her, for her to be relatable.

None of the grown-up characters have specific names either. The king and queen represent supportive, loving parents, who are proud of their daughter, even though they are “busy” at the beginning of the story. That’s just how life is sometimes. And it’s the queen who takes the king’s idea of a one-time celebration to the next level of opening a café on the moat with daily hours. It’s a hat’s off to strong women and wise mothers.

What was one of your favorite books when you were a child?

The Tall Book of Nursery Tales. It was a book I took out time and time again from the library. It stood out on the shelf because it was taller than all the other books and it had vibrant illustrations. I had a huge fascination with that fairy tale book in particular, as well as myths, fables, and folk tales from around the world.

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Third-graders in classroom J24 at Jefferson Elementary School in Franklin, MA and teacher Evan Chelman enjoyed a Princess and the Café on the Moat Reader’s Theater visit with Margie Markarian.

What is the best part about being a children’s author or working in the children’s book field?

The best part is when I get to read to children. They so quickly relate to the story and offer examples or ideas on good deeds they can perform like the princess: “Oh I can read this to the kids I babysit!” or “I always read birthday cards to my grandfather.” In the classroom, I present the story Reader’s Theater style. I ask the teacher to pick seven kids to take on the parts of the characters the princess encounters. Each child has one or two lines at most. They really get into it. I distribute hats and props and they have fun getting into character—the jester juggling the balls, the minstrel plucking the mandolin, the wizard waving the magic wand, the royal baker shaking her head no. Seeing their faces light up, their enthusiasm, and their reactions is wonderful.

Kids in the audience participate, too. I tell them that fairy tales are famous for events that take place in a series of three and invite them to be on the lookout for the ones I included in the story. They’re very responsive to that. Some kids quickly connect my book to a fairy tale they already know. All of the activity and conversation makes them curious about reading, about characters, about the story. And that’s the magic and joy of being an author—sharing the book and getting kids excited and involved.

Could you talk a little about the writing workshops you held for children to produce the Boston Globe Fun Pages?  What a great opportunity that was, especially for kids who are interested in a writing career!

When my daughter was in 2nd grade, her teacher welcomed parental involvement in the classroom. At that time the Boston Globe newspaper published a weekly supplement called the Fun Pages. Children in classrooms at different schools wrote each edition. My daughter’s teacher tapped me to help a group of her students write an issue. There were about five articles in an issue, usually revolving around a theme. We picked our town’s annual 4th of July Festival as a theme and we worked on it for eight weeks.

I did another edition of the Fun Pages with my son’s 4th grade class. We had a chocolate factory in town then so our theme revolved around chocolate. We toured the factory, interviewed the owners, and researched stories about chocolate. I guided the writing and reporting, while also sharing tips on what it takes to be an editor and writer. Any time you can excite kids about the process of writing, it’s a great thing. There’s nothing better than hands-on experiential learning. When it came time to distribute one of the issues, I even dressed up as a news carrier and delivered the papers to the kids in their classroom.

Do you have an anecdote from any event at a bookstore or school that you’d like to share?

As I was signing books at a recent event, a little boy noticed me writing my name, and he asked, “How do you write so fast?” For a moment I thought he was talking about the writing of the book itself, but then I realized he was talking about when I signed my name. He was five and just learning to write. Learning to physically write your name is a big deal when you’re five! It was so sweet, and funny, and naturally inquisitive.

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If you were going to bake something for the Café on the Moat, what would it be?

Probably gingerbread boys and girls! I bake them at the holidays! Or, gingerbread people shaped like the characters in my book. They could live in the castle cake (with a moat of blue-sugar-sprinkles and jellybeans!) that my brother-in-law baked for the launch of The Princess and the Café on the Moat.

Do you have a favorite place where you like to write? Could you describe it a little?

Even though I have a home office, I enjoy working in cafés because there’s a buzz. I like being a part of the bustle as much as the princess does!  I find the sense of community invigorating. Cafés are where people come together now. A lot of The Princess and the Café on the Moat was written at the bagel café in my hometown. I’ll probably write my next book at the muffin café in the next town over. I spend a lot of time there now.

What is your favorite holiday?

Thanksgiving. It’s special because it’s a holiday that brings people together. No presents required. I like that it’s simply a time to reconnect with family and friends over a meal and give thanks.

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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

You can connect with Margie Markarian on:

Her Website | FaceBook | Twitter

Good Samaritan Day Activity

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The Princess and the Café on the Moat Activities

 

It’s fun spending the day with the princess in the castle and out in the community helping people! Here are four activity pages to take you there!

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

 

Picture Book Review

February 20 – Love Your Pet Day

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About the Holiday

Whether you have a dog or cat, hamster or fish, parakeet, iguana, or llama, your pet is one of the most loved parts of your family. Animals’ funny antics, eager personalities, and unconditional love simply make life better. Today’s holiday encourages you to spend more time with your pet. A longer walk or playtime and a special treat will show your pet how much they mean to you. If you’ve been considering getting a pet, maybe today’s the day. Getting a pet can be life-changing—just as the man in today’s book discovers.

Seed Man

By Aiko Ikegami

 

“One day Seed Man came to town.” After he had dug a hole and chosen a seed from his bag, he planted it and then “called the fairies.” The fairies were very good gardeners. They tended the seed with special food and water and sang to it as it grew from a tiny sprout into a tall sapling and finally into a straight, strong tree.

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Copyright Aiko Ikegami, 2018, courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Among its leafy branches, the tree bore fruit unlike any other. There was a toy bunny, bear, and duckling; a drum and a guitar; and a tricycle, train, and plane. There was even a puppy in a basket. When the fruit was ready, the fairies picked it and “delivered Seed Man’s gifts all over town” to the sleeping residents. “Even if someone didn’t know he needed a gift, Seed Man and the fairies knew.”

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Copyright Aiko Ikegami, 2018, courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

And that is how the man who lived alone with only a photograph of his wife and child to comfort him came to have the dog. When he awoke in his chair, holding the framed picture, he looked at the puppy sitting in her basket in front of him and said, “‘I don’t want a dog.’” As the puppy rolled over and wagged her tail and jumped to greet him, the man said, “‘Ay yi yi.’”  

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Copyright Aiko Ikegami, 2018, courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

But then the man patted the dog and smiled at her. He poured milk into a bowl, and let the puppy sit on his lap. Everything was going well until a butterfly fluttered through the window and captured the dog’s attention. With a leap and a bound, the puppy chased after it, shaking the table and upsetting the coffee cup, the vase of flowers and the framed photograph.

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Copyright Aiko Ikegami, 2018, courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

They all crashed to the floor, shattered.  “The man looked at the broken picture” and sent the dog away. Later, the sky darkened and rain pelted the window. The man wondered what the puppy would do. He picked up his umbrella and “went to look.” The sidewalks were crowded and he couldn’t see the dog anywhere. But the fairies knew right where to find her. They brought her back to the old man.

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Copyright Aiko Ikegami, 2018, courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The man was so happy to see her, and she was happy to see her. He picked her up, and she licked his nose. The Seed Man watched the old man and the puppy together and “knew it was time.” The fairies carried the bag of seeds to the old man’s home and knocked on the door. Now a new Seed Man, his puppy, and the fairies are coming to town.

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Copyright Aiko Ikegami, 2018, courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Aiko Ikegami’s enchanting story offers young readers much to consider about the nature of love and its power to broaden horizons and overcome loneliness, fear, and other emotions. For the old man, the companionship of the puppy opens his heart and reopens his eyes to the world around him. Previously focused on his own feelings and sadness, the man finds in the puppy someone else to care about, a compassion that soon extends to others. As Ikagami’s fairies know, each person has unique needs and responds to different inspirations.

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Ikegami’s whimsical illustrations fill in and expand on her story, the simplicity of which cleverly leaves it open to personal interpretations. Discussions may revolve around the gift of talent, how the seed of love grows when well planted and tended, and how the childlike fairies remind us that children are our greatest gift. And then there’s the Seed Man himself. Is he a mystical figure or can he be anyone paying kindness forward?

Ikegami clearly depicts the emotional transformation the old man experiences. At first stooped with sadness, his change of heart when he accepts the puppy comes with smiles and crinkled eyes, and when he is designated as the new Seed Man, his dramatic change in appearance and disposition shows children that love and purpose found lead to a happy life.

For opening discussions about many aspects of love and happiness, Seed Man is an original story that would be a welcome addition to home and classroom bookshelves.

Ages 5 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585363797

Discover more about Aiko Ikegami, her books, and her art on her website.

Love Your Pet Day Activity

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A Little Ball of Kitten

 

This sweet little kitten is easy to make and can keep you company on your desk or shelf! Since every kitten is different, you can make yours to look just the way you want. Here’s how I made mine:

Supplies

  • Wooden ball with a flat bottom, available in craft stores and in different sizes
  • Craft paint in any color kitten you’d like (I used red and yellow and mixed it to make a mottled orange)
  • Craft paint in pink or white for the inner ear
  • Scrap of fleece for the ears. Fleece is easily shaped to the rounded ball and when painted is stiff enough to stand up on its own.
  • Thin, colored wire in several colors for the tail (string or twine, wrapped wire, fleece, stiff paper, and other materials could also be used)
  • Paint brush
  • Permanent marker for making the face
  • Hot glue gun or strong glue

Directions

  1. Paint the wooden ball and let dry
  2. Paint the scrap of fleece to match the wooden ball, let dry
  3. Cut out small triangular shapes for the ears. Round the bottom of the ears slightly so they fit the shape of the ball
  4. If making a tail from several colors of thin wire, twist them together, leaving one end untwisted
  5. With the glue gun or strong glue attach the ears to the top of the head
  6. With the glue gun attach the tail to the back of the wooden ball in the center near the base
  7. With the marker, draw eyes, nose, and mouth for the face and semicircles near the bottom for the paws

Picture Book Review