July 11 – National Cheer Up the Lonely Day

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About the Holiday

There are many people who, due to age, health, lack of transportation, distance from family and friends, and other factors, feel lonely. Today’s holiday was established to bring awareness to this problem and to encourage people to reach out to those who are alone. There are many ways to cheer up someone who’s feeling lonely, including visiting, taking them for an outing, calling, and taking food, treats, or something else you know they would like.

The Lonely Mailman

Written by Susanna Isern | Illustrated by Daniel Montero Galán

 

The mailman sets off on his bicycle at the crack of dawn to deliver letters all around the forest. “The mailman goes to each door, rings the bell, and only says four words: ‘Squirrel! Letter for you!’” Squirrel’s letter is from Hedgehog, who accidentally pricked him while at the market. He’s inviting Squirrel for dinner to make up for it. Next the mailman delivers a letter from Squirrel to Hedgehog. “He whispers so quietly that even he can hardly hear the words. “‘Hedgehog! Letter for you!’” Squirrel says all will be forgotten if Hedgehog invites him to dinner.

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Image copyright Daniel Montero Galán, 2016, text copyright Susanna Isern, 2016. Courtesy of danielmonterogalan.com.

Sometimes the animals invite the mailman in for a cup of coffee, but he never accepts. In fact, “he never gets off his bicycle” as he makes his rounds. Today, that includes letters between Dormouse and Woodpecker, who are resolving a loud tapping issue. Even though the animals see the mailman every day, they don’t really know him or anything about him. It doesn’t occur to some of them to wonder about the mailman as he, say, tosses a letter to Turtle from the Butterflies, who want to visit “to flutter around and keep you cool, and sit awhile on your lovely shell, listening to your tales while we enjoy the sun” and delivers an invitation from Turtle to the Butterflies to “sunbathe in peace and quiet” on his shell and have a cup of tea inside if it rains.

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Image copyright Daniel Montero Galán, 2016, text copyright Susanna Isern, 2016. Courtesy of danielmonterogalan.com.

Other animals, though, do think about the mailman. Some think he doesn’t say much because he’s sad. But as Bear reads his letter from Rabbit and Rabbit reads a letter from Bear, they don’t take time to ask the mailman how he’s feeling. At the end of the day, with “no more letters in his bag,” the mailman goes home feeling weary. But he still has much to do. In the flickering light of his candle, he sits down at an old typewriter and writes letters. “They are the letters he’ll be delivering the next day: invitations, apologies, plans, and messages full of love.”

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Image copyright Daniel Montero Galán, 2016, text copyright Susanna Isern, 2016. Courtesy of danielmonterogalan.com.

One day, as the sun is going down and the mailman is heading home, he sees that the last letter in his bag is addressed to him. He rushes home excited by the letter—the first he’s ever gotten. At home, he puts the letter in his own mailbox, “whispers four words: ‘Mailman, letter for you!’” then retrieves it and goes inside. As he reads the letter, a lump forms in his throat. The forest animals have discovered his secret and want to thank him.

Just then the doorbell rings—for the very first time. When he opens the door, he sees all the forest animals waiting for him. They surround him with cheers and hugs, and as the “old mailman smiles and blushes” he’s already composing the letters he will write tonight.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-lonely-mailman-embraced

Image copyright Daniel Montero Galán, 2016, text copyright Susanna Isern, 2016. Courtesy of danielmonterogalan.com.

The Lonely Mailman is a mesmerizing book in every way. Susanna Isern’s storytelling is straightforward, honest, and lyrical as she follows the mailman on his rounds, whispering those four words everyone wants to hear. Peeking into the letters that the animals exchange shows a world where mistakes happen, fears niggle, and grievances are expressed. It is also a world full of kindness, consideration, generosity, and love. The discovery that the mailman himself is the sower of this network of friendship will tug at readers’ hearts as they wish the same for him. The forest animals’ final response to one sharp-eyed mouse’s suggestion is touching and satisfying

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Image copyright Daniel Montero Galán, 2016, text copyright Susanna Isern, 2016. Courtesy of danielmonterogalan.com.

Daniel Montero Galán washes the soft, velum-like pages with gorgeous earth tones from the warm, golden light of dawn to the soft blues and greens of a summer day to the fiery reds of sunset. The dens, knotholes, and burrows of the forest creatures are cozy with homey details, and the letters each animal receives are called out in parchment-colored rectangles that add to the vintage feel. Alert readers will be intrigued to follow the little mouse who chases here and there, spying on the rotund mailman—who is shaped like half an inverted heart just waiting to be completed—and will be cheered when the animals embrace him, filling out his life with love.

Captivating and moving, The Lonely Mailman is a beautiful story that touches on themes of friendship, empathy, loneliness, kindness, and the power of the individual to create change. The book would be a superb choice for home and classroom libraries.

Ages 5 – 8

Cuento de Luz, 2017 Hardcover: ISBN 978-8416147984 | Paperback, 2018: 978-8416147977

Discover more about Susanna Isern and her books on her website.

To learn more about Daniel Montero Galán, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Cheer Up the Lonely Day Activity

CPB - Paper Flowers

Paper Flower Bouquet

 

These paper flowers will brighten anyone’s day and come in a rainbow of colors. Make a bouquet to share them with a new friend.

Supplies

  • Tissue paper in many colors
  • Green paper
  • Green wire for stems
  • Scissors
  • Tape or glue
  • Pliers

CPB - Paper Flowers II

Directions

To make the stem

  1. Bend a 1 ½ -inch loop in the top of the wire
  2. Squeeze the wire together so it will fit tightly over the tissue paper

To make a flower

  1. Cut 6 or more 7-inch squares from tissue paper, mixing colors (you can make various sizes of flowers by making the squares larger or smaller and adding more squares)
  2. Gather all the squares together and fold them together accordion-style in 1-inch folds
  3. Slide the folded tissue paper under the wire loop, and tighten the wire
  4. Gently fan the tissue paper out on each side
  5. Beginning on one side, gently pull each sheet of tissue paper up toward the center
  6. Repeat step 5 on the other side

To make leaves

  1. Cut leaves from green paper, leaving a stem to wrap around the wire flower stem
  2. Fold the leaf stem around the wire and tape or glue

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The Lonely Mailman can be found at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

December 11 – It’s Write a Friend Month

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About the Holiday

During the month of December people like to reach out to friends near and far and share the events of the past year. Write a Friend Month commemorates such communication and encourages writers to pick up a pen and paper and send a “real letter” full of intriguing details that inspire a response. Finding a letter or card in the mailbox still makes people smile. So, why not take a little time this month to write a letter to your friends?

Dear Dragon: A Pen Pal Tale

Written by Josh Funk | Illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo

 

In a bit of cross-curriculum creativity, the teachers in two distinct school districts have combined the annual poetry units and pen pal projects. Not only do the kids get to make new friends, they must write their letters in rhyme. George Slair has been matched up with Blaise Dragomir. What George doesn’t know—but readers do—is that Blaise is a dragon; and what Blaise doesn’t know—but readers do—is that George is a boy.

In his first missive, George begins boldly and honestly: “Dear Blaise Dragomir, / We haven’t met each other, and I don’t know what to say. / I really don’t like writing, but I’ll do it anyway. / Yesterday my dad and I designed a giant fort. / I like playing catch and soccer. What’s your favorite sport? / Sincerely, George Slair”

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Image copyright Rodolfo Montalvo, 2016, text copyright Josh Funk, 2016. Courtesy of Viking Books for Young People.

As Blaise reads the letter he interprets George’s cardboard box, blanket, and umbrella fort as a medieval stone fortress with an iron gate and whittled-to-a-point log fencing. Blaise writes back: “Dear George Slair, / I also don’t like writing, but I’ll try it, I suppose. / A fort is like a castle, right? I love attacking those. / My favorite sport is skydiving. I jump near Falcor Peak. / Tomorrow is my birthday, but my party is next week. / Sincerely, Blaise Dragomir”

In his next letter, dated October 31, more earth-bound George tells Blaise that parachuting is awesome, that his dog destroyed his fort, and that he is trick-or-treating as a knight—a revelation to which Blaise has a visceral response. But what is scary to one pal is tame to the other. On November 14th Blaise relates: “Knights are super scary! I don’t like trick-or-treat. / Brushing teeth is such a pain, I rarely eat a sweet. / My pet’s a Bengal Kitten and tonight she needs a bath. / What’s your favorite class in school? I’m really into math!”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dear-dragon-washing-kitten

Image copyright Rodolfo Montalvo, 2016, text copyright Josh Funk, 2016. Courtesy of Viking Books for Young People.

Reading December’s letter Blaise learns that George likes art and imagines George’s table-top volcano science project as a roaring, lava-spewing mountain. In January George is impressed to learn that Blaise’s father is a fire-breather. He conjures up images of a dad in a fancy, caped costume creating fire out of nothing while the truth is a lot more explosive. February brings word that there is a pen pal picnic planned for June, and in March Blaise tells George about a special outing with his dad: “Soon he’s gonna take me flying, once it’s really spring. / It’s such a rush to ride the air that flows from wing to wing.”

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Image copyright Rodolfo Montalvo, 2016, text copyright Josh Funk, 2016. Courtesy of Viking Books for Young People.

Springtime also sees the two becoming better friends. The formal “Sincerely, George” or “Sincerely, Blaise” sign-off of the first letters has evolved into “Your friend”  as George expresses his wonder at Blaise’s parents: “Hi, Blaise! / Skydiving and flying? Wow, your parents rock! / I’m lucky if my father lets me bike around the block.” Then it appears that this project has been a success in all areas as George asks, “Once the school year’s over and this project is complete, / should we continue writing? ‘Cause it could be kind of neat….”

Blaise is all in. In his May letter, he writes, “Hey, George! / I’m psyched about the picnic and I can’t wait to attend. / Who’d have thought this pen pal thing would make me a new friend? / Writing more sounds awesome. I was gonna ask you, too! / I’ve never liked to write as much as when I write to you.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dear-dragon-sky-diving

Image copyright Rodolfo Montalvo, 2016, text copyright Josh Funk, 2016. Courtesy of Viking Books for Young People.

With a growing sense of anticipation, readers know that with a turn of the page June will come, and that June brings the long-awaited picnic. How will George and Blaise react when they see each other? As the kids approach the Pen Pal Picnic spot, their mouths hang open and their eyes grow wide. One even has his hands to his face. And as the dragons peek out from behind the trees, their mouths hang open and their eyes grow wide. One even has her hand to her face.

“‘Blaise?’” George ventures, as a slice of tomato drops from his hamburger. “‘George?’” Blaise presumes, although he wrings his tail. “‘My pen pal is a dragon?’”… “‘My pen pal is a human?’”

These two-page spreads say it all—or do they? Well, not quite…

Huge grins burst out as George and Blaise exchange high fives (and fours). The other kid- and-dragon pals are having a blast too! And the teachers? “‘Our plan was a success, my friend, or so it would appear!’ / ‘The Poetry and Pen Pal Project! Once again next year?’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dear-dragon-picnic

Image copyright Rodolfo Montalvo, 2016. Courtesy of Viking Books for Young People.

With his usual aplomb, Josh Funk charms with rhyme and reason in this clever tribute to friendship, diversity, and writing (on paper!). The letters between the two pen pals are endearingly kid-like, full of the subjects that are important in a child’s life, including pets, school, hobbies, and parents, which can be brilliantly open to interpretation—or misinterpretation. Blaise Dagomir and George Slair’s names are similarly inspired, and may introduce kids to the ancient legends of Saint George and the Dragon and the poem by Alfred Noyes, St George and the Dragon. Kids will enjoy seeing how George and Blaise’s friendship grows over the school year, evidenced in the openings and closings of their letters. The letters are a joy to read aloud as the rhymes swoop and flow as easily as Blaise soars through the air.

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Following the alternating sequence of the letters, Rodolfo Montalvo depicts each pen pal’s perception of the message along with the reality in his illustrations that are—as George exclaims—“as awesome as it gets.” Both characters are sweet and earnest, and while surprised by what they think the other’s life is like, happily supportive. The full-bleed pages and vibrant colors dazzle with excitement and humor and ingenious details. Kids will love the juxtaposition of George’s idea of Blaise’s Bengal “kitten” and the reality of a nearly full-grown tiger. The two views of fire-breathing will also bring a laugh, and readers will enjoy picking out features of the two homes. The final spreads build suspense as to how George and Blaise will react to each other, and the resolution is a delight.

One striking aspect of both the text and the illustrations is the similarity between the two pen pals. While their activities and experiences may be on different scales, they are comparable and understandable to each child. Likewise, everywhere in the paintings, Montalvo uses complementary colors to unite George and Blaise. This cohesiveness beautifully represents the theme of inclusiveness.

The fun dual-meaning rhymes and endearing illustrations make Dear Dragon: A Pen Pal Tale a must for kids’ (and dragon’s) bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 9

Viking Books for Young Readers, 2016 | ISBN 978-0451472304

From more books to activities for kids, there’s so much to see and do on Josh Funk’s website!

Discover the world of Rodolfo Montalvo’s books and artwork on his website!

Dear Reader, check out this blazing hot Dear Dragon book trailer!

Write a Friend Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dragon-pencil-case-front-eyes-down

Dependable Dragon Pencil Case

 

U-knight-ing all your pens, pencils, and other supplies in this Dependable Dragon Pencil Case will fire up your imagination! Have a blast making this fun craft!

Supplies      

  • Printable Dragon Pencil Case Template – Wings | Face
  • Sheets of felt, 8 ½-inch by 11-inch
  • 2 Dark green
  • 1 Light green
  • 1 white
  • 1 black
  • 1 yellow
  • 1 purple
  • Fabric Glue
  • Glitter glue or Fabric paint (optional)
  • Scissors
  • Velcro
  • Green Thread (optional if you would like to sew instead of glue your case)
  • Needle (optional, needed if sewing)

Directions

  1. Print the Dragon Templates
  2. Cut out alternating rows of scales from the dark and light green felt (7 each). For one row, cut a rounded top (instead of straight across) to make the top of the head (see picture). (One row of scales is longer so you can tile them. You will trim them later: see the double row of scales on the template for how the scales should look)
  3. Cut the eyes from the white felt, pupils and nostrils from the black felt, horns from the yellow felt, and wings from the purple felt. Set aside.

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To make the head

  1. Fold one dark piece of felt in half lengthwise
  2. Cut a wavy line along the bottom of the felt to make lips (see picture)
  3. Glue a ½-inch-wide strip along open side and along bottom (or you can sew it)

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dragon-pencil-case-bottom-snout

To add the scales

  1. Starting at the bottom, lay on row of scales a little above the wavy bottom. Glue the top to the base.
  2. Overlap an alternating green row of scales on the first row, glue the top
  3. Continue alternating dark and light green scales until you reach 9 inches
  4. Use the rounded row of scales for the top of the head (see how to insert horns before attaching top of head)

To insert the horns

  1. On the rounded row of scales, mark where you want the horns to be
  2. Cut two small slices in the felt where the horns will go
  3. Insert the bottoms of the horns into the slits

To finish the head

  1. Glue the top of the head to the base
  2. Trim any longer rows of scales to meet the edges of the base
  3. Add the eyes and nostrils to the face

To make the closure for the case

  1. Cut the base following the line of the rounded row of scales
  2. Glue or sew strips of Velcro along the inside edges

To attach the wings

  1. Turn the dragon case to the back
  2. Glue or sew the wings to the center of the back, attaching them at the center edge
  3. Outline the wings in glitter glue (optional)

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Picture Book Review