June 12 – National Get Outdoors Day

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About the Holiday

Established in 2008, National Get Outdoors Day was instituted to inspire people – and especially young people – to enjoy healthy, active outdoor fun and exploration. Celebrated in conjunction with national parks, people are encouraged to hike, explore, and enjoy the natural wonders near them. You can also head out into your yard to play games or into your neighborhood with bikes, scooters, skates, or just for a walk. There’s so much for kids to see and discover – even concepts that may seem simple are beautiful and complex in the eyes of a child, as you’ll see in today’s book. 

Thank you to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for sharing Southwest Sunrise with me for review consideration. All opinions of the book are my own. 

Southwest Sunrise

Written by Nikki Grimes | Illustrated by Wendell Minor

 

Jayden mopes all the way from New York to New Mexico, upset about moving from his beloved city to “a place of shadows.” Shadows and drabness are all he sees when he gets off the plane. In the morning, though, he wakes up “to a knife of sunlight slicing through” his room. Here, his window doesn’t have bars, and the view is of a “mountain striped in rainbow.” Jayden is surprised; he didn’t know that was there.

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Image copyright Wendell Minor, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

A string of chili peppers brightens the kitchen. Jayden isn’t optimistic that he’ll see any other colors in his new desert surroundings. His mom gives him a field guide to New Mexico at breakfast, and as he pages through it he doesn’t really think he’ll find any of the colorful flowers inside. But then, as he looks around, he spies the burgundy wine-cup and yellow bells that “wake up the desert with their silent ring.” He finds more flowers from the book that add red and purple to the landscape.

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Image copyright Wendell Minor, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Jayden walks on, farther away from his new house. The unfamiliar silence is broken by “the mad chatter of winged gossips passing secrets” from one piñon tree to another. He watches the long-tailed magpies swoop through the “deep waves of turquoise overhead” and wonders why he never saw so much sky in New York. Still, he misses looking up and seeing the grandeur of the skyscrapers.

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Image copyright Wendell Minor, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Looking down again, Jayden finds a striped lizard that seems happy to run along his hand, tickle his fingers. Instead of seashells, he finds bones and an abandoned turtle shell. “What stories do they have to tell?” he wonders. He continues his walk and, upon turning the corner, finds himself in the shadow of a different kind of skyscraper—rugged, red, and rocky. On the air, Jayden hears his mom calling. He picks some flowers the colors of sunset to take home to her. He waves as he nears the house and sees her standing on the porch and flashes her “the first smile she’s seen since New York.” He thinks that maybe New Mexico can be Home.

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Image copyright Wendell Minor, 2020, text copyright Nikki Grimes, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Nikki Grimes’ lyrical story is in plot a tale about moving from one part of the country to another, but in spirit it is a invitation for children and adults alike to open their heart to new experiences, to find the beauty in the unfamiliar and the joy in the unexpected. As Jayden journeys from New York to New Mexico and then around his new environment, Grimes explores honest emotions—the disappointment and anger change can bring, the preconceived ideas about the unknown that can color feelings and actions, and even that moment when a person can reject or accept the new circumstance or opportunity. As a poet, Grimes excels at the perfectly chosen detail and sublime description. Here, her words put readers in the spotlight of New Mexico’s laser sun, let them feel the skittering feet of a lizard, meet a haughty raven, and bask in the rainbow of colors Jayden never expected he’d see. His final smile and resolve to give his new city a chance fulfills the new dawning inherent in the title and is uplifting encouragement for all.

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Slouched down in his airplane seat, baseball cap pulled low over his eyes, Wendell Minor’s Jayden is a picture of despondency. But things begin to look brighter when, in the morning, he notices the mountains and colors he missed the night before. Minor’s sun-washed illustrations allow readers to discover the beauty of the New Mexico desert along with Jayden. His new home is light and open, with a timbered ceiling and windows free of the bars he’s used to. Minor’s use of perspective allows children to view sweeping vistas of the desert landscape as well as images of some of the creatures found there. Putting the raven front and center gives kids an idea of the size and attitude of this striking bird. Fiery reds and oranges, vivid yellows, pinks, and purples, and glorious blues punctuate the sandy backdrop as Jayden’s thoughtful expressions depict his growing appreciation for his new home.

An exquisite book for any child, whether they are moving to a new home, exploring new experiences, or keen observers of their surroundings, Southwest Sunrise would be a joyful addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 6

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1547600823

Discover more about Nikki Grimes  and her books as well as educator guides and resources on her website.

To learn more about Wendell Minor, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Get Outdoors Day Activity

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Beautiful Desert Coloring Pages

 

The desert has plants, animals, and landmarks seen nowhere else. Grab your crayons or pencils and give these two printable scenes some of its unique color.

Curious Rabbit Desert Scene | Western Sun Desert Scene

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You can find Southwest Sunrise at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 10 – It’s National Rivers Month

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About the Holiday

Rivers are beautiful, provide recreation, and are crucial to our water supply. Did you know that in the United States 65% of our drinking water comes from rivers and streams? This month environmentalists and others work to promote awareness of the importance of keeping the nation’s rivers pollution free to protect the fish and animals that call them home and increase enjoyment for all. To help the cause, find out how you can help an environmental organization in your area. This year get to know your local river system and the insects and animals that live in and near these rivers. 

Thanks to Sleeping Bear Press for sending me a copy of Mae the Mayfly for review consideration. All opinions of the book are my own.

Mae the Mayfly

Written by Denise Brennan-Nelson | Illustrated by Florence Weiser

 

“Near the bank of the river one warm spring day / a new life began, and her name was Mae.” Before her mama said goodbye, she hugged her daughter and told her that she had her “whole life—a day, perhaps more” to explore her world. As Mae flitted along the river, a large, hungry trout waited for just the right moment to lure her in. It smiled deceitfully and beckoned to her, and, even though her inner voice told her not to, Mae flew down closer to take a look.

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Image by Florence Weiser, 2020, text copyright Denise Brennan-Nelson, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

That’s when the trout leapt from the water to snatch Mae from the air. But she darted and dodged and got away. Shaking with fear, Mae found a hole in a hollow tree and flew in. “I’ll stay here forever! I’m not coming out!” she told herself.  But once her heart stopped beating so loud, she heard a happy tweet and peeked out of the tree. She saw a mother robin feeding her chicks and a spider web glittered in the sun. “The mist on the river was a fine, pink cloak. / A bullfrog bellowed his morning croak.” 

Mae remembered what her Mama had said and “launched herself from the dark, hollow place.” She followed the river, where she saw flowers and birds, a deer and a bear and one “stubby toad.” Then, she came to a clearing where she found “a singing, dancing jamboree… a wild mayfly jubilee! / Joining in, Mae danced with glee!”

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Image by Florence Weiser, 2020, text copyright Denise Brennan-Nelson, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

As morning turned to afternoon, Mae was floating on the breeze when she heard a call for help. She went in search of who it was and found Trout lying motionless and barely breathing. Fearful that he might leap at her again, she carefully went closer to inspect. “But Trout was weak, no flip or flail. / Tangled line had caught his tail.” Then Mae noticed something else—his shimmering “rainbow stripes in every hue, silver, pink, and shades of blue.” And in his eyes she saw his fear and realized that she and Trout were alike.

Mae went to work to try to free him. The knot was tight, but Mae worked patiently until the line slipped free and Trout swam away with the current. Mae hoped that he would be okay. Just then she saw a flash as Trout returned and with a flip of his tail said, “Thank you.” As nighttime settled over the river and the moon rose high, Mae settled on a cattail leaf. She listened to the bullfrogs and watched the fireflies glow. “The stars came out early for  sweet, little Mae. / She counted each one… then called it a day.”

Back matter includes a message about mindfulness, an exercise to try and facts about mayflies.

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Image by Florence Weiser, 2020, text copyright Denise Brennan-Nelson, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Soaring and uplifting, Denise Brennan-Nelson’s unique story reminds children and adults alike to live each day to the fullest and reveals where the treasures that make life so fulfilling can be found. The short lifespan of a mayfly gives Brennan-Nelson a perfect canvas for compressing the lessons of a lifetime into one day, and her superlative storytelling incorporates parental love, fear, appreciation for our surroundings, courage, selflessness, and friendship. Her language is triumphant, carried breezily on rhyming couplets that are a joy to read aloud. The pitch-perfect ending may bring a tear to the eye but spur readers to find the beauty in every day.

Through Florence Weiser’s lovely textured illustrations, readers can almost feel the breeze ruffling the tall grasses, the spray of river water, and the warmth of the sun as they follow Mae on her adventure. Mae is a cutie with lacy wings and a sweet, expressive face. A powerful image of empathy comes in a close-up, two-page spread in which Mae, looking into Trout’s frightened eye, sees her own reflection. Whereas up to now Mae has been an observer of life, she now becomes an active participant by helping a fellow creature. Working in perfect tandem with Brennan-Nelson’s text, Weiser’s pages take readers on a journey of growth and discovery they’ll take to heart. Calming shades of green dotted with subtle pinks, purples blues, and browns reflect Mae’s mindful approach to life, making this a delightful book to share for quiet story times.

Beautiful and resonant, Mae the Mayfly is highly recommended and would be an often-asked-for addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534110519

Discover more about Denise Brennan-Nelson and her books on her website.

To learn more about Florence Weiser, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Denise Brennan-Nelson

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Denise Brennan-Nelson has written a number of books for children, including Tallulah: Mermaid of the Great Lakes, Leopold the Lion, Someday Is Not a Day of the Week, My Momma Likes to Say, Santa’s Secret, and the popular Willow series. As a national speaker, Denise encourages adults and children to tap into their imaginations to create richer, fuller lives. She travels the country, sharing her reading and writing enthusiasm with schoolchildren and teachers. Denise lives in Howell, Michigan with her husband, Bob. She strives to spend each day teaching and learning with a creative spirit. Find out more about Denise at www.denisebrennannelson.com.

Today, I’m really thrilled to be talking with Denise Brennan-Nelson about her inspiring story, her journey in writing it, and how we can all appreciate the life around us. My blog partner Jakki’s sons, Jack and Steve, also loves Mae the Mayfly and had a few questions of their own. 

Jack wonders: What inspired you to write about a mayfly? 

The inspiration to write about a mayfly came when I discovered that they live, on an average, only one day. I started digging and discovered that while mayflies have many interesting qualities, it was their life cycle that reeled me in and set the basis for the story: a mayfly begins as an egg, then hatches into a nymph. It then lives as a nymph for one to three years before emerging from the water as an adult. Once they have molted––the only insect known to molt twice!––they only have about a day to live. ONE DAY? How do you live your entire life in ONE day? Where would you go? What would you do? I had so many questions. And so, the journey began!

Steve would like to know: Where is your favorite place to go and enjoy nature?

Our backyard has many trees and a few paths to meander on. One of those paths leads to a playhouse that my husband built years ago for our children, Rebecca and Rachel. I love to sit on the steps and take it all in––especially the forever-changing trees and the way the light filters through them. It’s quiet and I watch the birds and the chipmunks, squirrels, and occasionally deer show up. It’s far enough away from our house that I can forget about my “to-do” list and relax.

There are also a couple of parks nearby that have trails and lakes and offer a beautiful place to enjoy nature.

Jack and Steve asked if you spent a lot of time at a pond while creating the story.

No, I didn’t spend a lot of time at a pond, but I did a lot of research to help me visualize the setting.

In early drafts, I pictured Mae’s life beginning on a pond but as the story emerged it turned into a river. Unlike a pond, a river “flows.” It seemed to fit with the ebb and flow of Mae’s life.

The river became integral to the story; Mae’s life began there, she experiences a harrowing ordeal with Trout, which causes her to flee the river out of fear, but ultimately, Mae returns “home” to the river and completes her life. (This was in keeping with a mayfly’s lifecycle.)  

Hi Denise! I love your answers to Jack and Steve’s questions! What an amazing character a mayfly makes. You’ve published many, many books for kids. What inspired you to become a children’s writer? What’s the best part about your job?

I had been happily writing for myself – journals and poetry mostly – when inspiration came knocking at my door in the form of a documented study about bumblebees. According to scientists, bumblebees are not “equipped” to fly. Aeronautically, their wings are too small for their bodies. Upon hearing that, I was compelled to write what was in my head and my heart. I wanted to answer the questions I had: What would happen if bumblebees found out about their small wings? Would fear and doubt stop them from doing what they love to do? Once it was written, I felt I had written something that I wanted to share with others. Four years and many rejection letters later, my first book, Buzzy the Bumblebee was published.

The best part about my job is creating something – taking an idea and turning it into something new that entertains and inspires children and adults. I also love the freedom to work when and where I want to, often in my pajamas in the wee hours of the morning.

Mae the Mayfly is a gorgeous, poignant reminder for both kids and adults to look around and appreciate the beauty all around us. Not only the mayfly, but all of the sights that Mae sees are ephemeral parts of nature. How did you choose each of these?

I felt they had to be simple, yet remarkable acts of nature that would draw Mae out from the hollow of a tree. You know that awe-inspiring feeling you get when you discover a bird’s nest or a spider’s web? That was the basis for the sights and sounds Mae encountered.

I also drew from a trip to Yellowstone where the vivid images of rivers, flowers, bear cubs, and other magnificent acts of nature are forever embedded in my mind.

The rhymes of Mae the Mayfly are as light as she is, and your rhythm is as jaunty as a mayfly’s flight. Could you describe your journey in writing this story?

After learning of a mayfly’s short lifespan, the mulling-over period ensued. A lot of thinking and dialogue in my head takes place before taking pen to paper. Often, I share my initial thoughts with family and friends which helps the pieces come together.

I did more research, too. I watched a video showing how some mayfly nymphs resist the pull to come to the surface when it is time to shed their outer covering and expose their wings. After spending years at the bottom of the dark river, why would they resist? I wondered. Why would they want to stay at the bottom of the river when they could break through the surface into the light, and fly––if only for a day?

Ah, fear.

It was starting to come together – I would write about a mayfly and how beautiful and meaningful one day could be, if she can overcome her fears.

Initially, the story was written in prose and then I wrote it in verse. At one point, I even wrote a funny version for my kids about Mae being stubborn and not listening to her mama. That version didn’t end well for Mae, because, well, she didn’t listen to her mama! My kids got a kick out of it.

Before she was Mae, she was Martha. From Martha to Marvin. Then I changed it to May. And then May became Mae.

My first submission was declined. So, I gave it a rest. The idea was there but I needed to start over. I believed in this story with my whole being and I wasn’t giving up. In June 2018, I resubmitted it and in August I learned that Sleeping Bear Press wanted to move forward with it. I signed the contract in September and it was released in March of 2020 amid a pandemic. It wasn’t the launch I envisioned, but the story is about appreciating the simple things and living life to the fullest. It is also about empathy, fear, and gratitude. Perhaps the timing was just right.

Florence Weiser’s illustrations are adorable while truly highlighting the beauty of what Mae sees. Do you have a favorite spread? Why do you love it?

I love the cover and the end sheets, and the illustration of Mama saying good-bye to Mae tugs at my heart. But my favorite is the spread where Mae encounters Trout tangled in fishing line and Mae sees herself – literally and figuratively – in Trout’s eyes. Mae is confronted with a difficult decision between fear, or courage and compassion. This was a pivotal part of the story and Florence did a remarkable job capturing the emotion of both Mae and Trout.

You encourage people to be aware of and open to inspiration and those small moments in life that make them the best version of themselves they can be. How can kids and adults practice this kind of mindfulness while at home during this time of self-isolating and social distancing?

In a robust and enthusiastic voice my dad often proclaims, “This is living!” He says it with such conviction that you might think he won the lottery. On the contrary, he says it to express his delight over life’s simple/small pleasures; a sunset, eating a fresh-picked tomato from the vine, watching the birds, the daffodils sprouting, a delectable meal, a rainstorm . . .

I am by no means an expert on mindfulness, but I have learned a few things that help me enjoy life a little bit more:

  • Be aware/pay attention – the list of things to delight over is endless when we notice what is going on around us
  • Make room for quiet time and stillness every day
  • Focus on one thing at a time and do it with intention and purpose
  • Write down 3-5 things daily that you are grateful for. Do it as a family with a “family journal” or get a notebook for every member and make it a nightly ritual

Lately I’ve been asking people, “What do you like most about the shelter-in-place order that we are being asked to follow?” Over and over, I’ve heard, “It feels good to slow down . . . less hectic . . .” I hope we emerge from this unique experience with the realization that life is not a race, it’s a gift.

What inspires you each time you start a new story?

When I have an idea that interests me I feel invigorated and purposeful. What can I do with it? Where will it take me? What can I learn from it?

In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott writes, “If you are writing the clearest, truest words you can find and doing the best you can to understand and communicate, this will shine on paper like its only little lighthouse.”

Each time I begin a story I am hopeful that what I write “will shine on paper like its own little lighthouse.”

Thanks so much, Denise! This has been such a wonderful talk! I wish you all the best with Mae, the Mayfly and can’t wait to see more from you in the future.

You can connect with Denise Brennan-Nelson on 

Her website | Facebook | Twitter

National Rivers Month Activity

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World Rivers Word Search Puzzle

 

The world’s rivers provide homes for fish, animals, and birds; offer opportunities for recreation; and supply drinking water for millions. Can you find the names of twenty rivers of the world in this printable puzzle? Then learn where each river runs!

World Rivers Word Search | World Rivers Word Search Solution

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You can find Mae the Mayfly at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | Sleeping Bear Press

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound 

Picture Book Review

May 27 – Rachel Carson Day and Interview with Shana Keller

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday commemorates the birthday, on May 27, 1907, of Rachel Carson, the famous ecologist who launched the modern environmental movement with her 1962 book Silent Spring, which documented the dangers of pesticides to the environment. Silent Spring and Carson’s continued advocacy for the environment ultimately resulted in the banning of the pesticide DDT. To honor the day, learn more about the life and legacy of this influential woman whose work continues to impact our world. To learn more about Rachel Carson, visit rachelcarson.org.

I received a copy of Fly, Firefly! from Sleeping Bear Press for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

Fly, Firefly!

Written by Shana Keller | Illustrated by Ramona Kaulitzki

 

As the wind curled through the forest on a breezy night, a little firefly was blown out to sea. “WHOOSH! Now he was farther than he meant to be.” Floating on the current, “he saw the sparkles that flashed and glowed.” He dove in search of the twinkling lights, but deep water was not the place for him.

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Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2020, text copyright Shana Keller, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

A woman and her niece, strolling along the beach, saw him sinking. The woman scooped him up and gently placed him in her niece’s hand. “‘Little firefly,’ Marjie said. / ‘It’s not flies that you see! / That’s bioluminescence swirling / and twirling through the great sea!’” Marjie carried her treasure up the beach to the edge of the woods, where hundreds of glittering friends and family were waiting to welcome him back, and she set him free.

Following the story, Shana Keller includes a discussion about Rachel Carson—scientist and author of Silent Spring and other books whose experience inspired this story­­—and a description of fireflies and bioluminescence.

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Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2020, text copyright Shana Keller, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Shana Keller’s glowing and lyrical story about one misdirected firefly that sparks an act of compassion and discovery will inspire children to learn more about both fireflies and the bioluminescent sea creatures that attracted him. The fact that the story is based on an actual event in the life of Rachel Carson will also appeal to readers, who may enjoy sharing one of their favorite marvels of summer with this influential environmentalist and author. Told in the first person, the story directly invites children to observe nature around them and lend a hand in protecting it.

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Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2020, text copyright Shana Keller, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Ramona Kaulitzki’s illustrations are as beautiful as a summer sunset. Under the pink and lavender sky, dots of light flit among the bushes and low-standing trees. Children first meet the firefly at the center of the story as he’s tumbling head over tail in the wind toward the rippling ocean. As the firefly mistakenly dives into the waves, kids will empathize with his plight and be cheered when Marjie and her aunt rescue him. Kaulitzki’s gorgeous underwater images highlight the diversity of marine creatures found close to shore as well as those that glitter with bioluminescence. The brilliant glow of the firefly on the dusky pages glimmers like a precious jewel and serves as a beacon of the hope and promise of nature.

A unique book for kids who love nature and to inspire studies of bioluminescence, Fly, Firefly! would be a shining addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 7

Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534110335

Discover more about Shana Keller and her books as well as extensive teacher and homeschool resources and readalouds of her books on her website.

To learn more about Ramona Kaulitzki, her books, and her art and find free coloring pages to download in her shop, visit her website.

Meet Shana Keller

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Shana Keller grew up a middle child in Middle America wondering exactly how clouds stayed in the air. She’s traveled all over the country and some parts of Europe with her family and moved too many times to count. She’s settled in Pittsburgh for now, a city built just for kids and one that she finds secretly inspiring. One of her favorite quotes is from Benjamin Banneker. “Every day is an adventure in learning.” That said, she graduated from the University of Miami, Florida, with a degree in Communications, from UCLA’s screenwriting program, and took a course in songwriting from Berklee College of Music. Her goal is to never stop learning.

You can connect with Shana Keller on

Her website | Twitter | Instagram

I’m excited to talk with Shana today about her books, her inspirations, and her extensive travels. My writing partner Jakki’s sons Steve and Jack also loved Fly, Firefly! and had some questions for Shana.

Steve asked: We like to capture fireflies. Did you capture fireflies as a kid?

I did! My brother and sister and I would compete to see if we could get one of them to land on us.

Jack wondered: Did you watch real fireflies to write your story?

I was so lucky and grateful to live close to where Rachel Carson lived in Pennsylvania while I wrote this story, and to have a pond in our yard. We had frogs, fish, birds, and a good number of fireflies. I watched them every night in the summer when the weather was warm. There was so much wildlife in our backyard! We had chipmunks, groundhogs, wild turkeys, voles, and woodpeckers.

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Our back yard in Pittsburgh. On the bottom right is the pond. Our cat loved to sleep on the picnic table up the small hill. Can you see it behind the little tree? Back there is where the groundhog moseyed around.

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One of the koi fish in our pond surrounded (and protected) by lily pads.

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A groundhog just past the picnic table in our (former) backyard.

CBP Shana Keller Toad Image

A picture of our frog in the same pond as the koi. Lots of critters lived in it and used it for water.

We don’t live in Pittsburgh anymore and I really miss that yard. Sadly, I haven’t seen any fireflies in my new neighborhood in North Carolina.

Jack and Steve said: We’ve brought frogs back to a pond. Have you ever rescued an animal?

Yes! In the traditional sense, our last dog Abby, was a pound puppy. (Though she has passed, I included a photo.) She always stayed up with me while I wrote, no matter how late it was. I still miss her, so it was the neatest surprise for me to see a beagle in the illustrations for Ticktock Banneker’s Clock. Abby was part beagle.

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Abby running in the snow. She always looked like a deer or rabbit the way she bounded and jumped!

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Jazzy standing outside on our deck.

Today, one of our cats is also a rescue. Her name is Jasmine, but we call her Jazzy. And yes, in the literal sense I have rescued a handful of animals! My most memorable one was when I was about ten or eleven years old and I rescued a squirrel from my aunt’s swimming pool.

The little squirrel had tried to jump from one tall tree to the next and missed. He fell into their round pool. The water was too low, and the ledge was too high for him to climb out. I didn’t want him to drown, so I looked around the yard and grabbed a tree branch to see if he would climb onto it. He didn’t. Then, I ran into the shed and grabbed the biggest (which was also the heaviest) shovel I could find. The squirrel swam away from me even faster than before! I chased after him wielding the long shovel and tried not to rip the lining of the pool. Round and round we went until he finally slowed down long enough, I was able to scoop him out.

I’ve also stopped to scoot turtles along if I see them in the middle of the street. This one (photos are of the same turtle) was the littlest and also brightest green turtle I have ever seen in nature.  

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A little turtle crossing the street.

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A picture of the same little green turtle after I moved him. It looked like he was headed toward a pond. I helped him cross the street so he could get there.

Hi, Shana! What fantastic stories about your love of nature and your pets! Thanks so much for sharing all of these beautiful pictures with us. I can see that nature has really been a life-long inspiration. What sparked your idea to write this particular story?

A few years ago, I read a letter Rachel Carson wrote to her friend Dorothy Freeman in a book called Always, Rachel. In her letter, Rachel and her niece, Marjorie (nicknamed Marjie), came across a firefly while at her summer home in Southport, Maine. Around midnight, Rachel and Marjie headed down to the shore to secure Marjie’s son’s raft.

On the shore, they turned their flashlights off and saw a sea filled with “diamonds and emeralds.” The sparkling was bioluminescence, a (likely) form of marine plankton called Dinoflagellates. Rachel joked with her niece how one gem “took to the air!” Of course, it was a firefly! Well, further in the letter, Rachel tells her friend that she had already thought of a children’s story based on her experience. That sentence is what sparked the idea! 

What kind of research did you do in writing Fly, Firefly! and the back matter about bioluminescence that follows the story? What was the most surprising thing you learned about fireflies?

With this story, I headed to the library first to learn as much about the area Rachel was located in (Maine), and the insects and bioluminescence there. Once I sorted through all of my facts, I reached out to an entomologist here in North Carolina, the director of the Rachel Carson Homestead in Springdale, Pennsylvania, and a marine biologist who studied at the very same Marine Biology Lab Rachel did.

I also read Rachel’s books to get a sense of her voice and style. It filters through in her letters, but her books definitely have a poetic aura about them.

The most inspiring thing I learned was the importance and prominence bugs have in our world. We take them for granted. We call many of them pests. But the truth is, they are an important part of our ecological system. As I discovered with fireflies, when you have them, it is a good indication that your ecosystem is in great health.

What inspired you to write Fly, Firefly! in verse?

While I was researching, I discovered Rachel Carson had a love of poetry. Though this is not pertaining (that I know of) to the children’s story she discusses; in another letter written to her, she was quoted by her friend Dorothy (regarding Rachel’s poetic aims), as having said, “I just want it to be simple and clean and strong and sharp as a sword—for it has work to do!”

I did my best to honor her vision in that way, so I kept it lyrical, simple, and clean!

In your bio, you describe how you’ve traveled and lived all over the country and in parts of Europe. What took you to all of these places? Can you name a favorite place in the US? In Europe? Why are those places special to you?

People always assume I was a military brat when I’m asked about the places I’ve lived. Family and school took me/us to Oklahoma (my birth state), Kansas, Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas. Adventure and jobs took me/us to Colorado, New Mexico, Virginia, Germany, & North Carolina.

My mom simply said she had wanderlust and gypsy blood. I definitely got my love of travel from her. Although now, with my kids in school we have settled down. At least until they graduate. J

My absolute favorite place in the United States is Big Bend national park. My mom and I camped there the year before I left for college. It’s right on the border of Texas and Mexico in a NO-FLY zone which means zero light pollution. Seeing the vast Milky Way at night is something I will carry with me forever. I wish every kid could see the sky that I saw.

My favorite place in Europe was in Berlin. It was the bombed Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church left as it was after the war and converted into a museum. When I first saw this monument of destruction but also of hope, it impacted me in a strong way. My photo from over ten years ago is on the left and does not do it justice. The photo on the right is what it originally looked like. It is definitely worth a Google search to see more pictures of it and compare the before and after.

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My photo of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. Notice the top tower is broken.

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An online photo of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. See how big it was before the bombing?

You’ve also recently released Bread for Words: A Frederick Douglass Story from Sleeping Bear Press that relates how Douglass, born into slavery, taught himself to read and write despite overwhelming challenges. Your powerful telling of this story is written in first person. Why was writing Douglass’s story in first person important to you?

I was first introduced to Douglass’s autobiographies in college. I thought this was way too long of a wait to learn about someone who was the most photographed person in 19th century America and considered one of the greatest orators in our nation.

Frederick struggled for years in a hostile environment while he learned to read and write. To honor his accomplishment, one he was clearly proud of, I wanted to present this story in the same format he had and give children direct access to his own words.

 

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Can you describe a little about your process in writing Bread for Words?

I read Douglass’s autobiographies of course, but I also studied his speeches. I was able to take a trip to Baltimore and meet with Urban Ranger and docent, Bradley Alston thanks to the folks at Baltimore National Heritage Area. His insight and knowledge not just of Frederick Douglass but of the Baltimore Douglass grew up in was incredible. Touring the Frederick Douglass–Isaac Myers Maritime Park and museum (a place I highly recommend) with Bradley Alston rounded out my research. I’ve included a few photos from that trip!

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A recreation of Frederick Douglass arriving in Baltimore. (Photo taken at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park and Museum.)

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A recreation of the letters Frederick Douglass saw carved into the wood. (Photo taken at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park and Museum.)

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This is me learning what it was like to caulk a ship, a job Douglass had. They took long rope, dipped it into tar and used the hammer and tool to wedge it in for a watertight seal. (Photo taken by Bradley at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park and Museum.)

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What Baltimore Harbor looks like today.

Did you always want to write for children? How did you get started?

I didn’t expect to, not at first. I always thought I would write screenplays. I got started when my oldest daughter came home with a small paragraph from school about a man named Benjamin Banneker. It was during Black History Month, and I was amazed that I had never heard of this scientist and astronomer. Curious, I began to research him. When I discovered he built a strike clock using only a pocket watch and a pocketknife, that was the story I shared with my daughter, and that’s when the idea to put it in picture book format took place. I haven’t stopped writing picture books since.

You’re really enthusiastic about connecting with readers. What’s your favorite part of book events and meeting kids? Do you have an anecdote from any event you’d like to share?

Yes! In fact, before all the quarantines, I had such a special moment with a group of fourth graders on the day I shared Bread for Words with them. A student referred to the picture that’s on the back of the cover and said, “See how Frederick wants to be with his friend?” The kids interpreted that image as Frederick waiting for his friend to finish with his tutoring so that they could play and hunt and eat together. But also waiting, so that his friend could teach him.

It seems so obvious now that they mentioned it, but my original interpretation was one of exclusion, not simply waiting. To them, all Fred had to do (which Fred actually did) was ask his friend for help. One of the 4th grade boys even said, “I’m glad he had a friend that could help him.” I agreed and said, “It’s amazing how all the kid’s helped each other, isn’t it?!” And there was the real ‘lesson’ which another student pointed out and said, “We have to help each other if we can.” That kind of interaction is my favorite part about school and library visits!

It does make me wonder how other students will interpret this image.

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Bread for Words – back cover. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

What’s up next for you?

Hopefully more picture books! I’m working on a WWI story, as well as a picture book that highlights the effects of light pollution on migratory birds. I also just finished a very cool Coast Guard story that I can’t wait to share with my editor.

Thank you, so much, Shana for this wonderful talk and your generous pictures! I wish you all the best with all of your books and am really looking forward to reading them as I’m sure kids are too!

You can connect with Shana Keller on

Her website | Twitter | Instagram

Rachel Carson Day Activity

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Firefly Flight Maze

 

This little firefly wants to join her friends in the forest. Can you help her through the maze to find them in this printable maze?

Firefly Flight Maze Puzzle| Firefly Flight Mage Solution

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You can find Fly, Firefly! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 20 – World Bee Day

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About the Holiday

Today is World Bee Day! These top-notch pollinators work hard to transport pollen from one flower to the next, so that plants can make their seeds, grow fruit, and launch the next generation of plants! In a larger sense, they keep the world spinning smoothly, by helping plants grow. World Bee Day was created by Slovenian beekeeper Bostjan Noc, president of the Slovenian Beekeepers Association, who first proposed the idea to the United Nations in 2014. The international holiday is meant to show appreciation for bees and other pollinators, and to acknowledge that some bee species are endangered. Make sure to respect and celebrate our bee friends today by reading books about bees, planting a pollinator garden, or installing a sustainable beekeeper. Visit https://www.worldbeeday.org/en/ and http://pollinator.org to learn about the importance of bees and the holiday. To summarize: bee friendly and keep reading.

Thanks to Millbrook Press for sharing a copy of How to Build an Insect for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

Review by Dorothy Levine

How to Build an Insect

Written by Roberta Gibson | Illustrated by Anne Lambelet 

 

Have you ever wondered how to build an insect? Well, wonder no longer! Get ready to discover the world of creepy-crawlies with this hands-on, information-packed, quirky instruction-book! Ready to begin? First, gather your supplies. Got your “HEADS” jar? Great! Nearly every living creature has a head, and each one has a head that’s just right for them. So, pick a head from the jar and let’s get building. Next add a thorax and an abdomen to your creation. “What else should we add?” you may wonder. “What about bones like ours? Should we give it a skeleton? No. There isn’t any room for big bones inside a small insect. An insect has its skeleton on the outside. It is called an exoskeleton. The exoskeleton keeps the inside stuff in and the outside stuff out.” 

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Image copyright Anne Lambelet, 2021, text copyright Roberta Gibson, 2021. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

After the correct number of legs and wings go on, the critical (and funky) five senses are added. “How will our insect see? Let’s give it some eyes! How many? Two? Guess again. Five!” The fun facts continue as sensory elements are added. Did you know, “An insect can have its ears anywhere”? This is “music to my knee ears!” a grasshopper chirps in, adding a comedic flare.

Finally, after adorning insects with “hair, or horns, or spikes, or spots” the builder is instructed to finally give their creation “a place to live and a snack.” The completion of the insect and its release into its habitat is followed by an detailed spread of a fly up close that contains further information about different insect body parts. The book also includes a glossary and information on how to create critters out of art materials and recycled parts.  

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Image copyright Anne Lambelet, 2021, text copyright Roberta Gibson, 2021. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

The young narrator of How to Build an Insect leads readers on a journey of how to build an anatomically correct insect, with a new body part detailed on each spread. Readers will learn about comparative anatomy, what exactly classifies an insect as an insect, and how insect bodies compare to those of humans and other animals. With intricate illustrations detailing bug bits and parts, leaves, berries, skeletons, exoskeletons and a map of “how to” instructions, the book reads like a super-cool science scavenger hunt. The how-to pages are filled with scientific vocabulary that allows readers of all ages to learn the names of insect body parts, from thorax to mandibles, proboscis, cerci, spiracles, and more. 

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Image copyright Anne Lambelet, 2021, text copyright Roberta Gibson, 2021. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

Roberta Gibson cleverly constructs a creative non-fiction storyline jam packed with enchanting scientific facts. Gibson pulled from her knowledge working as an entomologist and research specialist in crafting this fantastic premiere nonfiction picture book. Her well-crafted writing puts complex terms into digestible and interesting explanations that are accessible for kids and adults alike. The writing is snappy, humorous, educational and engaging, featuring silly insect dialogue, and questions bolded for readers to ponder. What more could one possibly ask for?

Anne Lambelet’s masterful illustrations not only provide visually entertaining content to accompany the story, but also provide further information and humor for curious, detail-oriented readers. Insects watch as a brown-skinned, unseen narrator assembles their own insect in their very own science learning space. Sometimes the insects pop in with silly dialogue or engage in human activities, all while maintaining their scientifically accurate appearances. The artwork matches the narrator’s curiosity and close attention to detail perfectly, while maintaining a funky, beautiful art style that is consistent throughout. Spreads are backed by beautiful bursts of purples and greens and feature labeled insect and human anatomy charts; intricate bug- and art-making tools are scattered throughout.

How to Build an Insect is a perfect book for science lovers, outdoorsy individuals, bug enthusiasts, and worm savers of all ages! Also, a good read for those who are less insect-lover-inclined to learn more about how these creatures are not all that different from us humans. A worthwhile addition to libraries, classrooms, and home collections. 

Ages 5 – 9

Millbrook Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1541578111

Discover more about Roberta Gibson and her books on her website.

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

World Bee Day Activities

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Bee an Insect Lover Activities

 

Enjoy these fun and creative How to Build an Insect Activities and Experiments from Millbrook Press!

How to Build an Insect Activities

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Download this Pollinators and Agriculture Poster that artfully teaches about how pollinators work in harmony with agricultural landscapes.

Pollinators Poster

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You can find How to Build an Insect at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

to support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 19 – It’s Get Caught Reading Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-true-tales-of-animal-heroes-flufflesAbout the Holiday

When you love to read, you want to share the excitement that books hold. Get Caught Reading Month encourages people to pass along their love of all things written by asking folks to take pictures of themselves reading their favorite book and uploading those images to social media. Movie and TV celebrities, sports figures, authors, illustrators, teachers, mom, dads, grandmas and grandpas, and kids of all ages take part in this favorite annual event. Why don’t you?! For more information, visit the Get Caught Reading website.

True Tales of Animal Heroes Series

This new picture book series presents real-life stories of animals from around the world who have shown courage and individuality. Through her stories Vita Murrow, an educator, writer, artist, and mom, shows kids that heroes don’t always wear capes or rely on gadgets—some wear fur, rely on claws, and have a brave heart. Your kids will fall in love with these inspiring animals!

Fluffles: The Brave Koala Who Held Strong through a Bushfire

Written by Vita Murrow | Illustrated by Rachel Qiuqi

 

Fluffles the koala lived in southeastern Australia in a vast eucalyptus forest. His home had everything she needed, from delicious leaves to lots of koala friends to sturdy branches to snooze on. “Then one day, a storm announced itself with a BOOM of thunder.” It hadn’t rained in a long time and the lightning strikes threatened to set the forest on fire.

Fluffles watched the sky. She knew that if she saw “red and brown clouds in the sky,” it meant there was a fire. Soon “the cool grey sky indeed grew red.” Fluffles ran for the nearest tree and, using her nimble hands, scurried up to the top of the canopy. The fire sped along the ground, coming to the stand of trees where Fluffles sheltered. She held tightly onto the tree as the fire “jumped at the lower trunk and kissed at the branches.”

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Image copyright Rachel Qiuqi, 2021, text copyright Vita Murrow, 2021. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

At last, the fire burned itself out, and Fluffles wanted to come down and look for her friends, but the trunk was still too hot. “If she climbed down now, it might burn her hands.” Still, the tree wasn’t safe. Carefully, she climbed down, but each grasp hurt her paws. By the time she “reached the forest floor, her hands were one big ‘ouchie.’” Fortunately, there were helpers ready to put soothing cream and special mittens on her paws. It felt nice, but Fluffles was missing something to calm her feelings too.

When her paws had healed and it was time for the mittens to come off, Fluffles reached out to the other koala who was recuperating with her for a big hug. Instead of fear and worry, Fluffles now felt “relief and comfort.” Released back into the forest, Fluffles and her friends stuck together as they watched the forest renew itself slowly but surely.

Two pages of backmatter, including photgraphs, reveal more about the koala population of Australia as well as how veterinarians and volunteers rescued and nurtured the koalas caught in bushfires in 2020.

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Image copyright Rachel Qiuqi, 2021, text copyright Vita Murrow, 2021. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Through Vita Murrow’s true story of a koala surviving a forest fire, kids discover not only the courage shown by these gentle creatures but interesting facts about their eating habits, instincts, paws, and emotional needs. They also learn how wildlife experts are deployed immediately to areas ravaged by fire in order to help injured animals or those whose homes and food sources are destroyed. A sweet fact that will further endear koalas to kids is how much they love and need hugs.

Rachel Qiuqi’s soft-hued illustrations will melt readers’ hearts. Her adorable Fluffles and the other koalas are sweet and lovable and their expressive faces show love, determination, fearlessness, and trust. Images of Fluffles clinging to the helper’s pant leg after the fire as well as the koalas hugging and snuggling in their eucalyptus tree will make all readers smile. Qiuqi’s light green leaves depict the coolness and comfort of the eucalyptus forest, and her textured portrayals of the storm and the smoky skies place readers in Fluffles’ point of view as she gazes out on the burning landscape. As the forest grows back and the koalas return, kids will see that courage comes in brave acts as well as hugs.

Ages 4 – 7

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-0711261594

Discover more about Vita Murrow and her books on her website.

To learn more about Rachel Qiuqi, her books, and her art, visit her website.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-true-tales-of-animal-heroes-fluffles

You can find Fluffles: The Brave Koala Who Held Strong through a Bushfire at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

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Onyx: The Wolf Who Found a New Way to Be a Leader

Written by Vita Murrow | Illustrated by Anneli Bray

 

For seventy years no wolves lived in the mountains of Yellowstone National Park. Then one day a group of wolves was reintroduced into the park. As the wolves flourished, “each ridge of the mountain was protected by its own pack. While wolves had traditionally lived in the park, some people did not agree with bringing them back. “In one wolf family, hunters stole the father away in the night. Leaving the mother and her pups alone.”

As the pups grew, most were feisty, but Onyx was “small and shy. Life was unusually hard for him.” But he had developed his own way of thinking. When it was time for him to leave the pack, he ventured out and met a family like his—“a lone mother wolf with pups.” Instead of fighting with the pups, Onyx played with them. The pups came to think of Onyx as their father, and Onyx enjoyed his relationship with the pups, especially the smallest one, Bravo, who had a strong, independent personality.

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Image copyright Anneli Bray, 2021, text copyright Vita Murrow, 2021. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Onyx taught Bravo to share food and to understand that things weren’t always fair. He also showed him that Onyx would always be there for him. When Bravo left his family, he found “a partner and a pack of his own.” One day he saw an old wolf coming into his territory. He knew he would have to defend his ridge, to demonstrate that he was a leader.

But the old wolf was Onyx. Bravo had “planned to snarl and growl, attack and defend,” but when he looked into Onyx’s eyes, he remembered the lessons Onyx had taught him. Instead of fighting, Bravo demonstrated to his pack that showing respect was another way to be a leader. Over time, Bravo’s behavior was passed down to the other wolves in the pack, and “Bravo’s ridge was a place for any wolf who dared to be different.”

Two pages following the text tell more about the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone as well as about the two wolves featured in the story and includes photographs.

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Image copyright Anneli Bray, 2021, text copyright Vita Murrow, 2021. Courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

In Vita Murrow’s compelling true story of wolves reintroduced into Yellowstone and followed by wolf watchers and wildlife biologists over their lifetime, children learn that one of the most powerful traits one can have is the ability to think differently. Acting on those individual feelings and beliefs can lead to influencing others as well as the outcome of important situations. Nature lovers will also be fascinated with the facts Murrow presents on wolf pack behaviors, how father and mother wolves teach their young, and how wolves recognize each other even after long separations. The story of these particular wolves and the program to reintroduce wolves into Yellowstone serve as a wonderful spark for further research and learning.

Anneli Bray takes readers to the mountain ridges of Yellowstone, where they get a panoramic wolf’s eye view of mountains, waterfalls, valleys, and the forests beyond. Through various images, kids can see how Onyx was different from his brothers and sisters. They’ll also notice that, although he was the one hanging back while a pup, Onyx is the first to strike out on his own. Bray also depicts how Onyx teaches Bravo and reigns in his more aggressive behaviors with actions and facial expressions, developing him into a leader. When Onyx crosses into Bravo’s territory, Bray’s illustrations enhance the suspense and poignancy of Murrow’s story. The final image of Bravo’s ridge demonstrates the legacy that can result from individual thinking.

Ages 4 – 7

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-0711261457

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You can find Onyx: The Wolf Who Found a New Way to Be a Leader at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

May 10 – It’s Garden for Wildlife Month

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About the Holiday

As May’s warm weather and rain creates a perfect environment for growing a garden, today’s month-long holiday, established by the National Wildlife Federation, encourages people to plant a garden that will benefit birds, butterflies, bees, and other insect pollinators. This is easier than it may sound and can be accomplished in a variety of ways and sizes from a single pot or container to a dedicated “meadow” plot. Planting native flowering species makes a positive impact on your local area. To watch a video with five tips to help you garden for wildlife, find plants native to your region, and learn how to have your space recognized as a Certified Wildlife Habitat, visit the National Wildlife Federation website and Garden for Wildlife. Sharing today’s reviewed book is another wonderful way to learn how to make their yards, front gardens, and even whole neighborhoods inviting to wildlife.

A Garden to Save the Birds

Written by Wendy McClure | Illustrated by Beatriz Mayumi

 

One day while Callum and his sister Emmy were eating breakfast, a bird hit their window. They and their mom rushed outside to check on bird. It was okay and flew away, but that’s when Callum noticed that the window glass reflected the sky, and the birds couldn’t tell the difference. Later, Callum, Emmy, and their mom read about birds and learned lots of things they didn’t know – like how there are fewer birds now and how lights at night affect their migration. 

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Image copyright Beatriz Mayumi, 2021, text copyright Wendy McClure. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

They decide to do things around their house to help the birds. They put out feeders and add decals to the windows. “But some of the things we do to help the birds,” Callum says, “are the things we don’t do.” In the fall, they’re mindful of where birds can find food. Even the Halloween Jack-o-lantern plays a part. And they plant bulbs to prepare for spring. It doesn’t take long before they attract a lot of different kinds of birds.

At night they take to turning off the porch lights and lowering the blinds so as not to confuse the birds. Callum looks up at the sky to see dark silhouettes flying by. “I never knew so many birds migrated at night,” he says. “I know now the moon helps them find their way.” He likes that now they and “the moon are working together.”

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Image copyright Beatriz Mayumi, 2021, text copyright Wendy McClure. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

During the winter, Callum and Emmy make sure the birds have shelter and fresh water. They also talk to their neighbors about the birds and some of the changes they could make to help them. At first Callum thinks their next door neighbor isn’t interested in helping, but then they notice that he’s turned off his porch light too. It turns out that everyone on the block is making positive changes.

When spring and summer roll around again and all the flowers and grasses are blooming, Callum discovers that they’re not only helping the birds, but that bees, butterflies, and other pollinators are attracted to the neighborhood too. In fact, the neighborhood has made such an impact that it is recognized with a sign as a certified wildlife habitat. Callum is glad that they have all worked together to make their block a welcoming home for birds and other wildlife.

Backmatter includes a discussion on the decreasing bird population, how kids and their families can create welcoming environments around their homes, and online resources for more information.

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Image copyright Beatriz Mayumi, 2021, text copyright Wendy McClure. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

In her charming and educational story, Wendy McClure strikes just the right tone to engage kids in learning about birds and how they can make changes around their homes to attract and help nurture birds and pollinators. Her storytelling is friendly and kid-centric, and readers will be drawn to Callum’s perspective and concern for wildlife and want to get involved in local environmental activism themselves. Adults will also find helpful and interesting tips on simple ways to make a yard or even a small area bird– and pollinator-friendly. 

Beatriz Mayumi’s lovely and detailed illustrations depict the variety of backyard birds that visit inviting landscapes as well as the beauty of garden plantings. She also clearly and realistically portrays the kinds of feeders, water bowls, nesting boxes, and natural vegetation that attract birds year round. In her images, Mayumi also reminds readers about light pollution and where it comes from in a neighborhood setting. Her beautiful illustrations of the gardens created with such care as well as her depictions of Callum and his family and the whole neighborhood working together will inspire readers to get involved in helping to save the birds.

A charming and inspirational story as well as an excellent guide to turning any area into a sanctuary for birds and pollinators, A Garden to Save the Birds is a book that families and classrooms will turn to again and again. It is highly recommended for all kids and for public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8 

Albert Whitman & Company, 2021 | ISBN 978-0807527535

Discover more about Wendy McClure and her books on her website.

To learn more about Beatriz Mayumi, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Garden for Wildlife Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-garden-for-wild-life-playing-cards

Garden for Wildlife Board Game

 

Plant flowers, install a bird feeder and birdbath, build some birdhouses, and leave a layer of leaves then invite the birds, butterflies, and bees to your garden plot to win the game!

Supplies

Directions

  1. Print one set of playing cards and garden plot (if using) for each player
  2. Print playing die
  3. Color garden plot, paper, or paper plate (optional)
  4. Choose someone to go first.
  5. Each player gets one roll of the die per turn.
  6. Roll the die and place the face-up object in your garden plot. If the player rolls the bird, butterfly, and bee before they’ve added all the other elements, play passes to the next player 
  7. Players continue rolling the die and adding objects to their garden plots. After a player collects them all, they must roll the bird, butterfly, and bee to win.  

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-garden-for-the-birds-cover

You can find A Garden to Save the Birds at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

April 30 – Arbor Day

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About the Holiday

Today is Arbor Day, a national celebration of trees that began as a campaign by J. Morton Sterling and his wife after they moved from Michigan to Nebraska in 1854. Morton advocated for the planting of trees not only for their beauty but as windbreaks for crops on the state’s flat farmland, to keep soil from washing away, as building materials, and for shade. In 1872, Morton proposed a tree-planting day to take place on April 10. On that day nearly one million trees were planted in Nebraska. The idea was made official in 1874, and soon, other states joined in. In 1882 schools began taking part. Today, most states celebrate Arbor Day either today or on a day more suited for their growing season. To learn about events in your area, find activities to download, and more, visit the Arbor Day Foundation website.

Up in the Leaves: The True Story of the Central Park Treehouses

Written by Shira Boss | Illustrated by Jamey Christoph

 

Bob lived in New York, a city crowded with buildings, people, and vehicles. Walking along on the sidewalk, “Bob didn’t like all that rushing around, the eyes of so many people, all those feet on the ground.” He climbed whatever he could find—onto lampposts, up to his apartment building’s roof, even the wall of the castle in Central Park. At school, Bob felt hemmed in by the desks, small classrooms, and packed hallways.

Every day as soon as school let out, Bob ran to Central Park, where it was cool, calm, and uncrowded. People moved slowly there or relaxed on the green grass. The “trees waved their branches in the air, inviting him to come up.” And so he did. Bob scampered up the path made by the bark and climbed higher and higher using the ladder the trees’ limbs provided. He explored cherry trees, pine trees, beech trees, and oak trees. “Each tree was its own world, every limb an adventure.”

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Image copyright Jamey Christoph, 2018, text copyright Shira Boss, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Through the leaves that hid him, Bob could look out over the city. It was quieter and everything looked so small. Bob decided to build himself a treehouse. With scavenged wood and rope, he built a small platform and after school he climbed up to where he could read, think, and listen to the sounds of nature. He even brought peanuts for the squirrels. But one day when he came to the park, his treehouse was gone.

So Bob built another one. This one was bigger, better hidden in the leaves, and had shelter. When rain and wind came, “Bob’s treehouse rocked and swayed—he was a sailor on a ship at sea.” But when the leaves fell in the fall, Bob’s treehouse was discovered and taken down again. In the spring, Bob constructed another treehouse. This one had a long platform and a sturdy house with walls and a roof. Bob devised a rope-and-pulley “elevator” to bring up supplies like “milk crates for tables and chairs” books, snacks, and even his friends.

When the sun went down, Bob stayed and looked at the stars and planets with a telescope he’d set up on the platform. “He became an astronaut, navigating the cosmos.” Seasons came and went and Bob grew older. Each time a treehouse was taken down, he built a bigger and better one.

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Image copyright Jamey Christoph, 2018, text copyright Shira Boss, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Bob’s mom worried that he was spending too much time up in the trees. She wanted him to get a job like everyone else. But he didn’t want to spend his time commuting on a crowded train and moving along crowded sidewalks to work in a crowded office. He didn’t want to deal with the noise and smog-filled air. “Instead, he built the biggest treehouse of all. Five levels and a bridge! Bob was very proud.” He even slept there.

One morning he awoke to voices calling up to him. The park rangers were ordering him to come down. Sadly, he descended. But the man in charge wasn’t angry. He offered Bob a job taking care of the trees. Bob enthusiastically said, “‘I would love to work here!’” Even though he couldn’t build any more treehouses, he still spent his days in the canopy of the trees, climbing up, up, up with special ropes and saddle to trim branches and make sure the trees were healthy. Sometimes at night, though, Bob still found his way to a high, leafy perch to gaze at the stars.

An Epilogue, including a picture of Bob Redman sitting on a branch of one of his beloved trees, tells more about Bob Redman, his treehouses, and what he’s doing now.

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Image copyright Jamey Christoph, 2018, text copyright Shira Boss, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Shira Boss’s captivating true story of a boy who felt more at home in nature than in the city and grew up to care for the trees he loves is a unique story for all kids who love the adventure of their own treehouse or fort and spending time outdoors. With short staccato sentences Boss recreates the cramped in feeling Bob Redman experienced indoors and while moving through the crowded New York streets. As Bob climbs the trees, Boss’s longer, lyrical sentences echo the freedom of the peace, quiet, and slower pace of life Bob craved. His perseverance in building and rebuilding his treehouses, finally to be recognized for his special gifts will encourage kids who also forge their own path.

Jamey Christoph’s charming soft-hued illustrations take kids quickly from the tall skyscrapers and crowded sidewalks of New York City to the lovely green expanse of Central Park to watch Bob swing from the branches as he climbs higher and higher into the parks varied trees. Readers will envy his agility and view of the city. Readers can almost feel the cooler air and the warm sunshine filtered through the leaves as they turn from page to page. Christoph’s recreations of Bob’s platforms and increasingly complex treehouses will impress kids and adults alike. The final images of Bob working a job he was born to do while still enjoying the trees and the city in his own way will inspire children to stay true to what they love.

A lovely and inspiring book with a unique story that will appeal to all readers and especially those who prefer a life of quiet, thoughtful observation and creativity, Up in the Leaves is highly recommended for home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 5 – 8

Sterling Children’s Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1454920717

Discover more about Shira Boss and her book, plus a discussion guide with activities on her website

To learn more about Jamey Christoph, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Arbor Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Climb-a-Tree-Word-Search-Puzzle II

Climb a Tree! Word Search

 

There are so many kinds of trees that make our world beautiful. Can you find the names of twenty threes in this printable puzzle?

Climb a Tree! Word Search Puzzle | Climb a Tree! Word Search Solution

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You can find Up In the Leaves: The True Story of the Central Park Treehouses at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review