January 11 – National Shop for Travel Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday encourages people to look ahead and plan for their next vacation or quick get-away. Whether you’re thinking of visiting a warmer area for some beach time or colder climate for skiing and sledding, meeting up with friends or family for a fun weekend, or dreaming of an overseas adventure, you can start looking into transportation, accommodations, and the attractions you’d like to visit today. And while you wait for a better time to make the trip, you and your kids can do some armchair traveling through books – like today’s humorous story about new experiences and new friends made.

Thanks to Two Lions and Blue Slip Media for sending me a copy of Tabitha and Fritz Trade Places for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own. 

Tabitha and Fritz Trade Places

Written by Katie Frawley | Illustrated by Laurie Stansfield

 

Scrolling through his phone in his rain forest abode, Fritz comes upon an ad that seems to be the answer to his wanderlust and need to escape the constant attentions of his herd. The ad from Tabitha, a self-described “pampered suburban cat” on Lair-BNB.com promises “First-class comfort! Five-star service! Fancy, frilly fun!” Fritz thinks it sounds perfect for a well-deserved birthday getaway. He answers the ad, and Tabitha responds right away. She can’t wait to exchange her pad for a “rain forest adventure” and tells Fritz to keep in touch.

The two pack up and take flights to their vacation destinations. Fritz sends a message to Tabitha that he was well received by one little human in particular and enjoyed splashing in the big watering hole. He also includes a warning about Rocky the snake who “does not play well with others.” For her part, Tabitha is relishing her time in the forest with Fritz’s herd. She’s even met some big cat family members, has discovered a bee hive makes a swell scratching post, found a perfect swatting toy hanging from a tree, and loves the outdoor litter box with its holes and mounds already dug. She also knows just the human Fritz has met and warns him about Claudia’s penchant for playing beauty parlor.

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Image copyright Laurie Stansfield, 2021, text copyright Katie Frawley, 2021. Courtesy of Two Lions.

Fritz and Tabatha’s next messages gush about the local cuisine. Tabitha is gorging on mice salad, mice hors d’oeuvres, and mice pizza while Fritz’s herd looks on in horror, and Fritz is cooking up a storm with Claudia in Tabatha’s kitchen. But the next day brings confusion and disappointment when a trip to the museum with Claudia and a dust bath go awry for Fritz, and Tabitha has a run-in with a hippo and finally meets the dreaded Rocky. She does remember, however, to wish Fritz a happy birthday and hopes he enjoys the party Claudia is preparing.

Disappointment turned to disaster, Fritz tells Tabitha, when there was a mix-up in whose birthday they were celebrating. He fondly remembers the birthday surprise his herd gave him last year. He signs off “Singing the blues, Fritz.” Tabitha too is feeling out of her depth and wishes she was back home with Claudia.

Fritz gets the message loud and clear and is all-in on getting back to familiar and beloved  territory. They pack up, make travel plans, and with a hug from Claudia for Fritz and a squeeze from the littlest member of the herd for Tabitha they hit the airport. Contentedly back at home, Fritz and Tabitha keep in touch—happy to have made a friend. In fact, these two like-minded travelers have sent each other thank-you gifts, and Tabitha even floats the idea of taking a trip together!

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Image copyright Laurie Stansfield, 2021, text copyright Katie Frawley, 2021. Courtesy of Two Lions.

Katie Frawley’s clever travelogue—told entirely through phone messages exchanged by Fritz and Tabitha on Lair-bnb—will delight kids. As Fritz and Tabitha regale each other with their adventures, kids will find plenty to giggle about as the shine of the new and exciting gives way to a renewed appreciation of home. Mix-ups and misunderstandings lead to laughs as well as sympathy for these sweet, out-of-their-elements characters. Puns sprinkled throughout the text add to the lighthearted fun, and the story is neatly packed with themes of friendships made and nurtured.

Laurie Stansfield matches irresistibly cute and funny illustrations to Frawley’s text while adding enticing details that will keep kids lingering over the pages with each new reading. As Fritz and Tabitha write about their days, Stansfield’s vibrant images depict the humorous reality of their misinterpretations. Interspersed wordless two-page spreads juxtapose similar situations experienced by Tabitha and Fritz , such as eating, meeting a hippopotamus, and sleeping arrangements.

Although both travelers are happy to cut their trips short, the goodbye scenes demonstrate that despite some rocky moments, both Fritz and Tabitha have made good friends on the other side of the world. A late airport scene of a busy terminal in which both Fritz and Tabitha appear among the many animal travelers can be a fun jumping off point to talk about when and how this “almost meeting” occurred as well as about airports and travel in general.

Original, charming, and packed with lots of laughs and feeling, Tabitha and Fritz Trade Places will become a favorite summer (and anytime) read. The fast-paced, multi-layered story and clever illustrations make this a perfect story time read for home, classrooms, and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Two Lions, 2021 | ISBN 978-1542008549

Katie Frawley grew up on a diet of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and Madeline. She went on to earn a bachelor’s in English from the University of Florida and a master’s in literature from Florida Atlantic University. These days, Katie lives in South Florida with her husband, four children, and a handsome mutt named Nantucket. When she’s not reading or writing, Katie can be found building pillow forts, testing recipes with her teensy sous-chefs, or shooing iguanas from her garden. You can connect with Katie on her website | Instagram | Twitter

Laurie Stansfield grew up in Oxford, England, but packed her bags and moved west to study illustration at the University of the West of England. She now works as a freelance illustrator. She is the illustrator of Poems Out Loud!, published by Penguin UK, and has more books forthcoming. Laurie lives with her husband in Bristol, United Kingdom. You can connect with Laurie on her website | Instagram | Twitter

One Question with Katie Frawley

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I’m excited to do a one-question interview with Katie Frawley about her debut picture book that’s sure to become a favorite whenever kids want to take a flight of fancy!

What is a favorite summer memory from your childhood?

Every summer from the age of about 8 to 18, I rode my bicycle across the state of Iowa with my family, some great friends, and about 10,000 other people. This event is called RAGBRAI, and it is an absolute hoot! The people are wonderful, the food is fantastic, and the memories definitely last a lifetime. I’m sure both Tabitha AND Fritz would enjoy the ride. Perhaps they should lace up their biking shoes and hit the road!

What an amazing experience! A biking tour sounds like a perfect trip for Fritz and Tabitha’s first adventure together! I wish you and Laurie Stansfield all the best with your book and definitely hope to see more about their friendship.

National Shop for Travel Day Activity

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Suitcase Tumble Matching Puzzle

 

These suitcases are well-traveled! Can you find the matching luggage in this printable puzzle?

Suitcase Tumble Matching Puzzle

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You can find Tabitha and Fritz Trade Places at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 4 – It’s Picture Book Month

About the Holiday

November is all about picture books thanks to Picture Book Month founder author and storyteller Dianne de Las Casas and co-founders author/illustrators Katie Davis, Elizabeth O. Dulemba, Wendy Martin, and author Tara Lazar. This month-long international literacy initiative celebrates print picture books and all that they offer to young (and even older) readers. With gorgeous artwork and compelling stories, picture books open the world to children in surprising ways. They entertain, explain, excite, and help children learn empathy and understanding. If you want to learn more about the holiday and read engaging daily posts about why picture books are important by your favorite authors, illustrators, and others in the children’s publishing industry, visit picturebookmonth.com

Don’t Get Your Tutu in a Twist

Written by Jenny Moore | Illustrated by Barbara Bakos

 

Miss Gorilla is hanging the final practice session reminders for her class’s dance recital that night when she comes upon Mrs. Sloth, snoozing in her hammock hung right on the Dance Show billboard. But Ms. Gorilla doesn’t try to rouse her. Instead, she encourages her to dream and rest, wanting her to be at her “dancing best.”

At four o’clock, when the dancers assemble at the theater, Miss Gorilla gives each of them some pointers to make their routines shine. First up is Mr. Elephant who’s having a bit of trouble with the costume and the steps. Miss Gorilla calmly tells him “Don’t get your tutu in a twist, Mr. Elephant, / don’t get your tutu in a knot. / Arms out wide, then turn and glide, / with a graceful jump and a tippy-toe trot.” Next, Mrs. Pelican is all aflutter what with trying to tap and smile, keep her wings up and get her dance right.

Image copyright Barbara Bakos, 2021, text copyright Jenny Moore, 2021. Courtesy of Maverick Arts.

Mr. Polar Bear can’t seem to keep his top hat in place and whirl and twirl at the same time. Miss Gorilla reminds him to “just listen to the beat as you move your feet…” during his soft shoe routine. Miss Gorilla’s glad to see that Mrs. Sloth made it to rehearsal, but now she’s sleeping again! Miss Gorilla gets her tap shoes on her, but that only lasts a moment. Mrs. Sloth keeps sleeping here and sleeping there. She’s even brought the curtain down—but not in a good way; she’s crashed into the stage lights, which lie broken on the floor. Miss Gorilla picks her up and carries her off to find Mr. Crocodile and give him his pep talk. But the minute she’s turned her back, Mr. Crocodile is chewing the curtains and Mrs. Sloth is sleeping in the seats.

Image copyright Barbara Bakos, 2021, text copyright Jenny Moore, 2021. Courtesy of Maverick Arts.

At last it’s time for the big show and the theater is packed. Miss Gorilla encourages her dancers once more—“It’s time to shine –you’ll all be fine, / lights up, drum roll… let’s go!” But the dancers? They don’t look too confident. When Mrs. Pelican goes first her knees knock together and stage fright has her stuck. Next, Mr. Polar Bear takes the stage, but he’s forgotten to listen to the beat, he trips over Mrs. Sloth, who’s dozing on the floor, and knocks Mr. Elephant into the orchestra pit. Mortified, Miss Gorilla, shouts, “Don’t squash the orchestra! No, Mr. Elephant, tippy-toe trot, not splat!” And then what horror does she see? “Don’t eat the audience! No, Mr. Crocodile, / didn’t I mention that?”

Image copyright Barbara Bakos, 2021, text copyright Jenny Moore, 2021. Courtesy of Maverick Arts.

Poor Miss Gorilla admonishes herself. She should have listened to those who told her teaching these students was hopeless. But suddenly she hears… could it be… the sound of applause? She peeks around the curtain to find Mrs. Sloth—her eyes still shut—gracefully gliding with new moves and a “three-toed tip tap groove.” The audience roars for more, and “Mrs. SUPER Sloth” obliges with leaps and twirls, handstands and whirls. But where has she learned all of these steps, Miss Gorilla wonders. Then she realizes and exclaims, Mrs. Sloth “a natural star, it seems… you’ve been dancing in your dreams!”

Image copyright Barbara Bakos, 2021, text copyright Jenny Moore, 2021. Courtesy of Maverick Arts.

Jenny Moore doesn’t tiptoe around the backstage nerves and missteps of a dance recital in her comical story. As Mrs. Gorilla tries to calm the dancer’s jitters and refine their steps, kids will be eager to see how the performance plays out—and, especially, will Mrs. Sloth wake up in time? Moore’s energetic rhymes and rhythms that pulsate with the motivational, slightly frantic beats of teachers or parents trying to get their young charges shipshape for a performance invite dramatic readings that will get kids laughing. Readers will enjoy spotting Mrs. Sloth deeply asleep in various spots at the theater. Encouragement and inspiration to do your best and follow your dreams underlies Moore’s funny story.

Barbara Bakos’s vibrant illustrations of Mr. Elephant, Mrs. Pelican, Mr. Crocodile, Mr. Polar Bear, and Mrs. Sloth are packed with humor as the animals try to rein in their nervousness and put on a good show. Bakos accentuates the mishaps with shocked and worried faces, less-than-graceful steps, and costumes that just don’t stay put. But when it seems that things can’t get any worse, kids will be surprised to see Mrs. Sloth—the most unlikely of prima ballerinas—save the show with her dreamy moves.

A lighthearted and funny book that will reassure dancers and any child taking part in a recital, performance, or presentation as well as entertain kids who just love to laugh, Don’t Get Your Tutu in a Twist is a terrific choice for animated story times at home, school, or public libraries.

Ages 4 – 9

Maverick Arts, 2021 | ISBN 978-1848867802

Discover more about Jenny Moore and her books on her website.

To learn more about Barbara Bakos, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Picture Book Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-books-to-read-bag-empty

Books to Love, Books to Read Book Bag

 

True book lovers can’t go anywhere without a book (or two or three) to read along the way. With this easy craft you can turn a cloth bag into a kid-size book bag!

Supplies

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

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Directions

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

You can find Don’t Get Your Tutu in a Twist at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

October 29 – National Frankenstein Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday celebrates the birth of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, who in 1818 at the age of 18, penned one of the most influential books of all time. Considered the first modern science fiction novel, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus incorporates elements of horror, psychology, love, abandonment, and acceptance. These themes and Shelley’s enthralling storytelling created a book that is always current. In fact, the monster she envisioned continues to inspire writers to create stories of all types from humorous to the truly frightening – or a combination of the two, as you’ll see in today’s book!

That Monster on the Block

Written by Sue Ganz-Schmitt | Illustrated by Luke Flowers

 

Someone was finally moving into Vampire’s old house. Monster, who lived next door wondered who it might be. He hoped it might be an ogre who would invite him “to swim in his mucky, murky swamp.” Or maybe it would be a “greedy goblin with piles of gold to jump into.” Perhaps it would be a dastardly dragon who would throw greasy barbecues. As Monster practiced how he would say hello to his new neighbor, he watched the movers carrying a trampoline, a unicycle, and lots of trunks.

At last his new neighbor emerged. He was wearing “big floppy shoes” and had “wild orange hair” and “a round, red nose. It was…a clown?” Monster couldn’t believe it. He immediately called the neighbors. “‘Unnnnnhhh, unnnnnhhh, unnnnnhhh,’” said Zombie when he heard the news. Mummy shrieked, and Yeti roared. They all agreed that the neighborhood would never be the same again. None of the neighbors welcomed Clown to their block, so he went around to each house to introduce himself. But no one answered the door. Clown left notes and surprises at each house and went back home. When monster found his gift gummy worms, he threw them in the trash. Clown, meanwhile, sat on his porch “and waited. And waited and sat. No one came around.”

But Clown was naturally happy, so he perked up his dreary house, played a happy tune,  and erected a tent. “Monster called a neighborhood meeting. ‘This is out of control!’” he shouted. But Zombie was busy delighting some neighbors with the brain cake Clown had left him, and Mummy was having fun scaring up laughs with the mummy in the box she’d gotten. Yeti was enjoying tricking others into smelling her trick flowers and then spritzing them with water.

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Image copyright Luke Flowers, 2020, text copyright Sue Ganz-Schmitt, 2020. Courtesy of Two Lions.

No one was listening to Monster, so he decided to do something about the interloper himself. At midnight, he rattled chains and banged on a garbage can lid. But Clown didn’t hear it. He was out doing good deeds to help his new neighbors. In the morning Monster was awakened by circus music. He immediately picked up the phone, but no one answered his calls. “‘It’s time for me to have a word with that bozo!’” he said. He stomped over, but on the way he couldn’t help but find the music catchy, the smell of popcorn enticing, and Clown’s invitation to cartwheeling class at his circus school at least a little intriguing.

Inside the tent, he discovered all of his friends having doing circus tricks. When he learned that Clown was “zero percent creepy” and lots of fun, he decided to him a chance. He enjoyed the day so much that Monster even invited him to tea on Sunday. As Monster poured out the tea and passed around sludgeberry swirl scones, a moving van rolled up the block. Out popped a…well, you’ll have to welcome them yourself, just like all the other neighbors!

Sue Ganz-Schmitt turns somersaults with the usual tropes involving diversity in her story as it honestly portrays truisms about prejudice and how both injustice on one hand and understanding on the other spreads through a community. While Monster’s reaction to immediately alert the neighbors and hold a meeting seems to get a big response, readers will see that by the time the meeting takes place, most of the neighbors welcome the newcomer and the positive changes he’s brought. Ganz-Schmitt’s well-paced and superb storytelling is loaded with personality, puns, and the perfect light touch that will have readers taking her story and lesson into their hearts.

Luke Flowers does wonders with larger-than-life characters, and his depictions of Monster, Clown, and all the neighbors are pitch-perfect. Flowers sets up his visual delights early with the image of Vampire’s old house, which is gray and foreboding with detailing that subtly turns the stone structure into a bat. Later Clown converts these same details into clown faces that will charm kids. Just as in the circus, Clown makes a surprise entrance, one that little readers will guess at with glee. Snapshots of Monster calling up his neighbors appear to show that Mummy, Zombie, and Yeti are on board with his dismay, but Ganz-Schmitt’s monster-sound reactions are cleverly noncommittal. Add in the neighbors’ obvious delight with the gifts Clown leaves (a full-page jack-in-the-box image will bring shrieks of laughter), and readers will happily be in on the vibe at the meeting-turned-party.

Contrasting illustrations of Monster trying to bully Clown into leaving and Clown helping out around the neighborhood give kids and adults opportunities to talk about important issues that arise at school and in the news. While images of Monster having fun at circus school show his changing attitude toward Clown, when his displeasure seems to rise again with the entry of another unexpected neighbor, readers will see that this time he has a different and more welcoming reaction. (Added note: Make sure to inspect each page carefully for added visual humor.)

A clever story that delivers important messages about preconceptions, discrimination and acceptance with humor and respect for the intelligence and awareness of children, That Monster on the Block is a must for home, school, and public library story times all through the year.

Ages 4 – 8

Two Lions, 2020 | ISBN 978-1542005333

Discover more about Sue Ganz-Schmitt and her books and find That Monster on the Block coloring pages on her website.

To learn more about Luke Flowers, his books, and his art on his website.

Scare up some fun with this book trailer!

 

Frankenstein Friday Activity

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Rock Jack-O-Lantern

 

Rocks make perfect jack-o’-lanterns or pumpkins to decorate your home at Halloween or all through the fall! 

Supplies

  • Round, smooth rock ( or rocks in a variety of sizes)
  • Orange craft paint, and other colors for a multi-hued pumpkin patch
  • Black permanent marker or black craft paint
  • Short sturdy twig (one for each rock)
  • Hot glue gun or strong glue
  • Paintbrush

Directions

  1. Clean and dry the rock
  2. Paint the rock, let dry
  3. Draw or paint a jack-o’-lantern face on the rock, let dry
  4. Glue the short twig to the top  of the rock pumpkin

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You can find That Monster on the Block at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble |Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 16 – Read a New Book Month

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About the Holiday

There’s nothing better than spending the time snuggled up with a new book. Kids love cuddling and sharing laughs, poignant moments, fascinating facts, and the changes life brings through books. If you’re looking for a way to celebrate Read A New Book Month, check out today’s sweet and surprising book for the youngest readers.

Pablo

By Rascal | Translated by Antony Shugaar

Do you see Pablo? No? He’s in the egg, and he’s sleeping. “Ssshhhhh! (This is the last night he’ll be in his shell.)” In the morning Pablo gathers his strength with a “small croissant and a hot chocolate.” Pablo is a little nervous to meet the world, so at first he pecks out only a tiny eyehole. Then a second one! He looks all around him at what awaits.

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Copyright Rascal, 2021, translation copyright Antony Shugaar, 2021. Courtesy of Gecko Press.

He wants to learn more so he pecks two ear holes, first on one side and then on the other. He hears bees, birds, and the wind. These things make him think he’d like to smell the world too. He “pecks a fifth tiny hole for his beak. He discovers the smell of the soil and the perfume of the flowers.”

Pablo thinks “he’d like to wander around.” First one leg and then the other pop out. Pablo can’t wait to discover the world “on his own two feet.” But he doesn’t have to rely only on his feet. He pecks two more holes—his eighth and ninth—for his wings. Pablo is all set to conquer the world. Except, he’s still in his shell. He cracks it open and discards it. Well, the bottom half at least. The top, Pablo thinks, will make a perfect umbrella “for a rainy day.”

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Copyright Rascal, 2021, translation copyright Antony Shugaar, 2021. Courtesy of Gecko Press.

Charming from the first peck to the last, Rascal’s sweet story, translated in a voice that fully retains the surprise, wonder, and inclusive narration of the original, offers enchanting opportunities for little ones to interact with the book by guessing what comes next, counting the holes Pablo makes, and even adding their own ideas about what Pablo sees, hears, smells, and discovers with each new experience of the world around him. The thought of Pablo having breakfast in his shell before he makes his appearance instantly endears him to readers—who are also just making their entrance into the world of school or activities—and will spark giggles.

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Copyright Rascal, 2021, translation copyright Antony Shugaar, 2021. Courtesy of Gecko Press.

The striking black-and-white illustrations of Pablo sitting in place as the sun, birds, and dotted clouds pass by will captivate both babies and young readers. A second look at those ingenious clouds reveals that the sky above Pablo is home to various shapes and creatures—just as it is for them. Kids will love turning the book sideways and upside down to use their imaginations and discover what’s there. When adorable Pablo finally emerges from his shell, the pop of yellow is sure to bring “Awww!”s and requests to read the book again.

A smart, clever, and immersive story for little ones that adults will enjoy reading over and over, Pablo is highly recommended for home, preschool, school, and public library collections. The book would make a much-loved gift for baby showers, new babies, and any gift-giving occasion.

Read a New Book Month Activity

CPB - Chick single

Hatch a Chick! Craft

Chicks are so cute and fluffy—you just wish you could have one of your very own! Now you can! Hatch your own chick with this craft.

Supplies

  • Cotton balls, or use large pom-poms
  • Yellow chalk
  • Orange paper
  • Black paper
  • Egg shell
  • Paper grass
  • Cardboard or poster board
  • Cheese grater
  • Green paint, marker, or crayon
  • Glue
  • Scissors

Directions

To make the shell

  1. Crack an egg and save the two halves
  2. Soak the eggshells in soapy water or wash gently with soap
  3. Dry eggshell

To make the chick

  1. Use the cheese grater to grate the chalk into a bowl
  2. Roll the cotton balls in the chalk dust until they are covered
  3. Make the beak from the orange paper by folding the paper and cutting a small triangle
  4. Cut two small eyes from the black paper
  5. Glue the beak and eyes to one of the cotton balls
  6. Glue the head to the second cotton ball
  7. Set the chick into one of the eggshells, glue if desired

To make the stand

  1. Cut a 3-inch by 3-inch square from the cardboard or poster board
  2. If you wish, paint or color the square green
  3. Glue green paper grass to the square
  4. Glue the eggshell to the stand.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-pablo-cover

You can find Pablo at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 3 – National Food Bank Day

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About the Holiday

National Food Bank Day was established by St. Mary’s Food Bank, the world’s first food bank, which was founded by John van Hengel in Phoenix, Arizona in 1967. The idea spread throughout the country, and now St. Mary’s Food Bank distributes 250,000 meals daily with the help of staff, volunteers, and partner agencies, making it one of the largest food banks in the United States. Food banks across the country help millions of men, women, and children who live with food insecurity due to job loss, illness, and other circumstances. Many food banks offer educational opportunities that help people change their situation and begin anew. Often, those who have benefited from the programs return to volunteer and contribute to the very food bank that staved off hunger to do the same for others. To learn more about St. Mary’s Food Bank, visit their website. To find a food pantry in your area for help, to donate, or to volunteer, visit the Ample Harvest website.

I’d like to thank Albert Whitman & Company for sharing a copy of Saturday at the Food Bank with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Saturday at the Food Pantry

Written by Diane O’Neill | Illustrated by Brizida Magro

 

When Molly came to the table for dinner, she saw that they were having chili—again. She and her mom had eaten chili for two weeks straight. But there was “fancy milk too.” Molly smiled as her mom measured sugar and cinnamon into her glass and added milk.” There was only a splash of milk left when Mom put it back into the almost-empty refrigerator.

Tomorrow, Mom said, they’d go shopping. “Molly’s eyes lit up” as she imagined “chicken and spaghetti and ice cream.” But Molly’s mom tempered her expectations, saying that they’d be going to a food pantry. A food pantry, she explained, is “‘a place for people who need food…. Everybody needs help sometimes,’” she added. That night there was no warm milk before Molly went to bed and her stomach growled.

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Image copyright Brizida Magro, 2021, text copyright Diane O’Neill. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

In the morning when Molly and her mom got the food pantry there was already a line waiting for it to open. Molly had brought paper and crayons and sat down to draw. Then she saw a girl who was in her class at school. She called out hi, but “Caitlin looked away.” When Molly ran over, Caitlin told her she didn’t want anyone to know that she and her grandmother needed help.

Molly went back to her mom, wondering if there was “something wrong with needing help.” She wanted to go home, but she was also hungry. Molly’s mom suggested she draw a picture, and the woman in front of them asked if she’d draw one for her too. Then everyone in line seemed to want a picture. Molly ran back to Caitlin to ask for help. Caitlin sat down and began to draw too.

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Image copyright Brizida Magro, 2021, text copyright Diane O’Neill. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

When the door opened, Molly and Caitlin each had a picture for the woman who welcomed them in too. Molly noticed that her mom had to sign in before she got a cart and they could begin shopping. They didn’t do that at the grocery store. The shelves at the food pantry were stocked with items she recognized from the store they usually shopped with. She ran over and took a box of sugar cookies off the shelf, but her mom told her “‘They—the people in charges—they’ll want us to take sensible stuff.’” Molly felt embarrassed and couldn’t understand why the cookies were there if they couldn’t take them. She sadly returned them to the shelf. As they went to look for food, Molly thought her mom didn’t want to be seen there, either—just like Caitlin. In a whisper, Molly reminded her that everyone needs help sometimes.

They went through the store taking one can, bag, or box of the food they needed. Then Molly’s mom reached for a box of powdered milk. They could have fancy milk that night. When they got to the checkout desk, Molly and Caitlin found their drawings hanging on the wall. The man at the counter bagged their groceries and then handed Molly’s mom a box of sugar cookies. “‘Saw your little girl looking at these. She can have them, if that’s okay with you, ma’am,’” he said. Molly noticed that her mom looked like she might cry.

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Image copyright Brizida Magro, 2021, text copyright Diane O’Neill. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

As they were walking home, Molly saw Caitlin and her grandmother coming the same way. They were all happy to discover that they were neighbors. Molly’s mom explained that she’d been looking for work since the factory closed, and Caitlin’s grandma said she’d been sick. Caitlin understood, but wished they didn’t have to shop at a food pantry. But then Molly told her that “everybody needs help sometimes” and reminded her that they had helped make the man at the checkout counter feel happy with their drawings. Caitlin hadn’t thought about it that way. She smiled. Then Molly invited her and her grandmother to have lunch with them—with sugar cookies for dessert.

A note for adults, parents, and other caregivers from Kate Maehr, the Executive Director and CEO of the Greater Chicago Food Depository about food insecurity, including recent statistics and a resource where people can find help and more information, follows the text.

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Image copyright Brizida Magro, 2021, text copyright Diane O’Neill. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Diane O’Neill’s well-executed story about two families who need the help of a food pantry is a poignant reminder of the many people—perhaps even readers’ classmates—who face food insecurity every day. Through the experiences of Molly and her mother and Caitlin and her grandmother, readers discover what it’s like to go to bed hungry, miss out on treats, and feel ashamed to ask for help. As this is Molly and her mother’s first trip to a food pantry, Molly’s questions and observations well reflect children’s own or reassures those who are familiar with these important resources. O’Neill’s straightforward storytelling emphasizes the fact that at one time or another everyone needs help and demonstrates simple ways that children make things better through their generosity, optimism, and acceptance. Molly and Caitlin’s budding friendship makes for an uplifting and hopeful ending and may spur readers to recognize need in their midst and extend kindness.

Through her realistic illustrations of two families in need of assistance from a food bank, Brizida Magro helps children see and understand what food insecurity and food pantries look like. At home, Molly and her mom eat small portions of leftover chili and the last full glass of milk. When Molly’s mom puts the carton in the refrigerator, the shelves are nearly empty, and Molly lies awake in bed, too hungry to fall asleep. The line outside the food pantry is made up of people from all walks of life, and inside the displays of food replicate a grocery store with the exception of signs asking shoppers to take one item only. These images can lead to meaningful discussions on the enormity of the issue. When Molly and Caitlin draw pictures that cheer up everyone in line as well as the food pantry workers, kids will recognize not only different ways of helping but their own role in making the world a kinder place.

Empathy shines on every page of O’Neill’s necessary and welcome story. Saturday at the Food Pantry is timely, heartfelt, enlightening and a must-buy addition to home, classroom, and school and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 7

Albert Whitman & Company, 2021 | ISBN 978-0807572368

Discover more about Diane O’Neill and her work on her website.

You can connect with Brizida Magro on Instagram.

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You can find Saturday at the Food Pantry at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 16 – Celebrating Back-to-School Month with Tammi Sauer

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Tammi Sauer, a former teacher and library media specialist, is the full-time author of many popular picture books, including Quiet Wyatt, illustrated by Arthur Howard, and Nugget and Fang and Nugget and Fang Go to School, both illustrated by Michael Slack. Getting kids excited about reading and writing is her passion. Her other passion is tropical tea. Tammi and her family live in Edmond, Oklahoma, with one dog, two geckos, and a tank full of random fish.

You can connect with Tammi on her website | Facebook | Twitter

Hi Tammi! I’m really happy you could help me celebrate kids going back to school with your best-of-friends, Nugget and Fang! This minnow and shark don’t seem like they’d be natural friends, but they make really supportive besties. Many of your books explore friendships and themes of being out of your comfort zone – and always with a liberal sprinkling of humor that really appeals to kids. How has a previous job or jobs influenced your writing and the kinds of books you write?

I am a former pre-k teacher and library media specialist. Both of those positions exposed me to hundreds of picture books. How lovely is it that the more you read, the better you write? Plus, being in the classroom and the library helped me to see what books really resonated with kids.

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My role as Mom has also been a big benefit to me as a writer. I used to read stacks and stacks of picture books to my kids. My son, Mason, was a tough audience—especially when he was four. After every book I read, he would either give it a double thumbs up or say, “Wow, that’s a dud.” I always keep four-year-old Mason in mind as I write. I want to create something that little Mason would have readily endorsed.

How great is it for a picture book writer to have a seasoned and discerning critic in residence?! Thanks so much, Tammi for sharing your experience with readers—and for all of your double-thumbs-up books!

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Nugget & Fang Go to School

Written by Tammi Sauer | Illustrated by Michael Slack

 

When most fish and sea creature saw Fang, they swam or scuttled off in fear. But the mini minnows knew Fang was just a softie – and a vegetarian – because he once had saved them and his best friend Nugget from a fisherman’s net. In fact the mini minnows liked Fang so much, they thought he should go to school with them at Mini Minnows Elementary School. Nugget thought this was a great idea too.

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Image copyright Michael Slack, 2019, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2019. Courtesy of Clarion Books.

Fang was excited until the first day of school arrived. He felt seasick and thought his skin was turning blue. “‘Your skin is always blue,’ said Nugget. ‘You’ll be fine.'” When the first bell rang, Nugget had to drag Fang in by the fin as Fang rattled off questions: “‘What if I lose a tooth? Or two? Or twenty? What if I sit on a jellyfish?'” He was afraid of swallowing someone while yawning, and getting swallowed by a whale himself. As the teacher, a hermit crab, introduced herself, Fang still worried. “‘She looks crabby,’ whispered Fang.'”

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Image copyright Michael Slack, 2019, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2019. Courtesy of Clarion Books.

Nugget tried to reassure his friend. “‘You’ll be fine,'” he said, but things did not go well in reading, math, or science. Music, art and The Brief History of Minnows were also disasters. Fang thought the day couldn’t get any worse, but it did. At the end of the day, the teacher invited each student to the front of the class to share something special. After the horrible day he’d had, Fang did not want to do it. After students had shared their hobbies, talents, or special things from home, it was Fang’s turn. He stood in front of the class nervously trying to think of something to share. Then he noticed Nugget, who was smiling, nodding, and holding the lunchbox the mini minnows had given him that read “Fang, Our Hero!”

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Image copyright Michael Slack, 2019, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2019. Courtesy of Clarion Books.

Suddenly, Fang did feel fine. And he knew just what to say. With a big toothy grin, Fang announced, “‘I have the best friend in the whole underwater world!'” Everyone was so impressed that the teacher even gave Fang a gold star. Now Fang didn’t want to leave school, but Nugget grabbed him by the fin and led him home anyway.

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Image copyright Michael Slack, 2019, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2019. Courtesy of Clarion Books.

Tammi Sauer dives deep into the ways true friends help and support each other in her story that takes on first-day-of-school jitters and shows that even awkward days turn out fine with a bit of encouragement. Little readers will appreciate Sauer’s straightforward storytelling that focuses on children’s common fears when beginning school or any new extracurricular activity with a light touch and plenty of punny humor to get them giggling. To calm those fears, Sauer shows that reassurance and kindness come from many places, including best friends, new friends, and teachers. 

Fans of Nugget and Fang will be happy to reunite with Michael Slack’s rainbow-hued minnows and blue Fang. As Nugget and Fang approach the school, Fang’s fears swirl around him, replicating the way thoughts whirl through a worried mind. Slack’s uncluttered illustrations make it easy for kids to understand Fang’s predicaments as well as the comical touches. Slack uses the ocean environment for plenty of clever interpretations of a classroom setting. The science food chain poster in Nugget & Fang: Friends Forever—or Snack Time? gets a history update in this version, adding to Fang’s embarrassment. Just as in the first book of this series, readers will cheer on Fang and Nugget’s unusual but strong friendship. 

Nugget & Fang Go To School will quickly become a favorite for kids just beginning their school journey, starting a new grade, or going back to in-person learning after a virtual year. The book would be a welcome addition to home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 7

Clarion Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1328548269

To learn more about Tammi Sauer and her books, visit her website!

View a gallery of work by Michael Slack on his website!

You can find Nugget & Fang: Go to School at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

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Nugget & Fang: Friends Forever—Or Snack Time?

Written by Tammi Sauer | Illustrated by Michael Slack

 

Deep in the ocean two friends do everything together and life is almost perfect as they swim over ship wrecks, under reefs, and all around. Nugget and Fang are as close as two friend can be—there’s just one thing: Nugget is a minnow while Fang is a shark. Neither of them consider their friendship unusual—until Nugget goes to school. There during Reading, Nugget hears the story of The Three Little Minnows and the Big, Bad Shark. “‘Ha!’” says Nugget. “‘Impossible!’”

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Image copyright Michael Slack, 2013, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2013. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

During Math class the students solve a word problem: “What if there were ten minnows and a shark came along and ate four of them? How many minnows are left?” Nugget is scandalized. “‘A shark would never do that!’” he says. During Science period when Nugget learns the facts of the Marine Food Chain, he protests that sharks aren’t scary and announces that his best friend is a shark. “Have you lost your gills?” one classmate asks as another snarks, “Hello—sharks eat minnows!” Nugget can’t believe it.

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Image copyright Michael Slack, Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

Back home Nugget gives Fang the bad news. “‘Sounds fishy to me,’” says Fang. Nugget assures him it’s true before swimming far away. “Fang’s heart sank.” As Nugget stayed away, Fang determined to get his best friend back. He tried dressing like a mermaid, inviting Nugget for dinner, and even performing a song and dance routine, but nothing could sway Nugget. Fang was so upset that he didn’t didn’t notice when a fishing net floated toward the sea floor, capturing Nugget and the other minnows.

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Image copyright Michael Slack, 2013, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2013. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

When Fang realizes what has happened, he doesn’t know what to do. Then he has an idea. With his big sharp teeth he chomps and chews and tears the net to pieces, allowing Nugget and the minnows to swim to safety. They all stare at Fang wide-eyed. He knows just what they’re going to say. But Nugget has a new math problem for him: “‘There were ten minnows, and a very special shark came along. How many friends are there altogether?’” Now eleven friends live happily deep in the ocean, and everyone—especially Fang—are all smiles.

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Image copyright Michael Slack, 2013, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2013. Courtesy of HMH Books for Young Readers.

Tammi Sauer’s tribute to true friendship reveals the danger when “facts” take precedence over what you know in your heart to be true. Her reminder to listen to your inner voice is approached with humor and the honest types of doubts that can niggle and cloud judgement. Throughout the story, her language is accessible and kid-conversational, including puns that will elicit laughs. Sauer’s use of a math word problem to both highlight contrary thinking and provide a solution underscores the value of education as well as making new—and keeping old—friendships.

In Michael Slack’s vibrant illustrations, tiny Nugget and imposing Fang make a happy, nonchalant pair. They play together through vivid reefs unaware of marine animal stereotypes. When Nugget gets “schooled,” his astounded expressions and those of his classmates humorously depict their conundrum. The ocean setting gives Slack an opportunity for lots of visual jokes and innovation. Kids will laugh at Fang’s attempts at reconciliation with Nugget, and cheer when he becomes a hero.

Ages 4 – 9

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013 ISBN 978-0544481718 | Lap Board Book, 2018 ISBN 978-1328768391

To learn more about Tammi Sauer and her books, visit her website!

View a gallery of work by Michael Slack on his website!

You can find Nugget & Fang: Friends Forever – Or Snack Time? at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Back to School Month Activity

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Shark Organizer Jar

 

Are some of your favorite school supplies scattered here and there? Would you like to be able to get a good chomp on them? Then here’s a craft you can really sink your teeth into! This shark organizer jar is easy and fun to make and a fin-tastic way to keep your stuff tidy!

Supplies

  • Wide-mouth plastic jar, like a peanut-butter jar
  • Gray craft paint
  • White craft paint
  • Black craft paint
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Find a point in the middle of the jar on opposite sides of the jar
  2. Mid-way between these points on the other sides of the jar, find a point about 1 1/2 inches above the first points
  3. From the first point draw an angled line up to the higher point and down again to the lower point to make the shark’s upper jaw
  4. Repeat Direction Number 3 to make the shark’s lower jaw
  5. With the gray paint fill in the jar below these lines to make the shark’s head
  6. Along the jawline, paint jagged teeth with the white paint
  7. Add black dots for eyes on either side of the shark’s head
  8. Let dry

Picture Book Review

July 14 – Isabel and Her Colores Go to School Blog Tour Stop

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About the Holiday

Today I’m happy to be joining the blog tour for Isabel and Her Colores Go to School, a beautiful picture book about starting a new school year, making friends, and finding a way to share what’s in your heart – even when it’s difficult. I also had a chance to talk briefly with Alexandra and Courtney!

Thanks to Sleeping Bear Press for sharing a digital copy of Isabel and Her Colores Go to School with me for this review. All opinions on the book are my own.

Isabel and Her Colores Go to School

Written by Alexandra Alessandri | Illustrated by Courtney Dawson

 

It’s the night before Isabel’s first day of school, and she’s sitting “cross-legged on her bed, coloreando with her favorite crayons: rojo, verde, azul, rosado, morado, violeta.” Isabel was ready for the next day, but there was something that worried her. She “didn’t speak much inglés. English sounded wrong, like stormy blues and blizzard whites. Isabel preferred the pinks and yellows and purples of español.”

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Image copyright Courtney Dawson, 2021, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

In the morning, Isabel didn’t want to go to school, but Mami drove her there anyway. At the door, she kissed Isabel on the head and reminded her: “‘Al mal tiempo, buena cara. To bad times, a good face.’” But Isabel’s face showed sadness and worry. As class started, Isabel followed along, unsure of what it all meant. During stretching time, the kids counted “‘One, two, three.’” Instinctively, Isabel repeated “‘Uno, dos, tres.’” The colors of their voices “[crashed] against each other.” All the kids stared at Isabel, and she could feel her face getting hot.

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Image copyright Courtney Dawson, 2021, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When it was story time, all the kids took their regular spots on the rug, which left no room for Isabel. Then a girl told her she could sit “‘here’” next to her. Isabel understood the word “here” and sat down. “‘I’m Sarah,’” the girl said. “‘Me llamo Isabel,’” Isabel told her. Then Sarah asked Isabel if she’d like to be friends. The harsh words filled her brain and she shook her head to clear them. She blushed again. “‘No entiendo,’” she said. Misunderstanding herself, Sarah looked as if she might cry. Isabel felt that way too.

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Image copyright Courtney Dawson, 2021, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When lunchtime came, Isabel sat alone and tried to make herself feel better by coloring on her napkin, but tears came anyway. Back in the classroom, Isabel’s teacher announced that it was “coloring time.” Isabel looked up. “Coloring sounded very much like colorear.” When she got a blank sheet of paper and crayons, “Isabel knew she had understood.” As she worked on her picture, she used all of her favorite colors and she remembered Mami’s advice.

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Image copyright Courtney Dawson, 2021, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When she was finished, she showed Sarah. She had drawn herself and Sarah holding hands and surrounded by hearts and stars. “‘Amigas,’” Isabel said, pointing from girl to girl. Sarah understood. “‘Friends,’” she said. When their teacher showed Isabel’s picture to the other kids, all of her classmates were impressed. Their smiles and compliments softened the stormy colors of English “to a brilliant aguamarina—just like home,” and Isabel thought school might be okay after all.

Simultaneous translations of the English story are presented in colorful boxes on each page. A Spanish-to-English translation glossary of words typeset in bold throughout the book is found at the end of the story.

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Image copyright Courtney Dawson, 2021, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Alexandra Alessandri’s emotionally resonant story shines with her unique invitation to readers to understand how language barriers feel from the perspective of a native Spanish-speaking child as well as her English-speaking classmate who wants to be friends. Children’s fondness for drawing and favorite colors gives Alessandri the perfect palette to present initial feelings of worry, disappointment, and frustration as well as a meaningful way for children to bridge differences and discover hope, encouragement, and common ground. Alessandri’s dialogue and interactions between Isabel and Mami as well as between Isabel and Sarah ring true with honesty and the types of small moments that can lead to unintentional misunderstandings and others that unite. Isabel’s love for and descriptions of the rhythms and beauty of her native language are a highlight and can give teachers, parents, and other adults an excellent way to talk to their children about languages, diversity, and communication.

Courtney Dawson’s vibrant illustrations enliven the pages as swoops of color swirl around Isabel and through the classroom, depicting her feelings from moment to moment as well as how English sounds to her and how English and Spanish together clash in her ears. Readers will recognize the colorful elements of a classroom and the routines of a day. Dawson clearly depicts the characters’ emotions as well as how excitement and confidence can change to embarrassment and uncertainty with a word or in a moment—and, happily, vice versa.

Lovely, poignant, and with a unique perspective on themes of language, fitting in, and friendship that will resonate with all kids, Isabel and Her Colores Go to School is a must for home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 5 – 8 

Sleeping Bear Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1534110632

A Chat with Alexandra and Courtney

Hi Alexandra and Courtney! I’m thrilled to be part of your blog tour for your gorgeous book! Thanks so much for stopping by for a quick chat!

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Alexandra Peñaloza Alessandri is a Colombian American poet, children’s author, and Associate Professor of English at Broward College. She received her BA and MA degrees in English from Florida International University, as well as a Certificate of Fiction from UCLA Extension. Her poetry has appeared in The Acentos Review, Rio Grande Review, YARN, and Atlanta Review, where her poem “Inheritance” was a Finalist in the 2017 International Poetry Competition. She is the author of Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela!(Albert Whitman, Oct. 2020) and Isabel and Her Colores Go to School(Sleeping Bear Press, 2021). 

You can connect with Alexandra Alessandri on her website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

What is a favorite summer memory from your childhood?

My favorite summer memories are from the years I went to Colombia in the summer. We didn’t go every year because we couldn’t afford it, but the years we did go were always spent seeing family and cousins across several cities—Medellín, Manizales, Cali, Bogotá—and farms. Several family members had farms in different towns. Of those, one of my favorite memories is from the year my parents sent me to Colombia on my own to stay with family and close friends. I was nine.

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Alexandra in Colombia visiting family when she was nine years old.

 

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Alexandra riding horses in Colombia when she was nine years old.

There were many adventures that summer, but my favorite consisted of riding in the back of a jeep to my tío’s farm near Manizales, playing with cousins, riding horses to the edge of a forest, hiking down to a creek, and following that to a wonderful lagoon and waterfall. It was such a wonderful time!

If you weren’t a writer, what job would you like to have and why?

If I wasn’t a writer (or a teacher!), I would be a librarian. I still remember playing librarian as a kid with my dad’s old pencil mic. I would take my library books and “scan” the barcode with the mic, stacking them up and handing them off to my invisible guests. Libraries held a special place in my heart, as I spent many days there with my mom, looking through books, finding nooks in which to read, and participating in library events. Now, I love connecting readers with books and helping them find the right book to foster that same excitement I remember feeling as a child. Being a librarian would be a natural extension of this!

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Courtney Dawson is an illustrator with a great love for drawing, reading, and most kinds of ice cream. She lives with her family in Ventura, California. Picture books she has recently illustrated include Help Wanted, Must Love Books (Capstone, 2020), A Vote is a Powerful Thing (Albert Whitman & Company, 2020), and The Stars Beckoned: Edward White’s Amazing Walk in Space (Philomel Books, 2021).

You can connect with Courtney Dawson on her website | Instagram

What’s your favorite non-book summer activity?

Spending time with my two kids and my partner is my favorite summertime thing to do! We love riding bikes and having picnics at the park. My favorite alone time activity during the summer though, is drawing outdoors and listening to music.

Thanks, Alexandra and Courtney! I hope you both have a wonderful summer and I wish you all the best with Isabel and Her Colores Go to School!

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You can order signed copies of Isabel and Her Colores Go to School from Books and Books

 

You can find Isabel and Her Colores Go to School at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review