November 18 – It’s Family Stories Month

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About the Holiday

Children benefit so much from close relationships to grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and other extended family members. This month and next, as family gathers together for special holiday events, it’s fun for adults to share family history and their own funny or moving stories of growing up with the younger generation. Letting kids know how much they’re loved by everyone in the family is important too. It helps them develop a sense of belonging, a good self-image, and confidence. Reading together is a perfect way to spend time together and get conversations started.

Thanks to Amazon Crossing Kids and Barbara Fisch of Blue Slip Media for sending me a copy of My GrandMom for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

My GrandMom

By Gee-eun Lee | Translated by Sophie Bowman

Gee-eun’s Grandma sits on the floor, holding her sobbing granddaughter in her lap. Breakfast is on the table and toys are strewn about. A gray cat comes to see what’s going on. “‘Dear me, your mom will have to take a boat to work to get across all these tears,'” she says. Grandma, who Gee-eun calls Halmoni in Korean, distracts her by letting her help make kalguksu. She gives Gee-eun a bit of the noodle dough, and while Halmoni rolls out the dough and slices the noodles, Gee-eun fashions little figures of her, her mom, dad, grandma, and their cat, Mari. When it comes time to make the kalguksu, Gee-eun’s dough family goes into the boiling pot along with the other ingredients. “‘…You tell them to hang on tight to the noodles so they stay afloat,'” Halmoni says.

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Copyright Gee-eun Lee, 2022, translation by Sophie Bowman, 2022. Courtesy of Amazon Crossing Kids.

Gee-eun has been waiting and waiting for Family Sports Day to arrive, but when it does, her mom has to work and can’t go along as she had promised. Gee-eun was looking forward to doing the cheer dance, the tug-of-war, and the running race with her. Now who can she go with? Halmoni tells her granddaughter that she will go. She then relates tales from her own childhood, when she was so strong at tug-of-war that she “could pull all the other kids over with only one arm,” she was such a fast racer that they called her “Speedy Horse,” and was such a good dancer that it “goes without saying.” Then she shows Gee-eun some of her moves.

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Copyright Gee-eun Lee, 2022, translation by Sophie Bowman, 2022. Courtesy of Amazon Crossing Kids.

At Family Sports Day, Gee-eun feels confident in her and her grandma’s chances. But things don’t pan out exactly as she’d hoped, and Halmoni even trips and falls during the race.  Gee-eun is so disappointed that her tears flow freely. Walking home, Halmoni and Gee-eun get a curry bun—and then a second one that is their secret. “No matter how you may be feeling, curry buns are always delicious, especially when shared with Grandma,” Gee-eun says.

They then buy mackerel, bean sprouts, and eggs for dinner, while Gee-eun’s grandma assures her that her father would easily beat a mackerel in a swimming race, that she once bought a bean sprout as big as Gee-eun to season just for her mom, and that a hen always misses her eggs. “‘Halmoni,'” Gee-eun then asks, “‘when will Mom get home?'” The food is on the table when her parents get home, and she runs to the door to greet them so they can eat dinner together…because “nothing beats a mean made by Grandma.”

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Copyright Gee-eun Lee, 2022, translation by Sophie Bowman, 2022. Courtesy of Amazon Crossing Kids.

Gee-eun Lee’s story is infused with those types of events in life, both inconsequential and significant, that are filled with emotional power that make them memorable. From Gee-eun’s meltdown at her mother’s leaving to her grandma’s quick thinking that leads to bonding over food and creativity to the bravado and disappointment of the Family Sports Day, Lee invites readers into the touching and humorous relationship between Gee-eun and her grandmother. Wily, proud, comforting, and understanding, Gee-eun’s grandmother is the heart of the family, bridging the generations with her wisdom and constant love. Lee’s storytelling draws readers in with her warm and familiar dialogue that ingeniously pivots back and forth in time, tying together moments in Gee-eun’s mother’s life, her grandmother’s life, and Gee-eun’s experiences. 

Gee-eun Lee’s soft colored pencil and paint illustrations are delightfully childlike, as if the character Gee-eun had drawn them. In that vein the expressive depictions of Gee-eun’s adult grandma fiercely besting a dozen children at tug of war, her smooth dance and nimble dance moves, and her and Gee-eun’s “set and ready” stance at the track while other mother/child pairs stretch, play, and tie laces are comical joy. The theme of bridging generations also appears cleverly in the image of Gee-eun’s dough family floating together in the soup and the portrait of Gee-eun brushing her doll’s hair while her grandmother brushes and braids Gee-eun’s, among others.

 Written with a unique voice that echoes universal truths about family relationships, My GrandMom is a humorous, poignant, and heartening read aloud that will quickly become a favorite for parents, grandparents, other caregivers, and children to share. The book is highly recommended for home and classroom libraries and a must for school and public library collections.  

Ages 3 – 7

Amazon Crossing Kids, 2022 | ISBN 978-1662508257

About the Author

Gee-eun Lee is an award-winning Korean author/illustrator. She recently won the prestigious BolognaRagazzi Award in the comics category for her book, The Story of How the Korean Shaved Ice Dessert Was Born, and is also a top winner of the Korean Young Illustrator Award. She studied design and illustration in Korea and the UK. Her first picture book, Paper Dad, was made into a children’s musical in Korea. My GrandMom is the second book she both wrote and illustrated and is based on her own grandmother.  You can connect with Gee-eun on Instagram: @studio_geeeun

About the Translator

Sophie Bowman is a PhD student at the University of Toronto, studying Korean literature. She was awarded the ICF Literature Translation Fellowship at Ewha Womans University. In 2015, she won the Korea Times Modern Korean Literature Translation Award grand prize for poetry with her translations of Jin Eun-young and co-translated Kim Bo-Young’s I’m Waiting for You and Other Stories. She recently translated the picture book Magic Candies by Heena Baek, which received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Follow her on Twitter @SophieOrbital.

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You can find My GrandMom at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 22 – It’s National Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month

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About the Holiday

National Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month ushers in a full summer of delicious and nutritious eating with bushels of scrumptious strawberries, blueberries, peppers, squash, lettuce, tomatoes, and so much more. Whether you enjoy the season’s delicacies in a smoothie, as dessert, or as the highlight of a main course, the flavor of locally grown produce can’t be beat. June is also a perfect time to get kids involved in gardening and learning about the growth cycle of plants, fruit, and vegetables from the tiniest seed to ready to pick. Today’s book cleverly combines children’s fascination with this wonder of nature with their own beginnings. 

How You Came to Be

Written by Carole Gerber | Illustrated by Sawsan Chalabi

 

Little ones are always interested in where they came from and how they were born, and parents fondly remember all those months of anticipation and love that led up to the birth of their child. But how can a mom (or dad) relay those special feelings and extraordinary changes in a way that a toddler or preschooler can understand?

In How You Came to Be, a mother talks lovingly to her baby using sweet, conversational language that is straightforward and sure to make both adult and child smile. Carole Gerber begins with the moment of conception when “…a wiggly little cell from another / joined a round little cell from me. … Together these two tiny cells formed / one brand-new cell that would become YOU.” Then with each month, Gerber offers size comparisons to a fruit or a vegetable to help little ones visualize their growth and the developmental changes that came with it, from a pea in the first month to a melon in the ninth.

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Image copyright Sawsan Chalabi, 2022, text copyright Carole Gerber, 2022. Courtesy of Rise x Penguin Workshop.

Along the way, kids discover that in the second month they were the “size of a kidney bean. / Your head was really big, / with lots of room inside / for your brain to grow.” They also learn about how their face was taking shape and the umbilical cord that nourished them. In the fifth month, little ones find out that while they were now the size of a banana, their bones were beginning to develop, their legs were getting longer, and they were able to kick. “Sometimes when I rubbed my belly, / I felt you thump back. / Was that your way of saying hello?” What a wonderful line for a mom to read to show a little one how strong their bond is and how long they’ve been communicating.

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Image copyright Sawsan Chalabi, 2022, text copyright Carole Gerber, 2022. Courtesy of Rise x Penguin Workshop.

“In the ninth month,” the mother narrator says, “you were large enough and strong enough to come out into the world.” She recalls all of the preceding months and ends with this message that every child will want to hear: “I loved you from the beginning / and I always will.”

Back matter includes a glossary of five words that adults can use for extended discussions with their child, a list of stages as a fetus develops the ability to move and the five senses. Two paragraphs also describe a vaginal birth and a C-section birth in language that is age accessible.

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Image copyright Sawsan Chalabi, 2022, text copyright Carole Gerber, 2022. Courtesy of Rise x Penguin Workshop.

It’s easy to imagine a parent and child reading How You Came to Be while snuggling, giggling, and being amazed together. Carole Gerber’s scientifically sound and charming storytelling will make this book a family favorite, and offers a fun way to revitalize grocery shopping as well!

Sawsan Chalabi’s gorgeous illustrations, which juxtapose lush depictions of fruit and vegetables entwined with vines or growing on trees or in gardens with images of mothers thinking about and preparing for their baby’s arrival and are placed on velvety black backgrounds, draw readers of all ages into the marvels of birth. Her two-page spread of a mother cradling her newborn surrounded by wildflowers is as simply beautiful as the expression of love the page’s verse contains.

A tender and evocative way for parents and children to share their exquisite bond and unending love, How You Came to Be will make a much-appreciated baby shower or new baby gift and a favorite addition to family bookshelves as well as public library collections.

Ages 2 – 4

Rise x Penguin Workshop, 2022 | ISBN 978-0593225738

Discover more about Carole Gerber and her books on her website.

To learn more about Sawsan Chalabi, her books, and her artwork, visit her website.

National Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month Activity

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Play with Your Food Games

 

Young children will have fun testing their memory and matching these fruits and vegetables from today’s book.

To Play a Memory Game

  1. Print two copies of this Play with Your Food Memory Game Template
  2. Cut the cards apart
  3. Place the cards randomly face down on a table 
  4. Turn over one card and try to find it’s match. If the images on the card match, put them aside. If the cards don’t match put them back on the table and try again until a match is made. Continue playing until all the cards are matched.

To Play a Matching Game

  1. Print two copies of this Play with Your Food Matching Game Board Template
  2. Cut one template into individual fruit and vegetable cards
  3. Let toddlers or preschoolers match the individual cards to the fruit and vegetables on the game board

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You can find How You Came to Be at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 7 – National Lighthouse Day

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About the Holiday

For centuries along rocky shores, lighthouses have stood as sturdy beacons warning ships at sea of dangerous waters. In 1789, the United States Congress approved an Act for “the establishment and support of lighthouses, beacons, buoys and public piers and the commission of the first Federal lighthouse, the Cape Henry Lighthouse at Cape May, Virginia Beach.” Two hundred years later, the anniversary of this historic event was celebrated with another Congressional resolution sponsored by Senator John H. Chafee of Rhode Island, which designated August 7 as National Lighthouse Day. On this day, where possible, the country’s lighthouses are open to the public for viewing and tours. To celebrate today, visit a lighthouse if you live close by or read up on lighthouses and the work of brave lighthouse keepers throughout history.

Hello Lighthouse

By Sophie Blackhall

 

“On the highest rock of a tiny island at the edge of the world stands a lighthouse.” It is sturdy and shines its greeting far out to sea, “guiding the ships on their way.” “Hello! …Hello! …Hello!” The lighthouse has just gotten a new keeper. He begins his job by polishing the lens, refilling the oil, trimming the wick, and giving the “round rooms a fresh coat of sea-green paint.” He works at night too, making sure that the clockwork is wound to keep the lamp moving and writing in the logbook.

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Copyright Sophie Blackall, 2018. Courtesy of Little Brown Books for Young Readers.

To have his tea, the keeper must boil his water and for lunch or dinner he fishes for cod right from the lighthouse window. He wishes for someone to talk to—the special someone he writes letters to. He puts these letter in bottles and throws them into the sea. Outside, the wind whips up the waves and they crash against the lighthouse.

One day, the keeper spies the tender ship that is bringing him “oil and flour and pork and beans…and his wife.” The next day fog descends, thick and gray. Instead of a beam of light, a bell clangs to warn the ships away. But, still, a ship founders and breaks apart on the rocks. “Not a moment to lose, the keeper rows out. He pulls three sailors from the deep, black sea. He and his wife wrap them in warm blankets and serve them hot tea. The keeper makes note of all this in his log.

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Copyright Sophie Blackall, 2018. Courtesy of Little Brown Books for Young Readers.

In the winter, “the sea turns into a carpet of ice.” The keeper falls ill, and his wife tends to him as well as to the light. She runs up and down the spiral stairs to feed her husband broth and “chip ice off the lantern room windows.” At last his fever breaks. With warmer weather the ice melts, giving way to icebergs that float by going south. “Whales pass by on their journey north.”

Inside the lighthouse, the keeper’s wife is about to have a baby. She walks around and around, while “her husband boils water and helps her breath in—and out.” When the baby is born, the keeper notes the time and date in the logbook. “The sky erupts in swirls of green. Hello! …Hello! …Hello!”

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Copyright Sophie Blackall, 2018. Courtesy of Little Brown Books for Young Readers.

The baby is a toddler when the tender brings an unexpected letter with the coast guard seal along with its regular supplies. After reading it, the keeper tends to the light “just as he’s always done,” but he “knows it’s not for long.” Through the telescope, the keeper and his wife watch the horizon for the arrival of the coast guard. When they come, they install a new light—one that runs by machine. There is “no lamp to fill, no wick to trim. The keeper’s work is done.”

He and his wife and little girl “pack their belongings into the boat and wave farewell to the gulls.” As they sail away on the ship, they look back and say “Good-bye, Lighthouse! Good-bye! …Good-bye! …Good-bye!” From its perch on the tiny island, the lighthouse sends out its constant beam through crashing waves and enveloping fog—”Hello! …Hello! …Hello?” From across the bay, a light from a little house “beams back. Hello! …Hello! …Hello! Hello, Lighthouse!”

An expensive and fascinating Author’s Note about lighthouses, the life of a lighthouse keeper, and how Hello Lighthouse came to be follows the text.

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Copyright Sophie Blackall, 2018. Courtesy of Little Brown Books for Young Readers.

As I read Hello Lighthouse, I saw myself as a child—a displaced New Englander growing up in Florida who loved everything about the craggy northern coastline and its history. I would have absolutely adored Sophie Blackall’s detailed and atmospheric book, and today’s young readers will too. The story of the light’s last keeper reveals the work and contemplations of the men and families dedicated to keeping shipping lanes safe. The weather and seasons—and ever-present logbook—are characters in their own right, just as they were for the conscientious and brave lighthouse keepers. Happy surprises—the arrival of the keeper’s wife and baby—will delight children as they add to the depth of the story.

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Copyright Sophie Blackall, 2018. Courtesy of Little Brown Books for Young Readers.

Blackall’s stunning illustrations will swell readers’ hearts with the same intensity as the rolling seas.  A cutaway image of the lighthouse offers a realistic view of the five levels of living space accessed by a winding staircase that ultimately leads to the lens. Thrilling portrayals of choppy seas, wind-whipped crashing waves, pea-soup-thick fog, and sailors thrown from their wrecked ship will rivet children to the story. The cyclical nature of a keeper’s work mirrors the round rooms of the lighthouse and is represented throughout the story with circular, porthole-like snapshots of the keeper at work and round accents in the home, such as rugs, tables, and the quilt pattern on the couple’s bed. The final image of the family—the baby now a little girl—communicating with their old home anchors the story in history, togetherness, and a love of the sea.

Hello Lighthouse is a gorgeous, enlightening, and cozy read-aloud for home and classroom libraries that will enthrall young readers again and again.

Ages 4 – 9

Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2018 | ISBN 978-0316362382 (Hardcover) | ISBN 978-1408357392 (Paperback, Orchard Books, 2019)

To learn more about Sophie Blackall, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Lighthouse Day Activities

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Shining Lighthouse Maze

 

Lighthouses protect ships from rocks, fog, and other dangers. Can you help the beam from the lighthouse reach the tugboat that is approaching in this printable Shining Lighthouse Maze? Here’s the Solution.

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National Archives Lighthouses from the Collection

 

If you’re fascinated by lighthouses, you’ll love exploring these drawings from the United States National Archives. Click below to download a pdf of lighthouses from around the country. 

The National Archives of the United States Coloring Book of Lighthouses

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You can find Hello Lighthouse at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review