January 19 – National Popcorn Day Cover Reveal of Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn!

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Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn!

Written by Cynthia Schumerth | Illustrated by Mary Reaves Uhles

 

Have you ever wondered what happens to your popcorn before it lands in the bowl? Kernel-by-kernel, step-by-step, this story takes readers through the process of growing, harvesting, and finally popping delicious popcorn! However you take it – salted, buttered, or caramelized, every variation of America’s favorite snack begins in the same place. 

Backmatter includes STEM-related discussions about corn kernels and why these kinds of kernels pop when heated, a science activity, and an art project.

With Cynthia Schumerth’s exuberant and educational rhymes that bounce like bursting popcorn and Mary Reaves Uhles’s vibrant, action-packed illustrations of a group of kids planting, harvesting, shucking, cooking (KABOOM!), and eating this favorite snack, Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn! makes the perfect reading treat for any movie night or story time! 

I’m excited to be talking with Cynthia Schumerth and Mary Reaves Uhles to discover how they turned America’s favorite snack into a book so deliciously fun!

Meet Cynthia Schumerth

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Cindy grew up in a small town in Wisconsin where kids played outside from sun-up to sun-down. Much of her writing reflects her love of nature, animals, and family. Cindy believes the power of words is magical and if even one child can find something they can relate to in a story, then that story just might change their world. Cindy lives with her husband and their rescue dog Chance in the same small town she grew up in. Together they raised two amazing children. You can connect with Cynthia on Twitter.

I’m really looking forward to learning more about popcorn when your book’s released! What inspired you to write Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn!?
 

My love of popcorn! Growing up, popcorn was a special treat. It was something that got our entire family sitting together, sharing stories, and having a lot of laughs. This is something I’ve shared with my own children as they grew up. The truth is that I’d been having a bit of writer’s block before I came up with the idea for Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn! I knew I needed something new, something fresh, but I was drawing a blank.

Then I got to thinking… at writing conferences and workshops there is one comment that you hear over and over—write what you love. Well, I love popcorn, so I thought why not write about that? Thoughts about popcorn floated around my head for a few days (maybe weeks).  I considered different ideas about how to use popcorn in a book before I came up with the idea of a farm-to-table story. I grew up in a gardening family and it seemed like a great idea to share the entire process—from seed to the end product of a fluffy, tasty treat—with young readers in a fun way.  

From planting to popping, so much goes into creating the popcorn we love to munch. Can you talk a little about how you decided on the structure of your book—which combines nonfiction with lyrical storytelling?

Initially, I wrote it as a basic farm-to-table story. I wanted it to be fun while still having an interesting takeaway for kids. During a critique, it was suggested that I bring more of the specific popcorn terms into the story instead of having them only in the backmatter. I really liked that idea, but I had worked very hard to get the rhyme and rhythm just right. I had a tough decision to make—keep the story written in rhyme and somehow figure out how to incorporate words like: germ, endosperm, and pericarp into it, or rewrite the story an entirely different way.

I don’t usually write in rhyme. Rhyme is hard because it has to be perfect, but I decided to stick with it because I really liked the flow of the story. I knew I had to make sure the rhyme worked perfectly while still keeping the story factually accurate, and that was a bit of a hurdle. However, I think it’s true that if you write what you love, things work out. When the final manuscript was accepted, my editor surprised me by saying, “Don’t change a thing. I think it’s perfect just the way it is!  In the end, we did change three words, but having to change only three words in the entire manuscript is something I am very proud of!

Did you learn anything surprising about popcorn while writing this book?
 

I was surprised by how simple the process of going from popcorn seed to popped popcorn actually is. It’s both fascinating and something that kids (and adults) can easily understand. How cool is it that after reading Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn!, the reader will be able to impress their friends with scientific knowledge about popcorn and how it pops?! It’s surprising how many people don’t know how the hard, little popcorn seeds turn into puffs of white yumminess.

Another thing that I found surprising is that some folks will pour milk over a bowl of popcorn with a little sugar and have popcorn as a breakfast cereal. I haven’t tried that myself, and to be honest, I’m not sure I will.

Mary’s cover is so enticing. What were your first thoughts when you saw the art for the cover and the interior illustrations.

When our editor told me Mary had been chosen as the illustrator, of course I searched out her work. I was so excited because I think she does great work and she was already an accomplished picture book illustrator! I had to wait over two years before I got to see the cover art, and then longer to see the inside pages, but it was well worth the wait. I think her drawings and her choice of color palette for Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn! are vibrant and inviting. And those kids in the story—I want to be friends with all of them!

I feel very lucky to share this book with Mary. I think this cover will stand out on the shelvesI know it would catch my own eye and I’d pick it up. I think kids will really like it, too.

Have you ever tried to grow popcorn?
 

Actually, one summer my kids and I did try growing popcorn!  Not all the plants made it and the ones that did, didn’t produce as much as we had hoped. After we harvested, dried, and shucked the ears, we were able to get enough kernels to make one pot of popcorn. You know what? It was the best popcorn we ever had! Growing something with your own hands is so satisfying. I hope after reading Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn!, kids will want to give growing their own popcorn a try.

Of course, I can’t let you go without asking—what is your favorite type or flavor of popcorn?
 

I like caramel corn, kettle corn, and I’ve sprinkled parmesan cheese on my popcorn, but if I have to choose a favorite, I’m a salt-only popcorn girl. There are yellow and white types of popping corn, and I prefer white. I think it has more crunch to it. I like my popcorn cooked the good old-fashioned way, in a pot on top of the stove. I have my grandmothers popcorn pan from when I was growing up—it’s over 75 years old! That pan has probably popped thousands of bowls of popcorn. Recently, I’ve started using coconut oil when I pop my corn, and I really like the flavor you get. If you’re worried about the taste, don’t be! It doesn’t taste like coconut; it’s just healthier than using other oils.

Meet Mary Reaves Uhles

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Mary Reaves Uhles has illustrated several children’s books, including The Little Kids’ Table, by Mary Ann McCabe Riehle; The Twelve Days of Christmas in Tennessee, by Alice Faye Duncan; and the poetry collection Kooky Crumbs, by Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis. Before illustrating books for children, Mary worked as an animator on projects for Warner Brothers and Fisher-Price Interactive. A graduate of Ringling College of Art and Design, Mary lives with her family in Nashville, Tennessee. Find her online at maryuhles.com.

What were your first thoughts when you received the manuscript for Let’s Pop Pop Popcorn!?

My first thoughts werewell this is great, I LOVE popcorn! I truly don’t think I could have done as good a job with the book if I didn’t love EATING popcorn and even tried growing it myself when I was about 9 or 10. I was excited about the concept of the cutaway pages where we see the seeds in the dirt, I always loved that kind of thing in illustrations when I was a kid.

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Image copyright Mary Reaves Uhles, 2021, text copyright Cynthia Schumerth, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

And finally, I wanted to have a page or two to draw an environment that looked like where I grew uphuge fields dotted with trailers or houses. Kids and animals of all kinds would spill across the fields as if we owned them! While I didn’t have that many interiors to show in the book, the details of the inside of the blue trailer, such as the green fern curtains, are taken directly from memories of my friends’ houses.

Your cover illustration is so much fun! Did you go through many iterations and revisions before deciding on this final image? Could you take readers through the cover’s journey?

Thank you! I’m really happy with how it turned out. I knew I wanted the cover to have a lot of energy, with popcorn popping everywhere but how to get there? I went through several different thumbnails, some with characters on the cover, some with just popcorn.

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Image copyright Mary Uhles, 2021

Finally I decided on having just one of the child characters. I picked the little girl with glasses because, well, I liked her glasses! Then it was a matter of getting her close to the pot but not so close it might feel a bit dangerous to have all that popcorn (and the lid) flying at her face.

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Image copyright Mary Uhles, 2021

I did popcorn kernels on lots of different Photoshop layers so that, in the final design, the art director could move them to work around the final type. Since there was a lot of action with the popcorn I wanted the background behind the character to be a fairly flat color. I liked the idea of using the blue from the kitchen juxtaposed with the copper pot.

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Image copyright Mary Reaves Uhles, 2021, courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Now, I’m sure readers would love a little sneak peek into the interior. I’ve been lucky enough to see that they can certainly look forward to lots of action and different perspectives! Can you talk a little about how you translated Cynthia’s story into such dynamic illustrations?

Well I used to be an animator so when I begin laying out a book I do it like a film storyboard, with each page turn being a new camera angle. I really think so much of our emotional journey in a book (or movie or TV show) happens with how the camera makes us feel in proximity to the subject. As the plants start to grow I wanted to bring readers close to the tiny stalks and then move them farther and farther back as the plants get bigger and bigger.

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Image copyright Mary Reaves Uhles, 2021, text copyright Cynthia Schumerth, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

 I did the same thing with the kernels in the pot.. I wanted to actually bring the camera down inside the pot so the readers were right next to the POP when it happened.

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Image copyright Mary Reaves Uhles, 2021, text copyright Cynthia Schumerth, 2021. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

In some of the illustrationslike the image of the kernels being pluckedI wanted the reader to feel like they were doing it… so the perspective is from over the bowl. Art director Felicia Macheske and I discussed having lots of different kids doing different tasks throughout the book but waiting until the very end to show all the kids together on a spread. I really liked that idea as it feels very celebratory but it was also a lot to keep track ofwhich kids were appearing on which pages so it stayed balanced. I actually had a visual spreadsheet at one point so I could keep track. I had to laugh that this is now my third book to have a big crowd at the end! In The Little Kids’ Table a huge family gathers around the table and in A Tuba Christmas we see the whole tuba orchestra.

Did you learn anything new about popcorn while working on this book?

Well I actually did not know there were only two kinds of popcorn! Also I looked at lots of different pictures of popcorn to get the details correct and I found it interesting how much smaller popcorn kernels are than ‘corn on the cob’ kernels. A friend of mine gave me a couple of popcorn cobs with the kernels still on when I started sketches and I kept them in my studio the whole time for reference.

In your dedication, I noticed that you give a shout out to Jackson (Team Popcorn) and Grace (Team Chex Mix). Is there a competition for favorite snack in your family?

Ha ha! I don’t know that there is a competition, but I knew from the beginning that this book’s dedication would have to say something about my son’s love of popcorn. Any time there’s family movie night he’s so excited because I’ll make popcorn. For the record I make it the stovetop way, just like in the book. But my daughter is not a fan of popcorn! So I always have to come up with alternate snacks. Her favorite is Chex Mix.

Now that we know Cynthia’s favorite popcorn, I know readers would love to hear what your type or flavor of popcorn is.

I do love just good, old-fashioned stovetop popcorn with a dash of butter and a few more dashes of salt. But I also love kettle corn! It’s my favorite ‘fair food’ as in, getting it at the state fair in giant greasy bags.

Thanks so much! You two have made me hungry! While readers check out where they can preorder Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn!, I’m going to go cook up some nice buttery, salty popcorn for myself! But first, I’d like to invite everyone to enter my giveaway of the book! You’ll find the details right here!

Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn! Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Sleeping Bear Press in Twitter giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn!, written by Cynthia Schumerth| illustrated by Mary Reaves Uhles 

Here’s how to enter:

  • Follow Celebrate Picture Books 
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet
  • Bonus: Reply with your favorite kind of popcorn for an extra entry (each reply gives you one more entry).

This giveaway is open from January 19 through January 25 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on January 26

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | Prizing provided by Sleeping Bear Press.

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You can preorder Let’s Pop, Pop, Popcorn! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

April 14 – National Gardening Day

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About the Holiday

For many of us, spring means gardening. Today’s holiday encourages avid gardeners and those new to this rewarding activity to turn over some dirt, plant seeds, and prepare to tend the little sprouts on their way through the season. While this year may pose challenges to regular gardening routines, ordering options, creative solutions

In the Garden

By Emma Giuliani

 

In her stunningly illustrated interactive guide through the seasons, Emma Giuliani introduces Plum and her little brother, Robin, and invites readers to join them as they tend to their garden and all the plants, animals, and birds that call it home. Plum and Robin begin at winter’s end. “This morning it’s cold. It’s not yet spring, but, in the garden, Plum and her brother Robin see the first catkins appearing on the branches of the willows and hazels. The blossoming mimosa makes the gardeners impatient for spring to come.” As Robin counts the long, drooping catkins, Plum rakes a layer of compost over the ground. On the facing page, children get a close-up view of the fuzzy catkins, can peek inside a bud, burrow underground with earthworms just waking from hibernation, and view a few early bloomers. They also learn about what makes up the earth’s soil and get a recipe for compost.

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Copyright Emma Giuliani, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

With the arrival of spring, Plum is in her little greenhouse, planting vegetable seeds and spritzing the soil with water to keep it moist while Robin repots some plants who have spent the winter in the greenhouse. Outside, Plum aerates the garden bed with a pitchfork, careful of any tiny creatures below. Children can open the door to Plum’s well-stocked shed to see all the tools tidily stored there and lift the flaps to look inside a bulb and help a hyacinth, a daffodil, and a tulip grow.

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Copyright Emma Giuliani, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

At last the warm weather of spring has arrived. The cherry trees are blossoming, and Plum and Robin are setting stakes and planting bean seeds. Next, they provide protection for the tender strawberry plants that are beginning to bloom. Young gardeners will enjoy opening a bean seed to learn what’s inside and then following its growing process. The bees are visiting the cherry blossoms, pollinating the flowers and making honey. What does a bee see as it hovers around the flower? Pull down the flap to see for yourself and learn all the parts of a flower. What other plants are flowering now? Open the flap to see!

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Copyright Emma Giuliani, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

Summer begins and “what a joy to be in the garden in June! The gentle breeze, the smell of cut grass, and the tangy taste of strawberries and cherries make the gardeners smile.” While Plum waters the tomato plants, “Robin looks for ripe strawberries under the leaves.” Join him! Robin is also picking cherries before the birds eat them. How do those bright red, round fruits grow? Lift the flap to learn and see how they develop from flower to fruit. Plum is getting help with the aphids on the bean plants from industrious—and hungry—ladybugs. “Dragonfly larvae are transforming into graceful flying insects….Their presence is a sign of a healthy garden.”

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Copyright Emma Giuliani, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

It’s high summer and the garden is glorious. Bean pods hang from the vines, and Plum contemplates whether they are ready to pick. She may leave some “husks dry out on the plant before picking them.” Dried completely indoors, they can be stored and eaten during the fall and winter. Take a look inside a pod to see the seven red beans there. Flowers greet you too: an orange marigold with petals like a pinwheel, a brilliant pink and purple fuchsia, and a perky mignon dahlia. Robin took cuttings of these plants and potted them to grow some more. Learn how you can do that with your plants too!

The summer heat is waning and the days are growing shorter. Fall is here. The catkins of early spring have become hazelnuts that are ready to be harvested. Even the squirrel approves! Plum and Robin teach you how to store them—and when to pick the winter squash and keep them for months as well. Can you count the number of seeds inside the winter squash? Plum’s beautiful trellised pear tree is bearing sweet fruit. Yum! But look out—a crafty rabbit is after the last leafy vegetables in the garden. No need for a fence, though. Milk will do the trick of shooing him away.

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Copyright Emma Giuliani, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

The air is chilly again and winter is on the horizon. “Plum and Robin have donned their warmest clothes and gone out to collect the dead leaves. Some leaves will feed the compost, others will become mulch to protect plants over the winter. The hedgehogs can use the rest of the leaves in making their homes.” Do you see the pile of crunchy leaves? Lift them gently…shhh! A hedgehog is snoozing underneath. Robin and Plum have built an insect hotel to keep the bugs cozy during the winter and have filled the greenhouse again. For the colorful birds who stay awhile or all winter, Robin and Plum put out a bird feeder and fill it with locally produced seeds.

After putting all of their tools back in the shed, Plum and Robin head indoors to plan next year’s garden and “watch eagerly for the very first signs of spring.”

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Copyright Emma Giuliani, 2020, courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press.

If your family tends a garden or is thinking of starting one, Emma Guiliani’s superb book is a must. At 16 inches tall, In the Garden provides fascinating facts about plants, insects, and animals; helpful tips on when and how to plant a variety of fruit, vegetables, and flowers, information on natural ways to ward off pests; and how to recognize when fruit and vegetables are ready for picking and how to store them. Through copious flaps, children get inside views of flowers, seeds, buds, and vegetables to learn the names of each part and how they contribute to the growth of the plant. Along the way, young and adult gardeners discover how early gardening can begin, directions on how to create and use compost, when bushes can be planted, information on pollination; and how to winter over the garden for the coming spring.

Giuliani’s crisp, lush illustrations are marvels, combining intricate paper cuts that replicate the shapes of delicate bulbs and buds, flowers and seeds, smooth and serrated leaves, the long bean pod, and even Plum’s garden shed with a window in the door. Her extraordinarily beautiful color palette immerses readers in the garden experience; you can almost smell the rich earth, hear the bees buzzing at the blossoms, and feel the air changing season to season.

A brilliant resource and a joy to peruse, In the Garden is a book that adults and children—both gardeners or nature lovers—will share throughout the seasons and from year to year. The book is most highly recommended for home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 7 – 12

Princeton Architectural Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1616898939

You can connect with Emma Giuliani on Instagram.

National Gardening Day Activity

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Plant a Flower Garden Game

 

With this fun game you and your family and friends can grow gardens inside! Roll the dice to see whose garden will fully blossom first!

Supplies

Directions

Object: The object of the game is for each player to fill their garden or garden rows with flowers. Depending on the ages of the players, the game can be adjusted to fill all of the rows, some or all rows, or just one.           

  1. Print one Game Board for each player
  2. Print one or more sets of Flower Playing Cards for each player, depending on how  (for sturdier playing items, print on card stock)
  3. Cut the flowers into their individual playing cards
  4. Print one Flower Playing Die and assemble it (for a sturdier die, print on card stock)
  5. Color the “dirt” on the Garden Plot with the crayon (optional)
  6. Choose a player to go first
  7. The player rolls the die and then “plants” the flower rolled in a row on the game board
  8. Play moves to the person on the right
  9. Players continue rolling the die and “planting” flowers until each of the number of determined rows have been filled with flowers or one row has been filled with all six flowers.
  10. The first person to “grow” all of their flowers wins!

To play a printable Vegetable Garden Board Game, click here.

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You can find In the Garden at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Princeton Architectural Press

Picture Book Review

March 12 – National Plant a Flower Day

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About the Holiday

Spring is right around the corner and with it the beautiful blooms that color our yards, neighborhoods, and communities. In some places the flowers are already blossoming, while in others, people are eagerly waiting for the snow to melt so seeds and plants can grow again. If you’re looking forward to flower gardening—indoors or out—today’s the perfect day to start planning. Why not take a trip to your local nursery or garden supply store and stock up?

I received a copy of Flower Talk: How Plants Use Color to Communicate from Millbrook Press to check out. All opinions are my own. I’m happy to be partnering with Millbrook Press in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Flower Talk: How Plants Use Color to Communicate

Written by Sara Levine | Illustrated by Masha D’yans

 

Do you hear something? Yeah, me too. Oh! It’s the little purple prickly pear down there with all the other cacti. It seems it has something to say about plants. Okay, we’re listening.

“I want to clear up some of your crazy ideas about what the colors of our flowers mean.” You’ve got it all wrong if you think “red roses stand for love and white ones are good for weddings.” While that may be how you interpret the colors, that’s not what they’re really for.

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Image copyright Masha D’yans, 2019, text copyright Sara Levine, 2019. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

“We use our flowers to talk to the animals” so that we can make seeds and more plants. To do that each plant needs pollen from another plant that’s the same kind. Our flowers are like big ads that attract just the right birds, bees, or butterflies to help us out. Lots of times if they’re hungry they fly from flower to flower and bring pollen along with them.

How does each bird or butterfly or bee know which flowers to visit? That’s where our colors come in! And it’s pretty fascinating. Birds can see a color that insects can’t, and they don’t have a good sense of smell. Can you guess which flowers they’re attracted to? How about bees? Which colors do you think they like the best? I’ll give you a hint: “scientists just figured out that bees have three favorite colors.” Of course, we flowers “have known this for ages. That’s why so many of us make flowers in these colors. We like the reliable help.” This is fun, right?

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Image copyright Masha D’yans, 2019, text copyright Sara Levine, 2019. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

How about moths and bats—which flowers do you think they visit? The flowers even assist them in finding their way by putting “out perfume as an extra guide.” You may not like flies buzzing around you, but these color flowers love it. They put out a smell too, but I wouldn’t call it perfume—I don’t think you would either. There’s even a certain color flower that doesn’t talk to animals or insects at all. Go on, try to guess….

Colors aren’t the only trick flowers have either. Some are just the right shape—like mine. In fact, I’ve got to get going. “I’m making a new flower” and “I’m just about done with it.” Oh—what are the answers to the game we were playing? You’ll have to read my book and see!

Back matter includes an illustrated discussion about pollination, information on how to protect pollinators, and a list of other books for further reading.

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Image copyright Masha D’yans, 2019, text copyright Sara Levine, 2019. Courtesy of Millbrook Press.

With appropriate attitude, Sara Levine’s hilarious and knowledgeable prickly pear narrator engages kids in witty banter while taking them on a colorful garden tour. As the cactus explains a plant’s growing cycle and the need for pollinators, the information it imparts is eye-opening for children and adults. Why and how each flower’s color and scent attract just the right pollinator is clearly described in conversational language that kids will laugh along with and learn from. Every page contains an “ah-ha” moment that will spark discussion and an excitement to plant a garden and watch nature at work.

Like a riotous field of wildflowers, Masha D’yan’s dazzling illustrations put colors on glorious display as the flowers lure insects and animals to them. D’yan’s detailed images provide a great place for young naturalists to start researching the various plants introduced. Depictions of the prickly pear, birds, and bees match the humor of Levine’s text . Kids will love lingering over the two-page spreads to point out the various animals and insects and how they interact with the plants. They’ll also like following the growth of the prickly pear’s bud as it grows bigger and blossoms.

A superb book for teaching children about this fascinating feature of flowers and plants as well as providing a guide for gardeners interested in attracting a variety of pollinators, Flower Talk: How Plants Use Color to Communicate would be an outstanding addition to home, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 7 – 11

Millbrook Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1541519282

Discover more about Sara Levine and her books on her website.

To learn more about Masha D’yans, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Plant a Flower Day Activity

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Flower Garden Stakes

 

It’s fun to start a garden from seeds, but how do you remember what you’ve planted where? With these easy to make garden stakes, you can mark your pots with style! 

Supplies

  • Wide craft sticks
  • Chalkboard paint in various colors
  • Colorful chalk
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Paint the stakes with the chalkboard paint, let dry
  2. With the chalk, write the name of the different flowers or plants
  3. After planting your seeds, stick the stake in the pot 
  4. Wait for your seeds to grow!

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You can find Flower Talk: How Plants Use Color to Communicate at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review