May 23 – National Turtle Day

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About the Holiday

Susan Tellem and Marshall Thompson, who founded American Tortoise Rescue in 1990, established World Turtle Day to raise awareness and respect for turtles and tortoises and to promote conservation to help them survive. Celebrations take many forms, from fun activities where participants dress as turtles to educational programs that teach about this fascinating creature and how people can help turtles in danger. To learn more about World Turtle Day and American Tortoise Rescue – and to meet some of their adorable residents – visit worldturtleday.org.

Turtle and Tortoise Are Not Friends

Written by Mike Reiss | Illustrated by Ashley Spires

 

Upon beginning the story, children learn that “far, far away” two eggs shared the same pen at a zoo. Eventually, the eggs hatched: first a turtle and then a tortoise. The two babies took to each other right away, excited about all the fun they would have together. “People will call us the terrible Turtle Twins!” the little turtle says. But the tortoise is not receptive to this idea and launches into a mirror-image description about the differences between a turtle, a “horrid beast” and a tortoise who is a “handsome creature.” Following this, they go their separate ways to separate parts of the pen.

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Image copyright Ashley Spires, 2019, text copyright Mike Reiss, 2019. Courtesy of Harper Collins.

Soon, the zookeeper, leading a school field trip, stops by and during his spiel reveals that turtles and tortoises can live 100 years. The little turtle and tortoise are surprised and impressed by this information, but they go on with their individual lives – for 14 years. The turtle finds – and eats – a worm that “looked just like Winston Churchill.” The tortoise was picked up by one eagle and returned by another. They endured nature’s worst weather and saw old years go and new years come. They could have commiserated and celebrated together, but they didn’t.

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Image copyright Ashley Spires, 2019, text copyright Mike Reiss, 2019. Courtesy of Harper Collins.

Then one day, a red ball came bouncing into their pen. Both the turtle and the tortoise rushed to catch it. “The turtle got there first…seven years later.” Once he had it, he wasn’t sure what it was or what to do with it. At last, he climbed on top of it and felt like “the king of the zoo” until he rolled off and landed on his back. Seeing an opportunity, the tortoise hurried over. Two years later he reached the ball. Passing the struggling turtle, he gave a snide laugh and claimed it for himself, with predictable results. 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-turtle-and-tortoise-are-not-friends-ball

Image copyright Ashley Spires, 2019, text copyright Mike Reiss, 2019. Courtesy of Harper Collins.

Both the turtle and the tortoise spent the days and months and years on their backs, staring up at the sky and at each other. Time passed – a lot of time. Eventually, a new zookeeper guiding a new group of children related some new information that changed the whole Turtle-Tortoise dynamic. The tortoise suddenly had an idea on how they might regain their footing, and not so suddenly the turtle agreed to try it. Managing it took some time – a lot of time – but they finally found themselves face-to-face again, and, with a different attitude and appreciation for their new “fast” friendship, they wandered off to enjoy some lettuce leaves together.

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Image copyright Ashley Spires, 2019, text copyright Mike Reiss, 2019. Courtesy of Harper Collins.

Funny, thought-provoking, purposeful, and poignant, Mike Reiss’s story is at once an entertaining tale of two stubborn creatures wasting decades of a could-be friendship and a gentle prompting to really look at the senseless prejudice, lack of communication, and missed opportunities that keep our human race divided. A careful reading of the tortoise’s comparison of a turtle and a tortoise provides a humorous yet serious jumping off point for discussions about prejudice as well as the effect of not questioning such pronouncements. Reiss even cleverly inserts a nod to scientific advancements and other societal changes that if embraced can lead to better understanding, friendship, and community. His early introduction of a turtle’s life span likewise frames the story in human terms. As the years pass by in the blink of an eye (or three or four words), Reiss encourages readers to count up how many years it takes the tortoise and turtle to become friends and ponder how that might relate to their own lives.

How far, far away is this unnamed zoo? Taking a good look at Ashley Spire’s ingenious cityscape, kids will discover that, no matter where they live, it is closer than they might think. Spires goes on to make the turtle and the tortoise distinct individuals but with many similarities, an idea that adults may want to explore with children while reading the book together. The turtle and the tortoise are adorable, and kids will be rooting for them to put aside their misconceptions and become friends. The passage of time is charmingly represented by the clothing and demeanor of the two groups of children that visit the zoo.

Turtle and Tortoise Are Not Friends is an enchanting and multilayered story that kids will want to hear again and again for its humor and thoughtful treatment of friendship. 

Ages 4 – 8

HarperCollins, 2019 | ISBN 978-0060740313

You can connect with Mike Reiss on Twitter.

To learn more about Ashley Spires, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Turtle Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-turtle-shell-game

Follow the Turtles! Game

 

You can make this fun game from recycled materials and a little creativity! When you’re finished making the turtle shells, have fun guessing where the marble, bead or bean is hiding!

Supplies

  • Cardboard egg carton
  • Green tissue paper in different hues
  • Green construction or craft paper
  • A marble, bead, or bean
  • Glue
  • Scissors

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Directions

  1. Cut the egg carton apart into individual cups. You will need 3 cups for each game made.
  2. Cut the rims of the cups so they sit flat on a table.
  3. If the cups have open sides, fit two cups inside one another to fill the gaps
  4. Cut the tissue paper into small shapes
  5. Brush glue on a cup (I used a paper towel to apply glue)
  6. Cover the egg cup with pieces of tissue paper. Repeat with other cups.
  7. Let dry
  8. Cut a head and feet from the green craft paper
  9. Tape or glue the edges of head and feet to the inside of the cups
  10. Add a face to the head

To play the game:

  1. Line up the cups on a table
  2. Put a bead, bean, or marble under one of the cups
  3. Show the other player which cup the object is under
  4. Quickly move the cups around each other several times
  5. Ask the other player which cup they think the object is under
  6. Take turns playing

Extra Game: Make three more and play turtle tic-tac-toe! 

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You can find Turtle and Tortoise Are Not Friends at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 7 – National Letter Writing Day

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About the Holiday

Many young wishers know all about writing letters in December, so it should come as no surprise that a letter-writing day be included in this month’s calendar. Today’s holiday celebrates all forms of personal communication written by hand and remembers correspondences from the past that have given us such insight into our favorite poets, novelists, historical figures, and more. Sure, email might be faster, but there’s a certain luxury in taking the time to write your thoughts on paper as well as an palpable excitement in holding a heartfelt letter in your hands. Today’s book also reminds us that letters can often change minds, hearts, and actions.

Dear Mr. Dickens

Written by Nancy Churnin | Illustrated by Bethany Stancliffe

 

Like most people at the time, Eliza Davis looked forward to every new story Charles Dickens published in his weekly magazine, All the Year Round. And when he began publishing books, she eagerly read those too. “What made Charles Dickens a hero in Eliza’s eyes is that he used the power of his pen to help others.” After people read about the harsh conditions children faced at workhouses, they demanded change. And when they “were moved to tears by tales of families struggling in desperate, dirty conditions, they gave what they could to charities. As did Eliza.” 

But while reading Oliver Twist, there was one aspect of the story that distressed Eliza. As a follower of the Jewish faith, she was disturbed by Dickens’ portrayal of Fagin as an “‘old shriveled Jew'” who taught Oliver how to steal. Fagin was “described…as dishonest, selfish, cruel, and ugly.” And each time she read “the Jew,…the word hurt like a hammer on Eliza’s heart.” Prejudice against Jews in England was already bad, and Eliza felt Dickens’ stories would made conditions worse.

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Image copyright Bethany Stancliffe, 2021, text copyright Nancy Churnin, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

She decided to write a letter to Charles Dickens, but she worried about his reaction. In her letter she said that his “portrayal of Fagin encouraged ‘a vile prejudice.’ She asked him to ‘atone for a great wrong.'” As she posted her letter, she wondered if she would get a response. About two weeks later, Eliza did receive an answer to her letter. In it Dickens replied that Fagin was based on real criminals and that there there were “other bad people in the book who are not Jewish.” He took exception to her request to atone by saying that “any Jewish people who thought him unfair or unkind…were not ‘sensible’ or ‘just’ or ‘good tempered.'”

Eliza was disheartened as she read the letter, and she sat down and composed another letter in response. Thinking of Dickens’ story A Christmas Carol, Eliza reminded him of his past love for the novel Ivanhoe, which included positive, noble Jewish characters. She mentioned his present novel, in which while “some of his non-Jewish characters were criminals, all his Jewish characters were criminals.” Then she stated that future readers would “judge him by how he judged others.”

This time Eliza did not receive an answer. She knew that Dickens was working on a new novel, and when it began to appear serialized in monthly installments, she hurried to buy them, wondering if there would be other Jewish characters and how they would be depicted. When, as she read Our Mutual Friend, she realized Dickens had included another Jewish character, she trembled, wondering what they would be like. 

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Image copyright Bethany Stancliffe, 2021, text copyright Nancy Churnin, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Eliza was elated to see that Mr. Riah – named after the Hebrew word for friend, re’a – was “generous and loyal” and that a young girl he helps remarks about the Jews, “‘I think there cannot be kinder people in the world.'” She immediately sat down to pen another letter to Charles Dickens. This one thanking him for his great compliment to her and the Jewish people. He wrote back with much pleasure and revealed that in the future he wanted his work to reflect his true friendship with Jewish people.

To show his sincerity, he published essays condemning prejudice and in the reprint of Oliver Twist, he replaced mentions of “the Jew” with Fagin’s name so as to “make it clear that Fagin didn’t represent all Jewish people.” Eliza sent Charles Dickens one more letter – this time with the gift of an English-Hebrew Bible – praising his ability to right a wrong, and Dickens responded with one more letter thanking Eliza for speaking up.

An extensive Author’s Note reveals more about the history of prejudice against Jewish people in England from the 1200s until 1846, when attitudes began to change and a repressive law was repealed. Nancy Churnin also includes more details about Eliza Davis the communications between her and Charles Dickens, and Dickens’ daughter upon his death. Source Notes and acknowledgments are also included.

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Image copyright Bethany Stancliffe, 2021, text copyright Nancy Churnin, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Nancy Churnin’s compelling story about the facts surrounding the correspondence between Eliza Davis and Charles Dickens shines a spotlight on a little-known, but important series of events in the life and inspiration behind Dickens’ growth and responsiveness as a writer. Eliza Davis, who acted on her convictions with confidence and courage, makes an inspiring role model for children who may want to voice their opinions on wrongs they see, read, or hear about.

Churnin’s introduction of A Christmas Carol, a novel that most children and adults know, allows readers to understand the important and influential connection between a person’s thoughts, words, and writing and their actions. It also provides a deeper resonance to Eliza Davis’s reminder to Dickens of his past, present, and future and to Dickens own change of heart from his first reply to Eliza to his portrayal of the Jewish character in Our Mutual Friend and his other actions.

Bethany Stancliffe takes readers back to the the 1800s in her rich illustrations full of details of the period. Kids will be interested to see how authors published their work at the time. Her faithful depictions of Eliza Davis and Charles Dickens informs readers on the influence that a young person had on such an established and lauded author. Eliza’s pleasure in Dickens’ stories and her pain on encountering the prejudicial portrayal of Jewish characters is clear, which makes her dilemma all the more meaningful. The final spread, in which Eliza Davis and Charles Dickens, facing each other, are connected by the letters they exchanged.

An important story about a beloved author and the woman who influenced his work and life, Dear Mr. Dickens will spark conversations on issues of prejudice, standing up for ones beliefs, personal change, courage to address wrongs, and many other topics. The book is highly recommended for home bookshelves and a must for school and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company, 2021 | ISBN 978-0807515303

Discover more about Nancy Churnin and her books on her website.

To learn more about Bethany Stancliffe, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Letter Writing Day Activity

picture-book-reviews-quill-pen-craft

Fashion a Quill Pen

 

Writing a proper letter is more fun with a fancy pen! you can fashion your own quill pen or liven up a ballpoint pen or a marker with this craft!

Supplies

  • Medium to large size feather with quill, available at craft stores (optional)
  • Ballpoint pen or marker (optional)
  • Clay, oven-bake or air-dry, in various colors if desired
  • Wire, beads, paint, and/or markers for decorating     
  • Scissors
  • Baking pan for oven-bake clay

Directions

  1. Roll clay 2 ½ inches to 4 inches long 
  2. Push the quill end of the feather into the clay OR cover the ballpoint pen or marker in clay
  3. Add bits of clay or roll sections of the clay between your fingers to give the clay shape
  4. To make the twisted shape pen, twist the length of clay around itself before adding the feather
  5. Shape the end or cut it with scissors to make the pointed writing nib
  6. If using air-dry clay: Add beads and/or wire and let clay dry around feather
  7. If using oven-bake clay: Add beads and other layers of clay before baking then carefully remove feather. Bake clay according to package directions
  8. Add wire and other decorations after clay has baked and cooled
  9. Reinsert feather into clay

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dear-mr-dickens-cover

You can find Dear Mr. Dickens 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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-rock-pumpkin-craft

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-that-monster-on-the-block-cover

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

October 14 – It’s Hispanic Heritage Month

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About the Holiday

From September 15th through October 15th National Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the contributions of those who come from or whose ancestors immigrated from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. Each year the holiday adopts a particular theme. This year’s theme is “Esperanza: A Celebration of Hispanic Heritage and Hope.” From business and industry to culture, sports, and entertainment, Hispanic and Latinx Americans have made an important and indelible imprint on our country. You can learn more about the holiday and find cross-curricular resources for classrooms and homeschooling, videos, exhibitions, and much more from the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, the National Park Service, the National Gallery of Art, the Nationla Archives and more to use not only this month but throughout the year on the official Hispanic Heritage Month website.

Without Separation: Prejudice, Segregation, and the Case of Roberto Alvarez

Written by Larry Dane Brimmer | Illustrated by Maya Gonzalez

On January 5, 1931 twelve-year-old Roberto Alvarez was happy to be going back to Lemon Grove Grammar School after the Christmas vacation. But when he got there “the principal told Roberto and the other Mexican and Mexican American children that they did not belong there.” He told them to go to the new Mexican school on Olive Street, and when they arrived, their teachers and desks were already waiting for them.

This had all come about stealthily after the school district’s board of trustees received a letter from the parent-teacher association complaining that “the Mexican children didn’t understand English,” which “held back the white students.” The letter also said that the “Mexican children were unclean and endangered the health of every other student in the school.” The board decided to construct a separate school—but without telling the Mexican parents, fearing “trouble.”

But as the Olive Street school was being built, Mexican parents understood it true purpose of segregation and instructed their children not to attend, but to come home. Most of the kids, including Roberto did as their parents told them. “That January morning the Olive Street School stood almost empty, except for two teachers, three students, and many unoccupied desks.” Roberto believed he didn’t need a different school. While his parents had come from Mexico, he had been born in California and spoke English as well as any of the white students.

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Image copyright Maya Gonzalez, 2021, text copyright Larry Dane Brimmer, 2021. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

The Mexican parents formed the “Comité de Vecinos de Lemon Grove—the Lemon Grove Neighbors Committee”—to talk about the situation. They knew the new school had not been built to “help their students learn the English language and American customs, as the school board and newspapers claimed.” The only deciding factor of which school a child attended was the color of their skin.

The Comité de Vecinos acquired two lawyers, and on February 13, 1931 “Roberto brought the situation in Lemon Grove to the attention of the California Superior Court in San Diego” by filing a law suit against the Lemon Grove School board of trustees. His lawsuit asked that the school district stop discriminating against the Mexican students and allow them to return to the Lemon Grove School. The school board falsely stated that the students’ strike was “organized by Mexico or by groups in Mexico,” and the president told a reporter he knew that the district attorney of San Diego was on the school’s side.

In fact the San Diego district attorney represented the school board in its dealings with the court, saying that the Olive Street School was for “‘better instruction,’” a claim that was different from the minutes from the school board’s summer meetings. He then went on to say that having a school in their own neighborhood was safer since they didn’t have to cross the railroad tracks. But Roberto wanted to go to school with all of his friends—”brown and white.”

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Image copyright Maya Gonzalez, 2021, text copyright Larry Dane Brimmer, 2021. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

The trial began on March 10, 1931 in San Diego. The lawyers for the school board insisted that the new school was to “benefit the Mexican pupils…not to separate” them. Roberto’s lawyers countered this with the minutes from the board’s summer meetings.

The trial ended the next day, and the decision was handed over to the judge. Two days later, the judge handed down his ruling. He stated that “in the eyes of the law the Lemon Grove School District had no power to set up a separate school for Mexican children.” On April 16, 1931, the judge’s ruling became official and the school board was ordered to immediately admit Roberto Alvarez and all of the other Mexican students “‘without separation or segregation.’” Roberto knew he had to stand up for what was right, and as he and the other Mexican students returned to school, “this time all were welcomed.”

An extensive Author’s Note, complete with photographs of Roberto Alvarez, his third- and fourth-grade classmates in 1928, Roberto’s mother, Lemon Grove Grammar School and its principal, and Roberto in 1999, reveals more about this historical event, the people involved, and the political and social atmosphere in the US at the time. Larry Dane Brimmer also discusses other cases of school segregation and follows up with the consequences for Lemon Grove principal Jerome Green and the successful career enjoyed by Roberto Alvarez as an entrepreneur. Resources used in researching the book are also included.

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Image copyright Maya Gonzalez, 2021, text copyright Larry Dane Brimmer, 2021. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

Larry Dane Brimmer’s compelling history of this landmark case and biography of Roberto Alvarez and all of the students and their parents who stood up for equal access to schooling is instructive and empowering. The fact that this issue and similar others continue to roil schools, workplaces, and communities, makes Without Separation a vital resource to educate children and adults on system racism and how it spreads.

Brimmer highlights the courage, intelligence, and acceptance that children display and inspires them to lend their voices to change injustice wherever they find it. Brimmer’s clear and precise storytelling allows children to understand the actions and discussions involved in the school board meetings, neighborhood committee meetings, and the trial without losing any of the story’s emotional impact.

Maya Gonzalez’s lovely folk-art illustrations present stylized-yet-realistic depictions of the citrus groves, the school, and the courtroom. Fashions and décor set the time period while also appearing appropriate today. Another portrayal of universality is accomplished in Gonzalez’s two-page spread of the board of trustees’ meeting, in which she pictures the members sitting at a table with only their feet and upper body showing. Not only is this group representative of the 1930 school board, but of the “faceless” masses and committees that often drive policy today. Many images of the Mexican community supporting each other shows readers what can be accomplished when people work together.

An important book that will resonate with its target audience, Without Separation: Prejudice, Segregation, and the Case of Roberto Alvarez is a must-addition to any home, classroom, school, and public library.

Ages 7 – 10 and up

Calkins Creek, 2021 | ISBN 978-1684371952

Discover more about Larry Dane Brimmer and his books on his website.

To learn more about Maya Gonzalez, her books, and her art, visit her website.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-without-separation-cover

You can find Without Separation: Prejudice, Segregation, and the Case of Roberto Alvarez at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

October 15 – Triple Treat Halloween Two Lions Book Tour Stop

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About the Holiday

Today I’m celebrating three books for the Halloween holiday and beyond that are rollicking reads with excitement and heart. These books from favorite authors and illustrators offer distinctly different stories that bring the magic, wonder, and fun of Halloween and lovable ghouls to life. They include a new adventure for a favorite Little Monster, a spooky neighborhood that’s getting a surprising new neighbor, and a construction crew that builds haunted houses at night. 

Thanks go to Blue Slip Media and Two Lions Publishing for sending me the books for review consideration. All opinions on the books are my own. I’m thrilled to be teaming with Blue Slip Media and Two Lions in a giveaway of all three books. See details below.

It’s Halloween, Little Monster

Written by Helen Ketteman | Illustrated by Bonnie Leick

 

It’s Little Monster’s first Halloween and time to for him to put on his costume to go trick-or-treating. He looks out the window with a bit of trepidation at all of the other creatures on his block—a bunny, a bee, a unicorn, a witch, a tiger, and a penguin. Papa puts the finishing touches on Little Monster’s Martian costume and they head outside. Little Monster grabs Papa’s hand and he reassures his little one: “All set to go! / You see things that are scary? / A pirate, a witch, a creature that’s hairy? // Don’t fret, Little Monster. / See there in the street? / That’s not really a ghost— / it’s a kid in a sheet!”

Little Monster and Papa make the rounds of neighbor’s houses as kids howl into the dark night. Papa tells Little Monster there’s nothing to fear, but is there just the tiniest bit of wariness in his own eyes? At one house a witch is “offering cups / of warm, bubbly worm juice!” Papa says, “Yum! Drink it up!” They pass a vampire and get in the middle of a group of “zombies in chains,” but Papa has a plan to fool them and make their escape.

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Image copyright Bonnie Leick, 2020, text copyright Helen Ketteman, 2020. Courtesy of Two Lions.

On one porch four ghosts are floating around, but Little Monster doesn’t seem scared. Papa asks, “No shivers and shakes? / Oh, I see why you’re brave— / spider cupcakes!” Trick-or-treat is almost done, but there’s one final house—the scariest one of all. Papa points out: “The yard’s full of graves. / This could be tough. / Shall we trick-or-treat here? / Will you be brave enough?” But Papa’s gung-ho and he marches right through the graveyard where fanged creatures lurk. Then “Boooooooooo!!!” a skeleton jumps with a shout. Who screams? Who laughs? Read and find out!

Helen Ketteman’s third book in the Little Monster series shines with bouncy rhymes that are full of spooky prowling and highlight the excitement of Halloween while reassuring kids that all the frights are just for fun. Little readers will find all of their favorite monsters here enjoying treats and only a few tricks, which will bring giggles instead of shivers. Ketteman’s perfect rhythm creates a story that’s perfect for dramatic read alouds, and the sweet relationship between Little Monster and Papa will have kids asking to hear the story again and again.

Kids will love spending Halloween with Little Monster and Bonnie Leick’s enchanting, not-too-scary illustrations where—among the witches, vampires, and ghosts—bunnies, chickens, fairies, and other cute-as-a-button characters trick-or-treat under a full moon. Little Monster’s street and the neighbor’s houses are cleverly decorated for the holiday, and readers will want to linger over each page to see all the fun. The spooky graveyard, especially, invites a careful look, as the inscriptions on the stones show that those who lie beneath were more monstrously kind than monstrous.

A sure hit for fans of Little Monster and any child looking forward to their first Halloween or who already know what this holiday is all about, it’s Halloween, Little Monster would be a lively addition to home and public library collections.

Discover more about Helen Ketteman and her books on her website.

To learn more about Bonnie Leick, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Ages 3 – 7

Two Lions, 2020 | ISBN 978-1542092081

You can find It’s Halloween Little Monster at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble |Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-that-monster-on-the-block-cover

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!

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

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How to Build a Haunted House

Written by Frank Tupta | Illustrated by Kyle Beckett

 

Ghost town is getting a new family, and they need a house built lickety split. There’s just one catch—the house must be built before the sun comes up. The neighbors are game to get it done. The lot is cleared by “werewolf loggers on the prowl.” First, the foundation must be made, but how will it get done? “Over the hill, / a handy rig! / Frankenstein’s / here to dig.” Cyclops and witches help out to prepare the ground. Once it’s ready, Frankenstein’s bride pours concrete. When the concrete’s hard, the skeleton crew is called in to build the frame. Soon the “frame’s up— / it’s a brand-new house. / They’re almost done, but… / Eek! A mouse! The mouse chases round and round. “Hammer falls, nails splash. Bones crunch, toes smash.” The skeletons are scattered here and there—good thing the mummy doctor is on his way.

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Image copyright Kyle Beckett, 2020, text copyright Frank Tupta, 2020. Courtesy of Two Lions.

The sun is peeking over the hill, but the house is not quite done. With a lightning strike, the power’s on, and the witches bring their magic spells to bring the house alive just in time for the vampire family to move in. The vampires love their spacious house “‘complete with dungeon!’ / ‘And trapdoors, too!’ / ‘The scariest place!’ / ‘With the spookiest view!’” The monsters are proud of the job they’ve done. Their “big trucks rumble off the site…and sleepy monsters say Good Night.”

Frank Tupta’s energetic story about building a haunted house for a very particular family will have kids in suspense as all their favorite monsters race the sun to construct the house in one night. Clever monster-talent match-ups, puns sprinkled throughout, and a mischievous mouse will have kids laughing as the monsters work together to build the house with all the trappings of a true haunted house.

With a palette of purples, greens, and golds, Kyle Beckett creates a ghost town where enthusiastic monsters get to work clearing and smoothing a graveyard by the light of a very large full moon. Kids will love the monster trucks these eager neighbors use to fell trees, dig the basement, and stir concrete. As Frankenstein digs a hole with the help of an enormous hand, the ground is appropriately filled with arms and legs and a few errant bones. While the mummy can’t put the skeletons back together, the witches chime in with a fiery bubbling brew that saves the night just in the nick of time. With a group hug, the monsters celebrate their success before driving their machines out of Vampire Valley and getting some much-needed sleep.

Kids who love construction, big machinery, and helpful monsters will be charmed by the jaunty rhymes of the exuberant How to Build a Haunted House that’s perfect for Halloween or any gently spooky story time.

Ages 3 – 7

Two Lions, 2020 | ISBN 978-1542005432

Discover more about Frank Tupta and his books on his website.

To learn more about Kyle Beckett, his books, and his art on his website.

You can find How to Build a Haunted House at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble |Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

Triple Treat Halloween Books Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Two Lions and Blue Slip Media in a giveaway of

  • One (1) copy of It’s Halloween, Little Monster, written by Sue Helen Kelleman | illustrated by Bonnie Leick
  • One (1) copy of That Monster on the Block, written by Sue Ganz-Schmitt | illustrated by Luke Flowers
  • One (1) copy of How to Build a Haunted House, written by Frank Tupta | illustrated by Kyle Beckett

To enter:

  • Follow Celebrate Picture Books
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet
  • Bonus: Reply with your favorite monster for extra entry. Each reply earns you one extra entry

This giveaway is open from October 16 to October 23 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on October 24. 

Prizing provided by Two Lions and Blue Slip Media

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | No Giveaway Accounts 

Triple Treat Halloween Book Tour Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-vampire-treat-box

Vampire Goodie Box

 

Would you like your gift of homemade or store-bought cookies, candy, or other treats to have a little bite to it? Deliver them in this vampire box you can make yourself!

Supplies

  • Recycled pasta box (or any box with a cellophane window in it)
  • Black Paint
  • Silver Paint
  • Black felt, 8 ½ x 11 sheet or heavy stock paper
  • Red felt, 8 ½ x 11 sheet or heavy stock paper
  • Googly eyes
  • Black paper, heavy stock or construction paper
  • Fabric glue
  • Regular glue or double stick tape
  • Hot glue gun (optional)
  • Paint brush
  • Scissors

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-vampire-treat-box-side-view (2)

Directions

  1. Paint the entire box silver, leaving the window unpainted, let dry
  2. With the black paint create the pointy hairstyle, with the point descending about 1 inch from the top of the box and the curves ending about 1 ½ – 1 ¾ inches from the side of the box (see picture).
  3. Paint around the sides and back of the box in line with the ends of the curves
  4. From the black paper make eyebrows—these can be pointy or rounded
  5. From the index card make the nose and teeth
  6. I painted the nose darker silver by combining silver and a little black paint
  7. With the glue or double stick tape, attach the eyebrows and nose to the box
  8. With the glue or double stick tape, attach the teeth to the window, fitting them slightly up into the rim of the window.
  9. Attach the googly eyes

To make the cape

  1. Holding the black felt or paper horizontally, cut a piece about 4/5 as tall as the box
  2. Holding the red felt or paper horizontally, cut a piece of red felt so that there will be a ½-inch border of black along the top and sides
  3. With the fabric glue attach the red felt to the black felt. Use craft glue on paper. Let dry
  4. With the hot glue gun, fabric glue, craft glue, or double stick tape, attach the felt or paper to the back of the box
  5. Fold the felt or paper around the sides of the box and attach along the bottom edge with tape or glue
  6. Fold the top of the felt or paper back to make the collar
  7. Attach the bottom portion of the collar to the box near the front edge with the tape or glue.

Fill with your favorite treat!

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | Prizing provided by Two Lions

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Picture Book Review

June 14 – It’s Adopt a Cat Month

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About the Holiday

Are you a dog person, a cat person, or a little of both? Both dogs and cats make loving and fun pets, but this month is set aside for people to consider adding a kitten or cat to their family by adopting one from a local animal shelter. With their various personalities, cat’s make fascinating, entertaining, and endearing pets. If you’re thinking of getting a pet, June offers the purr-fect time to adopt a cat.

I Am a Cat

By Galia Bernstein

Simon, a little gray tabby, proudly introduces himself, saying, “I am a cat. Just like you!” You might think this sweet greeting would be met warmly, but instead, the kitten’s audience stares at him wide-eyed and then…bursts out laughing. The tiger, lion, cheetah, puma, and panther think this is the funnies thing they’ve ever heard.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-I-am-a-cat-laughing

Copyright Galia Bernstein, 2018, courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

The lion protests that the little ball of fluff can’t be a cat because “cats have a mane and a tuft at the end of their tails” and a fierce roar because “they are the king of all beasts.” The cheetah didn’t think the gray cat had the legs or speed to be a cat. The puma had never seen such a small and weak cat living in the mountains like he did, and the panther knew cats were black and lived in the jungle.

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Copyright Galia Bernstein, 2018, courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

The tiger may have been the most skeptical of all. He thought that the gray creature in front of him might be a rat, but a cat that wasn’t orange? Ha! Simon looked at each cat with their individual traits and wondered aloud how they could all consider each other cats, but not him. Well, replied Lion, it’s “‘because we also have many things in common. We all have small, perky ears and flat noses…long whiskers and long tails.’” They also all showed Simon their teeth and claws and eyes that could see in the dark.

“‘I have all those things,’” Simon said. “‘Only smaller.’” The lion, tiger, puma, cheetah, panther, and tiger took a second look. They couldn’t deny it: Simon was a cat. They even admitted that he was one of the family. Then they played and pounced and prowled, “like cats of all sizes do.”

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Copyright Galia Bernstein, 2018, courtesy of Harry N. Abrams.

Galia Bernstein’s ingeniously uses a variety of “big cats” to expose the kinds of smug, narrow-minded thinking that leads to prejudice based on color, abilities, social standing, and size. Simon’s polite push-back to the rebuffs he gets from the other cats echos the kind of honest, probing questions that little ones often ask. To their credit, the other cats recognize and admit to their blind spots and welcome Simon into the family. Bernstein’s straightforward storytelling provides a perfect setup for the satisfying and enriching ending.

Bernstein’s bold images of each big cat interacting with adorable and earnest Simon cleverly demonstrates the differences as well as the similarities between them. The lion and Simon lie side by side, their paws crossed and their tails intertwined. The puma and Simon sit next to each other leaning slightly to the left. And the panther and Simon both lounge in a tree batting at the same butterfly. The final spread of all the cats frolicking together is joyful and will make children smile knowingly.

I Am a Cat is a story that’s as fun as it is meaningful and deserves a place on any child or classroom bookshelf.

Ages 3 – 7

Harry N. Abrams, 2018 | ISBN 978-1419726439

Discover more about Galia Bernstein, her book, and her art on her website.

You’ll love watching this I Am a Cat book trailer!

Adopt a Cat Month Activity

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Purr-fect Friends Maze

One little kitten wants to play with her friends, Can you help her find her way in this printable puzzle?

Purr-fect Friends Maze Puzzle |  Purr-fect Friends Maze Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-I-am-a-cat-cover

You can find I Am a Cat at these booksellers

Abrams BooksAmazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million|IndieBound

Picture Book Review