July 22 – National Hammock Day

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About the Holiday

Even during the summer when days are supposed to be a bit more leisurely, it’s good to have a reminder to relax. That’s what today’s holiday is all about. While the origination of the hammock is up for debate—some believe it was invented by the Ancient Greeks, while others look to Christoper Columbus’s journals as evidence that it was created by people in South America—there’s no denying that hammocks are the epitome of relaxation. As summer hits its middle stride, why not kick back a little and lounge—and if you don’t have a hammock, a towel at the beach, a lawn chair, or even your most comfy chair indoors will work just fine too! 

Tomorrow Most Likely

Written by Dave Eggers | Illustrated by Lane Smith

 

Warm, long summer days lend themselves to quiet contemplation about life right now, what tomorrow might bring, and even how the future will play out. Often thoughts turn to the new and the different and how things will change. But the comfortable routines of each day can anchor kids (and adults) in familiarity and a welcome reassurance, while allowing for a liberating whimsy and imagination that makes all the difference and makes each person unique.

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Image copyright Lane Smith, 2019, text copyright Dave Eggers, 2019. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

While it may seem that everything around us is in flux, Eggers reminds us that “Tomorrow most likely / there will be a sky. / And chances are it will be blue.” There aren’t too many days when you won’t see that squirrel, “and chances are his name is Stu.” Tomorrow you will have breakfast or lunch or dinner and then go out “where people are found.”

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Image copyright Lane Smith, 2019, text copyright Dave Eggers, 2019. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

When you are out there, you’ll hear familiar sounds and see awesome sights you’ve seen before. But among these usual things, keep your eyes out for the surprises and your heart open to feelings. The more you do, the more you’ll notice and the more experiences you’ll have. “You might ride a whale. / You could eat a cloud. You might write a song / and sing it too loud.”

So as you are dreaming of what will come next, always remember: “Tomorrow most likely / will be a great day / because you are in it, / and Stu is okay.”

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Image copyright Lane Smith, 2019, text copyright Dave Eggers, 2019. Courtesy of Chronicle Books.

With his exceptional talent for capturing the wonder of the world and giving it a home within the covers of a book, Dave Eggers both reassures and nudges kids to soak up the familiar and the unusual and realize their place in the middle of it all. The specific examples Eggers presents will have readers looking more closely at the small details they come across each day, while the quirkiness of others will spark their imagination.

Echoing Eggers’ text, Lane Smith’s beautifully mottled and textured mixed media, collage-style illustrations are anchored in a city atmosphere while soaring with colorful skyscrapers, active kids, and—especially—the unexpected. Readers will appreciate the clever perspectives and juxtapositions that put the little boy into just the right place to let his unique contributions shine. Sprinkled with musical notes, shop signs, traffic signs, words in various languages, and a few fanciful animals, the pages are a joy to linger over and talk about.

A book that is sure to spur inspired discovery and mindfulness while offering a boost of self-esteem, Tomorrow Most Likely is a sparkling gem of positivity and would be a favorite on home, classroom, and library shelves.

Ages 3 – 7

Chronicle Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1452172781

Discover more about Dave Eggers and his books for kids and adults on his website.

To learn more about Lane Smith, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Hammock Day Activity

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Just Hanging Around! Coloring Page

 

Some days are just for relaxing! Draw yourself in the hammock and then color this printable coloring page.

Just Hanging Around! Coloring Page

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You can find Tomorrow Most Likely at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

July 5 – Mechanical Pencil Day

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About the Holiday

The first pencil was created in Switzerland Inn 1565 Conrad Gesner created the first pencil when he wrapped a graphite stick in string. Later, the graphite would be encased in wood to make it easier to sharpen. Fast forward to 1822 when Sampson Mordan and John Isaac Hawkins of Britain patented the mechanical pencil that could advance the lead to keep it always sharp. Today, mechanical pencils work in one of three ways: ratchet-based, clutch-based, or screw-based. The various widths of lead now let writers, artists, designers, engineers, and others create to their specific needs. To celebrate today, why not explore how a mechanical pencil works with your child, and then have fun drawing or writing together! There’s even a printable page below to get you started!

 

Duck Gets a Job

By Sonny Ross

 

Duck needed a job. All of his friends talked about their super office jobs in the city and encouraged him to get one too. Duck scoured the want ads in the newspaper. There were lots of jobs in tech, finance, and business. He imagined himself working with spreadsheets like his friends did. The jobs “seemed boring, but he applied anyway. And he got an interview!”

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Copyright Sonny Ross, 2018, courtesy of Templar Books.

Duck agonized over what he’d wear. He tried on an outfit that made him look cool, one that was very professional, and one that was his natural, casual look. He decided to go with the professional style. Next, Duck thought about how he would get to the office. “Flying would make him tired and sweaty, but public transportation is tricky for ducks.” In the end he walked… and he got lost. Once in the city, he hailed a taxi, and while he rode to the interview “he gave himself a pep talk.”

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Copyright Sonny Ross, 2018, courtesy of Templar Books.

Talking to the interviewer made Duck very nervous, but, still, he was offered a job. Sitting in his little cubicle with “spreadsheets full of facts and figures” in front of him, Duck realized that this job “did not interest him at all.” Duck decided to quit. Duck had always dreamed of being an artist, so he looked at job ads for the Creative Quack Magazine and found one he thought he’d like. “For his interview, he dressed in his natural look and put samples of his best work in a portfolio.”

He prepared for his trip into the city, and when he got to the office he didn’t feel at all nervous. He showed the art director his portfolio feeling confident about his work. The art director loved his work and offered him a job. Now Duck loves his job, and he’s especially glad “that he had decided to follow his dreams.”

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Copyright Sonny Ross, 2018, courtesy of Templar Books.

The strength of Sonny Ross’s affirming story comes in its straightforward approach to recognizing when an action is not right for you and feeling free to change course. While Duck is looking for the perfect job, the story is appropriate for any activity that children embark on as they find their place in the world. Ross peppers his story with clues that will alert readers to Duck’s true feelings about the two jobs—internal thoughts, clothing styles, and confidence level to name a few—feelings that they too can rely on to guide them in the choices they make.

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Copyright Sonny Ross, 2018, courtesy of Templar Books.

Ross’s matte mixed-media illustrations are fresh and stylish in a palette of blues, reds, and golds. Kids experimenting with their own look will appreciate Duck’s dilemma in choosing between cool, professional, and natural clothing styles. They’ll also empathize with his previous attempts at using public transportation and his travails in getting to the first interview on time. When Duck decides that a “spreadsheet job” isn’t for him, the page backgrounds lighten, his road to the interview is smooth, and his happiness is evident. A clever contrasting juxtaposition comes in the depictions of Duck’s two very different interviews. While the businessman sits at his desk peering down on tiny Duck who can barely see over the desk and is nearly swallowed up in his chair, the art director kneels down to Duck’s level to shake his wing in congratulations on getting the job.

Both an entertaining story and a lesson for kids on trusting their gut and staying true to themselves, Duck Gets a Job is a confidence-boosting tale for any home or classroom bookshelf.

Ages 3 – 7

Templar Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-0763698966

Discover more about Sonny Ross, his books, and his art on his website.

Mechanical Pencil Day Activity

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Click…Click…Create! Page

 

Grab your mechanical pencil and get clicking or twisting! Then create a design, a picture, a poem, a story, or whatever you imagine on this printable page!

Click…Click…Create! Page

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Duck Gets a Job is available at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

May 16 – National Love a Tree Day

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About the Holiday

Trees are some of the most majestic, surprising, and giving things on Earth. The glorious beauties that make up our forests provide shelter, shade, and food to countless birds and animals and fruit trees around the world provide nutrition all year long. Trees’ root systems hold soil in place, and their leafy branches work as wind breaks on flat prairie land. The foliage of trees and plants provide us with oxygen and clean our air. Today, we celebrate all of these benefits and more. To participate, consider planting a tree in your own yard or contributing to an organization dedicated to protecting our forestland.

Oliver, The Second-Largest Living Thing on Earth

Written by Josh Crute | Illustrated by John Taesoo Kim

 

Sherman towers over all the other trees in the forest. In fact, “he is the largest living thing on Earth, and, boy does he know it.” A sign at the base of his trunk even proves it. People from all over the world come to see him, take pictures, stretch their arms around a tiiiny part of him, and even eat their lunch nestled next to his roots.

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Image copyright John Taesoo Kim, 2019, text copyright Josh Crute, 2019. Courtesy of Page Street Kids.

There’s another tall tree in the forest—Oliver. “He is the second-largest living thing on Earth, but there isn’t a sign for that.” Visitors to the forest hardly give him the time of day, and even though he’s 268.1 feet tall, “he often feels invisible.” One day, he decides he was going to change the dynamics. All year long, he worked on growing bigger—and he did. Unfortunately, Sherman had also grown.

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Image copyright John Taesoo Kim, 2019, text copyright Josh Crute, 2019. Courtesy of johntaesookim.com.

“Oliver wilted.” And while he was bent over, he noticed Agnes. Agnes “is the third-largest living thing on Earth” and stands 240.9 feet tall. But she wasn’t all Oliver saw. There was also Gertrude, Peter, Guadalupe, and Lars—all in descending order. “Oliver waved shyly.” Suddenly, Oliver had a change in perspective. Now, he stands proud and happy because he realizes “he is part of something larger”— the Sequoia National Forest.

Back matter reveals that even General Sherman isn’t the largest living thing on Earth—that distinction goes to the Humongous Fungus in Oregon. It also includes a discussion about sequoias as well as several other first- and second-largest things on Earth.

Image copyright John Taesoo Kim, 2019, text copyright Josh Crute, 2019. Courtesy of johntaesookim.com.

Image copyright John Taesoo Kim, 2019, text copyright Josh Crute, 2019. Courtesy of johntaesookim.com.

In his spare, but compelling story, Josh Crute reveals a truth that often gets overlooked in the competitive nature of the world today: no matter how hard one works to be the best, the biggest, or the most renowned, there is usually someone or an up-and-comer who can or will best them. Crute ingeniously uses the example of the Sequoia National Forest to show readers that true happiness comes from doing their best, being true to themselves, and recognizing that they are an important part of something bigger, which might include their group of friends, their class, a team, an organization, and definitely their family and the world at large.

John Taesoo Kim’s anthropomorphic trees include the actual General Sherman Sequoia, here with a muscular-looking trunk and sporting a leafy hairdo and beard along with bushy hands and several offshoots. Images of people with arms outstretched and sitting at the base of Sherman will impress kids with this tree’s grandeur. Oliver, with striking foliage of his own, appears thinner even though he too towers over the other trees. His work-out routine shows results, encouraging children to develop their own talents and personal style. When Oliver notices all the other tall trees in the forest, this confident crew—made up of all different sizes and personalities—shows him that they all have their place and role in the forest.

A straightforward and reassuring look at how readers can consider their place in the world, Oliver: The Second-Largest Living Thing on Earth would be a welcome addition to home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624145773

To learn more about John Taesoo Kim, his art, and his animation, visit his website.

National Love a Tree Day Activity

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Paper Plate Tree

 

On Earth Day children love planting trees in their yard or as part of a community project. With this easy craft, they can also plant a tree on their wall or bulletin board.

Supplies

  • Two paper plates 
  • Paper towel tube
  • Brown craft paint
  • Green craft paint (using a variety of green paints adds interest)
  • Paintbrush, cork, or cut carrot can be used to apply paint
  • Glue or hot glue gun or stapler

Directions

  1. Paint the paper towel tube brown, let dry
  2. Paint the bottoms of the two paper plates with the green (or other color) paints, let dry
  3. Flatten about 4 inches of the paper towel tube 
  4. Glue or tape the flat part of the paper towel tube to the unpainted side of one paper plate
  5. Glue the edges of the two paper plates together, let dry.
  6. Straighten the tree so that it can stand up, or hang your tree on a wall, bulletin board, in a window

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You can find Oliver: The Second-Largest Living Thing on Earth at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

May 13 – It’s National Egg Month

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About the Holiday

This month we celebrate the amazing egg! Since ancient days people have relied on eggs for protein and other nutrients as part of a healthy diet. Eggs also provide delicate canvases for incredible works of art. If you’re fond of eggs—on their own or whipped up into a quiche, frittata, or other delicacy—crack a few open and enjoy your favorite recipe!  

The Good Egg

Written by Jory John | Illustrated by Pete Oswald

 

Have you ever met an egg that was so good he would rescue a cat from a tree, “…carry your groceries, …water your plants,” or “paint your house?” Well, you have now! And this isn’t some fly-by-night goodness, this little egg has always been this way even though all the other eggs in the carton exhibited less-than-stellar behavior.

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Image copyright Pete Oswald, 2019, text copyright Jory John, 2019. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

What did they do? Are you ready for this? “They ignored their bedtime. They only ate sugary cereal.” There were tantrums…and it only got worse. The good egg tried to help—after all, he was “a verrrrrry good egg,” but no one paid any attention. Eventually, the good egg cracked under the pressure of  trying to make his carton buddies as good as he was.

The good egg decided to leave the market and the other eggs behind. Did they care? It didn’t seem like it. The egg traveled far and wide and into his very own heart. The egg “took walks” and “read books.” He took up writing, painting, and meditation. Slowly, the cracks began to heal. Feeling better, the egg made a big decision. He decided to go back to the market and his friends. But this time, he would “try not to worry so much” and he’d be good to the other eggs and himself.

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Image copyright Pete Oswald, 2019, text copyright Jory John, 2019. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

The good egg had discovered that he missed the other eggs, but how would they feel about his come back? He needn’t have worried. They welcomed him home with egg-citement. It seems that while the good egg was gone, the other eggs became a little better behaved. And now? Here’s what the good egg “realized: The other eggs aren’t perfect, and I don’t have to be, either.” The whole experience gave the good egg a whole new perspective, and he’s glad to be home.

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Image copyright Pete Oswald, 2019, text copyright Jory John, 2019. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

Behavior studies have never been as bewitching as in Jory John and Pete Oswald’s The Good Egg, a sequel of sorts to The Bad Seed. Everywhere he looks, the good egg finds ways to be helpful, peaceful, and…well…good. But his friends are a rowdy bunch, given to messes, tears, destruction—badness. When the good egg’s perfectionism meets this unruliness, he cracks. When the good egg leaves the carton in search of healing, John invites readers to consider the line between fun and rotten behavior from both sides.

Children prone to perfectionism see that it’s okay to give themselves a break and let go at times, while those who tend to be wild learn that reigning in some impulses can lead to more enjoyment. John’s clever egg names, funny examples of good and rotten behavior, and pun-filled wordplay will have kids giggling from the first page while his nod to self-care practices and the empowering ending give them moments for thoughtful contemplation.

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Image copyright Pete Oswald, 2019, text copyright Jory John, 2019. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

Pete Oswald dishes up a full menu of visual jokes from the wrinkled bacon slice getting help with her groceries to the intravenous yolk drip the good egg gets on his trip to the doctor to the stack of books with eggs-centric titles that are part of the good egg’s recovery. The dozen eggs—all with distinct personalities—may be “fresh” as the carton proclaims, but they make for eggsellent companions on this journey of self-discovery.

Witty and ingenious, The Good Egg will be an often-asked for addition to home, school, and public libraries for perfectly fun-filled story times.

Ages 4 – 8

Harper Collins, 2019 | ISBN 978-0062866004

Discover more about Jory John and his books on his website.

To learn more about Pete Oswald, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Take a crack at The Good Egg book trailer!

National Egg Month Activity

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Egg Carton Chickens and a Basket Full of Games

 

With these cute egg-carton chickens you can come up with lots of games to play! This fun craft and game activity is eggs-actly what you need to start hatching some real fun!

Supplies

  • Cardboard egg carton
  • White craft paint
  • Markers: red, yellow, black for the face; any colors you’d like for wings and eggs
  • Paint brush
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Construction or craft paper in white and a color of your choice

Directions

  1. Cut the notched flap off the egg carton and set aside
  2. Cut the top off the egg carton
  3. Cut apart all the egg cups and trim slightly so they sit flat
  4. Paint the egg cups with the white paint, let dry
  5. Add the face, comb and wings to the chicken with the markers. Make six chickens with one color wings and six chickens with another color wings.
  6. From the egg carton flap cut thirteen small egg-shaped playing pieces
  7. With the markers, decorate twelve of the eggs in pairs—each egg in the pair with the same design
  8. Color one egg yellow and add a beak, eyes, and wings to make it a chick

Games to Play

Tic-Tac-Toe (2 players)

  1. On a 8 ½” x 11” piece of paper draw a regular tic-tac-toe board or make it fancy – like the picket fence-inspired board in the picture
  2. To make the fence-inspired board on a colored background, cut 2 9-inch-long x 3/4-inch wide strips of white paper, cutting a pointed tip at one or both ends. Cut 2 white  8-inch x 3/4-inch strips of paper with a pointed tip at one or both ends. Glue the strips to the background.
  3. Each player chooses a set of chickens with the same colored wings
  4. Play the game as you usually do

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Find the Matching Eggs (2 or more players)

  1. Have one player hide one egg under each chicken
  2. Shuffle the eggs around and form them into three lines of 4 chickens each
  3. Another player lifts one chicken at a time to find matching eggs. If the eggs don’t match, put both chickens back and start again

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Where’s the Chick?

  1. Use as many chickens and eggs as you want (fewer for younger children, more for older)
  2. One player hides the chick under one of the chickens and eggs under the others.
  3. Another player has three chances to find the chick

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I’m sure you can also design your own games for your adorable chickens to play! With more chickens you can even make a checkers set or replicate another of your favorite board games!

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You can find The Good Egg at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

April 28 – National Superhero Day

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About the Holiday

Perhaps it’s fitting that the final Avengers movie hit the big screen the same weekend that we celebrate National Superhero Day since the founders of the day were Marvel employees, In 1995 they designated April 28 as a day to honor the real-life heroes who serve and protect. If you have some human superheroes in your life, take time today to tell them how much you appreciate them. It’s also a perfect day to settle in with some comic books or movies and defeat those bad guys!

Even Superheroes Make Mistakes

Written by Shelly Becker | Illustrated by Eda Kaban

 

It may seem that superheroes always make the perfect moves, are in just the right place, or have the exact power needed to take down the bad guys. But if you take a closer look, you might see things a little differently. “When superheroes are not up to speed, / when they slip up, and trip up, and fail to succeed…/ they could cry, or deny, or claim it’s not fair / or rip off their capes and quit in despair.” But do they?

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Image copyright Eda Kaban, 2018, text copyright Shelly Becker, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

When their baking goes awry they could claim it was only store-bought, when their convention appearance turns awkward, they could use their powers to create a diversion, and if they nab the wrong perp, they could just tiptoe away. But do they? No! Instead, “…ashamed superheroes who goofed up somehow… / first STOP and consider what’s best to do NOW.” To stay in top shape, they devise inventions to help them, polish their skills, and make sure they always look the best that they can.

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Image copyright Eda Kaban, 2018, text copyright Shelly Becker, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

But still, mistakes happen. “If they bash through the planets while flying in space, / they could claim someone’s cape was obstructing their face.” If things don’t turn out quite as expected, they could argue and fight or “stock up supplies and hide out FOREVER.” But “instead they remember that perfection is rare, / and they choose super ways to respond when they err.” What do they do? “They fix what they wrecked and apologize too!” It’s okay that they make a mistake—even two—then they pick themselves up and “…get on with their day… / saving the world in their most super way.”

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Image copyright Eda Kaban, 2018, text copyright Shelly Becker, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

With her perfect, jaunty rhymes that are a joy to read aloud, Shelly Becker transports readers to an alternate universe, in which the superheroes make some pretty spectacular missteps, to demonstrate what they could do to throw blame elsewhere, distract attention, or evade responsibility altogether. Becker follows these up, however, with how a real superhero handles the mistakes they make, which include such kid-friendly ideas as making sure you wake up on time, combing your hair, and practicing your talent. What’s not on the list is arguing, blaming, or—importantly—losing self-confidence. Superhero-loving kids and adults will be charmed by and embrace Becker’s advice to own those slip-ups and then move on to bigger and better things.

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Eda Kaban’s funny lineup of superheroes, introduced by name on the front and back endpapers (Magnifique, Screecher, Typhoon. Icky, Beastie, Zing, Thrash, and Laserman), may look tough and poised on the title page, but it doesn’t take long for them to be hogtied and carried away by bandits who have just robbed an antiques store. As the day wears on and each seems to have lost their touch, readers will laugh as Laserman creates a fireworks’ display with his eyes to excite the crowd bored by his speech and Magnifique gets ready in the morning thanks to a intricate and handy contraption. Images of the superheroes cooperating to fix their bloopers and make amends, give adults and kids opportunities to talk about ways they too can handle mistakes and disappointments. The final spread of the superheroes playing mini-golf cleverly puts the day’s blunders into perspective.

A terrific follow up to Shelly Becker’s and Eda Kaban’s Even Superheroes Have Bad Days, Even Superheroes Make Mistakes would be an often-asked-for addition to home, classroom, and library collections.

Ages 3 – 9

Sterling Children’s Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-145492703

Discover more about Shelly Becker and her books on her website.

You can connect with Eda Kaban on Instagram.

National Superhero Day Activity

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Create Your Own Superhero!

 

If you could create a superhero what qualities would you give them? Let your imagination run wild in this printable, super worksheet.

Create Your Own Superhero! Worksheet

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You can find Even Superheroes Make Mistakes at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

April 23 – It’s National Dance Week and Interview with Author/Illustrator Anne Lambelet

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About the Holiday

The National Dance Federation wants everyone to fall in love with dance, and National Dance Week is just the time to do it! With so many types of dance, there are ways to enjoy this activity throughout one’s life. This week has been established to introduce the fun and benefits of dance in schools, community centers, dance studios, and through special performances. If you—or your kids—feel your toes tapping or a desire to get up and move as soon as the music starts, why not check out the opportunities for learning your favorite dance styles in your community?

Maria the Matador

By Anne Lambelet

 

Even more than “tea parties and dancing and wearing her hair in pigtails…Maria loved churros.” So when she saw that a lifetime supply of churros went to the matador who could remain in the arena with the bull the longest, she knew she had to enter the contest. But as “one of the smallest girls in all of Spain,” could Maria pull it off? She knew she couldn’t outrun the bull, intimidate him, or overpower him. So, what could she do?

Maria wandered through the streets of town, gazing at the posters on the walls advertising the brave matadors who would challenge the bull as well as the Feria de Mayo, with its beautiful dance performances, looking for inspiration. When the big day came and Maria walked into the room where the other matadors had gathered, they burst out laughing. “‘You should just give up now,’ they all agreed. ‘There is no way such a little girl could ever fight such an enormous bull.’”

Maria kept her mind on the grand prize even though she was growing worried. Soon the bullfight began. The fastest matador was quickly run out of the arena, the strongest matador was soon lying on the ground, and the biggest matador was nothing but a plaything for the big bull. At last it was Maria’s turn.

She entered the ring and saw “the most ferocious-looking bull she had ever seen, but she marched up to him anyway…and asked the bull to dance.” The bull was charmed by the little girl’s kind request and offered his hoof to her outstretched hand. The bull, it turned out, was a very good dancer. Around and around the ring they danced, and when the men carrying trays of churros entered the arena, “the crowd burst into thunderous applause.” And Maria and the bull? They enjoyed a churros tea party!

Anne Lambelet’s highly original story shows young readers that with motivation, confidence, and creative thinking they can accomplish their heart’s desires. With a pragmatic take on her situation, Maria realizes she’s not fast enough, strong enough, or big enough to best the bull the usual way, and lacking anyone to ask for advice, she comes up with her own solution. Lambelet’s storytelling is rich with examples of Maria’s courage in the face of adversity and her own misgivings, allowing kids to see that bravery comes in many forms. And Lambelet’s clever solution to Maria’s dilemma demonstrates that kindness wins out. The humorous frame of Maria’s churros obsession will resonate with kids, who all seem to have their own favorite motivators to rely on.

Lambelet’s stylized illustrations combine the texture of wood etchings with the colors and feeling of a small Spanish village. The brown, maroon, and purple palette sprinkled with bits of blue is striking and lends depth, light, and shadow to the tale. Kids will love the expressive crowd as they “ooh,” “ahh,” and gasp at the formidable bull. (One mother even shields her son’s eyes with her hand.) When tiny Maria marches out into the ring the crowd’s disbelief brings pointing and shocked faces, but cheers and celebration erupt as Maria and the bull take their bows.

Maria the Matador is a story that kids will embrace as it sparks ideas for creative problem solving with more than a dash of kindness thrown in. The book will be asked for again and again and would be a welcome addition to home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Page Street Kids, 2019 | ISBN 978-1624146565

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

Meet Anne Lambelet

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I’m excited to be chatting with Anne Lambelet about art, influences, inspiration and what she might do to get her favorite treat!

What was the inspiration behind Maria the Matador?

Maria the Matador, as crazy as it might sound, actually started out as a dream I had about having to fight a bull! I woke up and instantly felt like that was the sort of silly idea that could, just possibly, be perfect for a children’s book. From there though, it had to go through a lot of development. I had to return to my roots and really examine my original picture book influences…The Story of Ferdinand, World-famous Muriel, Madeline, etc. Using those as inspiration, I figured out what it was that had made me love them as a child (silliness, whimsy, problem-solving, getting paid in food), and tried to combine that with what made them stick with me now that I’m an adult…(peaceful, fun solutions in situations where it seems like violence is the only answer, indictments of toxic masculinity, female empowerment, culturally immersive settings). Maria was a long road of editing and re-writing to try and get my favorite elements to co-exist in the same story.

You’ve enjoyed success as an illustrator since your college days. Can you talk a little about how you developed your style and how it’s changed over the years?

In high school I’d say my artistic style leaned more towards photo-realism. Like most high school students, I accepted a sort of un-original, generic idea of what it means to make a “good drawing,” and, although I wasn’t terrible at hitting that mark, I wasn’t making anything very special either. Without a real sense of artistic individuality and purpose, I shied away from going to college for art and instead chose to major in computer science after graduating. I was, perhaps unsurprisingly, miserable during most of those four years, and I ended up pouring all my free time into discovering new artistic outlets to assuage that misery. What I discovered (online t-shirt design competitions, lowbrow pop surrealism, street art, artists like Gris Grimly, Brandi Milne, Lori Early, Mark Ryden, etc.) gave me a new, darkly humorous and whimsical artistic voice as well as newfound confidence in my skills. 

So, I put together a portfolio of monsters and creepy, big-eyed women and returned to college to give illustration an honest shot. The classes I took at the University of the Arts exposed me to so many new influences. Each one opened my mind to new, fascinating approaches to illustration, and my style fluctuated dramatically in relation to whatever artist was my latest craze. As a result, most of my sophomore/junior work just looks like one bad rip-off after another. The more influences I accumulated though, the more I began to figure out what about each “rip-off” had worked with my own identity and what didn’t. I started cherry-picking little bits of each style I’d loved and mushing them together into an amalgam of aesthetics and techniques that could begin to be called a “unique style.” Instead of stealing everything from one artist I liked, I stole one thing from every artist I liked, and, by the end of my senior year, that resulted in basically what you see now!  Style takes a lot of failing and soul-searching and figuring yourself out. I feel like I’m still evolving and changing to this day, but the increments of change get smaller and smaller every time. 

What were your favorite books growing up? Who were your artistic influences when you were a child and now?

Oh wow, picking favorite books is so hard. There are so many to love, and it’s a struggle to narrow them down! I’ll try though! For picture books some favorites were World Famous Muriel by Sue Alexander, The Jolly Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett, Santa Calls by William Joyce, and The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base.  I also adored almost all Dr. Seuss books, but especially McElligot’s Pool and Happy Birthday to You. I liked picture books that were whimsical and imaginative while being infused with a sense of humor as well as emotional poignancy. Interactive elements like the letters in The Jolly Postman or the hidden picture puzzles in The Eleventh Hour were always great too.  

Then, as I grew out of picture books, I began a love affair with middle grade fantasy that has persisted to this day. Favorites then became Harry Potter, Brian Jacque’s Redwall series, Dinotopia by James Gurney, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster and The Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce.  Also, although it’s not fantasy per se, I think Holes by Louis Sachar is one of the greatest kid’s books of all time. 

Because of my love for fantasy, I spent most of my childhood drawing dragons and fairies and other mythical creatures. As such, major artistic influences back then were Brian Froud, John Howe, Jan Brett and James C. Christensen. I also loved looking at my older brother’s Magic: The Gathering cards and watching Jim Henson movies like Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal. Unfortunately, as previously mentioned, I lost sight of that important self-defining nerdy-ness in my high school art. I guess I was trying to be “too cool” or something, haha.  I re-discovered them again later, though, and incorporated them into new influences I’d found that also dealt with whimsy and nostalgia. My current greatest influences are Eyvind Earl, Carson Ellis, Julia Sarda, Rankin/Bass’s The Last Unicorn and Cartoon Saloon’s Song of the Sea

In Maria the Matador, Maria will do anything—even get in the ring with a bull—for lifetime supply of churros. What’s your favorite treat and what would you do for an endless supply?

I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I think my greatest food weakness is doughnuts. If a doughnut enters my field of vision, I just can’t not be immediately hungry for doughnuts. I don’t know what I would do for them. Right now, I feel like the struggle is to stop myself from eating them, not to get more. I do really dislike public speaking and cleaning the toilet, but I think I’d probably clean the toilet while reciting the Gettysburg Address in front of a very large audience if I was promised a bunch of doughnuts afterwards! 

When did you become interested in writing and illustrating picture books? Can you describe your journey to publication?

Since before I can remember, I’ve always been making up stories and characters and illustrating them, but, like I said, I didn’t always believe in my ability to leverage those skills into a viable career. I think what really changed my mind was being introduced to online t-shirt design competitions where I got hooked on having to design around certain prompts and parameters, meet deadlines, and then sometimes (miraculously) even get paid for my work! I realized the potential to build a career on doing that professionally and that’s when I officially decided to go back to school for illustration.  

Then, throughout all that soul-searching for style I previously mentioned, I discovered that a key, defining aspect of my art is nostalgia. I realized that, all along, every drawing had been an attempt to re-open the floodgates of imagination that had flown so freely in my childhood games of pretend. At some point in my time at the University of the Arts, I figured that if childhood was where my heart was, then the people that I should make illustrations for were children!

After that I joined SCBWI which provided me with a ton of essential resources for embarking on the journey to publication. I got an agent through a local SCBWI pitch day and we workshopped Maria a little bit but ultimately made the mutual decision to go our separate ways. I regrouped after that setback, used the SCBWI handbook to create a small list of dream agents, and sent my portfolio out to all of them. A little while later, I got an email from Stephanie Fretwell-Hill at Red Fox Literary and immediately felt like she was a great fit. Stephanie helped me re-visit Maria and while we were polishing that up together, I attended the SCBWI winter conference in New York where I went to a breakout session hosted by Kristen Nobles of Page Street Kids.  She said she was on the hunt for new manuscripts so almost as soon as I got back, Stephanie and I made sure to get Maria in front of her. Luckily, she liked it, and within a few months, we’d signed a contract for my very first author-illustrated picture book!

You have another book coming soon from Page Street called Dogs and Their People. Can you give readers a sneak peek? In your bio you mention that you have a dog Eevee (that’s such a cute name!). What kind of dog is she, and is she like you or anyone in your family? If so, how?

Dogs and Their People is basically an anthology of different types of people-dog relationships tied together by who the narrator sees on her walk home from school. There are small people with tall dogs, people and dogs who share ice cream, and even pairs with matching mustachios. Some people are just like their dogs and some are very different, but no matter what, each person and each dog is clearly with their very best friend.  When the girl finally makes it home, the best friend that she has waiting for her provides a surprising comedic twist to the story’s end.

My dog, Eevee is a chowbrador (a mix between a labrador and a chow-chow). I definitely think she and I have a lot in common. She’s a little aloof for a dog, and it takes her a little while to warm up to new places and new people. However, once you’re “in” her enthusiasm to hang out with you will verge on embarrassing. She’s completely comfortable spending time alone, but she’s still very excited when she gets to have all her favorite people in one place. And lastly, like me (and Maria for that matter), she is highly food motivated and loves her snacks!

What advice would you give a young person who would like to pursue art as a career?

Never be ashamed of what you love even if—actually especially if—it’s something that you feel like no one else loves. Your personal combination of unique interests is going to be what makes your artistic style something the world has never seen before. Also, understanding why you love that thing that no one else loves will be a big clue to figuring out your ultimate purpose as an illustrator and/or author and the types of messages you want to convey. 

What’s up next for you?

After Dogs and their People, I illustrated another picture book called The Traveler’s Gift by Danielle Davison. That’s set to hit shelves in October of this year. I’ve also just begun work on two new picture books, How to Build an Insect by Roberta Gibson for Millbrook Press and The Poisoned Apple, my third author/illustrated book with Page Street Kids. Both of those are set to come out fall of 2020. I’m super excited about both of them!

What’s your favorite holiday

Oh boy…another hard choice to make.  It might be cliché, but I’ve always loved Christmas. I love the decorations and the lights and the food, and I love spending time with my family and re-visiting all the good memories and traditions we’ve built since I was small. I also consider myself a champion gift-giver and getting to see other people open gifts from me is way more fun (in my opinion), than getting to open my own.

A close second, though, would be Halloween. Once I’ve thought of a costume idea I really like, I feel giddy anticipation about it for weeks to months in advance. 

Do you have any anecdote from a holiday that you’d like to share? (Alternately, has a holiday ever influenced your work?)

I remember one Christmas Eve when I was very little, my mom was reading me a bedtime story. Meanwhile, my dad went outside, stood under my bedroom window and shook a set of sleigh bells. My mom convinced me that it was the sound of Santa’s sleigh flying by overhead.  It was probably one of the most magical moments of my life, and I love that my parents were so enthusiastic about making the magic of Christmas seem real for me. One of my favorite things about both Christmas and Halloween is that, as a kid, they made me feel like there was actually magic tucked away in the unseen corners of the world…whether that be toy-making elves at the North Pole or a ghost in an old, abandoned house or just the promise that if you put on a mask, you can become whoever you want. I think the best children’s books bring that same promise of magic to the world, and that will always be something that motivates what I create.

Thanks, Anne for this amazing talk and the reminder that people should always embrace their uniqueness and be true to themselves. I wish you all the best with Maria the Matador and all of your upcoming projects!

National Dance Week Activity

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Get up and Dance! Word Search Puzzle

 

There are so many different kinds of dances to learn and enjoy! Can you find the sixteen styles in this printable puzzle?

Get up and Dance! Word Search Puzzle | Get up and Dance! Word Search Solution

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You can find Maria the Matador at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

April 5 – It’s National Garden Month

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About the Holiday

In 1987 National Garden Week sprouted on the calendar to celebrate the beginning of spring and the growing season. But a week just isn’t enough to enjoy all the fun and excitement (and delicious food and glorious flowers) of gardening. In 2002, the National Gardening Association extended the holiday to encompass the full month of April. A perfect activity for the whole family—even the youngest loves playing in the dirt and planting seeds!—gardening is a wonderful way to teach kids about the growth cycle, pollinators, nutrition, patience, and more! If it’s warm enough to start planting where you live, engage your kids in preparing and planting your garden. If it’s still a little chilly, gather the whole family and plan this year’s garden!

Little Yellow Truck

Written by Eve Bunting | Illustrated by Kevin Zimmer

 

At his lumberyard, Riley had four trucks: “a red dump truck, a green flatbed truck, a blue concrete mixer, and a little yellow pickup truck.” One day he announced that together he and his trucks were going to turn a plot of land he’d bought into a children’s park. Little Yellow was excited to be included. Riley and his helpers drove all the trucks to the area. First, they cleaned up all the trash and put the bags in Big Red. “Little Yellow watched.”

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Image copyright Kevin Zimmer, 2019, text copyright Eve Bunting, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When Big Red drove away, Big Blue rolled up, and as his bowl turned he “pumped out concrete” to make a sidewalk that meandered through the land and over the hills, a floor for a picnic shelter and a spot for a fountain: “Squish Squash Slurp Burp.” Next, Big Green drove up with his load of lumber, and Riley and his helpers built the picnic shelter and a fence: “Bang Clang Smack Whack!” Riley thought it was “‘Fabulous!’”

As Big Green sped away with Riley, Little Yellow wondered…and waited. “He flicked his lights on and off.” He didn’t want to be forgotten. He wanted to do an important job. Then Big Green and Riley were back. Throughout the day, Big Green transported the swings, slides, merry-go-round, tables, and benches. Little Yellow stayed silent. “The important job was finished and he had done nothing.” Riley proclaimed it “‘Fabulous!’” But the park wasn’t finished yet, he said.

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Image copyright Kevin Zimmer, 2019, text copyright Eve Bunting, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Riley walked over to Little Yellow and took the wheel. As they drove down the road, Little Yellow recognized they were going the way back to the lumberyard. Maybe he wasn’t going to be part of the job after all. But then they stopped at Ray’s Garden Shop and the workers began loading Little Yellow up with “plants and shrubs and flowers. There were bags of soil and grass seed and fertilizer.”

As they drove through town, people smiled and waved. One girl even said, “‘Look! It’s a garden in a truck!” Back at the park, Riley and his helpers scattered the grass seed and planted the bushes and flowers. Birds, butterflies, and bees flew over to check them out. There was even a little shower burst to water them. When at last everything was just right, Big Red, Big Green, Big Blue, and Little Yellow all hooted and honked their horns, and kids came running from all over. Little Yellow “even gave an extra-long Toot Toot Tootle Toot” because “the children’s park was open for business. And he was part of it!”

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Image copyright Kevin Zimmer, 2019, text copyright Eve Bunting, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

For every little one who feels like they stand on the sidelines while all the “important jobs” are done, Eve Bunting’s sweet story shows that they play a big role in what happens at home, at school, and elsewhere. As Little Yellow watches while all the bigger trucks get to help out, his doubts will be familiar to readers. The suspense grows as job after job is completed without Little Yellow’s input, and young readers will cheer when his patience is rewarded. Little truck lovers will enjoy seeing their favorites at work and chiming in on the alliterative and rhyming words that accompany each action.

Kevin Zimmer’s happy-to-help trucks will thrill kids who love vehicles of all kinds with their realistic details and anthropomorphic personalities. Zimmer’s vivid colors are as cheery as a day at the park, and little ones will love pointing out and talking about the different jobs and what they entail as well as their favorite playground equipment. A diverse group of children, including a boy in a wheelchair, run and play in the new park.

An engaging story to reassure kids that they make a big difference even if they are small, Little Yellow Truck makes a fun read aloud for home, classroom, and library story times.

Ages 4 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1585364077

To learn more about Kevin Zimmer, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Garden Month Activity

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Colorful Garden Coloring Pages

 

Your plants and flowers may not have bloomed—or even sprouted—yet, but you can still enjoy a colorful garden with these printable pages!

Planting the Garden | Colorful Flowers

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You can find Little Yellow Truck at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review