February 9 – It’s Creative Romance Month

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About the Holiday

February, the month of love, is a perfect time to think up creative ways to surprise that special person in your life with a romantic gesture, exciting date night, or fun adventure that will add spice and fun to your relationship. With a little imagination you can find unique ways to show all the love that’s in your heart. 

I’d like to thank Bloomsbury Children’s Books for sharing Bear Meets Bear with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Bear Meets Bear

By Jacob Grant

 

Bear was waiting for the teapot he and Spider had ordered to arrive. It was exciting to think of getting something new delivered. At last the doorbell rang. When Bear opened the door, he found Panda, a delivery person he’d never seen before. She asked him to sign for his package, but Bear was smitten. “His heart beat fast…. He wanted to say something clever, or funny, or anything at all,” but he couldn’t.

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Copyright Jacob Grant, 2020, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

The delivery woman asked for his signature again, and finally he was able to sign the sheet. He watched Panda peddle away on her delivery bike. Spider thought Bear’s predicament was quite funny. Bear rushed to his computer and ordered another teapot. Bear waited and waited. He watched out the window, hoping to see Panda’s delivery bike roll up.

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Copyright Jacob Grant, 2020, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Bear was just considering ordering another tea pot when he saw Panda coming up the walk. But when she handed him the box and asked him to sign, Bear just stood silently again. “Spider felt sorry for his friend.” Bear ordered another teapot and another and another. Never could he summon the courage to talk to Panda, even though Spider encouraged him. Standing among all of the boxes of teapots, Spider told him he should “invite her to tea” or “at least remember to breathe” when Panda came to the door.

Bear agreed. He would order one more teapot and talk to Panda when it arrived. Bear waited with anticipation. But when the doorbell rang, it wasn’t Panda standing there, but a “gruff raccoon.” “Bear’s heart hurt.” He bemoaned the missed opportunities and regretted all the teapots. Spider wanted to help. He wrote a note and headed out to find Panda. He went from door to door asking if anyone had seen her. Finally, he found her at Duck’s house.

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Copyright Jacob Grant, 2020, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

The next day Panda was excited to see Panda on his doorstep. She thanked him for his invitation to a tea party. Bear felt himself freeze, but then he told her he would be just a minute. He cleaned up the scattered teapots and welcomed her in. Soon Bear and Panda were chatting and laughing like old friends.

After Panda said goodbye, Bear thanked Spider and said that Panda was very nice but that they would “not be meeting for tea again.” It turned out that Panda didn’t like tea! Bear was nonplussed, but thought it was “all rather funny.” The next time he and Panda met, Bear served lemonade. And what about all those teapots? Bear held a yard sale!

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Copyright Jacob Grant, 2020, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Fans of Jacob Grant’s Bear and Spider series know that Bear is often hesitant to put himself out there, to try something new, or even, sometimes, to leave the house. It might be because his feelings are so strong or he doubts himself  – or a little of both. Fortunately, Bear has his good friend Spider who supports him and gives him a nudge when he needs it. When Bear meets Panda and is smitten, he, like many people, can’t find the exact right words among all those feelings; a simple “hello” doesn’t seem like enough. Grant understands. Enter Spider, who offers a gentle dose of honesty and provides always-polite Bear with an opportunity to shine. When Bear discovers that Panda doesn’t like tea, Grant also shows readers that conditions don’t have to be perfect to make a new friend and that a little humor goes a long way toward smoothing things over.

Grant’s tranquil color palette and simple shapes make it easy for readers to immerse themselves in Bear’s feelings, empathizing with his all-too-human predicament while enjoying the comical collection of all those tea pots. When Bear watches out the window day after day, willing Panda to return only to be filled with fear and anxiety when she does, Grant perfectly captures that “oh no, now what?” emotion as Bear’s paws fly to his face and his eyes widen. Likewise, Bear’s regrets are palpable as, surrounded by boxes, he buries his head in the chair. Throughout, Spider is there, weaving his web, strumming his banjo, and watching out for Bear. Wordless images of Bear and Panda enjoying lemonade together and Bear’s yard sale let kids know it has all turned out all right.

A charming, poignant, and reassuring addition to the Bear and Spider series, Bear Meets Bear,  a story about overcoming emotions that hold us back, is highly recommended for home, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 6

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1547604241

Discover more about Jacob Grant, his books, and his art on his website.

Creative Romance Month Activity

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Create a Mug

 

If you’re kids are looking for a gift to make for a family member or a friend for Valentine’s Day or any time, a personalized mug makes a creative way to share a little love every time it’s used. 

Supplies

  • Plain ceramic mug
  • Bakeable markers or paint

Directions

  1. Design and color your mug
  2. Follow directions on the markers or paint to properly bake on your decoration and make it permanent.

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You can find Bear Meets Bear at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 28 – Get Ready for New Year’s Eve

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About the Holiday

It’s safe to say we’re all happy to be saying goodbye to 2020 and looking forward to 2021 with hope and resolve. A new year offers opportunities for reflection and growth as well as sharing the traditions that keep our families and friendships strong no matter what challenges we face. Today’s book celebrates all three of these parts of life at the New Year or any time.

Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela!

Written by Alexandra Alessandri | Illustrated by Addy Rivera Sonda

 

Ava Gabriela and her mamá and papa were visiting her grandmother’s farm for the New Years holiday. Her aunts, uncles and cousins were there too, but she had never met her tías and tíos or primas and primos before, and they “didn’t feel like familia yet.” When her mother prompted her to say hola, Ava Gabriela nervously opened her mouth, but no words came out. And when Abuelita asked if a mouse had nibbled her tongue, Ava hid behind Mamá. But then Tía Nena approached with her hand extended and asked, “‘Want to help us make buñuelos?’ Ava hesitated. But the fried cheesy fritters were her favorite.” Ava took Tía Nena’s hand and went into the kitchen.

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Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

There she found her cousins Sarita and Javier. Together they made the dough. As Tía Nena rolled it out, Sarita and Javier laughed and talked, but Ava watched silently. Even when Tía Nena sprinkled flour in her hair, Ava couldn’t call for a food fight like she wanted to but only giggled. After the buñuelos were finished, Ava’s cousins ran outside. Ava wanted to call after them to wait, “but her voice hid like a mouse in its hole” so Ava explored the farm by herself. When she found her mamá talking with Abuelita, she quietly asked her why she was so shy. Mamá reassured her that when she was ready, her voice would “come out and play.” After a hug, Ava felt a little better.

In another part of the house, Ava found her primo Pedro blowing up balloons for “el Año Viejo,” the balloon doll they would pop when the old year turned into a new year. When Pedro asked if she’d like to help, her words stuck in her throat again, but Pedro invited her to build the Año Viejo while he blew up balloons. When the doll’s clothes were all stuffed, Pedro handed Ava the marker to add the face. In her heart she was saying thank you, and then she realized that “she could say thank you. ‘Gracias,’” she said. “The word was whispery soft but tasted sweet like dulce de leche.”

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Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

The next morning, when Ava saw Mamá and Abuelita filling cups with twelve grapes that would bring good luck in the new year, Ava “plucked one and said a silent wish: Please let me not be shy today.” Then she ran outside. This time when her tía and Pedro talked to her, she answered back, but when Tío Mario called out, her voice disappeared again. Soon it was time to change for the celebration. Outside, lanterns twinkled and the table was spread with delicious food. While everyone else talked and played, Ava sat next to the Año Viejo. “Don’t you want to play? It seemed to ask.”

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Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Just then fireworks burst across the sky. Ava ran out into the yard. Her cousins came out too and asked if she’d like to play tag. Once again she knew she could and would say yes. “With her heart galloping, Ava blurted, ‘Sí.’ Her cousins cheered.” As she ran off with her primos, Ava felt feliz. When midnight came, Ava helped pop the Año Viejo and joined in as they all called out “‘¡Feliz Año Nuevo!’”

In an Author’s Note, Alexandra Alessandri reveals more about the Christmas season, which is celebrated from December 7 through January 6, in her native Columbia and across Latin America and the Caribbean. She describes the food, music, traditions, and superstitions associated with New Year’s Eve and talks about the significance of the Año Viejo. A glossary of words and phrases used in the story is also provided in the back matter.

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Image copyright Addy Rivera Sondo, 2020, text copyright Alexandra Alessandri, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Alexandra Alessandri’s lovely story organically combines Spanish and English to create a smoothly flowing story that brings to life the Columbian traditions of New Years and el Año Viejo while acknowledging how big gatherings of family and friends can be intimidating for some children. Through beautiful, lyrical language that incorporates imagery from Spanish idioms, food, animals, and musical instruments, Alessandri portrays a realistic picture of the emotions shyness can cause in children – and adults. Readers will be charmed by sweet and thoughtful Ava Gabriela and empathize with her feelings as she has small successes as well as setbacks on her way to feeling comfortable and finding her voice with her family. Hesitant and shy children will recognize themselves in Ava and welcome Alessandri’s sensitive depiction of her inner conflict. The understanding Ava’s mamá gives her is full of heartfelt love and models the kind of support that helps shy children thrive.

Addy Rivera Sonda’s fresh, cheerful illustrations will captivate readers with details that paint an enchanting portrait of this loving family and Abuelita’s tidy farmhouse from the opening scene, in which Ava’s family is welcomed home, to the tiled accents, chickens in the yard, and preparations for the New Year’s celebration. Sonda does an excellent job of portraying Ava’s fluctuating emotions—giggling at silly things but then too hesitant to say the words on the tip of her tongue and wandering the farm alone when she’d like to be playing with her cousins. Children who celebrate el Año Viejo will be excited to see their fun and meaningful tradition depicted here and kids who are not familiar with it will be intrigued to learn more. As Ava’s family gets ready for New Year’s Eve, children will also enjoy seeing other parts of the celebration that are aimed at bringing good luck for the next year.

A beautiful and superbly composed book rich in Columbian and Latin American culture that can also ease discussions about shyness, Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! will be a favorite on home bookshelves for all kids. The book would also spark fun and educational cross-curricular activities, making it a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company, 2020 | ISBN 978-0807504505

Discover more about Alexandra Alessandri and her books on her website.

To learn more about Addy Rivera Sonda and view a portfolio of her work, visit her website.

Get Ready for New Year’s Eve Activity

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New Year’s Eve Coloring Page

 

Celebrate the New Year with this printable coloring page! You might even want to add some glitter to make the fireworks even more spectacular!

New Year’s Eve Coloring Page

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You can find Feliz New Year, Ava Gabriela! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

March 4 – It’s National Reading Month

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About the Holiday

National Reading Month is a book-lover’s delight! Designed to encourage children and adults to read every day, the holiday gives you the perfect excuse to hurry out to your local bookstore or library to stock up! The month is only beginning, so gather the kids and discover some new books to enjoy together. Today’s new book is a natural to start with. And when you’ve finished reading, visit the Reading is Fundamental website to join the celebration by adding the books you read to the tally of the Million Book March.

A Way with Wild Things

Written by Larissa Theule | Illustrated by Sara Palacios

 

Poppy Ann Fields made friends with lots of bugs. She appreciated all of their natural talents—the way the cicadas formed a symphony, the way the ants marched in perfect lines, the way the shy roly poly said hello, and the “magnificent art” the spider wove. She could spend all day outside among these friends, “but when people came around, Poppy preferred to disappear into the background.”

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Image copyright Sara Palacios, 2020, text copyright Larissa Theule, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

At parties she dressed to blend in with the wallpaper or the brightly flowered rug. She could disappear into the framed landscape on the wall or behind the tree in the corner. To celebrate Grandma Phyllis’s 100th birthday, there was a big party. Poppy watched from behind the flowers and bushes. She watched as people strolled about, meeting and hugging, dancing and running. “They looked like colorful leaves falling into each other then drifting apart.”

A shimmering dragonfly drifted on the breeze and landed on the cake. “Her whole heart glad, Poppy clapped her hands.” She came over to look and that’s when Uncle Dan spotted her. His voice boomed, “‘Poppy Ann Fields, you wallflower, you. So that’s where you’ve been hiding this time.’” Everyone turned to look at Poppy. She froze. The dragonfly took off… “and landed in her hand.” No one could believe it; they smiled and stared in wonder. Then they moved in to get a closer look.

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Image copyright Sara Palacios, 2020, text copyright Larissa Theule, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Poppy wished she could run away. She didn’t know where to look, so she gazed at the dragonfly. “She knew the dragonfly had come here for her.” She listened to the cicadas’ music wafting through the air and took a breath. Then she spoke, telling everyone the dragonfly’s scientific name. Grandma Phyllis clasped her hands and gave Poppy a hug. “‘You wildflower, you,’” she whispered. In her heart Poppy knew Grandma Phyllis was right. She was not a wallflower, but “a wildflower.”

An illustrated glossary of Poppy’s bug friends, along with their scientific name and a brief description follows the story.

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Image copyright Sara Palacios, 2020, text copyright Larissa Theule, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Larissa Theule’s quietly comforting story is balm for those thoughtful, introverted children who interact with the world through observation, contemplation, and gentle interactions. With the soul of a poet, Poppy listens to, watches, and connects with nature, feeling its rhythms and wonder with her whole heart. Theule’s carefully chosen verbs and play on the idea of nature embrace Poppy’s personality. Poppy “preferred” to observe large, noisy gatherings from the sidelines while she “became” things that most people find lovely: landscapes, trees, rain, a group of animals.

When Uncle Dan’s loud voice turns everyone’s attention to Poppy, Theule’s simply stated “she was scared down to her toes” validates the feelings of kids who’d rather not be in the spotlight and gives children and adults an opportunity to talk about these emotions. The party-goers’ enthusiasm to hear what Poppy has to say and Grandma Phyllis’s loving and apt nickname for her granddaughter will reassure introverted readers that they are seen and appreciated for their unique strengths.

Sara Palacios festival of flowers—found outside, in Poppy’s home décor, and on party-goers’ clothing––surrounds Poppy and reveals that she is a part of and does fit in everywhere. One of the joys of A Way with Wild Things is finding Poppy on each page and appreciating Palacio’s creative genius in how she uses camouflage similar to nature. Her vivid, textured illustrations are joyous and full of love for nature, for life, and especially for Poppy who tenderly takes it all in and makes it uniquely hers.

Ages 3 – 6

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1681190396

Discover more about Larissa Theule and her books on her website.

To learn more about Sara Palacios, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Reading Month Activity

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Catch the Reading Bug Bookmark, Bookplate, and Books-to-Read List

 

If National Reading Month is one of your favorite holidays, show it with these printable Reading Bug book accessories!

I’ve Got the Reading Bug Bookmark | I’ve Got the Reading Bug Bookplate | Books-to-Read List 

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You can find A Way with Wild Things at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review