May 24 – National Brothers Day

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About the Holiday

Today we take time to celebrate brothers! Whether you grew up with one brother or a few or have a friend you love like a brother, today’s holiday gives you a terrific reason to spend time together or get in touch and make some new memories! This year, as we’re spending more time working and playing with family, today’s book is certainly a home run!

Calvin Gets the Last Word

Written by Margo Sorenson | Illustrated by Mike Deas

 

Calvin’s dictionary is well-positioned to know all about (and describe) Calvin’s life because from the moment he wakes up to the moment he goes to bed, that dictionary is in his hands. “Why? Because Calvin loves words—I mean REALLY loves words,” the dictionary says. And Calvin won’t rest until he’s found the perfect “word for everything—especially his rascally brother.” Take this morning, for example. Calvin grabs his dictionary, as usual, and heads to the kitchen for breakfast. At the table, Calvin takes a big gulp of milk. It’s just the moment his brother’s been waiting for to tell his super funny, nose-snorting joke. You can imagine what happens—and that’s why the dictionary’s page that contains the word revenge is soaked.

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Image copyright Mike Deas, 2020, text copyright Margo Sorenson, 2020. Courtesy of Tilbury House Publishers.

But is revenge the right word for Calvin’s brother? Not quite. On the school bus as the kids are tossing a backpack, talking, laughing, and hanging over the seats, Calvin’s dictionary offers up mayhem, but that doesn’t completely describe his brother either. As Calvin struggles in geography class and passes notes during library story time, his dictionary helps describe the mood, but the words it comes up with don’t really apply to his brother. Calvin does discover a good word for himself, though, when, on the way home from school, he stands up to a bully and helps a kindergartener.

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Image copyright Mike Deas, 2020, text copyright Margo Sorenson, 2020. Courtesy of Tilbury House Publishers.

At Little League practice, the dictionary tells readers, Calvin “loves to crush the ball during batting practice, sending it over the fence. That’s why the page that reads pulverize has grass stains on it.” Could pulverize be the right word for his brother? While Calvin thinks it could be fun, it’s not exactly right.

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Image copyright Mike Deas, 2020, text copyright Margo Sorenson, 2020. Courtesy of Tilbury House Publishers.

That night dinner turns into a repeat of breakfast—only in broccoli green. When Calvin goes to bed, he sits for a while, thinking. Then he grabs his exhausted dictionary and a glass of water and sneaks into his brother’s room. The dictionary thinks it knows what’s going to happen and riffles through its pages to find the right word, unconcerned whether it stays dry or not. And then, there on the page, is the perfect word! But wait, what’s going on? The word the dictionary offered no longer fits because now the brothers are laughing. The dictionary tries flipping to another page and a better word, but Calvin has it beat as he turns the pages and discovers the exact right word to describe his brother. What are all of the words the dictionary and Calvin have found? Come flip through Calvin Gets the Last Word yourself to find out!

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Image copyright Mike Deas, 2020, text copyright Margo Sorenson, 2020. Courtesy of Tilbury House Publishers.

In her funny and unique mashup of sibling rivalry and vocabulary, Margo Sorenson offers kids an engaging story of the singular type of love brothers share uncovered little by little through word-building. Calvin’s dictionary makes a sincere and charming guide through high-interest words that lend panache and nuance to events throughout Calvin’s day even if they don’t quite describe his brother. Astute kids may notice that the words the dictionary chooses for Calvin’s brother proves his loyalty to his favorite reader. Calvin’s spewed milk, whispered secrets, and home run batting add up to a real kid that readers will love. The words that the dictionary finds are fun to learn and say and will spark an enthusiasm in readers to do their own flipping through the dictionary and thesaurus. Sorenson’s endearing ending rings true with a word kids are sure to embrace.

Mike Deas’ glasses-wearing and sweat suit-clad Calvin, whose dictionary is always at the ready to define his experiences, is a character readers will respond to. Images of the sprayed milk and broccoli, rockin’ school bus, library story rug, and baseball field are full of familiar details and plenty of action. As Calvin prepares to play his trick on his brother Deas gives kids a cutaway view of the house from above, letting them tiptoe through the maze of rooms with Calvin. The final scenes of the brothers checking out the dictionary together in the light of a bedside lamp is sibling devotion at its best.

A delightful family story that can stir a love of language, Calvin Gets the Last Word would be a favorite addition to home libraries. The book is highly recommended for school and classroom bookshelves to enhance language arts, writing, grammar, and vocabulary lessons and for public library collections as well.

Ages 6 – 8

Tilbury House Publishers, 2020 | ISBN 978-0884488224

Discover more about Margo Sorenson and her books on her website.

To learn more about Mike Deas, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Brother’s Day Activity

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Best Brother Award Certificate

 

Today is all about how great your brother is! Print and fill out this Best Brother Award Certificate and give it to your brother—or brothers! And if you’d like an activity to do with your brother (or sister, Mom, and/or Dad), today, here’s a puzzle to do together! 

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“Big Words” Word Search

 

Knowing and using a wide range of words allows you to express yourself in exact—and often—fun ways. Find the 26 “big” words—one for each letter of the alphabet—in this printable word search puzzle.

“Big Words” Word Search Puzzle“Big Words” Puzzle Solution!

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You can find Calvin Gets the Last Word at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

P

December 21 – National Flashlight Day

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About the Holiday

The founders of Flashlight Day chose the Winter Solstice to shine a little more light on today’s celebrated object. As today is the winter solstice and the shortest of the year, you may find that a flashlight comes in handy during that extra bit of darkness. If you’re wondering about the history of the flashlight, it all goes back to the invention of the dry-cell battery in 1887. These portable power sources inspired new products, such as the flashlight or torch (as it’s called outside of North America), which was invented in 1899. So indispensable is the flashlight, that it is even incorporated into our phones! To celebrate today’s holiday, why not turn off the lights tonight and tell stories, play games, or go exploring illuminated only by your flashlight!

Flashlight Night

Written by Matt Forrest Esenwine | Illustrated by Fred Koehler

 

Three brave explorers—a boy, a girl, and a little brother—set out from their tree house at night armed only with their flashlight. In the golden beam, the picket fence turns dilapidated and overgrown as it weaves in and out among the gnarled trunks of a dense forest. The children follow “past old post and rail / along a long-forgotten trail / into woods no others dare, / for fear of what is waiting there.” Soon, they find a crawlspace under the deck of their house and venture in. They can hear the sound of rushing water and the yowl of a big cat. Before joining his friend and her little brother, the boy shines his flashlight around the yard, illuminating a wild waterfall and a tiger on the prowl where a tabby had dozed just minutes ago.

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Image copyright Fred Koehler, 2017, text copyright Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2017. Courtesy of mattforrest.com.

The three friends crawl deep into the dusty crevices of the tunnel, where the flashlight shows them bones and lost treasures of ancient Egypt “as inky shadows rise and fall, / dancing… / to no sound at all.” They come to “a peculiar door that opens to… / a foreign shore.” From the pool stairs they step into a rubber boat and sail across the sea to the pirate ship dead ahead in the circle of light. A parrot swoops low and a kraken reaches its writhing tentacles from the roiling waves just as the treasure chest is found.

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Image copyright Fred Koehler, 2017, text copyright Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2017. Courtesy of mattforrest.com.

With the ship engulfed and sinking, the stream of light from the “shows a stealthy way to flee—….” The three kids run across the sandy beach and around the umbrella palm then scramble up a steep slope. But the angry pirate, brandishing his sword, is looking for his treasure; the kraken has scaled the wall and nabbed the girl; and the tiger approaches with a hungry look in its eyes.

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Image copyright Fred Koehler, 2017, text copyright Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2017. Courtesy of mattforrest.com.

Quickly, the older boy swings himself onto the ramparts of an old stone castle and reaches for the outstretched hand of his friend as she dangles upside down in the kraken’s arm. Her brother distracts the beast with his teddy bear, which transforms into a mighty grizzly that scares off the tiger, the pirate, and the astonished kraken. The littlest explorer is hailed as a hero as he is lifted through the window to safety.

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Image copyright Fred Koehler, 2017, text copyright Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2017. Courtesy of mattforrest.com.

Happily back in the tree house, the three snuggle under a blanket, reading 20,000 Leagues under the Sea while flanked by stacks of the classics, including Around the World in 80 Days, Treasure Island, and Mysteries of Egypt. And even though “weary eyes fight off the sleep, / adventure lingers, stirs about— / “until a voice says, ‘Shhh…lights out.’”

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Image copyright Fred Koehler, 2017, text copyright Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2017. Courtesy of mattforrest.com.

Flashlight Night is that perfect combination of text and illustrations that creates a reading experience that immerses a reader in an alternate world. Matt Forrest Esenwine’s rhyming story entrances with an atmosphere of mystery and intrigue created with language that sets the imagination racing—inky shadows, time-forgotten tomb, slyly sneak, and craggy mountainside is just the beginning.

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Image copyright Fred Koehler, 2017, text copyright Matt Forrest Esenwine, 2017. Courtesy of mattforrest.com.

Accompanying this beguiling narration are Fred Koehler’s masterful, dual-duty illustrations. Outside of the flashlight’s beam, charcoal-colored images depict the reality of the children’s yard and treehouse. Inside the beam, the children’s imaginary game is fully illuminated. At the sharp edges between the two, reality and imagination blend together as seamlessly as children traverses both worlds. Under the deck, a forgotten baseball meshes with the rounded body of Egyptian pottery, the wall of the deck morphs into a rocky cliff, the stern of the rubber raft gives way to a wooden dinghy, and the top of the treehouse stretches to become the ledge on a castle.

The classic stories the children read in their tree house inform the friends’ nighttime jaunt and come to life in Koehler’s engrossing illustrations that are themselves scavenger hunts for small details, foreshadowing clues, bits of humor, and literary allusions.

Flashlight Night is a beautiful tribute to adventure classics. It is a fantastic book to cuddle up with for cozy bedtime reading (flashlight highly recommended), to take along for campfire storytelling, or to spark imaginary play. Flashlight Night would be a great gift and welcome addition to any child’s home bookshelf or classroom library.

Ages 4 – 8

Boyds Mill’s Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-1629794938

Discover more about Matt Forrest Esenwine and his books on his website.

To learn more about Fred Koehler, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Flashlight Day Activity

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Flashlight Fun Maze

 

Three friends want to do a little nighttime reading. Can you help the glow of the flashlight reach them so they can enjoy their favorite book in this printable Flashlight Fun Maze? Here’s the Solution.

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You can find Flashlight Night at these booksellers

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

YouPicture Book Review

December 1 – Celebrating the Book Birthday of Dancing with Daddy

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Dancing with Daddy

Written by Anitra Rowe Schulte | Illustrated by Ziyue Chen

 

Elsie was shopping for the perfect dress to wear to her first father-daughter dance. Should she choose the pink one that will make her look like a princess or the red one that’s the same color as her daddy’s soccer jersey? As her mom held them up, Elsie reached from her wheelchair and “grabbed the red dress and pulled it close. This one,” she thinks. “It’s perfect for dancing with Daddy.” She gets a matching bow headband and heads home as snowflakes flurried around them. Elsie was worried the dance would be cancelled.

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Image copyright Ziyue Chen, 2021, text copyright Anitra Rowe Schulte, 2021. Courtesy of Two Lions.

At home, Elsie’s sisters, Daphne and Rosalie, raced to meet Elsie at the door while Daddy asked her if she picked out a good one. Elsie replied by touching the “special” picture square in her PODD communication book. After dinner – noodle bowls for Daphne and Rosalie and a push of food through a feeding tube for Elsie – the sisters went to Elsie’s room to see her dress and talk about the dance. Soon it was time for bed, and “Daddy read Elsie’s favorite bedtime book,” the Nutcracker. “As the dancer in the story twirled, Elsie’s heart did pirouettes. I can’t wait to see my dress spin,” Elsie thought.

That night Elsie dreamed about the dance, but the snow kept falling. In the morning, Elsie stared out the window with disappointment. She saw snow edging her window panes and heard the sound of snow shovels. She just knew the dance would be cancelled. Then her mom came in and told her “‘the dance is a go!'” All day the sisters practiced dancing and twirling and dipping Elsie’s wheelchair “until she found her groove.”

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Image copyright Ziyue Chen, 2021, text copyright Anitra Rowe Schulte, 2021. Courtesy of Two Lions.

At last the time came to get ready and leave for the dance. Daddy complimented all of his daughters on their dresses as they made their way to the dance hall. That’s when Elsie realized she didn’t have her bow. While crossing the parking lot, Elsie’s wheels got stuck in a snowbank, but Daddy pushed it through. Once inside, the other girls all reminded her of the dancer in her favorite book. She wished she had her bow and put her hand up to touch her hair. Reminded, her dad pulled the headband from his pocket and set it in place. Then he spun her around; “her ruffles took flight.”

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Image copyright Ziyue Chen, 2021, text copyright Anitra Rowe Schulte, 2021. Courtesy of Two Lions.

Inside the gym, the music boomed, and everyone was dancing. When a “tender tune began to play, Daphne and Rosalie took a break. Elsie’s daddy picked her up. “Elsie pressed her forehead against Daddy’s, and together they danced. He swung her high and held her tight. It was just like her dream, “except better.” Afterward, Elsie tasted the frosting from her piece of cake, then she touched the “dance” picture in her book. Elsie and Daddy returned to the dance floor and “joined Daphne and Rosalie under the lights and dance and danced into the night.”

An Author’s Note at the front of the book introduces readers to Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, its prevalence, affects, and the tools people with WHS use to eat, communicate, and get around.

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Image copyright Ziyue Chen, 2021, text copyright Anitra Rowe Schulte, 2021. Courtesy of Two Lions.

Inspired by her own daughters, one of whom has Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome like Elise, Anitra Rowe Schulte’s story glows with family love, support, and encouragement. As Elise gets ready for a father-daughter dance, readers will get caught up in her excitement and universal concerns, such as choosing the “perfect” dress and whether a much-anticipated event will be cancelled because of adverse weather. Schulte’s evocative storytelling beautifully incorporates both emotion and factual information through the use of realistic, uplifting dialogue and intermittent lyrical lines that echo the movement and music of dance. Children also see that while Elsie may be nonverbal, her thoughts are like their own, just expressed differently.

Ziyue Chen’s lovely illustrations shine with sisterly camaraderie and family devotion. As the story opens and Elise chooses the red dress over the pink one by pulling it close, kids can read in her face and body language how important the dress, the dance, and surprising her dad are to her. Likewise, readers will share Elise’s excitement and her worries and celebrate the fun she has at the dance. Particularly moving are two mirrored illustrations: the first, a gorgeous image, lit by golden orbs and tiny stars, of Elise dreaming of the dance to come, and the second a tender two-page spread later on when her dream comes true. 

In her illustrations of Elise, Chen realistically depicts the facial features of children with WHS as well as the wheelchair, orthotics, feeding mechanism, and PODD books used by many. Children who use tools similar to Elise will be excited to see themselves represented in these pages, and others will be interested to learn about them and to meet Elise.

A joyous and heartfelt story of a loving and supportive family and which celebrates the common hopes and dreams of all children, Dancing with Daddy is highly recommended for home libraries and is a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Two Lions, 2021 | ISBN 978-1542007191

About Anitra Rowe Schulte

Anitra Rowe Schulte has worked as a journalist for The Kansas City Star and the Sun-Times News Group, as a staff writer for Chicago Public Schools, and as a publicist. She is the mother of three beautiful girls, one of whom has Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome and is the inspiration for Elsie in this book. She lives in the Chicago area, and this is her first picture book. Learn more about her at www.anitraroweschulte.com and follow her at @anitraschulte on Twitter.

About Ziyue Chen

Ziyue Chen is the Deaf illustrator of a number of children’s books, including Mela and the Elephant by Dow Phumiruk, How Women Won the Vote by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, and Rocket-Bye Baby: A Spaceflight Lullaby by Danna Smith. She lives with her loved ones in Singapore. Find out more at www.ziyuechen.com or follow her @ziyuechen on Instagram.

To see Ziyue Chen bring her illustrations to life on the page, watch these videos.

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You can find Dancing with Daddy at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 28 – Celebrate Hanukkah

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About the Holiday

Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, is the Jewish wintertime celebration that commemorates the victory of the small Maccabean army over the much more powerful Greek/Syrian forces and the rededication of the Holy Temple during the second century BCE. Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days in remembrance of the miracle of the oil lamp, which at the time only held enough oil for one day yet burned for eight days. This year Hanukkah takes place from December 10 through 18.

Thanks to Sterling Children’s Books for sharing a copy of The Ninth Night of Hanukkah with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

The Ninth Night of Hanukkah

Written by Erica S. Perl | Illustrated by Shahar Kober

 

A family has just moved into their new apartment. It’s the first night of Hanukkah, but they can’t find their Hanukkah things amidst all the boxes. So, without the menorah or delicious latkes, Mom, Dad, Rachel, and Max sit on the floor eating pizza. “It was nice…but it didn’t feel quite like Hanukkah.” On the second night, they still hadn’t found the menorah, but Rachel and Max made one from a piece of wood, their jar of nuts and bolts, and some craft paint. It was all ready to light, when Mom discovered that they didn’t have the candles either.

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Image copyright Shahar Kober, 2020, text copyright Erica S. Perl, 2020. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

With the stores closed, Rachel and Max went next door to apartment 2C. They introduced themselves to Mrs. Mendez and explained their situation. She offered the only candles she had—a box of birthday candles. “Dad lit the shamash. Max and Rachel each used it to light a candle.” Then they opened presents. While it was nice, it still “didn’t feel quite like Hanukkah.
On the third night, the “lucky latke pan” was nowhere to be found, but Max appeared with a steaming plate of French fries from Joe, the super, who lived downstairs.

By the fourth night of Hanukkah, Mom and Dad were beginning to think the box with their Hanukkah things had gotten lost. Max wanted to play dreidel, so while Mom called the moving company, Max and Rachel met the Watson twins, who didn’t have a dreidel, but they did have a toy that spun and spun. On the fifth night, Rachel and Max had made their own dreidel, “which meant they needed gelt.” On the fourth floor, Max and Rachel met Mr. Patel, who handed Max the only chocolate he had—a bag of chocolate chips. All of these substitutions were “nice…but it didn’t feel quite like Hanukkah.”

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Image copyright Shahar Kober, 2020, text copyright Erica S. Perl, 2020. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Each night of Hanukkah Max and Rachel missed a different part of their Hanukkah celebration, and each night a new neighbor did the best they could to supply it. On the morning after the eighth night of Hanukkah, a delivery person showed up at the door with Mom’s guitar. She suggested a sing-along, but Rachel reminded her that Hanukkah was over. Max, however, had another idea and pointed to the ninth candle on the menorah. This gave Rachel an idea too, and she and Max whispered and planned. Then they waited. Soon “there was a knock on the door. And another. And another.”

When all the neighbors had gathered, Max and Rachel explained their Shamash Night celebration. Like the Shamash candle “helps light all the other candles,” they said, their new neighbors had helped them celebrate Hanukkah. “‘So we wanted to say thanks—to the Shamash and to you,’” Rachel said. Just then the delivery person appeared with the long-lost box. On the ninth night in their new home, Mom and Dad, Rachel and Max ate, played, sang, and danced with all of their new friends, “and best of all, it felt exactly like Hanukkah.”

An Author’s Note following the story tells about the history and tradition of the shamash candle and the idea that sparked the writing of The Ninth Night of Hanukkah. Erica S. Perl also provides a guide on how families can hold their own “Shamash Night.”

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Image copyright Shahar Kober, 2020, text copyright Erica S. Perl, 2020. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Community, resilience, and children’s creativity infuse every page of Erica S. Perl’s story that’s a wonderful Hanukkah read as well as a story families will want to share all year around. The apartment-house setting and the family’s just-moved-in situation combine to create a charming microcosm of making friends, getting to know new neighbors, and discovering the generosity of strangers. Rachel and Max, creative, close-knit, and accommodating, will captivate kids as they go along on their scavenger hunts for the makings of a homey Hanukkah celebration.

Perl’s substitutions—from birthday candles to French fries to a ukulele will appeal to readers. The repeated phrase “It was nice, but it didn’t feel quite like Hanukkah” applies to many make-do conditions and will resonate with children. It also provides suspense and a nice counterpoint for when the night does finally fulfill the Hanukkah feeling. Max and Rachel’s “Shamash Night” offers a message of gratitude not only for things but for friendship.

Shahar Kober’s warm-toned illustrations mirror the heartfelt story and the kindness of the diverse group of neighbors as they provide workable solutions to Max and Rachel’s requests. Images of Rachel and Max creating a homemade menorah, dreidel, and wrapping paper may inspire kids to design their own Hanukkah or other holiday decorations and traditional items. Kober’s cartoon-style characters are expressive, demonstrating their disappointment in missing their well-loved Hanukkah things but more so their cheerful acceptance of what the neighbors can provide. Kids will enjoy watching the antics of the family’s cat, who likes to be in the middle of the action, but also is happy to make do with a moving box as a new napping spot.

A heartwarming and joyful Hanukkah story with messages of kindness, generosity, acceptance and a loving sibling relationship, The Ninth Night of Hanukkah is highly recommended for all home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 8 and up

Sterling Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1454940883

Discover more about Erica S. Perl and her books on her website.

To learn more about Shahar Kober, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Celebrate Hanukkah Activity

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Star of David Decoration

 

Kids can add a bit of sparkle to their Hanukkah celebrations with this Star of David craft.

Supplies

  • 6 mini craft sticks
  • 2 round lids from clear plastic deli containers
  • Silver glitter
  • Blue craft paint
  • Clear-drying glue
  • Thin ribbon or string, 8 – 10 inches long

Directions

To Make the Star of David

  1. Paint the craft sticks with the blue paint, let dry
  2. Glue three of the craft sticks together to form a triangle; repeat with the other three sticks
  3. Glue the two triangles together to create a Star of David
  4. Glue a short length of ribbon to the top back of the Star of David

To Make the Case

  1. Apply a thin layer of clear-drying glue to the top, indented side of one of the lids
  2. Sprinkle the lid with the glitter, let dry
  3. When the glue is dry, center the Star of David in the lid with the ribbon trailing over the rim of the lid. The Star of David will be free hanging inside the case from the ribbon.
  4. Glue the rim of the indented side of the second lid to the rim of the first lid
  5. When dry, tie the ribbon into a loop for hanging

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-ninth-night-of-hanukkah-cover

You can find The Ninth Night of Hanukkah at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 15 – It’s Young Readers Week

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About the Holiday

Established in 1989 by the Center for the Book and Pizza Hut as a way to celebrate reading and invite kids and adults to discover the fun and benefits of reading, Young Readers Week is a favorite on any book-lovers’ calendar. Bringing together businesses, schools, families, and libraries, the Book It! program offers encouragement and resources to get kids excited about reading. To learn more and find activities, printables, reading trackers, and other resources for schools and families, visit the Book It! program website.

Thank you to Disney-Hyperion and Big Honcho Media for sending me a copy of Norman Didn’t Do It! (Yes, he did.) for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Norman Didn’t Do It! (Yes, he did.)

By Ryan T. Higgins

 

Norman was a porcupine whose best friend, Mildred, was a tree. During the day, Norman loved playing baseball with Mildred (even though she always struck out—and, if truth be told, never even swung at the ball), bird-watching, “playing ‘tree’ together, and even playing chess (even if Norman had to play both black and white). At night, Norman settled himself in Mildred’s branches and read to Mildred (who always asked for “one more chapter.” Sometimes Norman just liked being with Mildred, holding hands with a low-growing branch.

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Copyright Ryan T. Higgins, 2021, courtesy of Disney-Hyperion.

Then one day an interloper popped from the ground complete with some leafy appendages. “And WHO is THAT?!” Norman asked Mildred. Of course, “it was another tree”—a tree that did not belong with Norman and Mildred. At first Norman just stewed, but soon he began to worry about whether Mildred might prefer this other tree to him. And, in fact, as the other tree grew taller, it seemed that Mildred didn’t need Norman to play baseball, birdwatch or play “‘tree’” anymore. “Life wasn’t the same.”

On the day that Mildred and the other tree actually touched leaves, Norman decided that was “the last straw. Even though, in this case, there were no straws. Just branches.” He decided to take action and devised the perfect plan. One night, Norman dug up the other tree, plopped it into a wheelbarrow, “and took it far away. Very far away.” So “very, very far away” that he needed a rowboat to get there.

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Copyright Ryan T. Higgins, 2021, courtesy of Disney-Hyperion.

And on a tiny island, Norman replanted the other tree and rowed back to shore. After that things were back to normal—sort of. But Mildred was suspicious; she had questions. Norman did his best to offer possibilities after first explaining that he hadn’t done anything with the other tree. “Maybe it went on vacation,” he said. “Maybe it moved. How should I know?” And then he reassured Mildred that she still had him.

But there a niggling disquiet came to Norman. He began to fear that someone had seen him and that maybe “digging up your friend’s friend…was NOT the right thing to do.” His guilt ate at him until, under Mildred’s accusing gaze, he tripped and fell into the other tree’s empty hole. “Norman had hit rock bottom. ‘I have hit rock bottom!’” he announced. He knew what he had to do.

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Copyright Ryan T. Higgins, 2021, courtesy of Disney-Hyperion.

He took the wheelbarrow and the rowboat and hurried to the tiny island. Back home, he replanted the other tree right where it had been before. “Norman knew life was going to be different.” Maybe it would even be better, he contemplated from the comfort of his hammock. “Just the three of them”—until the other tree’s best friend appeared from its nest, saw Norman, and demanded to know “And WHO is THAT?!”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-norman-didn't-do-it-other-tree-gone

Copyright Ryan T. Higgins, 2021, courtesy of Disney-Hyperion.

Ryan T. Higgins’ superbly well-conceived story of personal relationships tested by newcomers paints the wide swath of emotions that friendships, sibling bonds, and other connections spark in the human heart with his well-known and ameliorating humor. Higgins’ honest look at the progression of contentment, jealousy, resentment, fear, and sadness leading up to a desperate act followed by short-lived satisfaction, denials, guilt, dread, introspection, and finally acceptance not only makes for a dramatic and suspenseful read, but offers kids and adults a compelling way to talk about the delicacy and resilience of strong relationships.

Higgins’ plump and rakish Norman garners immediate affection with his adorable expressions and enthusiastic friendship with the steadfast Mildred so that when “the other tree” comes into the picture, readers will feel a deep empathy with his predicament. Depictions of how Norman sees interactions between Mildred and the other tree as usurping his role are clever and meaningful conversation starters. The aftermath of Norman’s replanting of the other tree also provides insight into whose life Norman really uprooted. In his pitch-perfect ending, Higgins reminds kids that no one lives in isolation and that their own experience may be mirrored in someone else’s.

An outstanding story that charms as a favorite read-aloud for humorous story times as well as one that makes a poignant impact on social-emotional growth, Norman Didn’t Do It! (Yes, he did.) is a must for home, classroom, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 8

Disney-Hyperion, 2021 | ISBN 978-1368026239

You can connect with Ryan T. Higgins on Twitter. 

To find more books by Ryan T. Higgins and an Activity Kit/Educator’s Guide for teachers and families, visit Ryan’s page on the Disney Books website.

Young Reader’s Week Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-we-love-to-read-maze

We Love to Read! Maze

 

Help the kids pick up books and find their way through the library in this printable maze.

We Love to Read! Maze Puzzle | We Love to Read! Maze Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-norman-didn't-do-it-cover

You can find Norman Didn’t Do It! (Yes, he did.) at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 9 – Happy Book Birthday to A Sari for Ammi

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About the Holiday

November is Picture Book Month and Family Stories Month! Taken together, I couldn’t wish for a better time to introduce today’s sweet and uplifting book about a loving family to readers! So gather ’round – today may be A Sari for Ammi‘s book birthday, but this lovely story is a gift for you!

Thanks go to Amazon Crossing Books and Barbara Fisch at Blue Slip Media for sharing a copy of A Sari for Ammi with me for review consideration. All opinions of the book are my own.

A Sari for Ammi

Written by Mamta Nainy | Illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat

 

It’s afternoon and a little girl tiptoes past her sister, Sadaf, who’s dozing on the front porch, and the buffalo, who are napping after their “good wash in the village pond.” She’s on her way to help her dad, her Abba, dye threads for the saris that her Ammi, her mom, weaves. After the threads are dyed, the girl visits Ammi at her loom. “Ammi weaves the most wonderful saris in the world, in pinks and yellows and greens, with prints of mangoes, peacocks, birds, leaves, and flowers,” she says.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-sari-for-ammi-abba

Image copyright Sandhya Prabhat, 2021, text copyright Mamta Nainy, 2021. Courtesy of Amazon Crossing Kids.

Making saris has been a family business going back to her great-great grandparents. Now, she and Sadaf, Abba and Ammi work on the saris – some even take months to create. Abba takes Ammi’s finished saris to the haat, the market, to sell. The little girl feels sad that Ammi never gets to wear one of the beautiful sari’s herself. Instead Ammi always wears “old, worn-out salwar-kameezes” – traditional pants and tunics.

One day, the girl asks Ammi to keep a particularly beautiful sari for herself, but Ammi says it is to sell. “‘If we keep the saris, how will we eat?'” she says. The girl doesn’t quite understand, but she wants Ammi to be able to wear a sari that she makes, but to do that, she and Sadaf would have to buy her one. Then she thinks about her and Sadaf’s bank. “‘Let’s break our gullak!'” she tells Sadaf. “‘We can use the money to buy Ammi a sari.'”

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Image copyright Sandhya Prabhat, 2021, text copyright Mamta Nainy, 2021. Courtesy of Amazon Crossing Kids.

Sadaf about the list of things she and her sister have been saving for, but her little sister asks “‘What matters more to you: Ammi or ‘the things’?…Sadaf makes a face and mumbles, ‘Ammi.'” But when they break the gullak and count their change, it’s only enough to buy a towel. What can they do? Sadaf has the idea to sell all of their old junk to Jhammu Kaka, who owns the scrap shop. When they do that they have more money, but only enough for a dupatta, a head scarf.

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Image copyright Sandhya Prabhat, 2021, text copyright Mamta Nainy, 2021. Courtesy of Amazon Crossing Kids.

On the way home, the little girl thinks of another way to earn money. They go to their neighbor’s house and help her dye threads for the saris she makes. When she gives them money for their help, Sadaf counts it. Her sister is ready for disappointment, but instead she hears, “‘This money is… just enough to buy Ammi a sari!'” They run to the haat and look at all the saris before picking one. What, they wonder, will Ammi say when they give it to her. But they don’t have “to wait long to find out.” They rush home and with big hugs and the sari in hand, they “bring the biggest smile to Ammi’s face!”

Back matter includes a discussion about the saris of Kaithoon, where the story is set, the history of this town in India as a center for the weaving of saris made from a special fabric called “‘kota doria'” and the women of the Muslim Ansari community who create these works of art. A Glossary also defines words found throughout the story.

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Image copyright Sandhya Prabhat, 2021, text copyright Mamta Nainy, 2021. Courtesy of Amazon Crossing Kids.

Mamta Nainy’s heartening story charms with a close-knit family and two sisters who want their mother to enjoy the saris she works so hard to create. As they pool their resources and think up other ways to make money to buy a sari, the girls show a kind of love for family and excitement for giving that will resonate with readers. Nainy’s flowing and detailed storytelling seamlessly educates and enchants with humor, emotion, and the tender enthusiasm of the young narrator’s voice. The final spread in which the two girls give Ammi the sari they’ve chosen is sure to bring a smile – and maybe a tear – to adults and kids alike.

Sandhya Prabhat fills her pages with glorious color and warm tones that bring the beauty of the kota doria saris alive for readers. Kids and adults will see traditional methods of dyeing threads, the setup of a loom on which these treasures are created, and the intricate patterns and vibrant hues that grace these sought-after saris. Just as compelling are images of the family happily working together to make the cloth and stock their market stall as well as illustrations of the narrator and her sister selflessly giving up their money and devising ways to make more. A two-page spread showing the haat is a showstopper that will entice readers to choose their own favorite sari. 

A moving, feel-good family story with deep roots, both culturally and in the heart, A Sari for Ammi is a story that adults and kids will love sharing again and again. The book is highly recommended as a gift or an addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8 

Amazon Crossing Kids, 2021 | ISBN 978-1542035071

You can connect with Mamta Nainy on Instagram.

To learn more about Sandhya Prabhat, her books, and her art, visit her website.

A Sari for Ammi Book Birthday Activity

 

You can watch one of these beautiful saris being woven and hear more about them with this video!

You can view a longer video, in which the women weavers talk about and demonstrate their art, here

 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-sari-for-ammi-cover

You can find A Sari for Ammi at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

October 21 – National Apple Day

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About the Holiday

It’s apple season! Honeycrisp, Cortland, Gala, Fuji, Macintosh—there are so many delicious varieties to choose from and enjoy! The bounty of apples allows bakers and chefs to create scrumptious desserts and dishes, and for purists, there’s nothing better than biting into a crisp apple. Orchards are open for picking, and farmers markets and grocery stores are packed with these red, green, and yellow treats. To celebrate today and all month long, take the family apple picking, make your favorite apple recipes, or discover new taste sensations.

Applesauce Day

Written by Lisa J. Amstutz | Illustrated by Talitha Shipman

 

As a girl and her family have breakfast, she spies the tall pot that means it’s applesauce day. Her younger sister Hannah cheers, and her little brother “bangs his spoon.” After breakfast they head to the orchard outside the city. There, the air smells of ripe apples and it’s quiet. “There are no sirens or screeching tires. Only the buzzing of bees and the rustling of leaves in the wind.”

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Image copyright Lisa J. Amstutz, 2017, text copyright Talitha Shipman, 2017. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Hannah calls to her big sister for help. She shows Hannah how to twist and pull the apples from the tree. Mom and Dad pick the apples high in the trees while Hannah, her big sister pick low apples. Ezra helps by putting the apples in a basket. He can’t resist taking a bite of one.

Soon all of the baskets are full of apples “ready to be smooshed into sweet, tangy applesauce.” After the car is loaded up, they drive to Grandma’s house. When they get there, Grandma’s waiting with a big smile and a hug. They “lug the apples into the kitchen” and each take their place. This year even Ezra gets a spot. After Dad washes the apples, Grandma cuts them up. Ezra gets to drop the apples into the tall pot. “Thunk, thunk, thunk.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-aplesauce-day-giving-apple

Image copyright Lisa J. Amstutz, 2017, text copyright Talitha Shipman, 2017. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

While they work, Mom talks about how she used to help Grandma bring home the apples and how “they cooked the apples in this very pot when she was a little girl” in Ohio. Then Grandma tells how “she helped her mother pick apples from the old apple tree behind their house on the windy Iowa prairie.” They also cooked the apples in this very same pot. The older girl looks at the pot and wonders what kinds of stories it could tell if it could talk.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-aplesauce-day-grandma's-house

Image copyright Lisa J. Amstutz, 2017, text copyright Talitha Shipman, 2017. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

As the apples cook, they release a sweet scent into the air and the red peels turn pink. Then with a ladle, Mom pours the apples into the food grinder. Hannah and her sister take turns cranking the handle. “Crank! Squish. Crankity! Squish!” The applesauce squeezes through the strainer while the seeds and peels are left behind. They mix in a bit of sugar and put the applesauce in containers to store.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-aplesauce-day-chopping-apples

Image copyright Lisa J. Amstutz, 2017, text copyright Talitha Shipman, 2017. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

It’s lunchtime now and the family sits down to sandwiches and a bowl of warm applesauce with cinnamon sprinkled on top. They take big servings and then seconds. “Ezra licks the bowl.” After lunch there’s more peeling, cutting, and cooking until all the apples are gone. They put the containers in Grandma’s extra freezer and take some home for themselves.

It’s dark by the time they finish and head home, “sticky but full of stories and smiles and applesauce.” As they drive home the older sister thinks about their special pot and how when she grows up, she’ll cook in it on Applesauce Day.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-aplesauce-day-family

Image copyright Lisa J. Amstutz, 2017, text copyright Talitha Shipman, 2017. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

If you’re looking for a heartwarming story that lovingly explores the continuity of family heritage, you’ll want to share Lisa J. Amstutz’s Applesauce Day with your kids. Told through the viewpoint of the oldest daughter, the story takes readers from that first spark of recognition of a tradition through the actions that make it so special to the knowledge that they will be the ones to carry it on in the future. Excitement and pride flow through Amstutz’s pages as the children eagerly help pack the car, pick apples, and take their usual positions in Grandma’s kitchen.

The passing on of the tradition and skills involved in Applesauce Day are depicted in ways that will delight kids as the oldest sister shows the younger how to twist the apples from the tree and the little brother gets to participate for the first time. When the children’s mother and then their grandmother both tell how they helped with Applesauce Day when they were young, readers get a sense of generations and how far back traditions extend. Amstutz’s storytelling is homey and detailed and brimming with family camaraderie. The Introspective ending with appeal to kids thinking about their own place in their family.

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Talitha Shipman’s bright illustrations invite kids along for a day of apple picking and cooking. The siblings’ eyes shimmer with excitement as they partake in this favorite fall tradition. Like most kids on a day like this, Hannah, Ezra, and their older sister are in constant motion—picking apples, hugging Grandma, cranking the food mill—and working together. Shipman’s rich portrayals of these events will sweep readers into the action and inspire them to want to and learn more about their own family traditions or start new ones. Applesauce Day looks like so much fun that you can bet children will be eager to make a batch of this delicious fall treat themselves.

A perfect autumn (or anytime) read-aloud for families to share, especially as the holidays roll around or during intergenerational get-togethers, Applesauce Day would be a favorite on home bookshelves and in school and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company, 2017 | ISBN 978-0807503928

Discover more about Lisa J. Amstutz and her books on her website.

To learn more about Talitha Shipman, her books, and her art, visit her website/

Johnny Appleseed Day Activity

CPB - Cinnamon Apples (2)

Cinnamon Apples Recipe

 

Cinnamon apples are a delicious side dish to any meal! This tasty recipe is fun for kids and adults to make together.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups of apples, Macintosh or Granny Smith apples are good choices
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon juice

CPB - Cinnamon Apples ingredients (2)

Directions

  1. Mix brown sugar and cinnamon
  2. Peel and core 2 large apples
  3. Thinly slice apples
  4. Combine apples and cinnamon sugar/brown sugar mixture
  5. Stir until well combined
  6. Drizzle with lemon juice and stir again
  7. Cook apples on the stove at medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes or until desired texture

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-aplesauce-day-cover

You can find Applesauce Day at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review