November 4 – It’s Picture Book Month

About the Holiday

November is all about picture books thanks to Picture Book Month founder author and storyteller Dianne de Las Casas and co-founders author/illustrators Katie Davis, Elizabeth O. Dulemba, Wendy Martin, and author Tara Lazar. This month-long international literacy initiative celebrates print picture books and all that they offer to young (and even older) readers. With gorgeous artwork and compelling stories, picture books open the world to children in surprising ways. They entertain, explain, excite, and help children learn empathy and understanding. If you want to learn more about the holiday and read engaging daily posts about why picture books are important by your favorite authors, illustrators, and others in the children’s publishing industry, visit picturebookmonth.com

Don’t Get Your Tutu in a Twist

Written by Jenny Moore | Illustrated by Barbara Bakos

 

Miss Gorilla is hanging the final practice session reminders for her class’s dance recital that night when she comes upon Mrs. Sloth, snoozing in her hammock hung right on the Dance Show billboard. But Ms. Gorilla doesn’t try to rouse her. Instead, she encourages her to dream and rest, wanting her to be at her “dancing best.”

At four o’clock, when the dancers assemble at the theater, Miss Gorilla gives each of them some pointers to make their routines shine. First up is Mr. Elephant who’s having a bit of trouble with the costume and the steps. Miss Gorilla calmly tells him “Don’t get your tutu in a twist, Mr. Elephant, / don’t get your tutu in a knot. / Arms out wide, then turn and glide, / with a graceful jump and a tippy-toe trot.” Next, Mrs. Pelican is all aflutter what with trying to tap and smile, keep her wings up and get her dance right.

Image copyright Barbara Bakos, 2021, text copyright Jenny Moore, 2021. Courtesy of Maverick Arts.

Mr. Polar Bear can’t seem to keep his top hat in place and whirl and twirl at the same time. Miss Gorilla reminds him to “just listen to the beat as you move your feet…” during his soft shoe routine. Miss Gorilla’s glad to see that Mrs. Sloth made it to rehearsal, but now she’s sleeping again! Miss Gorilla gets her tap shoes on her, but that only lasts a moment. Mrs. Sloth keeps sleeping here and sleeping there. She’s even brought the curtain down—but not in a good way; she’s crashed into the stage lights, which lie broken on the floor. Miss Gorilla picks her up and carries her off to find Mr. Crocodile and give him his pep talk. But the minute she’s turned her back, Mr. Crocodile is chewing the curtains and Mrs. Sloth is sleeping in the seats.

Image copyright Barbara Bakos, 2021, text copyright Jenny Moore, 2021. Courtesy of Maverick Arts.

At last it’s time for the big show and the theater is packed. Miss Gorilla encourages her dancers once more—“It’s time to shine –you’ll all be fine, / lights up, drum roll… let’s go!” But the dancers? They don’t look too confident. When Mrs. Pelican goes first her knees knock together and stage fright has her stuck. Next, Mr. Polar Bear takes the stage, but he’s forgotten to listen to the beat, he trips over Mrs. Sloth, who’s dozing on the floor, and knocks Mr. Elephant into the orchestra pit. Mortified, Miss Gorilla, shouts, “Don’t squash the orchestra! No, Mr. Elephant, tippy-toe trot, not splat!” And then what horror does she see? “Don’t eat the audience! No, Mr. Crocodile, / didn’t I mention that?”

Image copyright Barbara Bakos, 2021, text copyright Jenny Moore, 2021. Courtesy of Maverick Arts.

Poor Miss Gorilla admonishes herself. She should have listened to those who told her teaching these students was hopeless. But suddenly she hears… could it be… the sound of applause? She peeks around the curtain to find Mrs. Sloth—her eyes still shut—gracefully gliding with new moves and a “three-toed tip tap groove.” The audience roars for more, and “Mrs. SUPER Sloth” obliges with leaps and twirls, handstands and whirls. But where has she learned all of these steps, Miss Gorilla wonders. Then she realizes and exclaims, Mrs. Sloth “a natural star, it seems… you’ve been dancing in your dreams!”

Image copyright Barbara Bakos, 2021, text copyright Jenny Moore, 2021. Courtesy of Maverick Arts.

Jenny Moore doesn’t tiptoe around the backstage nerves and missteps of a dance recital in her comical story. As Mrs. Gorilla tries to calm the dancer’s jitters and refine their steps, kids will be eager to see how the performance plays out—and, especially, will Mrs. Sloth wake up in time? Moore’s energetic rhymes and rhythms that pulsate with the motivational, slightly frantic beats of teachers or parents trying to get their young charges shipshape for a performance invite dramatic readings that will get kids laughing. Readers will enjoy spotting Mrs. Sloth deeply asleep in various spots at the theater. Encouragement and inspiration to do your best and follow your dreams underlies Moore’s funny story.

Barbara Bakos’s vibrant illustrations of Mr. Elephant, Mrs. Pelican, Mr. Crocodile, Mr. Polar Bear, and Mrs. Sloth are packed with humor as the animals try to rein in their nervousness and put on a good show. Bakos accentuates the mishaps with shocked and worried faces, less-than-graceful steps, and costumes that just don’t stay put. But when it seems that things can’t get any worse, kids will be surprised to see Mrs. Sloth—the most unlikely of prima ballerinas—save the show with her dreamy moves.

A lighthearted and funny book that will reassure dancers and any child taking part in a recital, performance, or presentation as well as entertain kids who just love to laugh, Don’t Get Your Tutu in a Twist is a terrific choice for animated story times at home, school, or public libraries.

Ages 4 – 9

Maverick Arts, 2021 | ISBN 978-1848867802

Discover more about Jenny Moore and her books on her website.

To learn more about Barbara Bakos, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Picture Book Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-books-to-read-bag-empty

Books to Love, Books to Read Book Bag

 

True book lovers can’t go anywhere without a book (or two or three) to read along the way. With this easy craft you can turn a cloth bag into a kid-size book bag!

Supplies

  • Printable Templates: Books to Read Template | Books to Love Template
  • Small cloth bag, available from craft or sewing stores—Recyclable Idea: I used the bag that sheet sets now come in
  • Cloth trim or strong ribbon, available from craft or sewing stores—Recyclable Idea: I used the cloth handles from shopping bags provided from some clothing stores
  • Scraps of different colored and patterned cloth. Or use quilting squares, available at craft and sewing stores
  • Pen or pencil for tracing letters onto cloth
  • Scissors
  • Small sharp scissors (or cuticle scissors) for cutting out the center of the letters
  • Fabric glue
  • Thread (optional)
  • Needle (optional)

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Directions

  1. Print the sayings and cut out the letters
  2. Trace letters onto different kinds of cloth
  3. Cut out cloth letters
  4. Iron cloth bag if necessary
  5. Attach words “Books to Read” to one side of bag with fabric glue
  6. Attach words “Books to Love” to other side of bag with fabric glue
  7. Cut cloth trim or ribbon to desired length to create handles
  8. Glue (or sew) handles onto the inside edge of bag

You can find Don’t Get Your Tutu in a Twist at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 27 – Celebrating National Culinary Arts Month with Cathy Ballou Mealey

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Cathy Ballou Mealey has never worked in a pickle factory but she has been a crossing guard, pet sitter and professional gift wrapper, among many other jobs. When she is not writing or reading, she volunteers for schools and organizations that support children with autism spectrum disorders. Her favorite type pickle is the crispy and tangy bread-and-butter kind. She lives with her husband, son and daughter north of Boston, Massachusetts, where she delights in watching silly squirrel antics, and is patiently waiting for a sloth to appear. Cathy is also the author of When a Tree Grows (Sterling Children’s Books, 2019).

You can connect with Cathy Ballou Mealey on Her website | Instagram | Twitter

Hi, Cathy! Thanks for dropping by to celebrate National Culinary Arts Month with me! Since Sloth and Squirrel made it big with their culinary talents after a comical turn as pickle packers, I bet it’s one of their favorite holidays too! Which got me wondering: has a previous job ever influenced your writing and the kinds of books you write?

You have probably watched at least part of this famous scene from I Love Lucy entitled “Job Switching” in which Lucy and her friend Ethel work on the chocolate conveyor belt at Kramer’s Kandy Kitchen.

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In both of my picture books, I’ve tried to pay homage to this classic, slapstick food factory funniness.

Squirrel, starring in When a Tree Grows, gets a job at Nifty Nuts as a quality control inspector. Sounds perfect until he consumes too much product and is fired!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-when-a-tree-grows-squirrel

Image copyright Kasia Nowowiejska, 2019, text copyright Cathy Ballou Mealey, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Sloth and Squirrel work at the pickle packing plant in Sloth & Squirrel in a Pickle to earn money for a bicycle. These friends also discover that a job that seems easy may not be simple in reality.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sloth-and-squirrel-in-a-pickle-job

Image copyright Kelly Collier, 2021, text copyright Cathy Ballou Mealey, 2021. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

Was I too fired from food service? Yes, indeed. Working in a narrow service window next to my boss, I was repeatedly scolded for bumping her arm as we scooped entrees onto cafeteria trays. I was demoted to dishwasher where being left-handed didn’t matter, but at least I was free from the hairnet and plastic gloves!

Who knew cafeterias were so fraught with danger?! At least readers reap the very funny benefits of the inspiration this job provided! 

Sloth & Squirrel in a Pickle

Written by Cathy Ballou Mealey | Illustrated by Kelly Collier

 

A speedy squirrel and a sleepy sloth try to get the job done in this funny, heartwarming tale of two lovable, but unlikely, friends. Though Sloth and Squirrel are good friends, they have different ways of doing things—and different speeds of doing them. So, when Squirrel gets them jobs as pickle packers to earn money for a new bike, things don’t go according to plan. It seems that the contrasting skill sets of a fast-as-lightening squirrel and a slow-as-molasses sloth can make for a mess of an outcome and, before long, the friends are shown the pickle factory’s door, along with the 677 and ½  jars of pickles they packed incorrectly! Now the pair are bicycle-less, with only pickles to show for themselves. Or so they think—until the resourceful pair come up with an ingenious plan!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sloth-and-squirrel-in-a-pickle-bike

Image copyright Kelly Collier, 2021, text copyright Cathy Ballou Mealey, 2021. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

Cathy Ballou Mealey’s tongue-twistingly funny story of odd-couple friends working to buy a bike will keep kids giggling from start to finish. Her creative story based on the literal and figurative definition of “pickle” seamlessly blends unique characters and events while hilariously incorporating the traits of squirrels, sloths, and even pickles to ramp up the suspense and humor. Plenty of clever alliteration as well as Squirrel’s rapid-fire dialogue make this a read aloud kids are going to want to hear again and again. Woven throughout Mealey’s story are messages of friendship, ingenuity, perseverance, creative-thinking, and industriousness.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sloth-and-squirrel-in-a-pickle-pickle-factory

Image copyright Kelly Collier, 2021, text copyright Cathy Ballou Mealey, 2021. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

In her pickle brine-hued illustrations Kelly Collier accentuates the humor of the story with comical visual elements that begin on the first page, where a bear and a bunny, near doppelgangers for Sloth and Squirrel go whizzing by on their bike. Once inside the pickle factory, kids will love pointing out all of the pickle-inspired décor, from the wallpaper to Mr. Peacock’s university degree to his old-style telephone. Collier’s slapstick images will have kids laughing out loud, and her illustrations of Sloth engaging in sloth-like behavior while attaching labels hints at the upcoming and pitch-perfect plot twist without giving it away. Pickle puns and a pack of pleased customers celebrate Sloth and Squirrel’s new venture and a little turtle’s dare leads to a surprising finish.

Ages 3 – 7

Kids Can Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1525302381

Discover more about Cathy Ballou Mealey and her books on her website.

You can connect with Kelly Collier on her website | Instagram | Twitter.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-when-a-tree-grows-cover

For another hilarious picture book by Cathy Ballou Mealey with plenty of nuts, nuttiness, and suspense plus a group of forest friends, you’ll want to check out When a Tree Grows (illustrated by Kasia Nowowiejska and published by Sterling Children’s Books). You can read my review of When a Tree Grows and another interview with Cathy here.

You can find When a Tree Grows at these booksellers

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sloth-and-squirrel-in-a-pickle-cover

You can find Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 5 – It’s National Bike Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sloth-and-squirrel-in-a-pickle-cover

About the Holiday

Established in 1956 and sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists, National Bike Month celebrates all the fun and benefits of cycling. In years past, communities around the country have celebrated with special events, tours, and safety lessons. The month also hosts Bike to School and Bike to Work days to encourage people to leave their cars at home, get fresh air and exercise, and have fun at the same time. Getting a new bike is a major milestone in many kids’ (and adults’) lives. Sometimes it takes some pretty creative thinking to get one – as you’ll see in today’s book.

Thanks to Kids Can Press for providing a digital copy of Sloth & Squirrel in a Pickle for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own. I’m thrilled to be teaming with Kids Can Press in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Sloth & Squirrel in a Pickle

Written by Cathy Ballou Mealey | Illustrated by Kelly Collier

 

Sloth was snoozing on a branch when Squirrel woke him with an exclamation. Opening one eye Sloth saw squirrel nearly salivating over a tandem bike rolling past. Squirrel wanted to go fast too and was determined to get a bike. He leaped from the tree, bound down the hill, and circled another tree three times before Sloth had even set his toes on the ground.

When they got to the bike shop, Spokes, Squirrel was disappointed to discover that bikes “‘cost a lot of money.’” But then Sloth noticed the Help Wanted sign on the wall of the pickle packing plant next to the shop. They went inside and got an interview with Mr. Peacock. Squirrel showed his self-confidence. “‘I work fast. Really fast. I can bury a million, maybe a jillion acorns in an hour,” he boasted. Mr. Peacock seemed impressed, but he looked at Sloth dubiously. Squirrel said that Sloth was “‘really, really… reliable.’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sloth-and-squirrel-in-a-pickle-bike

Image copyright Kelly Collier, 2021, text copyright Cathy Ballou Mealey, 2021. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

That was good enough for Mr. Peacock. He gave them special overalls, gloves, goggles, and hairnets to wear and set them up with barrels full of pickles and jars to be packed. But the job was slipperier than they thought. Soon, pickles, jars, and even Squirrel and Sloth were flying through the air and crashing back to the floor to slip around some more. When Mr. Peacock came to check on them, only six jars were full.

Squirrel appealed to Mr. Peacock’s sympathy. “‘We just need more pickle packing practice.’” Mr. Peacock gave them a second chance. This time Squirrel took over the packing duties while “Sloth s-l-o-w-l-y stuck on sticky labels” while hanging from pipe on the ceiling. When Mr. Peacock checked on them a second time, he was pleased as punch to find towers of packed and labeled pickle jars waiting for him.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sloth-and-squirrel-in-a-pickle-bounding

Image copyright Kelly Collier, 2021, text copyright Cathy Ballou Mealey, 2021. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

But when he took a closer look, he discovered that every label was upside down. Sloth and Squirrel were tossed out on their ear with six-jars-worth of payment and more than 600 jars of pickles. Squirrel wanted to save the money for a bike, but Sloth used his half to buy them ice pops from a truck. Squirrel began licking his pop lickety-split, but “Sloth slurped s-l-o-w-l-y.” Lickety-splat.

Squirrel offered to share his with his friend, but then Sloth stuck his stick in a pickle and created… “a salty, sweet and sour sensation.” Customers lined up to try this new treat, and after they’d peddled their pickle pops, Squirrel and Sloth were peddling away on their new bike. And if you think Sloth wasn’t keen on going so fast, you’ll just have to see!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sloth-and-squirrel-in-a-pickle-pickle-factory

Image copyright Kelly Collier, 2021, text copyright Cathy Ballou Mealey, 2021. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

Cathy Ballou Mealey’s tongue-twistingly funny story of odd-couple friends working to buy a bike will keep kids giggling from start to finish. Her creative story based on the literal and figurative definition of “pickle” seamlessly blends unique characters and events while hilariously incorporating the traits of squirrels, sloths, and even pickles to ramp up the suspense and humor. Plenty of clever alliteration as well as Squirrel’s rapid-fire dialogue make this a read aloud kids are going to want to hear again and again. Woven throughout Mealey’s story are messages of friendship, ingenuity, perseverance, creative-thinking, and industriousness.

In her pickle brine-hued illustrations Kelly Collier accentuates the humor of the story with comical visual elements that begin on the first page, where a bear and a bunny, near doppelgangers for Sloth and Squirrel go whizzing by on their bike. Once inside the pickle factory, kids will love pointing out all of the pickle-inspired décor, from the wallpaper to Mr. Peacock’s university degree to his old-style telephone. Collier’s slapstick images will have kids laughing out loud, and her illustrations of Sloth engaging in sloth-like behavior while attaching labels hints at the upcoming and pitch-perfect plot twist without giving it away. Pickle puns and a pack of pleased customers celebrate Sloth and Squirrel’s new venture and a little turtle’s dare leads to a surprising finish.

Quick to become an often-asked-for favorite of both kids and adults, Sloth & Squirrel in a Pickle is a book to buy for home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 7

Kids Can Press, 2021 | ISBN 978-1525302381

Discover more about Cathy Ballou Mealey and her books on her website.

You can connect with Kelly Collier on Instagram | Twitter.

National Bike Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-pickle-maze

Pack a Peck of Pickles! Puzzle

 

The pickle jar has toppled over! Can you pick up the pickles in the maze to pack them in the jar again?

Pack a Peck of Pickles Puzzle | Pack a Peck of Pickles Puzzle Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sloth-and-squirrel-in-a-pickle-cover

You can find Sloth and Squirrel in a Pickle at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review