June 27 – It’s National Zoo and Aquarium Month

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About the Holiday

This month’s observance pays tribute to the role of zoos and aquariums and the work they do for education, conservation, and research to protect the world’s animals. As zoos and aquariums build exhibits that more closely resemble the animals’ natural habitats and offer interactive and hands-on programs, more visitors can learn about the environments and science of each amazing creature. These institutions are also reaching out with personal and online visits to schools by zoologists and other experts, increasing the interest in biology and animal science to students. Nearly 175 million people—50 million of which are children—visit zoos and aquariums each year. To celebrate today, visit your local zoo or aquarium!

Be Nice to Spiders

By Margaret Bloy Graham

 

One morning as the Zoo Keeper was about to open the gate, he noticed a matchbox with a note attached to it. The “note read: ‘Please look after Helen. I’ve had her since she was a baby, but I can’t keep her anymore. We have to move to an apartment that won’t take pets. Thanks, Billy.” When the Keeper opened the box, out jumped eight-legged Helen. She scurried into the maple tree and then “quickly spun a long silk thread and lowered herself into the ventilator of a big building” that turned out to be the Lion House. The poor lions—a father lion, a mother lion, and four cubs—were beset by flies. “The lions were annoyed, but Helen was delighted. She loved to eat flies.” Right away she wove a big, sticky web. “One by one the flies got caught…. And one by one Helen ate them.”

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Copyright Margaret Bloy Graham, 1967, courtesy of HarperCollins.

After a week, the Lion House was free of flies and the lions were comfortable. Helen moved on to the Elephant House. She set up her web, and in a week the elephants were happy too. Next, Helen went to the Zebra House and after she “had caught all the flies there, the zebras were able to eat their hay in peace.” In fact, the zoo turned into a peaceful place for all the animals. Helen was very content too.

One morning, the Keeper called all the workers together and told them that the Mayor was coming for a visit that day. He wanted them to clean up all the cages and especially “‘get rid of all those spider webs.’” Joe said that he thought spiders were beneficial, but the Keeper thought the spider webs made the zoo look a mess. With their brushes, brooms, and hoses, the workers scrubbed the cages clean. When they got to the Camel House, they found one of Helen’s webs loaded with flies. He swiped at the web, but Helen had vanished.

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Copyright Margaret Bloy Graham, 1967, courtesy of HarperCollins.

When the Mayor arrived, he declared that he’d never seen the zoo looking “‘so neat and the animals looking so well.’ Meanwhile Helen was still in the Camel House, hiding in a crack in the ceiling.” She was afraid to come out. Days passed and Helen grew hungry. Flies returned and began to bother the camels again. One night, Helen was so hungry that she came out and spun a web. She decided to stay in the Camel House—“she didn’t dare go anywhere else.” This was good for the camels, but not good for all the other animals.

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Copyright Margaret Bloy Graham, 1967, courtesy of HarperCollins.

The Keeper couldn’t understand what had happened. As he and Joe walked through the zoo, the animals and even the visitors were under clouds of flies and looking miserable. But then they went into the Camel House. Here there were no flies, and the camels were peaceful and happy. Then Joe spied one of Helen’s webs. “‘Look, Chief,’ Joe shouted. ‘Now I know what’s going on! See that spider up there? It’s eating all the flies…. Spiders are useful. That’s what I tried to tell you the other day.’”

The Keeper called all the workers together and told them about Joe’s discovery. He also had a new rule for the zoo: “‘Be nice to spiders.’ Soon the Zoo became famous for its happy, healthy animals, and Helen was treated like a queen.” One day, Helen even got her picture on the front page of the newspaper under the headline: “Local Zoo Named Best of Year; Three Cheers for Spider! Says Keeper.

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Copyright Margaret Bloy Graham, 1967, courtesy of HarperCollins.

One of the people reading the newspaper was Billy’s dad. He showed the article to Billy, and the next day Billy went to visit Helen. He introduced himself to the Keeper, and then noticed something special in Helen’s web. It was an egg sac. “‘I bet there’ll be plenty of baby spiders soon,’” exclaimed Billy. And sure enough, a few days later Helen became the proud mother of lots and lots of little spiders. “From then on, Helen and her children and all the animals in the Zoo lived happily ever after.”

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Copyright Margaret Bloy Graham, 1967, courtesy of HarperCollins.

Margaret Bloy Graham’s classic story has been a kid-favorite since 1967—I know it was a favorite of mine and I was happy to pull my Weekly Reader Children’s Book Club Edition copy out of my collection for this review. Billy’s sweet concern for his pet spider, Helen’s initiative in dropping into the Lion House, and the natural solution to the zoo’s fly problem all combine to make this a story that is ever-fresh and appealing to kids. Graham’s smooth and straightforward narration is sprinkled with realistic dialogue and builds to a suspenseful turn that is riveting to children. Kids with pets of their own will cheer when Billy learns that Helen is a hero. The idea of natural, environmentally safe solutions to pest control is still relevant and resonant today.

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Copyright Margaret Bloy Graham, 1967, courtesy of HarperCollins.

Graham’s illustrations have lost none of their charm, in fact kids will be enchanted by the vintage look and adore little Helen who, with a smile on her face, snares plenty of flies in her webs. Readers will like seeing just how a spider goes about constructing a web and will enjoy spying where Helen is on each page. You can bet there will be a chorus of “noooo!” as a zoo worker raises his broom to sweep away Helen and one of her webs and an enthusiastic “yesss!” when Joe points out just how vital she is to the zoo. The illustrations also give adults and kids an opportunity to talk about how things have changed at zoos over the intervening years.

An impactful story with lots of heart, Be Nice to Spiders will be a favorite of kids who love spiders, zoos, and the environment.

Ages 4 – 7

HarperCollins, 1967

National Zoo and Aquarium Month Activity

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Splendid Spider Coloring Page

Having a spider in the house is lucky! Here’s an alert spider just waiting for some flies. Grab your crayons or pencils and feed him – or be a little silly. What else can this spider catch in his web?

Splendid Spider Coloring Page

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You can find Be Nice to Spiders at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

August 4 – National Friendship Day

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About the Holiday

Originally founded in 1919 by the Hallmark Card company to encourage people to celebrate their friends by sending cards, the holiday has transitioned into a worldwide event commemorated in multiple ways from sending an emoji-filled text to getting together to share favorite activities. However you choose to celebrate, be sure to let your friends know how much they mean to you!

Bloomsbury Children’s Books sent me a copy of Bear’s Scare to check out. All opinions are my own. I’m excited to be partnering with Bloomsbury in a giveaway of a copy of Bear’s Scare. See details below.

Bear’s Scare

By Jacob Grant

 

Bear was very tidy. Every day, he swept and dusted and took great care to make sure everything was put in its proper place. “There was one thing Bear loved to care for most of all. A small stuffed friend, named Ursa.” Bear and Ursa spent every minute of every day together, and each day they cleaned their house top to bottom.

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Copyright Jacob Grant, 2018, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

One day, Bear discovered a book lying on the floor. He was sure he hadn’t left it there, and when he picked it up, he found a sticky spider’s web attached to it. He was sure that the spider was making his neat house sticky and messy and that the spider was nothing like them at all. He looked the house over more carefully, and “the more he searched, the more messy webs he found. ‘Ursa, we have a spider problem,’ said Bear.”

As the spider knitted a scarf using two legs while pouring tea using two more and then painted a picture of one of Bear’s potted flowers, Bear fretted over the mess the spider was making. He was determined to find the spider. Bear and Ursa searched everywhere but did not find it. Bear even lifted up the sofa to peer underneath. When he lowered the sofa to the floor again, however, Bear did not see that Ursa’s arm became pinned under its leg.

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Copyright Jacob Grant, 2018, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

When Bear picked up Ursa, her arm ripped off. “Bear lay there for some time,” sad about what had happened to Ursa and about the mess he’d made. Then he ran to get supplies to “help his friend.” When he got back, though, the spider had already reattached Ursa’s arm with its sturdy web. Bear hugged Ursa tight.

Then, “among the books, Bear found something he never expected.” The bookshelf the spider called home was just as neat as Bear’s house. There were books, and a broom, and even a painting of Bear. “‘I certainly do not mind sharing my home with one more friend,’” Bear said. And Bear and Ursa were content—even when one new friend turned into many.

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Copyright Jacob Grant, 2018, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

For those who embrace the status quo and like things just so, Jacob Grant’s sweet story demonstrates that there’s always room for one—or many—more. While Bear initially thinks the spider is not like him and Ursa, his quiet appreciation for spider’s help as well as his realization that he and the spider do share many of the same attributes models the kind of thoughtful inclusion that builds strong friendships.

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Copyright Jacob Grant, 2018, courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Grant’s endearing illustrations show Bear’s love for Ursa as he cradles the little stuffed bear while reading to her, carries her from room to room, appolgizes for the accident, and hugs her when she is fixed. The little round spider who sports a button with a loop of thread for a hat is adorable as it goes about its artistic pursuits. The final double-page spread of the spider lounging in a web hammock attached to Bear’s reading chair while fourteen other spiders play, work, and listen to Bear read to Ursa is heartwarming. Kids will love finding the little spider on each page as well as all the ways in which the spider’s shelf is similar to Bear’s house.

A touching tribute to friendship—old and new—as well as a thoughtful contemplation on preconceived notions for young readers, Bear’s Scare is a delightful book to share at home and in the classroom.

Ages 3 – 6

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1681197203

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

Get caught up in the Bear’s Scare book trailer!

Bear’s Scare Giveaway

I’m thrilled to be partnering with Bloomsbury Children’s Books to offer a giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Bear’s Scare by Jacob Grant

To be entered to win, just Follow me on Twitter @CelebratePicBks and Retweet one of my giveaway tweets during this week, August 4 – 10. 

A winner will be chosen on August 11.

Giveaways open to US addresses only | Prizing provided by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

National Friendship Day Activity

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Friendly Storytelling Bear Craft

 

Bear loved to read stories with Ursa and the spider! Now you can tell your own stories with this Friendly Storytelling Bear Craft! Use the templates and/or make your own expressions to make up great stories! You can also play a game to collect all the parts of the bears face to win.

Supplies

  • Printable Bear Head Template
  • Printable Eyes and Noses Template
  • Printable Eyebrows  and Ears Template
  • Light brown felt or fleece (or color of your choice), 8 ½ x 11 inch piece
  • Dark brown felt or fleece(or color of your choice), 8 ½ x 11 inch piece
  • White felt or fleece, 8 ½ x 11 inch piece
  • Black felt or fleece, for pupils
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • 1 playing die (optional)

Directions

  1. Print templates
  2. Cut bear head from light felt or fleece
  3. Cut eyes from white felt or fleece
  4. Cut nose and inner ears from dark brown felt or fleece
  5. Cut pupils from black felt or fleece
  6. Glue pupils onto white eyes

Alternately: Color and play with the paper set

For a Fun Story Time

Give the bear different faces and make up stories of why he looks that way!

To Play a Game

Roll the die to collect parts of the bear’s face. The first player to create a full face is the winner.

  • Die dots correspond to:
  • 1—one eyebrow
  • 2—second eyebrow
  • 3—one eye
  • 4—second eye
  • 5—nose
  • 6—inner ears

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You can find Bear’s Scare at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review