April 9 – International Unicorn Day COVER REVEAL of Unicorn Yoga

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-unicorn-yoga-cover

About the Holiday

If you ask a child—maybe even an adult—to name a magical creature, chances are they’ll say, “a unicorn!” Unicorns have been part of legend since ancient times, undergoing changes from an image of fierceness and power to a representation of strength and true love to today’s more glittery superstar. To celebrate today, I’m thrilled to be hosting the cover reveal for a book about a very special—and nimble!—trio of unicorns that kids will fall in love with!

Unicorn Yoga

Written by Gina Cascone and Bryony Williams Sheppard | Illustrated by Jennifer Sattler

 

The healing, restorative power of yoga has been known for centuries, and more people than ever are active practitioners. Now even the youngest of readers can learn this mind and body exercise, helping them set up a lifetime of healthy habits. Through clear, easy-to-follow instructions, a unicorn yogi, along with two energetic students, leads children through a ten-pose class. Kid-friendly back matter provides additional information on yoga, as well as tips on mindfulness, encouraging readers to develop their own daily practice.

Children reap tremendous benefits from learning the mindfulness that yoga has to offer—from stress reduction to better concentration in school. The adorable unicorns in Unicorn Yoga make giggly and supportive companions for kids learning this health-boosting exercise.

Ages 5 – 7

Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534111066

Unicorn Yoga will be released on July 15. The book is available for preorder with these booksellers

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

I was delighted to talk with authors Gina Cascone and Bryony Williams Sheppard and illustrator Jennifer Sattler about Unicorn Yoga, their inspirations, the best part of writing for children, and so much more!

Meet Gina Cascone and Bryony Williams Sheppard

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-gina-cascone-and-bryony-williams-sheppard-headshot

Photograph by Cari Ellen Hermann

Gina Cascone is the author of 30 books in several different genres, and has written for screen and television. Around the World Right Now is her first picture book, a joyful collaboration with her daughter inspired by her granddaughter’s unrelenting curiosity. She lives with her husband in central New Jersey. They have two grown children, two grandchildren, and three cats.

Bryony Williams Sheppard holds a degree in Theater Education from Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts and a master’s degree in educational psychology. She has been teaching since the age of 17 and loves bringing different stories to life with her students. She is also a teacher near Princeton, New Jersey, where her favorite part of lesson planning is choosing the best book for each class. When not working, Bryony enjoys spending time in her noisy house with her husband, two children, two cats, and a dog.

Welcome, Gina and Bryony! I’m really happy to be talking with you about your book! Before we jump into questions about Unicorn Yoga, let’s let readers get to know you both a little better.

Gina, When did you become interested in being a children’s writer?

My first published book was actually a memoir, Pagan Babies and Other Catholic Memories, a humorous, child’s eye view of parochial education. Then I wrote fiction for adults, until an editor asked if I could write thrillers for teens. So, I did that for a while and enjoyed it very much. Until yet another editor asked for scary chiller stories for middle-grade readers. That was great fun and a great fit for me since Bree insists that I have the soul of an eight-year-old boy – which is probably why I am so happy and comfortable in the company of children.

You’re known for your middle-grade Deadtime Stories series and young adult thrillers.  What have you found to be the challenges and rewards of writing picture books?

For me, the greatest challenge of writing picture books is the economy of the medium.  To convey an idea that could fill many pages in just a few, well-chosen words to teach, entertain, and inspire is hard work. The reward is the great joy of being able to read an entire book in one sitting to the best audience in the world – children.

Bree, You have a degree in theater education as well as a Master’s degree in educational psychology and work as an elementary school teacher. How does your theater background influence your teaching style? Does it have an impact on your writing?

I often say that teaching preschool is a lot like being in theater. You always have to be on and ready to entertain your crowd because the moment you lose them, they turn on you! Many of the skills that you gain from being involved in theater can develop academic abilities and are general skills. Reading comprehension, public speaking, confidence, team building, creativity, and so much more, are developed through theater. I often use lessons and games I’ve learned in theater over the years in my class to help challenge my students both socially and academically.

Since your mom is a writer, have you also always been interested in writing?

Honestly, no.  It never really crossed my mind until she asked me – well, told me actually – to write Around the World Right Now with her. It was such a wonderful experience!

Thanks so much! It’s wonderful to see how in sync you two are and what fun you have together. Now I just have to ask: unicorns and yoga make an intriguing pair!  What was the spark for this adorable concept?

Because yoga provides so many benefits, it seems only logical to introduce the practice to children as early as possible.  So, we approached our editor with a picture book to do just that. She shared it with the wonderfully creative team at Sleeping Bear Press and came back to us with the idea that unicorns might encourage children to become engaged.

The concept was not as far-fetched as our editor feared we might find it. After all, both yogis and unicorns are joyful, playful, and magical. There is an even more concrete correlation. In the Indus River Valley, in India, five-thousand-year-old bronze seals have been found; some depicting yogis and some depicting unicorns.

Indus_civilisation_seal_unicorn_at_Indian_Museum,_Kolkata

Unicorn Yoga is the second picture book, after Around the World Right Now (Sleeping Bear Press) that you’ve collaborated on. What inspired you to begin writing picture books?

When I first started writing children’s books, Bree was a child herself.  She was my perfect little creative consultant. When she’d come home from school, after we’d chatted about her day, I’d ask her to read what I’d written and tell me what she thought. Her feedback always pointed me in the right direction.

When Bree became a teacher, she was sometimes frustrated that she couldn’t find just the right book for her lessons. So, she decided that we should write picture books.

But it was Bree’s daughter, my Sydney Rose, who brought the idea to fruition. When Syd was about six years old, she became obsessed with time zones. “What time is it in China?” “What time is it in Italy?”  “What time is it … What time is it?” Her questions were driving Bree crazy. She told me that she was going to put up a big map covered with clocks set to the correct times so she wouldn’t have to keep doing the math to figure it out. Around the World Right Now is the result of three generations of girl brain power.

As a mother/daughter team, Gina, what’s the best part of working with Bree?

The laughter. We always find ourselves giggling about something. And learning and creating together gives a wonderful sense of continuity to my life.  Seeing my daughter as my equal and even my better is an incredibly rewarding experience.

Bree, what do you love best about working with your mom?

I have spent my life watching her write and create. Being a part of the process with her has been so much fun because I get to see her excitement over an idea take shape and grow.

Can you each talk a little about your process in writing Unicorn Yoga together? Gina, would you like to take the lead?

I have been practicing yoga for ten years, taking classes at least five times a week with truly amazing teachers who are very generous with their knowledge. So, we had a wealth of resources. Bree’s teaching experience tailored my practices to a kid-and-unicorn-friendly experience. I do think, however, that her constant demands for demonstrations of poses, requiring me to get on the floor, were more for her amusements than edification.

What was your first impression when you saw Jennifer Sattler’s amazing cover?

We were absolutely charmed.  And we are so excited to be working with such a celebrated and talented artist.

What’s your favorite part about the cover and Jennifer’s illustrations of your story?

The softness and playfulness of Jennifer’s illustrations set exactly the right tone for a children’s practice.  And we love that while the unicorn students provide comic relief, the teacher’s poses are spot-on.  Namaste to Jennifer!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-unicorn-yoga-cat-pose

Image copyright Jennifer Sattler, 2020, text copyright Gina Cascone and Bryony Williams Sheppard, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

You also team up to give presentations at schools.  What do your visits entail?

We usually visit a school for a full day, spending about forty-five minutes with each grade, level K-5.  We discuss developing an idea, doing research, writing and rewriting. We like to spend most of our time answering students’ questions, to relate to their experiences and encourage their interests and creativity. The goal is always to engage and inspire children.

Do you have an anecdote from a school presentation or other event you could share?

One of the most touching things about school visits is that students treat us like rock stars.  The little ones all want hugs.  And the older students bombard us with questions.

When I was writing Deadtime Stories, the schedule was challenging – a book a month and there were seventeen in all. It was hard to keep track of every plot line. At a school visit, one very careful reader asked a specific question about one of the earlier books – his favorite. I couldn’t remember the character. I couldn’t remember the plot. I could barely remember the title. I took a deep breath and asked him what he thought about it and if he would have done anything differently. The conversation changed immediately to the process of storytelling and how writers make creative choices.

I learned then what Bree knows all too well, in the classroom you’ve always got to be fast on your feet.

It’s National Unicorn Day.  How do you think your Unicorn would spend the holiday?

Enjoying all the magic this world has to offer in deepest gratitude. And eating ice cream.

What a sweet way to end our chat! Thanks, Gina and Bryony! I can’t wait until Unicorn Yoga hits bookstores on July 15!

You can connect with Gina and Bree on their Website | Facebook | Twitter

Meet Jennifer Sattler

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-jennifer-sattler-headshot

Jennifer Sattler is the award-winning author and illustrator of numerous children’s books, including the new board books Dirty Birdies and Jungle Gym, the picture book Sylvie, and the Pig Kahuna and the Chick ’n’ Pug series. She lives in upstate New York, where she delights in embarrassing her children and having meaningful conversations with her dog, Henry.

Hi Jennifer! I’m excited to be talking with you today about this special book. When I first saw the cover, I was immediately drawn to the unicorn’s eyes. I love how they promise lots of fun while also inviting kids to join in practicing yoga.

Thanks! I’m glad you see that in her eyes. Because this is the teacher, she had to be doing a pose “correctly,” but I also wanted to hint at the fun and silly ways that the other unicorns do these poses. It’s not all serious business.

Did you need to do any special research for drawing yoga poses or did you rely on your own knowledge?

I’ve done yoga for years. But, having a UNICORN do yoga is a whole different thing! I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but their bodies are slightly different than ours…plus there’s the issue of the horn. It tends to get in the way in certain poses. I had a lot of different solutions to that, but we settled on the horn being “bendy.” The younger ones have shorter horns, so they don’t get in the way as much.

You’re also the author/illustrator of many books that are sweet and funny and make kids laugh—which you say is your passion. Has humor always been a big part of your life?

I have always loved the earnest try that ends up in laughs. It cracks me up every time, whether it’s a “grown up” or a kid…or a unicorn. Laughter is the most important part of my life, it makes me happy when nothing else can. I hope I can share some of it.

On your website, you mention that part of your school presentations includes talking to kids about the mistakes and changes that are made along the way to finishing a book and how fun—and funny—those can be. Were there any mistakes or surprising changes that occurred while you created the illustrations for Unicorn Yoga? Can you share a bit about it?

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-early-unicorn-yoga-drawing

As I always do when starting a new book, I went through tons of sketches to try to get the look of my characters. I assumed I knew what a unicorn looked like, but it took a LOT of drawings to realize, “wait a minute, they just look like horses with party hats on. That’s not right!”  I look back at those early drawings and they crack me up. It’s best for me not to take myself too seriously!

What’s the best part of being a children’s author and illustrator for you?

Kids,kids,kids! I was a painter for years, making big oil paintings to hang on the wall, teaching college students. I was trying to be taken very seriously! But it wasn’t much fun. As soon as I started doing children’s books I thought, “YES! This is what I should’ve been doing the whole time!”

Thanks for talking with me, Jennifer! I’m sure readers—both young and young at heart—are looking forward to doing yoga with your charming unicorns. I know I am!

You can learn more about Jennifer Sattler, her books, and her art on her website.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-unicorn-yoga-cover

You can preorder Unicorn Yoga with these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

April 9 – International Unicorn Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-thelma-the-unicorn-cover

About the Holiday

If you ask a child—maybe even an adult—to name a magical creature, chances are they’ll say, “a unicorn!” Unicorns have been part of legend since ancient times, undergoing changes from an image of fierceness and power to a representation of strength and true love to today’s more glittery superstar. To celebrate, learn more about the history of these mystical animals and check out your favorite unicorns of book, TV, and toy fame!

Thelma the Unicorn

By Aaron Blabey

 

“Thelma felt a little sad. / In fact, she felt forlorn. / You see, she wished with all her heart / to be a unicorn.” Thelma was a little pony—brown and short and overlooked. Her best friend Otis told her, “‘You’re perfect as you are,’” but when Thelma compared herself to the sleek white mare on the farm, she said, “‘I’m not.’” Then she saw a carrot left over from dinner and had an idea.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-thelma-the-unicorn-wishing

Copyright Aaron Babey, 2017, courtesy of Scholastic Press.

She tied the carrot to her forehead and told Otis, “‘I’ll say that I’m a unicorn! / It might just work… / who knows?’” At this very moment a truck driver passing by caught sight of Thelma and careened off the side of the road. “As Thelma watched the swerving truck, / it very nearly hit her. / Would you believe that truck was filled / with nice pink paint and glitter?”

In the blink of an eye Thelma was doused in sparkles and had become what she always dreamed of. She was a unicorn and “special now!” Crowds lined up at the farm gate to see the pink unicorn. The media descended with their cameras and video recorders, and Thelma quickly became a world-wide phenomenon. Everywhere she went fans screamed her name, took pictures, waved signs, and wanted to be near her. She even got her hoofprint on the Walk of Fame.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-thelma-the-unicorn-becomes-unicorn

Copyright Aaron Blabey, 2017, courtesy of Scholastic Press.

Thelma sailed to foreign ports on a ship named The Fairy Princess, attended by stewards who fulfilled her every wish. “But soon she found that so much fame / was kind of tricky, too….” Her fans mobbed her with crushing zeal; chased after her wherever she went, screamed, cried, laughed, and pointed whenever they saw her; and hounded her day and night for her autograph. “It NEVER EVER stopped.”

When Thelma asked “the screaming crowd” not to chase her anymore, they said “‘We’ll chase you all we want….We’re fans, so it’s allowed.’” Then there were  the people who “were not her fans at all. / No, some were really mean. / And some just did the meanest things / she’d really ever seen.” Some threw eggs while she roller skated for charity and others held up signs reading “I don’t like unicorns” where she was sure to see them.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-thelma-the-unicorn-adoring-crowds

Copyright Aaron Blabey, 2017, courtesy of Scholastic Press.

Back in her fancy hotel room, all alone and bedraggled, soaked in egg, and with her “horn” losing its luster, Thelma looked at a photo of Otis. “…she felt quite sad, / this famous little pony. / She said, ‘I thought that I’d feel great… / but all I feel is lonely.’” Right then, she decided to make a change. She washed off all the pink paint and sparkles and removed her horn.

She left and “walked right past the crowd. / They didn’t even notice / She thought how nice that it would be…to see her lovely Otis.” Back at the farm, Thelma happily stood underneath a tree with Otis, When he asked her about her trip, she simply said, “‘Oh, it was fun, but I’d rather be just me.’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-thelma-the-unicorn-being-chased

Copyright Aaron Blabey, 2017, courtesy of Scholastic Press.

Aaron Blabey’s cautionary tale of a pony who is granted her wish to be “more” than she is, deftly reveals the pitfalls of abandoning your true nature for what appears to be the perks of celebrity with a splash of humor and some no-nonsense honesty. Through Blabey’s smoothly flowing rhymes, readers see that being special is not based on a sparkly appearance that pleases false friends. Instead, each person is remarkable for their unique personalities and talents that true friends will appreciate.

Today’s social media-savvy children will recognize Blabey’s screaming crowds and overzealous fans and will come to understand, with Thelma, that being “in the pink” can be short-lived and that glitter soon fades.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-thelma-the-unicorn-carrot-horn

Copyright Aaron Blabey, 2017, courtesy of Scholastic Press.

Blabey’s distinctive illustrations portray Thelma’s transformation from “regular pony” to celebrity unicorn and back again with flair and all the bling that goes along with superstardom. The crowds are giddy, awed, obsessive, and adoring until the backlash starts, which Blabey portrays with candid examples. His final spreads in which Thelma goes unrecognized by her fans and is then lovingly welcomed back by Otis beautifully sum up the theme of the story.

Aaron Blabey’s light touch coupled with his encouragement to be true to yourself makes Thelma the Unicorn a great choice for  home and classroom libraries.

Ages  3 – 7

Scholastic Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-1338158427

Scholastic Press sent me a free copy of Thelma the Unicorn to check out. All opinions are my own.

Discover more about Aaron Blabey, his books, and his art on his website

International Unicorn Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-unicorn-coloring-page

Magical Unicorn Coloring Page

 

Grab your crayons—and your glitter—and make this printable Magical Unicorn Coloring Page sparkle!

Picture Book Review

December 13 – National Day of the Horse

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-thelma-the-unicorn-cover

About the Holiday

Today’s holiday encourages people to commemorate the importance of the horse to the history, culture, and economy of the United States. The domesticated horse that we know today was first introduced by Spanish Explorers. As the country grew, horses became indispensable for transportation, farm and ranch work, and communications. The more than nine million horses that now reside in America depend on people for adequate food, water, shelter, and protection. On this holiday, consider donating to a horse rescue shelter near you.

Thelma the Unicorn

By Aaron Blabey

 

“Thelma felt a little sad. / In fact, she felt forlorn. / You see, she wished with all her heart / to be a unicorn.” Thelma was a little pony—brown and short and overlooked. Her best friend Otis told her, “‘You’re perfect as you are,’” but when Thelma compared herself to the sleek white mare on the farm, she said, “‘I’m not.’” Suddenly, she saw a carrot left over from dinner and had an idea.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-thelma-the-unicorn-wishing

Copyright Aaron Babey, 2017, courtesy of Scholastic Press.

She tied the carrot to her nose and told Otis, “‘I’ll say that I’m a unicorn! / It might just work… / who knows?’” At this very moment a truck driver passing by caught sight of this spectacle and careened off the side of the road. “As Thelma watched the swerving truck, / it very nearly hit her. / Would you believe that truck was filled / with nice pink paint and glitter?”

In the blink of an eye Thelma was doused in sparkles and had become what she always dreamed of. She was a unicorn and “special now!” Crowds lined up at the farm gate to see the pink unicorn. The media descended with their cameras and video recorders, and Thelma quickly became a world-wide phenomenon. Everywhere she went fans screamed her name, took pictures, waved signs, and wanted to be near her. She even got her hoofprint on the Walk of Fame.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-thelma-the-unicorn-becomes-unicorn

Copyright Aaron Babey, 2017, courtesy of Scholastic Press.

Thelma sailed to foreign ports on a ship named The Fairy Princess, attended by stewards who fulfilled her every wish. “But soon she found that so much fame / was kind of tricky, too….” Her fans mobbed her with crushing zeal, chased after her wherever she went, screamed, cried, laughed, and pointed whenever they saw her, and hounded her day and night for her autograph. “It NEVER EVER stopped.”

When Thelma asked “the screaming crowd” not to chase her anymore, they said “‘We’ll chase you all we want….We’re fans, so it’s allowed.’” Then there were there were the people who “were not her fans at all. / No, some were really mean. / And some just did the meanest things / she’d really ever seen.” Some threw eggs while she roller skated for charity and others held up signs reading “I don’t like unicorns” where she was sure to see them.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-thelma-the-unicorn-adoring-crowds

Copyright Aaron Babey, 2017, courtesy of Scholastic Press.

Back in her fancy hotel room, all alone and bedraggled, soaked in egg, and with her “horn” losing its luster, Thelma looked at a photo of Otis. “…she felt quite sad, / this famous little pony. / She said, ‘I thought that I’d feel great… / but all I feel is lonely.’” She decided to make a change. She washed off all the pink paint and sparkles and “ditched her magic horn.”

She left and “walked right past the crowd. / They didn’t even notice / She thought how nice that it would be…to see her lovely Otis.” As Thelma stood underneath a tree with Otis, “he asked about her trip.” “‘Oh, it was fun,’” she answered him, “‘But I’d rather be just me.’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-thelma-the-unicorn-being-chased

Copyright Aaron Babey, 2017, courtesy of Scholastic Press.

Aaron Blabey’s cautionary tale of a pony who is granted her wish to be “more” than she is, deftly reveals the pitfalls of abandoning your true nature for what appears to be the perks of celebrity with a splash of humor and some no-nonsense honesty. Through Blabey’s smoothly flowing rhymes, readers see that being special is not based on a sparkly appearance that pleases false friends. Instead, each person is remarkable for their unique personalities and talents that true friends will appreciate.

Today’s social media-savvy children will recognize Blabey’s screaming crowds and overzealous fans and will come to understand, with Thelma, that being “in the pink” can be short-lived and glitter soon fades.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-thelma-the-unicorn-carrot-horn

Copyright Aaron Babey, 2017, courtesy of Scholastic Press.

Blabey’s distinctive illustrations portray Thelma’s transformation from “regular pony” to celebrity unicorn and back again with flair and all the bling that goes along with superstardom. The crowds are giddy, awed, obsessive, and adoring until the backlash starts, which Blabey portrays with candid examples. His final spreads in which Thelma goes unrecognized by her fans and is then lovingly welcomed back by Otis beautifully sum up the theme of the story.

Thelma the Unicorn provides readers and adults a wonderful opportunity to discuss the allure of changing oneself in order to fit in as well as the social media atmosphere that can be so influential in a child’s life. Blabey’s light touch coupled with his honesty makes Thelma the Unicorn a great choice for  home and classroom libraries.

Ages  3 – 7

Scholastic Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-1338158427

Scholastic Press sent me a free copy of Thelma the Unicorn to check out. All opinions are my own.

Discover more about Aaron Blabey, his books, and his art on his website

National Day of the Horse Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-horse-candy-stick-cover

Whoa! Candy Stick Cover

 

There’s no neigh-saying that this isn’t a cute way to give your favorite candy stick a bit of flair!  With a bit of felt and a few other supplies you can make this horse craft. Alternately, this craft can be used with a cardboard tube or wooden dowel.

Supplies

  • Large or small candy stick, cardboard tube or wooden dowel
  • Felt in whatever color you’d like for your horse
  • Felt in a another color for the mane
  • Black felt for the nostrils
  • Thin ribbon or leather lacing
  • Small googly eyes
  • Fabric glue or hot glue gun
  • Scissors
  • Tweezers

Directions

  1. Cut a piece of felt wide enough to wrap around the stick overlapping a little to glue together. It should be long enough to cover about 1 ½ inches of a small candy stick, about 2 ½ inches of a large candy stick, or about 3 to 4 inches of a cardboard tube or wooden dowel.
  2. Wrap the felt around the stick overlapping the edge about ¼ inch and leaving about ½ inch above the top of the stick.
  3. Glue the felt together along the overlapping edge to make a tube that fits the stick tightly

To make the ears

  1. Push down on the center of the back side of the felt that rises above the top of the stick
  2. Apply a drop of glue
  3. Push the center of the front edge of the felt into the glue
  4. The ears will stick up on the sides of the head

To make the horse’s nose and mouth

  1. Remove the felt head from the stick
  2. Pinch the end together
  3. Starting about ½ inch from the bottom, round the corners of the felt tube with the scissors

To make the nostrils

  1. Cut small circles from the black felt
  2. Glue them to the bottom of the horse’s nose
  3. Glue the googly eyes on the horse’s face

To make the mane

  1. Cut a strip of felt as long as the face by 1 inch wide for a large candy stick; about ¾ inch wide for a small candy stick
  2. Fold the felt in half lengthwise
  3. Glue the edges of the felt together, leaving the top unglued
  4. Snip fringe along the length of the felt
  5. Cut a small curve in the bottom of one end of the length of felt so it will fit over the top of the horse’s head
  6. Glue the rest of the length of felt down the back of the horse’s head

To add the reins

  1. Cut a length of narrow ribbon or leather lacing about 6 inches long
  2. Glue the center of the ribbon or lacing to the horse’s face above the nostrils at the level of the trimmed mouth around to the mane
  3. Tie the ends of the ribbon or lacing together

Picture Book Review