May 31 – Memorial Day

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Memorial Day is observed each year on the last Monday of May to honor all members of the military who lost their lives in the service of their country, especially in battle. Begun after the Civil War, the holiday expanded after World War II to remember those who died in all American wars. Memorial Day was made a national holiday by an act of Congress in 1971. 

Anna & Natalie

Written by Barbara H. Cole | Illustrated by Ronald Himler

Every year Mrs. Randall’s third-grade class attends the Wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. What’s more every year four students are chosen from her class to carry the wreath. This year everyone wonders who those lucky four will be. Students who want to be in the running to be selected, Mrs. Randall, says, must write a letter telling her why they should be chosen. Hearing that, Freddie and Tommy drop out immediately while Nancy says her letter will be the best.

Anna dreams of being chosen too, but experience tells her she will not. She’s never chosen for the basketball or softball team, the cheerleading squad, or the lines of Red Rover. “Sure, someone always chose her for the spelling team, but the others—the fun ones—never.” But this time seems different. All day—even though Mrs. Randall’s eagle eyes catch it—Anna daydreams and makes plans. When the bus drops her and her sister off, they hurry home to start work.

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Image copyright Ronald Himler, text copyright Barbara H. Cole. Courtesy of Star Bright Books

There Anna makes a secret call to her grandpa and then she and Natalie go to the front porch, and while Nat naps on the swing Anna pulls out her computer and begins writing her letter to Mrs. Randall. The next day Mrs. Randall collects the letters with the promise to choose the team by tomorrow and a reminder for those who will not be picked: “‘Remember,’” she says, “‘it certainly is an honor to be on the team, but it is also an honor to visit the Tomb.’” Then “they talked about Washington and the monuments and the Capitol and the White House, but especially they talked about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Changing of the Guard.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-anna-and-natalie-on-the-porch

Image copyright Ronald Himler, text copyright Barbara H. Cole. Courtesy of Star Bright Books

At school the next day, Mrs. Randall says that while she received four excellent letters, one stood out. She begins to read it to the class: “‘I want to be on the team, not for myself, but for many others who have not been honored or remembered….They worked long and hard and saved many lives….And sometimes they were heroes bigger than the strongest men around. Sometimes they carried medicine and food to dangerous places to save the wounded soldiers. My own great-great-grandfather was in this special service and saved lives. I would like to be on the team to say thank you to those forgotten heroes of World War II. Yours truly…’ Mrs. Randall’s voice cracked and choked, and then she read, ‘From Natalie (with help from Anna)’”

The class starts whooping and cheering, but Mrs. Randall interrupts their celebration to read one more line: “P.S.—Would you please let Anna walk with me so I will not be alone and she won’t be either?” The class begins chanting “Yeah, Anna! Yeah, Anna!,” and Anna can’t believe that her dream of being on the team has come true. When Anna gets home from school and tells her family, they proudly make plans to travel with their “two girls” to the ceremony.

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Image copyright Ronald Himler, text copyright Barbara H. Cole. Courtesy of Star Bright Books

Finally, the day of the Wreath-Laying Ceremony arrives. The students are dressed in their best clothes, and as the four team members prepare to accept the wreath, “Natalie led the procession down the long marble steps, her black coat glistening and her brass buttons shining like the sun. Anna walked beside her.” As the soldier hands the children the wreath fashioned from “dogwood flowers, magnolias, and decorative red birds,” he loudly announces, “The students of Willow Run School and Natalie, a seeing-eye dog, will lay this wreath to honor the men who served in World War II and the dogs who helped them. ATTENTION!”

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Image copyright Ronald Himler, text copyright Barbara H. Cole. Courtesy of Star Bright Books

The clear notes of Taps rang across Arlington National Cemetery as Anna and the three other children lay the wreath in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Afterward, Anna’s grandfather and parents took pictures of Anna and Natalie to remember “this shining moment of Anna, and of Natalie, who saw the world that Anna could not see.”

An Author’s Note revealing the use of dogs during wartime—from ancient history to today—follows the text.

Barbara H. Cole’s story of Anna and Natalie is compelling in many ways. First, it presents a look at what Memorial Day means to children from their point of view. Second, the story honors not only the brave soldiers who protect our country but also the canine corps which has served our military from our country’s earliest history. Third, in Anna, Cole has created a character who is part of a military family through her grandfather and also has a personal connection to service dogs through Natalie, her seeing-eye dog, whose great-great-grandfather served in the canine corps. The portrayal of Anna as a child with a disability who is an excellent writer, enthusiastic about her dreams, and a good friend is poignant and inclusive. Cole’s straightforward narration of a school day and the announcement of a special assignment—complete with asides from students—as well as Anna’s family life depicts an environment that will be familiar to readers and carries the story in a natural arc.

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Image copyright Ronald Himler, text copyright Barbara H. Cole. Courtesy of Star Bright Books

Ronald Himler’s realistic illustrations of Anna’s Willow Run School, her home, and Arlington Cemetery beautifully represent this moving story. His pages are full of diverse, real kids, smiling, laughing, getting off the school bus, enjoying a family dinner, and solemnly performing their job at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A hint to Natalie’s true identity is subtly inserted into various scenes, making the final reveal a satisfying moment.

Anna & Natalie is a wonderful choice for all kids observing Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and other patriotic holidays.

Ages 5 – 10

Star Bright Books, 2010 | ISBN 978-1595722119

To learn more about Anna & Natalie and download a Curriculum Guide, visit Star Bright Books!

Discover more about about Ronald Himler and view a gallery of his work, visit his website!

Memorial Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-memorial-day-word-scramble

Memorial Day Word Scramble

Unscramble the words associated with today’s holiday and discover a secret message! Print your Memorial Day Word Scramble here!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-anna-and-natalie-cover

You can find Anna & Natalie at these booksellers

Amazon | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

March 8 – International Women’s Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday is celebrated around the world and focuses on the social, economic, cultural, and political accomplishments of women. Spurred on by this mission, the theme for 2021 is “Choose to Challenge.” The sponsors of today’s holiday know that “a challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change.” Individually, each of us can choose to call out and challenge gender bias and inequality wherever we see it. Each of us can choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world. To celebrate today and all year through, commit to helping forge an inclusive world. To learn more about International Women’s Day and how you can get involved in making positive change toward gender equality, visit the International Women’s Day website.

Thanks to Abrams Books for Young Readers and Blue Slip Media for sending me a copy of Code Breaker, Spy Hunter for review consideration. All opinions of the book are my own. I’m excited to be teaming with them for a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Change the Course of Two World Wars

Written by Laurie Wallmark | Illustrated by Brooke Smart

 

In Code Breaker, Spy Hunter, readers open the cover to an intriguing question: “Could it be? Had enemy spies sneaked into the United States?” World War II was raging, but the United States had not yet joined the effort. And yet the “FBI had intercepted hundreds of coded messages from a secret base in New York.” The problem was no one could read them. Who did the FBI turn to? Elizebeth Smith Friedman, who broke the codes, discovered a cadre of Nazi spies, and provided the evidence “to send thirty-three German spies to prison.” Who was Elizebeth Friedam? Children are about to find out!

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Image copyright Brooke Smart, 2021, text copyright Laurie Wallmark, 2021. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

As a child, Elizebeth loved poetry and especially the work of William Shakespeare, with its structure and patterns. In college, she studied English literature, Latin, Greek, and German. While looking for a job in Chicago in 1916, she met the eccentric George Fabyan, who was trying to prove that Francis Bacon was the true writer of Shakespeare’s plays. He hired Elizebeth to “find secret messages Bacon had supposedly hidden in the plays. But the more she explored the plays, the more convinced she became that there were no hidden messages.

Elizebeth shared her thoughts with a friend, William Friedman, who also loved puzzles and secret codes. Over a year’s time, their discussions resulted in a stronger friendship and finally marriage. In 1917, the US entered World War I and Fabyan asked Elizebeth and William to establish “the country’s first code-breaking unit, the Riverbank Department of Cyphers…. Their methods are now considered the basis for the modern science of cryptology, the study of secret codes.”

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Image copyright Brooke Smart, 2021, text copyright Laurie Wallmark, 2021. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

In 1921, Elizebeth and William moved to Washington D.C., where they worked as code breakers for the Army. At the time, the Army used a large, cumbersome machine to convert messages into code, which precluded soldiers in the field from sending intelligence back. Elizebeth and William invented a complex code that used “only pencil and paper.” After the war, Elizebeth settled down to write books and raise a family, but still the entreaties came to decode messages for court cases sometimes thousands of miles away.

In 1925 with Prohibition the law of the land, smugglers were running rampant. The Coast Guard summoned her, and within three months Elizebeth had cracked “two years of backlogged messages.” Her work and court testimony that helped to convict smugglers made Elizebeth a recognized expert in the new field of cryptology, and when the work became overwhelming for just two people, she created the Coast Guard’s first code-breaking unit.

With the entry of the US in World War II, Elizebeth’s expertise was once again needed. Again, she needed to create a code-breaking unit, and in 1942 she hired and taught “mathematicians, physicists, and chemists” the skills of cryptology. Now, Elizebeth’s team was learning important war information about the Nazi’s movements and plans. When the FBI director wanted to nab the spies, Elizebeth recommended waiting “until the military could learn more of the enemy’s secrets.” But he disagreed and raided their hiding place. The spies that escaped quickly changed their codes, making their communications harder to decipher. The FBI director took all the credit for breaking the codes and catching the spies.

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Image copyright Brooke Smart, 2021, text copyright Laurie Wallmark, 2021. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

As the war progressed, Elizebeth helped capture an American spy working for the Japanese, and when the Germans developed Enigma, a powerful code-making machine that could “create billions of different cipher alphabets, it was Elizebeth’s team that broke the code for the United States. In Allied countries around the world, other cryptologists were also decrypting Enigma messages. The Nazis were now at a disadvantage, their planned attacks thwarted. Historians believe the work of these code breakers “saved thousands of lives and shortened the war by many years.”

Throughout her life Elizebeth could not speak a word about her work, even to her family. It was classified as Top Secret Ultra by the government and kept locked in the National Archives. At last, in 2015, Elizebeth’s work was declassified. “She is now considered one of the most gifted and influential code breakers of all time.”

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Image copyright Brooke Smart, 2021, text copyright Laurie Wallmark, 2021. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Compelling and wonderfully detailed, Laurie Wallmark’s biography of Elizebeth Friedman immerses children in the world of war-time spies, where cracking codes equaled saved lives and battles won. Wallmark’s storytelling of Elizabeth’s trajectory from Shakespeare scholar to ultra-secret code cracker reads like a thriller and is sprinkled throughout with quotes from Elizebeth that give kids a sense of her personality and the demands of her career. By including several cases Elizebeth was instrumental in solving, Wallmark provides readers with historical context on the broad range of nefarious activity that relied on secret codes to inform their knowledge of today’s uses of encryption as well as international spy networks. Each page is a celebration of Elizebeth’s talent, intelligence, and accomplishments, and her incredible story will enthrall readers.

Brooke Smart’s watercolor and gouache illustrations offer enticing glimpses into the past while following Elizebeth as she meets George Fabyon who shows her around his museum-like house while carrying a small monkey on his shoulder, establishes the United States’ first code-breaking unit, testifies in court, and thwarts the Nazis’ war plans. Interspersed with Smart’s realistic depictions of Elizebeth’s life are images in which lines of coded messages snake across the page, giving readers a look at the kinds of unreadable text Elizebeth and her teams cracked. In addition to presenting a visual representation of the tangled communications that eventually nabbed our enemies, two of these clever illustrations contain messages of their own.

A superlative biography that would enhance any history, social studies, language arts, or STEM curriculum as well as captivate kids who love spy, military, and detective stories, Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Change the Course of Two World Wars is highly recommended for home bookshelves and is a must for school and library collections.

Ages 7 – 11

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2021 | ISBN 978-1419739637

Discover more about Laurie Wallmark and her books on her website.

To learn more about Brooke Smart, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Code Breaker, Spy Hunter Giveaway

I’m happy to be teaming with Abrams Books for Young Readers and Blue Slip Media in a giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Code Breaker, Spy Hunter written by Laurie Wallmark | illustrated by Brooke Smart

To enter:

This giveaway is open from March 8 to March 14 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on March 15. 

Prizing provided by Abrams Books for Young Readers and Blue Slip Media

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | No Giveaway Accounts 

International Women’s Day Activity

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Send a Secret Message

 

Would you like to be a code breaker – or a spy? Get started with this Pigpen Cipher that makes sending secret messages to friends, siblings, and other family easy and fun. This ancient code is called the Pigpen Cipher because each letter is in its own “pen.” Use it as originally developed then try mixing the letters and pens to create new codes. 

Pigpen Cipher Key

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You can find Code Breaker, Spy Hunter at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 25 – Memorial Day

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About the Holiday

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day to commemorate the laying of wreaths and flowers on soldiers’ gravesites, was first celebrated on May 30, 1868. In 1971 Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act and established the last Monday in May as Memorial Day. The day is honored with parades and special commemorative events. At Arlington National Cemetery in Washington DC, the President or Vice President lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans

Written by Barbara Elizabeth Walsh | Illustrated by Layne Johnson

 

In April of 1917 President Woodrow Wilson declared that America was going to war in Europe. As a teacher and foster mother to girls at the University of Georgia’s Normal School, Moina Belle Michael wanted to do something to honor the boys going off to fight—boys who were the brothers, sweethearts, even fathers of her students. Moina did what the other women were doing to help—knitting socks and sweaters and rolling bandages—but she wanted to do more. She went to the soldiers’ camps nearby to deliver books, magazines, and candy, and she waved goodbye to them at the train station. But she still wanted to do more.

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Image copyright Layne Johnson, 2012, text copyright Barbara Elizabeth Walsh, 2012. Courtesy of Boyds Mills Press.

Moina wanted to go overseas to help the young men with the Y.M.C.A, but after she finished her training at New York’s Columbia University, she was told she was too old to go. She then set up a desk in the basement of Hamilton Hall on the Columbia University campus where she assisted soldiers before they deployed, but the room was dark and dreary. Moina wanted them to have a more cheerful meeting place.

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Image copyright Layne Johnson, 2012, text copyright Barbara Elizabeth Walsh, 2012. Courtesy of Boyds Mills Press.

Moina brightened the room with fresh flowers she bought with her small salary. More soldiers came to spend time with her, to share their pictures, letters, and hometown news. But Moina wanted to do even more. One day she rediscovered a poem she had read many times. Titled We Shall Not Sleep, it was written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae and was a tribute to soldiers who had died on the battlefields of Flanders. The poem was illustrated with a field of nameless crosses and bright red poppies. The last verse of the poem urged others to take up the torch of the noble fight. Suddenly, Moina knew what she had to do.

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Image copyright Layne Johnson, 2012, text copyright Barbara Elizabeth Walsh, 2012. Courtesy of Boyds Mills Press.

She wrote a poem of her own, giving poppies a special meaning: “And now the Torch and Poppy red / We wear in honor of our dead. / Fear not that ye have died for naught; / We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought / In Flanders Field.” Moina shared her poem with soldiers at the Y. Many wanted to wear red poppies on their uniforms to honor their fallen friends. With a ten dollar donation, Moina went shopping to find artificial red poppies that she and the soldiers could wear.

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Image copyright Layne Johnson, 2012, text copyright Barbara Elizabeth Walsh, 2012. Courtesy of Boyds Mills Press.

But finding these flowers was difficult. She finally found one large poppy and 24 smaller ones. She pinned the large one to her coat and with the others wrapped, hurried back to the Y. There she gave the small flowers to some of the men and women leaving for the war in France. But there were so few flowers to share. Moina wanted every American to wear a poppy to remember the soldiers. Always.

The epilogue goes on to reveal that two days after Moina bought those 24 poppies, World War I ended.  While everyone was happy to see the soldiers coming home, people wanted to move on, to forget the horrors of the war. But for veterans it wasn’t easy. Jobs were scarce, some veterans were disabled or suffered lingering effects of war.

Moina wanted to help. She wondered if the poppy could benefit returning veterans. After much work she convinced local and international veterans’ groups to adopt the poppy as their memorial flower. People began donating to veterans’ causes, and in return they received a red poppy. Millions of dollars were raised to help the soldiers. Even today, Moina’s red poppies benefit veterans and remind us of their sacrifices and service.

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Image copyright Layne Johnson, 2012, text copyright Barbara Elizabeth Walsh, 2012. Courtesy of Boyds Mills Press.

Through her detailed telling of how Moina Belle Michael discovered her life’s work, Barbara Elizabeth Walsh provides a realistic view of the World War I era and the desire of most citizens to do something to help the soldiers fighting the war. The sense of suspense, camaraderie, fear, and disappointment that fueled Moina Michael’s heart and actions are beautifully and straightforwardly presented and give children true knowledge of this time period.

Accompanying the text to maximum effect are Layne Johnson’s inspiring, realistic paintings of the scars of war on both the landscape and the human heart. In close-up portraits, Johnson captures the emotions of the women learning that their brothers, boyfriends, and fathers will be joining the war effort as well as scenes of soldiers training, deploying, and returning to tell their stories. Turning the pages is like stepping onto the university campus, visiting the basement gathering space, and walking the city streets. Especially evocative are the two battle scenes and the view of the Flanders Fields with their endless carpet of poppies and straight rows of white cross markers.

For anyone wanting to teach or learn about the origins and meaning of Memorial Day and the significance of the red poppy, The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans is a must read.

Ages 7 – 12 and up

Calkins Creek, Boyds Mills Press, 2012 | ISBN 978-1590787540

Discover more about Barbara Elizabeth Walsh and her books on her website.

To learn more about Layne Johnson and his art, visit his website.

Memorial Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-memorial-day-word-scramble

Memorial Day Word Scramble

 

Unscramble the words associated with today’s holiday and discover a secret message! Print your Memorial Day Word Scramble here!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-poppy-lady

You can find The Poppy Lady at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop| IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

 

November 11 – Veterans Day

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About the Holiday

Veterans Day is observed each year on this date to honor and thank all members of the military who are currently serving or have served in the United States Armed Forces. The official ceremony begins at 11:00 a.m. with a wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington Cemetery and then continues inside the Memorial Amphitheater with a parade of colors by veterans’ organizations and comments by dignitaries. While an official government holiday, some schools remain in session, holding special ceremonies of their own and inviting veterans to relate their experiences.

Sergeant Billy: The True Story of the Goat Who Went to War

Written by Mireille Messier | Illustrated by Kass Reich

 

When a train full of soldiers stopped in a small town, they met a girl named Daisy and her goat, Billy. “The soldiers were going to war and they thought Billy would bring them luck.” Although Daisy loved her pet, she said they could take Billy with them if they promised to bring him back. During the bus ride to training camp for the Fifth Battalion, Billy endeared himself to the men with his antics, and they began calling him Private Billy. “And that’s how Billy joined the army.”

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Image copyright Kass Reich, 2019, text copyright Mireille Messier, 2019. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Billy trained with the soldiers and encouraged them with a push when they fell behind. When the soldiers were sent to England, they snuck Billy on board the ship. “And that’s how Private Billy crossed the ocean.” As time went on, the Fifth Battalion was sent to France. “Mascots were strictly forbidden at the front,” but the men hid Billy in an empty orange crate and “that’s how Private Billy went to the front lines.” Billy seemed to be the perfect solider. He didn’t mind the adverse conditions, the “foul food” or “even the rats.”

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Image copyright Kass Reich, 2019, text copyright Mireille Messier, 2019. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Billy celebrated victories and comforted soldiers during defeats and loneliness. The soldiers even wrote home about their beloved mascot. Even though food rations were short, Billy was happy with socks, napkins, or once even secret documents. For that misdeed, the colonel “placed the goat under arrest. And that’s how Private Billy went to jail for being a spy.” While Billy was locked up, the soldiers became bored, discontented, argumentative, and unhappy. So Billy received a pardon and was returned to the troops.

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Image copyright Kass Reich, 2019, text copyright Mireille Messier, 2019. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

After many brave deeds, such as capturing an enemy guardsman and saving some “soldiers’ lives by head-butting them into a trench seconds before a shell exploded right where they had been standing,” private Billy was promoted to Sergeant Billy. Billy knew he could always count on the soldiers, and the soldiers knew they could always count on Billy. For his “exceptional bravery,” Billy was awarded the Mons Star. The war raged for years, but, finally, peace was declared. The soldiers—and Billy—were ready to return home. They traveled over land and across the ocean and brought Billy back to Daisy, just as they had promised.

An Author’s Note explains more about animal mascots and the way animals were used during WWI. Readers can see photographs of Billy, Daisy, and the soldiers he served with as well.

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Image copyright Kass Reich, 2019, text copyright Mireille Messier, 2019. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Mireille Messier’s charming storytelling brings to life the extraordinary World War I experience of a goat and the soldiers who loved him. Her easy-to-follow timeline, containing humorous incidents, clever ploys to move Billy from place to place, and harrowing exploits, will capture readers’ attention and hearts. Along the way, children learn about conditions and events of war. Messier’s repeated phrasing “And that’s how Billy…” moves the story forward while contributing to the cumulative effect of Billy’s positive influence on the troops and his role in battle.

Kass Reich’s captivating illustrations immerse readers in the wartime atmosphere while focusing on Billy and his endearing personality. Seeing Billy giving a tired soldier a nudge with his horns, being smuggled from place to place, comforting a soldier, and nibbling on secret documents allows children not only to visualize these events but to understand how important Billy was to the morale of the men, whose emotions are honestly depicted. Images of Billy happily wallowing in mud, playing with rats, and gobbling down anything he finds will have kids giggling while those of Billy saving lives and getting medals will wow them. His safe passage back home to Daisy is a delightful and satisfying ending.

A superbly told story, Sergeant Billy: The True Story of the Goat Who Went to War, is highly recommended. The book would make an excellent addition to home, classroom, and public library collections for general story times and especially those around Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, and other patriotic holidays.

Ages 4 – 8

Tundra Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-0735264427

Discover more about Mireille Messier and her books on her website.

To learn more about Kass Reich, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Watch the Sergeant Billy book trailer!

Veterans Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-veterans-day-word-search-puzzle

Happy Veterans Day! Word Search Puzzle

 

Can you find the twenty-one Veterans Day related words in this printable puzzle?

Happy Veterans Day! Word Search Puzzle | Happy Veterans Day! Word Search Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sergeant-billy-cover

You can find Sergeant Billy: The True Story of the Goat Who Went to War at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review