July 10 – Teddy Bears’ Picnic Day

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About the Holiday

The classic picture book The Teddy Bears’ Picnic, written by Jimmy Kennedy and illustrated by Michael Hague has inspired kids for more than two decades to pack a basket of treats, grab their favorite teddy bear, and find a sunny or shady spot to enjoy a picnic. Today’s holiday reminds kids and their families of this simple summer pleasure and encourages them to celebrate with a teddy bear picnic of their own. Today’s book—a sweet, updated take on the original—as well as the  accompanying activity kit will spark ideas for fun, friendship, kindness and a picnic any time of the year.

I received a copy of Teddy Bear of the Year from Tundra Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

Teddy Bear of the Year

Written by Vikki VanSickle | Illustrated by Sydney Hanson

 

Ollie loved his job as Amena’s teddy bear. During the week his shift ran from three in the afternoon to after breakfast the next day. “On weekends and in the summer he was on call twenty-four hours a day.” Every day, Ollie looked forward to the moment when Amena came home and told him all about her adventures. “At night, when he snuggled in next to Amena, he would think about her stories and smile.”

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Vikki VanSickle, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

One night as Amena slept, Ollie saw a “shining silver sailboat” outside her window. The captain (Snuggles, aka The Snug) called to him and told him he was there to bring Ollie to the Teddy Bear’s Picnic. The picnic, Snuggles explained, was put on each summer by the Teddy Bears’ Association “to celebrate the year in teddy-care.” Ollie was excited but wondered about how Amena might feel if she woke up and he wasn’t there.

The Snug told him that for her time would stand still until Ollie returned. With one more cuddle for Amena, Ollie stepped aboard the sailboat. The Snug was impressed by Ollie’s knowledge of his “ABCs: Always Be Cuddling.” Soon, they arrived in the woods, where strings of lights glowed and a stage was set up. When they got closer, “Ollie saw teddies of all shapes and sizes.”

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Vikki VanSickle, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Ollie met some of Snuggles’ friends, ate delicious sweets, played games, and even sang “bearaoke.” At last, Pinkie, the president of the Teddy Bears’ Association, took to the stage to begin the awards ceremony. Boo Bear won a star for comforting her boy through a long hospital stay. Fang received a star for accompanying “his girl, Tina, on her first sleepover party.” And Snuggles was given a star for his years of service to a family of six children and his many adventures.

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Vikki VanSickle, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

As Pinkie pinned stars on each of the teddy bears, Ollie “tried to think of a single thing that he had done that deserved a star, but nothing came to mind.” He felt that “he was just an ordinary bear.” But then he hear Pinkie announcing the Teddy Bear of the Year Award and…his name! Ollie couldn’t believe it. “‘I haven’t done anything special at all!’” he said.

But then Pinkie showed him how he’d helped Amena when she fell off her bike and “turned a bad day into a good day” by using the ABCs of teddy-care. The ability to do this is very special Pinkie told him. “‘Even the smallest actions—a cuddle, a kind word, a hug—have great impact’” and help their children feel strong. Pinkie pinned the star on Ollie’s chest and then all the teddy bears celebrated. When the picnic ended, The Snug sailed Ollie home. As Ollie snuggled in next to Amena, he whispered to her all about his adventures, and Amena smiled.

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Vikki VanSickle, 2020. Courtesy of Tundra Books.

Vikki VanSickle’s well-conceived teddy bear world will captivate readers with its sweet combination of magic and reality. Details such as Ollie’s shift schedule and his excitement to hear Amena’s stories when she got home hit just the right note, mirroring both a young child’s imagination and their experience, especially if they have siblings. VanSickle’s message about the importance of kindness and providing comfort is woven naturally into the storyline, increasing its impact and allowing readers to see that simple acts of friendship are just as valuable, and often more so, than large, dramatic acts. Her Teddy Bear Picnic is sprinkled with humor and the kind of fun that makes it a party any child would love to attend.

Sydney Hanson’s illustrations are as soft and fuzzy as Ollie and as warmly glowing as a comforting nightlight. As Amena and Ollie snuggle side by side, the wispy bedroom curtains sway gently then frame the magical sailboat that arrives to take Ollie to the Teddy Bear’s Association picnic. From afar, the get-together in the woods twinkles with shimmering light. As Ollie and readers get closer, they meet a wide variety of teddy bears, from a pirate bear to a lavender koala riding a lavender-and-brown horse to teeny-tiny bears in a rainbow of colors. Kids will recognize the picnic activities from birthday parties and school events, and as all of the teddies gather around the stage, their anticipation for the awards will grow just as Ollie’s do. As readers watch scenes from Amena’s bad day along with Ollie, they see a specific example of how friendship can make anyone feel better.  

Cuddly and endearing, Teddy Bear of the Year will be a favorite for snuggly bedtimes with little ones (and their teddies, of course). The book would be an often-asked-for addition to home, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 7

Tundra Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-0735263925

Discover more about Vikki VanSickle and her books on her website.

A Chat with Vikki VanSickle

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Welcome back, Vikki! The last time we chatted your mythical and funny If I Had a
Gryphon had just been released. Since then If I Had a Gryphon has been named as a Best Book for Children and won multiple other honors, has been released as a paperback and a board book, and has even been recorded as a rap by some creative students. You’ve also published a award-winning middle grade novel, The Winnowing. Can you catch readers up on these successes and what else you’ve been doing?

Isn’t it bananas how much can happen in four years? I’ve been very fortunate, as you kindly pointed out, to receive such accolades for my books. A highlight was certainly winning the Red Maple Award for The Winnowing at the 2018 Festival of Trees. There’s nothing like bursting into tears in front of your peers and a few hundred readers! I’ve also had a lot of smaller, personal moments with readers who have shared their own artwork or story ideas with me, which I consider a great privilege. In addition to writing and presenting to kids, I am the director of marketing and publicity for the young readers program at Penguin Random House Canada, which means I get to work on amazing kids’ books all day, every day.

Teddy Bear of the Year is super sweet and a great reminder that kind acts are recognized and appreciated. What inspired you to write this story?

Small acts of kindness has always been a big theme for me and it shows up in a lot of my work. In my first novel, Words That Start With B, I wanted to address the idea of bravery with a lower-case b—meaning actions that might not appear typically brave or even noteworthy but made all the difference in the world to someone. This idea has manifested in many ways in all of my work. I am less interested in narratives about saving the world at large, and more interested in what little things we can do every day to change the lives of people around us.

When you’re a kid, so many goals seem huge and out of reach to you. Especially in an increasingly loud and bombastic society it’s easy to feel small or helpless or insignificant. But every major feat consists of a series of smaller actions and decisions and it’s the smaller, everyday things that can change a person’s entire outlook.

Ollie and the other teddy bears in your book reminded me of my own childhood teddy bear, Brownie, who is still with me even after much fur loss and a long-ago surgery to remove the music box that made him a little less cuddly than I wanted. Is there an Ollie in your life? Can you tell readers a little about this special friend?celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Vikki-VanSickle-and-Teddy-Bear-Gang

Vikki and her Teddy Bear Gang

I had a number of cherished stuffed animals that held major roles in my imaginary play and nighttime rituals. I was constantly worried that one would feel ignored or less loved, and therefore took great pains to treat them equally, including rotating which stuffed animal I slept with each night. But one toy did stand out above the rest, and that was a stuffed rabbit named Bunny. I’ve had Bunny as long as I can remember. He’s in pretty rough shape, but currently lives a quiet life of retirement in my closet.

Sydney Hanson’s soft illustrations are so dreamy and I love how all the different teddy bears mirror different kids and what they like. What was your reaction when you first saw her sweet interpretation of your story? Do you have a favorite spread?

I was so thrilled with Sydney’s sweet, fuzzy illustrations. A bedtime story is only as cozy as the art, and I think she really nailed it. I really enjoy the group scenes, especially the spread when Ollie arrives at the picnic for the first time and gets a glimpse of the snacks table. I love how all of the bears, even the unnamed ones, have their own personalities and storylines you can follow throughout the book.

Two of my favorite parts of your story are the Teddy Bear ABCs—which is inspirational for everyone, especially on National Hugging Day—and the idea of Teddy Bear Magic.  What ideas about friendship would you like young readers to take away from your story?

I love that those things resonated with you! The working title of the book was Teddy Bear Magic, which Ollie and the reader first associate with the magic of the flying sailboat and the stoppage of time, but eventually come to realize that the bigger magic is how kindness, comfort, and support can transform someone’s experience. I hope readers recognize that by being kind you have the magical ability to transform someone’s day.

The ABCs of Teddy Care—aka “Always Be Cuddling”—is a reference to the phrase “Always Be Closing,” a business philosophy made famous by the movie (and play) Glengarry Glen Ross. I modeled the Teddy Bear’s Picnic depicted in the book on contemporary office parties, and I got a kick out of taking such a cold corporate mantra and turning it into something warm and fuzzy.

I always enjoy watching your appearances on Your Morning, the Canadian breakfast-time show. You’re such a natural on camera and a fantastic advocate for children’s books. Can you talk about the segments you do and how you became involved with them? Where can people see past segments and when is your next one?

Thanks so much! I’m very much enjoying it. I read a lot and curating lists is something I have always loved doing. It must be my bookselling roots! I had visited CTV Your Morning as an author and chatted with the book producer about themed segments for major book-buying moments, such as back to school, summer reading, and the holidays. The first few segments were popular and so we’ve continued to find other themes—such as building your baby’s library and kids’ books that address mental health and wellness, which aired on January 20th of this year—that would resonate with their audience outside those traditional moments. You can find past clips at theloop.ca, and I also post them on my own website at www.vikkivansickle.com.

From the long events and presentations list on your website, I can tell you love meeting your readers! Do you have an anecdote from any event that you’d like to share?

I really love meeting readers! It’s important for me to stay connected to the audience, especially since I no longer work in a bookstore and I have less “kid contact.” One of my favorite anecdotes happened at an IF I HAD A GRYPHON event with second grade students. I noticed one boy in the front frowning the whole time—which was unusual, not to mention disconcerting— and when it came time for questions his arm shot up and he asked, “Do you know how many species of dragon there are?” I told him that no, I did not know, and he broke into a smile and responded, “Nobody knows. That was a trick question.” I realized he had spent the whole presentation waiting to ask me that question, wondering if I would trip up or give him false information. You can never lie to kids—they smell it a mile away—and it’s important to treat every question seriously. If you don’t respect your audience, why should they respect you?

Before you go, I’m sure readers would love to know how they can hold their own Teddy Bear Picnics.

Tundra also created an amazing downloadable Teddy Bear of the Year event kit so anyone can hold a similar event. You can find that kit below.

Teddy Bears’ Picnic Day Activity

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Teddy Bear of the Year Activity Kit

 

You can hold your own Teddy Bear Picnic with this fun activity kit that includes a puzzle, a coloring sheet, a headband, and even a Teddy Bear of the Year certificate for your special friend. You’ll also find ideas for hosting your own Teddy Bear Service Awards!

Teddy Bear of the Year Activity Kit

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You can find Teddy Bear of the Year at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 9 – It’s Culinary Arts Month

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About the Holiday

This month we celebrate the culinary arts from salad to dessert and everything in between and the chefs, cooks, and bakers who create new dishes that keep us coming back for more. This month we also thank all the home chefs who prepare healthy meals for their families every day. To celebrate this year, help out your local restaurants or bakeries and order take out to enjoy with your family. While spending more time at home this summer, why not get the kids involved in making meals or special treats. Cooking together is a terrific way to make memories while making family favorites.

A Book for Escargot

Written by Dashka Slater | Illustrated by Sydney Hanson

 

“Bonjour!” Escargot—that most adorable snail (he’ll tell you so himself)—is back! He can see that you’re reading and doesn’t want to disturb you, even though he knows that “It can be distracting to have a very beautiful French snail staring at you while you read.” In fact, Escargot is on his way through the library to check out a French cookbook right now. Along the way, he’d like to talk about all things literary. First, Escargot would like to know your favorite book. “Is it Goldytentacles and the Three Snails? Harry Gastropodder and the Chamber of Salads?” Or maybe it’s another snail classic.

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Dashka Slater, 2020. Courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Escargot loves books, but there’s one thing that is so sad it makes him cry. Go ahead—you can wipe the tears from his eyes with your sleeve. What is so sad? None of the books have a snail hero. All the books about snails that he’s seen “make a joke about slow snail or shy snail. I am not laughing at this joke,” he says.

Escargot thinks that you—yes you, the reader—can write a story about an extraordinary snail that has daring adventures. He’ll even help you with the first sentence and how to illustrate such a magnifique character. Of course, every good story hero needs a problem. Perhaps you, as a writer, think: but Escargot, “‘you are so handsome, suave, and smart. What problem could you possibly have?’” And yet, Escargot does have a problem. He is bored with salads. And so, he is off to find a new recipe.

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Dashka Slater, 2020. Courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

But not so fast. Every story worth its salt also needs an obstacle. And can there be any greater obstacle than Escargot looking down (far down) upon the object of his quest: The Art of French Cooking? To show what an intrepid snail he really is, Escargot sets his antennae to horizontal and leaps. He flies! Sort of.

At last the “resolution of the story” is at hand (so to speak). Escargot opens the cookbook ready to discover a new delicious recipe. But what is this?! This is not a recipe Escargot wants a chef to see. And he certainly doesn’t want that chef to see him. Can you help hide Escargot? As this only slightly rattled snail hides out, you can finish your story. Escargot even gives you an ending sentence that you can finish with a little panache.

Now, where is that French cookbook? Perhaps Escargot was hungrier than he thought. The pages are looking kind of chewed, and Escargot’s cheeks appear a little puffed. But it is all good, and just as in any delectable story—Escargot’s and yours—ends “with a kiss! Mwah!

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Image copyright Sydney Hanson, 2020, text copyright Dashka Slater, 2020. Courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Like meeting up with a best friend after a long absence, Escargot and his second adventure will swell your heart. All the charm and endearing airs of Dashka Slater’s little French snail that made readers fall in love with him in Escargot still inspire his first-person monologue aimed directly at readers. Along the journey to finding a French cookbook, Escargot invites kids not only to write a story that has never been told before—the tale of a snail who overcomes the odds—or at least the odd obstacle—and becomes a hero—but to interact at certain points to help him out.

Slater’s clever takes on her audience’s favorite books will have kids giggling and retitling their own bookshelves while subtle allusions to the original story are enchanting and build giddy suspense for this book’s resolution. As a writing tool for teachers and homeschoolers, Escargot’s prompts and encouragement go a long way in helping children understand the basic structure of a story, how to use evocative vocabulary, and how to incorporate necessary elements. As Escargot once again comes out victorious, all readers will exclaim Oh là là! with a big Mwah!

Light, airy, and punctuated with the cutest snail around, Sydney Hanson’s illustrations are a joy. How magnifique it is to once again open the cover to those full-moon eyes, looong antennae, petite smile and very French shirt and scarf. Kids will love following Escargot’s silvery trail over snail bestsellers, through a palette of paint, and on to a pile of hilariously titled animal stories, which, much to Escargot’s disappointment, do not extend the superhero theme to snails. For future illustrators, Hanson demonstrates an easy way for kids to replicate Escargot and his escapade for their own stories. Each of Hanson’s pages is darling from Escargot’s flying feat of daring to his agility with the long-sought French cookbook to his solution to the unfortunate recipe.

Lovely and lovable through and through, A Book for Escargot will be a favorite. The book is a must for home, classroom, and public library collections. And on’t miss the original, Escargot. While each story stands alone, these two books go together like butter and…well…you know!

Ages 4 – 6

Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2020 | ISBN 978-0374312862

Discover more about Dashka Slater and her books on her website.

You can connect with Sydney Hanson on Instagram.

Enjoy this A Book for Escargot book trailer!

Culinary Arts Month Activity

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Super Snail Coloring Page

 

What do you think this snail is thinking about? Being brave? Fast? Creative? Magical?Make Escargot happy and write and illustrate a story about this super snail using the printable journal template and coloring page.

Super Snail Coloring Page | Journal Template

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You can find A Book for Escargot at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble| Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

July 8 – Math 2.0 Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday dates back to 2009 and was established to show a little love for technology and math and how these two disciplines complement each other. The day was also conceived to bring together mathematicians, programmers, engineers, educators, and managers to raise awareness of the importance of math literacy at all levels of education. The combination of math and technology forms the foundation of most of the things we use every day, such as computers, phones, tablets and other electronics. Math and technology are also employed by scientists, researchers, manufacturers, and architects—who know just how to make a house cozy and inviting like the little home in today’s book.

Grandma’s Tiny House: A Counting Story!

Written by JaNay Brown-Wood | Illustrated by Priscilla Burris

 

Grandma’s tiny blue house sits on a tidy little yard between two multi-story homes. The walls of Grandma’s tiny house are full of framed photographs of her family and even her pets. Today is a very special day, and “ONE grandma waits in her big easy chair, / while TWO turkeys send scrumptious smells through the air.” There’s a knock on the door, and Grandma opens it to find three neighbors carrying four pots of “hot greens and ham hocks galore.”

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Image copyright Priscilla Burris, 2017, text copyright JaNay Brown-Wood, 2017. Courtesy of Charlesbridge Publishing.

Before Grandma can close the door, five more friends stride up the walk, bringing six dozen biscuits and pear jam. Then “SEVEN cool uncles stroll up in a line, / with EIGHT jugs of lemonade, ice-cold and fine.” There are nine aunts and ten cheesecakes squeezed into the den, and all their kids are happy to be here again. “ELEVEN nephews join, slapping high fives / and fumbling TWELVE sweet-potato pies.”

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Image copyright Priscilla Burris, 2017, text copyright JaNay Brown-Wood, 2017. Courtesy of Charlesbridge Publishing.

Sure, there are girls too—thirteen, in fact, and they’ve brought a wagon of fourteen honeydew melons. But those are the big kids; who else has come running? Fifteen excited little ones are ready for Grandma’s hugs. When everyone’s inside “that’s when the walls bulge. There is no more space! / How will we all eat in this too-tiny place?”

But the tiniest girl has a big idea and whispers it into Grandma’s ear. The house may be small, but the “yard’s long and wide.” Her thought? “Why don’t we move our big dinner outside?” It’s the perfect solution, so everyone grabs a plate or a dish, the silverware, chairs, and tables and pour out the door. As evening approaches and the sun goes down, the family, friends and neighbors talk, eat, and play at Grandma’s tiny house.

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Image copyright Priscilla Burris, 2017, text copyright JaNay Brown-Wood, 2017. Courtesy of Charlesbridge Publishing.

JaNay Brown-Wood’s joyful counting book adds up to a celebration of family and friends and offers a wonderful way to discuss math concepts, such as counting, amount, and spatial awareness, with little ones. Brown-Wood’s vivacious rhymes and dynamic vocabulary create a lively read-aloud that organically incorporates counting from one to fifteen into a larger story about the pleasures of boisterous gatherings and the love of extended families.

Priscilla Burris’s vibrant and animated illustrations will put a smile on little ones’ faces from the first page to the last. As the smiling Grandma gazes out the window of her tiny home, she’s not only waiting for her guests to arrive but is inviting readers to join in too. The two-page spread of family photos gives kids an inkling of the party to come, and as each laughing, talking, waving group arrives at Grandma’s, the excitement of the day—and the enticement to count, count, count—begins. Each of Burris’s many characters displays unique personality traits as they talk, sing, high-five, run, shout, and rejoice.

The people and objects to count are presented clearly, allowing children to easily find them. As the group gathers together inside the house and out in the yard, readers will no doubt want to count them all, letting them see addition at work. Each spread also offers a game of hide-and-seek with Grandma’s puppy and kitten.

Grandma’s Tiny House: A Counting Story is the kind of picture book that will get kids excited about math and their own place within a family. It would make a wonderful gift and addition to home as well as classroom libraries.

Ages 2 – 5

Charlesbridge Publishing, 2017 | ISBN 978-1580897129

Discover more about JaNay Brown-Wood  and her books and find resources for adults on her website.

View a portfolio of illustrations, drawings, and books by Priscilla Burris on her website.

You’re all invited to Grandma’s Tiny House book trailer!

Math 2.0 Day Activity

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Totally Cool Mystery Phrase Math Puzzle

 

There’s no mystery to how fun math can be! Use the numerical clues in this printable Totally Cool Mystery Phrase Math Puzzle to discover a hidden message! Add the numbers under each line then use that number to find the corresponding letter of the alphabet. Write that letter in the space. Continue until the entire phrase is completed.

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You can find Grandma’s Tiny House at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

 

July 7 – Celebrating the Book Birthday of I Got the School Spirit

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About the Holiday

A new book in a favorite series is always something special as is a child’s first day on their school journey. When you put those events together, you get today’s Book Birthday celebration of a beautiful and inspirational story that will have kids enthusiastic to start the new school year – whether they’ll be in a traditional school environment or homeschooled.

Thanks to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for sharing I Got the School Spirit with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

I Got the School Spirit

Written by Connie Schofield-Morrison | Illustrated by Frank Morrison

 

A little girl gets up and stretches, rummages through her drawers for just the right shirt, and smiles throughout brushing her teeth. Why? She says: “Summer is over. / My first day is here. / I got the spirit to start the new school year!” In fact, this girl has a spirited attitude toward the whole day. She laces up the spirit in her new shoes, eats a good breakfast to keep her going until lunchtime, and fills her backpack with enough positivity to last all day.

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Image copyright Frank Morrison, 2020, text copyright Connie Schofield-Morrison, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

At the bus stop, she waits eagerly for the ride to school and, once on the bus, comforts another little girl next to her who isn’t so sure about this new experience. In the classroom, she answers roll call with enthusiasm then sings about the ABCs and 123s with gusto. At lunch she shares an orange with a new friend across the table, and at recess her kick sends the ball soaring.

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Image copyright Frank Morrison, 2020, text copyright Connie Schofield-Morrison, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Back in the classroom and gathered on the rug, the little girl says, “I listen as the spirit weaves a story. / Once upon a time….” When the bell rings at the end of the day, she packs up, rides the bus home, and runs into her mom’s waiting arms for “the spirit in a big ol’ hug. / Squish, Squeeze!” This smart little girl already knows: “The school spirit helps us all strive and grow. / I can’t wait to see what I’ll learn tomorrow!”

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Image copyright Frank Morrison, 2020, text copyright Connie Schofield-Morrison, 2020. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

A new book in Connie Schofield-Morrison and Frank Morrison’s I Got… series is always a cause for celebration. In her uplifting story of a little girl enjoying her first day of school with a true zest for life, Schofield-Morrison encourages children to find the spirit in each activity and to share their own spirit of kindness and community with others. Heartening feelings of inclusion and openness to new experiences shine on every page, infusing readers with a buoyant optimism and confidence to meet the challenges and opportunities of school. Schofield-Morrison’s storytelling is specially empowering for children who may be hesitant about beginning or returning to school. The jubilant rhythm makes this a perfect read aloud and invites kids to join in on subsequent readings.

As in each book in this series, Frank Morrison’s oil paintings are spectacular representations of home life, friendship, participation, and kids being kids. The little girl and the diverse group of children at the bus stop, flanked by their parents, and in the classroom display a wide range of emotions from casual poses to wide-eyed glee to serious attention to the teacher. At lunch and on the playground, the kids enjoy those well-earned sandwiches and their playtime with expressions that can’t help but make readers smile too. Rich colors, realistic details, and outstanding perspectives, make every page a showstopper that readers will want to linger over.

A must for all kids, whether they’re just beginning their school journey or returning for a new year, I Got the School Spirit will be an often-asked-for favorite on home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 – 6

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1547602612

You can connect with Connie Schofield-Morrison on Facebook.

To learn more about Frank Morrison, his books, and his art, visit his website.

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You can find I Got the School Spirit at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

July 6 – It’s Wild about Wildlife Month

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About the Holiday

This month we honor wildlife—all those majestic creatures of the air, land, and sea that share the earth with us. But what about all of the creatures that live through mythology, legends, stories, and our imagination? Today, we celebrate one of these unique and wild beings that has been around for a long, long time. Maybe you’ve seen one?

Have You Ever Zeen a Ziz?

Written by Linda Elovitz Marshall | Illustrated by Kyle Reed

 

As kids open the cover to this delightful mythologically based story, the narrator asks: “Have you ever zeen a Ziz? Do you wonder what one iz?” Could it be an alien floating through space, or a “giant cat or a prehistoric bat?” It turns out that it’s none of these. A Ziz is a bird with brilliant feathers and a wing span that can block out the sun—or moon.

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Image copyright Kyle Reed, 2020, text copyright Linda Elovitz Marshall, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

But even though the Ziz is huge, “she’s a kindly, gentle bird. / Big and yellow, sweet…absurd.” She lets children play on her enormous back and helps farmers keep their crops on track. But the Ziz is best know for her lilting zongs, which she zings with great gusto no matter the time or place or who she’s with. But when she sleeps, those zongs turn into loud, LOUD snores.

Now if you happen to see one passing by or you look up and can’t see the sky, you’ll know precisely, exactly why.

An Author’s Note following the story reveals that “the Ziz is a mythological bird found in a collection of ancient Jewish writings” and is even mentioned in the Biblical book of Psalms. Marshall includes more information on this legendary bird as well as a reference work.

Funny and endearing, Have You Ever Zeen a Ziz is a joyful read aloud with many applications for classroom lessons and story times. It would be an entertaining addition to home, school, and public library collections.

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Image copyright Kyle Reed, 2020, text copyright Linda Elovitz Marshall, 2020. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Linda Elovitz Marshall’s jaunty, rhyming read aloud is feathered with imagination that will have kids’ own musings soaring. Enchanting in her size, talents, and kindliness, the Ziz will delight readers even as Marshall’s rhythmic storytelling gives teachers and homeschoolers a fun way to interact with language and rhyme schemes, introduce lessons on mythology, and extend story time with an artistic project. After reading, children are sure to want to draw or otherwise create a Ziz or invent a mythological creature of their own. Musical readers may even be inspired to write a song for the Ziz to zing.

Kyle Reed’s collage-style illustrations are whimsical and sweet. As this most unusual bird soars over the ocean, her broad wingspan dwarfs a whale on one side and a crocodile on the other. After seeing a group of friends slide down the Ziz’s loooooong back and neck, kids will wish they had a Ziz at their own playground, and the image of the Ziz standing on the ground with its head in the clouds is a textural beauty. After enjoying Reed’s sightings of the Ziz on mountaintops, skyscrapers, the beach, and anywhere the sky beckons, readers will no doubt be keeping their eyes and ears open for their own view of this spectacular creature.

Ages 4 – 7

Albert Whitman & Company, 2020 | ISBN 978-0807531730

Discover more about Linda Elovitz Marshall and her books on her website.

To learn more about Kyle Reed and see a portfolio of his work, visit his website.

Wild about Wildlife Month Activity

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Draw Your Own Wild Creature

 

With a little imagination, kids can create their own mythological creature to roam the earth under the smiling sun on this printable drawing page.

Wild Creature Drawing Page

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You can find Have You Ever Zeen a Ziz? at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

July 5 – Build a Scarecrow Day

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About the Holiday

With so many crops – from corn to berries to peppers to squash – ripening in fields across the country, it’s time for farmers on small and large farms to put up a scarecrow to watch over all that bounty. To celebrate, gather some old clothes, a bale of straw or other filling, and a pole and put your imagination to work. This is a fun activity for the whole family – even if you don’t have a farm! 

The Scarecrow

Written by Beth Ferry | Illustrated by The Fan Brothers

 

Golden autumn has quieted the fields. The hay is rolled and the scarecrow waits for spring. The animals and the crows stand at a distance, afraid of this figure that does his job so well. “He never rests. / He never bends. / He’s never had a single friend, / for all the woodland creatures know / not to mess with old Scarecrow.”

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Image copyright The Fan Brothers, 2019, text copyright Beth Ferry, 2019. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

Winter comes with gentle snow, and Scarecrow dreams of “spring…of buds and blooms and things that sing.” When spring dawns with warm sun and green grass, a tiny crow—with a “broken wing?”—“drops from midair” and attracts Scarecrow’s attention. Then Scarecrow does a most surprising thing: “He snaps his pole, / bends down low, / saves the tiny baby crow.” He tucks the baby in the straw near his heart, and as he sleeps and settles in, Scarecrow “sings the sweetest lullaby.”

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Image copyright The Fan Brothers, 2019, text copyright Beth Ferry, 2019. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

The baby heals and the two become the best of friends. As the little crow grows, he and Scarecrow “will laugh and wish on stars, forgetting who they really are…” Spring turns to summer, and Scarecrow proudly watches as Crow learns to fly, but with the return of autumn, he knows that Crow must leave. Through late autumn and the frigid winter, Scarecrow slumps on his pole, alone—“Broken heart. Broken pole. Nothing fills the empty hole.” Then with the spring rains, the crow returns with wings wide open and Scarecrow welcomes him with a hug. The crow mends Scarecrow’s broken pole and refreshes his hay and then he says, “‘I’m here to say.’”

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Image copyright The Fan Brothers, 2019, text copyright Beth Ferry, 2019. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

Crow and his mate build a nest in the spot where he grew up. Soon, “five small eggs are tucked unseen,” and Scarecrow watches over them for he knows that soon they will hatch baby crows. “And they will love him from the start, and they will grow up in his heart.” Throughout the year, these friends and more keep Scarecrow company and love him so.

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Image copyright The Fan Brothers, 2019, text copyright Beth Ferry, 2019. Courtesy of HarperCollins.

In her story of a scarecrow and a baby crow who form a family, Beth Ferry’s gorgeous, lyrical language sweeps readers into Scarecrow’s world and lets them stand with him through the changing seasons and the progression of his transformation from a lonely existence as bleak as winter to a life as bountiful as summer. Ferry’s alternating short, staccato lines and longer, flowing rhythms create an emotional bond between the reader and Scarecrow. With a single sentence, in which Scarecrow and Crow forget “who they really are,” and through her periodic use of future tense, Ferry sparks hope and welcome reassurance for the future—not only for these two characters, but for us all. Crow’s return to raise his own family where he learned love and security and to help the aging Scarecrow is a moving portrayal of home, and the reciprocal devotion between Scarecrow and the crows will bring a tear to readers’ eyes.

Through their softly hued and textured mixed-media illustrations, The Fan Brothers create a tapestry of rural life, with its sometimes generous, sometimes harsh conditions.  As autumn turns to winter, Scarecrow is seen from a distance as animals look on, showing the divide in this natural landscape and the fear that rules it. But when a baby crow drops into the scarecrow’s life, he changes the dynamic, as children often do. With this life-changing event, The Fan Brother’s images become brighter, and the gauziness of the first spreads—so effective in depicting the barrier between Scarecrow and the rest of the world—clears. In turns Scarecrow is tender and proud, wistful and overjoyed—images that will tug at adults’ hearts. As Scarecrow once again stands tall and is surrounded by his crow family and the other animals on a sunny fall day, The Fan Brothers bring readers full circle in this story where the seasons of bounty and hardship mirror so well the cycles of life.

A thoughtful and beautifully conceived masterpiece, The Scarecrow is a must for home, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

HarperCollins, 2019 | ISBN 978-0062475763

Discover more about Beth Ferry and her books on her website.

To learn more about The Fan Brothers, their books, and their art, visit their website.

Build a Scarecrow Day Activity

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Silly Scarecrow Coloring Page

 

Building a scarecrow with old clothes, some twine, and just the right amount of stuffing is creative fun! If you’d like a simpler way to make a scarecrow, enjoy this printable Silly Scarecrow Coloring Page!

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You can find The Scarecrow at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

July 3 – International Drop a Rock Day

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About the Holiday

International Drop a Rock Day was instituted in 2015 by Word Rocks Project as a way to spread positivity and bring people together. By leaving rocks painted with uplifting words, phrases, and designs in places where others could find and enjoy them, the founders of today’s holiday hoped to spread joy and a feeling of community. Each year more and more people participate across the United States and around the world. This year’s theme is Togetherness. To join the movement, gather some rocks, wash and dry them, then decorate! Add #wordrocks to the back to let others know about the project and help spread the word. You can find out more at wordrocks.me. You can read about two kids who really appreciate rocks and would love the fun of today’s holiday in today’s book!

Thanks go out to Charlesbridge for sending me a copy of Cavekid Birthday to for review consideration. All opinions are my own. 

Cavekid Birthday

Written by Cathy Breisacher | Illustrated by Roland Garrigue

 

In two neighboring caves on the very same day, Caveboy and Cavegirl were born. They did everything together and grew to be best friends. “Eventually Caveboy discovered that he loved…rocks!” He showed Cavegirl his collection of shiny, spiny, smooth, and colorful rocks to Cavegirl and even taught her how “to play stone toss.” Cavegirl developed a love of tools—tools that she could dig, build, and paint with. She shared her tools with Caveboy and “taught him how to create masterpieces on cave walls.”

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Image copyright Roland Garrigue, 2019, text copyright Cathy Breisacher, 2019. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

As their birthdays neared, Cavegirl tried making Caveboy a present, but her efforts failed. She decided to go to Caveman’s Collectibles to see what she could find. There, she spied a “‘Box for Caveboy’s rocks!’” Caveman was happy to make a trade. Cavegirl said, “‘Have nothing to trade except…tools!’” It took all ten of Cavegirl’s tools to get the box, but she knew Caveboy would love it.

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Image copyright Roland Garrigue, 2019, text copyright Cathy Breisacher, 2019. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

Meanwhile, Caveboy was making a present for Cavegirl. He had no luck either, so he hurried down to Caveman’s Collectibles. Inside, he spied the perfect gift: “‘Box for Cavegirl’s tools,’” he told Caveman. This box cost twenty rocks—all that Caveboy had—but he knew Cavegirl would love it. When they exchanged gifts, they ripped off the wrapping and…. Without tools or rocks to keep in the boxes, they found other uses for them. They were great for playing hide-and-seek and making carts to race in, but they began to miss their old favorite things.

They went back to Caveman Collectibles and told Caveman their dilemma. “‘Make trade?’ they asked.” For their rocks and tools, Caveboy and Cavegirl gave Caveman a shiny polished and painted store. And Cavegirl and Caveboy? They had best birthday ever!

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Image copyright Roland Garrigue, 2019, text copyright Cathy Breisacher, 2019. Courtesy of Charlesbridge.

Cathy Breisacher knows how much kids love to rock their birthdays. In her original story set in a precociously prehistoric time, Breisacher chisels a funny and touching tale about the true meaning of friendship. Cavegirl and Caveboy only pause for a moment before trading their most precious belongings to get a gift for the other. Without things to put inside the boxes, Caveboy and Cavegirl—like kids of all eras—find other creative ways to use them. When they begin to miss their rocks and tools, instead of feeling regret they work together to devise an innovative way to get them back—and make Caveman happy too. Kids will be wrapped up in the suspense and enjoy hearing—and repeating—Breisacher’s cavespeak, and in the end will take the ever-timely lesson to heart.

There are plenty of hairy moments in Cavekid Birthday, and Roland Garrigue takes full advantage to create wild and wooly (mammoth) illustrations to accompany the story. Caveboy and Cavegirl play hide-and-seek among dinosaur bones, race their bear and elephant ancestor pets, and may be the world’s first collector and artist. Hilarious modern-primitive mash-ups—like furry, animal skin wrapping paper—will have kids laughing and pointing out the anachronisms.

Children would love finding Cavekid Birthday among their gifts, and adding the book to home, classroom, and library shelves will ensure a sweet and timeless story time.

Ages 4 – 8

Charlesbridge, 2019 | ISBN 978-1580898768

Discover more about Cathy Breisacher and her books on her website.

You can read an interview with Cathy here!

To learn more about Roland Garrigue, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Book trailer good! Watch. Fun!

International Drop a Rock Day Activity

CPB - rock painting craft

Rock This Craft!

 

Smooth stones can give talented artists like yourself a natural canvas for your creativity! Use your imagination to design rocks to leave for people to find on paths or sidewalks, near a store, or anywhere in your neighborhood. You may even want to leave one outside your local library. That’s where I found the rock pictured here!

Supplies

  • Smooth stones in various sizes
  • Paint or markers
  • Small magnets, available at craft stores
  • Jewelry pins, available at craft stores
  • Paint brush
  • Strong glue

Directions

  1. Find stones in your yard or neighborhood or buy them at a craft store or garden center
  2. Wash and dry rocks as needed
  3. Design and paint an image on the stone
  4. Have fun finding spots to leave your works of art!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-cavekid-birthday-cover

You can find Cavekid Birthday at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop| IndieBound

Picture Book Review