June 12 – It’s Adopt a Cat Month

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About the Holiday

Cats make wonderful pets! They can be cuddly or completely independent, but their playful personalities make for lots of laughs and love. If you own a cat, spend some extra time with your pet and ensure that all of your feline friend’s health needs are being met and are up-to-date. If you think you might like to adopt a cat into your family, visit your local animal shelter for cats and kittens who are looking for a forever home.

Lily’s Cat Mask

By Julie Fortenberry

 

Lily was starting school so her dad took her shopping. “Lily wasn’t sure she wanted to get new things for school, but her father said it would be fun.” After buying some clothes and meeting a woman they knew who gushed at how much Lily had grown, Lily was tired and wanted to go home. “But then she saw the cat mask.” It was the only one on the shelf, and Lily’s dad surprised her by buying it for her.

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Copyright Julie Fortenberry, 2017, courtesy of Viking Books for Young Readers.

Lily put it on immediately and wore it on the way home. She wore it to tea parties with her toys, to family parties “when she wanted to be invisible. And when she wanted to be noticed.” When she wore it to her doctor’s appointment, the doctor spoke in meows. One day she lost her mask. Her dad made her a rabbit costume, and while that was fun for a while, Lily was happy to finally find her cat mask.

Lily wore her cat mask for many occasions. She wore it when she didn’t want to talk—like when she met her new teacher. “She liked to hide her face when she felt mean and couldn’t get nice.” She even blew out her birthday candles and made a wish wearing the mask. When school started, Lily was only allowed to wear her mask on the playground, but once in a while she put it on, hoping no one would notice. Then it was sometimes put in the teacher’s desk drawer.

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Copyright Julie Fortenberry, 2017, courtesy of Viking Books for Young Readers.

One day, the teacher made a very exciting announcement. The class was going to have a costume party, and everyone could wear a mask or dress up however they wanted. On the day of the party, there were characters, animals, and bugs of all kinds. But then Lily looked across the room and saw the best costume of all—another cat! During recess the new friends played on the swings and meowed happily together.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-lily's-cat-mask-lily-at-school

Copyright Julie Fortenberry, 2017, courtesy of Viking Books for Young Readers.

Julie Fortenberry’s story of a quiet, hesitant child who discovers a unique way of interacting with the world around her offers openhearted acceptance and understanding for children who are observant and thoughtful integrators. The reaction of Lily’s father, teacher, doctor, and family members to her cat mask is uplifting and provides excellent modeling. The straightforward storytelling highlights Lily’s sweet personality as well as the empathetic responses her costume elicits.

Fotenberry’s illustrations of adorable Lily and her experiences at home, at school, at the doctor’s office, and at the mall are full of joy. The colors are fresh and vibrant, but also calm and peaceful, mirroring Lily’s feelings when wearing her cat mask. The images demonstrate and validate Lily’s preference to watch and participate in events from her own distance.

Lily’s Cat Mask provides the opportunity for much discussion with children, especially about meeting people, Lily’s birthday wish, where Lily sits and plays at parties and at school, and when Lily makes a friend. The book is highly recommended for classroom and school libraries and would make a welcome addition to home bookshelves as well.

Ages 4 – 7

Viking Books for Young Readers, 2017 | ISBN 978-0425287996

Discover more about Julie Fortenberry and view a gallery of her books and artwork on her website!

Adopt a Cat Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-The-Cat's-Meow-Word-Search

The Cat’s Meow Word Search

 

There are so many beautiful types of cats! Can you find the names of twenty-one breeds in this printable The Cat’s Meow Word Search puzzle? Here’s the Solution!

Picture Book Review

June 2 – It’s National Oceans Month

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About the Holiday

The world’s oceans offer beauty, resources, and mystery. This month we celebrate these vast wonders while committing ourselves to their preservation. Pollution, climate change, and habitat destruction all threaten the fragile ecosystems that exist in and near the sea. We also remember the communities that rely on the oceans for economic stability as well as the men and women who work to protect the oceans and their unique creatures. 

Town Is by the Sea

Written by Joanne Schwartz | Illustrated by Sydney Smith

 

A little boy introduces readers to his home by the sea. It is so close that “it goes like this—house, road, grassy cliff, sea.” Early in the morning, his father leaves home and rides the tram that takes him underneath the ocean to his job as a coal miner. The little boy wakes later to the sounds of town—cars on the road, a dog barking, seagulls calling as they soar overhead. He rises from bed and gazes out the window at the vast sea, knowing that his “father is already deep down under that sea, digging for coal.”

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Image copyright Sydney Smith, text copyright Joanne Schwartz. Courtesy Groundwood Books.

After breakfast he goes next door to his friend’s house. They run to the playground where only two swings are left—“one for big kids and one for babies.” They swing so high they can see far in the distance where the “waves have white tips. And deep down under that sea,” he thinks, “his father digs for coal.” The boy returns home for lunch—a baloney sandwich, carrots, and milk—and then takes the grocery list his mother gives him and goes to the store, which is only a couple of blocks away.

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Image copyright Sydney Smith, text copyright Joanne Schwartz. Courtesy Groundwood Books

On the way back home, past the sparkling sea, the boy thinks about his father digging coal. He stops off at the graveyard to visit his grandfather, who was also a miner.  The boy says, “The air smells like salt. I can taste it on my tongue. My grandfather used to say, Bury me facing the sea b’y, I worked long and hard underground.” The grandfather’s stone is so close to the water that during storms, waves batter it. But the boy says, “That’s okay. My grandfather is used to storms.”

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Image copyright Sydney Smith, text copyright Joanne Schwartz. Courtesy Groundwood Books.

In the evening “it goes like this—” the boy’s father comes home from work with “black smudges on his face from working the coal.” Even though he is tired, he gives his son a smile and a hug. The little boy is happy to have him home “safe and sound.” The family eats dinner together and later the boy’s mother and father sit on the porch, talking. The boy falls asleep to the sound of the waves washing the shore. He thinks about his father and “the bright days of summer and the dark tunnels underground, knowing that one day, it will be his turn.

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Image copyright Sydney Smith, text copyright Joanne Schwartz. Courtesy Groundwood Books

In Joanne Schwartz’s graceful tribute to a coal-mining town settled on the coast, the sea is as much a character as the little boy and his family. Sustaining the townspeople over generations, the sea wakes them, feeds them, provides beauty and challenges, and in its fluid consistency mirrors the love and security of family. The repetition of the boy’s thoughts that wander to join his father in the dark tunnels throughout the day demonstrate both the strong bond between father and son and also the developing identity of the boy, who is also destined for those underwater tunnels. Schwartz’s sure, straightforward storytelling provides details that are familiar to all readers, making it a universal tale, rooted in the heart.

Sydney Smith’s ink and watercolor illustrations gorgeously depict the dual nature of this town built solidly on a rocky coastline and surviving on the dusty, back-breaking work of coal-mining while overlooking the constantly flowing wash of the sea. The sunny sky and daily activities of the boy give way every so often to two-page spreads of the black tunnel, where the miners push carts, drill, and recoil from a sudden rock slide. The ocean, rendered in sage and blue with pearlescent waves, is always in sight, the lifeblood of this special town.

Town Is by the Sea is a beautiful reminder of both the constancy and change inherent in life and would be a lovely addition to home libraries for quiet times and family time.

Ages 4 – 9

Groundwood Books, 2017 | ISBN 978-1554988716

View a portfolio of artwork by Sydney Smith on his tumblr!

National Oceans Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kinetic-sand-craft

Kinetic Sand

 

Sand is so much fun to play with at the beach that you just wish you could bring it home. Now you can! With this easy recipe you can create your own kinetic sand to form or let run through your fingers. It makes a great anti-stress reliever too!

Supplies

  • 1 cup sand
  • ½ tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon dish soap
  • Water as needed – about ¾ cup
  • Bin or bowl for mixing dry ingredients
  • Bowl for mixing dish soap and water

Directions

  1. In the bin combine the sand and cornstarch and mix well
  2. In the bowl combine the dish soap and water until the water is bubbly
  3. Slowly add the water mixture to the dry ingredients, mixing and adding water little-by-little until the desired consistency is reached. The grain of the sand will determine how much water is needed.
  4. The sand can be formed with cookie cutters, molds, hands, etc. and is strong enough to stack. Or its loose consistency makes it fun to drip, drabble, and let run through your fingers.

Picture Book Review

April 29 – National Go Birding Day

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About the Holiday

With all the bird activity going on right now as these little creatures build nests, lay eggs, and take care of new families, it’s a perfect time to go bird watching. The weather promises to be warm, and with a little stealth, a good sense of observation, and perhaps some binoculars, you should be able to spot quite a few lovely species. As the subject of today’s book found, if your home—or your hat—is inviting, feathered friends will come! So head out to a park, forest, beach—or even your backyard—and enjoy the beauty of the birds in your area.

Mr. Brown’s Fantastic Hat

By Ayano Imaí

 

Mr. Brown lived alone and, if you asked him, he’d tell you he liked it that way. He “had no friends and he didn’t want any.” If you were privy to his secret thoughts, however, you’d learn that Mr. Brown was actually very lonely. Mr. Brown liked to take long walks, and when he went out, he always wore his “smart,” distinctive hat. “One day while Mr. Brown was sleeping, a woodpecker flew down and started tapping a hole in his hat, thinking, ‘What a wonderful nest this hat would make!’”

When Mr. Brown woke up he was shocked to discover that a bird had moved into his hat. Someone living this close to him was not what Mr. Brown had in mind at all. Then to Mr. Brown’s dismay the “woodpecker soon told all his friends about the wonderful new home and invited them all to join him.” Soon Mr. Brown’s hat was full of holes—and birds! You might think a regular hat would not have enough room for so many residents—but Mr. Brown’s hat was no ordinary one. As more and more birds moved in, his hat grew taller and taller!

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Image copyright Ayano Imaí, courtesy of minedition, 2014

As the days went on Mr. Brown discovered that he was beginning to enjoy the birds’ singing and their company. Now Mr. Brown had renewed purpose in his daily walks: “He loved to show off his hat. Everywhere he went it was full of the music of singing birds.” People on the street took notice and wanted to emulate Mr. Brown. All over town people began wearing tall hats, “but the birds preferred to stay with Mr. Brown no matter how hard people tried to persuade them.”

One day as autumn settled in, Mr. Brown noticed that all the birds had flown away. He was sad and didn’t understand where they had gone or why they had left him. He wondered if he would see them again. The idea of a quiet life no longer held the appeal it once did, and Mr. Brown missed his friends. He tried to convince himself that he didn’t care that the birds had left, but he continued to fill the feeders and watch out for them every day.

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Image copyright Ayano Imaí, courtesy of minedition, 2014

Even though it was time for Mr. Brown to take a long winter’s nap, he tried to stay awake, worried that there would be no one to care for the birds if they returned. But nature took its course, and Mr. Brown fell into a deep sleep. One morning after a particularly vivid dream in which Mr. Brown could hear the birds singing, he woke to a tapping sound. He went to the door and peered out.

Spring had come and with it Mr. Brown’s hat had grown roots and sprouted branches and leaves. The old holes were filled with their previous tenants. The sight filled Mr. Brown with joy, and he finally could admit to himself that sharing his life with friends “was better than being alone.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-mr-brown's-fantastic-hat-hat-grows-into-tree

Image copyright Ayano Imaí, courtesy of minedition, 2014

Ayano Imaí’s gloriously beautiful book plumbs the nature of solitude and loneliness as well as the value of friendship with an honesty that is at once heartrending and uplifting. For so many quiet, introspective people—children and adults alike—navigating the world of small talk, casual relationships, and making friends is similar to traveling uncharted territory, where the language and mores are foreign. It can become easier to tell oneself that it doesn’t matter, when in reality it matters a great deal. Many times happiness comes when one finds their niche or, in some surprising way, a niche finds them.

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Image copyright Ayano Imaí, courtesy of midedition, 2014

Imaí tells the story of Mr. Brown and his fantastical hat in straightforward narration, but more profound meaning is revealed in her illustrations. Mr. Brown, it is discovered, is a brown bear who has taken on the aspects of humans. He walks upright, carries an umbrella and bag, owns a home, and wears a hat. His fur is even the same color as the townspeople’s clothing. But while he may be among people, he is not of them. His home has a grass floor which sprouts mushrooms and weeds; another weed pokes out from the bristles of his brush; a tree branch juts from a wall; and mushrooms share space with the laundry on the drying line.

Mr. Brown comes from nature and belongs with nature, so it is no surprise that the birds flock to him and prefer him to humans, who in an ironic twist long to be like Mr. Brown. Mr. Brown’s hat is also symbolic of one’s heart, in that as a person embraces friends, their ability to accept and love others continues to grow.

I especially like the ending of Mr. Brown’s Fantastic Hat, in which Mr. Brown stays true to himself. He does not suddenly discover his “wild” side and become someone that he is not. He is able to remain a quiet, introspective bear while also embracing his friends, his love for them, and his place in the world. He finds inner happiness and loved ones to share it with.

Ages 3 – 8 (and up)

minedition, 2014 | ISBN 978-9888240845

National Go Birding Day Activitycelebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-mr-browns-fantastic-hat-lets-go-birding-bird-species-word-search

Let’s Go Birding! Word Search Puzzle

 

You don’t need a pair of binoculars to find the twenty kinds of birds in this printable Let’s Go Birding! Word Search Puzzle. Here’s the Solution!

Picture Book Review

March 13 – National Napping Day

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About the Holiday

If there’s one day a year when you should be easy on yourself and take a nap when the feeling strikes, today is it! Held annually on the Monday after the spring time change, National Napping Day allows us to recapture that lost hour of sleep and reset our body clocks. So if you start feeling that can’t-keep-my-eyes-open  weariness, go ahead and kick off your shoes, get comfy, and….

Twenty Yawns

Written by Jane Smiley | Illustrated by Lauren Castillo

 

A little girl and her mom and dad are out for a day at the beach. Along the curving coastline they found the perfect spot to plant their umbrella and unfold their chairs. While Lucy dug a hole near the foaming waves, her mom and dad read in the shade of the umbrella. When the hole was big enough to hold her dad, Lucy “covered him up and they laughed and laughed.” Later, Lucy’s dad took her hand and swung “her into the sky” just as a wave crashed onto the shore.

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Image copyright Lauren Castillo, text copyright Jane Smiley. Courtesy of laurencastillo.com

In the afternoon Lucy, Mom, and Dad walked “all the way to the end of the beach,” stopping here and there to chase seagulls, fly a kite, and play. Coming back, Lucy rolled “down the soft warm dunes,” never wanting the day to end. Returning to their umbrella, the three built a sandcastle and headed for home only when the sun began to set. “Lucy yawned. Mom yawned. Dad yawned.” Everyone was ready to go to bed early.

When they reached home, “Lucy put on her pajamas inside out, climbed into bed, and yawned a big YAWN.” Lucy’s mom began to read her a story about a little boy named Fred. Lucy yawned and began to doze, but soon she no longer heard her mom’s voice. She peeked at her mom. “She was asleep!” Lucy stared out into her room. “The moon shone through the window, a silver veil that fell across the floor. Everything looked mysterious, even Lucy’s own hands on the bedspread.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-twenty-yawns-lucy-looking-at-toys

Image copyright Lauren Castillo, text copyright Jane Smiley. Courtesy of laurencastillo.com

Suddenly, all the people in her pictures—Grandma, Grandpa, Aunt Elizabeth, Mom, Dad, and even Fred in the book on the floor—seemed to be looking at her. Lucy wanted her teddy bear, Molasses. She crept out of her room, past her dad sleeping in a living room chair, and over to the bookcase, where Molasses hid under a pile of toys. As Lucy pulled at Molasses, Hornet the giraffe, Juno the horse, Mathilda the alligator, Frank the kangaroo, and his baby, Leonard all tumbled to the floor.

As Lucy started back to her room, she saw her toys watching her. They looked so lonely. One by one she carried them to her bed and “dropped them in a patch of moonlight.” She tucked them in and gave each a kiss. She thought they all “looked sleepy and happy.” Lucy cuddled up next to her toys and yawned. They in turn yawned too. So did Grandma, Grandpa, Aunt Elizabeth, Mom, Dad, and even Fred. Lucy hugged Molasses tight, “gave one last YAWN…and fell asleep.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-twenty-yawns-lucy-kissing-toys-goodnight

Image copyright Lauren Castillo, text copyright Jane Smiley. Courtesy of laurencastillo.com

Jane Smiley’s Twenty Yawns perfectly captures the deep-down happy tiredness after a day in the sun. While Mom and Dad surrender to sleep, Lucy’s awareness is heightened in the strangely quiet house and can only be alleviated by sharing her bedtime routine with her stuffed animal friends. Beautiful lyrical passages paint word pictures of the tropical setting and Lucy’s imagination, while Lucy’s tender care for her toys replicates the love her parents show her.

Lauren Castillo’s blue sea and golden beach glows with the warmth of the sun and a family’s togetherness. Lucy and her dad play in the surf, Lucy’s parents walk hand-in-hand as Lucy runs after seagulls on their walk, and they all help build a sandcastle. Back home in their cozy house, Lucy and her mom gaze out a window as their house is cast in shadow by the setting sun. Tall palm trees wave against a blue, purple, pink, peach, and yellow sky. Little Lucy is adorable as she plays in the dunes, creeps through her sleeping house, and kisses her toys goodnight. Young readers will contentedly join Lucy and her family in their fun day as well as their yawny snoozing. 

Little ones who wonder if there are indeed 20 yawns in the book will be rewarded by counting each sigh.

Twenty Yawns is a sweet, quiet book for naptimes, bedtimes, indoor days, and any time when a little relaxation is just what’s needed.

Ages 2 – 7

Two Lions, 2016 | ISBN 978-1477826355

You can connect with Jane Smiley on Facebook.

Learn more about Lauren Castillo, her books, and her art on her website.

Napping Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-snuggle-buddy-craft

Sleepy Buddy Craft

 

It’s easy to make a one-of-a-kind sleepy buddy for naptime or any time. With just a few materials and your own creativity, you’ll soon have a new friend to snuggle with!

Supplies

  • 1 8-inch by 11-inch piece of fleece in the color or your choice for the body (or scraps if you have some from an earlier project). A larger piece of fleece can be used to make a larger buddy
  • 1 5-inch by 8-inch piece of fleece in the color or your choice for the hair (or scraps if you have some from an earlier project)
  • 1 small piece of fleece or other material for a pocket, clothes, or blanket
  • Small scraps of fleece or other material for the face
  • Fiber Fill
  • Thread and sewing needle OR fabric glue
  • Scissors

Directions

To Make the Body

  1. Fold the large piece of fleece in half lengthwise and sew along the open side and along the bottom. Alternatively, if using a larger size piece of fleece, fold upward and sew or glue the two sides closed.
  2. Turn the form inside out

To Make the Hair

  1. Cut a piece of fleece as wide as your buddy and about 7 – 8 inches long
  2. Fold the fleece lengthwise
  3. Insert both ends of the fleece into the opening at the top of the body
  4. Sew or glue the opening shut, securing the hair
  5. Cut strips about ¼-inch wide from the top of the hair to close to where the hair is sown into the body

To Make a Pocket or Clothes

  1. Cut a piece of fleece in the shape of a pocket, shirt, pants, diaper, or blanket
  2. Sew or glue the pocket or clothes to the buddy

To Make the Face

  1. Cut eyes, a nose, and a mouth in whatever way you would like your buddy to look. (My buddy is sleeping.)
  2. Sew or glue the face to the buddy
  3. Snuggle up!

Picture Book Review

 

March 1 – Horse Protection Day

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About the Holiday

Established in 2005 by pet lifestyle expert and animal behaviorist/advocate Colleen Page, Horse Protection Day raises awareness of horses that are treated cruelly or are unwanted and abandoned or euthanized. Horses are loving pets and work animals with a proud history of crucial participation in the building and farming of our nation and others. To honor today’s holiday, consider donating to the cause of protecting horses or—if you have the land and means—to adopting a homeless horse.

Tony

Written by Ed Galing | Illustrated by Erin E. Stead

 

Tony “was such a wonderful horse.” Every morning, long before the sun came up, Tom would hitch him to the wagon and they would deliver milk, butter, and eggs to customers around town. “Tony was all white, large, sturdy, with wide gentle eyes and a ton of love….” While Tom jumped out of the wagon and carefully carried the products to waiting doorsteps, Tony stood silently by.

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Image copyright Erin E. Stead, courtesy of us.macmillan.com

At one house the lights were always already burning even though it was only 3:00 a.m. The occupant of the house would come out and gently pat Tony, whose eyes shone as he bowed his head to receive the daily affection. Before moving on to the next house, Tom and the narrator always exchanged pleasantries. “Wouldn’t miss Tony for the world,” the customer would respond, adding compliments for Tony. 

These kind words made Tom smile as he seated himself once again in the wagon, and while the narrator watched them continue down the street, he “knew that Tony did a little dance.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-tony-pulling-wagon

Image copyright Erin E. Stead, courtesy of us.macmillan.com

Ed Galing’s touching memoir to a special horse and a daily routine that brought camaraderie and comfort to the story’s narrator reminds readers that happiness can be found in the simplest of actions, and profound love in the connections between people and animals. Implicit in this minimalist snapshot of a short, early morning meeting are all the mornings—perhaps years-worth—carried out in exactly the same fashion that have forged the bond between Tony and the narrator.

Underlining the story is the basis for this bond—the affection and respect the narrator gives Tony and receives in return. It is perhaps not too much of a stretch to imagine a young child similarly encouraged by such compliments. The early morning setting (also prime time for many babies) lends a dreamy mystery to the tale—who is the narrator, why are they up so early, and how old are they? (certain illustrations give intriguing clues)—that children will enjoy imagining and discussing.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-tony-houses

Image copyright Erin E. Stead, courtesy of us.macmillan.com

Erin E. Stead’s pencil-drawn illustrations, beautifully introduced by a page of vellum that sets the tone, are quiet, peaceful vignettes of Tony as he hitches up in the morning and takes Tom on his rounds. Bathed only in the glow of the light over the barn, a street light, or the light from the narrator’s open door, Tony makes his way through the dim streets with graceful dignity. Tony is gorgeously and expressively drawn.

As he waits outside the narrator’s house, Tony’s head is turned toward the doorway in expectation, and again as he pulls away from the curb, he gives one last look back. Children will love seeing the way milk and other farm products were once delivered and will respond to the gauzy sage and amber backdrop that makes Tony a perfect quiet time or bedtime book.

Tony is gentle, heartwarming triumph and a wonderful book to spur family-history stories. It would be a welcome addition to any child’s bookshelf.   

Ages 3 – 6

Roaring Brook Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-1626723085

Learn more about Erin E. Stead and view a gallery of her illustration work on her website!

National Horse Protection Day

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Horse Coloring Page

 

Horses are such beautiful creatures! Enjoy this printable Horse Coloring Page!

Picture Book Review

January 30 – Chinese New Year

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About the Holiday

Chinese New Year celebrations began on the eve of January 28, ushering in the Year of the Rooster. Also known as the Spring Festival, the New Year is a time for festivities including lion and dragon dances, fireworks, visiting friends and relatives, family meals, and special decorations.The New Year is the busiest travel season of the year as family members return home to spend the holiday with loved ones. The Chinese New Year celebrations  end on the 15th day of the new year with the Lantern Festival.  People born in the Year of the Rooster are said to be honest, energetic, intelligent, flexible, and confident.

A New Year’s Reunion

Written by Yu Li-Qiong | Illustrated by Zhu Cheng-Liang

 

Maomao’s papa works far away as a house builder and can only return home once a year—during Chinese New Year. Today, Maomao and her mother wake up early and get ready because “Papa is coming home.” When Papa arrives, Maomao peers at her father from a distance. He seems unfamiliar, and when he picks her up in his arms she calls for her mama in alarm. But Papa has come with gifts—a hat for Maomao and a coat for Mama.

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Image copyright Yu Li-Qiong, 2011, courtesy of Candlewick Press

After catching up and eating lunch, Papa takes Maomao with him to the barber shop, where he gets a haircut and a shave. As Maomao watches, the Papa in the mirror is getting more like Papa the way he used to be.” Back home, Papa helps the family decorate their house and later they make sticky rice balls for the next day. “Papa buries a coin in one of the balls and says, ‘Whoever finds the ball with the coin will have good luck.’” As she falls asleep to the whispers of her parents, Maomao hears firecrackers snapping in the night air.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-new-year's-reunion-making-sticky-rice-balls

Image copyright Yu Li-Qiong, 2011, text copyright Zhu Cheng-Liang, 2013. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

In the morning while eating the sticky rice balls, Maomao bites down on something hard. “‘The fortune coin! It’s the fortune coin!’” she exclaims. Her papa tells her to put it in her pocket so that the good luck will not escape. She places it in her coat pocket and then they all join the crowd in the square going on holiday visits. On the way she meets her friend Dachun, who shows her the red envelope he has gotten. Maomao proudly shows Dachun her lucky coin.

On the second day of New Year’s while Papa is doing chores around the house, he takes his little daughter to the roof. From here she can see Dachun’s house and hear the dragon dance over on Main Street. Maomao stands on tiptoe as tall as she can, but she can’t see the parade. Papa swings her onto his shoulders. “‘Now can you see it?’ he asks. ‘Yes, I can. They’re coming!’” she answers with excitement.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-new-year's-reunion-visiting-in-square

Image copyright Yu Li-Qiong, 2011, courtesy of Candlewick Press

The third day of New Year’s brings snow, and Maomao, Dachun, and the other neighborhood children build a tall snowman and have a snowball fight in the courtyard. When Maomao comes in at the end of the day, she reaches into her coat pocket, but her fortune coin is gone! She runs outside, but the courtyard is covered in snow, and she can’t find it anywhere. Papa tries to give her another coin, but it isn’t the same.

Later, feeling miserable, Maomao climbs into bed and takes off her jacket. Suddenly, she hears a clink as something falls to the floor. “‘It’s the coin! My fortune coin!’” she cries. ‘‘Papa come quick—come and see! I haven’t lost the fortune coin. It’s been with me all the time.’” Maomao falls asleep happy. The next morning, she wakes to see Mama packing Papa’s things. Soon, he will return to work. He crouches down and with a promise to bring Maomao a doll hugs her tight. But Maomao shakes her head. “‘I want to give you something…,’” she says. She puts the coin in Papa’s hand and tells him, “‘Here, take this. Next time you’re back, we can bury it in the sticky rice ball again!’” Papa is silent and gives Maomao another hug before they say goodbye for another year.

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Image copyright Yu Li-Qiong, 2011, courtesy of Candlewick Press

Yu Li-Qiong’s touching story of a little girl’s reunion with the father she rarely sees is a heartfelt reminder that love continues over miles and days or months. Just as the fortune coin was with Maomao all the time, Maomao’s papa is always in her heart and she in his. Little ones, especially, will be captivated by the day-to-day activities of Maomao’s New Year festivities and appreciate the importance of her coin. Li-Qiong’s sweet story, filled with homey details of child and parent interactions, resonates beyond the holiday theme of the story and is a beautiful book for the many children who have parents who travel frequently with their jobs.

The quiet grace and wonder of Zhu Cheng-Liang’s gouache illustrations perfectly convey the loving relationship between father and daughter and the excitement of a family being together after a long absence. Although the Chinese New Year provides a frame for the story, Cheng-Liang’s paintings predominately focus on the day-to-day activities Maomao and her papa share—getting a haircut, fixing the house, cooking, meeting and playing with friends, and special hugs—emphasizing the universal scope of the story. The enchantment of the New Year’s festivities shines in a two-page spread where a fiery red-and-orange dragon puppet cavorts over the village bridge followed by a throng of people as others watch from homes and windows. Adorable Maomao may raise a lump in readers throats as she hugs her papa and gives him her treasured fortune coin.

A brief Author’s Note following the text pays tribute to the millions of migrant workers in China who often do not see their families except once each year.

A New Year’s Reunion would be a welcome book on any child’s bookshelf as a reminder that love overcomes any absence, long or short.

Ages 3 – 7

Candlewick Press, 2011 | ISBN 978-076366748

Chinese New Year Activity

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Lantern Festival Coloring Page

 

Chinese New Year festivities end with a brilliant festival of lights. Enjoy this printable Lantern Festival Coloring Page to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

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You can find A New Year’s Reunion at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

January 10 – It’s International Quality of Life Month and Q & A with Deborah Sosin

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About the Holiday

How one achieves their definition of a good quality of life may differ for every person, but in general it encompasses being happy and satisfied with one’s relationships, work, living conditions, and self. Whether you find happiness and quality of life in outdoor or indoor pursuits, with others or alone, at work or at home, this month’s holiday gives you time to get in touch with your inner quiet place and reflect on changes or improvements to bring you more peace and happiness in life.

Charlotte and the Quiet Place

Written by Deborah Sosin | Illustrated by Sara Woolley

 

Charlotte is a girl who likes quiet who lives in a noisy world. Everywhere she goes, it seems, it’s impossible to escape from sounds that disturb her peace. At home the hallway creaks where “the floorboards groan,” the living room is like an arcade where the “TV bellows and blares,” and the kitchen is filled with Otto’s barks for his dinner. Even in Charlotte’s bedroom, “which is supposed to be a quiet place, the old steam radiator hisses, whistles, and whines. Where can Charlotte find a quiet place?”

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Image copyright Sara Woolley, text copyright Deborah Sosin, Courtesy of sarawoolley.com

When Charlotte goes to school, things are no better. In the classroom kids are boisterous and bells ring; the lunchroom echoes with clattering trays and scuffing chairs; and the playground blares with big voices and stomping feet but also with the little squeaks and rattle of the swings. “Even in the library, which is supposed to be a quiet place, the children giggle, yammer, and yell. Where can Charlotte find a quiet place?”

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Image copyright Sara Woolley, text copyright Deborah Sosin, Courtesy of sarawoolley.com

The outside world resounds with the din of jackhammers, horns, sirens, shouts, cars, music, and the “screeches, rumbles, and roars” of the subway. “Even in the park, which is supposed to be a quiet place, the leaf blower buzzes, blusters, and hums.” Charlotte puts her hands to her ears. “‘Nooo!’” she cries, “‘I have to find a quiet place!’”

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Image copyright Sara Woolley, text copyright Deborah Sosin, Courtesy of sarawoolley.com

On Saturday Charlotte takes her dog for a walk in the park. Suddenly, Otto spies a squirrel and takes off running, wrenching his leash out of Charlotte’s hand. She chases after him down a hill, over a bridge, into the middle of a grove of trees. Out of breath, Charlotte and Otto sit beneath a tree. Gasping, Charlotte’s “belly rises up and down, up and down. Her breath goes in and out, in and out. Hooooo ahhhhh. Hooo ahhh.”

Slowly, Charlotte’s breath comes easier and “her mind slows down.” In this state, she discovers another, even quieter place. It is a place deep inside where her breath is soft and her “thoughts are hushed and low.” It is “a place as quiet as the small silence on the very last page of her favorite book, the silence right after ‘The End.’”

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Image copyright Sara Woolley, text copyright Deborah Sosin, Courtesy of sarawoolley.com

In a little while, Charlotte and Otto leave the grove, but now whenever home or school or the neighborhood is too loud, Charlotte remembers where she can find a quiet place. She simply closes her eyes and pays attention to that place deep in her belly and deep in her mind—“that quiet place inside.”

For so many children the world is a blaring, clattering place where their thoughts are drowned out by the noises around them. Deborah Sosin’s award-winning Charlotte and the Quiet Place validates these feelings and offers children a way to discover inner peace wherever they are. As a tonic to today’s hyper-stimulated environment, kids and adults alike will benefit from the method of mindful reflection Sosin presents. Sosin’s combination of evocative verbs and repetition makes the story fresh and an excellent read-aloud while also mirroring the sounds that are a part of our everyday life.

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Image copyright Sara Woolley, text copyright Deborah Sosin, Courtesy of sarawoolley.com

Sara Woolley’s beautiful watercolor illustrations vividly depict not only Charlotte’s world but the sounds that disturb her peace. Amid the fully realized home, school, and neighborhood environments, complete with realistic details kids will recognize, sharp cracks of equipment, blaring bells and whistles, high-pitched voices, and other noises spark the page. Portrayals of Charlotte, her hands over her ears and her eyes sad, express her distress in a way kids will understand. When Charlotte finds the grove of trees in which she first experiences inner peace, Woolley’s color palette turns softer, with peaceful tones of green, blue, and yellow where, previously, “louder” purples, reds, and golds predominated.

Charlotte and the Quiet Place is a very welcomed book for those times when peace seems elusive and will give comfort to children who prefer quiet places and have more introverted natures. The book would make a wonderful addition to all children’s book shelves as well as to school and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Parallax Press, 2015 | ISBN 978-1941529027

Visit Charlotte and the Quiet Place on her own webstite! You’ll find resources, images and videos, news about events, and more!

Discover more about Deborah Sosin, her writing for children and adults, writing workshops, mindfulness services, and more on her website!

View a gallery of artwork for books, comics,  and other illustration work by Sara Woolley on her website!

International Quality of Life Activity

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Share a Smile Cards

 

Life is better when you share smiles with those you know—and those you don’t! Try it! When you’re out today at school or other places, look someone in the eye and smile. You’ll probably get a smile back—and you can be sure that you will have made the other person’s and your day better!

Here are some Smile Cards that you can share. Why not slip one into your dad’s pocket or your mom’s purse, put one in your friend’s backpack, or sneak one onto your teacher’s desk? You can even leave one somewhere for a stranger to find! Have fun sharing your smiles, and see how much better you and the others around you feel!

Click here to print your Share a Smile Cards.

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Photo by Kevin Day Photography

Q&A with Author Deborah Sosin

 

Today, I’m thrilled to talk with Debbie Sosin, a writer, editor, and clinical social worker who specializes in mindfulness-based psychotherapy, about her first picture book, her choral singing, and how kids respond to her presentations.

In your career you write for adults and children, work within the publishing industry, provide publicity services, and teach. How did you get started? Did you always want to write?

I kept a diary starting at around age ten and always loved writing for school or for fun. I started getting more serious about writing for publication in the past ten years, studied at GrubStreet, attended the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, and eventually went back to school to get an MFA in Creative Writing. I wish I had started earlier, but it’s been rewarding to finally follow my true passion.

What influenced you to write Charlotte and the Quiet Place?

I wrote the book as an independent project as part of my MFA studies at Lesley University. They say “write what you know,” so I thought about my childhood growing up in kind of a noisy house, where my brother played the piano, my father had a radio and TV on simultaneously, and my mother was on the phone a lot. And then I thought about my longtime meditation practice and how tuning in to my breathing has helped me find a quiet place inside. So I wanted to write a story about children finding their own quiet place inside themselves.

You give school presentations on mindfulness and your picture book Charlotte and the Quiet Place for various ages. Is there an experience from any of these that you would like to share?

School visits are my favorite part of being an author! No matter what age the students are, they love to help me tell the story by repeating the “noisy” sounds and the “hoo ahh” breathing sounds. We usually do a few calming/breathing exercises together and, without fail, even the squirmiest group will settle into a beautiful, shared, often profound silence. Once, when asked where Charlotte finds her quiet place, one kindergarten girl said, “In her belly and in her brain, where it’s calm.” Many kids get that idea. What could be better? I also love showing them my early scribbles and illustrator Sara Woolley’s wonderful sketches and storyboards, and sharing the step-by-step process of publishing the book, from concept to completion

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Deborah Sosin reads Charlotte and the Quiet Place to students at Newton Montessori School. Photo courtesy of Newton Montessori School.

Can you talk a little about mindfulness and how it can benefit children?

Mindfulness has become a catchword these days, but my favorite definition is from Dr. Amy Saltzman: “Noticing what’s happening right here and now, with a friendly, curious attitude, then choosing what to do next.” Many top-notch scientific studies show that mindfulness can help kids with concentration, attention, self-soothing, anxiety, depression, sleep, mood, compassion, confidence…I could go on. Compared with adults, most kids are naturally mindful, that is “in the moment,” but kids do get stressed out and worried about the past or the future, so mindfulness helps. I sometimes worry that parents and teachers might use it for disciplinary reasons (“Enough! Go be mindful in the corner!”), which is not the point. It’s a whole-life practice, not a technique or intervention. And, as the book shows, mindfulness can lead us to a quiet place inside that we can access whenever we want.

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Students at the Cottage Montessori School in Arlington, Massachusetts play the Silence Game with director Karen Wagner, watching the sand in the hourglass. Photo courtesy of Stacey Moriarty.

Can you tell me a little about your work with Grub Street, a creative writing center in Boston?

I started taking classes at GrubStreet in 2008; my first class was “Six Weeks, Six Essays,” and from that class, I helped form a longtime regular writing group. I started blogging soon after and then submitted personal essays for publication, with some good luck. GrubStreet is a fantastic, inclusive community, with excellent faculty and a huge range of motivated, smart, and enthusiastic students, from beginners to veterans. After a few years, I applied to teach classes there and am proud to be on their instructor and consultant rosters now.

You are an accomplished choral singer, having performed at Lincoln Center, the United Nations, Boston’s Symphony Hall, and on an international tour. When did you begin choral singing? Do you have an anecdote you’d like to share from any of your experiences?

I’ve been singing my whole life and have been in choruses since elementary school. Singing with other people is extremely gratifying and, after all the “verbal”-type things I do, including my work as a psychotherapist, it’s a lovely change of pace. I spent about 15 years in the Zamir Chorale of Boston, which specializes in Jewish choral music. Our tours to Eastern Europe, Italy, and Israel were extraordinary. In 1999, when we sang at Auschwitz and Terezin, the sites of former concentration camps, it was hard to keep our emotions in check, but it felt important to revive the voices of the Jewish people that the Nazis had attempted to quell. A PBS documentary film, “Zamir: Jewish Voices Return to Poland,” chronicled our tour that summer. I think it’s still available through the Zamir Chorale website.

What’s the best part about writing for children?

After having focused almost exclusively on nonfiction for most of my writing career, it’s been wonderful to work in the very precise and rich world of picture-book writing with so many lovely, funny, imaginative, and supportive fellow writers I’ve met through SCBWI and the amazing Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, Mass.

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Debbie’s niece Mollie and a friend draw a noisy thing at The Oblong Bookstore event. Photo courtesy of AM Media Group

What’s up next for you?

I have a couple of Picture Book manuscripts in progress and I’m participating in Storystorm (formerly PiBoIdMo) this month, so I hope to generate more ideas and get some new work out there soon.

Since this is a holiday-themed blog, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you at least one question about holidays, so…

What is your favorite holiday and why?

Thanksgiving is probably my favorite, as it means getting together with my family, which is now spread far and wide, and having an opportunity to express our gratitude.

Thanks, Debbie, for stopping by and chatting! I wish you all the best with Charlotte and the Quiet Place and all of your future endeavors!

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You can find Charlotte and the Quiet Place at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Parallax Press |Porter Square Books (signed copies available)

Connect with Deborah Sosin on

Her Website | charlotteandthequietplace.com | Facebook | Twitter

Picture Book Review