May 4 – National Teacher Day

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About the Holiday

This school year has been like no other – for students and teachers. Switching from in-person, in-the-classroom learning to virtual learning and zoom classes to hybrid models has been a head-spinning experience for all. Yet our teachers have adapted, designing new lesson plans and devising creative ways to engage their students online. This week (National Teacher Appreciation Week) and today in particular, we honor and thank the teachers that make a difference in our and our children’s lives. Teachers open the world to their students by instilling a love of learning through their enthusiasm, caring, and creativity. Before you move on to a new class next year, don’t forget to tell your teacher or teachers how much they’ve meant to you. You can find 51 ways to thank your teacher on Waterford.org and a Teacher Appreciation Week toolkit, complete with virtual and printable thank-you cards and certificates and other ideas to download on the National PTA website.

I Wish You Knew/Ojalá Supieras

Written by Jackie Azúa Kramer | Illustrated by Magdalena Mora

 

As a little girl approaches her school building, she tells the reader, “Our school wraps around a hundred-year-old oak tree.” The students mark the passage of time by the changes in the leaves. The school has a garden with cabbages, tomatoes, and sunflowers that the girl’s father helped her class plant. “One day,” the girl says, her father told her “that because he wasn’t born here like me, he must return to his native country.”

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Image copyright Magdalena Mora, 2021, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2021. Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

Before he left he hugged her and said, “Te quiero mucho, Estrella…my little star.” He promises to come back one day “to see the sunflowers bloom. Until then, Estrella skips between the tall flowers and “think[s] of his smile.” In her thoughts she addresses her teacher: “I wish you knew that when I forget my homework or sit alone at lunch or cry over little things, it’s because I miss him.” And it is not only these things that have changed. Everything at home, for her mother and her brother, too, is different.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-i-wish-you-knew-garden

Image copyright Magdalena Mora, 2021, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2021. Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

As Estrella’s teacher enters the classroom one day, she says she is also proud that her school surrounds the old oak tree. Her favorite place is in her classroom, where her students are busy and curious. She also loves to watch them play on the playground. The students may not realize it, but the teacher sees when they are sad and understands when they are without their homework. She wishes they knew that “they are not alone.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-i-wish-you-knew-home

Image from Ojalá Supieras, copyright Magdalena Mora, 2021, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2021. Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

The teacher starts a new tradition, a “sharing circle called I Wish You Knew.” There the kids can tell their classmates how they are feeling, what they’re thinking about, and other “secrets” they are ready to share. Estrella’s teacher lets her students know she’s there if they need help. One student reveals that they are “hungry a lot.” Another student’s mom is in the military and another explains that he lives in a shelter.

But not all of the children’s sharing is sad. Estrella likes to talk about all the things her dad taught her and what they did together. And while she waits to be together with her father again, she and her friends plant more sunflower seeds and “wait for them to bloom.”

I Wish You Knew is also available in a Spanish Version with the title Ojalá Supieras.

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Image copyright Ojalá Supieras, Magdalena Mora, 2021, text copyright Jackie Azúa Kramer, 2021. Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

In her moving story Jackie Azúa Kramer embraces the many children affected by hardships, whose parents are absent for a variety of reasons, or who live with difficult family situations. Through Estrella, whose father has been deported, Kramer dives deep into the hearts of children grappling with strong feelings, hunger, homelessness, and otherwise disrupted home lives while still trying to succeed in school. Using “I wish you knew” from a variety of points of view, Kramer first draws children into Estrella’s confession as she directly addresses the reader. With the tenor of a confidant, Estella gives readers a tour of the favorite parts of her school. It is here, among the sunflowers that she feels comfortable talking about her father. During lunch, Estrella wishes her teacher knew what had happened at home.

The perspective then shifts to the teacher who shows her favorite parts of the school while revealing that, while she may not know the exact situation, she does recognize when something is wrong and hopes her students understand she is there to empathize and help. These two storylines merge when the teacher establishes the sharing circle and three students share their wishes straightforwardly, addressing the reader as much as their teacher and creating a poignant reading experience for all. Echoing the resilience of children, Kramer ends her story with a message of hope.

Magdalena Mora uses warm earth tones in her evocative mixed-media illustrations, mirroring the ideas of growth and renewal found in Kramer’s story. Estrella’s school building is a green-and-glass structure that looks out on the old oak tree, a symbol of steadfastness and strength for the students and teachers alike. The events and situations the children share are rendered in gray, giving them a feeling of distance from the children’s school day. Mora’s stylized sunflowers grow in profusion, framing the students and teacher on various pages and appearing in the background on others, an ever-present reminder that friendship and understanding are nearby and that better days lie ahead.

A moving story of empathy, sharing, and kindness, I Wish You Knew is a must for classrooms and is highly recommended for home and public library collections to help children and adults initiate difficult discussions about emotions and events or experiences affecting their lives.

Ages 4 – 7 

Roaring Brook Press | ISBN 978-1250226303 (I Wish You Knew) | ISBN 978-1250814784 (Ojalá Supieras)

Discover more about Jackie Azúa Kramer and her books on her website.

To learn more about Magdalena Mora, her books, and her art on her website.

I Wish You Knew Giveaway

I’m happy to be teaming with Jackie Azúa Kramer in a giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of I Wish You Knew written by Jackie Azúa Kramer | illustrated by Magdalena Mora

To enter:

This giveaway is open from May 4 to May 10 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on May 11. 

Prizing provided by Jackie Azúa Kramer.

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-i-wish-you-knew-cover      celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ojalá-supieras-cover

You can find I Wish You Knew at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

You can find Ojalá Supieras here

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order I Wish You Knew from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Order Ojalá Supieras here

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 12 – It’s Young Readers Week

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About the Holiday

Established in 1989 by the Center for the Book and Pizza Hut as a way to celebrate reading and invite kids and adults to discover the fun and benefits of reading, Young Readers Week is a favorite on any book-lovers’ calendar. Bringing together businesses, schools, families, and libraries, the Book It! program offers encouragement and resources to get kids excited about reading. To learn more and find activities, printables, reading trackers, and other resources for schools and families, visit the Book It! program website.

Thank you to Roaring Brook Press for sending me a digital copy of Ronan the Librarian for review consideration. All opinions about the books are my own. I’m excited to be teaming with Tara Luebbe in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

Ronan the Librarian

Written by Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie | Illustrated by Victoria Maderna

 

With his skills for invading, raiding, and trading, Ronan was a great leader of his barbarian community. “Ronan was legendary for finding the best pillage… until one raid went horribly wrong.” The traders took one look at the book he’d brought back and turned away. After all “barbarians didn’t read books.” Ronan contemplated all the ways he could use this “useless thing” and had finally settled on toilet paper, when he caught sight of a picture and was hooked.

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Image copyright Victoria Maderna, 2020, text copyright Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie, 2020. Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

He was still reading the next morning when his raiding partners came to find out where he was. “‘Ronan, you dunga! What are you doing?’ asked Gunnar.” When they found out he was reading, Helgi thought he’d gone berserk. So he joined the crew on the day’s raid, but once they were done, he didn’t stick around for the trading, but hurried home to read some more.

Now whenever Ronan raided took the books while the other barbarians hauled away the gold and silver and jewels. Now he read at home and on the job, and his collection of books grew so enormous that formed tall, precarious stacks all over his house.

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Image copyright Victoria Maderna, 2020, text copyright Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie, 2020. Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

But Ronan was not only a reading barbarian, he was a smart barbarian. He took all of those books and built a library. How did the other barbarians like his grand opening? They loved… the refreshments. “‘Uff da! I must conquer my own village,’ he declared.”

One day he looked around at his busy villagers and began to read a thrilling tale about Odin aloud. But this story didn’t make a dent in the din. The next morning, Ronan went to his library only to find that it had been invaded… and raided. Barbarians young and old sat on the floor with book, clung to the shelves with books, and clutched armloads of books. It turned out that “barbarians do read books.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ronan-the-librarian-storytime

Image copyright Victoria Maderna, 2020, text copyright Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie, 2020. Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie’s clever old, old world tale will delight both avid and reluctant readers with hilarious dialogue, rambunctious characters, and enough invading and raiding to satisfy any little barbarian. Ronan’s conversion from raider to reader—complete with puns and fun-to-say words like “dunga” and “uff da”—is sure to entice reluctant readers to discover the joy of reading, and book lovers will cheer when the villagers embrace the new library.

Victoria Maderna’s laugh-out-loud illustrations shine with piles of gold, silver, jewels and other shiny pillage as well as kid-pleasing details that will bring on plenty of giggles. Late-night book-sneakers will appreciate the images of Ronan so busy reading in bed that he forgets to put on pajamas or even take off his shoes and trying to share his enthusiasm with his fellow barbarians. These long-haired villagers, decked out in fur and spikes and sporting Viking helmets are a tough bunch who ride wild boars to pillage, sail the wild seas, and… wear fuzzy wild boar slippers.

Kids will love keeping an eye out for the page-nibbling goat and Ronan’s constant companion (a raven that alludes to Poe’s famous poem?). Maderna’s dramatic rendering of the story of Odin that so fascinates the barbarians may well inspire children to invade their own libraries—just like a barbarian.

A treasure for all young readers, Ronan the Librarian will be a favorite for rollicking story times and is highly recommended for home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Roaring Brook Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1250189219

Discover more about sisters Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie and their books on their website.

To learn more about Victoria Maderna, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Ronan the Librarian Giveaway

I’m thrilled to be teaming up with Tara Luebbe in a giveaway of

One (1) signed copy of Ronan the Librarian, written by Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie | illustrated by Victoria Maderna

To enter:

  • Follow Celebrate Picture Books
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet
  • Bonus: Reply with what you love about your library for extra entry. Each reply earns you one extra entry

This giveaway is open from November 12 to November 17 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on November 18. 

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | Prizing provided by Tara Leubbe

Young Readers Week Activity

CPB - Bookmobile

Bookmobile Craft

 

Bookmobiles are love on wheels! If libraries are some of your favorite places, you’ll like making this bookmobile from a recycled box! You can even use it as a desk organizer!

Supplies

  • Printable Book Shelves and Sign Template
  • Cardboard box, 16-oz pasta or other recyclable boxes work well (I used a 5” x 7 ¼ -inch pasta box)
  • Small wooden spools or wheels
  • Paint
  • Scissors
  • X-acto knife
  • Strong glue
  • Paint brush

Directions

1.Gently pull the box apart at the seam and lie flat with the unprinted side facing up

2. To Make the Awning:

  • On one of the wide sides of the box, measure a rectangle 1 inch from the top of the box, leaving at least 1 ¼ inches at the bottom of the box and 1 ¼ inches on both sides
  • With the x-acto knife or scissors cut the sides and bottom of the rectable, leaving the top  uncut
  • Paint the top and underside of the awning (if you want to make stripes on the awning lay strips of tape side by side across the awning. Remove every other strip of tape. Paint the open stripes one color of paint. When the paint dries replace the tape over the paint and remove the tape from the unpainted stripes. Paint those stripes a different color.)

3. Paint the rest of the box on the unprinted side any way you like, let dry

4. Cut the Printable Book Shelf template to fit the size of your window opening, leaving at least a ½ inch margin all around

5. Tape the book shelf to the inside of the window

6. Reconstruct the box, making the original seam an inside flap

7. Glue the flap and sides together

8. If using small spools for wheels, paint them black. Let dry

9. Glue the wheels to the bottom of the box

10. Attach the Bookmobile sign, found on the printable template, above the awning

To Make a Desk Organizer from the Bookmobile, cut an opening in the top of the bookmobile with the x-acto knife or a scissor

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You can find Ronan the Librarian at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

November 1 – Zero Tasking Day

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About the Holiday

It’s time to change the clocks, but this time it’s the good one – the one where we gain an extra hour of sleep. Does the extra time leave you restless, feeling like you should get more done during the day? Nancy Christie, a self-help coach and better-life blogger founded Zero Tasking Day to encourage people to relax, take care of themselves, and live their best life. So today take some time to really appreciate all the favorite things in your life—like the girl in today’s book. 

Now

By Antoinette Portis

A girl, barefoot and with her arms raised high, runs through a field, feeling the exhilaration of the wind on her face. “This is my favorite breeze,” she says. She finds an apple-red maple leaf, which, at this moment, is her favorite. At the beach, she has dug hole after hole, but her favorite is the one she is making right now.

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Copyright Antoinette Portis, 2017, courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

In the mud that has splattered her ankles, she finds a pink, wriggly worm that tickles her palms when she picks it up. As the girl stretches out on a hill to watch the clouds float by, she decides that her favorite is “the one I am watching.” The best rain is one that creates a river in the street for her paper boat—the one that was her favorite until it sailed into the grate

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Copyright Antoinette Portis, 2017, courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

The most marvelous tree has sturdy branches for the girl to swing from, and a delicate, bell-shaped flower produces her “favorite smell.” There are many birds to feed at the park, but the one she likes the best is the one that comes close enough to eat out of her hand. Her favorite song is the one that swells inside her heart and bursts out with joy, and the most delicious gulp and bite are those that quench her thirst and calm her hunger.

Her favorite tooth leaves a gap in her smile “because it’s the one that is missing.” She and her squeezed-tight cat may differ on the best hug, but they probably agree that their favorite moon is the crescent outside the window tonight. But what is her favorite “Now?” It is this moment, because she is having it with you.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-now-antoinette-portis-boat

Copyright Antoinette Portis, 2017, courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Antoinette Portis lends her unique perspective to this uplifting book that encourages kids—and, as readers see in the final image, adults—to live in the moment and become fully conscious of the present object, feeling, experience, or sensation. As the little girl’s favorites build on each other, readers become aware of a growing appreciation for all the small joys that make up a day. The theme of the book is revealed on the first page as the girl welcomes the refreshing breeze. The simply drawn, unencumbered illustrations mirror the simple pleasures that she finds everywhere. But look closer and there is more profound meaning in each.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-now-antoinette-portis-elephants

Copyright Antoinette Portis, 2017, courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

The veins in the maple leaf become the girl’s smile as she holds it to her face; her song radiates from her in a golden sun-shaped swirl; and the girl’s clothing changes through a year’s worth of experiences as it also matches the color of her feeling or activity, allowing her to become one with it. As readers reach the end of Now, they see two hands holding a book open to an image of an elephant and her calf, animals known for their strong family ties. This illustration leads into and strengthens the final page, where the girl and her mother sit reading that book together. The text and picture work in tandem to embrace the reader while letting both children and adults interpret the previous images in their own way.

Now is a beautiful, quiet book that reminds children and adults to slow down and truly enjoy the fleeting moments of life. It is a wonderful book to share and will open discussions of “favorite things” for home, classroom, and library story times.

Ages 3 – 6

Roaring Brook Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-1626721371

To learn more about Antoinette Portis and her books, visit her website.

Zero Tasking Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sleepy-owls-maze

Sleepy Owls Sleepover Maze

One wide-awake owl wants to join friends as a sleepover. Can you help bring them together in this printable Sleepy Owls Sleepover Maze. Here’s the Solution!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-now-antoinette-portis-cover

You can find Now at these booksellers

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

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop IndieBound

June 3 – Love Conquers All Day

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About the Holiday

The phrase “love conquers all” is attributed to the ancient Roman poet Virgil, but it’s veracity is still timely today. As the world is rocked by agonizing and heartbreaking events, children watch, worry, and wonder. Sharing today’s book can help adults and kids talk about their emotions and come up with ways they can show the love they feel for family, friends, and their community.

The Breaking News

By Sarah Lynne Reul

 

A little girl remembers “when we heard the bad news.” She was sitting at the kitchen table repotting plants with her mom, dad, and little brother. They were happy, her dad sipping coffee and her mom smiling. The TV was on in the background. And that’s how they heard the breaking news. Her mom’s head whipped around to see; coffee splashed out of her dad’s cup. And the plant tipped over spilling all of its new soil.

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Copyright Sarah Lynne Reul, 2018, courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

After that, her parents can’t stop watching the news on the television and their phones. When they talk about it, they whisper, and the little girl pretends “not to hear. It is more than a little scary.” The regular routine no longer exists; happiness seems to be gone too. At school, the “teacher says to look for the helpers,” those “good people trying to make things better in big and small ways.”

The girl wants to help. At home she tries to make her mom and dad laugh, she invents magical ways to keep her family safe, and she even helps out with the chores, but nothing seems to help. The failure of her plans to do something big, just makes her “feel small.” Then she sees her brother giving their dog a hug. It cheers her and she begins to think “maybe…I can try to do…just one…small thing?” So she does. And then again…and again.

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Copyright Sarah Lynne Reul, 2018, courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

She starts by watering that newly potted plant, which has become droopy with neglect. She spends time with her brother and the dog, and she puts the now-perky plant in a sunny window. Outside, the bad news still lurks, but inside the girl’s parents notice this small change. She takes them by the hand and asks for the extra seeds, pots, and soil.

When the flowers sprout, the girl and her family take them outside. The bad news still exists, but as the girl gives the flowerpots away to their neighbors, they stop and smile. they sit on the stoop and in their front courtyards and talk. Here and there along the block of apartments, flower pots appear on the windowsills, and hope begins to dispel the gloom.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-breaking-news-sun

Copyright Sarah Lynne Reul, 2018, courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

As children hear, see, and are directly affected by recent events—this week, over the past months, and in the future—feelings of fear, worry, anger, and helplessness impact their daily lives. Sarah Lynne Reul’s honest depiction of a time of upheaval reflects a child’s experience and offers them an opportunity to express their emotions. She also shows concrete ways that kids can channel their desire to help—ways that may seem small to them but that create much-needed connections among family members and the community they love.

Reul’s emotion-packed illustrations work hand-in-hand with her potent text to examine that moment when everything changed and its aftermath. The family’s happy, enthusiastic expressions are replaced with sadness and a world-weary stoop; a gray fog and somber hues predominate. An image of the little girl filled to the brim with everything that is happening around her will squeeze your heart and give kids a chance to say, “that’s how I feel.” The girl’s realization that small actions of kindness and love can help restore at least some of the lost light in their lives can be a revelation not only for children but for adults too who may be wondering how to process and respond to overwhelming circumstances and events. Reul’s two scenes of the neighborhood—one cast in shadow and the next washed in light (with an extra glow around the people and plants)—provide a strong visual of the results of positive action.

The Breaking News presents many openings for family discussion and shared comfort. The book a must-have for home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Roaring Brook Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1250153562

To learn more about Sarah Lynne Reul, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Love Conquers All Day Activity

CPB - Heart Jar

Jar Full of Hearts

 

If your kids ever feel the need for more love or reassurance in their life, this jar full of hearts can be a visual reminder of the love that surrounds them, can be used to encourage discussions about feelings, or can provides little gifts kids can give to family and friends––old and new.

Supplies

  • A clear jar with a lid—you can use a recycled jar, a mason jar or a decorative jar found at craft stores
  • Red felt
  • Scissors

Directions

1. Cut red hearts from the felt

2. Add hearts to the jar. The jar can start out full or hearts can be added over time. Here are some ideas for giving jars to family members or friends:

  • Add one heart for each thing you love about your child or that a child loves about their sibling or friend.
  • Give a new heart whenever the recipient of your jar does something nice for someone.
  • If talking about feelings is difficult for your child, encourage them to bring you a heart from the jar to start a conversation.
  • Encourage the recipient of your jar to pass the love along! Tell them they can give a heart from the jar to someone else.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-breaking-news-cover

You can find The Breaking News at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

February 14 – Valentine’s Day

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About the Holiday

Today we celebrate love! Love for family, friends, and our special valentines. Begun as a religious feast day, Valentine’s Day became a day of romance with the bloom of courtly love during 14th century. During the 18th century in England those in love began showing their affections by giving flowers and candy and making valentine’s cards. Now, Valentine’s Day is one of the biggest holidays on the calendar and a favorite of adults and kids alike.

XO, OX: A Love Story

Written by Adam Rex | Illustrated by Scott Campbell

 

Ox has finally gotten up the courage to write to his heart’s desire. He sits on the edge of his bed, lap desk upon his knees scribbling away. “Dear Gazelle, For some time now I have wanted to write a letter to tell you how much I admire you.” He goes on to praise her gracefulness and remarks that even when she is “running from tigers you are like a ballerina who is running from tigers.” He ends with a declaration of love and XO, OX.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-xo-ox-a-love-story-ox-writes-letter

Image copyright Scott Campbell, text copyright Adam Rex. Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

Gazelle, lounging on her daybed and admiring herself in a mirror nonchalantly hands her response to her assistant. “Dear Ox, Thank you for your letter. I hope you understand that I have many admirers and cannot reply to each one personally.” She says “Au revoir” with the gift of a signed photograph and moves on to the next letter in the overflowing box of fan mail.

The ever-optimistic Ox writes back while sitting on a park bench and enjoying a cup of steaming coffee. Gazelle’s picture is propped against a guitar, and little friends gather nearby. In his letter, Ox reveals that he does understand about the many other admirers and that makes it all the more meaningful that she responded to his letter personally. He signs off “XO, OX.” In return, Gazelle shoots off her standard letter and encloses another signed photo.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-xo-ox-a-love-story-gazelle-answers

Image copyright Scott Campbell, text copyright Adam Rex. Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

Ox is overjoyed to receive a second letter. The “coincidence” of the exact wording to the preceding letter only reinforces his opinion that Gazelle is “very smart” and has “a tidy mind.” He urges her to reject the idea that he only loves her because she is pretty. He also loves that she is smart. Gazelle receives Ox’s letter (sealed with a big, red heart) while floating on a raft in the pool, a tall, cool drink floating nearby on its own poof. Her response is a departure from the usual, but only because she is insulted that anyone would think her “repetitive.” While she admits to many faults, this is not one of them. It seems she couldn’t be much clearer when she ends her letter with, “There is no need to write me again.”

Ox reads and rereads Gazelle’s note. Ignoring the last line, he focuses on the “ridiculous” thought that she has many faults. Ox assures her that she only has “one or two.” Gazelle takes offense and from her vanity table tells Ox that his “clumsy brain” has led him away from the usual response to her self-deprecation, which is that she has no faults. She then can’t help but mention the faults of other animals, such as being “too large and too stout” and having “strong smells about them and clumsy brains.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-xo-ox-a-love-story-ox-writes-letter-on-floor

Image copyright Scott Campbell, text copyright Adam Rex. Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

Ox does not have such a “clumsy brain” and humbly accepts Gazelle’s criticism. In fact he states that he is glad to know what his faults are and tells Gazelle “you make me want to be the best Ox I can be.” His love for her—“the unflattering light of my life”—is undimmed, and he is looking forward to her next letter. Gazelle puts an end to it once and for all. She writes that there will be no next letter, clarifying that “this letter doesn’t count.”

HaHa, thinks Ox when he reads this. He quickly pens a note telling Gazelle how much he loves her sense of humor. Gazelle is brutal. She orders Ox to stop and tells him he is wasting his time. She lays out her reasons: “I could never love a clumsy thing. I could never love a smelly thing.” She goes on to list all of the aforementioned faults and adds that she could never love someone “so thick and ungraceful and awful and unlovely. And unlovable.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-xo-ox-a-love-story-gazelle-asks-ox-to-stop

Image copyright Scott Campbell, text copyright Adam Rex. Courtesy of Roaring Brook Press.

You might think Ox would be devastated, but in this tirade he finds one of Gazelle’s faults—and he tells her that her ability to reveal it to him only makes him love her more. He closes with his usual XO, OX and includes a photograph of himself. Gazelle is incredulous. She rips the picture into bits, but then gazes at the pieces again and smiles. “Dear Ox,” she scribbles as she sits on the edge of her bed, lap desk upon her knees and with the taped-together photograph of her beau looking on.

There’s something for every age in Adam Rex’s XO, OX: A Love Story. Little ones will find the snooty Gazelle and humble Ox funny in their persistent writing and reactions to each letter. Older kids will understand the dynamics at work and will get the sly wordplay, the twist on whom exactly is “thick, ungraceful, and awful”, and the idea that perhaps the lady doth protest too much. And adults will never make it through without out loud guffaws on almost every page. Wondering how Ox will respond to each of Gazelle’s letters is such delicious suspense, and his kindness in the face of her derision will tug at readers’ hearts.

Scott Campbell’s softy colored line drawings offer hilarious touches to fill out the details of the homes and lives of these smitten pen pals. In a stroke of genius, Gazelle’s personal assistant is a sunglasses-wearing mole, suggesting Gazelle’s own perception of her dazzling brilliance. Clever contrasts in the lifestyles of barrel-bodied Ox, who writes at a rustic desk and relaxes by a pond, and lithe Gazelle, who writes from her elegant vanity and lounges in her pool, demonstrate that their similarities may outweigh their differences. The touching ending that brings the relationship between Ox and Gazelle full circle as he sends her a photograph and she responds is satisfying and sweet.

XO, OX: A Love Story would be a funny, fantastic addition to anyone’s home library—one that can provide laughs or balm for feeling hearts. 

Ages 4 and up

Roaring Brook Press, 2017 | ISBN 978-1626722880

Discover the world of Adam Rex, including his art, picture books, and books for older kids, on his website!

View a gallery of illustration by Scott Campbell on his website!

Valentine’s Day Activity

cpb - monster love maze

Monster Love! Maze

 

Help the Love Monster collect all the valentines in this printable puzzle.

 Monster Love! Maze | Monster Love Maze Solution 

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You can find XO, OX: A Love Story at these booksellers

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

 

Picture Book Review

December 14 – It’s Cat Lover’s Month

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About the Holiday

If you’re a cat lover, then you know how these little balls of fluff can change your life. Whether you love them for their playful antics, for their companionship, or even for their independent spirit, your life just wouldn’t be the same without their daily presence. Cat Lovers Month is the perfect time to celebrate your cat or kitten with some extra attention and care. If you’re considering adopting a cat, visit your local animal shelter to give a cat a forever home.

Vincent Comes Home

By Jessixa Bagley and Aaron Bagley

 

“Vincent lived on a cargo ship. His paws had never touched land.” He liked living onboard the ship—there was plenty of fish to eat, seagulls to chase, and freedom to roam. At night he loved to gaze at the twinkling stars. His home, the Domus sailed to ports all over the world picking up and delivering goods. The ship was “always coming and going. Never staying.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-vincent-comes-home-cargo-ship

Copyright Jessixa Bagley and Aaron Bagley, 2018. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Although Vincent loved seeing all of the new and exciting places, he could only experience them from afar. He also enjoyed looking at all of the souvenirs in the captain’s cabin. “They seemed to have visited every place imaginable. Every place except one.” Vincent heard the crew talking about a place called Home. It sounded amazing, and the little cat wanted to go there some day.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-vincent-comes-home-cargo-galley

Copyright Jessixa Bagley and Aaron Bagley, 2018. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

When the ship docked the next day, “Vincent heard the first mate shout, ‘We’re HOME!!!’” Vincent couldn’t wait to see this exciting place. When he looked over the ship’s rail, though, this city looked like many others. He couldn’t see why it was so special. Vincent decided to follow one of the crew to find out. As soon as the “crewman opened the door, a bunch of people yelled ‘WELCOME HOME!’” Everyone inside hugged and kissed the crewman.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-vincent-comes-home-cargo-crewman's-home

Copyright Jessixa Bagley and Aaron Bagley, 2018. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Vincent looked in other windows and saw the same things there. He decided that Home wasn’t really a place but where the people who loved you lived. “I guess I don’t have a Home,” he thought. He wandered around town and gazed at the familiar stars. Just then he heard a voice he knew. It was the captain. “‘I’ve been looking all over for you!’” he said. He picked Vincent up and scratched his chin and belly. “‘Let’s go home,’” he told Vincent.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-vincent-comes-home-cargo-captain-finds-vincent

Copyright Jessixa Bagley and Aaron Bagley, 2018. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Jessixa and Aaron Bagley’s endearing story about the meaning of Home will charm young readers who are beginning to navigate their own way in the world, leaving home for school and activities. Their lyrical storytelling offers tender comfort and heartwarming reassurance that Home is rich with those who love you and is always there waiting for your return. 

Beautiful watercolors bring to life the unique cargo ship setting, with its vibrant containers and world port-to-port schedule as well as the homey galley, staterooms, and common areas that make Domus a well-chosen name. Seen from afar, the European city, tropical island, and arctic vista—as well as the captain’s cabin filled with posters and souvenirs from the Domus’s trips—will entice young readers to do a bit of armchair traveling themselves. But, like Vincent, they will embrace their own home as the most wonderful place in the world.

A thoughtful book for children just entering school or other new situations or to share the warmth of home, Vincent Comes Home would be a welcome addition to personal or classroom libraries.

Ages 4 – 7

Roaring Brook Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1626727809

Discover more about Jessixa Bagley, her books, and her art on her website.

To learn more about Aaron Bagley, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Adopt a Cat Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-wooden-bead-cat-craft

A Little Ball of Love Craft

 

This sweet little kitten is easy to make and can keep you company on your desk or shelf! Since every kitten is different, you can make yours to look just the way you want. Here’s how I made mine:

Supplies

  • Wooden ball with a flat bottom, available in craft stores and in different sizes
  • Craft paint in any color kitten you’d like (I used red and yellow and mixed it to make a mottled orange)
  • Craft paint in pink or white for the inner ear
  • Scrap of fleece for the ears. Fleece is easily shaped to the rounded ball and when painted is stiff enough to stand up on its own.
  • Thin, colored wire in several colors for the tail (string or twine, wrapped wire, fleece, stiff paper, and other materials could also be used)
  • Paint brush
  • Permanent marker for making the face
  • Hot glue gun or strong glue

Directions

  1. Paint the wooden ball and let dry
  2. Paint the scrap of fleece to match the wooden ball, let dry
  3. Cut out small triangular shapes for the ears. Round the bottom of the ears slightly so they fit the shape of the ball
  4. If making a tail from several colors of thin wire, twist them together, leaving one end untwisted
  5. With the glue gun or strong glue attach the ears to the top of the head
  6. With the glue gun attach the tail to the back of the wooden ball in the center near the base
  7. With the marker, draw eyes, nose, and mouth for the face and semicircles near the bottom for the paws

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-vincent-comes-home-cover

You can find Vincent Comes Home at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

November 12 – It’s World Kindness Week

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-be-kind-cover

About the Holiday

Today begins a week-long awareness of acts of kindness and how gestures of praise and encouragement of others can make life better for all. These days, when negativity seems all pervasive, take some time to look around and really see the goodness that is being done. Take a vow to join in and help make the world a better place for you and especially for your children. Just a smile, a single nice word or a helpful action can make a tremendous difference. To celebrate this week’s holiday, seek out opportunities to say something nice to your family members, friends, coworkers, and those you meet along the way.

Be Kind

Written by Pat Zietlow Miller | Illustrated by Jen Hill

 

At school during snack time when Tanisha spilled grape juice on her new dress, the class burst out laughing. One student remembered that their mom always taught them to be kind and tried to make Tanisha feel better by saying, “Purple is my favorite color.” The student thought Tanisha would smile, but she just ran away. All during art class, Tanisha’s classmate thought about what they should have done instead, wondering, “What does it mean to be kind anyway?”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-be-kind-spilled-juice

Image copyright Jen Hill, 2018, text copyright Pat Zietlow Miller, 2018. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

They think, “Maybe it’s giving.” Like baking treats for someone who lives alone, or giving away old clothes to someone who can use them. Helping out might also show kindness. For instance, “putting dirty dishes in the sink” or taking care of a pet. Paying attention to others could be another way to show you care. Like noticing someone’s new shoes, offering to be the new girl’s partner in class, or even just listening to someone’s stories—even if you’ve heard them before. Sometimes being kind is easy, but there are other times when it can be challenging or even scary—“like sticking up for someone when other kids aren’t kind.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-be-kind-in-the-neighborhood

Image copyright Jen Hill, 2018, text copyright Pat Zietlow Miller, 2018. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

The child decides that maybe all they can do for Tanisha is to sit near her and paint her a picture of purple and green—of pretty violets. They hope that small acts like these will join with other people’s and that they will expand, fanning out from school into the community, across the country, around the world, and back. “So we can be kind. Again. And again. And again.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-be-kind-around-town

Image copyright Jen Hill, 2018, text copyright Pat Zietlow Miller, 2018. Courtesy of us.macmillan.com.

Miller’s tender prose is perfect for planting the seeds of kindness and opening discussions about what it means to be caring and compassionate. With more and more children speaking up and creating change, Miller’s gentle and affirming story shows readers that it’s often the little things that count the most. Some of the examples she gives are acts that many children may do already, confirming their innate sensitivity, while others may spark new ideas and expand readers’ definition of kindness.

Jen Hill’s soft-hued illustrations beautifully depict the emotional tug at the heart that Tanisha’s spilled grape juice sets in motion for the protagonist and young readers. As one caring child wonders what kindness really is, Hill clearly portrays diverse children helping out at home, at school, and in their community locally and—as the kindness spreads—around the world. Hill draws the caring student with gender neutral clothing and hair, allowing all children to relate to the story’s main character. 

Be Kind is a lovely perceptive and sensitive book that would be an asset to any home or classroom library.

Ages 3 – 6

Roaring Brook Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1626723214

Discover more about Pat Zietlow Miller and her books on her website.

To learn more about Jen Hill, her books, and her art, visit her website.

World Kindness Week Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-say-something-nice-cards

Say Something Nice! Cards

 

Do you want to give someone a nice surprise? Print out these cards and give one to a friend, to someone you’d like to know, or to anyone who looks like they need a pick-me-up! If you’d like to make your own cards, print out the blank template and write and/or draw your own message! You can also print these on adhesive paper and make your own stickers.

Say Something Nice! Cards | Say Something Nice! Cards Blank Template

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-be-kind-cover

You can find Be Kind at these booksellers

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

 

Picture book review