March 3 – It’s National Reading Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-battle-of-the-butts-cover

About the Holiday

March 3rd is not only part of National Reading Month, but it’s World Book Day and World Wildlife Day too! How can readers celebrate all three holidays at the same time? With today’s book! Here’s a little bit about each holiday:

National Reading Month

All month long, people celebrate all the joys and benefits of reading. When you read with your child or children every day you’re helping them develop the language and literacy skills that will promote success in school and beyond. Even if your child isn’t talking yet, they’re listening and learning about their language as you read to them. Older kids also love being read to, and setting aside time to read together builds strong bonds that can last a lifetime. The month is typically marked with special events in schools, libraries, bookstores, and communities.

World Wildlife Day 

In December of 2013 the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed March 3rd to be World Wildlife Day to promote awareness of our environment and the dangers to it. This year’s theme is “Recovering key species for ecosystem restoration,” which seeks to draw attention to the conservation status of some of the most critically endangered species of wild fauna and flora and to drive discussions toward devising and implementing solutions to conserve them. To learn more, visit the World Wildlife Day website.

World Book Day

World Book Day was created by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to be celebrated on April 23rd, 1995 in honor of William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes, and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, who all died on this date. Some countries, such as Great Britain, Ireland, and Scotland celebrate on March 3. No matter what date you pick – or whether you choose to celebrate on both days – the holiday encourages families and individuals to rediscover the joys of reading for pleasure and promotes the availability of a wide range of books to all and in all languages. 

Thanks to Running Press Kids for sharing a copy of Battle of the Butts with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Battle of the Butts: The Science Behind Animal Behinds

Written by Jocelyn Rish | Illustrated by David Creighton-Pester

 

Get ready to RUUUMBLE! as ten of the world’s most fascinating animals put their butts on the line in Jocelyn Rish’s genius look at how certain sea creatures, mammals, insects, and reptiles eat, swim, talk, and defend themselves using their powerful posteriors. Readers don’t have to passively sit by and read, though. Rish invites kids to judge the challengers based on their own preferences and assign a rating from “Terrific Tushie” to “Boring Backside” on their way to crowning the “King of Keisters.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-battle-of-the-butts-wombats-sleeping

Image copyright David Creighton-Pester, 2021, text copyright Jocelyn Rish, 2021. Courtesy of Running Kids Press.

As each challenger steps up, readers are presented with their stats, which include their “genus, length, weight, home turf, and posterior power.” Turning the page, kids are then drawn into the science of each critter’s anatomy and how they use it as Rish – in her conversational, detailed, and descriptive text – uses dynamic phrasing and familiar comparisons to help kids visualize each animal’s endgame. An “Extra Booty” paragraph and a highlighted “Butt Bonus” provide more info.

So who’s on the roster for this awesome competition? First up is the manatee, who moves through the water by holding onto or releasing farts. Lest kids begin “picturing a manatee zipping through the water like it has a jetpack on its back end,” Rish goes on to explain the mechanics of their gas-fueled swimming, how they fill up, and the enormity of their intestinal system that allows them to store their gas until they need it. 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-battle-of-the-butts-wombat

Image copyright David Creighton-Pester, 2021, text copyright Jocelyn Rish, 2021. Courtesy of Running Kids Press.

Another fierce contender is the bombardier beetle, which at a max length of 1.181 inches (30 millimeters), proves that mighty things come in small packages. This mini-monster might just become the next superhero, with moves worthy of a big-budget blockbuster. Just picture this movie trailer: “A bombardier beetle strolls through the leaves, minding its own business. A bunch of hungry ants attack. Things don’t look so good for the beetle. Then . . . Pew! Pew! Pew! The bombardier beetle fires a pulsing spray of scalding chemicals from its butt, twisting its tushie in different directions to hit all the ants. The bombardier beetle escapes, while the ants regret their decision to snack on the beetle.” Phew! Pass the popcorn! How do they do this? Rish takes kids step-by-step through the bombardier beetle’s chemical processes that read like a blue-ribbon-winning science fair project, complete with boiling blasts ejected at a “speed of 22 miles per hour.” What if the beetle gets eaten anyway? Find out in the explosive Butt Bonus.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-battle-of-the-butts-herring

Image copyright David Creighton-Pester, 2021, text copyright Jocelyn Rish, 2021. Courtesy of Running Kids Press.

Not all of these challengers use their powers for defense. Parrotfish, which are found in “shallow tropical and subtropical waters around the world” use their poop to do double doody – I mean duty. You might feel a little squeamish about walking barefoot on a beautiful beach that’s near a coral reef once you learn that “a large portion of that white sand is actually parrotfish poop.” Say what?! Yep! Parrotfish “eat the algae, polyps, and bacteria that live on and in coral reefs.”

To get at it, they also end up ingesting coral and, after its well ground up by the 1,000 teeth along the fish’s beak and the “throat-teeth [that] work like a pepper grinder to crush the bits of coral into fine sand,” they deposit this non-nutritious detritus which then becomes the stuff of sandcastles, tanning beds, and sunny day seaside playgrounds. Sounds like a lot of poop, huh? The Butt Bonus tells you just how much.

These are just a few of the entrants vying for your verdict. Will any of them win the crown? Or will it be the wombat, with its armored butt; the Fitzroy river turtle, that’s a butt breather; the herring and its unusual communication style; the silver-spotted skipper caterpillar, that puts medieval warriors to shame; the beaded lacewing and its fatal farts; the Sonoran coralsnake that’s a master of confusion; or the sea cucumber, that throws everything it’s got at would-be predators? It’s up to you! Award your favorite with the trophy while rewarding yourself with a full flush of scintillating facts with which to entertain friends and dazzle your teachers!

A Glossary of words found in bold type throughout the book follows the text.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-battle-of-the-butts-herrings

Image copyright David Creighton-Pester, 2021, text copyright Jocelyn Rish, 2021. Courtesy of Running Kids Press.

If you’re looking for a riveting book steeped in nature and environmental science with some chemistry and lots of laughs thrown in for your child, classroom, or other group of kids, you can’t miss with Jocelyn Rish’s Battle of the Butts. Perfect for both younger kids as a read aloud and for independent readers, the book offers opportunities for exciting learning, expanded research, and even experimentation. Rish’s knowledge of her subject and talent for captivating kids jumps off the page with her smooth, alliterative, and hilarious storytelling.

Accompanying each chapter are David Creighton-Pester’s vibrant and dynamic illustrations that accentuate the humor while realistically showing kids how each creature uses their particular skills in their natural environment. Catapulted poop, shooting toots, and funny facial expressions make each page turn a blast. The book’s excellent format also makes it easy to navigate the short chapters and get the most out of all the material presented. At the end of each chapter, kids are invited to rate the creature in this mega-battle of the butts.

A superb way to engage kids in science learning, The Battle of the Butts would be a favorite on any home bookshelf and is a must for school and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8 and up

Running Press Kids, 2021 | ISBN 978-0762497775

Discover more about Joycelyn Rish and her books on her website.

To learn more about David Creighton-Pester, his books, and his art, visit his website.

 National Reading Month Activity

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

Wildlife Coloring Pages

 

You can have fun coloring the animals from today’s book while celebrating all three of today’s featured holidays with these printable coloring pages!

Cute Wombat Coloring Page | Parrotfish Coloring Page | Manatee Coloring Page

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-battle-of-the-butts-cover

You can find The Battle of the Butts at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 10 – Celebrating Inventors Month with Laurie Wallmark

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Laurie Wallmark-headshot-Jeanne Balsam

Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark has written picture-book biographies of women in STEM fields ranging from computer science to mathematics, astronomy to code breaking. Her books have earned multiple starred reviews, been chosen as Junior Library Guild Selections, and received awards such as Outstanding Science Trade Book, Cook Prize Honor, and Parents’; Choice Gold Medal. She is a former software engineer and computer science professor. She lives in Ringoes, New Jersey. (Photo credit Jeanne Balsam)

You can connect with Laurie Wallmark on her website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Thanks so much, Laurie, for stopping by to celebrate Inventors Month with me! Since this holiday recognizes innovators of the past and present, it seems a  perfect fit for your books that teach kids about amazing women whose inventions or inventive ways of thinking have changed our understanding of math, computers, communications, and even secret codes. 

Your love for these subjects and depth of research lead to compelling biographies. Reading them, I’ve often wondered whether a previous job has influenced your writing and the kinds of books you write. 

For many years I was a software engineer and, after that, a computer science professor. Not surprisingly, my first two women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) picture book biographies were about computer scientists, Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper.  

The same love of math and science that led me to these careers also led me to want to encourage children’s interest in these fields. And what better way to do this than through books? I now have three more picture book biographies of women mathematicians and scientists out, the latest being Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars, with two more on the way.  

But it’s important not to fall into a rut in your writing, so my next title, coming out in October, is Dino Pajama Party. Because of my interest in STEM, people have asked me if it’s nonfiction. Um, no. But who knows? Maybe reading a fun, rhyming picture book about dinosaurs will encourage a child to grow up to be paleontologist. 

I’m sure readers are as thrilled as I am to hear that you have two more STEM-related books coming out! I’m really looking forward to seeing who they’re about! And what could be better than dinosaurs partying in pajamas?! What a terrific way to send little one’s off to bed.

The Latest Books from Laurie Wallmark

 

I’m excited to share a little bit about Code Breaker, Spy Hunter: How Elizebeth Friedman Changed the Course of Two World Wars and Dino Pajama Party.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-code-breaker-spy-hunter-cover

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

Written by Laurie Wallmark | Illustrated by Brooke Smart

 

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-code-breaker-spy-hunter-world-war-II

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

Elizabeth’s career in code breaking began in an unusual way: through her love of Shakespeare. In 1916, she met the eccentric George Fabyan, who was trying to prove that Francis Bacon was the true writer of Shakespeare’s plays. He hired Elizebeth to “find secret messages Bacon had supposedly hidden in the plays. But the more she explored the plays, the more convinced she became that there were no hidden messages.” In 1917, with the US involved in World War I, Fabyan asked Elizebeth and her now-husband William Friedman, who was also an expert at secret codes, to establish “the country’s first code-breaking unit, the Riverbank Department of Cyphers….”

In 1921, they helped soldiers send sensitive intelligence from the field by devising a complex code that would use only pencil and paper instead of the Army’s cumbersome machine. During Prohibition, they helped stop smugglers and Elizabeth created the Coast Guard’s first code-breaking unit. With America’s entry into World War II, it was Elizabeth who figured out how to defeat the Germans’ powerful code-making machine, Enigma, which “saved thousands of lives and shortened the war by many years.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-code-breaker-spy-hunter-cryptanalyst

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

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

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

Ages 7 – 11

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

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

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

Inventor’s Day Activity

celebrate-picture-book-picture-book-code-breaker-activity-kit-image

Code Breaker, Spy Hunter Activity Kit

 

Secret fun is at your fingertips with the Code Breaker, Spy Hunter Activity Kit, which is full of codes kids will love learning, using, and sending! It’s available for download from the Abrams Books website here:

Code Breaker, Spy Hunter Activity Kit

You can find Code Breaker, Spy Hunter at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dino-pajama-party-cover

Dino Pajama Party

Written by Laurie Wallmark | Illustrated by Michael Robinson

 

Jazzy dinos have a fun day singing, dancing, and making music, boogying to a funky beat. But once the sun goes down, bedtime calls! Perfect for story time or bedtime, this playful read aloud goes from rollicking to restful. 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-dino-pajama-party-setting-sun

Image copyright Michael Robertson, 2021, text copyright Laurie Wallmark, 2021. Courtesy of Running Press Kids.

Laurie Wallmark’s infectious rhymes will have kids stomping, jiving, and roaring along with Michael Robinson’s colorful, pajama-clad dinosaurs that shake their claws, strum guitars and toot horns, and show their pointy white teeth through big grins. As nighttime falls and the dinos trudge home, tired and yawning, readers will find themselves yawning and ready for bed too. 

Ages 4 – 8

Running Press Kids, 2021 | ISBN 978-0762497751

To learn more about Michael Robertson, his books, and his art, visit his website.

celebrate-picture-book-picture-book-dino-pajama-party-activity-kit

Dino Pajama Party Activity Kit

 

Have dino-sized fun with the Dino Pajama Party Activity Kit available for download from Laurie Wallmark’s website here:

 Dino Pajama Party Activity Kit 

You can preorder Dino Pajama Party at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, preorder from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Check out these other books by Laurie Wallmark!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-numbers-in-motion-cover  celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hedy-lamarr's-double-life-cover

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-grace-hopper-queen-of-computer-code-cover  celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ada-byron-lovelace-and-the-thinking-machine-cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

Picture Book Review

September 2 – It’s National Chicken Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Bear-and-Chicken-cover-II

About the Holiday

For over twenty years, the National Chicken Council has used the month of September to promote chicken sales as the summer grilling season winds down. The endeavor has been so successful that September is now known as National Chicken Month! While chicken on the dinner plate or in a sandwich is delicious, chickens also make good pets and—as today’s book proves—great friends!

Bear and Chicken

By Jannie Ho

 

On a cold winter day, Bear was coming home from his morning walk when “he saw a chicken, frozen in the snow!” He picked her and her knapsack up and brought them inside, where a warm fire crackled in the fireplace. “How does one defrost a chicken? thought Bear.” Bear took a blanket and wrapped the chicken like a burrito and held her tight until her eyes opened. When that happened, Bear smiled and Chicken found herself staring into two rows of very sharp teeth.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Interview-with-Jannie-Ho-bear-finds-chicken

Copyright Jannie Ho, 2017, courtesy of Running Press Kids.

Bear took Chicken into the kitchen, where carrots and onions sat on the counter. Bear picked up his cookbook and began to read. “‘You are just in time,’” he said to Chicken. Chicken looked on worriedly as Bear filled a huge, chicken-sized pot with water and put it on the stove to boil. When Chicken inadvertently knocked over a pot of basil, Bear decided it was a perfect addition to his recipe.

With a newly sharpened knife, Bear chopped up carrots, celery, and onions. “‘Hmmm…what else is missing?’ said Bear,” looking right at Chicken. Bear lifted Chicken up to the pot of hot, bubbling broth. Imagining what would happen next, Chicken wriggled out of Bear’s grasp and ran away as fast as she could and out the front door.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bear-and-chicken-double-spread

Copyright Jannie Ho, 2017, courtesy of Running Press Kids.

Bear chased after her, and even though Chicken “zig-zagged through the trees,” Bear caught up with her. She glanced at the big stick Bear had raised over her head, and thought it was the end for her. But Bear, his feelings hurt, was just holding out Chicken’s knapsack. “‘You forgot this,’” he said. Surprised, Chicken blurted out, ‘”You’re not going to eat me?’” Now it was Bear’s turn to be surprised, and he explained that he was making lunch for both of them.

Still wary, Chicken protested that she wasn’t hungry, but her grumbling tummy gave her away. The two laughed, and after Bear promised to help Chicken find her way home, they went inside to enjoy delicious bowls of vegetable soup.

An adorably illustrated recipe for Bear’s Vegetable Soup and a note about the diet of Black Bears follow the text.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bear-and-chicken-double-spread

Copyright Jannie Ho, 2017, courtesy of Running Press Kids.

Kids will love the suspense and humor of Jannie Ho’s mistaken purposes story. Her clever culinary puns set the action directly in the kitchen and put young readers in the same mindset as poor Chicken when she wakes up to a very suspicious smile. As Chicken stews about her predicament, little ones will empathize with her while older readers may have fun predicting Bear’s intent. The chase through the woods provides gentle suspense while the sweet reconciliation will have readers giggling along with Chicken and Bear.

Ho brings her distinctively cute artwork to her debut as an author/illustrator with great effect as Bear and Chicken exchange meaningful looks—but is Bear serious about cooking Chicken or just serious about his cooking? Kids will fall in love with little chicken from the moment she’s found in the snow and snugged into a warm blanket. Her worried expression will further endear her to readers, and who can blame them for a bit of worry of their own when Bear’s décor includes such things as a picture of bacon and eggs and the prominently displayed Chicken Cookbook?

A cozy Cozy for the youngest mystery lovers, Bear and Chicken would be a welcome guest on any home, classroom, or public library bookshelf.

Ages 3 – 6

Running Press Kids, 2017 | ISBN 978-0762462667

Discover more about Jannie Ho, her books, and her artwork on her website.

National Chicken Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-chicken-craft

A Chicken to Crow About

 

A long-handled wooden turner makes a plucky decoration for your room or kitchen—and a great reminder to bring your passions to every job! In a few simple steps, you’ll have a cute companion you’ll want to crow about!

Supplies

  • Printable Comb and Scarf Template
  • Long-handled wooden turner, available in kitchen supply stores
  • Red felt
  • Yellow bakable clay
  • Fabric, 12 inches square
  • A small piece of white felt or fleece (optional)
  • White paint (or any color you would like)
  • Black marker
  • Fabric glue
  • Glue gun
  • Paint brush

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-chicken-craft

Directions

  1. Paint the wooden turner, let dry
  2. Cut the scarf from the piece of fabric
  3. Make a beak from the yellow clay and bake it according to package directions

To make the comb

  1. Cut out the comb from the red felt
  2. Fold the felt in half and glue the end together with the fabric glue
  3. Cut short strips from the folded top of the felt, about ½-inch to ¾ -inch in length
  4. Round the corners of the strips slightly

To make the scarf

  1. Fold the fabric in half
  2. With the long, straight edge of the scarf template along the fold, cut out the scarf
  3. With the fabric glue, glue the two sides of the scarf together so that you have two “right” sides
  4. Let dry

To assemble the chicken

  1. Pinch the bottom of the comb together so that the strips open and the felt pleats a little
  2. With the glue gun attach the comb to the back of the painted turner, keeping the bottom pinched together
  3. Attach the beak to the front of the turner
  4. Draw eyes on the chicken with the black marker
  5. Tie the scarf around the neck of the handle, hold in place with a drop of glue in the back if necessary
  6. To make tail feathers in a turner with a hole in the handle, pinch together a small folded piece of white felt or fleece and push it through the hole in the handle of the turner.
  7. Cut or arrange to look like feathers

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Bear-and-Chicken-cover-II

You can find Bear and Chicken at these booksellers

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

July 12 – New Conversations Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-blue-songbird-cover

About the Holiday

This brand-new holiday extols the virtues of a really good conversation. Too often our exchanges with others fall into the realm of small talk where the weather, the score of the latest game, or a cursory “how are you?” is as deep as it gets. But there are so many more interesting topics to discuss that would lead to better connections with and understanding of family, friends, and acquaintances. Take the opportunity of today’s holiday to get together with your friends and talk about the funniest thing that ever happened to you, the best meal you ever had, or your favorite work of art. Of course a perfect topic of conversation is your favorite book or character and why! You’ll find out a lot about your friends as well as about yourself!

The Blue Songbird

By Vern Kousky

 

There once was a little blue songbird who loved to listen to her sisters singing in the morning, but when she tried to join in, the notes always fell flat. Sadly, she told her mother that she thought there were no songs for her, but her mother gently told her, “‘not just any notes will do. You must go and find a special song that only you can sing.’” So the little songbird began a journey to “find her special song.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-blue-songbird-cuddling-with-mother

Copyright Vern Kousky, 2017, courtesy of vernkousky.com.

When she was far from home, she met a great crane and asked if he knew of any song made especially for her. The crane said he couldn’t help her, but pointed her in the direction of the mountains, where a wise bird lived. When she reached the pine forest on the other side of the mountains, the songbird explained to Mr. Wise Old Bird his quest for a song. But the owl could only ask, “‘Whoooo? Whoooo?’” so the songbird went on her way.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-blue-songbird-crane

Copyright Vern Kousky, 2017, courtesy of vernkousky.com.

She stopped here and there to talk to a buzzard, a group of pigeons, and a family of penguins, but “no bird ever had the answer.” Then one snowy day the songbird saw “a bird who looked a little bit mean and more than a little hungry. Even so the songbird bravely chirped: ‘Please don’t eat me, Mr. Scary Bird. I was just wondering if you’ve ever heard of a very special thing—a song that only I can sing.’” The crow did know of such a thing and told the songbird about an island filled with enchanting music.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-blue-songbird-penguins

Copyright Vern Kousky, 2017, courtesy of vernkousky.com.

The songbird grew weary searching for the island, and then one day he saw a glow on the horizon and knew she had found it. She could hear the faint strains of beautiful music, and she flew faster and faster to get there. When she neared the island, though, she knew this place. It was home. “The songbird’s heart fell.” After all that time and all the conversations with other birds, “her quest had failed.”

When she saw her mother, however, her mood brightened. She wanted to tell her mother all about her travels and the other birds she’d met. When she opened her beak to tell her stories, though, “what came out was not words at all…but a song!” She sang about Crane and Owl and Crow, “of cities and of stormy seas and mountains capped with snow.” She told of warm days and cold days and most of all “of the love the songbird felt for her family and her home.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-blue-songbird-crow

Copyright Vern Kousky, 2017, courtesy of vernkousky.com.

Vern Kousky gently nudges little ones out of the nest to begin exploring the world on their own, to test their wings, meet others, and discover their talents. Along the way young readers learn that they can trust their instincts, be brave, and that perseverance pays off. Kousky’s lyrical story also reassures children that home is always waiting and that no matter where they go or what they do, family will always welcome them.

Kousky’s tiny blue smudge of a bird is adorable as she cuddles with her mother to reveal her doubts and then demonstrates hopeful pluck as she talks with much larger birds on her way to self-discovery. Kousky’s settings delight with muted hues of blues, yellows, and reds and angled mountains, skyscrapers, and glaciers that point the little songbird—as well as readers—skyward. The image of the little songbird’s mother welcoming her home with outstretched wings is heartwarming, and the songbird’s elation at having found her song will fill readers with joy.

A joyful story for inspiring self-confidence, interactions with others, and personal growth, The Blue Songbird is a beautiful book for home and classroom libraries that will be asked for again and again.

Ages 4 –  8

Running Press Kids, 2017 | ISBN 978-0762460663

To learn more about Vern Kousky, his books, and his art, visit his website.

New Conversations Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-conversation-starters

Family Conversation Starters

 

Because children have such fertile imaginations, great conversations can start from just one intriguing question. Put these printable conversation starters on the dinner table and let the fun and serious talk begin!

Conversation Starters Page 1Page 2Page 3Page 4Page 5Page 6

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-blue-songbird-cover

You can find The Blue Songbird at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

June 20 – It’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month and Interview with Author/Illustrator Jannie Ho

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Bear-and-Chicken-cover-II

About the Holiday

One of the best parts of summer is all the fresh fruit and veggies that are available at farmers markets and grocery stores. Vibrant red strawberries, watermelon, and tomatoes; deep green lettuce; and a rainbow of squash, peppers, and potatoes make cooking and eating a special treat. There’s no better way to celebrate the season than by making favorite recipes—and trying some new ones—with your favorite fruits and vegetables.

Bear and Chicken

By Jannie Ho

 

On a cold winter day, Bear was coming home from his morning walk when “he saw a chicken, frozen in the snow!” He picked her and her knapsack up and brought them inside, where a warm fire crackled in the fireplace. “How does one defrost a chicken? thought Bear.” Bear took a blanket and wrapped the chicken like a burrito and held her tight until her eyes opened. When that happened, Bear smiled and Chicken found herself staring into two rows of very sharp teeth.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Interview-with-Jannie-Ho-bear-finds-chicken

Copyright Jannie Ho, 2017, courtesy of Running Press Kids.

Bear took Chicken into the kitchen, where carrots and onions sat on the counter. Bear picked up his cookbook and began to read. “‘You are just in time,’” he said to Chicken. Chicken looked on worriedly as Bear filled a huge, chicken-sized pot with water and put it on the stove to boil. When Chicken inadvertently knocked over a pot of basil, Bear decided it was a perfect addition to his recipe.

With a newly sharpened knife, Bear chopped up carrots, celery, and onions. “‘Hmmm…what else is missing?’ said Bear,” looking right at Chicken. Bear lifted Chicken up to the pot of hot, bubbling broth. She imagined what would happen next. Chicken wriggled out of Bear’s grasp and ran as fast as she could and out the door.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bear-and-chicken-double-spread

Copyright Jannie Ho, 2017, courtesy of Running Press Kids.

Bear chased after her, and even though Chicken “zig-zagged through the trees,” Bear caught up with her. She glanced at the big stick Bear had raised over her head, and thought it was the end for her. But Bear, his feelings hurt, was just holding out Chicken’s knapsack. “‘You forgot this,’” he said. Surprised, Chicken blurted out, ‘”You’re not going to eat me?’” Now it was Bear’s turn to be surprised, and he explained that he was making lunch for both of them.

Still wary, Chicken protested that she wasn’t hungry, but her grumbling tummy gave her away. The two laughed, and after Bear promised to help Chicken find her way home, they went inside to enjoy delicious bowls of vegetable soup.

An adorably illustrated recipe for Bear’s Vegetable Soup and a note about the diet of Black Bears follow the text.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bear-and-chicken-double-spread

Copyright Jannie Ho, 2017, courtesy of Running Press Kids.

Kids will love the suspense and humor of Jannie Ho’s mistaken purposes story. Her laugh-out-loud line about defrosting a chicken sets the action directly in the kitchen and puts young readers in the same mindset as poor Chicken when she wakes up to a very suspicious smile. As Chicken stews about her predicament, little ones will empathize with her while older readers may have fun predicting Bear’s intent. The chase through the woods provides gentle suspense while the sweet reconciliation will have readers giggling along with Chicken and Bear.

Ho brings her distinctively cute artwork to her debut as an author/illustrator with great effect as Bear and Chicken exchange meaningful looks—but is Bear serious about cooking Chicken or just serious about his cooking? Kids will fall in love with little chicken from the moment she’s found in the snow and snugged into a warm blanket. Her worried expression will further endear her to readers, and who can blame them for a bit of worry of their own when Bear’s décor includes such things as a picture of bacon and eggs and the prominently displayed Chicken Cookbook?

A cozy Cozy for the youngest mystery lovers, Bear and Chicken should be invited to stick around on any child’s bookshelf for story time or bedtime.

Ages 3 – 6

Running Press Kids, 2017 | ISBN 978-0762462667

Discover more about Jannie Ho, her books, and her artwork on her website.

Meet Jannie Ho

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Jannie-Ho-headshot

Today, I’m excited to talk with Jannie Ho about how Bear and Chicken’s story began, her always eye-catching color palette, and her special relationship with her young readers. 

What inspired you to venture into writing with Bear and Chicken?

I was inspired to write Bear and Chicken when these two characters showed up in one of my illustrations. I was working on a banner header for my blog and I had drawn a Bear holding a bundled up little chicken.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Interview-with-Jannie-Ho-banner-art

I received a lot of feedback for it and many people asked me, “What is their story?” I didn’t know yet, but I knew I had something interesting. I filed the idea away and brought it back again when I was invited to participate in a sequential art gallery show. The two pieces for that show became the first spread of Bear and Chicken.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bear-and-chicken-panel

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bear-and-chicken-panel-2

Your illustrations have such an active, happy sense of camaraderie and community. What would you like readers to take away from your books and other work?

Thank you! I would love to transport my readers to a different world that is filled with happiness, innocence, and humor. There are always little “Easter eggs” I like to put in my illustrations; it is like a little secret between the reader and me. A wink, so to speak.

One of the most striking aspects of your work besides its off-the-charts cuteness is your use of color. Can you talk a little about how you approach color in your illustrations?

I love color and I am constantly looking for color palettes that inspire me. I’ve always done work for very young children and so my color palette is always bright. But I’ve learned over the years to mix in some slight neutrals and unexpected colors in my palette with great results. In almost every project, I already have a color palette in mind when I start. I think the secret is not to use every color there is! A limited color palette always looks much more refined and sophisticated.

What was your favorite picture book when you were a child? Who has influenced your artistic vision.

One of my favorite picture books of all time was (and still is) Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy Town. I fell in love with his anthropomorphic animal world immediately and he is still my biggest influence to this day.

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

Getting kids to laugh! I think I have a kid’s sense of humor.

What’s up next for you?

I’ve been exploring stories that are from my culture and childhood. I feel a great calling to bring these stories to life and onto paper.

What is your favorite holiday and why?

Halloween! I am from Hong Kong and we do not celebrate Halloween there. When I moved to the U.S., I was so surprised at this holiday where you can get free candy from strangers’ houses! Now as a parent, it is fun to see my kid dress up. It is also one of my favorite holidays to illustrate—I have done many Halloween titles (The Haunted Ghoul Bus by Lisa Trumbauer, If You’re Spooky, You Know it by Aly Fronis, Halloween ABC by Jannie Ho).

Do you have any anecdote from a holiday you’d like to share? OR has a holiday ever influenced your work?

Speaking of holidays I was not familiar with as an immigrant, Thanksgiving was a holiday my family had to learn about as we became Americans. I remember going to school having to lie to friends and teachers about eating turkey, cranberry sauce, and gravy. We never had the traditional Thanksgiving meal. One year, I finally asked my mom why we didn’t have turkey for Thanksgiving. She replied, “Chinese people don’t eat turkey.” Which isn’t true, of course! Throughout the years, we’ve learned the traditions and adapted it to make it our own.

Thanks, Jannie! It’s been so fun chatting with you! I wish you all the best with Bear and Chicken and all of your books!

Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-garden-board-game-1

Grow a Vegetable Garden Board Game

 

With this fun game you and your family and friends can grow gardens inside! Roll the dice to see whose garden will fully ripen first!

Supplies

Directions

Object: The object of the game is for each player to fill their garden rows with vegetables. Depending on the ages of the players, the required winning number of rows to fill and the number of vegetables to “plant” in each row can be adjusted.

  1. Print one Game Board for each player
  2. Print one set of Playing Cards for each player (for sturdier playing items, print on card stock)
  3. Print one Vegetable Playing Die and assemble it (for a sturdier die, print on card stock)
  4. Cut the vegetables into their individual playing cards
  5. Color the “dirt” on the Garden Plot with the crayon (optional)
  6. Choose a player to go first
  7. The player rolls the die and then “plants” the facing vegetable in a row on the game board
  8. Play moves to the person on the right
  9. Players continue rolling the die and “planting” vegetables until each of the number of determined rows have been filled with the determined number of vegetables.
  10. The first person to “grow” all of their veggies wins!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Bear-and-Chicken-cover-II

You can find Bear and Chicken at these booksellers

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