April 17 – International Haiku Poetry Day

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About the Holiday

We all know about the 5-7-5 rule of haiku poetry: the first line contains 5 syllables, the second line consists of 7 syllables, and the third line follows with 5 syllables. It seems easy as we count off the sounds on our fingers while we compose and say them. But haiku poems are so much more than the sum of their syllables. In those tiny nuggets of language are poignant emotions, unique observations of nature, and life’s wisdom. To celebrate today, read some haiku from the masters—or try your hand at this beautiful form of poetry.

Hi, Koo! A Year of Seasons

By Jon J Muth

 

Jon J Muth’s beloved Zen panda, Koo, tumbles into a year of poignant, funny, and surprising kid-inspired moments in this lighthearted and spirited collections of haiku. As Hi, Koo opens, the gentle panda reaches for a golden, falling leaf that seems to be racing others as they softly plummet to earth. With his paw stretched into the air, Koo wonders, “Autumn, / are you dreaming / of new clothes?”

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Image and text copyright Jon J Muth, 2014, courtesy of Scholastic Press.

As autumn turns blustery and rainy, Koo strolls outside with his umbrella, taking time to spin and twirl and recreate an iconic pose of joy on a lamp post before returning home. Koo licks his lips remembering his day: “Dance through cold rain / then go home / to hot soup.”

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Image and text copyright Jon J Muth, 2014, courtesy of Scholastic Press.

With winter come snow and mysteries and irresistible impishness. Rising from the piles of white fluff, a traffic sign is a tempting target: “snowball hits the stop sign / Heart beats faster / are we in trouble?” The storm leaves snowbanks hip-high on Koo—but smaller creatures? “In the snow / this cat vanishes / Just ears…and twitching tail.”

Winter’s early nightfalls and dusting snow showers invite quiet play and contemplation as “shadows getting Long / snowfall flutters around / the outside lamps.”

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Image and text copyright Jon J Muth, 2014, courtesy of Scholastic Press.

Finally, warm weather soothes the sky, bringing “New leaves / new grass new sky! / spring.” The reawaking world inspires long walks in the lush forest, complete with food for the mind and little friends: “Reading aloud / a favorite book / an audience of sparrows.” But sometimes a step goes wrong, triggering a twinge of remorse that sensitive readers will recognize: “killing a bug / afterward / feeling alone and Sad.”

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Image and text copyright Jon J Muth, 2014, courtesy of Scholastic Press.

Summer ousts all remnants of the coolness of spring, offering gleeful freedom both day and night. The deep,  inky skies provide a backdrop to “Tiny lights / garden full of blinking stars / fireflies.” On a trip to the shore, even the sea becomes a playmate: “Water catches / every thrown stone / skip-skip splash!”

As autumn promises to roll around again, it is time to ponder another year. Just you “becoming so quiet / Zero sound / only breath.”

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Image and text copyright Jon J Muth, 2014, courtesy of Scholastic Press.

In his introductory Author’s Note, Jon J Muth discusses the haiku form, which originated in Japan and “was made up of seventeen sound parts called on—divided into three lines with five, then seven, then five on. He reveals that English syllables and on are not equal and that haiku directly translated into English are often shorter than the 5-7-5 lines we are used to. In Hi, Koo! Muth employs this looser structure, capturing an instant in time “using sensory images.”

Muth’s verses will delight readers with their wisdom, wit, and winks to fleeting childhood ideas and actions that tend to be remembered long afterward—even into adulthood. Muth’s lovely watercolors—snapshots in various perspectives—tenderly depict the magical moments that make up a child’s year.

Ages 4 – 8

Scholastic Press, 2014 | ISBN 978-0545166683

International Haiku Poetry Day Activity

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Friendly Bookworm Bookmark

 

If you love to read and write, you might think of yourself as a bookworm! Here’s a printable Friendly Bookworm Bookmark to keep you company while you read and mark your page when you have to be away.

Picture Book Review

March 16 – National Panda Day

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About the Holiday

National Panda Day was established to raise awareness of the dangers faced by these favorite, adorable animals. Destruction of the vast bamboo forests on which pandas rely for food, coupled with their low birth rate has resulted in their being placed on the endangered list. Conservation groups as well as zoos and other animal sanctuaries are working to breed and protect these gentle black-and-white beauties. If you’d like to get involved, consider donating to a local zoo program or other environmental group.

I’ll Wait, Mr. Panda

By Steve Antony

 

Perhaps lured by the vision of Mr. Panda wearing an apron and chef’s hat and carrying a bowl and spoon, a very fancy, fluffy alpaca approaches him and inquires, “What are you making, Mr. Panda?” Mr. Panda eyes him skeptically and tells him to wait because “it’s a surprise.” With his nose in the air, the alpaca spins around, declares that he “will not wait,” and gives a terse “Good-bye.” Little penguin seems to appear out of nowhere and, while Mr. Panda adds flour to the bowl, pipes up that he will wait.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-i'll-wait-mr-panda-anteater

Image and text copyright Steve Antony, courtesy of Scholastic Press

Next on the scene is an eager aardvark wondering if Mr. Panda is making cookies. “Wait and see. It’s a surprise,” Mr. Panda answers over his shoulder as he surreptitiously stirs his ingredients and little penguin stands by. But the aardvark isn’t into such a tough assignment and also says “Good-bye.” Keen to pick up the slack, the penguin calls out from the edge of the page, “I’ll wait, Mr. Panda.”

Suddenly, the floor erupts in rabbits! They are curious to find out if Mr. Panda is making pancakes. He gives them his standard line, but the rabbits are “done waiting” and dive back into their pancake-shaped holes and disappear. Only a moment later, a white crane dashes in all a-flutter. He doesn’t care what Mr. Panda is making as long as it’s ready. When he discovers that he will have to wait, he flaps his wings and soars off the page, leaving only a “Good-bye” in his wake.

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Image and text copyright Steve Antony, courtesy of Scholastic Press

The small penguin, tired of being ignored, shouts in her loudest voice, “I’ll wait, Mr. Panda!” She stands gazing out at the right edge of the page as Mr. Panda finally notices her from the edge of the left page. He peeks slyly at her, and as readers turn the page, the little penguin is rewarded. “Surprise!” sings Mr. Panda as he rolls out a chocolate-frosted-and-sprinkled doughnut that is bigger than he is. The penguin is in awe and offers Mr. Panda the ultimate compliment—“That was worth the wait”—and a very polite “Thank you.”

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Image and text copyright Steve Antony, courtesy of Scholastic Press

Young children just learning the virtues of patience and manners will identify with the little penguin who has the right attitude and is rewarded in the end while all of the bigger, in-a-hurry animals lose out. The spare text allows even very young readers to join in, especially on Mr. Panda’s repeated request and each animal’s “Good-bye.” Read with feeling, the story will induce giggles of delight. Steve Antony’s collection of black-and-white animals with their superior, confused, and frazzled expressions will also amuse kids while they cheer for the persistent penguin. Fans of Antony’s Please, Mr. Panda, will be happy to see the return of their favorite buddy and his favorite snack.

Ages 3 – 5

Scholastic Press, 2016 | ISBN 978-1338028362

Discover more about Steve Antony, his books, and art as well as fun kids’ activities on his website!

National Panda Day Activity

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Pandas in the Park Find the Differences

 

These pandas are enjoying a day in the park! Can you spot all the differences in the second picture on this printable Pandas in the Park Find the Differences Puzzle?

Picture Book Review

February 20 – National Love Your Pet Day

The Octopuppy by Martin McKenna Picture Book Review

About the Holiday

National Love Your Pet Day is a great day for pets and for pet owners! If you have a pet, spend extra time with them or give them an extra treat today.You know you’ll both enjoy it!

The Octopuppy

By Martin McKenna

 

Edgar wants a puppy for his birthday, but what he gets is so NOT a puppy. Out of the gift box pops Jarvis, a goggle-eyed octopus ready to party. Disappointing doesn’t even begin to describe Edgar’s feelings. Jarvis can’t do anything a dog could do. Sure, he might be clever—Jarvis buys Edgar an ice-cream cone instead of staying on his leash tied to the lamppost, for example—but Edgar wants a pet he can enter in the upcoming dog show.

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Copyright Martin McKenna, courtesy of http://www.storycorner.scholastic.com

Perhaps with training Jarvis can learn to be more like a dog, Edgar thinks. But when Edgar tells him to lie down, Jarvis goes to sleep wearing PJs and socks, holding a teddy bear and surrounded with books. Edgar’s command to “play dead” elicits a surprise lunge from a wardrobe in a toilet-paper mummy costume. It’s just too much, and drives Edgar crazy! Finally, however, Jarvis learns to sit like a dog, and off they go to the dog show.

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Copyright Martin McKenna, courtesy of http://www.storycorner.scholastic.com

At the dog show things go…well…Jarvis just can’t help being himself. He wears a tutu, plays the piano, does card tricks, and plays the drums—all at the same time. The other entrants are not amused, and Edgar is sooo embarrassed.

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Copyright Martin McKenna, courtesy of http://www.storycorner.scholastic.com

Jarvis decides to run away, and after penning a note apologizing for being a bad dog, he slips down the toilet and out to sea. When Edgar discovers Jarvis is missing, he realizes he has been wrong. He remembers all the great things Jarvis did and thinks that Jarvis was the best Octopuppy in the world! Suddenly, he wants his pet back. He looks everywhere, but Jarvis is nowhere to be found.

As a last resort Edgar yells his apology into Jarvis’s escape route. His message is carried through the plumbing by various pipe and underground creatures until Jarvis hears it. Before Edgar can turn around, Jarvis is back! To celebrate his being home, Edgar’s family and friends throw Jarvis the kind of wild party he was looking for all along.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-octopuppy-edgar-has-change-of-heart

Copyright Martin McKenna, courtesy of http://www.storycorner.scholastic.com

This endearing story has just the right mix of craziness and sincerity to make it a favorite on any child’s bookshelf. Martin McKenna hits all the right notes in his tribute to friendship and the idea that true friends accept and appreciate each other the way they are. Jarvis is a sweetie as he does his very un-doglike things. He rescues a cat instead of chasing it, cooks sausages instead of stealing them, and performs surgery instead of biting the mailman. These vignettes make Edgar’s rejection of Jarvis all the more heartrending and his ultimate realization very satisfying. McKenna’s illustrations are loaded with silly and profound details that kids will want to linger over, and the two-page spread of Edgar leading Jarvis home after the dog show is an emotional marvel.

Ages 3 – 6

Scholastic Press, 2015 | ISBN 978-0545751407

Check out more about Martin McKenna and his books on theoctopuppy.com.

Unwrap The Octopuppy book trailer!

National Love Your Pet Day Activity

CPB - Dog Toy

Braided Pet Toy

 

Your pet will love playing with you and this easy-to-make toy that’s perfect for tug-of-war, fetch, or any kind of fun.

Supplies

  • Fleece in two or three colors or patterns
  • Scissors

CPB - Dog Toy II

Directions

  1. Cut 3 strips of fleece 15 inches to 20 inches long. You can use just one color, two, or three!
  2. Holding all three strips of fleece together, make a knot by looping them at the top, feeding the ends through the loop, and pulling tight.
  3. Braid the 3 strands of fleece until there are 3” to 4” left at the end
  4. Holding all three strands together, knot them as before
  5. Your toy is ready to play with! 

Picture Book Review

December 7 – Letter Writing Day

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About the Holiday

With all the letter writing going on during December by young wishers, it should be no surprise that a letter-writing day be included in this month’s calendar. Today’s holiday celebrates all forms of personal communication written by hand and remembers the correspondence of the past that has given us such insight into our favorite poets, novelists, historical figures, and more. Sure email might be faster, but there’s a certain luxury in taking the time to write your thoughts and an unexplainable excitement in holding a heartfelt letter in your hands. The punctuation marks in today’s reviewed book not only help correspondents write more dramatically, but they remind us that we all have unique things to say!

Exclamation Mark

Written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal | Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

 

! “stood out from the very beginning.” When he was standing in a row of ……, it didn’t matter if he was in the middle or at the end—he still stuck out. The only time he wasn’t so noticeable was when he laid down to go to sleep. Sometimes he twisted himself into coils and did somersaults to be like the others, but nothing worked. “He just wasn’t like everyone else. Period.” This left him feeling “confused, flummoxed, and deflated.”

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Image copyright Tom Lichtenheld, text copyright Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Courtesy of Scholastic Press

He was just about to run away from all his problems when he met ?. ? rushed right up to him and wanted to know everything. “Who are you?…What’s your favorite color? Do you like frogs?…Do you wanna race to the corner? Is there an echo in here? Is there an echo in here?…Why do you look so surprised?….” The list went on and on.

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Image copyright Tom Lichtenheld, text copyright Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Courtesy of Scholastic Press

“STOP!” ! shouted. The sound stunned him. ? smiled and wanted him to do it again. ! didn’t know if he could, so he tried a small “Hi!” “That felt right, so he tried something bigger. Howdy!” And then he said, “Wow!” After that there was no stopping him: “You’re it!…Home run!…Yum!…Look out!…Thanks!…Boo!…Go!”

He rushed off to show everyone what he could do. The …… were delighted and “there was much exclaiming.” Now feeling happy and confident, ! “went off to make his mark.”

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Image copyright Tom Lichtenheld, text copyright Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Courtesy of Scholastic Press

Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s clever story of an exclamation point searching for self expression is as moving as it is original. Kids will recognize his feelings of sticking out in a crowd and uncertainty of purpose and applaude when ? comes on the scene to befriend !. Readers will giggle knowingly at the barrage of questions, and feel emboldened themselves as ! finds his voice and his own unique contribution.

Tom Lichtenheld’s adorable punctuation marks hanging out on kid-ruled paper demonstrate all the expression and expressions of this well-crafted story. With simple dot eyes and small streak mouths, Lichtenheld animates the various emotions of the periods, exclamation mark, and question mark as they discover !’s special talent with individuality for each. The unbridled exuberance of ?‘s and !’s meeting makes this a terrific book about friendship as well.

! deftly points out “What would we do without exclamation points?” Likewise it asks, “What would we do without each one of us?” The positive message, creatively and humorously presented, makes this book a terrific addition to any child’s library.

Scholastic Press, 2013 | ISBN 978-054543679

You’ll find more about Amy Krouse Rosenthal, her books for children and adults, videos, other projects, and so much more on her website!

Discover a portfolio of books by Tom Lichtenheld as well as fun book-related activities and resources for teachers on his website!

!!!! for this ! book trailer!

National Letter Writing Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-pencil-riding-kids-find-the-differencesLetter-Writing Kids Find the Differences Puzzle

 

Sometimes writing a letter is a flight of fancy through the thoughts and stories you want to tell someone else. Can you find the 12 differences in this printable Letter-Writing Kids Find the Differences Puzzle?

Picture Book Review 

October 29 – Hug a Sheep Day

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About the Holiday

Founded in 1992 by a woman who rescued a sheep from wooly circumstances, Hug a Sheep Day gives us time to appreciate the warmth and comfort these animals provide through their soft fleece. As winter approaches in many parts of the world, many of us would be lost and cold without our favorite wool sweaters. If you want to take full advantage of today’s celebration, find a farm or petting zoo where you can give a sheep or lamb a hug.

Six Creepy Sheep

Written by Judith Ross Enderle and Stephanie Jacob Gordon | Illustrated by John O’Brien

 

Six sheep just hanging out on Halloween night decided to go trick-or-treating. This spur-of-the-moment idea doesn’t leave them much time for elaborate costumes, so they cut holes in sheets and toss them over their heads. Then with pumpkin buckets in hoof and “on little sheep feet,” the “six creepy sheep went a-haunting UNTIL…they passed a passel of pirates, and one creepy sheep turned tail with a shriek.”

Five creepy sheep continue their haunting UNTIL…a flock of fairies crosses their path, sending one sheep running with a shriek. Down to four, the creepy sheep bravely head down the path again UNTIL…a herd of hobos happen by, “and one creepy sheep turned tail with a shriek.” Three bold sheep “on little sheep feet” tip toe through the forest UNTIL… “they glimpsed a gaggle of goblins” that sends one shrieking on its way.

Now two creepy sheep, more courageous than the others, hurry on as spooky trees wave and the wind howls UNTIL… “they whisked by a warren of witches” which is just too much for one of the sheep and it…well, you know! Under the bright full moon the last creepy sheep has come to the old barn that was the group’s final destination. Jack-o’-lanterns light the doorway, and the windows glow. The fearless ghostly sheep calls out, “Sheep trick or treat.”  Then the farmer swings open the door to a barnyard Halloween party with music, pumpkin pie, apple cider…and all the sheep’s friends!

When the holiday is “Hug a Sheep Day” to celebrate those sweet, gentle animals that say Baaaa instead of Booo, but the specter of Halloween is everywhere, what’s a reviewer to do? The classic Six Creepy Sheep is the perfect solution! Judith Ross Enderle and Stephanie Jacob Gordon created a concept book that will keep little readers on their little feet as they count down the flock of sheep that go “a-haunting” on Halloween night. Alliterative verses introduce the other trick-or-treaters who so frighten the sheep that their numbers dwindle with each page. The repetitive phrasing makes Six Creepy Sheep a fun read-along, and the inclusive ending will charm kids.

John O’Brien’s pen and ink and watercolor illustrations are just spooky enough to create a slightly shivery story time for young readers. Kids will giggle at the orange-fleeced sheep wearing ghost costumes and walking on two legs. The site of the sheep fleeing in fright will also delight little ones as they pluck up their courage and proudly know that they would never be afraid of the pirates, fairies, hobos, goblins, and witches the sheep encounter. The forest, rendered in muted shades of purple, green, blue, and orange, is populated with trees that appear eerily alive and add to the Halloween atmosphere.

More readily available at libraries and with used booksellers, Six Creepy Sheep is a cute addition to your Halloween reading list.

Ages 3 – 6

Scholastic, 1992 | ISBN 978-0590119481

To learn more about John O’Brien and his artwork for children’s books, The New Yorker, and other publications, visit his website!

Hug a Sheep Day Activity

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Sheep on a Farm Coloring Page

 

With their fluffy wool and sweet Baaaa, sheep are a favorite of kids and adults.Enjoy this printable Sheep on a Farm Coloring Page.

Picture Book Review

September 19 – Talk Like a Pirate Day

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About the Holiday

Shiver me timbers! Avast, ye mateys! Today it be arrgh-uably the best day of the year for all us swashbuckling swabbies that sail the ocean blue a-lookin’ for treasure! Talk Like a Pirate Day, ironically got started in the walled confines of a racquetball court, where a group of guys were doing…well what a group of guys do to encourage each other—toss around pirate phrases. They decided the idea was too good to keep on the court, so they designated September 19th as Talk Like a Pirate Day. They then alerted Dave Barry, comedic writer extraordinaire, who spread word of this day far and wide. Now it’s a favorite of young and old alike. So get out there and do some plunderin’ ye scalliwags!

Pirasaurs!

Written by Josh Funk | Illustrated by Michael Slack

 

There’s a new brigand sailing the bounding main with a crew more rag-tag and wild than any seen before. They roar their chanteys as they set the rigging with their “spiky tails” and play watery pranks on the newbie recruit Who are they? They’ll be happy to tell you themselves—“We’re Pirasaurs! We’re Pirasaurs! We rule the open seas! / We’ll cannon-blast you to the past! We do just what we please!”

All this commotion can be a bit intimidating to the newest matey who knows just what he’s up against: “With lots to learn, I’ve got to earn the crew’s respect and trust. / I’ll rise in rank or walk the plank…I hope I can adjust!” At the point of Captain Rex’s “fabled sword” this little guy—who has yet to cut his sharp teeth—swabs the deck, scrubbing and brushing so fast he ends up in the plesiosaur-infested deep.

Brontobeard steers the ship over the briny waves while “with handy hook, Triceracook / prepares Jurassic feasts!” which leads them all to “…slurp and belch and burp / with buccaneering beasts!” Of course these pirasaurs are after more than fun times—they want treasure! Velocimate navigates by using the stars while our seapuppy reveals that he uses his “smarts to map the charts. / But still we’re led astray!”

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Image copyright Michael Slace, courtesy of slackart.com

Land ho! The pirasaurs come ashore on a distant island. Can treasure be nearby? The crew fans out looking for the X, but no matter how hard they search, they can’t find it. “The crew begins to search within / The frayed and tattered map, / a shadow looms, the water fumes / revealing—It’s a trap!” It seems the pirasaurs had a spy onboard, and now that they’ve found the right spot, he’s alerted his true mates.

They come brandishing swords, sizzling cannon balls, knives, oars, and sneering looks. But Captain Rex’s troop is ready for them. While “a mighty clash erupts upon the sand,” the littlest buccaneer notices a very interesting development. Clutched in the claws of a saur enemy, he sees a fragment of a map. “Ahoy! Avast!” He shouts above the fray. “We’ve got to stop these duels! / Let’s share the scraps of each our maps / To find the gold and jewels!”  The pirasaurs stop fighting and they carefully connect the two shards of paper. Lo and behold! The X is clearly visible! Together the two pirasaur crews uncover the treasure—and what a treasure it is! Not only are there gems, and gold, and silver—the chests contain the nugget of friendship! Now the pirasaurs want readers to join up and join in! “Through battles, brawls and fireballs, / Plus prehistoric roars, / The salty deep is ours to keep— / Come join the Pirasaurs!”

Like rolling waves on the high seas, Josh Funk takes readers on a boisterous journey full of twists, turns, and tricks with the rowdiest group of pirates ever to set sail! Funk’s rhymes flow as fast and smooth as a sloop on a fair-weather day. The new recruit is understandably intimidated by the Jurassic giants, but while these pirates may be dinosaurs, they are modern in their thinking. When the little guy suggests they share, they’re all for it, leading to the best discovery of all—friendship!

Michael Slack signed up all the faves—brontosaurs, triceratops, stegosaurus, spinosaurus, velociraptor, pterodactyl, of course T-rex, and some dinos that haven’t even been discovered yet—in this cross-epoch epic! And these aren’t the scurvy dogs you’re used to from science class. They’ve got eye patches, peg legs, hooks, earrings, and some pretty rad hats and jaggedy shorts. And oh, yes, did I mention they’re super colorful? Purple, orange, green, blue, mauve…. Readers can almost smell the sea air in Slack’s detailed, full-bleed pages of rowdy pirasaurs, tangled rigging, gross cooking, brave swashbuckling, and, ultimately, found treasure.

Pirasaurs! is definitely treasure for your bookshelves, as kids will want to read it again and again. Savvy?

Ages 3 – 9

Scholastic, 2016 | ISBN 978-0545750493

Josh Funk’s website has information on his books, fun activities for kids, book trailers, and much more!

You know Michael Slack’s awesome books! Find them as well as a gallery of illustrations and more on his website!

Ahoy, me Hearties! You be watchin’ this Pirasaurs! book trailer!

Talk Like a Pirate Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-avast!-pirate-game-board

Original artwork copyright Conor Carroll and Celebrate Picture Books, 2016

Avast! Board Game

 

Ahoy, Mateys! Avast! Somewhere on the island is buried treasure! Test your skills against rotten food, stormy seas, and even the Kraken (don’t worry, there are good days too!) as you traverse the forbidding landscape in search of jewels and gold!

Supplies

Printable Avast! Game Board and Game Pieces

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Original artwork copyright Conor Carroll and Celebrate Picture Books, 2016

Directions

  1. Print the Avast! Board Game pages on white paper or parchment-colored paper or on card stock.
  2. To make regular white paper appear old – as in the picture – paint with a tea wash before taping together. (See directions for tea wash below)
  3. Cut out the Avast! Pirate Loot Tokens
  4. Cut out the Avast! Game Cards
  5. Tape together the 4 pieces of the map. Option: map pages printed on regular paper can be  glued to a piece of poster board to make the game board more sturdy. 

To use a tea bag to make the map look old:

  1. Steep a black tea tea bag in 1/4 cup boiling water for 3 minutes
  2. Squeeze the tea bag dry over the cup and discard
  3. With the paint brush, paint the 4 pages of the map with the tea before taping them together
  4. Let dry or dry with a hair drier set on Low.

To Play the Game

  1. Each player chooses a Pirate Loot Token as their playing piece to move along the board
  2. Shuffle and stack the Game Cards
  3. Choose which player will go first
  4. Players choose the top card from the pile and follow the directions to move spaces on the game board.
  5. After moving, players should put their game card in a discard pile
  6. If game cards run out before the end, flip over the discard pile and use the cards again
  7. The first player to arrive at the X on the map finds the treasure and is the winner!

 

Q & A with Author Josh Funk

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Today Josh Funk, author of Pirasaurs!, Dear Dragon, and Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast drops by to talk about his work, his influences, upcoming books, and a very special ironing board!

What were some of the books you enjoyed most as a child?

Hmm. I hate starting this interview off negatively, but I find this question a bit problematic as it’s in the past tense. In many (most?) ways I’m still very much a child. Hee hee (wink).

I had a lot of the standard favorite picture books: CorduroySylvester and the Magic PebbleCaps for SaleThe LoraxLyle, Lyle, Crocodile.

But one of my more underrated favorites is The Adventures of the S.S. Happiness Crew: The First Adventure: Cap’n Joshua’s Dangerous Dilemma. The illustrations probably look familiar as it’s Eric Hill of the Spot series. My Aunt Betty gave me this book on the day my younger brother was born (I was three). I think it was the first book that I encountered where I shared a name with a character—which I certainly found thrilling as a three year old.

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Your rhymes are so inspired—have you always wanted to be a writer? How did you come to be a picture book author?

Actually, I wouldn’t say I’ve always wanted to be a writer. When I was a child, maybe 3rd grade, I wrote a rhyming poem about Larry Bird and another about Roger Clemens (I grew up a Celtics and Red Sox fan in the Boston suburbs). My parents were pretty impressed with the poems (and still have copies of them), but I didn’t really do too much writing after that as a child.

Until late high school and college when I learned how to play guitar. I wrote a bunch of songs, but I was always more of the clever & quirky type of songwriter, not the smooth and poetic type. It might have something to do with being a huge fan of They Might Be Giants for most of my life. When I had kids, any time I broke out the guitar, the kids just saw it as a toy, and I’d be halfway through a song before they started telling me, ‘My Turn!’

But around the same time, I was reading a lot of great picture books to my kids, and that’s when I decided to try writing my own. Some of my favorites included Iggy Peck, ArchitectThe Curious GardenThe Gardener, and Vunce Upon a Time. I was inspired, and it turns out that my rhyming songwriting skills actually paid off when it came to writing rhyming picture books.

I was quickly introduced to The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and went to the annual New England spring conference in 2012 – and I learned a ton. At the same spring conference in 2013, I met Heather Kelly who had just founded The Writer’s Loft  in another Boston suburb and immediately jumped on board. Both SCBWI and The Writers’ Loft have been extremely influential in my writing life, both in regards to the craft and the business. Fast forward to 2016, and I co-coordinated this past spring’s New England SCBWI conference (along with Heather Kelly) and I’m a member of the board of The Writers’ Loft.

And I can still use the guitar a little bit. I recorded the music for both the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast book trailer and the Pirasaurs! book trailer. 

Your books are so varied. What sparks an idea for a book in general, or what was the spark for any of your books in particular?

I often think about what I’d like to see illustrated. I can’t draw particularly well, but I sure thought it would be fun to see what a Pirate-Dinosaur looked like, so I wrote Pirasaurs! I thought it might cool to see a boy and a dragon as pen pals, so I wrote Dear Dragon. I was entertained by the idea of breakfast foods causing catastrophic culinary chaos in the fridge. So I wrote Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast.

I think the varied styles are mostly due to the fact that each of the books is published by a different publisher and illustrated by a different illustrator. But I couldn’t be happier with the look of all three.

Your books contain such rollicking rhymes—can you describe your writing process?

Well it took some time to discover and then implement the following tidbit, but the most important thing about a rhyming picture book is not the rhyme … or the rhythm. Most important is a good story. So figuring out the story has to come first.

I’ll spend some time getting to know the characters, their goals, conflicts, and making sure I’ve got a satisfying ending in mind. Once I’m through the brainstorming process, I’ll usually hammer out a first draft over the course of a few days to a week. Then I’ll revise. I share the manuscript with critique partners and groups over the next few days/weeks/months. If it ever gets to the point where I think it’s good enough, I’ll send it to my agent.

I’ve refined my process over the last five years, and my first drafts are better now than they were then. I know better which ideas to pursue and which aren’t as marketable. I’ve made lots of valuable mistakes along the way. But I still have lots to learn. I can always improve my process.

What is the best part of writing picture books?

Probably when a parent says to me that they’ve read a book I wrote 5 times because their child kept requesting it over and over again. And that the parent was happy to oblige.

Can you describe your work space a little?

I mostly write (like I am now, answering these questions) on my laptop while laying in bed. Sometimes there’s music or a movie on in the background (often it’s Scott Pilgrim vs the World). Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and have an idea or a line or a scene that I just can’t get out of my head, so I write it on my phone … again, while in bed.

So, as far as work space, I guess it’s mostly a digital one. I do most of my writing in google docs in a chrome browser, often with thesaurus.com open in one tab and possibly rhymezone.com open in another.

My office mates are authors Jess Keating, Tara Lazar, and Anna Staniszewski who I ‘speak’ with in google chat, while I converse with my editors and agent via email.

What is the favorite object in your work space and why?

Probably my puffalump, Monkey Dude, who you can see in my head shot above

You have two more books scheduled for release in 2017: a sequel to Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast and It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk. Can you give readers a sneak peek? Are there any other books on the horizon?

In LP&SFT: The Case of the Stinky Stench, there’s something foul in the fridge and Inspector Croissant (Sir French Toast’s nephew) asks our main characters to help him find the source of a terrible odor. They search everywhere from Onion Ring Cave to Corn Chowder Lake, confident that the culprit is right under their noses… but I won’t spoil any more of it for you – you’ll just have to wait until next spring. Brendan Kearney is back as the illustrator and I kinda think it might be better than the first one.

It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk is my first story not written in rhyme. It was supposed to be the tale of Jack … and the beanstalk, but really … it’s not. All the narrator wants to do is tell the traditional tale properly. But Jack just won’t do what he’s supposed to! Jack constantly questions why he should sell his cow (Bessie’s my best friend) or climb the beanstalk (but it’s soooo tall) or enter the castle (there’s probably a giant in there). This one is illustrated by Edwardian Taylor – and he’s so talented! Follow him on Instagram to see his greatness!

And yes, there are certainly more books on the horizon. But … I can’t talk about them yet. Stay tuned.

I can’t properly call my blog holiday themed without asking you a few related questions, so…

What is your favorite holiday?

Halloween. Can’t beat candy corn and costumes.

Do you have an anecdote from any holiday you’d like to share?

A few years back I needed to wrap some holiday presents in private. So I went to the basement bathroom and stacked them up on an old ironing board. Over the next few days, the kids noticed the wrapped gifts and asked why they were in there, so I jokingly said that I was storing them on the ‘Winter Solstice Ironing Board.’

And now, every year around the holidays, we put all the family’s presents on that same ironing board during the holiday season … but we now keep the ‘Winter Solstice Ironing Board’ in the living room. Luckily, I haven’t needed to iron anything in the month of December since then.

Has a holiday ever influenced your work?

Nothing I can report on yet … but hopefully I’ll have news on that soon!

Well, Josh, I can’t wait to find out—and I’m sure readers can’t either! Thanks so much for sharing more about your work and influences! I wish you all the best with Pirasaurs! and all of your other books!

Josh Funk writes silly stories and somehow tricks people into publishing them as picture books – such as the Award-Winning LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST (Sterling), PIRASAURS! (Scholastic), DEAR DRAGON (Viking/Penguin), LP&SFT: THE CASE OF THE STINKY STENCH (Sterling, 2017), IT’S NOT JACK AND THE BEANSTALK (Two Lions, 2017), and more.

Josh is a board member of The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, MA and the co-coordinator of the 2016 and 2017 New England Regional SCBWI Conferences.

Josh grew up in New England and studied Computer Science in school. Today, he still lives in New England and when not writing Java code or Python scripts, he drinks Java coffee and writes picture book manuscripts.

Josh is terrible at writing bios, so please help fill in the blanks. Josh enjoys _______ during ________ and has always loved __________. He has played ____________ since age __ and his biggest fear in life is being eaten by a __________.

Find out more about Josh Funk at www.joshfunkbooks.com and on Twitter at @joshfunkbooks.

Pirasaurs! and Josh Funk’s other books can be found at:

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

Connect with Josh on:

joshfunkbooks.com | Facebook | Twitter

Picture Book Review

 

July 30 – International Day of Friendship

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About the Holiday

First established in 2011 by the United Nations General Assembly, the International Day of Friendship asserts the idea that friendship between peoples, countries, cultures, and individuals can inspire peace efforts and build bridges between communities. The UN resolution places particular emphasis on involving young people in community activities that include different cultures and promote respect for individual diversity. On this day UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urges everyone, especially young people who will be our future leaders, “to resolve to cherish and cultivate as many warm relationships as possible, enriching our own lives and enhancing the future.”

The day is celebrated with special initiatives, events, and activities that promote dialogue, education, understanding, and cooperation.

Hector and Hummingbird

By Nicholas John Frith

 

Deep in the mountains of Peru Hector and Hummingbird have forged an unbreakable friendship. “Mostly.” Hummingbird has lots of energy and loves to hover around his best bear pal. Which is ok, except sometimes Hector would just like a little quiet time, and Hummingbird won’t stop talking: “Hey, Hector! Is that a custard apple? I love custard apples! I’m going to eat this one! Oh, no! I’m going to eat that one! Shall I eat your one! Hector? Hec-torrr!” Sometimes a simple alone-time scratch would be just perfect, but Hummingbird copies him on a tree nearby: “Hey, Hector! Are you scratching? I’m going to scratch too!…” And nap time? Forget it! Hummingbird always keeps Hector awake with some story. It’s enough to make Hector cross with Hummingbird!

One day Hector can’t take it anymore—“‘Arrgh!!’” he roars. “‘Leave me alone!’”—and he takes off into the forest to find some peace. Hector’s outburst comes as a surprise to Hummingbird. He needs to find out what’s wrong, so he follows Hector into the woods, his constant hum filling the air. “‘Stop following me!’” Hector says. And Hummingbird complies—mostly. From behind leaves and tree trunks Hummingbird spies on his friend.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hector-and-hummingbird-interior-art-bear-cross

Image copyright Nicholas John Frith, courtesy of zoetucker.co.uk

As Hector delves deeper and deeper into the woods, he feels an unfamiliar excitement and also a bit of trepidation. Perhaps he’s just hungry, Hector thinks. He picks a custard apple to quell the gnawing in his stomach. The fruit tastes delicious, but Hector also feels funny eating alone. He imagines how much Hummingbird would enjoy the apple too.

The scratchiest tree Hector has ever seen beckons to him, and he settles in for a nice, quiet scratch. But again he experiences that twinge of loneliness. As the forest becomes dark, Hector finds a branch to snooze on. The night air is full of strange noises, and Hector is a little scared. “‘I wish Hummingbird were here,’” sniffs Hector. “‘He could tell me a story.’”

That’s all Hummingbird needs to hear. “A story? Yay! You should have said! I love telling stories! Once upon a time…” This time Hector doesn’t roar or run away. He exclaims, “‘Hummingbird! You’re here! I missed you!’” Hummingbird admits that he missed Hector too, and that he was there all the time. “Here all along?” says a surprised Hector. “I thought I told you not to follow me!”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hector-and-hummingbird-interior-art-best-friends

Image copyright Nicholas John Frith, courtesy of zoetucker.co.uk

“But why?” Hummingbird asks. This time Hector doesn’t keep his thoughts inside. “‘Because you never stop talking!’” he answers. “‘And you’re always copying me!” Hummingbird has ready reasons. He’s only being friendly, he explains. And he loves Hector’s ideas. “‘Oh,’” says Hector. “‘Really?’” Then Hector has a brain storm. He asks Hummingbird if he can copy his being really, really quiet. “Absolutely!” Hummingbird says. And he does—in his Hummingbird sort of way, which sounds like this: “Hey, Hector? This is fun, isn’t it? We’re being really, really quiet, aren’t we? I love being quiet, don’t you? Hector? Hec-torrr?”

Nicholas John Frith humorously exposes the niggling burrs of true friendship with his endearing and inspired pairing of a quiet bear and an energetic hummingbird. While best friends love to spend time together, have lots in common, and share a history, they also share moments of frustration, misunderstanding, and vexation. Through Hector and Hummingbird, Frith reveals what happens when communication breaks down and resentments build up. Readers will see that true friendship consists of both honest dialogue and accepting people for who they are.

Frith’s jungle environment, rendered in a palate of vintage aqua, pink, green, brown, and black on a white background gives the story a fresh, bold appeal while highlighting the emotional responses of the characters to maximum effect. As day turns to night, Hector—having gone off in a huff—realizes that he misses his friend and moreover misses the very things that annoyed him about Hummingbird. His expressions of sadness and loneliness, delight at seeing Hummingbird again, and then confusion as to why Hummingbird is there in the first place can lead kids into an understanding that even the best of friends have differences.

Hector and Hummingbird offers kids both amusing and teachable moments with two funny, charming characters to escort them on the journey. An animated storyteller will have kids asking for this book again and again. It’s a great addition to the family library.

Ages 4 – 8

Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic, 2015 | ISBN 978-0545857017

Have fun perusing Nicholas John Frith’s online portfolio of illustrations, projects, and products!

International Day of Friendship Activity

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Best Friends Coloring Pages

 

Friends like to play together and color together! Here are two printable pages for you to have fun with. Why not text a friend and color them together?

Coloring Page 1

Coloring Page 2