September 14 – Live Creative Day

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About the Holiday

National Live Creative Day was established to encourage people to embrace their innovative side. There are so many ways to be creative from the arts to science to sports to how you express yourself. Kids seem to know this inherently as they go about exploring and interacting with all the new things they see, hear, and do every day. Introducing kids to all kinds of hobbies, subjects, and professions expands their definition of creativity and their outlook on the future. Encouraging them to use their particular talents, helps them build confidence and find their place in the world. Reading today’s book with them is a great way to start! To celebrate today, take time to share your talents with others. You may be surprised at how creative you really are!

Thanks go to Beach Lane Books and Blue Slip Media for sharing a copy of Annette Feels Free with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Annette Feels Free: The True Story of Annette Kellerman, World-Class Swimmer, Fashion Pioneer, and Real-Life Mermaid

Written by Katie Mazeika

 

It was early 1900 and teenage Annette Kellerman was making a splash at Australia’s Melbourne Aquarium. She “was a real-life mermaid swimming and dancing with the fish…” to entertain visitors. The newspapers wrote about her, and people flocked to watch. Annette had always loved the freedom she felt while dancing, but when she was six, her legs became too weak for her to dance or to run or even to walk without braces. Sitting at home, Annette was no longer the happy little girl she had been.

Then one day, her father took Annette to swim in Lavender Bay. “She laughed and danced in the waves, kicking her legs. Splash, splash!” Annette swam so much that “she became the strongest swimmer in New South Wales” and no longer needed her leg braces. In addition to performing, Annette raced and soon she had broken all of Australia’s long-distance swimming records. She then moved to London and thrilled audiences there.

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Copyright Katie Mazeika, 2022, courtesy of Beach Lane Books.

Annette and her father then traveled throughout Europe and America, where Annette performed her water dancing and raced against other swimmers—men included—and won. But there was one thing that was holding her back from even greater success—her swim costume. “Because she was a woman, she still had to perform and compete in a full skirt and pantaloons.” Why, she thought, did she have to wear something different and so cumbersome?

Annette decided to sew her own swim costume. Her new one-piece suit with short legs was so liberating. She felt as she had as a girl first learning to swim and dance in Lavender Bay. But not everyone saw her swimsuit in the same light. When she wore it to the beach in Boston, the crowd was shocked, and she was even arrested for “not wearing enough clothing!” Arguing her case in front of a judge, Annette showed the court the difference in men’s and women’s swimwear and stated that she should have the same freedom as men. The judge agreed, but with a caveat: she had to remain covered up all the way to the water’s edge. Her new swimwear became a hit with other women, who even called it the Annette Kellerman.

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Copyright Katie Mazeika, 2022, courtesy of Beach Lane Books.

Annette’s career continued to take her all over the world and even made her a movie star! She trained other women in “ornamental swimming”, which later became known as “synchronized swimming.” Now called “artistic swimming”, Annette Kellerman’s revolutionary style is a recognized sport at the Summer Olympics.

Back Matter includes an expanded biography of Annette Kellerman, complete with photographs, and an Author’s Note about Katie Mazeika’s own experiences with a physical disability and how these life-changing occurrences shape who someone is and the careers they pursue.

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Copyright Katie Mazeika, 2022, courtesy of Beach Lane Books.

A comprehensive and compelling biography of a woman who broke barriers while advocating for women and changing fashion mores forever, Annette Feels Free is historical storytelling at its best. Katie Mazeika clearly links Annette’s early disability, her perseverance, and her recovery to her recognition of her unique talent. Mazeika’s conversational narrative draws readers into Annette’s emotions and passion for swimming. Historical points of interest—women’s swim costumes, hot cocoa sipped mid-swim across the English Channel, Annette’s success in court, and her continued influence on swimming, for example—will amaze children and spark a desire to investigate more about Annette Kellerman and her times.

Mazeika’s full-bleed illustrations in this slightly oversized book lend grandeur to the pages, bringing readers into the aquarium’s fish tank to watch spectators’ reactions as Annette becomes “the original mermaid”; depicting her early love of dancing and distress at her braced legs; and falling with her as she thrills London audiences with graceful dives. Children will be particularly fascinated by images of Annette swimming, diving, and dancing in the proscribed swimming costume for women that included a cap and dress trimmed in lace, pantaloons, tights, and ballet-flat type shoes tied to her ankles. Her self-confidence and indomitable spirit grace each spread and are sure to inspire readers. 

For young readers, Annette Kellerman’s long, prolific, and creative career has the power to inspire their own creative endeavors. Annette Feels Free offers multilevel opportunities for lessons in history, the arts, and even math and science (how much did that swim costume weigh, anyway?). The book is highly recommended for home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Beach Lane Books, 2022 | ISBN 978-1665903431

Katherine Mazeika is an author and illustrator with a BFA from the Columbus College of Art and Design. When she isn’t in the studio, she likes to spend time at the theater, in her garden, or getting lost in a good book. She lives in Ohio with her husband, two kids (Lillian and Jack), and two dogs.

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To learn more, and download a free curriculum guide, visit her website at katiemazeika.com. You can connect with Katie on Facebook: Katie Mazeika Illustration | Instagram: @kdmazart | Twitter: @kdmaz

Live Creative Day Activity

 

Video of Annette Kellerman’s “Ornamental Swimming”

 

Watch Annette Kellerman swim her water ballet in this rare footage from MermaidFX.

Million Dollar Mermaid Movie Scene

 

Now watch a thrilling scene from the movie Million Dollar Mermaid, the 1952 biopic about Annette Kellerman’s life starring Esther Williams, whose career was inspired by Kellerman.

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You can find Annette Feels Free at these booksellers at

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 8 – It’s Read a New Book Month

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About the Holiday

Read a New Book Month is a fantastic time to scour your local bookstore and library for books that have recently been published or books that are new to you. Finding a book that you’ve never read before is exciting at any age, and discovering a new book about a favorite topic is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Today’s board book is definitely one that will spark a love for reading and learning in children who are just discovering the wonder of books.

Thanks go to Danna Smith and Little Simon for sharing a digital copy of Wake Up Freight Train! with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Wake Up, Freight Train!

Written by Danna Smith | Illustrated by Jon Andersen

 

For the townspeople it’s time for sleeping, but down at the train station, things are just getting underway as the freight train prepares for its nighttime run. First things first, however. It’s time to rouse the cars one by one. “Choo-choo! Wake up, steam engine, alone on your track. Let’s hook up the freight cars to the hitch on your back.”

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Image copyright Jon Andersen, 2022, text copyright Danna Smith, 2022. Courtesy of Little Simon.

Second in line is the tender that carries the coal. Behind it are cars three, four, and five with supplies for building and heating. Car six is the hopper then …  “Cattle car coming! You’re filled with fresh hay, / hauling some heifers, moooooving this way.” The boxcar follows and finally, “it’s your turn, caboose! / Let’s hook you up fast. / The crew rides in you— / you’re the car that goes last.”

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Image copyright Jon Andersen, 2022, text copyright Danna Smith, 2022. Courtesy of Little Simon.

With all the cars hitched and the coal bin full, the train rolls out of the station. “Toot-toot goes the horn, / blink-blink go the lights, / clang-clang goes the bell, all through the night.” The train chugs over hills and across fields until, with the dawning sun, it arrives at its destination and “our freight train’s long journey has come to an end.”

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Image copyright Jon Andersen, 2022, text copyright Danna Smith, 2022. Courtesy of Little Simon.

Little (and big) train lovers will adore Danna Smith’s rhyming tribute to freight trains that carry goods and animals across states, and sometimes across the country. Smith’s introduction to each type of car is infused with childlike wonder and that special conversational relationship young children have with the world around them. As readers greet each car, they not only learn information about the car’s load and role but hear internal rhymes, alliteration, and even a few puns—all building blocks for early literacy. Smith’s gentle rhythm, paired with the nighttime setting, also makes Wake Up, Freight Train! a perfect read aloud for bedtime.

Jon Andersen’s beautiful, soft blues and greens of a starlit night will put little ones in the mood to be carried into dreamland even as they discover how each different car looks and what it carries. The changing landscape behind each pair of train cars offer interest and continuity while also giving kids an opportunity to talk about how long this train is. Sleepy animals come out to watch as the cars are hitched together, reminding little readers that it might just be bedtime for them too, and the peek of pink on the horizon in the last spread reassures them that tomorrow will come soon.

Wake Up, Freight Train! delightfully captures young children’s fascination with trains and is sure to become a favorite for bedtime (or anytime). The book is highly recommended for home bookshelves; daycare, school, and public library collections; and as a gift for babies and preschoolers.

Ages 2 – 4

Little Simon, 2022 | ISBN 978-1534492516

Discover more about Danna Smith and her books on her website.

To learn more about Jon Andersen and view a portfolio of his art, visit his website.

Read a New Book Month Activity

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Freight Train Coloring Page

 

Who doesn’t love a train?! With this coloring sheet, kids can make their train as colorful as they want! They may even want to add a few animals and birds to the background!

Freight Train Coloring Page

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You can find Wake Up, Freight Train! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

September 7 – Buy a Book Day

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About the Holiday

Today is one of the best days of the year! Anyone who loves books will want to take the opportunity of the holiday to visit their favorite bookstore and buy one of those books you’ve been hearing and reading about. And why stop at just one? Winter is coming—that time when there’s nothing more cozy than snuggling in with a cup of tea or hot chocolate and reading late into the night. As the school year begins, children – even the youngest readers – benefit from having new books in their home libraries that reflect their changing interests and maturing thoughts. Take a little time to look through the offerings of your local bookstore and let your kids pick out some new favorites! 

The Thank You Book

Written by Danna Smith | Illustrated by Juliana Perdomo

 

For little ones, “Thank you” may be one of the first phrases they learn when they begin getting out into the world. Thanking grandparents and other relatives, friends, teachers, librarians, store employees, and others becomes a part of every day. But for kids just learning manners and communication skills, prompts to say “thank you” may seem kind of random, confusing, and maybe even a bit intimidating.

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Image copyright Juliana Perdomo, 2022, text copyright Danna Smith. Courtesy of Little Simon.

This is where Danna Smith’s delightfully cheery story about sharing your appreciation comes in. With charming rhymes, Smith answers the questions of why, when, and to whom thanks are appropriate while infusing her story with the positive feelings that thanking someone for their kindness instills in the thanker and the one being thanked.

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Image copyright Juliana Perdomo, 2022, text copyright Danna Smith. Courtesy of Little Simon.

Smith begins with an inviting and easy-to-understand definition of thankfulness that will resonate with young children: “When someone is thoughtful or kind in some way, ‘thank you’ are two very nice words to say.” She then goes on to provide specific examples of times that gratitude is warranted as well as language to help kids express their feelings for specific acts of kindness. As illustrations show children engaged in various activities, readers discover they can say, “‘Thank you for helping.’ ‘Thank you for sharing.’ / ‘Thank you for teaching.’ ‘Thank you for caring.’”

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Image copyright Juliana Perdomo, 2022, text copyright Danna Smith. Courtesy of Little Simon.

But is saying those types of words the only way to show your gratitude? Children (and especially those who are reluctant to talk with people they don’t know well or feel shy about speaking up) learn that there are other ways to show gratitude, including giving hugs, drawings, and tasty treats.

Smith then reveals a well-known secret about saying thank you that will make today’s inclusive kids happy to be part of an appreciative community: “If you start with one thank-you, you’ll find it will grow.” And, indeed, Smith finishes her story by assuring readers that kids all over the world are thanking others for their friendship and kindness.

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Image copyright Juliana Perdomo, 2022, text copyright Danna Smith. Courtesy of Little Simon.

Danna Smith’s sweet board book, with its jaunty rhymes and enthusiasm for sharing gratitude is just the kind of story parents, teachers, and other adults will want to read with their little ones and little ones will want to hear again and again. Her open-ended phrasing allows adults and kids to discuss the types of people who are helpers, sharers, teachers, and care-ers, as well as those within their family and friends who are deserving of thanks and on which occasions. Smith also gives kids ideas for a wide range of ways to say thank you that may use their talents and mean more to them than words. These examples can also spark talks between parents, teachers, and other caregivers on other ways to show thanks. And what if you have a child who just feels appreciation deep inside? They are represented in these pages too.

Juliana Perdomo’s vibrant illustrations of kind acts by friends, parents, teachers, veterinarians, bus drivers, activity instructors, and others will enchant little ones and get them talking about all the times someone has done something nice for them. Readers of all ages can’t help but be filled with gratitude and good feelings when they’re greeted by Perdomo’s smiling and enthusiastic characters. Perdomo mirrors Smith’s text to give kids a concrete understanding of the concepts while filling her pages with cheer and heartfelt gratitude. The idea that saying thank-you can bring people together in a community and around the world is one that will excite kids and encourage them to show their appreciation.

Joyful and inspiring, The Thank You Book would be a favorite read aloud in any young child’s home library and is a must for all daycare, school, and public library board book collections.

Ages 3 and up

Little Simon, 2022 | ISBN 978-1665902922

Discover more about Danna Smith, her books, poetry, and paintings on her website.

You can connect with Juliana Perdomo on Instagram and Twitter.

Buy a Book Day Activities

 

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Thank You! Postcard

 

Do your kids have someone they’d like to thank for a kind act, a gift, or just for being a loved family member or friend? This cheery Thank You postcard makes it easy for kids to show their gratitude and share their love to people close by or far away. This card is also perfect to share for the upcoming holidays!

Thank You! Postcard

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Thankfulness Jar

 

It’s good to remind yourself periodically – or even every day – of all the things you have to be thankful for and all the acts of kindness you’ve received. This activity sheet gives children (and adults who want to participate with their kids) a place to collect all these “thank-you”–worthy experiences. Just write a word or short description inside the jar each time you feel thankful. You might even want to share your appreciation with the people whose names appear in your jar with a note, a picture, a hug, or a homemade craft to show how much they mean to you. 

This Thankfulness Jar also makes a meaningful activity for Thanksgiving Day! Why not print a copy for each guest at your table, provide a pencil, and get everyone sharing what they’re thankful for this year!

Thankfulness Jar Activity Sheet

 

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You can find The Thank You Book at these booksellers

Amazon  | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review 

September 3 – Lower Case Letter Day Virtual Book Tour Stop for My Pet Feet plus Interview with Josh Funk and Billy Yong

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About the Holiday

Today we celebrate those lowercase letters that make up a predominance of our sentences (and nearly all of our texting). The lowercase letter has a proud history, dating back to the earliest development of script and writing. The terms “lowercase” and “uppercase” come from the era of the printing press, when individual letters were inserted by hand into plates that were then inked and pressed onto paper. The tiles etched with each letter were kept in trays conveniently located for the printer to set them into the plates with capital letters found in the upper case and small letters arranged in the lower case. To learn more about the history of our script was developed, visit My Modern Met. You’ll find rules on using lowercase and uppercase letters at Gammerly. And to discover the fun you can have with the letters of the alphabet, read about today’s book below and meet its creators!

My Pet Feet

Written by Josh Funk | Illustrated by Billy Yong

 

A little girl wakes up on a glorious morning. The bees are buzzing and the palm tees (no, it’s not a typo, you’ll see…) outside her window are standing tall. First job of the day is to feed her pet ferret, Doodles. She goes to his cage only to find two very long feet and a very sad face looking up at her. “‘What happened to my pet feet?’” she cries. “‘I mean my pet feet. Why can’t I say ‘FEET’?’” She looks all over her room for an answer and then spies something suspicious. Her alphabet banner is missing the ‘R.’ She quickly assesses the situation and realizes that without the letter R, her beloved pet has become simply FEET. Immediately, she decides she must do something and calls her best friend Lucas to help her.

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022, text copyright Josh Funk, 2022. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

But when she left the house, she discovered that the missing R wasn’t just affecting Doodles, but the whole town. On the way to find Lucas at his mom’s bake shop, she had to avoid “a bunch of kids on go-cats” and a policewoman on the back of a galloping hose.” Then when she found Lucas, her bestie had turned into a fiend. What was worse is that no one acted like anything was wrong.

Everywhere she went there was pandemonium, strange hybrid creatures, and weird machines. The girl wanted to find out “what happened to the eighteenth symbol of the alphabet. Could someone have taken it? “But who? And why? …I don’t want to have pet feet until the end of time!” Distressed to hear this, Doodles ran away, and even though she chased him “by the old babbling book, down a tail, and into a gassy field, the girl couldn’t find him.

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022, text copyright Josh Funk, 2022. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

But then, faintly in the distance, she heard familiar footsteps and followed the sound until she found him at the seashoe …ummm…at the beach, which was not quite the way it used to be. Still, she found Doodles and apologized for hurting his feelings. He gave her a big hug, but then was off again—this time into the sea. The girl dove in too. Could Doodles be leading them to the answer for the missing R’s? Could life eally etun to nomal … ummm … Could life actually go back to the usual? To find out, jump in and paddle along! You don’t want to miss the supising esolution … I mean the astounding ending!

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022, text copyright Josh Funk, 2022. Courtesy of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

In My Pet Feet, Josh Funk has carefully crafted a grammatical mystery that will keep readers (both kids and adults) marveling over the cleverness of each word transformation and how they add to the richness of the story. As the little girl races to restore Doodles to his normal cuddly state, readers become totally immersed in the laugh-out-loud, fantastical R-less world even as they empathize with her dilemma. The pitch-perfect ending comes as a real surprise, one that is sure to please readers of all ages.

Perfectly matched to Funk’s comedic talents is new picture book bright light Billy Yong, who brings a fresh, vibrant, and hilarious sense of humor to this story. Readers will want to linger over every page as Yong infuses each spread with a wealth of astoundingly clever details in depicting not only the R-less words provided in the story but in creating a whole town and outlying regions in which every element is flawless. Yong’s illustrations set up an irresistible game of search-and-find for all the visual puns, and the before and after images of the town make for an engaging find-the-differences puzzle.

A joy from beginning to end, My Pet Feet charms on many levels. The book is laugh-out-loud fun for the whole family as well as a way to engage kids in lessons on the alphabet, sound recognition, spelling, and grammar for teachers. Both avid and reluctant readers will love the silliness that makes this a must-have addition to all home, classroom, school, and public library collections

Ages 4 – 8

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2022 | ISBN 978-1534486003

I’m thrilled to be talking with Josh Funk and Billy Yong today about My Pet Feet. So put up your feet and get ready to learn about the amazing journey this story took from an initial idea to an instant classic!

Meet Josh Funk

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Credit Carter Hasegawa

Josh Funk writes silly stories such as the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series (including the forthcoming The Great Caper Caper, November 15, 2022); the It’s Not a Fairy Tale series (including the forthcoming It’s Not the Three Little Pigs, October 1, 2022); the How to Code with Pearl and Pascal series (including How to Code a Sandcastle and How to Code a Rollercoaster); the A Story of Patience & Fortitude series in conjuction with the New York Public Library (including Where Is Our Library? and Lost in the Library); Dear Dragon, Albie Newton, Pirasaurs!, A Night at the Bookstore: A Barnsie & Noble Adventure, and Dear Unicorn, coming in the fall of 2023!

Since the fall of 2015, Josh has visited (or virtually visited) over 500 schools, classrooms, and libraries and he is a board member of The Writers’ Loft in Hudson, MA. 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 manuscripts.

For more information about Josh Funk, visit him at www.joshfunkbooks.com and on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook at @joshfunkbooks.

Hi Josh! I’m so excited to be a part of your book tour for this comedic tour de force! Thanks for taking time to chat with me about My Pet Feet and how the story came to be! I’m sure readers would love to know a little about how you wrote this story. How much fun was it to find all of the convertible words? How long did your writing process take?

It started with a typo on my phone (or possibly an autocorrect). I meant to write the word ‘friend’ but it came out ‘fiend’ which led me to wonder … what happened to the R? Why would a friend become a fiend? Did other words also lose their R’s? Did ALL words lose their R’s? Why? And what would the world look like if there were no R’s? What silly illustratable shenanigans would occur in a book written without the letter R?

This led me to start searching for words where if you took away an R, it would become another word—especially word pairs that made for funny illustrations. Crows becoming cows. Babbling brooks becoming babbling books. The seashore becoming the seashoe.

But I still also needed a story. I needed a reason, an important reason, that someone needed to investigate the missing R’s … and needed to get them back. And rescuing a pet who had been transformed into something else was the perfect reason.

Once I had the list of words to play with along with the main character’s motivation, everything easily fell into place. JUST KIDDING! I wrote many, many, MANY revisions of this story both before and after it was acquired to get things in the shape they finally ended up in. And truly, nothing really came together until Billy Yong joined the team.

Speaking of Billy, what were your thoughts when you saw his illustrations? Do you have a favorite spread?

As an author of picture books, I think I benefit from not thinking too visually, at least in specifics. By that, I mean, I had no idea what ‘pet feet’ would look like. Would they be human feet (with human toes? Ew.)? Would it be like a rabbit’s foot? Would the foot have a face? I honestly didn’t even bother thinking about these things—I left that for someone else to tackle.

And unsurprisingly, I think Billy’s visual creation of pet feet is amazing! I have no idea how he made ‘pet feet’ look cute. The concept is just so ridiculous, but he managed to pull it off.

As far as favorite spreads and images, I love the spreads with all the visual gags in the background, like the one in town with everyone acting like it’s just a typical day. But the best, without a doubt, is the gassy field. I had no idea Billy was going to illustrate a bunch of butts farting—but I totally approve. Like I said, I don’t think too visually—I just wrote ‘gassy field’ and assumed someone else would take care of it. And there are no buts about it—Billy did.

Meet Billy Yong

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Billy Yong is an illustrator and character designer. Since starting out he has drawn storyboards, engaged in visual development, and has even voice acted for animation, games, and children’s books. When he’s not creating his professional doodlings, he can be found in a cafe drawing or painting in his sketchbook, in his studio developing his personal projects, or in the dojo teaching Japanese swordsmanship. Billy currently lives in sunny Singapore.

To learn more about Billy Yong and view a portfolio of his work, visit his website. You can connect with Billy on Instagram and Twitter

Hi Billy! I’ve been looking forward to chatting with you since the moment I saw my review copy of this book. First, I want to Congratulate you on your debut picture book! Can you talk about your previous work and how you came to illustrate Josh’s story?

Thanks Kathy! It is such a privilege to be debuting through Josh’s hilarious story. Up till then, most of my illustrative works centered around the Young Adults range. Now that I think about it, one of my most enjoyable school projects that brought me into the kid lit scene was The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

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Copyright Billy Yong

When I was first approached about the project, Josh, Kendra and Chloe (editor and art director respectively) said my sense of humor was what got me the role. At that time, I honestly struggled to understand what they meant, but never say no to great opportunities eh?

What were your first impressions when you read Josh’s manuscript?

Dude, I loved it. Probably not a good thing that I first read it just as I was about to turn in for bed (it was 02:32 in the morning since I live in Singapore). I couldn’t sleep for the next two hours because I was drawing scenes in my head haha.

Your illustrations are so ingenious, even including foreshadowing and visual puns that go beyond or riff on the “r-less” words in the text. I’m sure readers would love to learn a little about your process in creating them.

You’re too kind! First off, for anyone wanting to get into illustration, particularly with larger projects like these, understand that the process is more often a back-and-forth than a straight journey. I typically like to doodle on the script when I first read it, it helps to just spill out any ideas onto paper without restraint at the earliest phase.

Some of the earliest ideas featured the town name: Butterfield Shores -> Buttefield Shoes. Me being the adult that I am, figured why not a bronze statue, butt resplendent for all to see, with a sign sticking out his bum, and a shoe on his head, with a little flower growing from it.

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022

Developments of bums are always a joy.

Another was around miscellaneous things we would encounter.

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022

Even though they were never used, it helped kick off the vibe of this crazy world our heroes lived in.

Back on the main subjects, I’m usually drawn most towards characters, so that’s usually what I like to start off with after doodling on the script.

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022

I loved that our main human was pretty nondescript, so that left a lot of room to create a cast of characters. I eventually settled on no.2, since her shapes felt quite a lot like our fe(rr)et, Doodles. Below are some other characters I drew during the development process:

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022

 

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022

When it came to laying out the pages however, my usual methods of working digitally lacked the grand overview and the bravery to push past mistakes. Ironic since the digital medium allows me to undo to my heart’s content, but that also means I don’t see my mistakes and move past them.

So, feeling stuck, I whipped out a giant A3 sketchpad with a sharpie and just went ham at it. No distractions, not even music in the background, just drawing at the dining table figuring out the flow and composition for Josh’s story. I think I managed to churn out the entire layout in 2 days because of this, haha.

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022, text copyright Josh Funk, 2022.

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022

(Initial doodles of the first couple of pages. When I liked a composition but didn’t like parts of it, I would paste a sticky note on top and just draw over it. It feels a lot more intuitive ideating like this compared to a digital drawing.)

This wouldn’t quite make sense to Josh, Chloe (art director) and Kendra (editor) though, so the next step was tidying up.

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022, text copyright Josh Funk, 2022.

 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-billy-yong-layout sketch 1

Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022, text copyright Josh Funk, 2022.

 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-billy-yong-layout tight sketch 1

Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022, text copyright Josh Funk, 2022.

(I think the most important part about this sketch cleanup phase was not to be too married to the original sketches, so if it doesn’t work on cleanup, then it helps to go back to the sketchpad or just move on and revisit the spread.)

Once layouts were done, it was back to designing the characters. Doodles (or Feet) had the most rounds of back and forth. Ranging from foot-face, to a head on feet, ultimately to feet with a face, every interpretation brought us closer to what you see before you.

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022

 

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022

 

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022

Doodles (Feet State) v.2 was what we settled on in the end.

Was there a spread that was particularly fun to illustrate? What made it so?

Haha, they were all a joy to do, but my favorites would be these three:

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022, text copyright Josh Funk, 2022.

While the layout changed quite a fair bit from the original sketch, my goal of showcasing the go-cats and the topsy-turvy-ness of it all culminated in a winding road, with a subtle line at the top to lead the eyes back to the cat’s tail, ultimately to rest at the water splashing of the police ho(r)se.

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Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022, text copyright Josh Funk, 2022.

While this was less dynamic than the previous one, it was really fun laying out the look and feel of the town. I think the biggest challenge was to make it feel populated without overloading the senses, and allowing the eyes pockets of rest in a spread so full of colors and information. I also sneakily snuck in my friends, who are getting married at the end of 2022, so even though I couldn’t be there, it’s my little wedding present to them.

The @-rats were also a suggestion of my wife (I think). Honestly in the thick of things I’ve confused ideas I’ve received from Josh, Kendra (our editor), Chloe (art director), my wife Rachel and myself. It really has been a team effort to bring this book to life.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-billy-yong-gassy-field

Image copyright Billy Yong, 2022, text copyright Josh Funk, 2022.

Again with the swirly composition. (I’m starting to think I have a thing for these…) Also relatively simple, but I’m happy turning the tail into a device for our readers to traverse from left to right. Of course the gassy fields had to be a field of bums farting into the wind.

What do you like best about illustrating children’s books?

I enjoy the freedom of expression. It’s very daunting whenever you start a project like this, because said freedom means you often start on a very blank canvas, with only the story to guide you. You have to give yourself permission to be as wild as your skill and imagination can allow, and avoid listening to the doubts you have with certain decisions you make. When those doubts do manifest, I’ve found it useful to remind myself that this is a team process, and if the author, editor or art director don’t quite approve, they’ll let you know. Until then, go ham.

What’s up next for you?

Haha, I don’t think I’m allowed to say, but perhaps I could hint that it’s about a boy, his friends and a hammer. It’s quite the wild ride, and I hope when it’s released readers will enjoy it. I certainly have. Apart from that, just raising a baby girl with my wife. It’s an exercise in patience and endurance. I cannot wait to start drawing with her and learning from her. Perhaps I will become a better artist from that.

Wow! Thank you for sharing so much about how you brought My Pet Feet to life! Your awesome illustrations and sense of humor are going to keep kids searching for all the visual puns and laughing from beginning to end – and over and over again! I wish you all the best with this book and am really looking forward to seeing more of your work. And, since we’re talking about bringing the story to life, I think we have time for one more image ….

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Copyright Billy Yong, 2022

So, Everybody, jump on your Go-Cat and head to your local bookstore to pick up My Pet Feet to celebrate New Book Month in hilarious style! 

My Pet Feet Virtual Book Tour Activity

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Feet Pet Portraits

 

Feet don’t have to be just for walking, running, or dancing. As today’s story shows, they can make pretty awesome pets (even when it’s just a mistake). With this craft you can use your own feet to make a pet portrait to decorate your room!

Supplies

  • 1 Sheet of regular printer paper or heavy stock paper for the portrait
  • 1 Sheet of colored heavy stock paper for the frame’s backing
  • 1 Sheet of heavy stock paper in a contrasting color from the backing to make the frame 
  • Crayons or colored pencils
  • Scissors
  • Glue or glue dots

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Directions

  1. Stand on the white paper with your feet together and trace your feet
  2. Now it’s time to get creative! Turn the paper toes up, toes down, or toes to the side and design your pet.
  3. After you’re finished drawing, color your picture in
  4. Cut your pet out

To Make the Frame and Frame Your Portrait

  • Measure one inch around each side of one piece of heavy stock paper
  • Cut out the middle
  • Use glue or glue dots to adhere the frame to the backing
  • Use glue or glue dots to adhere your feet pet portrait to the backing of the frame

Hang your pet portrait!

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You can find My Pet Feet at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 22 – National Bao Day

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About the Holiday

National Bao Day, established as an annual holiday in 2017, was founded by Wow Bao to celebrate the anniversary of the launch of their first restaurant in Chicago on August 22 and to honor the ancient Chinese tradition of bao. To celebrate today, order dinner from your favorite Chinese restaurant or make this delicious meal at home.

Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao

Written by Kat Zhang | Illustrated by Charlene Chua

 

Amy can do lots of things well. She can even multitask. But when it comes to making the perfect bao—the thing she wants to do most of all—she has no luck. “Sometimes they come out too small. Sometimes they come out too big.” Sometimes the filling is oozing from the top; sometimes the bao is empty; and then there are the times when the whole bao crumbles before she can even eat it. Everyone else in the family can make a perfect bao. “Their bao are soft and fluffy and so, so delicious.”

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Image copyright Charlene Chua, 2019, text copyright Kat Shang, 2019. Courtesy of Aladdin.

Today, Amy has decided, is the day she will do it. “She’s going to make the world’s most perfect bao.” Her dad helps her mix up the dough. Then they knead it and pound it and leave it to rise. Soon the little lump of dough fills the bowl. Amy’s dad squashes it, rolls it, and cuts little rounds while Amy’s mom makes the filling on the stove.

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Image copyright Charlene Chua, 2019, text copyright Kat Shang, 2019. Courtesy of Aladdin.

Now it’s time to make the bao. Amy’s mom, dad, and grandma gather at the table and start filling the dough. Amy fills a round too, but turns out a little lumpy, so she tries again. This one is too full and no matter how much she pinches the top, it just doesn’t close right. Her dad, mom, and grandma are all making perfect bao. They try giving her advice, but it doesn’t help. Amy feels dejected. Then she has an idea. She looks at her hands, she looks at the grown-ups’ hands. She looks at the dough. “She whispers her idea into her grandma’s ear.” In a moment she has two “Amy-size pieces” of dough in her hands. She rolls out the dough, fills it just right, and “pinch, pinch, pinches it shut.” Amy holds up her “perfect bao!”

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Image copyright Charlene Chua, 2019, text copyright Kat Shang, 2019. Courtesy of Aladdin.

Amy makes perfect bao after perfect bao. Now it’s time to steam them. Inside the bamboo steamer are all of Amy’s bao—the good and the bad. When they’re done, the family sits down to munch. Amy eats two of her perfect bao. Then she eats one of her lesser attempts and discovers that it tastes just as good as the perfect ones. The next day she takes her bao to school to share at lunchtime, and her classmates think they are just perfect.

Amy’s family recipe for bao follows the story.

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Image copyright Charlene Chua, 2019, text copyright Kat Shang, 2019. Courtesy of Aladdin.

In her charming culinary tale, Kat Zhang introduces a little girl who dreams of perfection. In Zhang’s straightforward storytelling, kids will recognize their own desires to reach perfect heights—whether in art, music, sports, or other activity. Kids will be captivated by the step-by-step process in making bao—especially if their own family has joined the bread-making phenomena of recent months. As Amy begins assembling her bao, only to have them turn our lumpy or empty once again, suspense builds. Amy’s realization of problem and solution is an empowering lesson for children struggling to achieve their own goals while her discovery that both perfect and imperfect bao are just as delicious is a reminder that perfection isn’t everything.

Charlene Chua’s Amy Wu is a powerhouse of enthusiasm and personality who tackles tasks with everything she’s got, and she has her heart set on making the perfect bao. Chua depicts Amy’s imagined perfect bun floating above her, surrounded by light and celebrated by a dragon and a fenghuang, humorously portraying the lofty goal Amy, like many kids attempting to achieve a goal, has given herself. As Amy sets her plan in motion on the appointed day, Chua realistically illustrates each step. Readers will empathize with images of Amy struggling to fill and close her bao, and a clever close-up illustration of Amy with her family behind her reflects the way people, advice, and even one’s own thoughts can intrude. When Amy realizes that the size of her hands in relation to the amount of dough is the problem, savvy readers may think back to the first spread, where Amy has similar problems with a toothpaste tube and her shoelaces. 

An empowering story, Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao inspires children to keep striving to achieve their goals while including comforting reassurance for the journey along the way. The book would be a welcome addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Aladdin, 2019 | ISBN 978-1534411333

Discover more about Kat Zhang and her books on her website.

To learn more about Charlene Chua, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Bao Day Activity

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Amy Wu’s Family Bao Recipe

 

Try your hand at making perfect – or not so perfect – bao. Either way, you know they’ll taste delicious! You can find Amy Wu’s family recipe at Simon & Schuster.

Amy Wu’s Family Bao Recipe

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You can find Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 23 – Ride the Wind Day

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About the Holiday

Today is set aside to honor the first manned air flight to win a Kremer Prize, a series of monetary awards established by Henry Kremer to commemorate pioneers in human-powered flight and administrated by the Royal Aeronautical Society. The first Kremer Prize was won on this date in 1977 by Dr. Paul MacCready when his Gossamer Condor, piloted by Brian Allen flew a figure eight around two markers one half mile apart. Three Kremer Prize milestones still remain to be accomplished. Today people are encouraged to spend time outdoors catching the wind with a kite, pinwheel, sailboat, or maybe with a toy airplane like the little boy in today’s book!

The Boy and the Airplane

By Mark Pett

 

A little boy receives a present and watches the giver as he leaves. When the boy opens the box, he is thrilled to find a red airplane inside. He runs outside to play with it, zooming it up and down. Laying it on the ground, he then becomes an airplane, zooming around with his arms out as wings.

The boy looks at his plane and wonders. He picks it up and gives it a good, hard throw. It soars upward…upward, its propeller spinning as it speeds away. The boy chases after it then stops. His plane has come to a landing…on the roof. He ponders what to do for a moment, then gets a ladder. He leans the ladder against the house and climbs to the top rung, but he’s not nearly close enough. With child-like persistence, he tries different tactics—lassoing it, hitting it off with a baseball, jumping on a pogo stick, spraying it off with a hose—nothing dislodges his new toy.

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Image copyright Mark Pett, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

He sits down under a tree to think. As he reflects a whirlybird seed spirals down in front of him. He gazes at it, then goes to the garage for a shovel. He digs a hole, tosses the whirlybird in, pats down the dirt and waits. Snow falls on a tiny sapling as the boy in his coat, cap, and scarf keep it company. A future springtime sees both the boy and the tree older, with a little more height and hair and a little more height and leaves, respectively.

The tree grows tall and sturdy, complete with a bird’s nest and little peepers as the boy becomes an adult, complete with suit and tie and wiser peepers. By the time the boy reaches middle age, the tree’s trunk is thick and powerful, and as the boy matures to old age, the tree is strong enough to hold him. The elderly man climbs his tree’s branches and reaches over the eaves. His red plane is waiting for him, a little dusty now and tied down with cobwebs, but just as it was on that afternoon so long ago.

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Image copyright Mark Pett, courtesy simonandschuster.com

With the exuberance of his youth, the man pulls back to give the plane a good, hard throw, but he stops. He considers his recovered toy and keeps it close instead, devising another plan for the airplane. He knows someone else who will like that plane as much as he did. he puts it in a box, wraps it and gives it to his granddaughter.

Mark Pett’s lovely, wordless picture book is a tribute to childhood, imagination, patience, and generational longevity. The subtle, vintage-style drawings in hues of brown on sage green backgrounds, punctuated only with the deep maroon red of the airplane, convey the feeling of permanence and the enduring presence of nature and familial love. The figure disappearing off the left-hand side of the first page after presenting the gift of the airplane to the little boy mirrors the clothes of the elderly man the boy has become as he gives the airplane to his granddaughter, passing down tradition and heritage.

Kids will also enjoy spotting the little bird that follows the boy on every page and hatches its own family in the branches of the mature tree. A close reading reveals deeper meanings and metaphors, comparisons and humor, making The Boy and the Airplane a perfect book for quiet story times or bedtime.

Ages 4 – 8

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2013 | ISBN 978-1442451230

Discover more books by Mark Pett and what’s coming next on his website!

Ride the Wind Day Activity

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Tiny Toy Airplane Coloring Page

 

Is this airplane in the sky or at the airport? Or maybe it’s sitting in a field or at an airshow. It could be an attraction at a fair, or maybe it’s waiting to take you for a ride! Draw in whatever background you imagine and then color it! Get your Tiny Toy Airplane Coloring Page here!

Picture Book Review