May 22 – It’s National Family Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-otis-p-oliver-protests-cover

About the Holiday

In the weeks between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day we celebrate National Family Month. The holiday was established by KidsPeace to encourage families to spend more time together. It also gives us the opportunity to honor everything that makes a group of people a family. Common experiences, shared memories, and unconditional love create that unique feeling in the heart that defines family. This year, the bonds of family have taken on a whole new meaning. To celebrate, gather your family together, talk about some things you’ve learned about each other, what you love about each family member, and, of course, have some fun!

I received a copy of Otis P. Oliver Protests for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

Otis P. Oliver Protests

by Keri Claiborne Boyle and Illustrated by Daniel Duncan

By Jakki Licare

Otis has no interest in taking a bath now or anytime in the future. In fact, he believes no one should have to take a bath, but with three big sisters no one really listens to him. Otis has to take four baths every single week,  “…especially when he’s excessively grubby. And since worm farms aren’t going to build themselves, Otis is usually excessively grubby.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-otis-p-oliver-protests-refuses

Image copyright Daniel Duncan, 2020, text copyright Keri Claiborne Boyle, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Otis’s family insists he should take a bath. So Otis decides that if he wants people to listen to him, he needs the right look and the right speech. At the playground Otis calls out to his friends that they must unite together for “bath-time rights.” Together they march through the streets until they all plop down on Otis’s front lawn. They will not move until they have been heard. 

Otis’s oldest sister passes him a note from their mom who is wondering what is going on. Otis responds: “No More Baths! Love Otis (P.S. What’s for dinner? I don’t like mystery meatloaf.)” Otis’s middle older sister brings out another note from their mom who doesn’t understand why he doesn’t want to take a bath. She also reassures him that it is lasagna night. Otis explains that he hates how his pajamas cling to him after his bath. Otis’s youngest older sister delivers a new note. Their mother tells him he doesn’t have to wear pajamas if he doesn’t want to. After consulting his group he finally agrees to his mother’s terms.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-otis-p-oliver-protests-kids

Image copyright Daniel Duncan, 2020, text copyright Keri Claiborne Boyle, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

After Otis’s friends head home, the family dog brings Otis another note. “My lil grub worm, So glad we reached a compromise. Now get in the tub before you’re grounded for life! Hugs and kisses, Mom. (P.S. No dessert on school nights.)” Otis hurries in to take his bath, but before he jumps in he writes his mom one last note. He tells her that he is all set to take his bath, but he won’t be using soap. But if he was allowed to have dessert tonight, then he would be happy to negotiate.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-otis-p-oliver-protests-notes

Image copyright Daniel Duncan, 2020, text copyright Keri Claiborne Boyle, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Otis P. Oliver is a smart, charismatic little boy who will walk right off the page and demand admission into your heart. Children will sympathize with his problem of not wanting to take a bath and will cheer him on as he takes on the parental establishment. The notes passed between mother and son through Otis’s sisters add to the hilarity. Each note has a post script discussing what’s for dinner which will make young readers giggle.

Keri Claiborne Boyle’s detailed attention to her characters makes each page a pleasure to read. Each sister’s distinct personality comes through as she stomps or rolls her eyes or pirouettes off the page. Boyle uses the rule of three to trick the readers into thinking that the negotiations are over after the third sister delivers her note. However, Boyle then sends a fourth note out with the dog, proving that Otis’s mom is a master negotiator. Otis still has one trick up his sleeve, though, as he points out the loophole that he never agreed to use soap.

Daniel Duncan’s colorful pencil-lined characters are amplified by his detailed attention to each character’s personality. Otis P. is charming as he wears his father’s oversized coat with dirt patches on his cheeks and knees and wavy stink lines steaming off of him. The illustrated details of fishnet stockings for the oldest sister, bubble gum blowing for the middle older sister, and ipod-carrying and tutu-wearing youngest sister perfectly compliment Boyle’s text and make each sister’s personality pop. Children and adults will giggle at the  hilarious signs that Duncan adds to Otis’s sit in: “I feel bath wrath” & “Occupy Dirt.”  The entire family dynamic is perfectly illustrated through a simple picture of the family’s stairway. The three sisters each have their pictures hung perfectly in descending order while Otis’s picture is propped on the second step at the same level as the family dog.

Ages  6 – 9 years old

Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534110434

Discover more about Keri Claiborne Boyle and her books on her website

To learn more about Daniel Duncan, his books, and his art, visit him on The Drawn Chorus Collective website.

Budding politicians, bath-averse children, and everyone in between should have this book on their shelves. Otis P. Oliver Protests is the perfect book for kids and adults to share giggles and talks about compromises either at home or in the classroom. A top pick for public libraries too.

National Family Month Activity 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bathtub-catapult-craft

Recycled  Bathtub Catapult Battleship 

If your kiddo isn’t interested in taking a bath like Otis P. Oliver then you should give this craft a try! Blast the bubbles away as you sail your battleship in the tub.

Supplies

  • Applesauce or yogurt cup
  • Skewer
  • Plastic spoon
  • Popsicle stick
  • 10-15 pennies
  • Rubber band
  • Hot glue gun
  • Scissors
  • Paper
  • Crayons (are best since they are waterproof)
  • Tape

These supplies are just suggestions. Play around with different recycled materials and see what works!

Directions

To Make the Mast

  1. Cut the bottom of the popsicle stick off so the end is flat

  2. Take the cut-off part of the popsicle stick and hot glue the flat side to the popsicle stick, one inch down from the top. This will help hold the rubber band in place

  3. Hot glue the popsicle stick to the center of your yogurt or applesauce cup.

To Make the Catapult

  1. Cut off the pointy ends of skewer

  2. Hot glue the handle of the plastic spoon to the skewer

  3. Hold the catapult at an angle and hot glue the skewer next to the popsicle stick

To Make the Flag

  1. On paper draw a triangle and color in.

  2. Cut out triangle and tape to popsicle stick as a flag

To Finish

  1. Place pennies in front of popsicle stick to balance it out for floating (mine needed 12 pennies to keep it from tipping over backwards)

  2. Attach rubber band around popsicle stick and skewer

  3.  Float in bathtub and attack those bubbles!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-otis-p-oliver-protests-cover

You can find Otis P. Oliver Protests at these bookstores

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million 

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

Picture Book Review

May 13 – It’s National Pet Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-where'd-my-jo-go-cover

About the Holiday

Let’s give a shout-out to our best friends! Who are they? Our pets, of course! Small (or large) and fury (or feathered or scaled or finned), our pets give us unconditional love and loads of happiness. Just watching them navigate their day is entertaining and educational. National Pet Month was established to celebrate these in-home pals and remind pet owners to ensure that their pets have everything they need to live a long and healthy life. This month take extra time to have fun with your pet!

Where’d My Jo Go?

Written by Jill Esbaum | Illustrated by Scott Brundage

 

Jo and Big Al traveled everywhere together in her big rig. One day, though, as Jo was checking out the equipment at the truck stop, Big Al went exploring. While Jo got in the cab to “adjust a mirror, set the map. / Pull the belt across my lap. / Let another trucker pass. / Shift the gears, give ‘er gas,” Big Al had time at the park to “dodge a herd of stompy feet. / Sneak a lick of someone’s treat. / Chase a wrapper. Dig in dirt. / Give a tree a little squirt.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-where'd-my-jo-go-hounds

Image copyright Scott Brundage, 2020, text copyright Jill Esbaum, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

After all that fun, Big Al knew it was time to get back to Jo and the truck, but when he reached the truck stop, his truck was nowhere to be found. He pondered: should he try to find his Jo? But decided it would be better to wait. Besides, he knew she’d be back for the “little doggie pal… / who shares her lunch, who guards the truck, / whose head she rub-rub-rubs for luck.” Big Al was sure Jo would return. “But…when?” He sat patiently at the truck stop guard rail overlooking the highway and watched the trucks come and go—but none of them were his.

Meanwhile, Jo had reached her destination. She called to Big Al to wake him up. But then she looked…and looked again. Where was Big Al?! At that moment, Al was running away from a “too-loud kid” who wanted to kiss him and take him home with her. As the day grew long and the sun began to set, the parking lot emptied, and Big Al wondered where his Jo could be. “Oh, Jo. Please, Jo, remember me. / No trucks. No people. Spooky. Late. / Chase a june bug. / Shiver. Wait.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-where'd-my-jo-go-highway

Image copyright Scott Brundage, 2020, text copyright Jill Esbaum, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Just then a car pulled in and a boy, Zach, got out. He spotted Big Al and grabbed a stick. He threw it for Al, who “Can. Not. Resist.” Zach thinks Al is lost and begs his dad to let him keep him. Big Al thinks “I should not, cannot, will not go. / But ohhh, I like Zack. Hurry, Jo.” It looks as if Big Al and Zack will become a team when, just in the nick of time, a truck appears. Could it be? “Onk-onk!Onk onnnnnnnnk!” Big Al says, “Yip-yip! Bye, Zack! I have to go! / I knew she’d come! It’s her! My Jo!”

An Author’s Note reveals the real-life event that sparked Jill’s imagination and led to her story. She also invites readers to try a prompt and write their own story.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-where'd-my-jo-go-Zack

Image copyright Scott Brundage, 2020, text copyright Jill Esbaum, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Children will fall in love with Big Al as soon as they meet him. Full of curiosity and with a personality befitting his name, Big Al is a busy pup as he gets into mischief at a park near the truck stop. But when he returns to find his Jo is gone, he patiently waits, certain that she’ll be back. Jill Esbaum’s jaunty rhymes are as playful as Big Al, and readers will be charmed to follow the story from his point of view. Kids with pets will recognize all the small, special moments that people and pets share and be as eager for Jo’s return as Big Al. Esbaum adds humor and suspense as two kids interact with Big Al, making the just-in-the-nick-of-time reunion all the sweeter and more satisfying.

With his expressive eyes and funny antics, Scott Brundage’s adorable Big Al will charm children and have them rooting for his reunion with Jo throughout the story. Snapshots of Big Al and Jo sharing fun on their trips show their special bond and will melt readers’ hearts, and they’ll commiserate with Jo when she realizes that Big Al is missing. Vehicle-loving kids will be fascinated by the realistic images of big rigs in the truck stop and traversing the crisscrossing highways. Brundage makes the story into a visual roller-coaster (in the best way), and the final spread of Jo and Big Al together again will have kids shouting, let’s do it again!

For pet lovers, vehicle lovers, and anyone who has a best friend, Where’d My Jo Go? Is must reading. It would make a heartwarming addition to home, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 5 – 7

Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534110441

Discover more about Jill Esbaum and her books on her website.

To learn more about Scott Brundage, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Pet Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Peppy-Puppies-Match-Up-Puzzle

Peppy Puppies Match Up Puzzle

 

These puppies want to find a friend. Can you match the ones that go together in this printable puzzle? There may be more that one right answer!

Peppy Puppies Match Up Puzzle

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-where'd-my-jo-go-cover

You can find Where’d My Jo Go? at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

 

 

May 12 – It’s Gifts from the Garden Month

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-badger's-perfect-garden-cover

About the Holiday

If you’re into gardening then you know what a joy it is to harvest your vegetables and fruit or cut a beautiful bouquet of flowers. But gardens provide so many more gifts than these. Digging the dirt, planting the seeds, and even keeping the weeds at bay can be a mindful, relaxing experience as well as good exercise. Watching plants sprout and grow gives an appreciation for the wonder of nature. And a garden beautifies the view whether it’s a large plot or a window box. So, celebrate this month by enjoying all the gifts of your garden.

I received a copy of Badger’s Perfect Garden from Sleeping Bear Press for review consideration. All opinions are my own. 

Badger’s Perfect Garden

Written by Marsha Diane Arnold | Illustrated by Ramona Kaulitzki

 

On a spring morning, Red Squirrel watched as Badger brought out all of his jars of the seeds he had collected and kept safe all winter. He was planning on planting a perfect garden. Red Squirrel noticed that all the seeds looked different. Badger explained that they were “‘all kinds. Green and brown. Flat and round, Bumpy and smooth. Whirly-curly and straight as my whiskers.’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-badgers-perfect-garden-seeds

Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2019, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Red Squirrel wanted to help plant them. As Badger carefully studied his garden plan, Weasel showed up with his rake and Dormouse gathered string. Everyone helped Badger weed and rake his garden plot until it was smooth. Then they set up stakes on each side and ran string between them to make perfect rows. After that Weasel poked holes in the dirt for the seeds. Badger directed where each seed should go so that each type stayed together. That evening the friends had a party with muffins and mulberry juice, and Badger “imagined the plants that would grow in perfect rows in his perfect garden.”

The next morning, just in time, it began to rain. But the next day the rain turned heavy, and the day after that it became a deluge. Badger ran out into the storm to try to save his garden, but the strings collapsed and the soil washed away. Badger sniffled as he thought of his ruined garden. His friends tried to cheer him up by telling him they’d help gather new seeds in the summer, but Badger despaired of not having his perfect garden this year.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-badgers-perfect-garden-plan

Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2019, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

To ward off the sadness, Badger kept busy reading, cleaning, exercising, and sleeping. One summer day, he heard a knock on his door. It was Red Squirrel, Weasel, and Dormouse. They grabbed Badger’s hand and pulled him outside to a glorious field of wildflowers. Badger gazed at it in wonder. “‘Those can’t be my seeds,’ said Badger, rubbing his eyes. They’re all mixed up.’” But they were! The wild garden  was a “jumble-tumble of shapes and sizes. They made him feel jumbly and tumbly, too.” Badger thought it was “the most perfect garden of all,” and the friends raced into it for a perfect summer celebration.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-badgers-perfect-garden-planting

Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2019, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Marsha Diane Arnold fills Badger’s Perfect Garden with sprightly, lyrical language that makes the story a delight to read. Little gardeners will relish the descriptions of Badger’s seeds and enjoy the precision of planting day. As the rains come, kids will empathize with Badger’s disappointment, knowing how it feels when plans don’t work out quite right. But the riotous results will spark their own happy, “jumbly-tumbly” excitement for Badger, his friends, and even their own endeavors. in the beauty of the wild, carefree, mixed-up garden can see the joy that can be found in new experiences outside one’s comfort zone.

Ramona Kaulitzki’s charming illustrations are a perfect mix of the whimsical and the realistic and will captivate readers. With soft colors and flowing textures, Kaulitzki depicts early spring with its light green grasses and mellow, cloud-filled skies. When stormy days come, the sky turns purple and rain whips through Badger’s garden, leaving things topsy-turvy and Badger’s plans uprooted. Late summer brings a series of show-stopping two-page spreads, where flowers of all kinds and colors mix with vegetable plants to attract bees and butterflies and, of course, provide the perfect spot for a summer party.

Beautiful through and through, Badger’s Perfect Garden plants the seeds of gentle encouragement, heartening friendship, and cheerful celebration. The book would be a favorite addition to home, classroom, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1534110007

Discover more about Marsha Diane Arnold and her books on her website.

To learn more about Ramona Kaulitzki, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Q & A with Marsha Diane Arnold

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-marsha-diane-arnold-childhood-photo

Called a “born storyteller” by the media, Marsha Diane Arnold’s award-winning picture books have sold over one million copies and been called, “whimsical,” “inspiring,” and “uplifting.” Marsha was raised on a Kansas farm, lived most of her life in Sonoma County, California, a place Luther Burbank called “the chosen spot of all this earth as far as Nature is concerned,” and now lives with her husband, near her family, in Alva, Florida. Nothing makes her happier than standing in her backyard in the midst of dragonflies, listening to cardinals sing.

I’m so glad to be chatting with you, Marsha, about her newest book, Badger’s Perfect Garden! This story seems to have a close personal connection for you. Can you talk a little bit about what inspired you to write this book?

Having a father who was a farmer and gardener and a mother who was a perfectionist, must have had something to do with it! I grew up surrounded by nature, animals, and gardens. Growing up with so many animals around me, I talked with them all the time and I felt they talked back, so anthropomorphism comes easily to me. Illustrations of animal characters are so often enchanting, drawing young children into a book. They can create a strong emotional connection for children to learn from and remember.

Can you tell me more about what it was like growing up on a farm? What kind of farming did your family do?

My father was most proud of being a dairy farmer, but he, his father before him, and his five brothers also grew wheat and corn. I often stayed with my grandmother during the day; I loved being on the farm. Grandmother had to feed 8 children, Grandpa Henry, and herself, so she had a huge vegetable garden and did home canning. But her heart was with her flower gardens. There was spirea, yards and yards of bearded iris, a line of lilacs from the house to the outhouse, petunias, Bachelor buttons, hollyhocks, and more. Badger and Grandmother would have been fast friends.

As a child, what was your favorite part of farming or the farm? What do you appreciate more now as an adult?

I most loved being around the farm animals, although I was a bit frightened of those protective hens when I had to collect the eggs, and I enjoyed helping my father with the calves. One of our neighbors had a pet raccoon that I have fond memories of “hanging out” with, often in my friend’s tree house. (Remember, it was a long time ago and there were no wild animal rehabilitation centers near us.)

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Marsha-Diane-Arnold-and-dog

Marsha having fun with her dog.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Marsha-Diane-Arnold-and-calf

Marsha hanging out with a calf on her family’s farm.

I think I always appreciated the freedom of big spaces and gardens to play in and trees and barns (don’t tell) to climb on, but now I realize even more how very lucky I was.

Have you continued the family farming tradition?

I had a spectacular garden in Sonoma County, California. Mostly I grew flowers and a small plot of fruit trees. My favorite part of creating the gardens was designing them, using the land as my canvas. I collected over 50 heirloom roses, selecting plants for their fragrance and color. I loved the stories that came with them, like, “This one was collected from an old farm house in Windsor.” I had over 30 sweet pea varieties. There’s nothing better than a home filled with the fragrance of sweet peas. Most of my fruits were “antique” varieties. There was a Spitzenburg, reputed to have been Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apple, and a Calville Blanc, traced back to 1598 France. The fruit from my trees was unique and absolutely delicious. The stories behind them were delicious too.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-flowers

Roses from Marsha’s flower garden.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sweetpeas

A beautiful bouquet of sweet peas.

How have your experiences with nature influenced your writing for children?

When a child grows up surrounded by nature, he or she grows to understand it and respect it. I learned to see the small things in nature, like my father before me. His neighbors said he knew the name of every wildflower or “weed” in the county. When you pay attention to something in that way, you come to love it and it becomes part of you. So, nature is what I write about, from my first book Heart of a Tiger, about a small kitten who had a dream to give himself a name like that of the Magnificent Bengal Tiger, to Galápagos Girl, about the unique animals of the Galápagos Islands, to the jumble tumble beauty of Badger’s Perfect Garden.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-badgers-perfect-garden-swirl

Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2019, text copyright Marsha Diane Arnold, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

What is your favorite wildflower and why?

Wild rose! At our California home, there was a wild rose growing in our gully. Every spring I would walk down the hill to see if it was still blooming. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I looked carefully for it each year, telling myself that if it was still in bloom, in the shade of our oak forest, alone and straggly, I would still be well. I’m sure it’s blooming still.

Thank you for sharing so much about your passion for nature and what joy living fully within it can bring. I wish you all the best with Badger’s Perfect Garden and all of your wonderful books!

You can connect with Marsha Diane Arnold on

Her website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Spring Equinox Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-flower-garden-game

Plant a Flower Garden Game

 

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

Supplies

Directions

Object: The object of the game is for each player to fill their garden or garden rows with flowers. Depending on the ages of the players, the game can be adjusted to fill all of the rows, some or all rows, or just one.           

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-badger's-perfect-garden-cover

You can find Badger’s Perfect Garden at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | Sleeping Bear Press

Support your local independent bookstore with these book sellers

Bookshop | IndieBound 

Picture Book Review

 

May 11 – National Eat What You Want Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-chip-and-curly-cover

About the Holiday

Feel like your diet is out the window what with staying home or ordering take out? Has good nutrition taken a hit because ingredients are at a premium? Don’t stress! Today’s holiday gives you permission to eat that doughnut or cupcake or pizza or whatever you want without feeling guilty. Besides, sometimes indulging a little jumpstarts your metabolism and provides motivation for the long haul. Lately, I’ve been craving French fries, so in honor of that, I’m celebrating two best spuds that are fry-tfully good sports.

Chip and Curly, The Great Potato Race

Written by Cathy Breisacher | Illustrated by Joshua Heinsz

 

Spud City was about to hold its annual festival, and everyone was excited. Chip was practicing for the sack race. This year “he was determined to win the first-place prize: a Golden Bushel Award.” But a new spud in town—Curly—had a “spring in his step” and seemed to be real competition. Even though the other potatoes cheered him on, Chip was nervous.

On the day of the festival, the race route was lined with spectators. The couch potatoes lounged near the path while “the French Fries stood with their Tater Tots.” Even the sweet potato cheerleaders were waving pompoms and shouting. Just before the race began, Curly took a place next to Chip at the starting line.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-chip-and-curly-spud-city

Image copyright Joshua Heinsz, 2019, text copyright Cathy Breisacher, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

When the whistle blew, Chip took off. He was in the lead until he heard someone behind him. “‘Look out!’ the BBQ Chips shouted. ‘Here comes a hot potato!’” Chip raced on, but then Curly bounced in front of him and even though Chip gave it his all, he couldn’t catch up. A moment later, though, Curly tripped and fell, leaving the path—and the race—wide open for Chip.

Chip hopped past Curly and was in clear sight of the finish line when he realized “he felt rotten.” He glanced back and “hashed it over in his mind.” He decided the only right thing to do was to go back. He offered Curly a hand up, and together they bounded down the route and past the other racers. But Curly was too quick for Chip, and he broke through the tape first. “In an instant, Chip’s dreams of winning were mashed.” 

Chip was just about to leave when Curly asked him to be his partner in the relay race. Curly thought they made a great team. They practiced until they found their groove. Everything was looking good until a new team showed up….

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-chip-and-curly-practicing

Image copyright Joshua Heinsz, 2019, text copyright Cathy Breisacher, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Kids will devour Cathy Breisacher’s pun-filled romp that takes them to Spud City’s annual festival, where Chip and Curly face off to win a Golden Bushel Award in the sack race. While Chip pulls out to an early lead, Curly bounces back and threatens Chip’s years-long dream to win. A misstep by Curly gives Chip the opportunity to achieve his goal, but in his decision, Breisacher shows readers true sportsmanship and integrity. Curly also displays the qualities of a gracious winner, and as the two work together to perfect their relay skills, a friendship sprouts. The final scene offers a funny “oh, no!” moment while also reminding readers that winning can be fleeting, but friendship and staying true to oneself endure.

Joshua Heinsz populates Spud City with a wide array of taters—from tots to waffle fries, sweet potatoes to twice-bakeds, French fries to home fries, and more. Heinsz adds plenty of visual humor to the mix with clever street sign and shop names, and the couch potatoes are, ingeniously, those impossible-to-peel curved ones that lurk in many a 5-pound bag. Kids will love picking out their favorite kind of potato, and the expressive spuds will have readers captivated from the very first page.

For rollicking story times that also offer opportunities to discuss the nature of competition and friendship, Chip and Curly, The Great Potato Race is one to add to your home, classroom, or library shelf.

Ages 5 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1585364084

Learn more about Cathy Breisacher and her books on her website.

To learn more about Joshua Heinsz, his books, and his art on his website.

A Chat with Cathy Breisacher

011CB

It’s so great to be talking with you again! This must be a really exciting—and busy!—time for you, so I’m thrilled to have you stop by!

You’ve mentioned that the inspiration for this story was a local potato festival. Can you describe that event a bit and tell what sparked the idea for Chip and Curly?

Every year, on the last Saturday in September, a town not far from where I live holds a Potato Fest.  The county where it is located is the second-largest supplier of potatoes in the state. People come from all around and a good portion of the downtown area is closed off for the event. There are tons and tons of vendors selling a variety of crafts, and the food vendors whip up all kinds of potato treats: sweet potato fries, potato candy, baked potatoes, pierogi, potato soup, French fries, potato bread, etc. There is live music as well as games for the kids. I love the fall season, and this is a great kick-off to the fall. I try to attend every year. So, in 2016 when I wrote this story, I thought about the potato festival and all of the kinds of potatoes that are sold at the event.  The names CHIP AND CURLY came to me and the idea for the story just flowed from there.

Of course, I have to ask—what’s your favorite kind of potato? Do you have a favorite recipe? Would you like to share it?

 I love twice baked potatoes. They are probably my favorite. But, there really isn’t a potato I don’t like. I also love perogies and sweet potato fries. Oh my goodness…it’s hard to choose just one. 

I’ll share a recipe for Cheesy Hash Brown potatoes that are gobbled up at many family events. They are so easy to make.

CHEESY HASH BROWN POTATOES

26 oz. Bag of frozen shredded hash brown potatoes (thawed)
2 cups Sharp cheddar cheese (shredded)
16 ounces sour cream
1 (10 1/2 ounce) can cream of mushroom soup
1 ½ sticks butter
3 cups Crushed corn flakes
1 teaspoon garlic salt and pepper to taste

Thaw the hash browns.  Melt 1 stick of butter and mix it with the hash browns.  Pour into 9 x13 pan.  Mix the sour cream, soup and cheese in a bowl. Spread over the potatoes. Melt ½ stick of butter and mix it with the crushed corn flakes.  Sprinkle over the potatoes. Bake at 350 degrees for an hour.

Being competitive can take so many forms. Do you consider yourself competitive? If so, in what way?

Yes, I’m definitely competitive. I always want to put 110% into things that I do. If there is a challenge of some sort, I am in it to win it. J In the past couple of years, I’ve been intrigued with Escape Rooms and trying to solve all of the clues before the time runs out. Recently, I heard of an Escape Room that no one has “broke out of” yet.  I want to be the first! J

Chip and Curly is loaded with puns and really clever word play! The story must have been a blast, but also challenging to write. Can you talk a little about how you put it all together?

Chip and Curly was definitely a fun story to write. I just pulled out my first version of this story, and it has so few puns in it. I didn’t initially write this story to be punny.  But, as I was doing my first set of revisions, a pun popped in my head.  More puns came to me as I continued to revise. It wasn’t long before I knew this had to be a story that centered on potato puns. I scoured the Internet to find words associated with potatoes. I must have looked at every list that exists online. The tricky part was to include those words and phrases that fit nicely with the story. I didn’t want to include something just to include it if the word or phrase really didn’t flow with the storyline. My amazing editor, Sarah Rockett, had excellent suggestions for tweaking the story a bit more after she acquired it. And I was delighted with the fun, playful, colorful art provided by the illustrator, Joshua Heinsz.

After practicing for a year to win a Golden Bushel Award for the sack race, Chip makes a surprising decision part way through the race. What would you like kids to take away from the story?

This is the crucial part of the story. I want kids to know that competing can be a lot of fun. And it can feel good to win at something, too. However, practicing good sportsmanship is important and helps build character. When we show respect toward our opponents, we can still have fun and compete, but it helps us to keep our focus on what’s most important—treating one another the way we want to be treated.

Since CaveKid Birthday was released in March, what’s been the best part of being a published author? The most surprising? As a librarian, how does it feel to see your own book on your library’s shelf?

Gosh, there is so much I am enjoying about being a published author. I love meeting new people (kids and adults) at book events and talking with them about stories. It has also been a treat to see friends and family who I haven’t seen for a while. Being a school librarian, I get an extra treat when kids ask to check out my book. That has truly meant the world to me. When my students tell me they love my books, my heart just completely melts.

During our first interview for CaveKid Birthday how did I miss that you’re from Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania? Does the town live up to its celebratory name? Do you have a favorite town celebration or spot to write or visit?

Hmmm…very good question. The town where I live is a true community. People really get behind and support the schools, sports teams, agencies, fundraising events, etc. So I guess you can say that the people who live in Hollidaysburg celebrate one another’s aspirations and accomplishments. I am proud to live in this town. I do have a few favorite spots that I like to visit. There are a couple of parks that are so beautiful and serene. They are a great place to spend timejyeither alone or with family and friends. As for a favorite town celebration, I would have to say the Winterfest Light-Up Night that is held at the end of November each year. There are festivities in the downtown area and everything is decorated for Christmas. Local restaurants hold soup samplings and people vote on their favorite. Santa arrives and a giant tree is lit up that evening. There are ice carvings, too. It’s such a fun night and everyone is in the holiday spirit.

Thanks, Cathy! I can’t wait to try those delish-sounding potatoes! I know you’ll have lots of fun with Chip and Curly, and I wish you all the best with all of your books!

You can connect with Cathy Breisacher on

Her website | Facebook | Twitter

National Eat What You Want Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-appealing-potatoes-game-cards

Appealing Potatoes Game

 

If you love potatoes, you can never get enough! Race to fill your plate with all six kinds of potatoes in this fun game!

Supplies

Directions

  1. Print a game board and set of game cards for each player.
  2. Choose a player to go first.
  3. Taking turns, each player rolls the paper die and places a game card matching the rolled potato to their plate
  4. Or: If using a regular playing die, use the corresponding number and kind of potato listed below
  5. The first player to add all six kinds of potatoes to their plate is the winner.

Corresponding Numbers and Potatoes:

  1. Mashed Potatoes
  2. French Fries
  3. Potato Chips
  4. Baked Potato
  5. Twice-baked Potato
  6. Sweet Potato Fries

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-chip-and-curly-cover

You can find Chip and Curly, the Great Potato Race at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

May 1 – May Day and Interview with Author Denise Brennan-Nelson

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-mae-the-mayfly-cover

About the Holiday

May Day has for centuries celebrated the coming of spring. In ancient calendars May 1 heralded the first day of summer. Often celebrated with flowers and dancing, May Day has ushered in many traditions, such as dancing around a Maypole and May Day baskets, which are cone-shaped baskets filled with flowers. A May Day basket is usually given in secret as the giver hangs it on a friend’s doorknob and then rings the doorbell and runs away. (Which sounds like a perfect way to celebrate the holiday in these days of social distancing.) Whether nature is blooming in full or just starting to bud where you live, May Day offers the promise of brighter days ahead. Today’s book—and its adorable character Mae—shows us how to celebrate that feeling every day.

I received a copy of Mae the Mayfly from Sleeping Bear Press for review consideration. All opinions of the book are my own.

Mae the Mayfly

Written by Denise Brennan-Nelson | Illustrated by Florence Weiser

 

“Near the bank of the river one warm spring day / a new life began, and her name was Mae.” Before her mama said goodbye, she hugged her daughter and told her that she had her “whole life—a day, perhaps more” to explore her world. As Mae flitted along the river, a large, hungry trout waited for just the right moment to lure her in. It smiled deceitfully and beckoned to her, and, even though her inner voice told her not to, Mae flew down closer to take a look.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-mae-the-mayfly-fish

Image by Florence Weiser, 2020, text copyright Denise Brennan-Nelson, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

That’s when the trout leapt from the water to snatch Mae from the air. But she darted and dodged and got away. Shaking with fear, Mae found a hole in a hollow tree and flew in. “I’ll stay here forever! I’m not coming out!” she told herself.  But once her heart stopped beating so loud, she heard a happy tweet and peeked out of the tree. She saw a mother robin feeding her chicks and a spider web glittered in the sun. “The mist on the river was a fine, pink cloak. / A bullfrog bellowed his morning croak.” 

Mae remembered what her Mama had said and “launched herself from the dark, hollow place.” She followed the river, where she saw flowers and birds, a deer and a bear and one “stubby toad.” Then, she came to a clearing where she found “a singing, dancing jamboree… a wild mayfly jubilee! / Joining in, Mae danced with glee!”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-mae-the-mayfly-bird

Image by Florence Weiser, 2020, text copyright Denise Brennan-Nelson, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

As morning turned to afternoon, Mae was floating on the breeze when she heard a call for help. She went in search of who it was and found Trout lying motionless and barely breathing. Fearful that he might leap at her again, she carefully went closer to inspect. “But Trout was weak, no flip or flail. / Tangled line had caught his tail.” Then Mae noticed something else—his shimmering “rainbow stripes in every hue, silver, pink, and shades of blue.” And in his eyes she saw his fear and realized that she and Trout were alike.

Mae went to work to try to free him. The knot was tight, but Mae worked patiently until the line slipped free and Trout swam away with the current. Mae hoped that he would be okay. Just then she saw a flash as Trout returned and with a flip of his tail said, “Thank you.” As nighttime settled over the river and the moon rose high, Mae settled on a cattail leaf. She listened to the bullfrogs and watched the fireflies glow. “The stars came out early for  sweet, little Mae. / She counted each one… then called it a day.”

Back matter includes a message about mindfulness, an exercise to try and facts about mayflies.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-mae-the-mayfly-fishing-line

Image by Florence Weiser, 2020, text copyright Denise Brennan-Nelson, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Soaring and uplifting, Denise Brennan-Nelson’s unique story reminds children and adults alike to live each day to the fullest and reveals where the treasures that make life so fulfilling can be found. The short lifespan of a mayfly gives Brennan-Nelson a perfect canvas for compressing the lessons of a lifetime into one day, and her superlative storytelling incorporates parental love, fear, appreciation for our surroundings, courage, selflessness, and friendship. Her language is triumphant, carried breezily on rhyming couplets that are a joy to read aloud. The pitch-perfect ending may bring a tear to the eye but spur readers to find the beauty in every day.

Through Florence Weiser’s lovely textured illustrations, readers can almost feel the breeze ruffling the tall grasses, the spray of river water, and the warmth of the sun as they follow Mae on her adventure. Mae is a cutie with lacy wings and a sweet, expressive face. A powerful image of empathy comes in a close-up, two-page spread in which Mae, looking into Trout’s frightened eye, sees her own reflection. Whereas up to now Mae has been an observer of life, she now becomes an active participant by helping a fellow creature. Working in perfect tandem with Brennan-Nelson’s text, Weiser’s pages take readers on a journey of growth and discovery they’ll take to heart. Calming shades of green dotted with subtle pinks, purples blues, and browns reflect Mae’s mindful approach to life, making this a delightful book to share for quiet story times.

Beautiful and resonant, Mae the Mayfly is highly recommended and would be an often-asked-for addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534110519

Discover more about Denise Brennan-Nelson and her books on her website.

To learn more about Florence Weiser, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Denise Brennan-Nelson

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Denise-Brennan-Nelson-headshot

Denise Brennan-Nelson has written a number of books for children, including Tallulah: Mermaid of the Great Lakes, Leopold the Lion, Someday Is Not a Day of the Week, My Momma Likes to Say, Santa’s Secret, and the popular Willow series. As a national speaker, Denise encourages adults and children to tap into their imaginations to create richer, fuller lives. She travels the country, sharing her reading and writing enthusiasm with schoolchildren and teachers. Denise lives in Howell, Michigan with her husband, Bob. She strives to spend each day teaching and learning with a creative spirit. Find out more about Denise at www.denisebrennannelson.com.

Today, I’m really thrilled to be talking with Denise Brennan-Nelson about her inspiring story, her journey in writing it, and how we can all appreciate the life around us. My blog partner Jakki’s sons, Jack and Steve, also loves Mae the Mayfly and had a few questions of their own. 

Jack wonders: What inspired you to write about a mayfly? 

The inspiration to write about a mayfly came when I discovered that they live, on an average, only one day. I started digging and discovered that while mayflies have many interesting qualities, it was their life cycle that reeled me in and set the basis for the story: a mayfly begins as an egg, then hatches into a nymph. It then lives as a nymph for one to three years before emerging from the water as an adult. Once they have molted––the only insect known to molt twice!––they only have about a day to live. ONE DAY? How do you live your entire life in ONE day? Where would you go? What would you do? I had so many questions. And so, the journey began!

Steve would like to know: Where is your favorite place to go and enjoy nature?

Our backyard has many trees and a few paths to meander on. One of those paths leads to a playhouse that my husband built years ago for our children, Rebecca and Rachel. I love to sit on the steps and take it all in––especially the forever-changing trees and the way the light filters through them. It’s quiet and I watch the birds and the chipmunks, squirrels, and occasionally deer show up. It’s far enough away from our house that I can forget about my “to-do” list and relax.

There are also a couple of parks nearby that have trails and lakes and offer a beautiful place to enjoy nature.

Jack and Steve asked if you spent a lot of time at a pond while creating the story.

No, I didn’t spend a lot of time at a pond, but I did a lot of research to help me visualize the setting.

In early drafts, I pictured Mae’s life beginning on a pond but as the story emerged it turned into a river. Unlike a pond, a river “flows.” It seemed to fit with the ebb and flow of Mae’s life.

The river became integral to the story; Mae’s life began there, she experiences a harrowing ordeal with Trout, which causes her to flee the river out of fear, but ultimately, Mae returns “home” to the river and completes her life. (This was in keeping with a mayfly’s lifecycle.)  

Hi Denise! I love your answers to Jack and Steve’s questions! What an amazing character a mayfly makes. You’ve published many, many books for kids. What inspired you to become a children’s writer? What’s the best part about your job?

I had been happily writing for myself – journals and poetry mostly – when inspiration came knocking at my door in the form of a documented study about bumblebees. According to scientists, bumblebees are not “equipped” to fly. Aeronautically, their wings are too small for their bodies. Upon hearing that, I was compelled to write what was in my head and my heart. I wanted to answer the questions I had: What would happen if bumblebees found out about their small wings? Would fear and doubt stop them from doing what they love to do? Once it was written, I felt I had written something that I wanted to share with others. Four years and many rejection letters later, my first book, Buzzy the Bumblebee was published.

The best part about my job is creating something – taking an idea and turning it into something new that entertains and inspires children and adults. I also love the freedom to work when and where I want to, often in my pajamas in the wee hours of the morning.

Mae the Mayfly is a gorgeous, poignant reminder for both kids and adults to look around and appreciate the beauty all around us. Not only the mayfly, but all of the sights that Mae sees are ephemeral parts of nature. How did you choose each of these?

I felt they had to be simple, yet remarkable acts of nature that would draw Mae out from the hollow of a tree. You know that awe-inspiring feeling you get when you discover a bird’s nest or a spider’s web? That was the basis for the sights and sounds Mae encountered.

I also drew from a trip to Yellowstone where the vivid images of rivers, flowers, bear cubs, and other magnificent acts of nature are forever embedded in my mind.

The rhymes of Mae the Mayfly are as light as she is, and your rhythm is as jaunty as a mayfly’s flight. Could you describe your journey in writing this story?

After learning of a mayfly’s short lifespan, the mulling-over period ensued. A lot of thinking and dialogue in my head takes place before taking pen to paper. Often, I share my initial thoughts with family and friends which helps the pieces come together.

I did more research, too. I watched a video showing how some mayfly nymphs resist the pull to come to the surface when it is time to shed their outer covering and expose their wings. After spending years at the bottom of the dark river, why would they resist? I wondered. Why would they want to stay at the bottom of the river when they could break through the surface into the light, and fly––if only for a day?

Ah, fear.

It was starting to come together – I would write about a mayfly and how beautiful and meaningful one day could be, if she can overcome her fears.

Initially, the story was written in prose and then I wrote it in verse. At one point, I even wrote a funny version for my kids about Mae being stubborn and not listening to her mama. That version didn’t end well for Mae, because, well, she didn’t listen to her mama! My kids got a kick out of it.

Before she was Mae, she was Martha. From Martha to Marvin. Then I changed it to May. And then May became Mae.

My first submission was declined. So, I gave it a rest. The idea was there but I needed to start over. I believed in this story with my whole being and I wasn’t giving up. In June 2018, I resubmitted it and in August I learned that Sleeping Bear Press wanted to move forward with it. I signed the contract in September and it was released in March of 2020 amid a pandemic. It wasn’t the launch I envisioned, but the story is about appreciating the simple things and living life to the fullest. It is also about empathy, fear, and gratitude. Perhaps the timing was just right.

Florence Weiser’s illustrations are adorable while truly highlighting the beauty of what Mae sees. Do you have a favorite spread? Why do you love it?

I love the cover and the end sheets, and the illustration of Mama saying good-bye to Mae tugs at my heart. But my favorite is the spread where Mae encounters Trout tangled in fishing line and Mae sees herself – literally and figuratively – in Trout’s eyes. Mae is confronted with a difficult decision between fear, or courage and compassion. This was a pivotal part of the story and Florence did a remarkable job capturing the emotion of both Mae and Trout.

You encourage people to be aware of and open to inspiration and those small moments in life that make them the best version of themselves they can be. How can kids and adults practice this kind of mindfulness while at home during this time of self-isolating and social distancing?

In a robust and enthusiastic voice my dad often proclaims, “This is living!” He says it with such conviction that you might think he won the lottery. On the contrary, he says it to express his delight over life’s simple/small pleasures; a sunset, eating a fresh-picked tomato from the vine, watching the birds, the daffodils sprouting, a delectable meal, a rainstorm . . .

I am by no means an expert on mindfulness, but I have learned a few things that help me enjoy life a little bit more:

  • Be aware/pay attention – the list of things to delight over is endless when we notice what is going on around us
  • Make room for quiet time and stillness every day
  • Focus on one thing at a time and do it with intention and purpose
  • Write down 3-5 things daily that you are grateful for. Do it as a family with a “family journal” or get a notebook for every member and make it a nightly ritual

Lately I’ve been asking people, “What do you like most about the shelter-in-place order that we are being asked to follow?” Over and over, I’ve heard, “It feels good to slow down . . . less hectic . . .” I hope we emerge from this unique experience with the realization that life is not a race, it’s a gift.

What’s up next for you?

My publisher is currently reviewing two stories that I have submitted. Fingers crossed that they accept both of them!

What inspires you each time you start a new story?

When I have an idea that interests me I feel invigorated and purposeful. What can I do with it? Where will it take me? What can I learn from it?

In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott writes, “If you are writing the clearest, truest words you can find and doing the best you can to understand and communicate, this will shine on paper like its only little lighthouse.”

Each time I begin a story I am hopeful that what I write “will shine on paper like its own little lighthouse.”

Thanks so much, Denise! This has been such a wonderful talk! I wish you all the best with Mae, the Mayfly and can’t wait to see more from you in the future.

You can connect with Denise Brennan-Nelson on 

Her website | Facebook | Twitter

May Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-mae-the-mayfly-activity-page

Mae the Mayfly Mindfulness Activity

 

Like Mae, you can calm your mind and be present in the moment as you enjoy your surroundings. Use this printable activity to get into that peaceful state of mind. Just look at the picture inside the star and follow the breathing directions as you trace each arm. You can download it from the Sleeping Bear Press Website under Teachers Guides here:

Mae the Mayfly Mindfulness Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-mae-the-mayfly-cover

You can find Mae the Mayfly at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Sleeping Bear Press

Picture Book Review

April 22 – Earth Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-fly-firefly-cover

About the Holiday

Celebrating 50 years of raising awareness of threats to the environment and spurring global action to combat them, Earth Day is the world’s largest civic-focused event. The initiative began on April 22, 1970, when 20 million Americans (10% of the population) demonstrated against the industrialization, pollution, and pesticides that were damaging people and the environment. In response, in July President Nixon and the US Congress created the Environmental Protections Agency and enacted laws such as the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act among others. This year’s theme is Climate Action, and the day will be commemorated with a global digital mobilization encompassing conversations, video teach-ins, special performances, calls to action, and more. To learn how you can participate or access resources in your area, visit the official Earth Day website.

I received a copy of Fly, Firefly! from Sleeping Bear Press for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.

Fly, Firefly!

Written by Shana Keller | Illustrated by Ramona Kaulitzki

 

As the wind curled through the forest on a breezy night, a little firefly was blown out to sea. “WHOOSH! Now he was farther than he meant to be.” Floating on the current, “he saw the sparkles that flashed and glowed.” He dove in search of the twinkling lights, but deep water was not the place for him.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-fly-firefly-whoosh

Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2020, text copyright Shana Keller, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

A woman and her niece, strolling along the beach, saw him sinking. The woman scooped him up and gently placed him in her niece’s hand. “‘Little firefly,’ Marjie said. / ‘It’s not flies that you see! / That’s bioluminescence swirling / and twirling through the great sea!’” Marjie carried her treasure up the beach to the edge of the woods, where hundreds of glittering friends and family were waiting to welcome him back, and she set him free.

Following the story, Shana Keller includes a discussion about Rachel Carson—scientist and author of Silent Spring and other books whose experience inspired this story­­—and a description of fireflies and bioluminescence.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-fly-firefly-marjie

Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2020, text copyright Shana Keller, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Shana Keller’s glowing and lyrical story about one misdirected firefly that sparks an act of compassion and discovery will inspire children to learn more about both fireflies and the bioluminescent sea creatures that attracted him. The fact that the story is based on an actual event in the life of Rachel Carson will also appeal to readers, who may enjoy sharing one of their favorite marvels of summer with this influential environmentalist and author. Told in the first person, the story directly invites children to observe nature around them and lend a hand in protecting it.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-fly-firefly-sparkles

Image copyright Ramona Kaulitzki, 2020, text copyright Shana Keller, 2020. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Ramona Kaulitzki’s illustrations are as beautiful as a summer sunset. Under the pink and lavender sky, dots of light flit among the bushes and low-standing trees. Children first meet the firefly at the center of the story as he’s tumbling head over tail in the wind toward the rippling ocean. As the firefly mistakenly dives into the waves, kids will empathize with his plight and be cheered when Marjie and her aunt rescue him. Kaulitzki’s gorgeous underwater images highlight the diversity of marine creatures found close to shore as well as those that glitter with bioluminescence. The brilliant glow of the firefly on the dusky pages glimmers like a precious jewel and serves as a beacon of the hope and promise of nature.

A unique book for kids who love nature and to inspire studies of bioluminescence, Fly, Firefly! would be a shining addition to home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 5 – 7

Sleeping Bear Press, 2020 | ISBN 978-1534110335

Discover more about Shana Keller and her books as well as extensive teacher and homeschool resources and readalouds of her books on her website.

To learn more about Ramona Kaulitzki, her books, and her art and find free coloring pages to download in her shop, visit her website.

Meet Shana Keller

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-shana-keller-headshot

Shana Keller grew up a middle child in Middle America wondering exactly how clouds stayed in the air. She’s traveled all over the country and some parts of Europe with her family and moved too many times to count. She’s settled in Pittsburgh for now, a city built just for kids and one that she finds secretly inspiring. One of her favorite quotes is from Benjamin Banneker. “Every day is an adventure in learning.” That said, she graduated from the University of Miami, Florida, with a degree in Communications, from UCLA’s screenwriting program, and took a course in songwriting from Berklee College of Music. Her goal is to never stop learning.

I’m excited to talk with Shana today about her books, her inspirations, and her extensive travels. My writing partner Jakki’s sons Steve and Jack also loved Fly, Firefly! and had some questions for Shana.

Steve asked: We like to capture fireflies. Did you capture fireflies as a kid?

I did! My brother and sister and I would compete to see if we could get one of them to land on us.

Jack wondered: Did you watch real fireflies to write your story?

I was so lucky and grateful to live close to where Rachel Carson lived in Pennsylvania while I wrote this story, and to have a pond in our yard. We had frogs, fish, birds, and a good number of fireflies. I watched them every night in the summer when the weather was warm. There was so much wildlife in our backyard! We had chipmunks, groundhogs, wild turkeys, voles, and woodpeckers.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-shana-keller's-backyard

Our back yard in Pittsburgh. On the bottom right is the pond. Our cat loved to sleep on the picnic table up the small hill. Can you see it behind the little tree? Back there is where the groundhog moseyed around.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Shana-Keller-Koi-Image

One of the koi fish in our pond surrounded (and protected) by lily pads.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Shana-Keller-groundhog-Image

A groundhog just past the picnic table in our (former) backyard.

CBP Shana Keller Toad Image

A picture of our frog in the same pond as the koi. Lots of critters lived in it and used it for water.

We don’t live in Pittsburgh anymore and I really miss that yard. Sadly, I haven’t seen any fireflies in my new neighborhood in North Carolina.

Jack and Steve said: We’ve brought frogs back to a pond. Have you ever rescued an animal?

Yes! In the traditional sense, our last dog Abby, was a pound puppy. (Though she has passed, I included a photo.) She always stayed up with me while I wrote, no matter how late it was. I still miss her, so it was the neatest surprise for me to see a beagle in the illustrations for Ticktock Banneker’s Clock. Abby was part beagle.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Shana-Keller-Dog-Image

Abby running in the snow. She always looked like a deer or rabbit the way she bounded and jumped!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Shana-Keller-cat-Image

Jazzy standing outside on our deck.

Today, one of our cats is also a rescue. Her name is Jasmine, but we call her Jazzy. And yes, in the literal sense I have rescued a handful of animals! My most memorable one was when I was about ten or eleven years old and I rescued a squirrel from my aunt’s swimming pool.

The little squirrel had tried to jump from one tall tree to the next and missed. He fell into their round pool. The water was too low, and the ledge was too high for him to climb out. I didn’t want him to drown, so I looked around the yard and grabbed a tree branch to see if he would climb onto it. He didn’t. Then, I ran into the shed and grabbed the biggest (which was also the heaviest) shovel I could find. The squirrel swam away from me even faster than before! I chased after him wielding the long shovel and tried not to rip the lining of the pool. Round and round we went until he finally slowed down long enough, I was able to scoop him out.

I’ve also stopped to scoot turtles along if I see them in the middle of the street. This one (photos are of the same turtle) was the littlest and also brightest green turtle I have ever seen in nature.  

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Shana-Keller-turtle-pavement-Image

A little turtle crossing the street.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Shana-Keller-turtle-grass-Image

A picture of the same little green turtle after I moved him. It looked like he was headed toward a pond. I helped him cross the street so he could get there.

Hi, Shana! What fantastic stories about your love of nature and your pets! Thanks so much for sharing all of these beautiful pictures with us. I can see that nature has really been a life-long inspiration. What sparked your idea to write this particular story?

A few years ago, I read a letter Rachel Carson wrote to her friend Dorothy Freeman in a book called Always, Rachel. In her letter, Rachel and her niece, Marjorie (nicknamed Marjie), came across a firefly while at her summer home in Southport, Maine. Around midnight, Rachel and Marjie headed down to the shore to secure Marjie’s son’s raft.

On the shore, they turned their flashlights off and saw a sea filled with “diamonds and emeralds.” The sparkling was bioluminescence, a (likely) form of marine plankton called Dinoflagellates. Rachel joked with her niece how one gem “took to the air!” Of course, it was a firefly! Well, further in the letter, Rachel tells her friend that she had already thought of a children’s story based on her experience. That sentence is what sparked the idea! 

What kind of research did you do in writing Fly, Firefly! and the back matter about bioluminescence that follows the story? What was the most surprising thing you learned about fireflies?

With this story, I headed to the library first to learn as much about the area Rachel was located in (Maine), and the insects and bioluminescence there. Once I sorted through all of my facts, I reached out to an entomologist here in North Carolina, the director of the Rachel Carson Homestead in Springdale, Pennsylvania, and a marine biologist who studied at the very same Marine Biology Lab Rachel did.

I also read Rachel’s books to get a sense of her voice and style. It filters through in her letters, but her books definitely have a poetic aura about them.

The most inspiring thing I learned was the importance and prominence bugs have in our world. We take them for granted. We call many of them pests. But the truth is, they are an important part of our ecological system. As I discovered with fireflies, when you have them, it is a good indication that your ecosystem is in great health.

What inspired you to write Fly, Firefly! in verse?

While I was researching, I discovered Rachel Carson had a love of poetry. Though this is not pertaining (that I know of) to the children’s story she discusses; in another letter written to her, she was quoted by her friend Dorothy (regarding Rachel’s poetic aims), as having said, “I just want it to be simple and clean and strong and sharp as a sword—for it has work to do!”

I did my best to honor her vision in that way, so I kept it lyrical, simple, and clean!

In your bio, you describe how you’ve traveled and lived all over the country and in parts of Europe. What took you to all of these places? Can you name a favorite place in the US? In Europe? Why are those places special to you?

People always assume I was a military brat when I’m asked about the places I’ve lived. Family and school took me/us to Oklahoma (my birth state), Kansas, Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas. Adventure and jobs took me/us to Colorado, New Mexico, Virginia, Germany, & North Carolina.

My mom simply said she had wanderlust and gypsy blood. I definitely got my love of travel from her. Although now, with my kids in school we have settled down. At least until they graduate. J

My absolute favorite place in the United States is Big Bend national park. My mom and I camped there the year before I left for college. It’s right on the border of Texas and Mexico in a NO-FLY zone which means zero light pollution. Seeing the vast Milky Way at night is something I will carry with me forever. I wish every kid could see the sky that I saw.

My favorite place in Europe was in Berlin. It was the bombed Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church left as it was after the war and converted into a museum. When I first saw this monument of destruction but also of hope, it impacted me in a strong way. My photo from over ten years ago is on the left and does not do it justice. The photo on the right is what it originally looked like. It is definitely worth a Google search to see more pictures of it and compare the before and after.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Shana Keller-Kaiser-William-Memorial-Church-after-Image

My photo of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. Notice the top tower is broken.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Shana Keller-Kaiser-William-Memorial-Church-Before-Image

An online photo of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. See how big it was before the bombing?

You’ve also recently released Bread for Words: A Frederick Douglass Story from Sleeping Bear Press that relates how Douglass, born into slavery, taught himself to read and write despite overwhelming challenges. Your powerful telling of this story is written in first person. Why was writing Douglass’s story in first person important to you?

I was first introduced to Douglass’s autobiographies in college. I thought this was way too long of a wait to learn about someone who was the most photographed person in 19th century America and considered one of the greatest orators in our nation.

Frederick struggled for years in a hostile environment while he learned to read and write. To honor his accomplishment, one he was clearly proud of, I wanted to present this story in the same format he had and give children direct access to his own words.

 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-bread-for-words-cover

Can you describe a little about your process in writing Bread for Words?

I read Douglass’s autobiographies of course, but I also studied his speeches. I was able to take a trip to Baltimore and meet with Urban Ranger and docent, Bradley Alston thanks to the folks at Baltimore National Heritage Area. His insight and knowledge not just of Frederick Douglass but of the Baltimore Douglass grew up in was incredible. Touring the Frederick Douglass–Isaac Myers Maritime Park and museum (a place I highly recommend) with Bradley Alston rounded out my research. I’ve included a few photos from that trip!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Shana-Keller-Frederick-Douglass-Museum-Image-1

A recreation of Frederick Douglass arriving in Baltimore. (Photo taken at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park and Museum.)

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Shana-Keller-Frederick-Douglass-Museum-Image-2

A recreation of the letters Frederick Douglass saw carved into the wood. (Photo taken at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park and Museum.)

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Shana-Keller-Frederick-Douglass-Museum-Image-3

This is me learning what it was like to caulk a ship, a job Douglass had. They took long rope, dipped it into tar and used the hammer and tool to wedge it in for a watertight seal. (Photo taken by Bradley at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park and Museum.)

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Shana-Keller-Frederick-Douglass-Museum-Image-4

What Baltimore Harbor looks like today.

Did you always want to write for children? How did you get started?

I didn’t expect to, not at first. I always thought I would write screenplays. I got started when my oldest daughter came home with a small paragraph from school about a man named Benjamin Banneker. It was during Black History Month, and I was amazed that I had never heard of this scientist and astronomer. Curious, I began to research him. When I discovered he built a strike clock using only a pocket watch and a pocketknife, that was the story I shared with my daughter, and that’s when the idea to put it in picture book format took place. I haven’t stopped writing picture books since.

You’re really enthusiastic about connecting with readers. What’s your favorite part of book events and meeting kids? Do you have an anecdote from any event you’d like to share?

Yes! In fact, before all the quarantines, I had such a special moment with a group of fourth graders on the day I shared Bread for Words with them. A student referred to the picture that’s on the back of the cover and said, “See how Frederick wants to be with his friend?” The kids interpreted that image as Frederick waiting for his friend to finish with his tutoring so that they could play and hunt and eat together. But also waiting, so that his friend could teach him.

It seems so obvious now that they mentioned it, but my original interpretation was one of exclusion, not simply waiting. To them, all Fred had to do (which Fred actually did) was ask his friend for help. One of the 4th grade boys even said, “I’m glad he had a friend that could help him.” I agreed and said, “It’s amazing how all the kid’s helped each other, isn’t it?!” And there was the real ‘lesson’ which another student pointed out and said, “We have to help each other if we can.” That kind of interaction is my favorite part about school and library visits!

It does make me wonder how other students will interpret this image.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Shana Keller Bread for Words Back Cover Image

Bread for Words – back cover. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

What’s up next for you?

Hopefully more picture books! I’m working on a WWI story, as well as a picture book that highlights the effects of light pollution on migratory birds. I also just finished a very cool Coast Guard story that I can’t wait to share with my editor.

Thank you, so much, Shana for this wonderful talk and your generous pictures! I wish you all the best with all of your books and am really looking forward to reading them as I’m sure kids are too!

You can connect with Shana Keller on

Her website | Twitter | Instagram

Earth Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-firefly-maze

Firefly Flight Maze

 

This little firefly wants to join her friends in the forest. Can you help her through the maze to find them in this printable maze?

Firefly Flight Maze Puzzle| Firefly Flight Mage Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-fly-firefly-cover

You can find Fly, Firefly! at these booksellers

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

April 21 – National Kindergarten Day

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kindergarrrten-bus-cover

About the Holiday

National Kindergarten Day honors the birthday of Friedrich Wilhelm August Frobel who was born April 21, 1782 and is credited with starting the very first Kindergarten in Germany in 1837. Recognizing that children learn through play and experience, Frobel established a foundation for modern education. The first kindergarten in America was opened by Margarethe Schurtz in 1856 in Watertown, Wisconsin. Kindergarten became part of some public school systems in 1873. Even though kids aren’t in their regular classes right now, we still celebrate all of their achievements, creativity, and love of fun. Little ones’ enthusiasm and natural empathy can make them great teachers too—as today’s book shows.

Sleeping Bear Press sent me a copy of Kindergarrrten Bus to check out. All opinions are my own.

Kindergarrrten Bus

Written by Mike Ornstein | Illustrated by Kevin M. Barry

 

As the little tykes climb the plank into the kindergarten school bus, they’re met by a most unusual driver. He has a hook hand, a peg leg, a curly beard, a broad-brimmed hat with a parrot perched on the edge, and he greets the first little boy like this: “Ahoy, boy! What? It be ye first day of kindergarrrten? Well, don’t worry, laddie—it be me first day as a bus driverrr!” The pirate shows the kids to their seats and lays down the rules. Any infractions…. Well, Polly will tell ya: “Raaaaa, mutiny!”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kindergarrrten-bus-scared-plank

Image copyright Kevin M. Barry, 2018, text copyright Mike Ornstein, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

The kids don’t seem too sure of this turn of events. They each talk about how they miss their family, their pets, their toys, and how it’s all a little scary. But the pirate will have “no blubberin’ on me bus! Pirates don’t get scared! We eat bones for supperrr!” he tells them. And as far as them missing their moms and dads? “We ain’t got time for that fluffy stuff!” he says. So the bus takes off, and the driver sings a ditty about brave these little buccaneers are as they go.

But the route turns as bumpy as a churning sea with potholes that rattle Polly so much she flies out the window…I mean “winderrr.” The pirate wails after his parrot, “Waaaa arrrgh waaaa arrrgh!” Then the bus comes to a screeching halt amid a pirate melt-down. “I can’t drive me bus without me sweet snuggly Polly! I can’t do it, I tells ya! I can’t! I can’t I can’t!”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kindergarrrten-bus-scared-mutiny

Image copyright Kevin M. Barry, 2018, text copyright Mike Ornstein, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Everyone piles out, and the kids try to reassure the poor driver, reminding him of all the things he told them. Turns out that ol’ pirate “was only hornswogglin’” and that he considers himself “nothin’ but a scared, blubberin’ boob of a buccaneer.” The kids are empathetic and reassuring, and pretty soon the pirate is feeling better about things.

Back on the bus, the little ditty is less bravado and more true bravery. As they pull up at the X, where “the treasure of all treasures” awaits the kids, the pirate gives one more lesson before letting all those little “scoundrels walk the plank—errr, I mean, exit the bus.” But why is a pirate driving a school bus? one little boy wants to know. Well, that answer may surprise you and it be somethin’ ye just have to see for yourself!

An afterword from the author discussing tips for talking with kids about fears and worries follows the story.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kindergarrrten-bus-scared-kids

Image copyright Kevin M. Barry, 2018, text copyright Mike Ornstein, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Could Mike Ornstein actually be a pirate? I’m thinking yes! His ease with Pirate-ese makes this dialogue-rich story a comical treasure that will have kids “Harrr, harrr, harrr-ing” at every twist and turn in the book—and lucky for them, there’s a whole loot of those. Scrumptious words like “blubberin’, hornswogglin’, landlubbers,” and “blue-footed booby bird” as well as a liberal sprinkling of rrrrs make this book a joyful read-aloud that kids will clamor to participate in. Nuggets of reassurance about “rrrespect,” admitting fears and worries, and enjoying school are pure gold.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kindergarrrten-bus-scared-map

Image copyright Kevin M. Barry, 2018, text copyright Mike Ornstein, 2018. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

Kevin M. Barry’s wide-eyed, rakish kids and scallywag of a bus driver are the perfect companions on this hilarious journey to the first day of kindergarten. The school bus—a wooden jalopy with porthole windows, a ship’s wheel steering wheel, and a teddy bear jolly roger—comes to a tipping point when the pirate’s beloved Polly flies the coop. As the pirate dramatically looks to the skies and admits his false bravado, the kids—skeptical, astonished, and empathetic—look on. While one curly-haired little girl reassures the pirate, the other kids channel their own bravery and get ready to have a fun day at school. Readers will love the expressive faces, small details (a fish-skeleton belt buckle, a girl’s “I Got This” t-shirt), and, of course, ruffled Polly.

Kindergarrrten Bus is a rip-roarin’ yarn with a heart of gold that will get kids and grown-ups laughing and talking about feelings, fears, and the fact that everyone gets scared sometimes. A go-to book for fun story times and moments when a little more encouragement is needed, Kindergarrrten Bus would be a favorite on home and classroom bookshelves.

Ages 5 – 8

Sleeping Bear Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1585363988

To learn more about Kevin M. Barry, his books, and his art on his website.

National Kindergarten Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-pirate-maze

Sail for Pirate Treasure Maze

 

Join the crew of scallywags to pick up supplies on your way to finding a treasure chest full of gold in this printable maze.

Sail for Pirate Treasure Maze Puzzle | Sail for Pirate Treasure Maze Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-kindergarrrten-bus-cover

You can find Kindergarrrten Bus at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review