August 23 – National Sponge Cake Day

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About the Holiday

There’s nothing like a light and airy cake embellished with fruit, whipped cream, or chocolate to put a fine finishing touch on a summer day, and that’s why the world celebrates the sponge cake today. What makes the sponge cake distinctive is that it is made without yeast or leavening agent, instead relying on whipped egg whites to give it its delectable texture. The recipe dates back to 18th century Italy and a special commission by a wealthy member of the Pallavicini family of Genoa. It is perhaps better known as a treat enjoyed by Victorian Britons with their tea. Today, sponge cake is a favorite everywhere, and it might just taste better when its baked and eaten together with friends—as you’ll see in today’s book!

Sonny Says Sorry!

Written by Caryl Hart | Illustrated by Zachariah OHora

While playing hide and seek in the park, Sonny finds a box wrapped with a bow. Intrigued, he inspects it and finds a tag that reads “For Honey.” Sonny is suddenly overcome by curiosity about what is inside. He smells a delicious aroma just as Boo and Meemo find him. Sonny shows them the box.

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Image copyright Zachariah OHora, 2022, text copyright Caryl Hart, 2022. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Then, despite Meemo’s protesting “Woof! Woof!”, Sonny opens the box. Meemo tries to remind Sonny and Boo that the box is for Honey, but they “peek inside” anyway. “Inside the box is a huge chocolate cake, covered in juicy, red strawberries!” There are chocolate drops on top too. “Woof!” says Meemo more emphatically as Sonny and Boo eat two strawberries. Then, after looking around, Sonny sneaks a chocolate drop. And Boo takes one too.

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Image copyright Zachariah OHora, 2022, text copyright Caryl Hart, 2022. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Sonny and Boo’s nibbling expands to gobbling. Just then Honey shows up. “Found you!” she says. But then she finds something else: “. . . Sonny’s chocolaty hands. . . . Boo’s chocolaty face. Then Honey sees the open box . . .” and she “starts to cry.”  Now Sonny and Boo feel terrible too. Even though they both try to make it up to Honey in their own way, and “Sonny says Sorry!”, Honey keeps crying. Then Sonny has another idea. Back home, “Sonny, Honey, and Boo bake a new cake . . .” to enjoy “TOGETHER!”

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Image copyright Zachariah OHora, 2022, text copyright Caryl Hart, 2022. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

The sequel to Sonny Says Mine!, Caryl Hart’s Sonny Says Sorry! addresses that itchy curiosity that can often lead kids to break barriers and disappoint and upset their friends and others. In her quickly paced story, Hart lets readers be part of the group as Sonny, Boo, and Meemo gather around Honey’s enticing box and think for themselves whether they would join Sonny and Boo or side with Meemo. As Sonny and Boo’s eating escalates, so does the suspense. When Honey discovers her decimated cake, Hart needs only four words and a stream of tears to show little ones how devastated she feels. Sonny and Boo are similarly affected, and readers will see how decisions like the one Sonny made hurts everyone involved. Sonny’s sincere apology is a good start at making things right. His idea to include everyone in replacing the cake shows true, enduring friendship.

Zachariah OHora’s distinctive and familiar illustrations will endear these four friends to little readers. Blocks of vibrant colors help kids focus on the action and the characters’ expressive faces. When, on the second page, Sonny discovers a box on the picnic blanket next to his hiding place, the tag “For: Honey” is prominently displayed, giving kids and adults a hint of what might be coming up and what’s at stake. When Boo and Meemo arrive, Meemo’s barking and wagging tale provide readers with another opportunity to predict what he will do. As the story progresses, Meemo’s facial expressions become more and more disapproving, a balancing counterpoint to Sonny and Boo’s delight. OHora also does an excellent job of clearly showing Sonny and Boo’s remorse as well as their heartfelt apologies.

Sonny Says Sorry! is a smart and effective way to introduce young readers to the important concept of respecting others’ belongings and feelings as well as of making amends when a mistake is made. Straightforward and accessible language teamed with evocative illustrations create a poignant story that will make an emotional impact with children in the target audience. Sonny Says, Sorry! would be a go-to book on home and classroom bookshelves and is a must for school and public library collections. 

Pair Sonny Says Sorry! with Sonny Says Mine!, a story about sharing to talk with your kids or students about these seminal topics of childhood. You can read my review of Sonny Says Mine! here.

Ages 3 – 6

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2022 | ISBN 978-1547609031

Discover more about Caryl Hart and her books on her website.

To learn more about Zachariah OHora, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Sponge Cake Day Activity

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Yummy Cake Coloring Pages

Cakes are fun to decorate and delicious to eat! These two coloring pages let you enjoy a bit of both!

Tall Cake to Decorate Coloring Page | Cat Eating Cake Coloring Page

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You can find Sonny Says Sorry at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

August 16 – Celebrating the Book Birthday of A Case of the Zaps

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Thanks to Abrams Books for Young Readers for sending me a copy of A Case of the Zaps for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

A Case of the Zaps

Written by Alex Boniella and April Lavalle | Illustrated by James Kwan

 

On Robot-Earth there lived a robot named 3.14159… (“or Pi, for short”). Pi liked doing things most young robots did, like “playing music, walking their dog, and hanging out with their Parental Units and friends. Pi also liked sports, science, camping, and exploring, and their favorite food was DW-40. One day at school, their teacher announced that in a month the class would be going on a field trip to Olde Silicon Valley.

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Image copyright James Kwan, 2022, text copyright Alex Boniello and April Lavalle, 2022. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

All of Pi’s classmates were excited about the trip, and “Pi felt their circuit board BUZZ with anticipation.” Pi couldn’t stop thinking about the trip. But along with all the fun things they would do, thoughts about what could go wrong crept into his consciousness. And then, unexpectedly, while walking home from school with their friends, Pi experienced a tingle in their arms and then their “defense mechanisms JOLTED on.” Pi’s friends asked if they were all right.

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Image copyright James Kwan, 2022, text copyright Alex Boniello and April Lavalle, 2022. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Pi wasn’t sure and took off for home, “feeling zaps all around. Feeling afraid for reasons they didn’t quite understand.” The intrusive thoughts kept Pi awake that night, and during the next few days, even though Pi tried to act calm, they felt anything but. Trying not to think about the field trip just made things worse. One night they couldn’t even eat their DW-40, and then… ZAP! 

Pi ran to their room and shut the door. Pi’s “Mother-Board and Father-Board followed their robo-kid upstairs. When they asked through the door what was wrong, Pi admitted that they didn’t want to go on the field trip anymore. They they explained that “something feels wrong” and how all their gears and sensors seemed to be in overdrive. Pi confessed “‘I’m scared I might be . . . broken.'”

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Image copyright James Kwan, 2022, text copyright Alex Boniello and April Lavalle, 2022. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Pi was surprised to find that just telling their parents made them feel better. Pi’s Father-Board told them that they had had the zaps when he started his new job and that “‘cousin Cosine Tangent has had them for years.'” Pi was surprised because Cosine Tangent had recently won a major science award. Mother-Board suggested that they visit the doctor the next day.

Doctor Bleep Bloop was very friendly and welcoming. The doctor explained to Pi that the Zaps can happen to anyone and at any time and acknowledged that they can be scary. When Pi asked if there was any cure for the Zaps, Doctor Bleep Bloop was honest and told them “‘There isn’t a simple cure.'” The doctor went on to say, though, that there were ways of managing the Zaps and that they could work together to find strategies to help Pi.

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Image copyright James Kwan, 2022, text copyright Alex Boniello and April Lavalle, 2022. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

By the time the field trip to Olde Silicone Valley came around, Pi was ready to go, and they had a lot of fun. Even after the trip, Pi sometimes felt the Zaps. “When that happened, Pi used the tools that Dr. Bleep Bloop had shared with them, and then the Zaps didn’t feel quite so scary.” 

Back matter includes an Authors Note explaining how both Alex and April have experienced anxiety in their lives as well as online resources where parents and caregivers can find more information and help from professionals in the areas of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.

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Image copyright James Kwan, 2022, text copyright Alex Boniello and April Lavalle, 2022. Courtesy of Abrams Books for Young Readers.

Experiencing anxiety can be scary and confusing, and without the language to describe what is happening to them, children can feel isolated and alone. Alex Boniello and April Lavalle’s A Case of the Zaps provides kids and adults with a straightforward way to comfortably talk about anxiety while offering reassurance and a road map to discovering coping strategies that can help. Descriptions of the physical and mental effects of anxiety on Pi give kids direct examples to point to when talking about their own emotions and experiences with their parents, caregivers, or doctors. Pi’s parents’ suggestion to visit the doctor gives adults a starting point on the journey to helping their children. 

James Kwan’s vibrant illustrations, incorporating elements of comics and graphic novels, will enchant kids as they learn about Pi’s hobbies, family life, and excitement to visit Olde Silicone Valley. As Pi’s enthusiasm for the field trip turns to trepidation, kids can watch the robot’s expressive face change from happy to worried and fearful. They also see that anxiety causes physical effects, sleeplessness, depleted energy, and the body’s fight-or-flight mechanism to kick in. After the family’s visit with Dr. Bleep Bloop, Kwan’s depictions of calming activities Pi does with their mother-board and father-board, friends, and the doctor show readers that therapy can be found in many places from play to sports to yoga and more.

Honest, accessible, sprinkled with humor, and written in partnership with Child Mind Institute to ensure that the book can serve as a social-emotional tool, A Case of the Zaps is an outstanding book for talking about anxiety with any child. The book is highly recommended for home libraries and a must for classroom, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2022 | ISBN 978-1419756726

You can connect with writer, actor, musician, singer, and Tony award-winning producer Alex Boniella on Twitter and Instagram.

Connect with writer, comedian, actor, and Tony award-winning producer April Lavalle on her website and Twitter.

You’ll find James Kwan on Instagram.

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You can find A Case of the Zaps at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

 

Picture Book Review

November 10 – It’s Picture Book Month

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About the Holiday

Today’s picture books are amazing! Offering inspiration, characters that really speak to kids, moments to laugh out loud or reflect, glimpses into history, revelations in science, and much of the best art currently being produced, picture books defy their slim appearance with content that can change young lives. Reading a wide variety of books to children from birth on up is one of the most rewarding activities you can do. Make choosing the books to read a family affair! Kids love picking out their own books and sharing cozy and fun story times with you!

Thanks to Beaming Books for sharing a digital copy of The Girl with Big, Big Questions for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

The Girl with Big, Big Questions

Written by Britney Winn Lee | Illustrated by Jacob Souva

 

There once was a girl who was always asking questions about everything she saw and heard and thought. “Her days were filled with adventures galore,/ since her mind was so full of wonder. / ‘How long can a turtle stay in its shell? / Why does lightning come before thunder?’” From morning to bedtime she questioned her mom, her neighbors, her classmates, her teachers. “‘Could I fly if I got a good running start? / The nearest volcano is . . .where? / Are monsters real? What’s Spanish for blue? / Is it okay to cut my own hair?’”

At first everyone tried to answer all the girl’s questions, but as they piled up, people began to just roll their eyes and, finally, her friends at school told her “‘Please stop! Just quit it!’” The girl felt embarrassed. She “tried to quiet her thoughts” and not ask so many questions. But then one day she saw a bird making a nest in a broken fence close to the ground.

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Image copyright Jacob Souva, 2021, text copyright Britney Winn Lee, 2021. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

She wondered why the bird didn’t choose a tree for its nest, so she went to the library and did some research. Outside, she made observations and came up with an answer. Then she made a report to her class: “‘There are not enough trees in our town!’” Now her friends were asking questions about what they could do to help and devised a plan to plant “more trees in their parks.” And the girl understands that asking big questions is good and can lead to important actions and changes; “Asking questions is how we all grow!”

In her enchanting story about a girl who’s part super-observer, part philosopher, and completely engaged with her world, Britney Winn Lee invites readers to also look outward and inward and discover the questions that inform their particular world view and call to action. With humor and an intriguing list of questions to get kids thinking, Lee’s bouncy rhymes will pique their curiosity and instill a desire to learn not only about the big stuff, but about all the tiny Who? What? Why? When? and Hows? that make life interesting and always new.

Jacob Souva’s charming and lovely illustrations will delight kids as the adorable wide-eyed girl is surrounded by speech bubbles and clouds full of images representing her questions. Readers can almost hear the girl’s questions as the bubbles bump up against each other, overlap, and expand to fill two-page spreads, adding a vivacious energy to the story. Souva depicts the classmates’ admonition and the girl’s searching for her own answers with clever metaphorical imagery.

When the girl’s classmates tell her to quit asking so many questions, the day turns rainy and the previously vivid colors of her thoughts and questions become the muted panels of her enveloping umbrella. The vibrant colors return in the library’s shelves of books as the girl finds answers to the one question about the bird’s nest that occupies her mind. The girl’s influence on her classmates is clearly shown in the final spreads as each child is paired with a questioning bubble of their own.

An engaging way to encourage curiosity, a questioning mind, and a love of learning and doing, The Girl with Big, Big, Questions would make an inspiring addition to home, classroom, and public library bookshelves.

You’ll also want to check out Britney Winn Lee and Jacob Souva’s The Boy with Big, Big Feelings, a story for all children who are sensitive to their own emotions, empathize with the cares of other people and the world, and are looking to make friends and make a difference.

Ages 5 – 8

Beaming Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-1506473789

Discover more about Britney Winn Lee and her books, visit her website.

To learn more about Jacob Souva, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Picture Book Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-Kids-and-Books-Coloring-Page

Let’s Read! Coloring and Find the Differences Pages

 

Print out a few copies of this coloring page and find the differences page then invite your friends over for some fun and, of course, reading!

Let’s Read! Coloring Page | Find the Differences Page

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You can find The Girl with Big, Big Questions at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

October 5 – National Do Something Nice Day

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About the Holiday

Similar to Random Acts of Kindness Day, National Do Something Nice Day encourages people to think of others and do nice things for them. These don’t have to be big or expensive; in fact, small gestures or thoughtful actions can make all the difference in the way a friend, family member, or stranger feels. These acts of kindness will make you feel good too! To celebrate today, keep an eye out for ways you can lend a hand, times you can share a smile or a conversation, or ways you can make a new friend. Kids may enjoy sharing the encouraging cards found below with friends, siblings, and teachers or by leaving them at school, the library, shops or anywhere that someone may find them.

Sometimes It’s Hard to Be Nice

Written by Maggie C. Rudd | Illustrated by Kelly O’Neill

 

It seems like being nice should be easy, but there are so many emotions that often surround that one little word that sometimes doing the considerate thing is really hard. How hard? Like smiling and saying “that’s okay” when “your mom says you have to share” your favorite toy with a friend, sibling, or cousin and they break it. Like sitting through your brother or sister’s boring performance, game, or recital when you’d rather be somewhere else—anywhere else. Or like eating your least favorite food and thanking the cook for the meal because you don’t want to hurt their feelings.

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Image copyright Kelly O’Neill, 2021, text copyright Maggie C. Rudd, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

In fact, “sometimes being nice takes practice” like when a little brother or sister destroys your stuff and you yell at them, but then later you realize they didn’t really understand what they were doing. Or like when visiting someone you love in a nursing home or new place is scary and you hang back, not wanting to see them but then decide you won’t be scared next time you visit. And then there are times like these on the playground “when you have been waiting in line for the big slide, and a kid jumps in front of you because he didn’t see you standing there. And your mom says that the polite thing to do is to let him go first. But it’s your turn so you go anyway. Somehow it isn’t as fun. Next time you’ll let him go first.”

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Image copyright Kelly O’Neill, 2021, text copyright Maggie C. Rudd, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

So what does all that practice lead to? The good feeling you get when you are nice. Like when you let your baby brother sit with you as you play a video game, “and he claps for you the whole time.” There’s also the great feeling you get when you’ve cleaned up after playing and your parents really appreciate it, or “when you’re late for soccer practice and your mom can’t find her keys, so you help her look for them . . . and find them in the doorknob! And your mom says she doesn’t know what she would do without you!”

While these examples may be hard because you feel slighted or tired or rushed or scared, there are times when being nice takes all your courage—like when you befriend the new kid or the kid everyone picks on and find out you have lots in common. Or when the bullies come around and you stand up for your new friend even though it’s scary and you end up in the principal’s office. So why would you want to be nice? Because “it’s worth it.”

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Image copyright Kelly O’Neill, 2021, text copyright Maggie C. Rudd, 2021. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Maggie C. Rudd’s excellent primer to the emotions and circumstances around being nice presents children with realistic scenarios involving family members and friends, favorite toys and activities, and common situations at school that often require extra effort to respond to in a positive way. Rudd’s conversational writing style directly engages the reader, and while every example may not be an exact match to the reader’s experience, many will be spot on and the others easily recognized and adaptable.

Rudd’s four-step progression acknowledges that showing kindness or even just good manners can be difficult, but that it can become easier—especially when a situation seems unfair or is disappointing—with practice and perspective. Rudd’s examples of when being nice feels good are sprinkled with humor and warm family feelings that will bring smiles that support her point. A thread involving a favorite Galactic Star Crusher action figure ties several of the vignettes together, adding a sense of relationship and connectedness among the characters.

Kelly O’Neill illustrates each example for readers with clearly depicted scenes involving kids like them playing video games, visiting with grandparents, playing on the playground, helping their parents, and standing up for another child. In every instance, the children’s emotions are easily understood, which opens up many opportunities for adults and kids to discuss the feelings and issues surrounding how one treats others from both a child’s and adult’s perspective and experience. O’Neill’s bright colors, familiar settings, and uncluttered, well-conceived pages put the focus on her engaging children and elegantly complement Rudd’s important message.

Sometimes It’s Hard to Be Nice is a superb read aloud for honestly addressing the complexities and rewards of showing kindness and being nice. It is a book that families, teachers, and caregivers will find themselves turning to again and again in helping children navigate and learn this important social skill. The book is a must addition to home, classroom, school, and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 8

Albert Whitman & Company | ISBN 978-0807575734

Discover more about Maggie C. Rudd and her books as well as an Activity Kit for educators and parents on her website.

To learn more about Kelly O’Neill, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Do Something Nice Day Activity

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Say Something Nice! Cards

 

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

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

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You can find Sometimes It’s Hard to Be Nice at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 10 – It’s Children’s Good Manners Month

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About the Holiday

As kids go back to school and will be interacting with other students, teachers, coaches, group leaders, and others, this month is dedicated to the kinds of manners that promote good relationships and cohesive gatherings. Thinking about how one’s actions will affect others is part of being a great friend, teammate, or participant in any activity. Family life with parents and siblings is also better when everyone treats each other with good manners and respect.

Sonny Says Mine!

Written by Caryl Hart | Illustrated by Zachariah OHora

 

Sonny and his friends are playing on the playground when he spies a stuffed pink bunny in the sandbox. “Ooh! SO soft. SO cute. SO cuddly. I’ll call you Bun-Bun!’ he says.” But Meemo runs up to Sonny, interested in the bunny too, but Sonny pulls Bun-Bun away with a determined, “Mine!” Sonny plays with Bun-Bun, feeding her, dancing with her, reading her a story, and finally putting her to bed under a sand blanket.

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Image copyright Zachariah OHora, 2021, text copyright Caryl Hart, 2021. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

But then Honey and Boo come over and Boo is crying because she’s lost her bunny doll Suki. While Boo sits sadly on the bench, Honey looks all over for Suki. Sonny says nothing and tells Meemo to stop barking. Then Honey directly asks Sonny if he’s seen Suki. “No!” he says, hiding the doll behind his back. Honey and Boo go back to their search. Sonny is so happy with Bun-Bun. “He LOVES Bun-Bun SO much.”

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Image copyright Zachariah OHora, 2021, text copyright Caryl Hart, 2021. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

But Meemo scolds Sonny and tries to take Suki. Sonny hides Bun-Bun and goes to play with Boo and Honey. But Boo is too sad to play pirates or to eat chocolate cake. “Now Sonny feels sad too.” What will he do? He goes to his hiding place and retrieves Bun-Bun. He hides Bun-Bun behind his back as he walks near Honey and Boo. Then he gives Bun-Bun to Boo and apologizes. Now everyone is happy! “Woof!” says Meemo. “Hooray!” says Boo. And what does Sonny say? He wants you to “Come back soon!”

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Image copyright Zachariah OHora, 2021, text copyright Caryl Hart, 2021. Courtesy of Bloomsbury Children’s Books.

Sharing something can be hard. Giving back something you’ve found and LOVE to its rightful owner can be even harder. Caryl Hart understands these strong tugs on the heart and in her tender and realistic tale shows little ones the other side of the story—the sadness a friend experiences over losing a beloved toy or other object. Each of the characters demonstrate different actions and emotions providing adults and kids opportunities to discuss feelings and various roles of friendship. With their natural empathy, kids will identify with both Sonny and Boo and learn how in this type of situation real happiness and peace of mind are found.

Zachariah OHora’s instantly recognizable illustrations bring a cute, comforting, and completely relatable vibe to the story. Sonny’s instant love for Bun-Bun is palpable and little ones will know exactly what’s at stake when he’s asked to give the bunny up. On the other side, Boo’s grief is also evident as tears stream from her eyes and the usual fun of playtime and snacks offer no cheer. Meemo and Honey have their own reactions too, which give kids more perspectives to consider. As Sonny contemplates what to do, children will empathize with both Sonny and Boo as they know one of them will be left unhappy. But Through OHora’s touching illustrations, they’ll see that Sonny makes the right choice—and how it really makes him feel.

The first in the new Sonny Says series, which introduces preschoolers and kindergarteners to universal experiences, Sonny Says Mine! is a multilayered story that is as adorable as it is encouraging and educational. The book will captivate young readers just beginning to venture out into the world and make friends and is highly recommended for home, classroom, and library shelves.

Ages 3 – 6

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-1547605804

Discover more about Caryl Hart and her books on her website.

To learn more about Zachariah OHora, his books, and his art, visit his website.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-sonny-says-mine-cover

You can find Sonny Says Mine! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

September 3 – National Food Bank Day

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About the Holiday

National Food Bank Day was established by St. Mary’s Food Bank, the world’s first food bank, which was founded by John van Hengel in Phoenix, Arizona in 1967. The idea spread throughout the country, and now St. Mary’s Food Bank distributes 250,000 meals daily with the help of staff, volunteers, and partner agencies, making it one of the largest food banks in the United States. Food banks across the country help millions of men, women, and children who live with food insecurity due to job loss, illness, and other circumstances. Many food banks offer educational opportunities that help people change their situation and begin anew. Often, those who have benefited from the programs return to volunteer and contribute to the very food bank that staved off hunger to do the same for others. To learn more about St. Mary’s Food Bank, visit their website. To find a food pantry in your area to get help for yourself, to donate, or to volunteer, visit the Ample Harvest website.

I’d like to thank Albert Whitman & Company for sharing a copy of Saturday at the Food Bank with me for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Saturday at the Food Pantry

Written by Diane O’Neill | Illustrated by Brizida Magro

 

When Molly came to the table for dinner, she saw that they were having chili—again. She and her mom had eaten chili for two weeks straight. But there was “fancy milk too.” Molly smiled as her mom measured sugar and cinnamon into her glass and added milk.” There was only a splash of milk left when Mom put it back into the almost-empty refrigerator.

Tomorrow, Mom said, they’d go shopping. “Molly’s eyes lit up” as she imagined “chicken and spaghetti and ice cream.” But Molly’s mom tempered her expectations, saying that they’d be going to a food pantry. A food pantry, she explained, is “‘a place for people who need food…. Everybody needs help sometimes,’” she added. That night there was no warm milk before Molly went to bed and her stomach growled.

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Image copyright Brizida Magro, 2021, text copyright Diane O’Neill. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

In the morning when Molly and her mom got to the food pantry there was already a line waiting for it to open. Molly had brought paper and crayons and sat down to draw. Then she saw a girl who was in her class at school. She called out hi, but “Caitlin looked away.” When Molly ran over, Caitlin told her she didn’t want anyone to know that she and her grandmother needed help.

Molly went back to her mom, wondering if there was “something wrong with needing help.” She wanted to go home, but she was also hungry. Molly’s mom suggested she draw a picture, and the woman in front of them asked if she’d draw one for her too. Then everyone in line seemed to want a picture. Molly ran back to Caitlin to ask for help. Caitlin sat down and began to draw too.

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Image copyright Brizida Magro, 2021, text copyright Diane O’Neill. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

When the door opened, Molly and Caitlin each had a picture for the woman who welcomed them in too. Molly noticed that her mom had to sign in before she got a cart and they could begin shopping. They didn’t do that at the grocery store. The shelves at the food pantry were stocked with items she recognized from the store they usually shopped with. She ran over and took a box of sugar cookies off the shelf, but her mom told her “‘They—the people in charge—they’ll want us to take sensible stuff.’” Molly felt embarrassed and couldn’t understand why the cookies were there if they couldn’t take them. She sadly returned them to the shelf. As they went to look for food, Molly thought her mom didn’t want to be seen there, either—just like Caitlin. In a whisper, Molly reminded her that everyone needs help sometimes.

They went through the store taking one can, bag, or box of the food they needed. Then Molly’s mom reached for a box of powdered milk. They could have fancy milk that night. When they got to the checkout desk, Molly and Caitlin found their drawings hanging on the wall. The man at the counter bagged their groceries and then handed Molly’s mom a box of sugar cookies. “‘Saw your little girl looking at these. She can have them, if that’s okay with you, ma’am,’” he said. Molly noticed that her mom looked like she might cry.

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Image copyright Brizida Magro, 2021, text copyright Diane O’Neill. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

As they were walking home, Molly saw Caitlin and her grandmother coming the same way. They were all happy to discover that they were neighbors. Molly’s mom explained that she’d been looking for work since the factory closed, and Caitlin’s grandma said she’d been sick. Caitlin understood, but wished they didn’t have to shop at a food pantry. But then Molly told her that “everybody needs help sometimes” and reminded her that they had helped make the man at the checkout counter feel happy with their drawings. Caitlin hadn’t thought about it that way. She smiled. Then Molly invited her and her grandmother to have lunch with them—with sugar cookies for dessert.

Following the text, a note for parents, teachers, and other caregivers from Kate Maehr, the Executive Director and CEO of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, reveals more information about food insecurity, including recent statistics and a resource where people can find help and more information.

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Image copyright Brizida Magro, 2021, text copyright Diane O’Neill. Courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Diane O’Neill’s well-executed story about two families who need the help of a food pantry is a poignant reminder of the many people—perhaps even readers’ classmates—who face food insecurity every day. Through the experiences of Molly and her mother and Caitlin and her grandmother, readers discover what it’s like to go to bed hungry, miss out on treats, and feel ashamed to ask for help. As this is Molly and her mother’s first trip to a food pantry, Molly’s questions and observations well reflect children’s own or reassures those who are familiar with these important resources.

O’Neill’s straightforward storytelling emphasizes the fact that at one time or another everyone needs help and demonstrates simple ways that children make things better through their generosity, optimism, and acceptance. Molly and Caitlin’s budding friendship makes for an uplifting and hopeful ending and may spur readers to recognize need in their midst and extend kindness.

Through her realistic illustrations of two families in need of assistance from a food bank, Brizida Magro helps children see and understand what food insecurity and food pantries look like. At home, Molly and her mom eat small portions of leftover chili and the last full glass of milk. When Molly’s mom puts the carton in the refrigerator, the shelves are nearly empty, and Molly lies awake in bed, too hungry to fall asleep.

The line outside the food pantry is made up of people from all walks of life, and inside the displays of food replicate a grocery store with the exception of signs asking shoppers to take one item only. These images can lead to meaningful discussions on the enormity of the issue. When Molly and Caitlin draw pictures that cheer up everyone in line as well as the food pantry workers, kids will recognize not only different ways of helping but their own role in making the world a kinder place.

Empathy shines on every page of O’Neill’s necessary and welcome story. Saturday at the Food Pantry is timely, heartfelt, enlightening and a must-buy addition to home, classroom, and school and public library collections.

Ages 4 – 7

Albert Whitman & Company, 2021 | ISBN 978-0807572368

Discover more about Diane O’Neill and her work on her website.

You can connect with Brizida Magro on Instagram.

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You can find Saturday at the Food Pantry at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

June 27 – It’s Effective Communications Month

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About the Holiday

Sure, body language can say a lot, but effectively expressing yourself in words and writing helps decrease misunderstandings, misinterpretations, hurt feelings, and conflict. Learning to handle important relationships and work obligations with thoughtful care, consideration, and empathy can take patience and practice. This month people are invited to work on their communications skills to enhance their life with family, friends, co-workers, and others.

The Bear Who Stared

By Duncan Beedie

 

Bear loves to stare…and stare…and stare. One morning he emerges from his den to find a family of ladybugs having a picnic breakfast. He can’t help but gaze at them intently. “‘What are you staring at?’” the daddy ladybug demands before he and his family pack up to find a more private leaf. Bear continues on his way. In a bit he climbs a tree and stares at a bird feeding her chicks. “‘Can I help you?’” the mother bird asks, but Bear remains silent. The chicks don’t like Bear interfering with their meal, so the mother bird angrily tells him to “‘sshhhooooo!’”

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Copyright Duncan Beedie, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

At the bottom of the tree Bear spies a badger hole and sticks his head inside. The badger, particularly irritated at Bear’s badgering stare while he is shaving, bites poor bear on the nose. Sore and dejected, Bear wanders through the forest to a large pond. He sits down on a log to ponder his situation. He doesn’t mean to be annoying, he’s “just curious but too shy to say anything.”

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Copyright Duncan Beedie, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

A little frog floating on a lily pad in the middle of the pond pipes up, “‘I’ve seen that look before.’” Bear stares at the frog and the frog stares back. “‘Not much fun being stared at, is it?’” he says. Bear confesses that he just doesn’t know what to say to anyone. Just then Bear catches a glimpse of another bear staring back at him from the mossy water of the pond. This bear looks exactly like Bear, except that he is green and wavy. Suddenly, the green bear smiles. “‘You see?’” says the frog. “‘Sometimes a smile is all you need.’” The frog dives off his lily pad into the pond, and the green bear disappears too.

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Copyright Duncan Beedie, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

The next day Bear leaves his den and discovers the ladybug family breakfasting again. As soon as they spot Bear, they begin to gather their things. “‘Hello!’” Bear says with a big smile on his face. The ladybugs are surprised and happy. “‘Oh, hello!’” replies the dad, smiling back. With renewed confidence Bear wanders into the forest. He smiles at the birds and smiles at the badger, and they smile at him in return. Bear makes a lot of new friends that day. And there’s even that friend down at the pond who likes to stare as much as he does!

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Copyright Duncan Beedie, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

Duncan Beedie highlights the awkward feeling many kids—and even adults—often feel in social situations. Nothing pops immediately to mind to say and yet there’s a desire for connection. As Bear discovers, staring is not the answer—so what is? In The Bear Who Stared, Beedie offers a simple, but universal solution through an engaging and humorous story. Bear, sporting a bemused expression that aptly depicts his predicament, is such an endearing character that readers will wish they could give him a hug as he suffers slights from the woodland creatures.

The full-bleed, oversized pages put readers at eye level with bear and his subjects, and the very up-close look into Bear’s staring eyes will make kids laugh. The green, rust, and blue palette on matte paper is bold, but muted, giving the pages an organic, environmental feel that is perfect to carry the story.

The Bear Who Stared is a funny story time read with a heart that kids will ask for again and again.

Ages 4 – 8

little bee books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1499802856

Check out more of Duncan Beedie’s illustration and animation work on his website!

Take a good looong look at this The Bear Who Stared book trailer!

Effective Communications Month Activity

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Expressive Bear Craft

 

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to say or how to express your emotions and thoughts. With this easy-to-make felt (or paper) set, you can give the bear different emotions and talk about them, make up stories to go with each facial expression, or play a fun game. Below, you’ll find a couple of ideas!

Supplies

Directions

  1. Print templates
  2. Cut bear head from light felt or fleece
  3. Cut eyes from white felt or fleece
  4. Cut nose and inner ears from dark brown felt or fleece
  5. Cut pupils from black felt or fleece
  6. Glue pupils onto white eyes

Alternately: Color and play with the paper set

To Play a Game

Roll the die to collect parts of the bear’s face. The first player to create a full face is the winner.

  • Die dots correspond to:
  • 1—one eyebrow
  • 2—second eyebrow
  • 3—one eye
  • 4—second eye
  • 5—nose
  • 6—inner ears

For a Fun Story Time

Give the bear different faces and make up stories of why he looks that way!

Picture Book Review