April 7 – It’s National Humor Month

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About the Holiday

There may be no more infectious sound than the giggle or guffaw of a good laugh. Laughter is therapeutic and can make tough times a little easier. Established in 1976 by comedian and author Larry Wilde, National Humor Month promotes all things funny and raises awareness of the benefits of laughter and joy. The health benefits of an optimistic outlook are well documented, and lightheartedness also improves communication skills and boosts morale. Kids, it seems, are born with the ability to see and appreciate the silliness, absurdity, and fun in life. This month, enjoy the zany side of things by reading funny books, and check out the Funny Literacy Program that offers lots of resources and activities to fill your days with humor! Click here to learn more. Get started with today’s book and enjoy a good guffaw not only during April but every day! 

Edmund the Elephant Who Forgot

Written by Kate Dalgleish | Illustrated by Isobel Lundie

 

You’ve probably heard that elephants never forget. But little “Edmund did forget…a lot.” Still, his mother had entrusted him to pick up supplies for his little brother’s birthday party. She even gave him a song to help improve his memory (“‘Elephants always remember, / Elephants don’t get it wrong. Elephants always remember, As long as they sing this song.'”) and as a back-up, she gave him a list with six items on it.

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Image copyright Isobel Lundie, 2021, text copyright Kate Dalgleish, 2021. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

But when he stopped for a moment on his way to the stores, Edmund realized he’s forgotten the list! Meanwhile, Colin the cricket discovered the mix up and hurried after Edmund. Fortunately, Colin had a (typical) elephant’s memory and knew every item on the list. As Edmund came to the first store and pondered what was first on the list, Colin called out “‘It’s a bunch of blue balloons.’”

Despite his big ears, Edmund couldn’t hear the tiny cricket, “but suddenly he saw… ‘Aha! A gang of masked raccoons!’” He picked them up and put them in his wagon. At the next stop, Colin tried to remind Edmund about the “‘…twenty pointy party hats.’” Edmund knew it was something like “bats… or rats,” so when he saw “‘seven sassy dancing cats’” he knew he had it right. He loaded them up and continued on.

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Image copyright Isobel Lundie, 2021, text copyright Kate Dalgleish, 2021. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

But what was number three? Edmund sang his mother’s song to try and remember while Colin shouted it as loudly as he could. Just then Edmund crashed into exactly the thing he needed. Into the wagon they went. Only three items left. But what was the next one? Colin bellowed the answer, but into the wagon went “‘a swinging baboon known as Betty!’” Edmund hurried to the last two stores and stocked up. Edmund was so proud of himself. “He’d not forgotten a thing!”

When Edmund got home, his mom took one look at his piled-up wagon and shook her head. Colin told her he had “‘tried to help.’” But “‘Edmund,’” his mother asked, “‘did you remember to give out all the invitations?’” What invitations? Edmund exclaimed, “‘You forgot to give them to me!’” But Edmund’s little brother didn’t mind. He thought his party was going to be the best ever!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-edmund-the-elephant-who-forgot-toucans

Image copyright Isobel Lundie, 2021, text copyright Kate Dalgleish, 2021. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Kate Dalgleish’s clever-to-the-max story will have kids laughing out loud as Edmund picks up more and more outrageously silly items for his little brother’s birthday. As Colin the cricket reminds Edmund (and readers) of the actual party supply he’s supposed to buy at each shop, kids will be eager to see how this forgetful elephant interprets what little he does remember. Dalgleish’s pitch-perfect rhythm-and-rhyme pairs will have kids in stitches, and some young wordsmiths may want to try making up their own alternate party decoration. Edmund’s mother’s song is a delight, and kids will love singing along on the repeated choruses. Shrewd touches reveal that everyone has foibles, but in the end we can still enjoy the “best party ever.”

There’s so much wonderful absurdity going on in each of Isobel Lundie’s cartoon-style illustrations that after the first reading, kids and adults will want to start over again to catch all the humorous action, allusions, facial expressions, and, especially, creatures in this busy town. For kids who love search-and-find puzzles, this book is a gift, with untold numbers of things to look for, count, sort, and chuckle over. At the end, one of the raccoons even invites kids to find him twenty-seven times throughout the book. Lundie’s bright colors, delicate line drawings, and lots and lots of witty detail, spotlight the funny text and make this whole package shine.

For story times that are just plain fun, wild, and wacky (and – okay – you can probably throw some math in there too) that will leave kids giggling long after the story’s finished, Edmund the Elephant Who Forgot is definitely one to remember when you’re adding to your home, classroom, or public library collection.

Ages 3 – 7 (and up)

Sterling Children’s Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-1913337391

You can connect with Kate Dalgleish on Twitter.

To learn more about Isobel Lundie and see a portfolio of her art, visit Plum Pudding Illustration Agency.

National Humor Month Activity

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Made You Laugh! Word Search Puzzle

 

Humor and laughing are such a part of our lives that there are lots of words for this universal emotion. Can you find all the words for laughter in this printable puzzle?

Made You Laugh! Word Search PuzzleMade You Laugh! Word Search Solution

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You can find Edmund the Elephant Who Forgot at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

 

February 8 – Opera Day

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About the Holiday

Opera has been a favorite art form since its beginnings in Italy in the 1500s. Combining magnificent voices, soaring arias, grand costumes, and dramatic storylines, operas continue to thrill audiences and gain new fans. To celebrate Opera Day today or at a time in the future, enjoy a performance in your area or find one on YouTube and gather your family and friends for an opera party.

I received a copy of Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse from Sterling Children’s Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own. 

Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse

Written by Laura Sassi | Illustrated by Rebecca Gerlings

 

Fernando had many loves in his life—including chocolate, cheese, gumdrops, and popcorn—but what he loved most was “feasting on Mozart, Puccini, and Strauss, / and lending a paw at the Old Opera House.” Delores loved nothing more than being in the spotlight, and now she was getting the chance to leave her place in the chorus to “take center stage and be Diva Delores.” She warmed up in her dressing room with “Me-me-me-me!”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-diva-delores-and-the-opera-house-mouse-dress

Image copyright Rebecca Gerlings, 2018, text copyright Laura Sassi, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Fernando wanted to give Delores the benefit of all of his years of experience, but she wasn’t having it. A mouse was not a suitable helper for someone as great as she, she thought. At the rehearsal the next day, Delores was a flop, hitting wrong notes, missing her entrance, and the last song? Well…. From the back Fernando called out that he could help. He wrote cues on little cards “and—presto!—Delores knew just what to do.” You’d think Delores would be thankful, but instead she complained that a mouse’s help was just not proper for a diva, and she shooed Fernando away.

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Image copyright Rebecca Gerlings, 2018, text copyright Laura Sassi, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

The day before her big performance, Delores found that her dress didn’t fit. Again, Fernando rushed to her rescue, but what thanks did he get? Delores grumbled and fussed. “Then grabbing a bottle / of stinky perfume, / she spritzed poor Fernando / right out of the room!” Fernando went home, wanting to quit. But as he looked at his pictures of Mozart, Puccini, and Strauss, he knew that without him the show would fail and that he couldn’t quit now.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-diva-delores-and-the-opera-house-mouse-manners

Image copyright Rebecca Gerlings, 2018, text copyright Laura Sassi, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

First, he went to Delores and laid down the rules: “For starters, I’d like to hear / thank you and please / when I help fix your dress / or bring crackers and cheese.” Delores was startled and quickly said good night. At home she wondered: had she been rude? The next day, Delores was nervous. She tried calming herself with candy and tea. She even looked for Fernando, but he was nowhere to be found.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-diva-delores-and-the-opera-house-mouse-wig

Image copyright Rebecca Gerlings, 2018, text copyright Laura Sassi, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Standing on stage in the glare of the spotlights, “as the orchestra played, / Delores felt faint. / First she swooned… / then she swayed.” When she opened her mouth, no notes, no sound, no song came out. Then inside her wig she saw Fernando, who squeaked “‘You can do it.’” And then Delores did sing “with a voice rich and sweet.” When she forgot some words to her song, Fernando reminded her by tra-la-la-ing along.

The audience loved them. They cheered for Delores; they cheered for Fernando. Later, Delores admitted she could not have done it alone. Then she apologized to Fernando and asked for a fresh start on their friendship. “Of course!” he agreed, and now they bring down the house night after night as “the Opera House team!”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-diva-delores-and-the-opera-house-mouse-cheering

Image copyright Rebecca Gerlings, 2018, text copyright Laura Sassi, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Laura Sassi’s clever and original story about teamwork and sharing the spotlight hits all the right notes in showing how accepting help can elevate anyone’s performance and lead to a new friendship. After playing second fiddle in the chorus, Delores finally gets her chance to shine, but her vanity exceeds her experience. When a tiny mouse offers help from his deep well of knowledge, Delores takes one look at Fernando’s diminutive size and rejects him and his advice. Through her perfect rhymes and musical rhythm, Sassi engages readers in how to graciously learn from another’s experience and encourages the Fernandos out there to keep trying, even when their initial offerings of assistance are rebuffed.

Rebecca Gerlings lends charm and humorous touches to Sassi’s tale, and the promise of the enticing cotton-candy fluff of a wig, introduced in the first pages and teased throughout the story, is comically and satisfyingly fulfilled in the end as Fernando directs Delores to a winning performance from within. Along the way, readers are treated to an octopus piano player, multiple meltdowns as Delores dispatches Fernando from her orbit, and demonstrations of persistence as the little mouse stands up for himself, good manners, and the honor of his beloved opera. 

A smart, fresh, and fun read aloud, Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse has multiple applications for discussing friendship, modesty, respect, and collaboration. The book would make a delightful addition to home, school, and public library bookshelves.

Ages 3 and up

Sterling Children’s Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1454922001

Discover more about Laura Sassi and her books on her website.

To learn more about Rebecca Gerlings, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Opera Day Activity

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Sparkly Opera Glasses by Laura Sassi

 

Make a pair of these fancy glasses, then pretend you are at the opera while reading Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse.

Supplies for each pair of opera glasses

  • Two recycled toilet tissue tubes one large craft stick
  • Markers tacky glue
  • Two paper clips assorted fancy embellishments (We used feathers, sparkly gems and snippets of shimmery ribbon, but use whatever you have around the house. Be creative!)

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Directions

  1. Decorate the tissue tubes using markers.
  2. Glue the tubes side by side, as shown. Be sure to insert the craft stick in between so your opera glasses have a handle. Slip a paper clip at each end over the sealed part for extra  pressure while drying.
  3. Use tacky glue to affix whatever fancy embellishments you choose. The more the better!
  4. When dry, elegantly hold your opera glasses up to your eyes and pretend you are watching Diva Delores and Fernando at the opera!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-diva-delores-and-the-opera-house-mouse-cover

You can find Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

January 16 – Appreciate a Dragon Day

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About the Holiday

Appreciate a Dragon Day was established in 2004 by author Danita K. Paul to celebrate the publication of her novel DragonSpell, the first book in her Dragon Keepers Chronicles series. The holiday now encourages all readers to get involved with reading through fun activities—dragon-themed, of course! Teachers, librarians, and all those who love reading can find lots of suggestions for creative ideas that encompass art, crafts, displays, drama, and many other mediums on Danita K. Paul’s website. So, round up your favorite dragon books and breathe some fire into your reading today!

The Book Dragon

Written by Kell Andrews | Illustrated by Éva Chatelain

 

In Lesser Scrump, reading was a chore. To teach the alphabet, the schoolmaster, Mr. Percival, drew on tree trunks with bits of charcoal, scratched on slate with a rock, or drew in the dirt of the schoolyard. One day, Rosehilda said that “‘reading would be more fun if the letters and words were written as stories.’” She even suggested writing them with ink on papers that could be put together. The students were shocked and “Mr. Percival sent Rosehilda home with a stern note scratched onto a leaf.”

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Image copyright Éva Chatelain, 2018, text copyright Kell Andrews, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

When Rosehilda got home she asked her grandfather what all the fuss was about. He told her about the Book Dragon, who instead of hoarding gold, collected books. Rosehilda had never heard of a book, and her grandfather explained that it was “letters and words written on papers that are attached together.” He pointed out the window to Scrump Mountain and told Rosehilda that the Book Dragon lived deep inside and stole any book brought into the village.  

The next day at school, Rosehilda declared that the school needed books and that she was not afraid of the Book Dragon. Mr. Percival explained that after the dragon snatched a book, she terrorized the villagers the next night, and he sent her home again with another note etched into a candle stub. On the way home, Rosehilda met a peddler who had a book in her pile of wares. She gave it to Rosehilda in exchange for the candle stub.

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Image copyright Éva Chatelain, 2018, text copyright Kell Andrews, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

That night Rosehilda read a story about a brave knight who defeated a dragon and won its hoard of gold. “For the first time, reading wasn’t tiresome. It was amazing!” In the morning, the book was gone. Rosehilda’s grandfather told her that they and all the villagers would have to lock their windows that night. Rosehilda felt guilty. “She vowed to challenge the dragon and win her book back.”

She went to the top of Scrump Mountain and peered into the dragon’s cave. The Book Dragon was lying atop an immense pile of books. She looked surprised to see Rosehilda standing there. Rosehilda summoned her courage and demanded that the dragon return her book. The Book Dragon apologized and explained that because she was too big to live in the village, books were the only friends she had.

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Image copyright Éva Chatelain, 2018, text copyright Kell Andrews, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Rosehilda scolded the dragon for stealing so many books. The dragon said she only meant to borrow them, but when she tried to return them, the windows were locked and people screamed when she knocked. The dragon agreed to give Rosehilda her book back, but Rosehilda had a hard time finding it among so many books.

While searching for it, Rosehilda and the Book Dragon began stacking the books “by subject and author.” At the end of the day, they had plenty of piles and more books to sort, and Rosehilda hadn’t found her book. The Book Dragon suggested she borrow a different one. She read late into the night, and the next day she went back to the dragon’s cave to help sort books. She left with another book. This went on all week.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-book-dragon-pile

Image copyright Éva Chatelain, 2018, text copyright Kell Andrews, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Finally, all the books were sorted and Rosehilda found her book. She was excited that she wouldn’t have to come back, but the Book Dragon looked sad and suggested that she “borrow another book…and come back tomorrow.” That gave Rosehilda an idea. The next day at school, Mr. Percival and the other students were horrified to see the dragon outside their window, but Rosehilda explained that she was just returning their books. Now the Book Dragon oversees the “Official Village Library of Lesser Scrump,” and everyone reads as much as they want!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-book-dragon-book-found

Image copyright Éva Chatelain, 2018, text copyright Kell Andrews, 2018. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Kell Andrew’s clever story will delight book lovers of all scales with its mix of fantasy, mystery, courage, and friendship. Fearless Rosehilda is a plucky role model for all kids, and the Book Dragon’s desire for company will melt readers’ hearts faster than a breath of fire. Andrew’s storytelling reflects the best of fairy tale lore for a modern audience, with touches of humor, mistaken motives, and a creative resolution.

Éva Chatelain bridges the medieval and the familiar in her bright illustrations that draw on the rich yellows, reds, and greens of leather-bound books, piles of gold, fiery emotions, and woodland villages. Chatelain introduces brave Rosehilda as she challenges her teacher and buys a book,  but she also reveals the trepidation Rosehilda overcomes to confront the Book Dragon, showing readers that even the most courageous people can feel fear too. As Rosehilda reads her treasured book, kids’ suspense will quicken to see the silhouette of the dragon outside her window. The stacks of books that Rosehilda and the Book Dragon build are cunning references to library stacks, and the final images of a happy town and a happy (dragon) librarian will charm readers.

An enchanting story for book buffs, dragon devotees, and fairy tale fans, The Book Dragon would be a favorite addition to story times and home, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 3 – 7

Sterling Children’s Books, 2018 | ISBN 978-1454926856

Discover more about Kell Andrews and her books on her website.

To learn more about Éva Chatelain, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Appreciate a Dragon Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-darling-dragon-match-puzzle

Darling Dragon Matching Puzzle

 

In this group of darling dragons, each dragon has a twin. Can you help them find each other in this printable puzzle?

Darling Dragon Matching Puzzle

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You can find The Book Dragon at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

November 30 – Get Ready for Hanukkah

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About the Holiday

Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, is the Jewish wintertime celebration that commemorates the victory of the small Maccabean army over the much more powerful Greek/Syrian forces and the rededication of the Holy Temple during the second century BCE. Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days in remembrance of the miracle of the oil lamp, which at the time only held enough oil for one day yet burned for eight days. This year Hanukkah takes place from December 10 through 18.

The Ninth Night of Hanukkah

Written by Erica S. Perl | Illustrated by Shahar Kober

 

A family has just moved into their new apartment. It’s the first night of Hanukkah, but they can’t find their Hanukkah things amidst all the boxes. So, without the menorah or delicious latkes, Mom, Dad, Rachel, and Max sit on the floor eating pizza. “It was nice…but it didn’t feel quite like Hanukkah.” On the second night, they still hadn’t found the menorah, but Rachel and Max made one from a piece of wood, their jar of nuts and bolts, and some craft paint. It was all ready to light, when Mom discovered that they didn’t have the candles either.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-ninth-night-of-hanukkah-missing-menorah

Image copyright Shahar Kober, 2020, text copyright Erica S. Perl, 2020. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

With the stores closed, Rachel and Max went next door to apartment 2C. They introduced themselves to Mrs. Mendez and explained their situation. She offered the only candles she had—a box of birthday candles. “Dad lit the shamash. Max and Rachel each used it to light a candle.” Then they opened presents. While it was nice, it still “didn’t feel quite like Hanukkah.
On the third night, the “lucky latke pan” was nowhere to be found, but Max appeared with a steaming plate of French fries from Joe, the super, who lived downstairs.

By the fourth night of Hanukkah, Mom and Dad were beginning to think the box with their Hanukkah things had gotten lost. Max wanted to play dreidel, so while Mom called the moving company, Max and Rachel met the Watson twins, who didn’t have a dreidel, but they did have a toy that spun and spun. On the fifth night, Rachel and Max had made their own dreidel, “which meant they needed gelt.” On the fourth floor, Max and Rachel met Mr. Patel, who handed Max the only chocolate he had—a bag of chocolate chips. All of these substitutions were “nice…but it didn’t feel quite like Hanukkah.”

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Image copyright Shahar Kober, 2020, text copyright Erica S. Perl, 2020. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Each night of Hanukkah Max and Rachel missed a different part of their Hanukkah celebration, and each night a new neighbor did the best they could to supply it. On the morning after the eighth night of Hanukkah, a delivery person showed up at the door with Mom’s guitar. She suggested a sing-along, but Rachel reminded her that Hanukkah was over. Max, however, had another idea and pointed to the ninth candle on the menorah. This gave Rachel an idea too, and she and Max whispered and planned. Then they waited. Soon “there was a knock on the door. And another. And another.”

When all the neighbors had gathered, Max and Rachel explained their Shamash Night celebration. Like the Shamash candle “helps light all the other candles,” they said, their new neighbors had helped them celebrate Hanukkah. “‘So we wanted to say thanks—to the Shamash and to you,’” Rachel said. Just then the delivery person appeared with the long-lost box. On the ninth night in their new home, Mom and Dad, Rachel and Max ate, played, sang, and danced with all of their new friends, “and best of all, it felt exactly like Hanukkah.”

An Author’s Note following the story tells about the history and tradition of the shamash candle and the idea that sparked the writing of The Ninth Night of Hanukkah. Erica S. Perl also provides a guide on how families can hold their own “Shamash Night.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-ninth-night-of-hanukkah-party

Image copyright Shahar Kober, 2020, text copyright Erica S. Perl, 2020. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Community, resilience, and children’s creativity infuse every page of Erica S. Perl’s story that’s a wonderful Hanukkah read as well as a story families will want to share all year around. The apartment-house setting and the family’s just-moved-in situation combine to create a charming microcosm of making friends, getting to know new neighbors, and discovering the generosity of strangers. Rachel and Max, creative, close-knit, and accommodating, will captivate kids as they go along on their scavenger hunts for the makings of a homey Hanukkah celebration.

Perl’s substitutions—from birthday candles to French fries to a ukulele will appeal to readers. The repeated phrase “It was nice, but it didn’t feel quite like Hanukkah” applies to many make-do conditions and will resonate with children. It also provides suspense and a nice counterpoint for when the night does finally fulfill the Hanukkah feeling. Max and Rachel’s “Shamash Night” offers a message of gratitude not only for things but for friendship.

Shahar Kober’s warm-toned illustrations mirror the heartfelt story and the kindness of the diverse group of neighbors as they provide workable solutions to Max and Rachel’s requests. Images of Rachel and Max creating a homemade menorah, dreidel, and wrapping paper may inspire kids to design their own Hanukkah or other holiday decorations and traditional items. Kober’s cartoon-style characters are expressive, demonstrating their disappointment in missing their well-loved Hanukkah things but more so their cheerful acceptance of what the neighbors can provide. Kids will enjoy watching the antics of the family’s cat, who likes to be in the middle of the action, but also is happy to make do with a moving box as a new napping spot.

A heartwarming and joyful Hanukkah story with messages of kindness, generosity, acceptance and a loving sibling relationship, The Ninth Night of Hanukkah is highly recommended for all home, school, and public library collections.

Ages 3 – 8 and up

Sterling Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1454940883

Discover more about Erica S. Perl and her books on her website.

To learn more about Shahar Kober, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Get Ready for Hanukkah Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-hanukkah-craft

Star of David Ornament

 

Kids can add a bit of sparkle to their Hanukkah celebrations with this Star of David ornament craft.

Supplies

  • 6 mini craft sticks
  • 2 round lids from clear plastic deli containers
  • Silver glitter
  • Blue craft paint
  • Clear-drying glue
  • Thin ribbon or string, 8 – 10 inches long

Directions

To Make the Star of David

  1. Paint the craft sticks with the blue paint, let dry
  2. Glue three of the craft sticks together to form a triangle; repeat with the other three sticks
  3. Glue the two triangles together to create a Star of David
  4. Glue a short length of ribbon to the top back of the Star of David

To Make the Case

  1. Apply a thin layer of clear-drying glue to the top, indented side of one of the lids
  2. Sprinkle the lid with the glitter, let dry
  3. When the glue is dry, center the Star of David in the lid with the ribbon trailing over the rim of the lid. The Star of David will be free hanging inside the case from the ribbon.
  4. Glue the rim of the indented side of the second lid to the rim of the first lid
  5. When dry, tie the ribbon into a loop for hanging

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-the-ninth-night-of-hanukkah-cover

You can find The Ninth Night of Hanukkah at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

 

October 17 – National Black Poetry Day

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About the Holiday

Black Poetry Day was established in 1985 and commemorates the birth of Jupiter Hammon, the first published African American poet in the United States. Hammon was born into slavery on Long Island, New York, on October 17th, 1711. His poem “An Evening Thought” was first published on Christmas Day when he was 49 years old. Hammon is considered one of the founders of African-American literature. Today’s holiday honors all black poets, past and present. To celebrate today, enjoy poetry from some of our greatest poets, including Maya Angelou, Rita Dove, Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovani, Derek Walcott, and, of course, Gwendolyn Brooks – the subject of today’s book.

I received a copy of A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks from Sterling Children’s Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks

Written by Alice Faye Duncan | Illustrated by Xia Gordon

 

“SING a song for Gwendolyn Brooks. / Sing it loud—a Chicago blues.” This remarkable biography of the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet opens with these soaring lines which introduce eight-year-old Gwendolyn who, seeing a flower in the midst of the city, wonders how it will grow. Already she was observing the world with insight and originality.  “Her head is filled with snappy rhymes. / She writes her poems in dime store journals.” Even something as “simple” as a clock does not escape Gwendolyn’s consideration. In The Busy Clock she writes, in part: “Clock, clock tell the time, / Tell the time to me. / Magic, patient instrument, / That is never free.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-song-for-gwendolyn-brooks-flower

Image copyright Xia Gordon, 2019, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Out in the neighborhood, she stands quietly and watches the other kids laughing and playing—girls jumping rope and boys playing basketball. Gwendolyn’s father is a janitor and her mother stays at home with her and her brother, who is also her best friend. Gwen spends her time sitting on her porch, looking and listening to the sounds and the conversations of the neighborhood women and men. The “children call Gwen—‘ol’ stuck-up heifer!’”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-song-for-gwendolyn-brooks-jump-rope

Image copyright Xia Gordon, 2019, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

“SING a song for Gwendolyn Brooks. / Her mother believes. / Her father believes. / But sometimes—Gwendolyn doubts her radiance, / When jarring, crashing, discordant words, / Splotch and splatter her notebook paper.” And what does Gwen do with these poems that just don’t work? She buries them under the snowball bush in the backyard. Once, unbelieving, a teacher accuses Gwendolyn of plagiarism. Her mother takes her daughter back to school, and there on the spot, she composes a poetic answer to the charges: Forgive and Forget. It makes Gwen feel proud, she believes in herself and feels the sun shining on her.

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Image copyright Xia Gordon, 2019, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

During the Great Depression, when jobs and money are scarce, Gwendolyn’s “parents are wise and see her light.” They give her time to write and she hones her words and her craft through draft after draft. With each completed poem, Gwen’s confidence grows. The Chicago Defender publishes some of Gwendolyn’s poems, and now she has an audience. Her parents believe that one day their daughter will be a famous poet.

Soon, Gwendolyn finds her way to a group of poets who meet in a South Side community center. She studies under Inez Stark and meets Henry Blakely, who will become her husband. She enters her poems in contests and wins first place over and over. When she and Henry move into their own two-room apartment, Henry goes to work, leaving Gwendolyn to translate the neighborhood into poetry that she types “in a crowded corner.”

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Image copyright Xia Gordon, 2019, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Readers swarm to buy her books. “Gwen paints poems with paintbrush words, / And Gwen takes home a Pulitzer Prize.” Henry and their son celebrate, and Gwen’s parents “…cry tears of joy. / They praise her shine.” For they had always known and had “…Planted love and watered it. / Gwendolyn believed. / She found her light. / And— / A furious flower / GREW!”

An extensive Author’s Note detailing more about the life of Gwendolyn Brooks and her work as well as a timeline and suggested readings follow the text.

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Image copyright Xia Gordon, 2019, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

With her own sterling verses, Alice Faye Duncan celebrates the life of Gwendolyn Brooks—the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Literature—taking readers to the Chicago neighborhoods that informed and inspired Brooks’ ideas and the words and rhythms with which she defined them. Along an arc that takes Gwendolyn from a child contemplating the potential of a flower to becoming that blossom herself, Duncan pays tribute to those who recognized Gwen’s genius and helped her fulfill her talent. For readers who themselves may be poets, writers, or other types of artists, Duncan’s beautifully crafted phrases about the artistic process of revision are inspirational and welcome. Standing side-by-side with Duncan’s storytelling are four of Brooks’ poems—The Busy Clock, Forgive and Forget, Ambition, and the children of the poor—Sonnet #2. From cover to cover, Duncan’s book sings with Gwendolyn Brooks’ positivity, confidence, individuality, and love for life that made her a unique voice for her time and always.

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From the portrait of Gwendolyn Brooks that graces the title page and throughout the book, Xia Gordon’s distinctive artwork creates a masterpiece of motion and stillness that mirrors Brooks’ penchant for watching and listening to the sounds and sights that filled her mind and ultimately her notebooks. Downy swoops of violets, pinks, browns, and grays provide backdrops to images of Gwendolyn as a young girl and an adult rendered in lines that show her as down to earth but soaring in her thoughts. Her intelligence and spark shine through on every page. Gwendolyn’s parents appear often, always watchful and supportive. Her friends, her husband, her son, and her readers also populate the pages, giving the book an embracing warmth.

A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks is a must for school, classroom, and public library collections, and for children who are discovering their talents and the parents who nurture them, the book would be an inspirational and invaluable addition to home bookshelves.

Ages 4 and up

Sterling Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1454930884

Discover more about Alice Faye Duncan and her books on her website.

To learn more about Xia Gordon, her books, and her art, visit her website.

National Black Poetry Activity

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You’re a Poet, Don’t You Know It! Word Search Puzzle

 

Find the twenty poetry-related words in this printable puzzle then write a poem of your own!

You’re a Poet, Don’t You Know It! Puzzle | You’re a Poet, Don’t You Know It! Solution

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You can find A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from 

Bookshop | Indiebound

 

August 24 – National Waffle Day Short & Sweet Book Tour Stop

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About the Holiday

Today, I’m thrilled to join the Long & Savory Book Tour for Short & Sweet, the fourth book in the Lady Pancake & Sir French series. The fact that today is National Waffle Day makes it doubly sweet as Baron von Waffle has played an integral part in each story. And just how important are waffles to the world? Well, waffles and waffle irons have been around since the 14th century, and today’s holiday celebrates the day in 1869 when Cornelius Swarthout of Troy, New York received the first patent for a waffle iron. Fortunately for us, this favorite breakfast treat has also helped to inspire one of the most innovative kidlit series around.

I received a digital version of Short & Sweet courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

Short & Sweet (Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast Volume 4)

Written by Josh Funk | Illustrated by Brendan Kearney

 

Back in the old familiar fridge, Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast are getting ready to host a tea party. After all the preparations, though, Pancake is achy and Toast felt quite pale. “Pancake then screamed, ‘Are we both going stale?’” One friend at the party didn’t mince words. “Baron von Waffle, their guest, said, ‘You’re gruesome. / I’ve never seen such a hideous twosome.’” But the news wasn’t all bad, he had a solution and handed them a brochure for Professor Biscotti’s Laboratory, where she promised rejuvenation with her “DE-spoiling ray.”

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Image copyright Brendan Kearney, 2020, text copyright Josh Funk, 2020. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast hurried on over and took their seats. Biscotti aimed her laser and…poof! When the smoke cleared Pancake and Toast had become kids. “‘Explain what you did to them!’ Waffle demanded. / Professor Biscotti said, ‘Hmm. I’ll be candid. / I over de-spoiled them with my device. / I’m ever so sorry. I’ll charge you half price.’” But while the Baron was arguing with the professor, Toast and Pancake had grown alarmed.

They ran quickly away from the monster waffle. But the pair’s fear left Waffle a blubbering mess. They’d all just become friends, but now he was afraid that fun was all over. Professor Biscotti, though, said she could fix it; they just needed a plan. By this time, the two pint-sized companions had reached the city. They raced to “Limes Square” and then to “Pasta Playground,” where they joined the little noodles on the see-saw, the swings, and the slide. Until they saw the library and scampered inside. Meanwhile, Waffle was cooking up bait to capture them and “Biscotti kept working in her laboratories, / while Pancake and Toast sat enraptured by stories.”

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Image copyright Brendan Kearney, 2020, text copyright Josh Funk, 2020. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

There was only one thing that could tear them away. Then they smelled that sweet scent and “they followed their noses past fjord, wall, and hill / and then kept on running and running until… / ‘The old syrup trick,’ Waffle said with a smirk. / ‘Professor, I’ve got ‘em. So now will it work?’” With hope, Biscotti put them back in the chairs and fired up her laser. But it just wouldn’t work. Waffle offered some syrup to make the gears stick, and this time when the laser went Zap! the tiny duo grew up! Pancake and Toast were glad to be back.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-short-&-sweet-bran-canyon

Image copyright Brendan Kearney, 2020, text copyright Josh Funk, 2020. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

When they learned that the Baron was the monster they’d feared, they were ashamed and apologized. Waffle was relieved, and as the three headed back to finish their tea, Pancake assured Waffle, “‘we’ll always be chums.’ / ‘Exactly,’ said Toast, ‘till we wither to crumbs.’”

Fans of the series know to expect a party at the end of the story, and this time out, they’re invited to Food Fest, where Juice Springsteen is the headline act. Kids will love picking out their favorite characters from the other three books from among the adoring—and adorable—crowd. Another perk is the fold-out poster that depicts a map of the route Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast took from Crust Boulevard and Professor Biscotti’s Lab all the way to Limes Square, the playground, and the library.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-short-&-sweet-waffle

Image copyright Brendan Kearney, 2020, text copyright Josh Funk, 2020. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Like fine grape juice, Josh Funk’s Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series gets better with age. In Short & Sweet, Funk’s talent for clever rhymes and jaunty rhythms is on full frolic as Pancake and Toast’s quest to feel young again goes a little too far. His robust storytelling takes comical aim at current fads as well as something that never goes out of style—friendship. When Pancake and Toast learn they’ve mistaken Waffle for a monster and inadvertently hurt his feelings, Funk reveals that the best way to smooth things over is with heartfelt apologies and reassurances. Readers will appreciate Baron von Waffle’s sweet throwback to the book that introduced us to this most magical of refrigerators along with the hiding place of choice of these two cutie-pie protagonists, who live large in our hearts even when they’re tiny.

Opening the door to Brendan Kearney’s fridge is always a treat. Each page offers new visual puns, hilarious foodie takes on furniture, décor, and technology, and even a few clues to the concert acts that close out the fun. Adults will smile wryly at Professor Biscotti’s frosted chocolate hair and white lab coat while kids giggle at the book titles Pancake and Toast devour at the library. Biscotti’s avocado laser is an ingenious touch. Lady Pancake, Sir French Toast, and Baron von Waffle, with their signature toppings, remain as charming as ever, and the theme of friendship is baked into every page.

Fresh, funny, and as heartwarming as reuniting with a best friend, Short & Sweet is a must addition to home, school, and public libraries. If you’re new to the series, check out  the first three books

Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast | The Case of the Stinky Stench | Mission Defrostable

Ages 4 – 8

Sterling Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1454934271

Discover more about Josh Funk and his books on his website

To learn more about Brendan Kearney, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Don’t shrink away from watching the Short & Sweet book trailer!

And don’t miss the Virtual Launch Party at An Unlikely Story bookstore September 1

Short & Sweet Virtual Launch Party with An Unlikely Story bookstore

National Waffle Day Activity

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Waffle Tic-Tac-Toe

The grid of a waffle makes a perfect tic tac toe board! With this special breakfast-inspired tic tac toe set you can cook up some sweet fun! With all the choices of squares in a waffle to fill, you can play 3-by-3, 4-by-4, 5-by-5, even 6-by-6 games! 

Supplies

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Directions

  1. Play 3-by-3 games as you always do
  2. For the other options each player tries to build rows of 4 pieces down, across, and diagonally
  3. The player with the most 4-in-a-row rows wins!

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You can find Short & Sweet at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound (Shop IndieBound for exclusive Short & Sweet swag! Learn more here!)

Short & Sweet Preorder Swag

Don’t miss the rest of the Long & Savory Book Tour! Follow along here!

CPB – Short & Sweet Long & Savory Virtual Tour

DoPicture Book Review

June 24 – Bubble Kisses Book Tour Stop

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About the Holiday

Bubble Kisses

Presented by Vanessa Williams | Illustrated by Tara Nicole Whitaker

 

A little girl is playing pirates in her room with her special pet goldfish, Sal. As she holds up Sal’s bowl during the classroom pet show, the little girl admits that Sal can’t “bark like a dog, scratch like a cat, or jump like a frog” the way the other kids’ pets can. And Sal can’t do things that wild animals can do either. But Sal does have one amazing talent that makes the girl love her so much. She explains that Sal “gives me bubble kisses, bubble kisses as she swims by in the water. She never misses with her bubble kisses. And I’m so glad I got her.”

What’s so special about these bubble kisses? They’re more than a little magical! In fact, they transform the little girl into a mermaid and her bedroom into an underwater world where other mermaids, fish, sea turtles, porpoises and other sea creatures greet her with excitement. Watching the mermaids swim and play together, the girl is so happy that she’s included because “from people’s lives such things are missing as bub-bub-bub-bub-bubble-kisses.”

A sign points the way to a concert, and the five mermaids lead the little girl and Sal to a pirate ship sitting atop a blue whale. Music floats on the waves, and as they grow closer they see mermaid couples and even some merkids dancing. The little girl holds Sal’s fins as they twirl around too before entering the pirate ship, where the concert is taking place. A beautiful mermaid is singing, backed up by two of the five mermaids as well as porpoises and sea turtles on saxophone, a seal on the drums, two angelfish on trumpets, and one cool porpoise playing the bass.

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Image copyright Tara Nicole Whitaker, 2020, text copyright Vanessa Williams, 2020. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

As the band plays on, the star, her backup singers, and the other mermaids hold the little girl’s hands and Sal’s fins and swim in a circle of friendship. But the little girl and Sal are growing tired. They drift off to sleep in a big bubble as the singer sits nearby watching over them. Then they’re back home. Sal snoozes in her pirate ship-decorated bowl, and the little girl takes one more peek at her friend before dozing off in her cozy bed, reminded once again how lucky she is because “from people’s lives such things are missing as bub-bub-bub-bubble-kisses. With the funny, lovely Sal.”

Bubble Kisses is both a story and a jazzy, toe-tapping song that will have little ones singing and dancing along with every reading. Included with the book is a CD of Vanessa Williams singing Bubble Kisses plus a link to a digital download of the song.

Vanessa Williams’ delightful story is full of enchantment, imagination, and the love children have for their pets. Little readers will be charmed as one bubble kiss magically transforms the little girl into a mermaid and she and Sal begin an adventure together. Repeated phrases make it easy for kids to join in during story times or while singing, and the effervescent “Bub-bub-bub-bub-bubble kisses” will have kids giggling and asking for more.

Tara Nicole Whitaker’s violet-and-blue-hued digital illustrations are as sweet as cotton candy and transport readers into a world of imagination based on the little girl’s favorite activity: playing pirates in her sea-themed bedroom. Kids will have fun matching the décor and toys in the girl’s room to her underwater escapade. The diverse group of mermaids who invite the little girl to the concert are enthusiastic and welcoming. Whitaker’s pirate ship makes a fun venue for the fanciful concert, and the singer’s tender attention as the little girl and Sal drift off to sleep will remind readers that they too are watched over with love.

Ages 3 – 8

Sterling Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1454938347

Discover more about Vanessa Williams and her multifaceted career, visit her website.

To learn more about Tara Nicole Whitaker, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Dive into this Bubble Kisses book trailer!

Vanessa Willams presents Bubble Kisses (40 second trailer) from Sterling Publishing on Vimeo.

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You can find Bubble Kisses at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

 

Picture Book Review