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.”

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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!’”

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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.

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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.

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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

 

 

May 14 – National Dance Like a Chicken Day

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About the Holiday

You know what this holiday is all about! You can hear the tune taking over your brain, can’t you? And your elbows – they’re bending and bouncing just a little bit, aren’t they? Then jump up, gather the kids, and… Na na na na na na na. / Na na na na na na na. / Na na na na an na NA. / clap, clap, clap, clap….

A Little Chicken

Written by Tammi Sauer | Illustrated by Dan Taylor

 

“Dot was a little chicken…who, let’s face it, was a little chicken.” There weren’t many things Dot wasn’t afraid of, including garden gnomes. Even though “Dot tried to be brave,” even the simplest things and the gentlest creatures frightened her. One day, though, while she was adding making their coop more secure, Dot knocked one of her siblings off the nest. All she could do was watch it roll away.

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Image copyright Dan Taylor, 2019, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Or was there something else she could do? She plucked up her courage and ran after it. The egg was just within reach when it bounced away and took two hops across lily pads into the middle of the pond. Dot swung over the egg on a tall strand of grass and was just about to grab it when it was catapulted into a tall tree.

Dot climbed the tree and inched out onto a long branch. “She was this close when…” the branch broke and the egg broke away too—”into the deep…dark…woods.” She took one look and…decided “this was no time to be a little chicken.” She ran down the path in pursuit of her little brother or sister and finally caught that egg just as it began to crack. These days, while Dot is still afraid of many things, her little sister and the other chickens think she’s a hero—just “a big hero” who’s “just a little chicken.”

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Image copyright Dan Taylor, 2019, text copyright Tammi Sauer, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Tammi Sauer’s upbeat story of a timid chicken who overcomes her fears in order to save her sibling is suspenseful, fast-paced, and sprinkled with humor. The story will have even the most cautious little ones cheering Dot on her quest and finding their own brave along the way. Dot’s sense of responsibility sparks the action and serves as a second gentle lesson in this well-conceived story. The ending, which embraces Dot’s wary nature while also revealing her heroic accomplishment, is a welcome message for hesitant children who are courageous in their own way.

Dan Taylor’s sweet Dot, with her oversized glasses and bright red overalls, will charm children looking for a hero who’s just their size. As Dot sets in motion her unhatched sibling and the story while installing a huge security camera and monitor in the coop, kids will alternately gasp and giggle at the suspenseful and humorous details on each page. The other chickens are delightfully supportive of Dot, which lends a sense of inclusiveness as they all rush out to cheer her heroic catch. Dot scrambles over a green meadow, hangs perilously over a lily pad covered pond, scurries up a tall tree, and flaps her way through a dark forest populated with a wolf, bears, and—most frightening of all—three garden gnomes.

A story of finding one’s courage at eggs-actly the right moment, A Little Chicken would be a heartening addition to home, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 3 – 7

Sterling Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1454929000

Discover more about Tammi Sauer and her books on her website.

To learn more about Dan Taylor, his books, and his art, visit his website.

National Chicken Dance Day Activity

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Egg Carton Chickens and a Basket Full of Games

 

With twelve little chickens you can come up with lots of games to play! This fun craft and game activity is eggs-actly what you need to start hatching some real fun!

Supplies

  • Cardboard egg carton
  • White craft paint
  • Markers: red, yellow, black for the face; any colors you’d like for wings and eggs
  • Paint brush
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Construction or craft paper in white and a color of your choice

Directions

  1. Cut the notched flap off the egg carton and set aside
  2. Cut the top off the egg carton
  3. Cut apart all the egg cups and trim slightly so they sit flat
  4. Paint the egg cups with the white paint, let dry
  5. Add the face, comb and wings to the chicken with the markers. Make six chickens with one color wings and six chickens with another color wings.
  6. From the egg carton flap cut thirteen small egg-shaped playing pieces
  7. With the markers, decorate twelve of the eggs in pairs—each egg in the pair with the same design
  8. Color one egg yellow and add a beak, eyes, and wings to make it a chick

Games to Play

Tic-Tac-Toe (2 players)

  1. On a 8 ½” x 11” piece of paper draw a regular tic-tac-toe board or make it fancy – like the picket fence-inspired board in the picture
  2. To make the fence-inspired board on a colored background, cut 2 9-inch-long x 3/4-inch wide strips of white paper, cutting a pointed tip at one or both ends. Cut 2 white  8-inch x 3/4-inch strips of paper with a pointed tip at one or both ends. Glue the strips to the background.
  3. Each player chooses a set of chickens with the same colored wings
  4. Play the game as you usually do

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Find the Matching Eggs (2 or more players)

  1. Have one player hide one egg under each chicken
  2. Shuffle the eggs around and form them into three lines of 4 chickens each
  3. Another player lifts one chicken at a time to find matching eggs. If the eggs don’t match, put both chickens back and start again

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Where’s the Chick?

  1. Use as many chickens and eggs as you want (fewer for younger children, more for older)
  2. One player hides the chick under one of the chickens and eggs under the others.
  3. Another player has three chances to find the chick

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I’m sure you can also design your own games for your adorable chickens to play! With more chickens you can even make a checkers set or replicate another of your favorite board games!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-little-chicken-cover

You can find A Little Chicken at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

You can support your local independent bookstore, by ordering from 

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

April 20 – It’s National Humor Month

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About the Holiday

National Humor Month was established in 1976 by comedian and author Larry Wilde, who is also the director of the Carmel Institute of Humor, to promote all things funny and raise awareness of the benefits of laughter and joy. The health benefits of an optimistic outlook are well documented. Lightheartedness also improves communication skills and boosts morale. Reading funny books is a fantastic way to share a laugh—for kids and adults—and to encourage a love of literature. In fact, there’s even a Funny Literacy Program that offers lots of resources and activities to fill your days with humor! Click here to learn more. This year, perhaps more than any, a little laughter helps us and our kids get through difficult times. Get started with today’s book and enjoy a laugh not only during April but every day! 

I received a copy of When a Tree Grows from Sterling Children’s Books for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

When a Tree Grows

Written by Cathy Ballou Mealey | Illustrated by Kasia Nowowiejska

 

We all know that age-old question “When a tree falls in a forest does it make a sound?” Inexplicably, this riddle seems to forget all about the adorable woodland animals—many of which we meet in this hilarious book that poses many thought-provoking conundrums of its own. For instance: “When a tree grows in the forest, two things can happen. It becomes a scratching post for Moose’s itchy antlers, and the tree sways gently side to side. OR… CRASH-BOOM! Moose pushes a little too hard, the tree falls on a cave, and the bear inside wakes up.”

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Image copyright Kasia Nowowiejska, 2019, text copyright Cathy Ballou Mealey, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

But how does Bear react? He can stay inside… OR come out to see what all the ruckus is about. And when he comes outside? Well, the domino effect could take over the forest… OR not. Alert readers will notice that Bear’s not the only one affected by the falling tree. Squirrel loses his home, but does he find the perfect replacement when a Nifty Nuts truck loaded with acorns gets entangled in this roller-coaster ride of a story… OR not?

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-when-a-tree-grows-bear

Image copyright Kasia Nowowiejska, 2019, text copyright Cathy Ballou Mealey, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

As readers follow the action, they’ll wonder—will Squirrel discover a lifetime supply of nuts? Fame and fortune? An empty spot in his heart? And when (if?) “Scribble-Scratch! He writes a letter to Moose,” will Moose eat it or read it? The answers to these forest-related questions lead to a fantastic welcome-home feast with party hats and decorations and, of course, lots and lots of acorns that Squirrel will either gobble all up… OR….

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Image copyright Kasia Nowowiejska, 2019, text copyright Cathy Ballou Mealey, 2019. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Nuttiness abounds in this funny story that will have kids on the edge of their seats and excitedly chiming in as each situation plays out, leading to more and more consequences for Squirrel. Cathy Ballou Mealey’s action-packed storytelling, punctuated with onomatopoeia, makes each page a joy to read aloud. Underlying all of the shenanigans is a sweet friendship story that will tug at readers’ hearts as the gently suspenseful circumstances seem to take Squirrel farther and farther away from the forest. Kids will cheer along with Moose, Bear, and a bevy of other cute animals as they celebrate Squirrel’s homecoming and enthusiastically approve of what Squirrel does with his windfall to guarantee that all the friends can stick together forever.

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Kasia Nowowiejska populates this most friendly of forests with adorable, wide-eyed animals whose expressions perfectly reflect their dilemmas without giving away the secret answers. Kids will laugh out loud to see Moose nervously clinging half-way up a tree as Bear growls, applaud squirrel’s aim with a slingshot, and wish they could join in the party when Squirrel comes home. Nowowiejska’s beautiful earth-tone color palette provides depth and texture to the lush foliage while highlighting each animal’s choices in clever and original ways that kids will love. The onomatopoeic phrases are spotlighted with vibrant, bold lettering, ensuring that readers will add their own spin to this fun element of the story.

No “OR…”s about it, When a Tree Grows will be a hit for lively, animated story times and would be an often-requested addition to home, classroom, and public libraries.

Ages 3 and up 

Sterling Children’s Books, 2019 | ISBN 978-1454921202

Discover more about Cathy Ballou Mealey and her books on her website.

To learn more about Kasia Nowowiejska, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Cathy Ballou Mealey

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Cathy Ballou Mealey lives with her family north of Boston, where she delights in watching silly squirrel antics and is waiting patiently for a moose to appear. Her favorite nut is the hazelnut and her favorite cupcake is cardamom crème.

Thank you for inviting me to the fabulous Celebrate Picture Books! I am delighted to join your celebration of Get Caught Reading Week by talking about writing inspiration and what we might learn from our hobbies and jobs, and also sharing a story starter for a favorite fall holiday!

I’m delighted that we get to talk about all of these things—and more! So let’s get started at the beginning of your journey with When a Tree Grows!

What was the spark of inspiration that led to When a Tree Grows?

When A Tree Grows was inspired by a distant creaky Crash! that I heard in the woods while hiking with my family. Was it a falling tree? An animal? I wondered: What if that crash had scared a bear or frightened a deer?

Building on that “OR” question, I framed a wacky story with two different possible outcomes, one rather expected and one funny, unexpected outcome. Readers will find that “OR” spotlighted on the bottom corner of each recto page with a clever curled paper art effect.

You must have had fun coming up with the alternate scenarios in your book. Can you share any that didn’t make the cut?

An early draft had a sweet city scene between Squirrel and a pigeon, but it didn’t make the final cut. It was tender and poignant, but needed a funnier alternative outcome to move the storyline along. In the end, I am happy that only Squirrel, Moose and Bear share the spotlight!

I love Kasia Nowowiejska’s illustrations that combine adorable, expressive animals with silly antics. Do you have a favorite spread? Did anything in the illustrations surprise you? 

I agree! Kasia is from Poland, and I loved the European flair in her forest sketches. Seeing the warthog was a complete, delightful surprise. Warthogs are not animals we would typically see in a North American woodland, and that leads to great discussions with young readers.

You have degrees in psychobiology and classical civilization. Can you describe these a bit and how they are connected? Does your study of psychobiology help inform the character development in your stories?

Psychobiology is the study of the brain, behavior and cognitive processes. I found it fascinating to research why and how we think, feel and do the things we do! I learned how to be a good observer, listener, and follower of the empirical method. I also studied classical civilization because I loved Latin, and the professors were extremely gifted storytellers. They brought ancient texts to life through dramatic readings and captivating extemporaneous performances. Exactly how these field of study inform my present work is unclear, but a liberal arts education really does cultivate curious minds!

In your bio, you also say that you were a crossing guard, hash-slinger, gift-wrapper, and pet sitter. This sounds like perfect prep for becoming a picture book author! Have any of these jobs inspired a story? Do you have a funny or surprising experience you’d like to share?

Writers DO find a way to wring fictional purpose out of anything, don’t we? I have found that one common theme across many of my stories is work. In When A Tree Grows, Squirrel gets a job in the Nifty Nuts factory as a quality control inspector. That’s one job I have not done! But working as a department store gift-wrapper was a job where quality mattered. Customers could buy a specialty paper/ribbon combination or choose the free “store wrap” which was red with tiny white checkered squares. The squares had to line up perfectly, no matter how lumpy or bumpy the item was, or the boss would make us re-wrap it. Wrap a floor lamp? Rocking chair? I like to imagine one of my co-wrappers invented printed gift bags out of desperation.

In previous interviews, you’ve described how you wrote your first picture book to enter the Cheerios “spoonful of stories” contest. But did you always like to write? What kinds of writing did you do? What inspired you to try the picture book form?

As a kid I loved to write and illustrate greeting cards, so my earliest efforts were short and to the point, just like picture books. I also wrote scripts for Muppet-like puppet shows, assigning the best roles to myself, of course. When school assignments piled up and writing lost its luster, I stopped scribbling for pleasure. Decades later, having children led to reading many picture books and to many boxes of Cheerios. So those factors definitely helped re-ignite my passion for writing and picture books specifically.

When a Tree Grows was released on April 2. What have you found to be the best part of being a published author? If you’ve held any book events, can you describe the reactions of kids to your story?

Of course seeing Tree on bookstore shelves and in readers’ hands is delightful. Hearing people laugh at the funny spots is a thrill! I like to ask a helper to wave a big sign that says “OR” to dramatize the page turns during readings. And kids love to see Squirrel scooping coins out of the fountain to buy a bus ticket home – so naughty!

What’s up next for you?

Next up for me is a still-secret, super funny picture book with an amazing publisher in Canada. A sloth and a squirrel team up for a special mission. Look for an announcement soon, and a book sometime in 2021!

What’s your favorite holiday and why?

Halloween – because it is in the fall, my favorite season. It also happens to be my birthday! Costumes, candy, glowing pumpkins, being outside after dark – all these elements make magical memories for kids. And on top of all that I got a cake, candles, and presents too? Pretty great.

Has a holiday ever influenced your work?

What a great idea! Let’s imagine re-casting When A Tree Grows as a Halloween story.

When an Owl hoots in the forest on Halloween, two things could happen.

Warthog blows out the candle in her pumpkin. Trick or treat is over.

OR…

Eek! Warthog is startled and tosses her candy into the air.

When Warthog tosses her candy into the air, two things could happen.

What do YOU think should happen next?

Oh my! Let’s see…

Bat neatly snatches all the candy out of the air with her trick-or-treat bag.

OR…

A candy corn ricochets off a tree and bonks bat, sending her wildly off course.

Readers? What do YOU think? Add your ideas in the comments section below!

Well, this was tons of fun, Cathy! I’m so glad we had a chance to chat! I wish you all the best with When a Tree Grows!

You can connect with Cathy Ballou Mealey on

Her website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Get Caught Reading Month Activity

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Moose starts a whole string of events in today’s book! What will you get up to in your own moose antlers?

Supplies

  • Stiff brown paper
  • Brown hair band
  • Pencil
  • Scissors
  • Tape

Directions

  1. Trace your hands with fingers spread on the brown paper. Leave a 1 – 2 inch tab on the end of the wrist for wrapping around the head band
  2. Cut out the hand prints
  3. Place one hand print on the right side of the headband with the thumb of the hand pointing up.
  4. Wrap the tab around the headband and secure with tape
  5. Place the second hand print on the left side of the headband with the thumb pointing up.
  6. Wrap the tab around the headband and secure with tape.

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You can find When a Tree Grows at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

March 2 – Read Across America Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday, established by the National Education Association in 1997, encourages children all across the country to celebrate reading and all of its joys and benefits. To commemorate the day, authors, illustrators, politicians, athletes, librarians, and families hold special reading events in schools, libraries, bookstores, and community centers. A love of reading is one of life’s greatest pleasures and begun early can be a powerful force for future success. Celebrate today by reading with a child or on your own. There are fabulous worlds and stories waiting to be discovered.

Nerp!

By Sarah Lynne Reul

 

If you want to serve up a giggle-feast for your kids, you only need to open Nerp! To have them gobbling up the big slice of silliness Sarah Lynne Reul has whipped up. Part reptile, part fish, and completely adorable, the family conjured up by Reul—a mom, a dad, a baby, and their pet—are just getting ready to enjoy dinner.

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Copyright Sarah Lynne Reul, 2020, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books

The baby has just helped Mom plop out their pet’s food into its dish and is pointing out how delicious that pink wiggly blob it. But the little family friend looks aghast and lets out a very decided “NERP.” Just then, though, all attention turns to Dad who proudly holds aloft the bowl of jelly-bean colored “Frizzle frazzle hotchy potch!” The baby gazes at his dad pleadingly while pointing at the bowl. “Hotchy-potch?” he asks. Then, giving the bowl the side-eye as if it might jump up and bite him, the tyke pushes it away with a decided “NERP.”

Another bowl appears, this one full of “Mushy gushy bloobarsh.” This bowl is even more ominous than the first, and the baby gasps. Their long-snouted pup, however, is licking its lips. Mom and Dad were apparently ready for these first rejections and have two more dishes on hand, but now Baby—his eyes closed—cannot even stand to sit at the table. “NERPITY NERPITY NERPITY NERP!” he says.

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Copyright Sarah Lynne Reul, 2020, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books

Perhaps Mom and Dad have a personal chef stashed away somewhere because six more scrumptious meals—one even holding its own fork—emerge from the kitchen to entice the little one to eat. But where is Baby? His chair’s empty and his bib discarded. And yet there is a very welcome “ssluuurrrrrrrpppppp” sound coming from somewhere. Mom and Dad are so delighted, happy, thrilled to hear this sound of happy scarfing that they drop all of those carefully prepared and plated meals and rush to find out where it’s coming from.

But Whhhaaaaatttt!!!?? do they see? Their precious tot is down on all fours guzzling…pet food. Oh, well, shrugs Mom as Baby burps, but Dad is none too happy as he scrapes all of their hard work onto an enormous plate for a very happy pup who lets out a decided “YERP!” And with full bellies these two lay back with a “Yerpetty yerpetty yerpy yerp.”

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Copyright Sarah Lynne Reul, 2020, courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books

Clever mashups of foodie words, tasty adjectives, and nonsense words that are fun to say make reading Nerp! aloud––and with verve––a joy.  Combining this entertaining dialogue with charming mixed-media illustrations set in a diorama made of cardboard, Sarah Lynne Reul creates a wholly original story that will keep children and adults laughing all the way through. Reul addresses that age-old food fight between finicky kids and frantic caregivers with hilarious dishes and facial expressions that perfectly reflect the emotions on both sides. Her pitch-perfect ending will delight kids and have adults nodding in appreciation.

Perfect for both reluctant and adventurous eaters as well as for all book lovers, Nerp! belongs on the reading menu at home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 3 – 7

Sterling Children’s Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1454934028

To learn more about Sarah Lynne Reul, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Read Across America Day Activity

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Books to Love, Books to Read Book Bag

 

True book lovers can’t go anywhere without a book (or two or three) to read along the way. With this easy craft you can turn a cloth bag into a kid-size book bag!

Supplies

  • Printable Templates: Books to Read Template | Books to Love Template or iron-on letters found at craft stores
  • Small cloth bag, available from craft or sewing stores—Recyclable Idea: I used the bag that sheet sets now come in
  • Cloth trim or strong ribbon, available from craft or sewing stores—Recyclable Idea: I used the cloth handles from shopping bags provided from some clothing stores
  • Scraps of different colored and patterned cloth. Or use quilting squares, available at craft and sewing stores
  • Pen or pencil for tracing letters onto cloth
  • Scissors
  • Fabric glue
  • Thread (optional)
  • Needle (optional)

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Directions

  1. Print the sayings and cut out the letters
  2. Trace letters onto different kinds of cloth
  3. Cut out cloth letters
  4. Iron cloth bag if necessary
  5. Attach words “Books to Read” to one side of bag with fabric glue
  6. Attach words “Books to Love” to other side of bag with fabric glue
  7. Cut cloth trim or ribbon to desired length to create handles
  8. Glue (or sew) handles onto the inside edge of bag

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You can find Nerp! at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | 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. I’m happy to be partnering with Sterling in a giveaway of the book. See details below.

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!”

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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.

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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.

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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.

Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Sterling Children’s Books in a giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse, written by Laura Sassi | illustrated by Rebecca Gerlings

Here’s how to enter:

  • Follow Celebrate Picture Books
  • Retweet a giveaway tweet
  • Bonus: Reply with your favorite kind of music for extra entry

This giveaway is open from February 10 – February 17 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on February 18. 

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | Prizing provided by Sterling Children’s Books.

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!

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

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

Picture Book Review