February 19 – XXIII Olympic Games

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About the Holiday

Today we celebrate all the athletes around the world participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. While competing against each other and for different countries, each athlete knows the same hard work, determination, courage, and spirit it takes to be a champion. Most of the athletes have dedicated their lives to practicing and perfecting their skills. As today’s book shows, learning a new sport starts with the first step.

Mice Skating

Written by Annie Silvestro | Illustrated by Teagan White

 

“During the cold winter months, most field mice take cover…tunneling deep underground, burrowing into farmhouse walls, nesting in hollow logs.” Lucy was different. She loved to scamper in the snow and feel the frost on her whiskers. Most of all Lucy loved her “fluffy wool hat with the pink pom-pom on top.” Wearing this hat, Lucy was brave and bold. “It made her bloom!” But while Lucy loved everything about winter, her friends only saw Lucy’s freezing fur, dripping nose, and “chedder-ing” teeth.

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Image copyright Teagan White, 2017, text copyright Annie Silvestro, 2017. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

When Lucy invited her friends to go outside with her, they declined, preferring to stay “warm and toasty till spring.” Lucy enjoyed catching snowflakes and making snow angels and snowmice, but she wished she could share the fun with her friends. She tried bringing winter inside, but her snow cones and giant icicles melted, and the indoor snowball fight “was a soggy flop.”

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Image copyright Teagan White, 2017, text copyright Annie Silvestro, 2017. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

One day while playing outside, Lucy slipped on an icy puddle. She slid and then “she…soared!” Lucy was hooked. She made ice skates from pine needles and went back to the pond. “At first she wobbled. She fell more than once. But with practice, soon she was ice-skating.” Lucy couldn’t wait to tell her friends, and she had an idea. She gathered supplies,went back home, and got to work. 

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Image copyright Teagan White, 2017, text copyright Annie Silvestro, 2017. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Every day Lucy went skating. When she returned, she went to her room and worked quietly with yarn, thread, and pine needles. Her friends couldn’t help but be curious. They peeked through her door and peppered her with questions. At last Lucy was ready. “She placed a new hat on each mouse’s head. ‘These will keep you warm,’ she said, ‘inside and out.’” Mona, Millie, and Marcello “marveled at their new hats.”

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Image copyright Teagan White, 2017, text copyright Annie Silvestro, 2017. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Then, with a bag slung over her shoulder, Lucy led her friends outside and to the pond. In front of her dazzled friends, Lucy “spiraled and swirled, swizzled and twizzled, loop-de-looped.” “‘Marvelous!’ cried Mona. ‘Spectacular!’ called Millie. ‘Brie-vissimo!’ cheered Marcello. Suddenly,  they all wanted to try. Lucy opened her bag and handed each one their own pair of skates.

Gingerly, they slid onto the ice. They wobbled and fell. “But with practice, soon they were mice skating.” They squealed and squeaked with joy, and Marcello said, ‘”Who knew winter could be so goud-a?’” “‘I did,’ said Lucy, beaming. And together they bloomed like spring.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-mice-skating-lucy-skating (2)

Image copyright Teagan White, 2017, text copyright Annie Silvestro, 2017. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

For one reason or another, it’s sometimes hard to get friends, family, or others to try something new. Sometimes, it’s us that balk a bit at getting out and exploring different opportunities. Annie Silvestro’s cheery story is a sweet and gentle reminder that often fun, exhilaration, and wider horizons are just a few steps away. Silvestro offers some sage advice along with her delightful friendship story as Lucy makes hats and skates for her friends to show them what they’re missing. Readers will love her charming and sprightly adjectives that beautifully depict the cozy home comforts and refreshing outdoor atmosphere of winter, and will giggle at Marcello’s creative cheese—but not cheesy—puns.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-mice-skating-lucy

Image copyright Teagan White, 2017, text copyright Annie Silvestro, 2017. Courtesy of Sterling Children’s Books.

Readers cannot be faulted for maybe wanting to spend winter underground, too, in the homey den Teagan White has fashioned for Lucy and her friends. The penchant of mice to gather bits and bobs here and there is reflected in the thread-spool table, the clothespin shelf for displaying cheese, and the half-pencil rung on a ladder. The mice also use button plates and acorn-top mugs. The fire in the fireplace crackles as acorns and herbs dry on a line above it. Outdoors is just as magical with sparking snowflakes, snowy fields, and red berry accents. White’s full-page illustrations interspersed with pages of circular insets are rendered in muted greens, browns, and pinks that enhance this snug wintertime story.

A sweet friendship story for any time of the year, Mice Skating would be a lovely addition to home and classroom libraries.

Ages 3 and up

Sterling Children’s Book, 2017 | ISBN 978-1454916321

Discover more about Annie Silvestro and her books on her website.

Learn more about Teagan White and view a portfolio of her art on her website.

IIXXX Olympic Games Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ice-skating-coloring-page-bigger

We’re Skating! Coloring Page

 

Ice skating is one of winter’s most enjoyable activities! Here’s a printable We’re Skating! Coloring Page to enjoy too!

Picture Book Review

January 28 – International Have Fun at Work Day

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About the Holiday

Are you working today? Then have some fun! Listen to music, dress up or down or even a bit silly, enlist your coworkers for some games, share some jokes, or even throw a party—just don’t forget to include your boss!

Snowmen at Work

Written by Caraline Buehner | Written by Mark Buehner

 

One day, a little boy says, he woke up to find that “more snow had fallen soft and deep” overnight, but there was something odd: the sidewalk and the walkway were already shoveled. The snowman that he’d made the night before was standing in its spot, yet the boy wondered, “Was he the one who shoveled with a snowman shoveling crew? / Could it be that I don’t see that snowmen have jobs too?”

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Image copyright Mark Buehner, 2012, text copyright Caralyn Buehner, 2012. Courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

The boy imagines other jobs that snowmen might do.  Maybe there are snowmen dentists who drill “bits of coal to fix a snowman’s smile” before sending him “home in style.” If your sled has “crooked runners” perhaps snowmen mechanics can make them straight again. And the grocer at the snowmen’s favorite store would stock shelves “with food snowmen love to eat: / Frozen peas and Frosty Flakes / And ice cream for a treat.”

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Image copyright Mark Buehner, 2012, text copyright Caralyn Buehner, 2012. Courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

How about snow kids? Just like real kids, they’d like having pets too! They’d love to go to the snow pet store to see the snow pups and the swimmers in the cold fish tank. The snow baker would be an artist creating frozen treats and frosted cake—“enough for everyone.” Of course snow children would go to snow school where they’d be taught “To count snowflakes one by one. / And how to spell Antarctica, / Refrigerate, and fun.”

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Image copyright Mark Buehner, 2012, text copyright Caralyn Buehner, 2012. Courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

Snow magicians could do cool tricks, and when a snow cat got stuck in the branches of a tree, snow firefighters would get them down easy as can be. There could be snow librarians to read to little ones, and snow deliverymen to bring “frozen pizza to your door.” At the factory, snow workers would make toys for snow boys and girls, and snow truck drivers could haul “frozen goods to town.”

Yes, the little boy thinks as he goes back inside his home, “My snowman really might have / Shoveled, and I never knew / That all around us snowmen / Have a lot of work to do!”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-snowmen-at-night-night-plowing

Image copyright Mark Buehner, 2012, text copyright Caralyn Buehner, 2012. Courtesy of Dial Books for Young Readers.

Caraline and Mark Buehner’s snowmen are favorites of little ones with their sunny smiles and busy secret lives. In Snowmen at Work, young readers will love getting a sneak peek at how their favorite winter creations might fill jobs around town that they’re familiar with. The idea of snow puppies and kittens, snow school, and a snowman to do their chores will delight kids. Frosted cakes, frozen pizza, and frosty flakes are clever twists on children’s best-loved treats and may have kids thinking up other cold meals and tidbits they might enjoy.

Mark Buehner’s riotously colorful illustrations offer maximum joyfulness as the snowmen go about their jobs with ever-present grins. Children will want to linger over the pages to catch all the details and jokes tucked here and there: A framed quote on the dentist’s wall reads “Be true to your teeth or they’ll be false to you,” and the snow magician’s lion has a mane made up of mittens, just to name two. And is that snowman outside the little boy’s home reaching for his shovel again just as he closes the door?

The perfect antidote to gray winter days and a cheerful addition to those brilliant blue ones, Snowmen at Work would be welcome on any child’s bookshelf.

Ages 3 – 7

Dial Books, 2012 | ISBN 978-0803735798

Learn more about Caralyn and Mark Buehner and their books on their website.

International Have Fun at Work Day Activity

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Fun at Work! Word Search

 

When you love your job, work is fun! Find the names of thirty professions in this printable Fun at Work! Word Search Puzzle.

Fun at Work! Word Search Puzzle | Fun at Work! Word Search Puzzle Solution

Picture Book Review

December 30 – Baking Soda Day

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About the Holiday

Baking soda is one of those little chemical compounds that is indispensable in so many ways. First produced in 1791 by French chemist Nicolas Leblanc, it’s used for everything from cleaning solutions to health remedies to black snake fireworks to science fair volcanoes. In 1846 two New York bakers, John Dwight and Austin Church, established the first factory in the United States to produce baking soda from sodium carbonate and carbon dioxide. Of course, baking soda is also used to make treats of all kinds – even the ones featured in today’s book!

Baking Day at Grandma’s

Written by Anika Denise | Illustrated by Christopher Denise

 

Three little cubs bundle up in their winter coats, hats, scarves, and mittens and head out over the snowy hills to Grandma’s for baking day. Soon they see “past the pond so smooth and clear / little cottage drawing near.” A knock on Grandma’s door brings her closer, and when she opens the door the trio give her a kiss before entering the snug home.

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Image copyright Christopher Denise, courtesy of Philomel Books

After warming their toes by the fire, the young bears grab the cookbook, a mixing bowl, a spoon, and a whisk because “It’s baking day! / It’s baking day! / It’s baking day! / at Grandma’s!” As her little bakers stand on chairs to reach the table, Grandma passes out aprons and reads the recipe. Happily crowded around the bowl, the cubs with “wooden spoon and measuring cup, / mix the batter; stir it up. / Fold it gently in the pan, / lick the spoon because we can.”

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Image copyright Christopher Denise, courtesy of Philomel Books

While they wait for their treats to bake, Grandma pours tummy-warming mugs of hot chocolate and one little bear draws a smiley face on the frosty window for a little chickadee to see. Grandma puts a record on her old Victrola, and as she sings the “soft and sweet skippy notes,” the cubs tap their feet. At last the kitchen timer rings, and the little bears dance arm in arm because “It’s baking day! / It’s baking day! / It’s baking day! / at Grandma’s!”

The chocolate goodies pop from the pan, and with icing and sprinkles are ready to be wrapped and tied with a red ribbon. Other treats get pretty bags, “each one marked with little tags.” The cubs are also bundled nice and warm, and with final hugs for Grandma, they are soon “Walking home under the moon. / Back to visit Grandma soon.”

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Image copyright Christopher Denise, courtesy of Philomel Books

Anika Denise’s sweet, rhyming story is as heartwarming as a cozy kitchen on a cold day. The buoyant rhythm is a joy to read, and Denise’s infectious repeated verse, “It’s baking day! / It’s baking day! / It’s baking day! / at Grandma’s!” invites little ones to join in the story. The bond between the three cubs and their grandma is full of love and hugs, and just like the young bears, readers will want to return again and again to Grandma’s house.

Christopher Denise infuses his winter landscapes and Grandma’s house with rich, warm colors that welcome readers into this special family baking day. The three cubs, wrapped in green coats and red knit caps, march with their sled over brilliant white snowy hills between their house and Grandma’s tidy log cabin. Inside, the rooms glow with golden sunshine, and it’s easy to see why the cubs love their attentive grandma so as she gently guides them in baking.

Newly available as a board book, Baking Day at Grandma’s is a book that young children will love to hear over and over at story time, naptime, or bedtime. It would also make an appreciated gift to or from a grandmother.

Ages 2 – 5

Philomel Books, 2016 | ISBN 978-0399171574 (board book) / 978-0399242441 (hardcover)

Learn more about Anika Denise and her books and find Reader Engagement and Activity Kits on her website!

Discover the illustrated world of Christopher Denise on his website!

Spend time baking with Grandma with this sweet book trailer!

Bake for Family Fun Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-cupcakes

Very Vanilla Cupcakes

 

This delicious vanilla cupcake recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction would definitely please Grandma—and they’ll become your favorite confection too!

Vanilla Cupcakes

  • 1 and 2/3 cup (210g) all-purpose flour (spoon & leveled)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/4 cup (60g) vanilla Greek yogurt (or plain; or regular yogurt; or even sour cream)
  • 3/4 cup (180ml) vanilla almond milk (or cow’s milk; or soy milk; or plain almond milk)
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract seeds scraped from 1/2 split vanilla bean1

Vanilla Bean Frosting

  • 1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 4-5 cups (480-600g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) heavy cream2
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract seeds scraped from 1/2 split vanilla bean1
  • Salt, to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line muffin tin with 12 cupcake liners. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In a large microwave-safe bowl, melt butter in the microwave. Whisk in sugar – mixture will be gritty. Whisk in egg whites, yogurt, milk, and vanilla extract until combined. Split 1 vanilla bean down the middle lengthwise. Scrape seeds from half of the vanilla bean into batter. Reserve other half.
  3. Slowly mix dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until no lumps remain. Batter will be thick.
  4. Divide batter among 12 cupcake liners (or 24 mini) and bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Bake for 8-9 minutes if making mini cupcakes. Allow to cool.
  5. To make the frosting, beat softened butter on medium speed with an electric or stand mixer. Beat for about 3 minutes until smooth and creamy. Add confectioners’ sugar, cream, vanilla extract, and vanilla bean seeds with the mixer running. Increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes. Add more powdered sugar if frosting is too thin or more cream if mixture is too thick. Add salt if frosting is too sweet (1/4 teaspoon). Frost cooled cupcakes (I used Wilton 1M piping tip). There may be leftover frosting depending how much you use on each cupcake.
  6. Store cupcakes in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days and in the refrigerator up to 7.

Additional Notes

  1. If you can’t get your hands on vanilla beans, add an extra ½ teaspoon of pure vanilla extract instead.
  2. Strongly urged to use heavy cream. You may use milk or half-and-half, but heavy cream will give the frosting a thicker texture. I recommend it!

For ways to adapt this recipe and more scrumptious recipes, visit Sally’s Baking Addiction. I guarantee you’ll go back again and again!

Picture Book Review

November 1 – National Author’s Day & Interview with Author Linda Booth Sweeney

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About the Holiday

There may be no better month to celebrate Author’s Day than in November. Not only is it Picture Book Month, but thousands of people set aside their usual routine to take part in NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month, when writers try to complete at least a first draft of a novel in one month. To kick off all of this literary love today, we remember and honor American authors past and present. The holiday was instituted in 1928 by Nellie Verne Burt McPherson, president of the Bement, Illinois Women’s Club. An avid reader, she established Author’s Day to thank writer Irving Bacheller who sent her an autographed story in response to her fan letter. The day was officially recognized in 1949 by the United States Department of Commerce. McPherson’s granddaughter, Sue Cole, has promoted the holiday since her Nellie’s death in 1968 and encourages people to spend a bit of the day writing a note of appreciation to their favorite author.

When the Snow Falls

Written by Linda Booth Sweeney | Illustrated by Jana Christy

 

A little curly-haired girl and her younger brother wake up from a sleepover with Grandma to a magical sight. As they gaze out the big picture window in the little girl’s room, they’re dazzled to see “When the snow falls…Frost paints. / Skies gray. / Windows sparkle/ Snow? Yay!” There’s no school today, so Mommy and Daddy and Grandma bundle up and get the kids ready to head outdoors to take care of the farm animals.

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2017, text copyright Linda Booth Sweeney, 2017. Courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons for Young Readers.

Soft flakes flutter down, piling into deep drifts and providing a little extra after-breakfast treat as “Boot sink. / Lashes flick. / Tongues tickle. / We lick.” In the barn the horses, puppies, and chickens are just as excited about the snowy day. Riding an old chair sled, Grandma and her grandchildren glide down the hill, following tracks left by lively rabbits and now-dozing foxes.

Deep in the forest the three take in the beauty: “Woods hush. / Fields glisten. / Wren sings. / We listen.” On the other side of the woods, people continue their daily routine but at a slower pace as “plows push” and “mountains grow.” Grandma and the kids slide into town, where people are hard at work keeping up with the storm: “Wheels crunch. / Shovels scoop. / Ice cracks! / Awnings droop.”

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2017, text copyright Linda Booth Sweeney, 2017. Courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons for Young Readers.

The trio has reached Grandma and Grandpa’s house. They all grab shovels and help clear the walk. Now it’s Grandpa’s turn to have some fun. He takes his granddaughter by the hand, seats her little brother on a sled, and walk to the park. There, kids are making snowmen, building snow forts, and zipping down hills on their snow saucers. At the bottom of the hill everyone plops into the fluff and make snow angels.

It’s been an exhilarating, adventurous day, but twilight is on the horizon and now “toes tingle. / Lips quiver. / Cheeks glow. / We shiver.” As grandma calls from her front porch, the little girl and Grandpa, carrying his grandson, race toward home amid the swirling snowflakes. Inside, the light, warmth, and cozy comforts of warm soup, popcorn, and a crackling fire await. Later, the two kids enjoy quiet time with Grandma and Grandpa when “Cocoa warms. / Mittens puddle. / Day dawdles. / We cuddle.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-when-the-snow-falls-fox

Image copyright Jana Christy, 2017, text copyright Linda Booth Sweeney, 2017. Courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons for Young Readers.

With her brilliantly expressive staccato sentences—each only two words long—Linda Booth Sweeney evokes the sights, sounds, and joy of a care-free, snowy day. Each four-line, rhyming verse abounds with melodic verbs that spark readers’ imaginations and concrete nouns that in many places form delightful alliterative pairs that softly trip off the tongue. Readers will love the story line that takes them from a rustic farmhouse to Grandma and Grandpa’s cozy home through woods, over hills, past the highway, and into downtown all with the help of an old-style sled. Several verses full of snow day fun play out like a long afternoon spent with friends, leading naturally into the slower pace and loving comfort of the night spent with Grandma and Grandpa.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-when-the-snow-falls-sledding-with-grandma

Image copyright Jana Christy, 2017, text copyright Linda Booth Sweeney, 2017. Courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons for Young Readers.

In glorious two-page spreads, the wind-swept snow swirls, spatters, and blankets the world in downy white fluff. Jana Christy takes children into the family’s large farmhouse kitchen where a blackboard announces Grandma’s Sunday sleepover as well as Monday’s snow day in place of the crossed-out piano lesson. The family steps out into the sparkling countryside where purple mountains form a backdrop for the barn and sheep pen. As Grandma and the kids start their journey, the forest, a quiet enclave of teal and greens, welcomes them. By the time they reach town, cars are stuck in snowdrifts, snow shovels scrape against the sidewalk, and kids are heading to the park.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-when-the-snow-falls-sledding

Image copyright Jana Christy, 2017. Courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons for Young Readers.

The thrill of playing in the snow is palpable as saucers zoom down hills, hats fly off, and hair blows in the wind. The final spreads of Grandma and Grandpa’s tidy home glow with love and laughter as the kids pull off their snow gear, their dog shakes off the snow, and they settle on the couch for cocoa and cuddles. The busy townspeople, happy playmates, and close-knit mixed-race family make When the Snow Falls a cheerful celebration of diversity.

When the Snow Falls is a joyous book to add to winter collections and would be often asked for during home, classroom, and library story times.

Ages 3 – 7

G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2017 | ISBN 978-0399547201

Discover more about Linda Booth Sweeney, her books and her systems work, visit her website.

To learn more about Jana Christy, her art, and her books, visit her website.

National Author’s Day Activity

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Snow Buddies

Even when there’s no snow, you can make yourself a snow buddy with this fun and easy craft!

Supplies

  • White dress ankle socks
  • Polyester Fiber Fill
  • Tiny buttons
  • Fleece or ribbon, enough for a little scarf
  • Toothpicks
  • Twigs
  • Orange craft paint
  • Cardboard
  • White rubber bands, one or two depending on the size of the snowman
  • Fabric or craft glue
  • Small hair band (optional)

Directions

To Make the Snowman

  1. Cut a circle from the cardboard about 2 inches in diameter for the base
  2. Place the cardboard circle in the bottom of the sock
  3. Fill the sock with fiber fill about ¾ full or to where the ribbed ankle cuff begins. Pack tightly while making a sausage shape. You can make your snowman different shapes with the amount of fill you use.
  4. Stretch out the cuff of the sock and tie it off near the top of the fill either with a loop knot or with the hairband.
  5. Fold the cuff down around the top of the filled sock to make the hat.
  6. Wrap a rubber band around the middle of the sock to make a two-snowball snowman. For a three-snowball snowman, use two rubber bands. Adjust the rubber bands to make the “snowballs” different sizes.

To Make the Scarf

  1. Cut a strip of fleece or ribbon 8 to 10 inches long by ½ inch wide
  2. Tie the fleece or ribbon around the neck of the snowman
  3. To Make the Nose
  4. Dip one end of the toothpick into orange paint, let dry
  5. Cut the toothpick in half
  6. Stick the toothpick into the head or top portion of the snowman

To Make the Arms

  1. Insert small twigs into each side of the body of the snowman
  2. You can also use wire or cardboard to make the arms
  3. Attach two mini-buttons to the face for eyes with the fabric or craft glue
  4. Display your Snow Buddy

Interview with Linda Booth Sweeney

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As the weather turns cooler, I’m happy to talk with Linda Booth Sweeney about the event that inspired her first book for children, a favorite wintertime activity, and how we can learn to see and benefit from systems.

How did you get started writing for children?

It seems like I’ve always been writing though it has taken me a long time to call myself a writer. During our last move, I discovered an old cardboard box from my parents’ attic.  After moving it literally for years, I finally opened it this summer. Inside there must have been 15 diaries and journals. When I looked at the dates, I realized that I started writing in those when I was about twelve and I really haven’t stopped. 

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I actually remember the exact day I began writing for children! Jack, my oldest son (now 19), was three. I was pushing him around Cambridge in one of those $20 pop-up strollers. We were a good fifteen minutes from home when a gale force wind blew in. The little canopy on this stroller snapped off and I remember feeling like the stroller lifted up off the ground. This was before cell phones so there was no calling for a ride. I put my head down and ran for home. Well, Jack loved that, and the wind blowing! He was bouncing up and down, pointing to everything he saw: signs rattling, balls rolling, hats flying.

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Image copyright Jana Christy, 2017, text copyright Linda Booth Sweeney, 2017. Courtesy of G. P. Putnam’s Sons for Young Readers.

During his nap that afternoon, I flopped down at my desk, grateful we made it home in one piece. Jack’s excitement was contagious and his words were swimming around my head so I wrote them down. That was the beginning of my first children’s book, When the Wind Blows.

Using short, two-word phrases, your picture books are so evocative of actions outdoors and indoors as well as internal emotions. Can you describe your writing process?

I was mimicking the voice of a three-year old so the two words. Balls roll. Object and action. Noun and verb. It just made sense. In my other books like the one I’m working on now about the sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial, I am writing for older readers (ages 7-12). My sentences are longer. The book is inspired by big themes like being true to oneself, equality, social justice, and love for country so I find myself writing punchy sentences in the scenes and more lyrically the bridges, or the transitions, between scenes.

Do you remember your favorite picture book when you were a child?

As a little kid, I always loved Dr. Seuss books. My imagination was going full tilt as a kid. Dr. Seuss made me feel like the other worlds I created were not just okay but to be celebrated! As a nine-year-old, I devoured Encyclopedia Brown and anything by James Herriot.

Your first book for children, When the Wind Blows, takes readers on a jaunt through town on a blustery day. When the Snow Falls is a joyful romp through a winter day. What is it about weather that inspires you and your writing?

It’s the immediacy that weather brings. When the rain is pouring down or the snow is falling, that grabs my attention. Of course my attention is also on how to keep my fingers warm or my feet dry. But I can’t think of much else. I love that. I have to be in the moment. My favorite poet, Mary Oliver, captures this idea well in her “Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”

If you’re outside stomping in puddles or making snow angels, who needs to be on a phone? There’s a lot of research coming out that equates nature to a “vitamin” we all need. Richard Louv, the author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, says it well: “Just as children need good nutrition and adequate sleep, they may very well need contact with nature.” 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-linda-booth-sweeney

You mentioned in one of your blog posts that When the Snow Falls first took shape during “found time” during the winter of 2015 with its four nearly back-to-back snow storms. Do you have any advice for recognizing and taking advantage of found time not only for writers, but for anyone?

I think the biggest opportunity to enjoy found time comes when we’re willing to put down technology. Sure the photos we can take on our iPhone may be lovely but what if sometimes we are just there, fully present, open and even willing to be a little bored.  Maybe then we can be dazzled by the red Cardinal that lands on the white snowman or the hush that creeps in when no can one drive.

What is your favorite wintertime activity?

I love looking for snow art and especially love seeing it through the eyes of little ones. I’m always amazed by the “art” that forms during snow storms – polka-dotted fields, top hats on fence caps, intricate patterns on round porch tables, delicate animal tracks that look like instructions for some kind of dance move. 

And then of course there is cross country skiing with my family and my crazy friends.

Your other work involves Systems Thinking. Can you describe systems thinking and talk about your systems thinking work with children and schools?

Sure. Like a spider’s web, what happens on one part of the web affects every other part. The same is true of living systems. A pond, our family, our school, a city, the climate—these are all systems. They have two or more parts that interact over time. What’s really interesting is that these different kinds of systems share some similarities, and they can act in surprisingly similar ways. (You can learn more about my systems work here).

How does considering systems thinking and living systems benefit children and their education?

Systems thinking, or “Thinking about systems,” means paying attention to the interrelationships and patterns that surround us. My experience, and that of systems educators around the globe, shows that children are naturally attuned to this. They can read If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff and then recognize that same closed loop of cause and effect in their everyday lives.  

A few years back I wrote When a Butterfly SneezesA Guide for Helping Kids Explore Connections in our World as a resource for anyone who wants to help children think about interconnections in our world. Each chapter focuses on a favorite children’s picture book—like If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss—and shows how to use the story to engage children in systems thinking. I just finished updating that book and the new version should be up and ready by next week!

To answer your question about how systems thinking benefits children, learning about systems, and about living systems in particular, can help children to make better decisions and avoid unintended consequences. It can also help them to develop a more compassionate and sustainable sensibility about what is beautiful and what is essential.

I always come back to the Joseph Campbell quote—“People who don’t have a concept of the whole, can do very unfortunate things.…”—and flip it: People—and especially children—who have a concept of the whole can do very fortunate things. If we encourage young people to look for the “whole” and not just focus on the parts, they will be geared toward seeing connections and will not see things in isolation. So much in our culture forces us into compartments. But just as we teach kids not to be victims of advertising, we can teach them to see beyond the obvious, to see the systems all around us.  

What’s up next for you? 

My next children’s book is a richly illustrated biography about Daniel Chester French, the sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial.  I am thrilled to be working with Shawn Fields a representational artist on this book.  The working title of the book is Monument Man, and that subject is very much a part of our public conversation at this point in our history. 

Thanks, Linda! Your books inspire us to look closure and pay attention to the moment, and I wish you all the best with them!

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You can connect with Linda Booth Sweeney on:

Her Website | Twitter | Facebook | Linked in

You can find When the Snow Falls with these booksellers:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Penguin Random House

Picture Book Review

January 20 – Penguin Awareness Day

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About the Holiday

Who can resist those little black-and-white waddlers from a frozen realm? Today’s holiday gives us a chance to enjoy and learn more about one of the world’s favorite animals. To celebrate, research penguins or visit an aquarium, and, of course, read a great penguin book!

Little Penguins

Written by Cynthia Rylant | Illustrated by Christian Robinson

 

A tiny penguin stands at the window star-struck by the snowflakes floating gently down. Four more penguins join her to see this marvelous sight. There are so “many snowflakes.” Gathered around the window in their igloo home, the penguins are excited that “Winter is coming!” They rush to collect their cold-weather supplies. Out of the basket they pull mittens—a pair for each, red, blue, green, yellow, sage—“and matching scarves.”

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Image copyright Christian Robinson, text copyright Cynthia Rylant. Courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

With abandon the penguins raid the bureau, scattering socks like colorful confetti. Warm, dry boots get to leave their cubbies after a looong nap. Bundled up, the penguins tumble out into the winter wonderland. They sled and slide on the deep snow. In places they find the snow is top-of-their-boots deeper, and then suddenly waist-high, “very deep.”

Uh-Oh! Suddenly the landscape is blank-page white! Four of the little penguins look in all directions. “Where’s Mama?” No need to fret—Mama’s coming, skimming down the hill on her belly with the fifth tiny penguin. But the sky is darkening and it’s time to head for home. “In the door and off, off, off, off, off!”

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Image copyright Christian Robinson, courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

On go the jammies then warm cookies and filled “sippies” satisfy the tummy. Finally, it’s time to snuggle tight under colored blankets and watch the flurries fly because “Winter is here.”

Cynthia Rylant captures the exhilaration kids feel upon the first snow of winter in her delightful concept book. The flurry of activity to dig out the accoutrements of winter provide little readers the perfect opportunity to learn or—in the case of a bit older kids—to show their knowledge of cold-weather apparel, colors, counting skills, and other ideas. Rylant’s gifted way with even the simplest words turns the question-and-answer format of Little Penguins into a lyrical frolic little ones will love.

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Image copyright Christian Robinson, courtesy of Schwartz & Wade

In Christian Robinson’s cozy igloo, the eager brightness of the little penguins is highlighted against the mottled textures of sage walls and reflected in the gleaming gray-blue floor. The little home with its fish weather vane and tall chimney sits at the edge of an icy peninsula, perfectly placed for winter play. The five penguins joyfully don their mittens, wave their scarves and toss socks to and fro in their hurry to get dressed and get outside and enjoy the fat, fluffy snowflakes.

Once there, the penguins become tiny dots on the vast, white hill as they sink waist deep, glide on their bellies, and welcome Mama, who’s joined the fun. As the penguins remove their snow gear back home, Robinson cleverly stripes the two-page spread in the favorite colors of the individual penguins, creating a striking counterbalance to the snug kitchen to come. An old-fashioned stove, retro accents, and fish, whale, and boat décor wrap up the comfy charm of this superb book for young readers.

With its sweet characters and beautiful illustrations, Little Penguins would be a happy and often-asked-for addition to any child’s bookshelf.

Ages 2 – 7

Schwartz & Wade, 2016 | ISBN 978-0553507706

To learn more about Cynthia Rylant and her books, visit her website!

View a gallery of illustration art by Christian Robinson on his website!

Penguin Awareness Day Activity

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Copyright Celebrate Picture Books, 2017

Spicy Cool Penguins

Don’t throw away those empty spice bottles—instead make these cute penguins with their colorful hats who are just waiting to play!

Supplies

  • Empty glass or plastic spice bottle with cap
  • Black paint
  • White paint OR White fleece or felt
  • Black paper
  • Yellow foam or heavy paper
  • Googly eyes
  • Styrofoam ball (optional)
  • Glue
  • Paint brush
  • Scissors

Directions

  1. Paint the inside of the glass or plastic bottle with the black paint, let dry
  2. From the white fleece, cut an oval for the penguin’s belly and glue it on. Alternatively, paint a white oval on the jar to make a belly. Fleece may be a better option for younger children, as the paint can scratch off glass and plastic surfaces.
  3. Glue googly eyes near the top of the jar, but below the cap
  4. Cut a triangle of yellow foam or paper for the beak and glue it on
  5. Cut two tear shapes for the wings from the black paper. Glue the top of the shape to the body of the penguin, overlapping the belly a little. Fold the tips up
  6. Give your penguins Styrofoam ball snowballs to play with!

Picture Book Review

December 21 – Winter Solstice

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About the Holiday

At exactly 5:44 a.m. today winter arrives in the Northern Hemisphere. This also means that today offers those living there the least amount of sunshine—only 9 hours, 15 minutes, and 6 seconds. While the earth’s tilt in relation to the sun at this time of year brings cold and snowy weather to the World’s northern half, the Southern Hemisphere is basking in longer days and warm temperatures. For those of us just beginning to enjoy another winter’s chill, the onset of snow brings special beauty, outdoor adventure, and the fun explored in today’s book!

If Snowflakes Tasted Like Fruitcake

By Stacey Previn

 

Snowflakes gently fluttering down from a gray winter sky seem to tease “catch me if you can!” Perhaps it’s their similarity to coconut shavings or confectioners’ sugar sifted over a delicious cake that inspires us to stick our tongues out to taste those little white flakes. But what do they really taste like? And what if they tasted like other yummy foods? Stacey Previn explores that idea, starting with a winter favorite—“If snowflakes tasted like sugar plums…they’d be dancing in my head.” Or perhaps they are better for breakfast—“If snowflakes tasted like oatmeal…they would get me out of bed.”

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Image and text copyright Stacey Previn, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

Maybe snowflakes would be better in a mug—“If snowflakes tasted like cocoa…they would warm me to my toes” Or if they came in whipped cream dollops, “they would tickle me on my nose.” Imagine “if snowflakes tasted like apples…” you could “bake them in a pie.” And “if snowflakes tasted like peppermint…” we’d “wish more fell from the sky.”

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Image and text copyright Stacey Previn, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

Sometimes snowflakes twinkle like diamonds, but what if they were as shiny as gumdrops? Or imagine if they were as warm and soothing as noodle soup. Still, there is that title question: what “if snowflakes tasted like fruitcake?” Well, then, I’m afraid we “would give them all away.” So what is that special flavor that makes us stick out our tongues? “Winter,” of course!

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Image and text copyright Stacey Previn, courtesy of simonandschuster.com

Stacey Previn offers up a whimsical, culinary menu of various taste sensations that might entice readers to eat up winter’s delicate, white morsels, including those above as well as honey, figs, chestnuts, gingerbread, popcorn, and marshmallows. Accompanying each verse are richly colored and wood-grain-textured folk-art illustrations that enhance the homey nature of the book. From verse to verse, a red-snowsuited child, joyful to wake to falling snow, imagines shaking snowflakes from tree branches, building a snowman and a snow choir, roasting snowflakes in a pan, catching snowflakes in a spoon, a net, a ladle, and more.

Kids who love playing in the snow—and for whom snowflakes are a delicacy—will delight in curling up with cup of hot chocolate and enjoying the sweet ideas and fanciful humor in this cozy wintertime book. Its sure to inspire kids to think up their own taste comparisons.

Ages 3 – 8

little bee books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1499801804

Discover more about Stacey Previn and her books on her website!

Winter Solstice Activity

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Snowy Day Mind Jar

 

You can capture the beauty of a glittering snowfall in this easy craft—that also makes a special gift for a friend!

Supplies

Small to medium mason jar or other decorative jar with a tight lid

White glitter glue,

Light blue glitter glue,

Fine white and/or blue glitter

Large white and/or blue glitter

Warm water

Directions

1.For every 1/2 cup of warm water add:

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons white glitter glue
  • 1/2 teaspoon blue glitter glue
  • 2 teaspoons fine glitter glue
  • 1/2 teaspoon large glitter

2. Close lid tight

3. Shake

4. As glue dissolves, the liquid will become clearer and the glitter will remain suspended in it

Picture Book Review