Perfect Picture Book Friday Looks at Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping

The mere mention of camping and my skin crawls with the invisible legs of a million non-existent insects. I cringe at the thought of sleeping in a tent or any structure with walls that aren’t a few inches thick and that doesn’t have a door with a lock. And sleeping in a zippered bag on the ground…sorry, not happening.

Yes. I have experienced camping. The first time was back in Jr. high during a freak thunderstorm. Strangely, only my side of the tent lacked waterproofing. So, while my tent mates lay snoozing, I sat up all night, hovering my jacket over my head like a useless umbrella. A few years later, another camping trip came up at school. This time, parents were invited, and everyone was expected to bring a tent or a camper (if they had one). My family had neither, so we broke camp in our jeep. At bedtime, my sister claimed the front seat, and I slept in the back with my dad with the hatch open to accommodate his long legs. The next morning, I counted over 60 mosquito bites. No, not on all three of us. Just scattered over me like a blast of confetti on New Year’s Eve. Then, years and years later, my husband found a place to camp where we could stay in a rustic cabin. Hmmm. A real bed, sturdy walls, and a door that locks, you say? Yes! I can do this.

“Wait. You’re saying rustic means no place to plug in my hairdryer???”

Honestly, I’ve tried to love camping, and I understand the lure of sleeping in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nature, but after several tries, I’ve concluded that the most ideal way for me to camp is in a hotel (in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nature).

“Room service? Could you please send a bowl of strawberries and cream up to room #349? Thank you.”

Now that I’ve aired my feelings about camping with you, I am thrilled to share a picture book that stars a squirrel who feels very much as I do about this well-loved, outdoor activity.  Please welcome, Scaredy Squirrel!

Title – Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping

Written and illustrated by  – Melanie Watts

Published by – Kids Can Press – 2013

Suitable for ages – 3-7

Topics – Camping, expectations, fears, conquering fears.

Opening – Scaredy Squirrel never goes camping. He’d rather be comfortable inside than risk going out in the rugged wilderness. Besides, setting up camp seems like a lot of trouble.

Amazon Review –  View it HERE. Scaredy Squirrel is not too comfortable with the idea of camping … unless it’s on his couch! There will be no mosquitoes, skunks or zippers to worry about when he watches a show about the joys of camping on his brand-new TV. But first Scaredy must find an electrical outlet, and that means going into the woods! Will the nutty worrywart’s plans prepare him for the great outdoors, or will his adventure end up as a scary story told around the campfire?

Why do I like this book? Scaredy Squirrel is nervous about this new experience of camping. In fact, he’s so afraid, he brings along a television with plans of watching nature from the safety of his tree. But, one small problem surfaces… In nature, there aren’t any outlets. (Sound like someone you know?) After packing his survival supplies and getting into his protective, wilderness outfit, he treks out to the camping grounds in search of an outlet. armed with all his protective gear, supplies, plans, and maps – he goes on a trek to the nearby camping ground to find electrical outlets. As luck would have it, something unexpected happens. You’ll have to check out this book to find out what. With simple, adorable, and humorous illustrations, this Scaredy Squirrel book is a cover to cover winner! 

Want to learn a little more about Melanie Watt? Click HERE.

Perfect Picture Book Friday Looks at Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe

Picking up scraps of fabric from the floor and sewing table as my aunt measured and cut out pattern pieces for my clothes, thrilled me as a child. I would bundle up the useable pieces, meaning any scraps of fabric big enough to make something from, and save them in a big basket. At home, I’d drape the fabric pieces over my dolls, same as I had watched my aunt drape the larger pieces of fabric over me or her dressmaker doll, and fashion a miniature wardrobe. When I achieved the right look and style, I’d thread my needle and stitch the fabrics into dresses and skirts. As a new and very young seamstress, I hadn’t learned how to sew buttons, button holes, and zippers, so I kept the dresses and skirts closed on my dolls with a length of ribbon as a fancy sash.

Years later when I was about twelve, my aunt figured I had observed her long enough and was ready to cut out and sew something for myself. I started with simple skirts and shorts. Over time, I worked up to more complex shirts and dresses. When I can find the time, I still enjoy sewing. But these days, most everything I make is with love for my daughter. Some of you might have heard me shout out on Facebook when she announced, “By the way, Mom, I need a Belle costume from Beauty and the Beast for school in three days.” And…speaking of sewing gowns, today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday selection is Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe. 

Title – Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe

Written by  – Deborah Blumenthal

Illustrated by – Laura Freeman

Published by – Little Bee Books – 2017

Suitable for ages – 4-8

Topics – African American fashion designer, determination.

Opening – When she was old enough to thread a needle, Ann Cole Lowe’s momma and grandma taught her how to sew.

Wisps of cloth would fall from their worktables like confetti, and Ann would scoop them up and turn them into flowers as bright as roses in the garden.

Ann’s family came from Alabama. Her great-grandma had been a slave, so her family knew about working hard just to get by.

Amazon Review –  View it HERE. A beautiful picture book about Ann Cole Lowe, a little-known African-American fashion designer who battled personal and social adversity in order to pursue her passion of making beautiful gowns and went on to become one of society’s top designers.

Why do I like this book? On a personal note, I enjoyed reading a book about a designer who started her fashion career stitching scraps of fabrics she gathered in her mother’s sewing room–same as I enjoyed doing when I was a child. (However, my young seamstress days took me down a different path.) Ann Cole Lowe was an African American fashion designer who, because of her color, had to study alone in a separate classroom. Despite the unfairness, she pushed forward and continued to design one of a kind gowns, eventually earning enough money to open her own Manhattan salon where she was commissioned to sew a very special wedding gown. When wedding bells rang, it was for the future first lady of the United States, Jacqueline Bouvier Kenedy. The story inspires and shows, that with determination, anything is possible.

Want to learn a little more about Ann Cole Lowe? Click HERE.

Learn more about Deborah Blumenthal HERE.

Learn more about Laura Freeman HERE.

Perfect Picture Book Friday Looks at Bridget’s Beret

Relaxation wasn’t something my parents encouraged. To them, doing nothing wasted life. To this day, I can still hear their voices echo each evening, “What do you have to show for this day?” Translation: What did you accomplish? What did you create? And can we please see it? The one thing I did every day and loved to do every day was creating art.

Looking back at those days, whether I was at home, school, the bank, a restaurant, or in the backseat of the family car, I drew pictures of the world and people around me. I was never without paper, pencils, and watercolors. True then, true now.  And although I don’t illustrate my picture book manuscripts, I often sketch the actions of my characters to help me visualize them, see their environments, and make sure I’m changing scenes with my page turns.

The picture book I chose to review today stars Bridget, a young artist who believes she needs to wear a black beret – “The kind of hat that lots of Great Artists wear.” in order to make art. I wish I had known about the hat when I was a child. Like Bridget, I had an image in my mind of what artists should look like, but my image didn’t include that wonderful hat. I pictured an artist wearing a smock with more paint splatters than fabric showing, dried paint in many shades on the hands, and slightly disheveled hair that made the bold statement, “I’m too busy being creative to care about such petty details as my appearance.”  But enough about my image of what an artist looks like. It’s time to meet Bridget!

Title – Bridget’s Beret

Written by  – Tom Lichtenheld

Illustrated by – Tom Lichtenheld

Published by – Christy Ottaviano Books – 2010

Suitable for ages – 3-7

Topics – preconceived notions, art, creativity, confidence, artist’s block

Opening – Bridget was drawn to drawing. She liked to draw as much as other kids liked ice cream.

Amazon Review –  View it HERE.  Bridget loves to draw, and she likes to wear a beret for inspiration. So when her beloved hat blows away, Bridget searches for it high and low. She files a Missing Beret Report. She even considers other hats, but none of them feel quite right. It’s no use; without her beret, Bridget can’t seem to draw. How will she overcome her artist’s block?

Make sure to check out Bridget’s notebook scribbles at the end of the book for her thoughts and facts on art!
Bridget’s Beret is a 2011 Bank Street – Best Children’s Book of the Year.

Why do I like this book? Because I was much like Bridget when I was a child, (minus the beret) but bursting with artistic visions I drew on every sheet of paper, napkin, borders of homework, and backs of notebooks, I felt a kinship to this little girl who loses her hat and with it, the feeling she can no longer create art. The revelation Bridget experiences when she discovers her artistic ability lies inside her and not in the beret is a beautiful, triumphant moment for the reader. Yes, the reader. Because we see her artistic gift return long before Bridget does. And, when the neighbors believe the many lemonade stand signs she painted for her little sister are really advertisements for her art opening, the reader cheers louder still. Tom Lichtenheld, whom I recently had the pleasure of listening to at the SCBWI Spring Thaw Conference, has a powerful gift both as a writer and as an illustrator, and those gifts shine in Bridget’s Beret. (A picture book I’ll be adding to my shelf very soon.)

Learn more about Tom Lichtenheld HERE.

Perfect Picture Book Friday Looks at ‘Bear Hugs – romantically ridiculous animal rhymes’

If you were to ask my daughter if I’m much of a huggy person, she would offer you a rootbeer float and ask you to pull up a chair while she tells you exactly how much of a huggy person I am.

Me: Sweetheart, would you like to share any “Mommy hug stories” with my blog followers?

My daughter: Seriously? Permission to embarrass you? Woot!!!

Me: Easy does it, remember, I can still make your iPad disappear if you disclose too much…

 

My daughter: I’ll be nice. Promise. Ready? Here goes… There was the time when Daddy forgot to drag the garbage buckets out to the curb on time. When Mommy saw the truck leaving our court, she raced out and flagged it down. After the garbage man came back and emptied our buckets, Mommy gave him a thank you hug so big they almost fell into Mrs. Miller’s begonias across the street!”

Then, there was the time Mommy hurt her back pulling weeds right when the gardener showed up to mow our lawn. When he saw Mommy couldn’t move out of the flowerbed, he helped her into the house. Mommy’s back must have been feeling better just then because she gave him a thank you hug so big they almost tumbled back outside!

And then there was the time…”

Me: Okay, sweetheart, Mommy’s embarrassed enough, and my readers get the point. (You do don’t you?) Yes. I am a huggy person.

My daughter: Wait! Can’t I tell them about the time you hugged our neighbor because he…

Me: That story will have to wait because it’s time for me to introduce today’s book for Perfect Picture Book Friday – Bear Hugs!

Title – Bear Hugs – Romantically ridiculous animal rhymes

Written by  – Karma Wilson

Illustrated by – Suzanne Watts

Published by – Aladdin

Suitable for ages – 3-7

Topics – A collection of huggy, sweet, and romantic animal poems.

Opening – Since the Amazon review I included below is the opening poem in this book, I’ll offer you the second poem.

Pocket Full of Posies

A kangaroo hopped happily,

her pocket full of posies.

She gave her bouquet to a kanga-gent

who blushed from head to toes-ies.

Amazon Review –  View it HERE.

Rhino Mister and Rhino Miss

Gaze at the moon in rhino bliss.

They rub their rhino tusks like this.

And now you¹ve seen

Rhinocerkiss!

Why do I like this book? Honestly, when I read the title, the word ‘Hugs’ grabbed my attention.  I read and laughed my way through the clever, romantic animal poems, and knew I had to share this book with all of you for National Poetry Month. The author, Karma Wilson, knows how to title her poems to bring a smile like Pignic and Rhinocerkiss and Seal it with a Kiss. Clever poems plus kid-friendly illustrations make this book a must share this month.

Learn more about Karma Wilson HERE.

Learn more about Suzanne Watts HERE.

Perfect Picture Book Friday Looks at Glamourpuss.

Years ago, when my collection of pets consisted of a tank of fish, I might have said jealousy is purely a human trait. However, my viewpoint on this matter changed when we brought Max home to live with us. Max is a rescue dog that believes, deep in his heart, that he is a little boy trapped in a dog suit. When I first met Max at the rescue shelter, he strode up to me with his chocolatey brown, desperate, and watery eyes. I knelt to pet him, and he returned my kindness with a warm slurpy kiss over the back of my hand.

“He likes you!” The owner of the shelter beamed.

“You think so?” I twiddled Max’s ears and ran my hand down his soft fur.

Having only grown up with large dogs, I had zero experience picking up and holding a smaller dog. Do I flop him over my shoulder like a baby and rub his back? Do I sit him on my lap? Clueless, I decided to let the dog show me what he preferred. I picked him up like a child under his arms and took a seat. A moment later, Max flipped on his back, pressed his head against me, and went to sleep, cradled like a baby.

“We accept all major credit cards.” the shelter owner said. “How would you like to pay?”

I handed over my Visa.

Max remained “an only child” with us (if you don’t count the fish) for about a year. Then…

…we added the birds. Max sat on the sofa with his back to us. He became weepy when the birds received goodnight cuddles before him. Max was, in fact, jealous. Which leads me to today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday of Glamourpuss.

Title – Glamourpuss

Written by  – Sarah Weeks

Illustrated by – David Small

Published by – Scholastic Press – 2015

Suitable for ages – 3-7

Topics – Vanity, jealousy, drama, and friendship.

Opening – Once upon a pillow sat a glamorous cat named Glamourpuss.

Glamourpuss lived with Mr. and Mrs. Highhorsen in a giant mansion on the top of a hill where they were waited on hand and foot by a pair of devoted servants named Gustav and Rosalie.

Amazon Review –  View it HERE. Glamourpuss has it all. She has style. She has charm.  And she knows how to strike a pose.

Glamourpuss loves being the center of attention. So when an unwelcome guest (a dog, no less!) steals the spotlight with some tasteless bow-wowing and undignified tail-wagging, Glamourpuss worries that she’s going to fall out of fashion.

Is there room for only one superstar in this mansion? When Glamourpuss makes her most majestic move to find out, the result is pure purrfection.

Why do I like this book? The main character, Glamourpuss, is quite the spoiled feline! She has a fancy bedroom, diamond collar, and servants. And if this isn’t enough, her owners don’t expect her to catch mice or take part in any other cat-like activities. Glamourpuss’s singular task is to be glamourous. However, this prissy kitty gets a rude awakening when an unwanted visitor arrives. Soon, a pooch, trained to do tricks while wearing tacky clothes steals her show. I won’t spoil the ending. You’ll simply have to check out this super fun and super funny book to find out how these two unlikely pets set aside their differences to be friends.

The illustrator, David Small, does a fantastic job bringing all the shenanigans, emotions, and inner feelings of cat and dog to light with simple ink lines combined with a pallet of pretty watercolors. The one surprise element of his illustrations, used in the beginning pages, is the creative addition of photo collage.

Learn more about Sarah Weeks HERE.

Learn more about David Small HERE.

FUN FOR KIDS – Learn how to make an origami cat. Click Here.

Here’s a fun tutorial on how to draw a cat with the word “cat”. Click Here.

Perfect Picture Book Friday Looks at Arrowhawk – A Survival Story.

I’m sure you’ve gathered from reading my posts that animals, both wild and tame, wove their way through My childhood. And despite my father’s frequent complaints about bringing one more critter into the house, female persuasion, which when combined with tears, was powerful enough to win each of his arguments. Thus, there was never a day without feathery, furry, or scaly companionship.

The memory of one animal, in particular, has stayed with me–a wild mallard we found along the road after Thanksgiving. She had broken bones, deep punctures, missing feathers, and didn’t stand a chance of survival if we had left her. The duck moved into our house where we carefully tended her wounds and provided a safe place for her to heal and grow strong enough for release in early spring. Unfortunately, when that day arrived, our feathered guest hadn’t regained the ability to fly. While my father appeared grateful he no longer had to step in duck doo, my mother, sister, and I worried about the safety of our little friend. Because I’m currently writing this story with hopes of publication, I’m going to resist spoiling the ending for you. I’ll just say there were many happy tears. And now for today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday review about the survival of a different kind of bird.

Title – Arrowhawk

Written by  – Lola M. Schaefer

Illustrated by – Gabi Swiatkowska

Published by – Henry Holt and Company – 2004

Suitable for ages – 4-8

Topics – determination, courage, survival, nonfiction animal story.

Opening – Hawk, young and strong, soared high above an open field. His large eyes searched the dried grasses below. A mouse raced in and out of the stubble. Hawk swooped down, snatched his prey, and carried it to a fence post. Thre in the autumn sun, he tore and ate the mouse with his hooked beak.

TWWANGGGG! Out of nowhere, an arrow streaked through the air and pierced Hawk’s upper thigh and tail. He screeched in pain. A flash of movement on his left signaled more danger.

(Yes, I included a few lines from page two in this book, but you have to admit they hooked you. Right?) 

Amazon Review –  View it HERE. A hungry red-tailed hawk sits near a fence post and devours his catch. Out of nowhere, a poacher’s arrow pierces his body, seriously injuring him and leaving him to fend for himself.

This is the courageous true story of Arrowhawk-an endangered bird of prey who, with sheer determination and will, survives eight weeks in the wild with a poacher’s arrow through his thigh and tail. Stunning illustrations capture his remarkable journey from peril and rescue to eventual freedom.

Why do I like this book? From page one, the reader knows he or she is in for a quite a ride with the somewhat graphic kill of a mouse. (And, having kept mice as pets, might I add that it was most likely a sweet, twitchy-nosed, innocent, defenseless, little mouse?) Following this, we feel Hawk’s deep pain as a hunter’s arrow pierces his thigh and tail. Only for brief moments does the reader relax as Hawk learns to adapt to his unwelcomed circumstance. As he learns how to survive, more troubles come. The reader is taken on a challenging journey as Hawk proves to be a survivor no matter what troubles come his way. The acrylic paintings illustrating this story are unique in that they lend a softness to the pain we feel for this magnificent bird while fully revealing Hawk’s great strength, struggles, and eventual freedom.

Learn more about Lola M. Schaefer HERE.

Learn more about Gabi Swiatkowska HERE.

Because April is National Poetry Month, maybe write a poem about your favorite wild animal, place to hike, or first signs of Spring? Remember, poems don’t have to be long. You can limit yourself to twenty words or less. And, if you would like to, feel free to share your poem in the comments for National Poetry Month.

To get the ball rolling, I’ll start us off by posting my poem.

FIRST SIGNS OF SPRING

Spring has come!

Woodpeckers drum.

Rain brings puddles.

Earthworm huddles.

Robins arrived.

My tulips survived!

Perfect Picture Book Friday Looks at Pocket Poems

Perfect Picture Book Friday Looks at Pocket Poems for April’s National Poetry Month celebration!

When I was a child, I was introduced to poetry through my many picture books. Rhyming was a normal and natural way to tell an engaging story to children and continues to this day. I must confess that when I write picture book manuscripts, my poetry-trained ear from childhood kicks in, and I have to consciously force myself to write in prose. However, with Poem in Your Pocket Day nearing, I’m planning on releasing my inner poet and letting her rhyme to her heart’s content.

The 27th of April (this year – because the date in April changes each year) is National Poem in Your Pocket Day. Back in 2002, the Office of Mayor, in partnership with the New York City Departments of Cultural Affairs and Education added Poem in Your Pocket Day as a special day that is part of the city’s National Poetry Month celebration. Six years later, in 2008, the academy of American Poets took the initiative to all fifty United States. And eight years later, Canada joined the celebration in 2016.

To participate on April 27th, simply carry a poem in your pocket to share with others. This poem can be by your favorite poet, or it can be a poem you wrote. In addition to sharing your poem at work or at school, you are welcome to join others and post it on Twitter using the hashtag #pocketpoem.

And to offer some fun poems and possible poetic inspirations, I’d like to share a fun book with you in honor of Poem in Your Pocket Day.

Title – Pocket Poems

Poems selected by – Bobbi Katz

Illustrated by – Marylin Hafner

Published by – Dutton Children’s Books – 2004

Suitable for ages – 4-8

Theme – Poems on kid-friendly subjects and topics.

Opening –  Since this book is a compilation of poems, I’ll offer you the first poem in the book.

A Pocket Poem

With a poem in your pocket

and

a pocket in your pants

you can rock with new rhythms.

You can skip.

You can dance.

And wherever you go,

and whatever you do,

that poem in your pocket is going there, too.

You could misplace your homework.

You could lose your left shoe.

But that poem in your pocket will be part of you.

And nothing can take it.

And nothing can break it.

that poem in your pocket

becomes

part of…

YOU!

Bobbi Katz

Amazon Review – View it HERE.

This lively collection is packed with kid-friendly, “pocket-sized” poems of eight lines or less by such well-known poets as Eve Merriam, Karla Kuskin, and the anthologist herself, Bobbi Katz. The easy-to-memorize, pint-sized poems reflect many different facets of children’s lives and are embellished with witty, winning art by the beloved Marylin Hafner, making a package that will be welcomed by children and their teachers.

Why do I like this book? 

In addition to the lively, colorful, kid-friendly illustrations by Marylin Hafner, whose art includes imaginative and sometimes humorous touches kids will enjoy, the selection of poems by various poets, that were chosen byBobbi Katz, strongly speak to children. No matter the child, I’m sure there will be one poem, if not all 27, he or she will like (love).

Learn more about Bobbi Katz HERE.

Find more books illustrated by Marylin Hafner HERE.

A TEMPLATE FOR YOUR POCKET POEM – As an added incentive to write a poem of your own, I’m including a downloadable pdf file below.   So…

If you feel bold,

and you’re ready to rhyme,

jot down your poem.

You’ve got plenty of time!

Poem in Your Pocket Day

is three weeks away,

That’s more than enough

for you word rhyming play.

Pocket Poem Template

 

Perfect Picture Book Friday Looks at Bogo The Fox Who Wanted Everything

One of the traps I fell into years ago on my writing journey was to write in the style of other authors. I convinced myself that because their books were flying off the shelves, their voice was “the voice” to emulate. However, I have found the more I tried to capture someone else’s voice, the more the writing process challenged me.

Sometimes, the gift of the perfect idea for a picture book falls in my lap as if by magic. I’m inspired. Maybe the inspiration came from something my daughter said or one of my childhood memories–even better! And the result is the story very nearly writes itself. My fingers fly, my screen fills with words from my heart, and the voice is mine. Those are the manuscripts I love best and feel proudest of. It’s easy to believe that published authors have special talents, but as you’ll see in today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday review, everyone has special talents. Mine just haven’t been discovered by an agent or publisher yet. What’s important for me and for all writers is to keep writing the stories we believe in and to never lose sight of the dream.

Today’s picture book review looks at what happens when a fox envies the natural gifts and talents of his fellow forest friends and tries to be just like them. (Hmmm. That sounds familiar…)

Title – Bogo The Fox Who Wanted Everything

Written by – Susanna Isern

Illustrated by – Sonja Wimmer

Published by – NubeOcho, 2015

Suitable for ages – 4-8

Theme – Envy, jealousy, and self-discovery

Opening – Bogo the fox lived in the branches of a great big tree. This is quite unusual for a fox, but he was a very curious fox and from up there he could see everything much better.

Amazon Review – View it HERE.

Bogo watched many animals around him. Some of them were so incredible that they made him feel less special. One day he decided to invent amazing things so that he could have everything he wanted.
A pair of wings to fly like a bird. It never worked.
A pair of night glasses to see like an owl. It never worked . . .

Susanna Isern works as a child psychologist and writer. Most of her books have been translated into over a dozen languages. She has been awarded the Silver Medal in the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards 2013 in the United States.

Sonja Wimmer is a renowned international illustrator. Her books have been translated into several languages. In the United States, she received the Independent Publisher Book Award and was a two-time winner of the Moonbeam Children´s Book Award and International Latino Book Award.

Why do I like this book? Like an aspiring writer, trying out the voices of different authors to see which one suits him or her best, Bogo the fox envies the talents of his animal friends. By comparison, he feels he is without talent and therefore less special. He creates many inventions to help him in his quest to be like those he envies: wings like a bird’s, night-vision glasses to help him see like owls, jumping stilts to leap like frogs, and more. As you probably guessed, Bogo fails with each new invention. It isn’t until he masterfully saves his friends lives with his own natural talents that he realizes he is special too.

Sonja Wimmer’s bright, colorful, and playful illustrations add a level of humor that children will love as much as this picture book reviewer did.

Learn more about Susanna Isern HERE.

Learn more about Sonja Wimmer HERE.

Perfect Picture Book Friday Looks at Jane Goodall’s Book, Rickie & Henri

My mother was a compassionate woman who instilled in me her deep love and appreciation for nature. Whether we were hiking through the woods that surrounded our house, looking for first signs of spring, or whether we were rescuing a hurt animal, nature played a part in my life from my very youngest years on. Beyond my mother’s caring heart, what stayed with me over the years was the relationships she developed with animals.

Upon seeing a deer grazing in her prized garden at the same time each day, my mother didn’t seek ways to discourage the deer from visiting and nibbling her tender plants. She set out to tame that deer. Some of her friends from the Garden Club thought she was crazy not to buy deer repellant and save her precious plants. Instead, my mother saw this as an opportunity to befriend a wild animal.

She cut an apple into quarters and set out the pieces at the edge of the garden and watched and waited thirty feet away. The deer came out of the woods, sniffed the apples, and ate them. My mom continued feeding the deer this way for a week. The second week, she stood twenty feet away, always moving closer and closer to where the deer ate. After two months, my mother stood beside the apple pieces as the deer ate. The following week, the apple pieces were offered on my mother’s open palm. The deer accepted the apples and allowed my mother to stroke her hand down his neck. The gift of this unusual friendship took time and great patience and was clearly a memorable gift my mother gave to herself.

Friendships between humans and wild animals and friendships between different animal species are rare and wonderful, and that is what today’s picture book review is about.

Title – Rickie & Henri

Written by  – Jane Goodall

Illustrated by – Alan Marks

Published by – Michael Neugebauer Publishing Ltd. 2017

Suitable for ages – 5-8

Theme – survival, trust, friendship

Opening – Rickie was born in the rain forest of Central Africa.

For the first two years, she lived with her mother and the other chimpanzees of the community. Her mother was the center of Rickie’s world. She carried her from place to place; she comforted her when hse was hurting or frightened. Every hour or so–more often if she wanted–Rickie could drink the good warm milk from her mother’s breasts.

Perhaps she had an older brother or sister; perhaps her grandmother was alive. We shall never know.

Amazon Review –  View it HERE. Rickie the chimpanzee loved living with her mother in the rain forests of Central Africa, warm and safe. Until the day the hunters came and took Rickie away to sell at a Congolese market. Luckily, she was rescued by a kind man who adopted Rickie and cared for her. Best of all, he provided an unexpected friend in his dog, Henri. This true story of friendship is heart-warmingly brought to life by renowned scientist Dr. Jane Goodall.

Why do I like this book? The story, Rickie and Henri, was written from a truly loving heart. Jane Goodall skillfully places the reader in the emotional reality of a chimpanzee that has witnessed her mother’s death and is taken from the only life and home she knows. The journey is filled with challenges to overcome, and Rickie soon learns to love and trust again when she is taken in by a compassionate man and his dog, Henri, who eventually becomes Rickie’s dearest friend. The story, teamed with the tender illustrations of the very gifted artist, Alan Marks, will tug at your heart. Every emotion Ricki feels is on the page for the reader to feel, too. I found this book impossible to put down, and impossible to leave on the shelf without buying.

Learn more about Jane Goodall HERE.

Learn more about Alan Marks HERE.

Author interview with Janet Nolan Plus a review of her book, Seven and a Half Tons of Steel

As promised, today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday review comes with an added bonus… an interview with Janet Nolan, author of Seven and a Half Tons of Steel.

Last year on one of my many visits to the library, one of the librarians asked if I would be interested in joining her at The Anderson’s Children’s Literature Breakfast in February of 2017. The annual event features special guest authors and illustrators, a full breakfast, book talks, over 50 Illinois authors and illustrators, and book sales and signing! To sweeten the already amazing event, throughout the program, authors rotate from table to table, giving the attendees a chance to meet and ask questions.

I didn’t check my calendar, I didn’t take a moment to consider. I said, “Yes!”

The first author seated at our table was Janet Nolan. She set out a stack of her pictures books. Immediately, I recognized the titles of some favorites, which I have linked to Amazon below.

Seven and a Half Tons of Steel

PB&J Hooray!: You Sandwich’s Amazing Journey from Farm to Table

The Firehouse Light

A Father’s Day Thank You

The St. Patrick’s Day Shillelagh

And now for my Perfect Picture Book Friday review.

None of us will ever forget where we were when the tragic news of September 11th, 2001 was broadcast. Two airplanes struck the World Trade Center buildings in New York. Following that heartbreaking event, a seven and a half ton steel beam from the towers was given to the United States Navy to become the bow of the navy ship, the USS New York. The Story Janet Nolan wrote, follows the journey of that steel beam.

Title – Seven and a Half Tons of Steel

Written by  – Janet Nolan

Illustrated by – Thomas Gonzalez

Published by – Peachtree Publishers – 2016

Suitable for ages – 5-12

Opening – There is a ship, a navy ship. It is called the USS New York. it is big like other navy ships, and it sails like other navy ships, but there is something different, something special about the USS New York.

Amazon Review –  View it HERE. There is a ship, a navy ship. It is called the USS New York. It is big like other navy ships, and it sails like other navy ships, but there is something special about the USS New York. Following the events of September 11, 2001, the governor of New York gave the Navy a steel beam that was once inside one of the World Trade Towers. The beam was driven from New York to a foundry in Louisiana. Metal workers heated the beam to a high, high temperature. Chippers and grinders, painters and polishers worked on the beam for months. And then, seven and a half tons of steel, which had once been a beam in the World Trade Center, became a navy ship’s bow. This powerful story reveals how something remarkable can emerge from a devastating event.

Why do I like this book? Like many people, I was glued to my television after the devastating event on September 11th. For days and weeks, I followed every piece of news. But somehow, I missed something. I missed hearing about one steel beam from the twin towers that was transported, melted, poured into a mold, and given a new life as the bow of a navy ship.

Janet Nolan’s  powerful retelling of the repurposing of an enormous beam from the World Trade Center and of the many people who tirelessly worked on this project, some of which lost their homes to Hurricane Katrina, will stay with you long after you close the book. Illustrator, Thomas Gonzalez, adds his amazing talent to this book. His illustrations reflect the dark and sad feeling of September 11th and bring the reader into the heart of the fiery heat when the beam is melted into molten metal and on to the day with the USS New York sailed, proudly displaying its crest with the words “Never Forget.”

Learn more about Janet Nolan HERE.

Learn more about Thomas Gonzalez HERE.

And now for the interview with Janet Nolan.

Displaying R2215A_DZ3A2835_Janet Nolan_LoRes.jpg

Describe the path that led you to write picture books?

Well, it wasn’t a straight line. One day, out of nowhere, I decided to write a story. It was terrible, but I had so much fun writing it I decided to write another. That story was equally terrible, so I decided why not write another. I considered the stories I wrote the artistic equivalent of singing in the shower. Harmless, but fun. Seeing no reason to quit, I kept writing. I joined SCBWI. I joined a critique group. I attended conferences, started submitting, and just as quickly started getting rejected. Undaunted, I kept writing, but more importantly I started revising. Eventually, and I have to admit it took a while, I sold my first book. 

If you could go back and change anything along that path, what would it be?  

Without a doubt, it’s doubt. I’d like to say I no longer carry the weight of doubt (will I finish the next book; will I sell the next book) but I’d be lying. Doubt, it seems, likes to hover around.

Who were your favorite authors as a child?

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton

The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

The Box Car Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

What inspired you to write the picture book, Seven and a Half Tons of Steel

I was driving my car, listening to the radio, when I heard a brief story about the USS New York. I remember sitting in traffic being quietly amazed, surprised to learn steel from the World Trade Center towers had been used in the building of a navy ship. What struck me at the time, and has stayed with me ever since was the feeling that something positive and powerful had emerged from a tragic event.

I knew I’d discovered a story I had to write. And from the beginning, I believed this was a story about transformation and hope.

What surprised you most in your research for this book?

Finding interesting topics to write about isn’t difficult. The hard part is determining if the topic will make an interesting book. Facts are great, but what matters is the heart of the story within those facts. If I can’t find that, then I don’t have a story. But when I do, it’s amazing!

What first drew me to this story was the idea of transformation. How tragedy could be recast as strength and hope. In choosing what to include and what to exclude, I stayed close to the beam and followed it on its transformative journey. The book begins with the events of September 11 and the outpouring of emotion at Ground Zero, but when the beam leaves New York, the story follows the beam. 

What was the time frame for writing this book? 

I think it took me about a year and a half to write Seven and a Half Tons of Steel. I knew almost nothing about forging steel or shipbuilding when I began researching this book. Fortunately, other people did. I conducted phone interviews, read every news article I could get my hands on, watched countless news clips and videos, and was a frequent visitor to the ship’s website. I was touched by the generosity of librarians and retired military who were willing to guide me in the right direction and answer my many questions, big and small.

What is your favorite time and place to write?

I get my best writing done in the morning. I work out of my house and my computer is in my living room. I’m not sure it’s my favorite place, but it’s where I find myself. I don’t have an office, though a girl can dream.

What memorable experience would you have missed if you hadn’t become a writer? 

The gift of writing is paying attention. If I wasn’t a writer, who knows what I might have missed. Stories and ideas are everywhere. Conversations, radio, TV, articles. It’s just a matter of tuning my ears to the interesting channel. I’m always on the lookout for that special idea that sparks my imagination. 

If I hadn’t become a writer, I would have missed out on the incredible friendships I’ve made. Children’s authors are the kindest, most generous people one could ever hope to meet.

Which three authors would you like to meet for coffee? 

Betty Smith – A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Lois Lowry – The Giver

Katherine Applegate – The One and Only Ivan

What is the most challenging aspect of writing for children? 

Getting it right. Each word. Each sentence. The story. It has to be perfect.  

Can you share something interesting most people don’t know about you?    

I do my best thinking on walks. If you lived in my neighborhood, you’d probably wonder why that lady and her dog were circling the block again.

Many thanks, Janet. I greatly appreciate the time you gave to answer my questions.