When Small Gestures Become Great Gifts

Sidewalk Flowers was conceived by Jon Arno Lawson and beautifully illustrated by Sydney Smith. This picture book is a wordless wonder. A young girl dressed in a red is walking along the busy sidewalks with her distracted father.

The young girl is curious. While those around her are focused on where they are going, she notices the smallest of details. She suddenly she discovers two small yellow dandelions growing in between the cracks of the sidewalk and so she picks them. As they continue walking together she picks many different types of weeds and wildflowers, creating a beautiful bouquet in her hands. On their way through the park, the father and daughter pass a dead bird. She is compelled to leave some flowers to honor the small creature. Then slowly, she gives away the rest of the flowers. From a man sleeping on a bench to a neighborhood dog.

Sydney Smith’s pen and ink illustrations are composed primarily of white, black and grays. At first the girl’s jacket and the flowers are simple splashes of color, but each time she gives her flowers away, more color is added to the world around her. The story is told using a series of panels with varied perspectives.

Sidewalk Flowers is a stunning book that invites the reader on a journey along with a humble and empathetic protagonist. We are encouraged to slow down and notice our surroundings. We are inspired to be intentional in our actions and kind to others.

This picture book is perfect readers ages 3-10. Younger readers will enjoy looking at the beautiful illustrations and talking about what is happening in the story. Older readers can explore the more complex social issues that arise across the pages as well as the author and illustrator’s craft moves. What I love about wordless books like Sidewalk Flowers is that they are accessible to all learners.

 

 

A Perfectly Moving Book About Loss

 

  My Yellow Balloon by Tiffany Papageorge is a wonderful and touching picture book about loss, portrayed through the experience of a young boy losing his beloved yellow balloon. The story is set in the 1930s, a carnival comes to town and young Joey sees a balloon man selling balloons. The beautiful mass of balloons hover in the air, mesmerizing the young boy. Unable to select one, the balloon man picks a yellow balloon for the young boy and ties it to his wrist.

The yellow balloon becomes Joey’s companion, joining him on his various adventures. Then one day, the unexpected happens. The balloon slips off of Joey’s wrist. He has no choice but to watch helplessly as his friend and companion floats up and up, away from the young boy. He is devastated. All color drains from the illustrations to help convey the intensity of his sadness.

Across the following pages, he experiences a range of emotions from anger to sadness. But in his dreams, Joey and his balloon are reunited.

Time passes slowly and Joey goes from missing his balloon all of the time to a lot of the time and some of the time. The ending of the story is precious and powerful. Though Joey is never reunited with his yellow balloon, he learns an invaluable lesson about transition and loss.

My Yellow Balloon is an incredible picture book that tackles such an important social issue in a way that is accessible for kids. There are not many books that deal with loss in a way that is easy for all young readers to relate to.

The Caterpillar Corner had the opportunity to speak with Tiffany Papageorge about her book My Yellow Balloon, a conversation which left us in complete awe of a book we already fell in love with. Each detail of the illustrations is carefully crafted, and plays as important of a role in the story as the text itself. For example, the change in the color palette of the illustrations reflect Joey’s innocence at the beginning of the story and later validate the importance of his experience toward the end. Another example includes all of the toys in his dream are found in different scenes of the book, with the exception of the pink unicorn.

In speaking with Tiffany Papageorge, we talk a lot about the power of loss to transform us as individuals. This lesson comes across in such a sophisticated way through the pages of My Yellow Balloon.

Click here to purchase a copy of My Yellow Balloon (affiliate link).

For more information about Tiffany Papageorge, including her in-school programs, please visit her website.

The Journey

There has never been a more timely and relevant book that Francesa Sanna’s The Journey. It’s a powerful and moving picture book that captures the experience of a refugee family trying to find a new safe place to call home. The illustrations capture the emotional setting perfectly and help readers of all ages imagine how difficult this journey truly is.

Told in first person, The Journey, is about a young girl whose family used to do ordinary things like go to the beach every summer. But a war began and their lives changed forever. Everything became darker and more difficult, which is captured by the drastic change in the color scheme of the illustrations.

The mother begins to prepare her children to leave their home and everyone they know behind in search of a safe place. She maintains an optimistic tone and even presents it to them as an adventure.

The family quickly learns, “The further we go… the more we leave behind.”

When they finally arrive at the border, there is an enormous wall. They face many obstacles and hardships, yet they persevere. Surrounded by the scary and unfamiliar, the mother comforts her children and keeps them safe in her embrace.

The Journey takes the reader on the journey of uncertainty and danger that many refugees face today. It is an invaluable story of hope even during the darkest of times that will inspire empathy and compassion in young readers.

This book is perfect for readers ages 5-10. It explores important social issues including war, family and loss.

Click here to purchase a copy of The Journey (affiliate link).

*I received a complimentary copy of The Journey in exchange for my honest review.

 

 

Anorak Magazine Giveaway!

As a kid I loved receiving any kind of snail mail. I would have loved a magazine subscription, so when I saw Anorak for the first time I was so excited. From the bright colors to the creative illustrations, I had to get a closer look at this stunning magazine!

Anorak is the perfect read for kids ages 6-12. It features a variety of genres, from narrative fiction to non-fiction and some more interactive activities.

The issue of Anorak that I received was dedicated to cakes in honor of the magazine’s 10th anniversary. It included Pablo the Pastry Chef a very fun story about a young chef who dreams of becoming a pastry chef with some rather unorthodox ingredients. Much to his disappointment, his patrons keep opting for the vegetarian menu. Though he struggles at first, he learns that he just needs to find the right audience for his sweet, insect-filled treats.

Dot has the same stunning appeal of Anorak, but is intended for younger, pre-school aged readers. The illustrations are bolder and larger in scale. The theme of this issue is the farm and the entire issue connects back to this theme. The text is shorter and heavily supported by the illustrations. In addition, there are plenty of activities for kids to complete which include drawing, counting, labeling, and matching.

Anorak and Dot are quarterly subscriptions. The Caterpillar Corner and Anorak Magazine have partnered to bring you a very special giveaway opportunity. For more details click here.

*I received complimentary issues of Anorak and Dot in exchange for my honest

Teaching the Power of Positive Thinking and Acceptance

From a young age we are taught not to judge a book by it’s cover. When it comes to picking picture books, often times I do just that. I pick books to read because the title and/or the cover captures my attention. Abigail the Whale* by Davide Cali did just that.

As grown ups, we all know that kids can sometimes be cruel. We have all either had direct experiences with name calling ourselves or seen it happening around us. Abigail the Whale tackles this issue in a way that promotes resilience in the person who is experiencing the unkind behavior. It does so in a very powerful and thoughtful way, that will inspire readers of all ages.

When Abigail dives into the pool, she makes an enormous wave and the kids shout out, “Abigail is a whale!” She feels very self-conscious about the size of her body and the negative attention she receives because of it.

Abigail’s swim teacher takes the time to notice and check in with her about swimming. She confides in him that she is too big and heavy to be a good swimmer. That’s when he teaches her about the power of our thinking. If Abigail wants to swim fast, she should think light. Envision how you want to be and that will become your reality.

With this new perspective, things begin to change for Abigail. It is only once Abigail sees herself in a new light that the kids also begin to see her in this way. Abigail the Whale is an important read for all young readers because it not only teaches about empathy but also self-worth.

This picture book is ideal for sparking conversations about difference and teaching inclusion, but it also empowers kids to love themselves for who they are. Abigail the Whale is simply a must-have picture book in every classroom library.

Click here to purchase a copy of Abigail the Whale (affiliate link).

*I received a complimentary copy of Abigail the Whale in exchange for my honest review.

 

Dustin Hansen and his Microsaurs

Microsaurs: Follow That Tiny-Dactyl is the first book in a series about tiny dinosaurs living in a top-secret laboratory. The main characters are best friends Danny and Lin who stumble upon the existence of the Microsaurs when they follow a tiny pterodactyl home from a skateboarding competition. They track it back to a mysterious house that reveals a fascination with these prehistoric creatures. The reader learns quickly that Danny is brave and Lin is braver, so the duo decides to dig deeper and find out more about the mysterious creature.

Throughout the story the characters learn the importance of teamwork and making sacrifices for friendship. This is a fast-paced story that is engaging for readers ages 7-10 with an interest in science, dinosaurs and adventure.

The Caterpillar corner had the awesome opportunity to interview Dustin Hansen about his writing process for Microsaurs: Follow That Tiny-Dactyl.  We hope you find Dustin Hansen’s responses to our questions as delightful as we did!

How did you come up with the idea for Microsaurs? 

Ideas are magic.

They arrive in the most random, strange, unexpected ways imaginable. For example, I’ve had ideas come to me while eating Fruit Loops. Once I was on the phone with my boss and BLAMO, right there in the middle of the conversation a totally unrelated idea blipped into my brainbox. (Thanks brainbox, could you pick a better time?). They show up while mowing the lawn, watching TV, sleeping – seriously, it is the most unpredictable thing in the world for me, and I’m probably not alone in this experience.

For Microsaurs, I was in the hospital and I’d been there for nearly a week. Long story, I’ll keep the details to myself. But I was BORED TO TEARS and I started daydreaming. No TV, no books, nothing else there to distract me. I was minding my own bored business, when a little question pop into my thought-noggin. What if the dinosaurs didn’t go extinct? What if they shrunk so small that we sort of forgot about them? What if they were still alive today? Then the title Microsaurs drifted by and I GRABBED IT!

I guess what all of these idea things have in common is that they are present a lot in our mind-melons. We just need to know when to listen and recognize when a good one floats by so we can be ready to snatch up the good ones.

What kind of research did you have to do, and how long did you spend researching before beginning this book?

 

I love research. I do it all the time. Sure, some people might think it’s just me buzzing through YouTube watching “Who Would Win Animal Battle” videos and “How To Cook With Peanut Butter” clips, but there is something great about filling the idea vault with loads of cool stuff. I call this filling the well, and it really is an important part of my writing process.

For Microsaurs, I did a lot of free form well filling, but I also studied about different types of dinosaurs, dinosaur anatomy (for the illustrations), the science of evolution, the concept of shrinking items in a lab. All kinds of nerdy and neat facts. But I also read a LOT of other books that were similar to Microsaurs. You know, fun, adventurous books like Mo O’Hara’s Zombie Goldfish books. Studying other writers that are super smart and funny is the best way to learn how to write a good book.

So, yeah. Hard to tell how much time I spent. Somewhere between 44 years (I don’t really remember much from my first 3 years on the planet) and 44 hours.

Are you characters Danny and Lin inspired by real people? 

 

YES! Danny, well I’d be lying if I said he wasn’t a little Marty McFly and a little bit Jerry Seinfeld. So, yeah, he’s not really based on a real person, but I like how Marty kind of falls into the right situation in the middle of a whole lot of bad situations, and how Jerry is funny, but still the most normal guy on the Seinfeld show.

But Lin, she’s totally based on my daughter, Malorie. Mal is full of whacky ideas, has no idea what fear is, and is generally good at everything she tries to do. Lin (and Malorie) both love critters of all kinds, especially critters that pack a punch, have teeth and stingers, and are probably venomous. But even spiny, scratchy, stingy creatures need love, Am I Right?

How much time did you spend writing, revising and editing Microsaurs?

More time than I did writing it, that’s for sure. I think the first draft of the Microsaurs: Follow That Tiny-Dactyl, took about 1 month to write. Then I threw it away and started over from scratch. The 2nd attempt was much better because I knew the characters better, but that meant it took longer, probably 2 months. Then the big revisions started. Another 2 or 3 months of back and forth with my writing group, my wife, my editor, my agent. And then another couple of weeks after the story was complete just tweaking words and fixing grammar and spelling errors. I’d say about six months total, give or take a few forgotten days.

Oh, and yeah, the illustrations went through basically the same process. It’s amazing how similar drawing is to writing when it comes down to it.

How does your experience working in the video game industry influence your writing?

Video game storytelling is VERY different than writing a book. One major difference is that in video games, the player (reader) is usually the main character in the game and they get to make a lot of choices that the game designer (or author) can’t control.

However, making video games taught me so much about writing in so many ways too. I learned how important it was to challenge your game player and put him or her in tough situations. This is exactly what you should do in writing too, put your main character in the worst possible predicament and let him or her figure their way out.

But perhaps the most important experience I gained from working in video games was how to work with a big team to make one creative project together. Sure, my name is on the cover of Microsaurs, but it takes a lot more than just me for a book to make it on the shelves. A whole puppy pile of creative minds rolled around in the land of the Microsaurs over the year it took me to put it all together, and each one brought a special voice, idea, or direction to the book.

What type of books did you enjoy reading as a kid? Did you have a favorite children’s author or book?

I loved non-fiction books about science, mechanics, cooking (I know, I’m strange), and facts. I once fell in love with a book about small engine repair so much that I pretended to lose it so I didn’t have to return it to the book-mobile. (sorry). I loved the cut away drawings of the engines and reading about how they worked. Good stuff.

But I also loved reading stories about struggle and imagination. The BFG is a great example of this kind of book. As was Robison Crusoe, Tom Sawyer, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and Fantastic Mr. Fox. I adored all of those books, but perhaps the most influential book I read when I was young was Shel Silverstein’s Where The Sidewalk Ends. Every illustration was a masterpiece and the poems were not only clever, but smart. Still to this day I consider it one of my all-time favorite books.

If you could tell your younger self anything about being a writer, what would it be?

First of all, that I’d actually be a writer. My younger self would probably be very shocked, and perhaps a little disappointed to not be a cowboy.

Reading was VERY hard for me. I’m dyslexic, so I came to reading very slowly. Probably why I loved non-fiction tech books if I’m being honest. They were step by step, good slow digesters.

But, I was always a storyteller. I loved a big grandiose tale, and if I were going to go back and have a chat with wiggly little Dustin, I guess I’d read him this poem, because it wouldn’t have been written yet, but it is exactly the kind of dreamery I wish I would have known long ago.

“The Bridge”

This bridge will only take you halfway there 
To those mysterious lands you long to see: 
Through gypsy camps and swirling Arab fairs 
And moonlit woods where unicorns run free. 
So come and walk awhile with me and share 
The twisting trails and wondrous worlds I’ve known. 
But this bridge will only take you halfway there- 
The last few steps you’ll have to take alone.

  • Shel Silverstein – 2010

At the end of the book, Professor Penrod leaves a super secret video message for Danny and Lin, suggesting that their encounters with the Microsaurs are far from over!

Click here to purchase a copy of Microsaurs: Follow That Tiny-Dactyl (affiliate link). 

 

 

Humorous Valentine’s Day Reads

XO, OX A Love Story* is a hilarious story about an ox who is in love with a gazelle. It consists of a series of back and forth correspondence between the two characters, revealing Ox’s complete devotion and admiration of Gazelle and Gazelle’s gradual but undeniably growing fondness for Ox.

The story begins with Ox penning a letter to Gazelle declaring his love for her. Ox receives a standard response letter with his name hand written in. When he responds to that letter, he receives the exact same letter once again. Ox writes back pointing this out to Gazelle, which elicits a real response from Gazelle.

XO, OX is a hilarious picture book, which will have young readers laughing in no time!

 

Hug It Out!* by Louis Thomas is a must have for parents with two or more children. Woody and Annie are experts when it comes to fighting with one another. Mother grows tired of constantly reminding them to share or to be kind to one another, so she comes up with a new strategy, every time they argue, they will have to hug.

At first, Woody and Annie have a hard time remembering the punishment, but after hugging so many times they grow tired of hugging and want to avoid having to do it anymore.

The story along with the illustrations, which includes a sneaky cat, capture the tension that may arise in a typical sibling relationship on a daily basis.

XO, OX is a great book for kids ages 4-8. Click here to purchase a copy of XO, OX (affiliate link).

Hug it Out! is perfect for readers ages 3-7. Click here to purchase a copy of Hug it Out! (affiliate link).

*I received complimentary copies of XO, OX and Hug it Out! in exchange for my honest review.

 

Friendship and Imagination

Giselle Potter is a unique author and illustrator. Her books feature one-of-a-kind characters and tackle complex issues in a magnificent way. I was first introduced to Giselle Potter as the illustrator of Toni Morrison’s The Big Box. Her artistic style blends folk art and whimsy in a way that makes it easily recognizable as her own. Then I discovered The Boy Who Loved Words by Roni Schotter, which combines Potter’s illustrations with cut out words producing a lovely collage affect that contributes so much to the story. Needless to say, I was delighted to hear about This is My Dollhouse which is both written and illustrated by Giselle Potter.

The main character is a young girl who has made her own dollhouse out of different materials. She painted bricks on the outside of a cardboard box and divided the inside into sections which made up the rooms. Her family consists of a variety of figures, Daddy is a stuffed bear, and Grandma Mousey is a mouse.

My personal favorite is the elevator the twins ride up to the rooftop pool where they go swimming. The young girl takes great pride in her dollhouse as she has decided what to include and made it herself.

The girl’s friend Sophie also has a dollhouse, but Sophie’s dollhouse is store-bought and perfect. Every detail was decided for Sophie and so she has a hard time imagining the world for her dolls apart from what she has already been provided by the toy company. When the girl tries to make suggestions, Sophie resists. This creates tension between the two girls.

When Sophie comes over to play, the girl covers her dollhouse. She is nervous that it is not “perfect” like her friends. In fact she hides it beneath a blanket and hopes it goes unnoticed.

This is My Dollhouse is an inspiring picture book that promotes imagination, play and creative problem solving. It invites kids to make their own toys and dream up their own stories rather than playing in the worlds that are imagined for them by others. This is a remarkable picture book that is a must have for all kids.

Click here to purchase a copy of This is My Dollhouse (affiliate link). 

*I received a complimentary copy of This is My Dollhouse in exchange for my honest review.

 

 

A Must-Have Non-Fiction Chapter Book

As an upper elementary school teacher, it’s hard to find interesting and well-written non-fiction texts for kids ages 8-12. Non-fiction books for younger readers are easy to find, with amazing authors like Seymour Simon and Gail Gibbons. For middle-school-aged students, there are plenty of narrative non-fiction chapter books that are engaging. But for the middle-level reader, there seems to be an absence of rich, substantive non-fiction books for them to grow their skills as readers of this genre.

That’s why I get SO very excited when I discover a non-fiction book that is not only interesting and well-written, but perfect for this age group. Kid Artists: True Tales of Childhood From Creative Legends is one of these books.

Kid Artists… by David Stabler focuses on the childhoods of the most well-known artists, their lives before they became famous. The reader does not even need to know who the artist is in order to appreciate their experiences growing up. This book humanizes the legends, from Dr. Seuss to Keith Haring.

Each chapter features a different artist and the book is organized into three different sections: Call of the Wild, It’s a Hard-Knock Life, and Practice Makes Perfect.

For example, Georgia O’Keefe’s chapter is in the section Call of the Wild because she grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin and drew so much of her inspiration from nature and the world around her. In her childhood, Georgia O’Keefe challenged gender norms, from her favorite pastimes to her preferred clothing. Readers can easily relate to the competitive dynamic among siblings as well as receiving and responding to academic criticism. For Georgia O’Keefe, art became a way of expressing herself and communicating with others.

 

Kids will be delighted to read the chapter about Ted Geisel, more commonly known as Dr. Seuss. Ted Geisel grew up near a zoo and he spent a lot of time as a child studying and drawing animals, though his drawings did not resemble the real living ones. His animals were imaginary and wonderful. Word-play was also a big part of his upbringing, which contributed to his interest in language.

When the U.S. went to war with Germany, Ted Geisel became the target of teasing for being a German-American. He stood up to the bullying and became determined to demonstrate his patriotism. Kids will learn about the importance of advocating for social justice and how Ted Geisel’s own experiences with discrimination and intolerance influenced his work as a children’s book creator.

There are so many aspects of Kid Artists that make it a strong non-fiction book. It is ideal in that it is organized into sections and chapters. Kids can examine why the author made the decision to arrange the book this way and how each chapter connects to the greater section. Within each chapter, readers can be challenged to examine the cause and effect relationships, how events or experiences in each artist’s childhood impacted his/her later work. Not to mention, readers do not have to read this book from beginning to end, they can use the table of contents to decide what chapters are interesting to them and read just those sections.

Doogie Horner’s illustrations are peppered throughout each chapter. They support the text, helping the reader envision elements of the text, while adding elements of humor to keep the reader engaged.

*I received a complimentary copy of Kid Artists: True Tales of Childhood From Creative Legends in exchange for my honest review.

 

Click here to purchase a copy of this book (affiliate link).

 

 

The Perfect Chapter Book for Friday the 13th

Warren the 13th is a peculiar 12-year-old boy and heir to the Warren Hotel. Saying he is hardworking is an understatement as he is the hotel’s bellhop, waiter, groundskeeper, and chimney sweep, among his huge list of other responsibilities. His father, Warren the 12th, passed away years ago and since he was too young to be in charge his uncle Rupert came to run things. Sadly for Warren, his uncle is rather lazy and at times exhibits evidence of narcolepsy, which led the hotel to fall quickly into disrepair.

One day a mysterious and unexpected guest arrives. His face is wrapped in bandages and he communicates by using a deck of picture cards. Despite how overwhelmingly strange this guest is, Warren does his best to be a great bellhop, welcoming him even though he seems unappreciative and impatient. Warren gives him the not so original nickname of Paleface.

When Warren’s wicked step-aunt Annaconda learns of the new guest’s arrival, she becomes irritated and paranoid. She asks many many questions and then starts asking if he mentioned the All-Seeing Eye, a mysterious treasure that is rumored to be hidden inside the hotel. We quickly learn that Annaconda is cruel, reminiscent of many of Roald Dahl’s evil characters, including the Twit and Miss Trunchbull. And thus begins the search for the All-Seeing Eye, each character trying to find it faster than the other.

Warren the 13th* is a clever and quirky book that fuses adventure and humor. The reader must pay close attention to small clues and keep track of details throughout this fast-paced chapter book. The Edward Gorey-esque illustrations by Will Staehle are really captivating and add to the emotion of the text.

Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye is perfect for kids ages 8-14. This book would be a huge hit in my 4th grade class as a read aloud, and my 5th graders would have loved to read it independently. Click here to purchase a copy of the book (affiliate link). 

*I received a complimentary copy of Warren the 13th in exchange for my honest review.