A Wonderful Picture Book about Ramadan

Lailah’s Lunchbox is the perfect introduction to Ramadan for young students. Lailah is finally old enough to participate in fasting during Ramadan and she is very excited. Her mother writes a note to her teacher, Mrs. Penworth, explaining that Lailah should be excused from lunch in observation Ramadan. Lailah is worried that her teacher and classmates will think that she is strange for fasting or that they won’t know what Ramadan is, so she keeps the note to herself and acts as if she has forgotten her lunch. When her friend Anna offers to share her cream rolls with Lailah, she sits quietly and begins to second-guess her decision to fast.

Lailah asks to go to the library, where she confides in the librarian Mrs. Carman all that is on her mind. Together they come up with the perfect way for Lailah to open up to her teacher and to share with her all about Ramadan.

Lailah’s Lunchbox is a fantastic story based on Reem Faruqi’s own life experience moving to the United States and explaining what Ramadan is to classmates and friends in Peachtree City, Georgia. This story captures many different and important social issues, including moving somewhere new and different religions. This story emphasizes the humanity of the children and their experiences and promotes understanding and empathy of others.

Lailah’s Lunchbox is a must-have in every classroom library. It is the perfect read for kids ages 6-9. This year, Ramadan begins May 26 and lasts until June 25.

Click here to purchase a copy of Lailah’s Lunchbox (affiliate link).

 

A Fantastic Non-Fiction Series for Readers

A couple of months ago I had the opportunity to review Kid Artists… by David Stabler. I was so excited to find a captivating non-fiction chapter book for upper elementary and middle school aged readers. I was even more delighted to learn that there were more books in the series which includes Kid Presidents* and Kid Athletes*. 

Each book features true tales from a famous person’s childhood making it easy for readers to relate to them and deeply humanizing these important figures who would go on to become famous athletes of presidents. Readers do not need to know much about the person before reading the chapters. Instead of being grouped chronologically, they are grouped by a theme that connects them.

For example, read about Barack Obama’s experience being the new kid in town. He left his home in Hawaii as a young boy to live in Indonesia with his family. There he had a pet gibbon, a type of ape, that ate peanuts from his hand. As a kid, he had to adjust to many changes living in his new home in Indonesia and he faced a significant amount of bullying for looking different and not speaking the language. The chapter teaches about overcoming obstacles, standing up for yourself and encourages kids to become resilient.

  Though I am not a huge sports enthusiast, there are certain times that I am absolutely captivated by sports, including the Summer Olympics. I have a big fan of gymnastics and always amazed by the focus and dedication of the youngest athletes to their sport and art. Kid Athletes is perfect for readers who love sports and for those who have specific athletes they admire. I was obviously drawn to the chapter about Gabby Douglass, the first African American gymnast to win an individual all-around gold medal during the 2012 Olympics.

Her chapter is featured in the section of the book called Family Matters, which explores the important role family played in the childhoods of a group of athletes. As a young child, Gabby demonstrated an early aptitude for gymnastics which led to her joining a gymnastics gym with rigorous instruction and training. Here she encountered bullying due to discrimination and faced many racist remarks from her peers.

Gabby struggled to keep this to herself and it ended up impacting her performances. Meanwhile, her coaches accepted mediocrity at best from her and did not push her to excel in the way that she was fully capable. When she finally was able to connect with a coach who believed in her, she gained the courage to stand up for herself and her gymnastics career skyrocketed.

Each chapter of David Stabler’s books is carefully crafted in a way that is engaging and informative. Each has an important lesson that the readers can take away and apply to his or her own life. Doogie Horner’s illustrations add an element of comedy and help the reader envision what is happening in the text. The partnership between author and illustrator is perfect and I can’t wait to see what else this series has in store!

Click here to purchase a copy of Kid Presidents and Kid Athletes (affiliate links).

*I received complimentary copies of these books in exchange for my honest review.

 

The Grandest Canyon

Grand Canyon by Jason Chin is a phenomenal non-fiction picture book packed with the history and science behind the formation of one of the seven wonders of the world. More than just a large whole in the ground, the Grand Canyon is home to many different types of plants and animals. In fact the conditions vary so much from level to level of the canyon that each layer sustains a different type of plant and animal life entirely! How cool is that?

Jason Chin tells “the story” of the Grand Canyon as a father and daughter pair embark on a camping trip. Diagrams are great text features in helping the reader better understand complicated scientific concepts including erosion.

This book includes flashbacks in time so the reader can better understand how the Grand Canyon was formed by the movement of different bodies of water over time. For example, this illustration accompanies the description of what the Grand Canyon would have looked like 1.2 billion years ago when the only things living on Earth’s surface were tiny microbes. This mud would eventually transform into a layer of rock that became part of the canyon.

Grand Canyon is packed with many different lenses through which the reader can learn about this amazing natural phenomenon.  Jason Chin leaves us with a breathtaking four-page spread of the Grand Canyon that adds to the awe and wonder he inspires throughout the book.

Click here to purchase a copy of Grand Canyon (affiliate link).

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1596439505/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1596439505&linkCode=as2&tag=g505-20&linkId=288c64b0ee4ab7b68c0510fbb97797de

*I received a complimentary copy of Grand Canyon in exchange for my honest review.

The Power of Change

Allan Drummond’s Pedal Power is a non-fiction picture book that tells the story of how Amsterdam became the cycling capital of the world. This is a wonderful example of cause and effect or problem and solution text structure which is clear for readers from the onset.

When I travelled to Amsterdam while studying abroad in Spain many many years ago, I was taken aback by how prominent cycling was in this gorgeous European city. Pedal Power captures the energy of bikes buzzing down the wide streets.

Back in the 1970s Amsterdam’s streets were dominated by vehicles. Many beautiful buildings were being torn down to make room for wider streets and tunnels to accommodate all the traffic. The streets became too dangerous for cyclists. Young moms decided to take a stand. Led by Maartje Rutten, the dialogue about making the streets safe for everyone was ignited. People began congregating and protesting in conventional and more creative ways.

Overtime, they saw the impact of their protesting and change started to happen. Pedal Power encourages readers to not settle for the status quo but to take a chance and speak up for what you believe in. In this case, Maartje Rutten and a group of young mothers and children came together to make a change that impact not only their community but set an example for many big cities across the world.

Click here to purchase a copy of Pedal Power (affiliate link). 

*I received a complimentary copy of Pedal Power in exchange for my honest review.

 

 

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).