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A Chinese New Year Companion

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Whether or not you celebrate the Chinese New Year, there is a book sure to enrich the experience for a young reader. Chinese New Year Colors by Rich Lo (Holiday House, 2019) is an explosion of colors for your senses. Simple, yet beautiful illustrations introduce items of importance to the culture of the Chinese New Year celebration. Each item is presented on the right-facing page while the left facing page has the text for the color of the item both in English and Chinese as well as the Chinese characters for that color. Each item is depicted in one color only making for a stunning visual graphic. There are two pages of back matter, which give more detail as to why each particular item presented is important to the Chinese New Year.

Sharing books like Chinese New Year Colors with young children exposes them at an early age to the wonders and varieties of other cultures around the world. Such exposure creates positive feelings about differences and cultural diversity that help children grow into caring and tolerant adults, and that’s a great thing for their future as well as ours.

 

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Wishes for a New Year

Hello Dear Readers,

I hope that you all had a good holiday season with family and friends and have settled in to 2020 with dreams, plans to nurture what matters most to you, and lots of good books to read.

My family spent the holiday season totally out of character, in other words, not in chilly Virginia or Pennsylvania where all our previous holidays have been spent. Here are some views we had for a blissfully blue and green Christmas:

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We walked, swam, snorkeled, bouldered (Kevin), toured a mangrove via kayaks and stand-up paddle board (Mauri), held a jellyfish (yes, it stung, but only a little), rested, played lots of Spades and Euchre, sampled many Pina Coladas, watched pelicans and marveled at the power of the sea and surf. It was a wonderful respite. Each night we were serenaded by tree frogs on one side of the house and the surf on the other.  I really miss those sounds. If I focus intently I can hear the calls of the spring peepers and tree frogs that will soon serenade me here at Halcyon.

On either end of our trip I was working on the formatting of my newest book: The Hidden Life in Streams. This is a fiction book, but with people near and dear to me as characters. I have been a stream monitor for Virginia Save Our Streams for 20 years and I wanted to write a book that would introduce young readers to the special world of benthic macroinvertebrates. Originally drafted in December of 2017, and first submitted to a publisher in May of 2018, it has seen numerous revisions and submissions. I decided to self-publish it this past summer and had to get creative with illustrations. While I have a dream of illustrating my own book someday using watercolor illustrations, I am still at the beginning of this learning curve. For The Hidden Life in Streams, I used my own photographs that I digitally manipulated, along with some collage and colored pencil drawings.

Ways you can help:

Tell others (share this post) who have an interest in streams, citizen monitoring or macroinvertebrates.

Ask your library to carry a copy.

If you do read or buy a copy, please put a review on Amazon or Goodreads.

Partial proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to the education programs at Boxerwood Nature Center in my hometown. Boxerwood’s watershed education reaches hundreds of local students each year. Thank you for your continued interest.

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Ogilvy Delivers a Strong Message

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I was reminded of The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss when I read Deborah Underwood’s book Ogilvy, illustrated by T.L. McBeth (Henry, Holt & Co, 2019). It rhymes and bounces along, has simple, fun illustrations and a message that matters.

Ogilvy, a bunny, is new to town and heads out to meet friends only to find that they have to choose activities based on whether their outfit is a sweater or a dress. Ogilvy is smart though, and figures out how to do whatever they feel like each day until all the other bunnies demand they make up their mind about what their outfit is. The basic message is that appearances, namely clothing, should not define who we are and what we can do in life. If you like reading aloud, this book is a fun one – the kind that challenges your breath to keep up with the rollicking words. I love reading books like this aloud.

Ogilvy is as creative and engaging as all of Underwood’s books. It’s great for beginning discussions on gender norms and treating people based on their character and not their looks or socio-economic status. Underwood does not dumb down the text, and so your young reader will be treated to words like ruckus, boggled, obsessed, denied and garment. Lastly, there are two endings, a craft technique I love, and the story circles back to the beginning….almost. Ogilvy is both fun and meaningful, and perfect for empowering young readers.

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A Little Zen for the Holidays

 

img_20191212_144333993I have been writing seriously for children now for seven years and while I have learned much about craft and marketing and language, I am often reminded of how much I still have to learn. This doesn’t bother me actually. It’s like gardening, a process, and I don’t want there to be an end. I want to keep learning and growing. My most recent reminder of how much I don’t know came when I asked a friend to take a look at a book dummy I made.

I’ve been learning Photoshop to create the illustrations for my next book – coming soon in January! My friend mentioned that Jon Muth often uses his photos for his art, and oh, he writes picture books too. I didn’t know the name and once home, I looked him up.

It turns out I have seen an example of his work in city dog, country frog which he illustrated. I’m terrible with remembering names, and didn’t recall that I’d reviewed this book in 2014. I got a copy of Zen Shorts (Scholastic, 2005) and Zen Ties (Scholastic Press, 2008) and they’re both delightful. I’m sorry to not have discovered them sooner.

Zen Shorts has three tales adapted from Buddhist and Taoist literature embedded within a modern story of a panda bear and three children. The panda, whose name is Stillwater, is a Zen teacher to the children’s questions and ponderings about sharing, risk-taking and the burden of holding on to anger. Zen Ties uses the same characters and makes connections between anxiety, compassion and neighbors and especially how things are not always as they seem on the surface. Muth put a lot of thought into the execution of these stories and they are beautiful.

The stories really have a Zen feeling to them. Like a meditation, they bring clarity to some of the inconsequential things that I have the habit of moving to the forefront of life where they should not be. I daresay we all do this at times. In one tale a monk is fuming about how his fellow monk was rudely treated when he helped a woman of means cross a muddy path. The end of the tale is perfect:

“I set the woman down house ago”, the older monk replied.

“Why are you still carrying her?”

Wow. I need a panda bear Zen teacher in my life. But what would be even better would be reading these books to a young child and talking about them. Add a fire or snuggly blanket, some hot cocoa and time. That would be pure magic, a Zen-like holiday. I hope you try it.

Here’s a sneak preview of the cover of my next book:

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A BEEutiful Love Story

 

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I discovered The Thing About Bees: A Love Letter by Shabazz Larkin (Readers to Eaters, 2019) at the library this week. I was intrigued because I’m always pondering ways to engage people about the importance of all life, not just the charismatic megafauna in our midst. How to get others to appreciate snakes and spiders and wasps, oh my! I was also drawn to the cover art because his style is different than styles I usually gravitate toward.

Shabazz starts out with a simple graphic explaining pollination – although it goes beyond pollination to include fertilization and the production of fruit – and then he admits his/our fear about bees, because here’s the thing: they scare us, they can hurt us. Shabazz immediately switches gears to how we need bees and gets specific in non-didactic ways about what we would be missing. No mango smoothies, no tacos with avocados, no pickles without cucumbers. These examples and more get us to think beyond the empty grocery store poster that is popular now because the context makes it real.

Shabazz says he wrote this book because he did not want to pass on his “ridiculous fear of bees to his boys.” He feels, and I agree, that the more knowledge we have, the less fear we have about a subject. But that isn’t all Shabazz is doing in this book. Yes it is a love letter to bees, but it’s also a love letter to his boys. He connects them – boys and bees – in sweet ways for the second half of the book. In my case, Shabazz is preaching to the choir, but I think this book will help a reader who fears bees to begin to take steps toward a path with less fear and more acceptance. The world is so much richer and awesome when we understand how everything has a part to play. It’s all connected, our sweet, sticky, stingy and wonderful world. And that includes bees and children and us.

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The Sweetest Odd Animal Book

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Odd Animal ABC’s by June Smalls and illustrated by Claire Sedovic (blue manatee press, 2019) is a refreshing take on the typical ABC book and its usual cast of characters. Not only are new animals introduced to young readers, they each have a little back-and-forth banter with the typical ABC animal that they are ‘kicking out’. You’ll meet 26 odd animals including a fossa, numbat and a xenops.

This book is sure to send any animal lover to the library to find out more about the unusual animals Smalls presents. Sedovic’s pencil and watercolor illustrations are a delightful mix of realistic and whimsical, and she uses an equally pleasing color palette. Both make for an odd – aka unique – picture book sure to please kids and animal lovers.

I had the pleasure of meeting June recently at the Virginia Association of School Librarians where we were both selling books. This was her debut picture book. I think she’s got a wild and wonderful start with this book and I look forward to her next.

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Something to Be Thankful For: You! Remarkably You

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Before you gather with family and friends this Thanksgiving holiday, I suggest you find a quite moment to share a special book with your young reader. Remarkably You by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by Patrice Barton (HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2019) shows us one thing we can all be grateful for this Thanksgiving season. YOU – the reader that is. Maybe you are reading with a special small someone who might be wondering how they are special, how they can make a difference or a mark among all the other special someones. This book is a blueprint for them.

Barton’s soft, whimsical illustrations and Miller’s lyrical text take us on a journey of not just who we might be now, but also how we might become. Remarkably You allows readers to discover, explore, contemplate and dream because it encourages and empowers us all to see that we each have something unique we can offer to the world. This is done with numerous and delightful examples of children being and doing what they love.

I am grateful for all the creative picture books I come across every week, that I get to share them with you, and especially that I am slowly and steadily forging ahead on my dream to be a writer.

If you’re too busy cooking to read Remarkably You before company, I think it will make a sweet after dinner treat. Happy Thanksgiving!