Category: DIY projects

PPBF Looks at The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County

Perfect Picture Book Fridays Looks at The Chicken-Chasing Queen by Janice N. Harrington.

Maybe I’m drawn to books that take me into the heart of farm country because I grew up next door to relatives that had a small farm. (By small, I mean for their own needs and ours.) My aunt and uncle planted one row of sky-tickling corn, a row of plump peas ready to pop from their sun-warmed pods, a row of pungent-tasting peanuts that tasted less than awful until they were roasted, a raspberry patch with plenty of pokey thorns to protect the juicy berries, and a squawking, clucking coop of hens that lay enough eggs to retire on.

Why I like this book – When I found the picture book, The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County by Janice N. Harrington, I knew I held a book I had to add to my shelf. And no, my reason for purchasing this uplifting book wasn’t entirely based on my love of farmland and chickens. Ms. Harrington has a gift for word choices that surprised and delighted me.

If a writer hopes to captivate the reader, it’s critical he or she chooses the perfect word or words to describe something. It’s not enough to say your character’s teeth are white as snow. Similes work best when they relate to the setting the story takes place in. The following, partial sentence from today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday selection illustrates this well.

Soon as I wake up, wash away the dreaming, and brush my teeth whiter than a biscuit…

Whiter than a biscuit. I can’t think of a better comparison. And the book continues to surprise with countless, perfect similes, metaphors, and thoughtful verbs throughout.

In addition to a fast-paced, fun story, the illustrations by Shelley Jackson further enhance the reading enjoyment. Ms. Jackson’s collages combining paintings with cut and torn paper, fabric and lace lend a country charm to this kid-friendly book.

The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County

Written by – Janice N. Harrington

Published by- Melanie Kroupa Books – Farrar Straus Giroux, 2007

*Suitable for – 4-8

*Topics/Theme – Sometimes, an unexpected outcome can be just as good as getting what you want.

*Opening –  I’m the Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County. Big Mama says, “Don’t you chase those chickens. If you make those girls crazy, they won’t lay eggs. You like eggs, don’t you?’

Big Mama says, “Don’t you chase those chickens. If you make those girls crazy, they won’t lay eggs. You like eggs, don’t you?’

But I don’t care. Soon as I wake up, wash away the dreaming, and brush my teeth whiter than a biscuit, I always do three things: eat breakfast, tell stories to Big Mama, and–when Big Mama isn’t looking–

Synopsis from Amazon – Meet one smart chicken chaser. She can catch any chicken on her grandmother’s farm except one – the elusive Miss Hen. In a hilarious battle of wits, the spirited narrator regales readers with her campaign to catch Miss Hen, but this chicken is “fast as a mosquito buzzing and quick as a fleabite.” Our chicken chaser has her mind set on winning until she discovers that sometimes it’s just as satisfying not to catch chickens as it is to catch them.

A fresh voice full of sass and inventive, bold collage illustrations full of surprises creates a childlike escapade brimming with funny high jinks that lead the reader on a merry, memorable chase.

The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County is a 2008 Bank Street – Best Children’s Book of the Year.

Janice N. Harrington’s website.

Shelley Jackson – illustrator

To find other perfect picture books please visit Susanna Hill’s Blog.

Art Project – After reading this book, have children collect magazines and catalog their parents are fine with them cutting up along with feathers, buttons, dried pasta, fabric scraps, crayons, cardboard, colored paper and glue sticks. When all their supplies are gathered, they can cut and paste a collage of their own, using today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday choice, The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County, as their inspiration.chicken-chasing-queen-story

Perfect Picture Book Friday Looks at Diversity and Friendship in 'My Two Blankets'

For today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday, I’m looking at My Two Blankets, a book that combines diversity with friendship and understanding.

But to begin…a little story from my childhood that ties into my book review.

Having grown up with a mother who spoke only German and a father who spoke only English, I learned both at once and somehow managed to keep the two languages apart. And, in answer to your question, no matter which parent spoke to me, I always answered in English.

It wasn’t until I was four, traveling to visit my grandmother in Germany with my mother and older sister, that speaking English became a problem. The children in my grandmother’s neighborhood didn’t want to play with me because they didn’t understand English. I ran inside, miserable because I couldn’t make friends. My mother reminded me that I could understand her and therefore, must be able to speak German. “Go back out there,” she said, “and speak German with the children.”

Needless to say, the kids at the playground couldn’t understand how I learned their language so quickly. But from that moment on, the German children and I were able to share our stories and cultural differences (clothes, games, favorite meals, holidays, etc…), and friendships were quickly made.

For quite a while, I spoke only German. According to my parents, it took three months before I started speaking English again.

A language barrier can get in the way of making friends, the solution is to find a way to bridge that gap, and that is the main theme for my perfect picture book Friday review.

Title – My Two Blankets – view on Amazon HERE.

Written by – Irena Kobald

Illustrated by – Freya Blackwood

Published by – Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – 2014

Suitable for ages – 4-8

Topics/Theme –  Diversity, understanding, and friendship.

Opening – Auntie used to call me Cartwheel. Then came the war. Auntie didn’t call me Cartwheel anymore. We came to this country to be safe. Everything was strange. The people were strange. The food was strange. The animals and the plants were strange. Even the wind felt strange.

Amazon Review – Cartwheel moves to a new country with her auntie, and everything is strange: the animals, the plants—even the wind. An old blanket gives Cartwheel comfort when she’s sad—and a new blanket just might change her world.

This multicultural story of friendship is about leaving home, moving to a foreign and strange place, and finding a new friend. It’s a story for all who have experienced change. Irena Kobald’s poetic text, paired with Kate Greenaway medalist Freya Blackwood’s powerful paintings, renders an emotional and heart-warming story about two children from diverse backgrounds coming together to become new friends.
Why do I like this book? I like that the story doesn’t  begin with Cartwheel’s new life in America. Instead, the book offers readers a look at how different Cartwheel’s world was. In a double-page spread, we are greeted with a warm illustration, depicting a region where the days are all seemingly hot. This is a place where villagers in draped, cotton clothes carry pots on their heads, tend livestock, and live in sand-colored huts. Clearly, Cartwheel’s world has been turned upside down. Not understanding what people are saying, Cartwheel wraps herself in a metaphorical blanket of familiar words and sounds. One day, a girl at the park teaches Cartwheel English words, thus closing the language gap and opening up the start of a wonderful friendship. As a result, Cartwheel forms a new metaphorical blanket made from the new words and sounds in America.

Learn about Irena Kobald HERE.

Learn about Freya Blackwood HERE. Please note, this link takes you to a marvelous blog post in which the very talented illustrator talks about the pictures she created for this book.

Find more Perfect Picture Book Friday reviews at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog HERE.

Activities to do with children – With paper, colored pencils, crayons, scissors, and glue, children can make their own blanket of words and images that define them, the country they live in, and their home. Cut 4-inch squares from colored or plain paper. On each square, have children write a word or draw a picture of something meaningful: a picture of their family, the house they live in, their pets, and words that describe them and their interests. Cutting pictures out of (parentally approved) magazines and gluing them to the squares is another option. Paste the pictures to a  poster board to form a quilt.

Perfect Picture Book Friday Looks at The Room of Wonders

Perfect Picture Book Friday (PPBF) looks at The Room of Wonders by Sergio Ruzzier.

Writing or editing one of my picture book stories is my favorite way to spend a day. And although I am still anxiously waiting for one of my submissions to attract the attention of an agent, I never let a written or silent rejection dampen my spirits. “Okay,” I say, “so Ms. Dream Agent didn’t connect with my humorous story about the dog with the poorly timed hiccups, maybe I’ll submit again and see if she prefers my Candy Land meets Willy Wonka counting book.” My point is that I keep trying. However…

a number of years ago, I let the words of one person turn me away from what I love.

I decided to send one of my manuscripts to a professional editor for a sizable fee. The story was close to my heart and took the better part of two years to complete. When the critique came back, I was devastated. The editor began her letter briefly telling me how much she enjoyed reading my story. She followed this with pages of the harshest criticism I ever read. Some comments mocked my work. What’s the point, I thought. Maybe she’s right. That story file stayed closed on my computer because I let the editor’s harsh words fill me with doubt.

In the years that followed, I took many writing seminars, attended writing conferences, joined a critique group, and kept writing. One morning, I thought about the characters from that story. I remembered how much I enjoyed being with them. I opened the file with a fresh heart, once again believing in myself, ready to put my years of gained knowledge to work. This brings me to the touching and sensitively illustrated picture book, The Room of Wonders.

Title – The Room of Wonders – view on Amazon HERE.

Written and illustrated by – Sergio Ruzzier

Published by – Francis Foster Books – Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York 2006

Suitable for ages – 3-7

Topics/Theme –  collections, confidence, and inner-happiness.

Opening – Pius Pelosi was a pack rat, and he collected things. On long walks through the forest, he found twisted roots, interesting twigs, leaves, feathers, and sometimes a skin left behind by a snake.

Amazon Review – Pius Pelosi, a young pack rat, is a born collector who fills a
room with his marvelous findings, attracting curious visitors. His very favorite item, a plain gray pebble, is given a place of honor, which baffles everyone. They all ask why he would keep such an ordinary stone. Bowing to public opinion, Pius gets rid of it, but in doing so, he discovers he’s lost much more than just the pebble.

Why do I like this book? In picture books, the main character should change, improve, or grow in some way. Sergio Ruzzier clearly illustrates this when he presents us with a completely lovable, little critter named Pius Pelosi. Pius loves to collect treasures, but when visitors viewing his collection question why he keeps an ordinary gray pebble – the very first and most favorite treasure in his collection, Pius believes his visitors must all be right. He succumbs to their feelings and tosses out the pebble, a decision that destroys his love for the remaining treasures. Then one day… Pius discovers another gray pebble and remembers why he liked his first gray pebble. Happiness returns and he begins to collect treasures again. Children reading this story will learn to stand up for what they love, believe, or treasure. Hopefully, they will never allow the negative opinions of others to overshadow their own precious feelings.

Learn about Sergio Ruzzier HERE.

Find more picture book reviews at Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog HERE.

Activities with children – Ask children what items they like to collect. Can they relate to Pius Pelosi in The Room of Wonders who turns items he discovers along his path into treasures? What do they believe would make a good collection?

If the items in a child’s collection are small, you could help them make a shadow box to display their treasures. Shadow boxes can be purchased at craft stores or upcycled from shoe boxes.

PPBF Looks at The Tea Party in the Woods

A picture book about a tea party touches a special place in my heart, especially a tea party with marvelous, unexpected guests like in the PPBF (Perfect Picture Book Friday) book I am reviewing today – The Tea Party in the Woods by award-winning, Japanese author/illustrator, Akiko Miyakoshi.

Since my daughter was three, we have enjoyed many imaginative tea parties up in her room. I spread a lace table cloth on her round play table, bring up a brimming tray of sweet treats, assortment of fruit and minty teas, my favorite vintage tea cups, a painted tea pot, a jar of honey, and decorative napkins. Then, I take my place at the table and anxiously await my surprise guest. Sometimes my daughter wears an outlandish hat and scarf and sunglasses and tells me she is a movie star from one of my favorite movies. Other times she carries a small handbag, slips her feet inside my wedding shoes, and enters as the Queen of England (speaking with an English accent). She joins me for high tea, and we pretend we’re the oldest and dearest of friends. Of course, we have oodles to catch up on. So having found the enchanting fairy tale picture book, The tea Party inthe Woods, I quickly added it to my bookshelf of very favorite picture books and chose to share it with you today for Perfect Picture Book Friday. I hope you will love this tender tale as much as I do.

Title – The Tea Party in the Woods – view on Amazon here.

Written and illustrated by – Akiko Miyakoshi

Published by – Kids Can Press – 2015

Suitable for ages – 3-7

Topics/Theme –  Friendship, sharing, and kindness.

Opening – That morning, Kikko had awoken to a winter wonderland. It had snowed all night.

That morning, Kikko had awoken to a winter wonderland. It had snowed all night.

Now her father was off to Grandma’s house to help clear the walk.

“Is this the pie for Grandma?” Kikko asked her mother, spotting the box near the door.

“Oh, dear,” her mother said. “Your father forgot it.”

“I can still catch up to him,” said Kikko.

“All right, but hurry.”

Jacket copy  – One snowy winter’s day, Kikko sets out to bring a pie to Grandma. When she happens upon a strange house in the woods, the most surprising guests invite her inside for  a tea party. Kikko can hardly believe her eyes….

Amazon Review – When a young girl named Kikko realizes her father has forgotten the pie he was supposed to bring to Grandma’s house, she offers to try and catch him as he makes his way through the woods. She hurriedly follows her father’s footprints in the snow and happens upon a large house she has never seen before. Curious, Kikko peers through the window, when she is startled by a small lamb wearing a coat and carrying a purse. Even more surprising, the lamb speaks, asking her in a kind voice, ?Are you here for the tea party?? Suddenly, Kikko realizes her trip through the woods has turned into something magical.

A Tea Party in the Woods

Why do I like this book? I first discovered this book when I was scrolling through my Facebook feed. One of the writers I follow posted an illustration from The Tea Party in the Woods and, without knowing what the story was about, I ordered the book. Yup! One illustration by the very talented, Akiko Miyakoshi sold me. I knew If one picture could enchant me, a whole book filled with her beautiful and sensitively created illustrations would knock me head over heels with joy. And I was right. To increase the pleasure of this book, the story is an original fairy tale about possibility. Magical, surreal possibility. Akiko’s selective and minimalistic use of color directs the eye to special details in her illustrations. I can only believe that to create such thoughtful and tender images, she must have had an enchanted and lovely childhood.

Visit Akiko Miyakoshi here.

Discussion with children – The ambiguous ending of this fairy tale leaves the reader wondering whether Kikko imagined the tea party or if the animals disappeared back into the woods. This opens up a wonderful discussion with children on what they believe happened.

DIY Tea Party Hat craft projects to make with children.

No tea party could be complete without the addition of a party-perfect, tea party hat. Here are some DIY blog posts to get you started!

Decorative and fun-to-make-with-kids, newspaper and flower tea party hat HERE.

A paper-mache, floral, tea party hat HERE.

Unbelievably cute tea party hats from paper bowls, pipe cleaners and tissue paper HERE.

I hope you enjoyed today’s post. See you back here soon!

PPBF Looks at Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs

For this Friday’s PPBF (Perfect Picture Book Friday), I would like to share with you one of my very favorite picture books, Goldilocks And The Three Dinosaurs, written by one of the most beloved authors and illustrators around–the very talented, Mo Willems.

I have a good number of books by Mo Willems on my shelf, but today’s book has an element I absolutely love…a narrator with a snarky personality. Mo Willems has taken a well-known story and given it a boost of creativity, originality, and blatant honesty. My favorite page in this book, hands down, comes when the narrator says, “Sure enough, five minutes later a poorly supervised little girl named Goldilocks came traipsing along. When I read that, I not only laughed myself off my chair, but I realized how true his statement is. Cover to cover, Mo Willems gives us a picture book reading experience that is a true treat.

Title – Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs – view on Amazon here.

Written and illustrated by – Mo Willems

Published by – Balzer + Bray, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, 2012

Suitable for ages – 4-8

Topics/Theme –  Fractured Fairy Tale with loads of humor

Opening – Once upon a time, there were three Dinosaurs; Papa Dinosaur, Mama Dinosaur, and some other Dinosaur who happened to be visiting from Norway.

Jacket copy  – Once upon a time, there were three Dinosaurs; Papa Dinosaur, Mama Dinosaur, and some other Dinosaur who happened to be visiting from Norway.

One day–for no particular reason–they decided to tidy up their house, make the beds, and prepare pudding of varying temperatures. And then–for no particular reason–they decided to go…someplace else. The were definitely NOT setting a trap for some succulent, unsupervised little girl.

Definitely not!

This new take on a fairy-tale classic is so funny and so original–it could only come from the brilliant mind of Mo Willems.

Amazon Review – same as above. Read it here.

Why do I like this book? I love fairy tales and I also love fractured fairy tales–there are many to read, but when I need a big dose of laughter, this is a book that delivers page after page of giggles.

Visit Mo Willems here.

Playing with puppets is an activity my daughter has enjoyed for years. So when I went searching the internet for an activity to go with today’s picture book review, I was happy to find this creative craft project over at the wonderful blog, the Messy Little Monster which turns wood spoons into puppets. Head on over for instructions on how to make these fun spoon puppets. I’ll bet a set of wooden spoons could be painted to look like dinosaurs, too…

Goldilocks and the Three Bears Spoon puppets for pretend play

Perfect Picture Book Friday looks at 'Extra Yarn'

Extra YarnPerfect Picture Book Friday looks at the Caldecott Honor book, Extra Yarn, written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen. And, as a fun addition, I have included a link at the end of this post to help you learn to knit as well as a link that teaches you to make a fun DIY yarn bowl.

When I was twelve, my mother decided I was old enough to learn how to knit. After receiving a marvelous wardrobe of patterned ski sweaters, pants, and jackets for my Barbie dolls over the years, I was eager to learn at my mother’s side. I watched as she quickly cast on. Her fingers did what I fondly refer to in knitting as ‘the dance’. The yarn moved slowly, smoothly, and steadily over her fingers as the piece grew longer and longer. When it was my turn, I took the knitting needles in hand and created something quite extraordinary. I made a creation that fell somewhere between a cobweb and a hairball. Mom gave up and I returned to sewing, a skill I had far greater success with.

As the years passed, and I grew up and married, I came by a yarn shop with a poster in the window, advertising their Saturday Afternoon Knitting Class. I decided to give knitting another chance. Since the teacher would be paid to teach me, maybe she’d have more patience…

The process was different from my mother’s. I learned there are many ways to knit, and the method taught in this class made sense to me. Before long, I had knit scarves for the family, knit and felted purses and house slippers and stuffed animals. My husband, who often sat beside me, watching as I knit, surprised me one day.

“I’ve been watching you,” he said. “And I think I know how to knit.”

“Sweetheart,” I said, “don’t get discouraged if your first attempts look like a cross between a cobweb and a hairball.” I gave him yarn and a set of knitting needles. Sure enough, he cast on like a pro. Before the week was out, my darling husband had knit himself a beautiful scarf. Then he went on the learn how to make those challenging cable knits and tackled a sweater!

All this talk of knitting leads me to the lovely picture book I’d like to share with you this Friday.

Title – Extra Yarn

Written by- Mac Barnett

*Illustrated by- Jon Klassen

*Published by- Balzer + Bray,  2012

*Suitable for ages – 4  – 8

*Topics/theme – Sharing and friendship

*Opening – On a cold afternoon, in a cold little town, where everywhere you looked was either the white of snow or the black of soot from chimneys, Annabelle found a box filled with yarn of every color.

Summary  – With a supply of yarn that never runs out, Annabelle knits for everyone and everything in town until an evil archduke decides he wants the yarn for himself.

Synopsis from Amazon – Extra Yarn, a Caldecott Honor Book, Boston Globe-Horn Book Award winner, and a New York Times bestseller. It is the story of how a young girl and her box of magical yarn transform a community.

With spare, gently humorous illustrations and a palette that moves from black-and-white to a range of color, this modern fairy tale has the feel of a new classic.

Why do I like this book? Annabelle finds a box filled with yarn and sets out to knit herself a sweater, and because she has yarn left… she knits a sweater for her dog, too. But when people see her creations, they laugh and tease. Instead of feeling discouraged, Annabelle performs a most wonderful and unexpected act of kindness… She knits sweaters for those people, too. And…because she still has more yarn left…Anabelle warms her town in cozy sweaters–literally. I won’t spoil the ending, but let me say that Annabelle loves her yarn and all she can do with it sooo much that she wouldn’t part with it for two million dollars. That’s love!

Author – Visit Mac Barnett’s web page here.

Illustrator – Visit Jon Klassen’s here.

Learn how to knit here.

Now for a fun DIY project you can do with children. Make a fun, usable yarn bowl with children. Instructions here

To find other perfect picture books please visit Susanna Hills blog.

If, after reading this book, you are wondering what else Annabelle could have made with her yarn, as children for their thoughts. Their answers are guaranteed to surprise and delight you.