Thursday, October 26, 2017

National Cat Day Round-up: Best Children's Books for Cat Lovers

October 29 marks National Cat Day and gives you the purr-fect excuse to curl up with a furry friend and a new book. Nap-loving felines are ideal reading companions, can be attentive listeners as you read aloud, or just stay in your lap while you finish one more chapter. We have a wide range of cat books, from pictures books about cats in trees, to middle readers about cats in England. So, find a cat, grab a book, and celebrate National Cat Day! (P.S. we tried to keep the puns to a minimum, but we can't make any paw­­-misses.)

If You See a Kitten
by John Butler
An ideal read-aloud for very young children, this book cues a variety of reactions after the discovery of each new animal. Opening with the question of what you say “If you see a cuddly kitten…” kids will quickly become engaged with the gentle illustrations and interactive format of this picture book.

My G-r-r-r-reat Uncle Tiger
by James Riordan
illustrated by Alex Ayliffe
Once Marmaduke the tabby cat sees a picture of a tiger, he decides they must be related. Accompanied by his other feline friends, Marmaduke travels to the zoo to find meet many of his relatives, including his “Grrreat Uncle Tiger.” This book puts a purr-sonal twist on adventure, prompting readers to think about who our families are.

Where is Catkin?
by Janet Lord
illustrated by Julie Paschkis
Join mischievous Catkin as he explores the great outdoors and follows animal sounds, until he gets stuck in a tree and needs someone to hear him! The story’s seek-and-and element complements the vivid illustrations created from patterns and shapes found in nature. This a-mew­­-sing story about a curious cat will entertain readers of all ages.

Three Scoops and a Fig
by Sara Laux Akin
illustrated by Sara Kathleen Hartung
When all of Sophia’s family tells her she is too little to help prepare food for dinner, she finds comfort sitting in the fig tree and snuggling with her kitty, Figaro (named after the author’s parent’s cat). A gust of wind comes by and sparks Sophia’s inspiration, helping her create the perfect dessert to share with her grandparents! Sophia’s determination to help and the friendship of her trusty Figaro make a seemingly im-paw-ssible situation fun again.

I Am Tama, Lucky Cat
by Wendy Henrichs
illustrated by Yoshiko Jaeggi
A gentle monk takes in a stray cat and names him Tama, Lucky Cat. While Tama watches as his owner teaches Buddha’s way and show great generosity, he learns his own kindness. When a thunderstorm comes, Tama’s kindness and luck combine to save the life of a passing warlord. Beautiful water colors help retell this Japanese legend for today’s audiences, highlighting the regality and compassionate nature of cats. Enjoy with the furry (or hairless) feline companions in your life. Author Wendy Henrichs even has two cats of her own!

Old Tom's Holiday
by Leigh Hobbs
After winning an all-expense paid vacation, Angela leaves her pet cat, Old Tom, at home, but she can’t help but think of him at every moment. When the two friends are suddenly reunited, they are able to fully enjoy the trip, together. This book’s humorous description of a furry friendship is great choice for pet owners of all ages to share with their four-legged friends (even though the author is actually allergic to cats!), revealing the excitements and difficulties of owning a cat.

Old Tom, Man of Mystery
by Leigh Hobbs
Angela and Old Tom are back! When Angela starts to get overworked, she decides her pet cat Old Tom should start helping clean up around the house. But instead of sweeping and washing, Old Tom—with all his cat-itude—disguises himself as the Man of Mystery, starting an adventure that even Angela can’t ignore. Readers will love following Old Tom on his adventures and being reminded of all the fun cats add to our lives.

Tiger in My Soup
by Kashmira Sheth
illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler
While their mom is away, a younger brother pleads for his older sister to read to him. She refuses and keeps her nose in her own book. But when he conjures up a sinister tiger in his soup and still can’t get his sister’s attention, he must fight it alone. Leaping into the wilder and bigger side of the cat family with bright images and fun perspectives on each page, this book is sure to excite!

Cats Vanish Slowly
by Ruth Tiller
illustrated by Laura Seeley
There are many different types of cats on Grandma’s farm. Discover each of their purr-sonalities through these twelve concise yet engaging poems. Watch the cats nap and meow and vanish into the shadows around them. Using poetry, Tiller provides a gentler, more artful glance at the cats we may see every day. The book’s description of the many dif-fur-ent types and manners of cats make this a great choice when you’re looking for a true feline-fix.

The Cheshire Cheese Cat
by Carmen Agra Deedy & Randall Wright
illustrated by Barry Moser
“It was the best of toms. It was the worst of toms.”

Skilley, an alley cat, strikes up a deal to protect Pip, a mouse, in return for a job at the Cheshire Cheese Inn. But, when cat and mouse are drawn into a crisis that could end in cat-astrophe, the Inn, the British monarchy, and their friendship is at stake. Set in Victorian England, The Cheshire Cheese Cat pays homage to Charles Dickens, who was once quoted saying, “What greater gift than the love of a cat.” This middle reader chapter book’s themes of felines and friendship make it a great reader for any animal lover.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Guest Post: Cathryn Sill on the 10th Anniversary of About Habitats

Cathryn and John Sill's About Habitats series is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year! To learn a little more about the creation of this award-winning nonfiction series for young readers, Cathryn Sill provides insight into the different excursions that inspire their books about the beautiful and varied habitats around the world and the emphasizes importance of encouraging younger generations to appreciate and protect the natural world.

I have always loved nature and was fortunate to grow up with parents who encouraged me to experience the many wonders of creation. We had family adventures in various habitats including camping trips to mountains, deserts, forests, and seashores. Sunday afternoons in spring and summer were often spent in the woods looking for wildflowers and birds.

When I was a teacher, I wanted nonfiction books to use in a classroom setting. Using lessons about different animal groups was a good way to integrate learning reading and science for children. That’s how the About series on animals was started (with About Birds in 1991), and the About Habitats series naturally evolved from that. 

John and I are birders, so most of our travel involves looking for birds. While we don’t often travel specifically to research the books we create, many of our opportunities for travel research have been coincidental. We crossed the prairie on a trip to an event to display John’s paintings. We just happened to be working on About Habitats: Grasslands so he was able to observe and photograph ideas to use in his illustrations.

As we were working on About Habitats: Oceans, we were able to take a sailing trip with friends.

An earlier trip to Panama during the rainy season was helpful when we were working on the book About Habitats: Forests.

A trip to Santa Catalina Island was helpful in writing About Habitats: Seashores as well giving us experience with marine mammals (for About Marine Mammals).

Unfortunately, we aren’t able to travel to every habitat and every region in the world, but we gather information, memories, and photos from our trips to use as needed and where appropriate. Often John and I choose subjects we are more familiar with to use to illustrate the books. When we are not able to travel to gather information, we research our subject using reliable books and websites.

The About Habitats series has been around for 10 years, and in that time, concern of the many negative impacts on earth’s habitats has caused me to think of ways I might make a difference. I feel strongly that the younger generations are a definite hope for the future protection of the environment. The earlier they can develop an appreciation for the world around them, the better they can prepare to help preserve it. We are hopeful that these books will instill a love for this fragile planet that is our home and give young readers incentive to be good stewards.

Cathryn and John Sill are the dynamic team who created the About... series as well as the About Habitats series. Their books have garnered praise from educators and have won a variety of awards, including Bank Street Best Books, CCBC Choices, NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K–12, Orbis Pictus Recommended, and Science Books and Films Best Books of the Year. Cathryn, a graduate of Western Carolina State University, taugh early elementary school classes for thirty years. John holds a BS in wildlife biology from North Carolina State University. Combining his knowledge of wildlife and artistic skill, he has achieved an impressive reputation as a wildlife artist. The Sills live in Franklin, North Carolina.

Books in the About Habitats series are at your local libraryindie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble. The most recent book About Habitats: Seashores came out August 2017.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Guest Post: Margarita Engle on Don Quixote and Miguel's Brave Knight

Why did I write a picture book verse biography about the author of Don Quixote, and why now, when so many modern problems seem overwhelming? I’m going to answer these questions as if I am interviewing myself, because the responses form a dialogue between my younger and older selves.

Why is Don Quixote important to you?

As a child, I grew up surrounded by images of Don Quixote. In Cuba, he is a beloved figure, with statuettes and re-told stories as common as comic book superheroes in the US. In Los Angeles, my father painted Don Quixote and Sancho Panza repeatedly. Sometimes the knight was attacking a windmill, but there were quiet moments too, riding off into the sunset, reflecting on the day’s rebellions against looming threats. Both the Cuban and American sides of my family accepted the importance of tales about an idealistic, misunderstood knight who longs to defend poor people against powerful monsters, and right all the wrongs of the world.

Is the life of Cervantes relevant in the twenty-first century?

As a child, I never thought about Cervantes. Don Quixote seemed like folklore, a story passed on by ordinary people. Quixote’s legendary heroism is so ingrained in the daily life of Spaniards, Latin Americans, and US Latinos, that we tend to think of him as a historical figure, rather than a fictional character.

As an adult, the idealistic knight is still a hero to me, but I also admire his author: Cervantes was the real hero. He defiantly wrote a fantasy novel at a time when imaginative works were prohibited by the Inquisition. He wrote about book burning, and an ordinary man so determined to read freely that he absorbs the idealism of knightly characters.

Don Quixote can be read on so many different levels that it’s easy to overlook the true story of Cervantes’ childhood. Born into the family of an impoverished minor nobleman, he knew the pain of a father in debtor’s prison, and a mother struggling to keep food on the table. These are experiences familiar to many children today. Homelessness, fleeing, plagues, wars, all of this resonates. Throughout it all, young Miguel found comfort in the power of his own imagination. Centuries have passed, but Cervantes is still a good role model for young readers who have their own daydreams.

Perseverance—that is the real lesson of Don Quixote. This is what my adult self would want my child self to know and believe. No matter how crazy the world around us seems, we can remain hopeful by imagining, and then working toward, a better future.

I can pinpoint the exact moment when I became fascinated by the life of Miguel de Cervantes. It was after 9/11, when the US invaded both Afghanistan and Iraq. I remembered reading that Cervantes had been kidnapped and sold into slavery in Algeria. After he was finally ransomed, he advised his family and the Spanish military not to seek revenge, and said that despite everything he’d suffered in North Africa, he still admired Muslim culture. I can’t think of a more relevant biography, now that the modern wars of revenge show no sign of ever ending.

What was really unique about Don Quixote?

Imagine the lives of ordinary people in Spain and Spanish colonies at that time! Books were precious, but not everyone could read, so one person would read out loud, while groups sat around and listened. People must have loved the accessibility of such a long, entertaining story that could go on and on, chapter after chapter, offering so many fascinating and satisfying adventures. Children must have listened to the same stories as adults. To them, perhaps the idealistic knight did not seem like a fantasy. Maybe they assumed he was real. Even though there weren’t enough books for every child to own—or even hold—one, at least they could get to know Don Quixote simply by letting their daydreams join his.

Don Quixote was written in a time when the printing press was new, and for the first time, large numbers of copies could be distributed. Don Quixote reached the Caribbean and other parts of the Spanish-speaking Americas on ships that delivered goods from Spain. The oppressed of Spanish colonies could relate to an idealist who wanted to help the needy, but they also enjoyed the humor, the magic realism, the fantasy! Rules made by the Inquisition didn’t stand a chance, when pitted against the population’s desire for good storytelling. The book thrived, and still thrives today. Just as Shakespeare—a contemporary of Cervantes—is viewed as unique in English literature, Cervantes is now seen as the inspiration for all the wonderful literature of Spain and the Spanish-speaking Americas.

Perseverance and the comforting power of the imagination are two themes in Miguel’s Brave Knight. How can young readers be inspired by those themes?

Young Cervantes found refuge in daydreams, which are the starting point for every poem and every story that I write. Daydreams are like seeds that can grow into an immense forest, but only if the author keeps working to transform those dreams from a private experience into communication with readers. I think Miguel’s Brave Knight can be used to teach about creativity, and also to teach about the persistence of creative people. Just like dancers and athletes who rehearse and practice, writers need to keep trying. We can’t give up when our first drafts are still scribbled daydreams. We have to keep revising until readers can understand and share our dreams.

Margarita Engle is the Cuban-American author of many verse books, including a Newbery Honor winner,
The Surrender Tree; a PEN USA Award winner, The Lightning Dreamer; and a verse memoir, Enchanted Air, winner of many awards, including an inaugural Walter Dean Myers Award Honor and the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award. Her books have also received three Pura Belpré Awards and four Américas Awards, as well as a Jane Addams Award, International Reading Association Award, Claudia Lewis Poetry Award, and the Charlotte Zolotow Award. In 2017, the Poetry Foundation named her the Young People’s Poet Laureate. She grew up in Los Angeles, but developed a deep attachment to her mother’s homeland during summers with her extended family in Cuba. She was trained as a botanist and agronomist before becoming a full-time poet and novelist. You can visit her website here.

Look for Miguel's Brave Knight at your local libraryindie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

That Fall Feeling: Books for Autumn Months

Summer came and went in a hurry, and you know what that means! The leaves are changing, the weather is cooler, and soon, pumpkins will be on parade. It’s that time of year again! Fall is a time for walks in the great outdoors, playing in the leaves, apple-picking, and getting ready for the holidays. It’s also a wonderful time for discovering new things and snuggling up with loved ones. While  cuddling up on the couch to escape those cooler days, why not share the joy of exploring and learning with the whole family?

In our fall round up, we invite you to answer your child’s excitement and curiosity with adventures and new discoveries in some of our seasonal picture books. Add some new titles to your fall collection and celebrate the season!

By playing, fishing, toasting, and listening to music by the firelight, one boy and his father enjoy the great outdoors. It’s a well-crafted introduction to the fun of being in the woods, exploring the many things to do outside, and enjoying nature’s beauty. Soft colors and beautiful scenery will excite the explorer in every child!

In the Woods is a charming board book about a boy and his father camping together. Each page brings a new rhyme and a new sight for any child to enjoy. A perfect addition to your family’s reading experience!

This wonderful story captures the love between Big Bear and Little One. Beginning with the first buds of spring, Big Bear teaches Little One all about life in the forest. The two enjoy eating, playing, and swimming as the seasons change from one to another. As winter returns, Big Bear and Little One also return home, where they can wait for the next spring.

Young readers will love exploring alongside Little One and connecting their own experiences with one who is also seeing the world for the first time. Cuddle up and enjoy reading such a heartwarming picture book with your little one!

Chicken likes Scarecrow’s hat and Scarecrow will glad hand it over, but for a walking stick in return. Clever as Chicken is, she embarks on a quest to find a walking stick amongst her farm animal friends. Presented with a fun problem, one chicken seeks a solution that will have children fully engaged!

With bright watercolor pictures and a beautiful setting, children will love joining Chicken in search of a walking stick to swap for Scarecrow’s straw hat! A delightful page-turner that’s sure to be a favorite!

In the vast expanse of Utah, Mary Ann lives with her family and her special friend: a wheat-filled doll named Betty. Mary Ann knows that Betty watches over her while she does her daily tasks; she even listens to all of Mary Ann's secrets. One day, a storm rolls in and Mary Ann is unable to save Betty from the winds and rain. Determined to find her lost friend, Mary Ann continues to search for Betty even when it seems that Betty is truly gone. Time passes, winter melts into spring, and Mary Ann spots a familiar face growing in the grass!

Set in the 1800s, this classic tale of childhood friendship and devotion shares a beautiful lesson of never giving up. It’s the perfect book to read alongside your child and their favorite toy!

Find these books and more at your local libraryindie bookstore, or Barnes & Noble