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A Few Children's Books for International Talk Like A Pirate Day


A Few Children's Books for International Talk Like A Pirate Day

International Talk Like A Pirate Day (ITLAPD) is Saturday, September 19th. What began as a small-scale celebration of pirate loving pals, ITLAPD garnered national attention when columnist, Dave Barry endorsed John Bauer's and Mark Summers' swashbucklin' good idea in his syndicated newspaper column in 2002. Thirteen years later, the celebration continues!

If you'd like to celebrate ITLAPD, here is a list of pirate picture books and easy readers for you and your wee mutineers to enjoy!

How I Became A Pirate by Melinda Long and David Shannon is one of my family's favorite books. And the first line is one of the best ever written - "Pirates have green teeth when they have any teeth at all." So begins the adventure of Jeremy Jacob. After encountering Braid Beard on the beach, Jeremy accepts the pirate captain's invitation to join his crew. But when Jeremy finds out that pirates don't get bedtime stories, Jeremy reconsiders his decision. Shannon's expressive illustrations perfectly compliment Long's humorous tale.

Long and Shannon's follow up, Pirate's Don't Change Diapers, is as charming as the first! When Braid Beard and his crew return to Jeremy Jacob's house, they accidentally wake his baby sister. Hi-jinks ensue as the pirates become babysitters for the wee mutineer. Perhaps even funnier than How I Became A Pirate, this sequel is a gem!

Corrine Demas and John Manders send pirates on an educational adventure in Pirates Go to School, a rollicking, rhyming, re-imagining of the school day from a pirate's perspective.

Perfect for pre-K and elementary alike, Pirates Go To School will have kids saying, "Yo, ho, ho, we're so cool. We are pirates and we love school!"

Also illustrated by John Manders is Carolyn Crimi's Henry and the Buccaneer Bunnies.

Buccaneer Bunnies? How funny is that? Henry is not your typical buccaneer. Instead of performing his pirate duties, he'd rather read books. Henry's reading habit angers his father and the rest of the crew of the Salty Carrot. But when the buccaneer bunnies are shipwrecked on a deserted island, Henry's book smarts save the day. Hooray for book loving buccaneer bunnies! A pirate after me own heart!

Shiver me whiskers! Pirate mice!  Riff Raff Sails the High Cheese by Susan Schade andAnne Kennedy is an adorable early reader about a lost chunk of cheese and the mice's quest to recapture their stolen treasure. Munster, Colby, Cheddar and Brie are part of Riff Raff's crew and while parents may groan at the humor, wee mutineers will enjoy this delicious tale.

Another early reader for pirate loving kids is Deborah Underwood's Pirate Mom, illustrated by Stephen Gilpin.

Pete loves pirates, but his mom thinks they are rude and messy. Then Pete and his mom go to see the Amazing Marco, and Marco hypnotizes Pete’s mom into thinking she’s a pirate! Now Pete’s mom won’t behave. Pete wants his real mom back. But can Pete find the Amazing Marco in time? Funny stuff!

Next up are two from Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, Half-Pint Pete the Pirate and Pirate Princess.

Illustrated by Geraldo Valerio, Half-Pint Pete the Pirate is both an adventure tale and a love story.  When Half-Pint Pete sets out with half a map, he meets Half-Baked Belle. The two work together to find treasure and, in the process, they discover something unexpected - love for each other. Awe!

In Pirate Princess illustrated by Jill McElmurry, Bardham-Quallen overthrows gender stereotypes by introducing an atypical princess, one more interested in pirate ships than tea parties. A raucous tale of girl power! Huzzah!

Another book that challenges gender stereotypes is the late Peter Harris's The Night Pirates, illustrated by Deborah Allwright.

When a rough, tough band of girl pirates comes to steal the front of young Tom's house, Tom asks to join the crew. He is welcomed aboard without reservation and they set sail to an island where some rather lazy and silly grown-up pirates are guarding their treasure. "If you don't give me back my treasure, I'll tell my mommy!" is the funniest line in the book and one that deserves to be shouted at the top of yer lungs, matey! 

Pajama Pirates by Andrew Kramer and Leslie Lammle is a lovely bedtime book for younger children. Told in gentle rhyme, three young pirates set sail on a nighttime adventure filed with pirate ships and sword fights. After Mother Nature calls the pirates home to bed, their adventure their dreams. Lammle's illustrations are ethereal.

Also for the toddler set - two bright, fun concept books. Pirate Nap by Danna Smith and Valeria Petrone, a color book, and Twenty-six Pirates, an alphabet book from Dave Horowitz.

Last but not least - two books that prove that pirates are great at any time of the year - Kristin Kladstrup's and Matt Tavares's Gingerbread Pirates and A Pirate's Twelve Days of Christmas by Philip Yates and Sebastia Serra

The Gingerbread Pirates is a funny Christmas story about a gingerbread pirate, Captain Cookie, and his daring adventure on Christmas eve to rescue his crew from a mysterious cannibal named - yup, you guessed it, Santa Claus!

A Pirate' s Night Before Christmas is a pirate-y re-imagining of the Clement Moore poem, "The Night Before Christmas while A Pirate's Twelve Days of Christmas is a twist on the classic Christmas song.

Do you have a favorite pirate story? How are you going to celebrate Talk Like A Pirate Day? Comment and win an autographed copy of Pirate's Lullaby: Mutiny at Bedtime! Winner chosen at random. I'll announce on 9/26.


Sleepytime Me by Edith Hope Fine


Sleepytime Me by Edith Hope Fine

Bedtime. Just about every parenting book advises parents to establish a regular bedtime routine. Ours has been pretty much the same since our children were born - bath time, books, then bedtime. Recently, I noticed the dynamic changing a bit. My children still take a nightly bath and we still read books, but now that both of the kids can read, they want to read to us instead!  My five year old daughter still snuggles up on my lap, but my soon-to-be eight year old son no longer fits (although he occasionally tries). I think we must look something like this!

A scene from Elf (2003) featuring Will Ferrell and Bob Newhart

A scene from Elf (2003) featuring Will Ferrell and Bob Newhart

Although things have changed, bedtime is still a special part of our day.  My friend and colleague, Edith Hope Fine, has captured the joy, wonder, and beauty of bedtime in her latest book, Sleepytime Me (Random House, May 2014). I asked Edith to stop by to tell us about herself and her latest book.

Cover of Sleepytime Me

Cover of Sleepytime Me

What made you want to write for children?

I've been "reading" since I was maybe four and alphabet savvy. To my father's horror, I carefully spelled out, "N-O-R-T-H-E-R-N  T-I-S-S-U-E" and proclaimed, "Toilet paper!" I read voraciously as a kid and remember one bad night when I was at the end of my bed reading Nancy Drew in a patch of light from the hallway. Someone turned the light off. I think it took me half an hour to get brave enough to crawl up the bed and under the covers for safety. Tapping childhood memories and feelings, plus years of teaching and reading books aloud to my students and my own darlings, all led me to writing for children.

What inspired you to write Sleepytime Me?

There's nothing in the world like holding a baby or grand baby and reading aloud. I'd nailed a title, Yawn Around Town, and a rhythmic refrain, "Yawn around, yawn around the sleepytime town," back in the early 90's. I'd yawn while writing, a good sign for parents in a bedtime story, that's for sure. And we all know yawns are catching. (I yawned just now thinking about it--of course I'm an owl and it's close to midnight.) Sleepytime Me (oh-HO, I hadn't nailed the title) comes out from Random House this May. Yikes. Two decades. I gasped when I saw Christopher Denise's gorgeous illustrations. You can see samples at his website and on his blog. I'll be doing a "come in your p.j.s reading" at Yellow Book Road here in San Diego in May. Wear your fuzzy slippers.

My favorite image from Sleepytime Me from Christopher Denise's website

My favorite image from Sleepytime Me from Christopher Denise's website

Tell me about the revision process. Sleepytime Me has changed radically since its inception, no?

I love revision. Well, the end of revision. Yes, I tried a bunch of different ideas, from community helpers yawning to a yawn that showed on the page. What??!! None felt right. None worked. After starting with a manuscript of 1000+ words, I ended up with poetry and 132 words. Talk about paring.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

I taught writing for children with Judith Josephson through SDSU Extension for almost 20 years. There's so much to learn. I run the published members' group of our San Diego SCBWI (Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators) and somehow people find my name and ask me to meet them for coffee so I can tell them how to publish their book. The truth is that a person really wanting to write for children is doing her homework--reading in the field, talking with librarians, scouring bookstore bookshelves, joining SCBWI, entering writing contests, taking classes, and attending conferences. My best advice is don't just think about writing for kids. Start. Write. Write right now. Today. 

What can we expect next from you?

Besides the monthly Grammar Patrol column for eFrog Press, I have two big projects on my plate right now (besides the teetery stack of 20 different half-baked manuscripts waiting for me to turn up the oven). I'm writing an eBook for tyro-novice-rookie folks who ache to write for children--the things that took me two years to figure out, they can learn in two minutes. Jump, Froggies! will be out this spring through eFrog Press. 

The other is a student workbook to accompany my Cryptomania! Teleporting into Greek and Latin with the CryptoKids. As you know, I'm happy with my nose in a dictionary, thesaurus, or etymological dictionary, so the workbook has 100 extra roots in addition to the 200 basic Greek and Latin roots covered in the book. I pulled from my years of teaching to conjure up pages from which kids in grades 3–6 can learn cool roots that they'll use the rest of their lives--through high school and college and beyond. A huge undertaking, the pages have now been copy edited and are with the graphic designer and artist Kim Doner, who illustrated the book, for the spot art. Look at this adorable preview sketch of Alphy, the Microcyanosaurus in Greco-Roman garb! What a hoot.

Alphy, the Microcyanosaurus

Alphy, the Microcyanosaurus

Thank you, Edith!


I Dare You Not To Yawn - Perfect Picture Book Friday


I Dare You Not To Yawn - Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title:  I Dare You Not To Yawn

Author and Illustrator:  Written by Helene Boudreau, Illustrated by Serge Bloch

Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2013.

Genre:  Picture Book

Ages: 3-8

Themes:  bedtime, procrastination, yawning

Opening/Synopsis:  “Quick! Close your mouth! Especially if your eyes feel droopy, your shoulders feel sloopy, and your mouth feels like it wants to stretch open wide to let out a great big yawny yaaaaaaaawn – hey, you were supposed (to) hold it in!  Oh, dear. You know what happens next, don’t you?

Cover I Dare You Not to Yawn.jpg

Boudreau and Bloch’s I Dare You Not To Yawn is a delightfully subversive bedtime book. Written like a quasi-how-to manual on bedtime avoidance, our young narrator, warns us that “yawns are sneaky”. According to him, it’s best to avoid snuggly things, cozy pajamas, bedtime stories and sleepy time songs, – or you’ll wind up in bed, wondering just how you got there. After exhausting (pun intended) a rather long list of possibilities, the little boy inevitably succumbs to sleep – yawns are sneaky that way! Boudreau’s light and playful tone is complemented perfectly by Bloch’s loose and expressive artwork. I dare you not to love this book!

Why I like this book:  I Dare You Not To Yawn is one of the funniest bedtime books I’ve ever read. My kids loved it too. There are lots of opportunities to “ham it up” but, be forewarned, the giggles and the yawns are contagious!

Activities and Resources (click on question to link to answer):  

What’s the medical explanation for contagious yawning?

Is there scientific proof that yawns are contagious?

Did you know that animals yawn too?

Need a good read for nap time?  Check out other Perfect Picture Book Friday reviews on Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog


Weeds Find A Way by Cindy Jenson-Elliot


Weeds Find A Way by Cindy Jenson-Elliot

One day, a few years ago, my daughter handed me a bouquet of freshly picked dandelions from our front yard.

“Flowers for you, Mama,” she said.

I was delighted by her heartfelt gift. What mother wouldn’t have been? But when she insisted we go inside to find a vase, I tried my best to dissuade her.

 “But they’re weeds,” I told her.

“But they’re pretty,” she said.

I am thankful for that moment with my daughter.  At the tender age of just two and a half she was able to see the beauty in what most people (including myself) consider a pesky weed. 

My friend and colleague, Cindy Jenson-Elliot, has the same way of looking at the wonders of the natural world. Her first picture book, Weeds Find A Way (Beach Lane Press), will be published next month.

I asked Cindy to stop by and tell us about herself and her forthcoming book.

Weeds Find A Way Cover.jpg

What made you want to write for children?

Like most writers, I was a bit of a book worm as a child. From ages 9 - 14, I lived in a small town in the desert. In the summer, when the temperature hovered at 120 degrees, and there was NOTHING to do, I would get a stack of books from the library, and lay on the top bunk of the bed I shared with my sister, and go through book after book. I could visit all the places I longed to go -- mainly back in time and any place that looked green. Books still take me other places in that same way, and I rely on them emotionally. So, I guess that's a round-about way of saying I write books for children because I needed books as a child. The right book at the right time can heal your heart. My hope is that my books will help heal the world a little bit by helping children connect with the beauty and wonder of nature.

What inspired you to write Weeds Find A Way?

I was inspired to write Weeds Find a Way during my first year as Garden Teacher at Explorer Elementary Charter School. We had a garden full of weeds that spring, and it struck me what a wonderful natural resource they were. I figured I would pull a book out of the library and teach students about the wonders of weeds -- how they adapt and thrive everywhere. The problem was, although our school has a fabulous school library with all kinds of garden books, we had no books on weeds. And further research revealed that there were no books on weeds for children. So, it was up to me to form the Weed Fan Club and shout their praises.

How does one make a non-fiction topic (such as weeds) exciting and engaging for young readers?

Any topic can be inspiring and engaging when the right person gets hold of it. The only way I know of to make nonfiction topics exciting is to be inspired by the topic myself. The good news is that I can usually find something inspiring in any topic, once I look into it deeply enough. I really love being able to take something I am interested in and thoroughly explore it. Then the question becomes, how do you frame or present that topic in an exciting way? I look through other books that I admire and see how other authors have presented a topic. Did they write lyrically or did they write a narrative -- or both? How did they organize their information? I try out different styles for the same topic. I may rewrite a manuscript 30 or 40 times before it is ready to send out to a publisher. And then, it may be rejected over and over again. I take whatever feedback I get from editors, my critique group, friends, mentors, teachers, and use their ideas to revise, revise, revise. Sometimes I get stuck. Then I put a manuscript aside for a while -- sometimes for years -- until I can see it with new eyes. That's a wonderful thing -- how time gives us new eyes to see our work. Even then, I may think a topic is really cool, but other people don't. 

What can we expect next from you?

I'm interested in so many different things, I am writing about five different manuscripts at the moment -- all on different topics in natural history. In 2015 or 2016, Beach Lane Books will publish a second garden-based picture book called "Dig In." And I recently sold a manuscript to Henry Holt, Christy Ottaviano Books -- a picture book biography of a well-known nature artist. I have so many books I want to write -- after I'm done with the books I am currently working on -- that I can see myself staying busy my entire life, exploring the natural world through words!

Thank you, Cindy!

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Bo Smoked! An Interactive Story App by Andrea Zimmerman


Bo Smoked! An Interactive Story App by Andrea Zimmerman

My children are bookworms (The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree!) but they also love video games and computers. After I received an e-reader for Christmas a few years ago, I purchased several storybook apps for them. At the time, neither of my children were independent readers and e-books were an excellent way for me to supplement our reading. Most apps have two play modes - read to me or read myself – so both kids could “read” on their own by following along. My children had fun AND they were learning at the same time! What more could a mom want?

When Andrea Zimmerman asked my children and I to beta test her latest project, Bo Smoked!, we happily agreed. 

Bo Smoked!.jpeg

Bo Smoked is a buddy story with a message. Bo, an adorable warthog, and his friend, Bijou, are out chasing butterflies in the forest when Bo discovers a pack of cigarettes. Bijou is wary of Bo’s discovery but the inquisitive little warthog is intrigued. “I’m rough and tough. I think I’ll try a little puff” Bo says, then lights up. Much to his dismay, Bo begins to hack and cough. Although his friends witness the cigarette’s adverse effects, they foolishly follow in Bo’s footsteps. After all of his friends become ill, Bo declares “Enough! Enough! Cigarettes are nasty stuff.”

Bo Smoked! Zebra.jpeg

Bo Smoked! was a huge hit with my kids.  They loved Bo and enjoyed the app’s interactive features – sound effects and billowing clouds of smoke.

Andrea and Alex hug.jpg

Bo Smoked! helped me talk to my kids about smoking and I can proudly vouch for its efficacy. My four year old daughter noticed a woman smoking in her car the other day and asked me, “Doesn’t she know she’s going to make herself sick?”

Bo Smoked! is the brainchild of Andrea Zimmerman, author of such wonderful children’s books as Trashy Town, and Dig!. Together with her husband, David Clemesha, Andrea has also written and illustrated Train Man, Digger Man, and Fire Engine Man. Bo Smoked! is her first collaboration with her son, Alex Clemesha.

I asked Andrea to stop by the blog to tell us more about Bo Smoked!





1.  What inspired you to create Bo Smoked!?

Seeing some of my own kids' friends turn into smokers when they reached teenage was disheartening. I thought, couldn't we do more to help younger kids know that cigarettes are bad!  I wanted to make an anti-smoking picture book for the very young as there aren't many of these kinds of books out there. Of course, it's not easy to create a story that teaches something like this without being preachy, so it was a challenge. I thought it would be fun to make an app since Alex is a software developer and he was interested and willing to learn about doing this kind of programming.

2.  How was the creative process different from your other collaborations?

Andrea and Alex at work.jpg

 The collaborative part was primarily on the technical side. I wrote and illustrated the story before we started making the app. Then I created the components that went into the program, while Alex did the coding. We worked together to get the app looking and functioning the way we thought was best. But for the most part our work was quite separate. We would sometimes get together in person or do a Google Hangout to talk things over.

 3.  How is creating an app different from writing a picture book? 

 Because we were creating a story app, as opposed to a game app, in many ways it was the same. I painted pictures and wrote words that told a story. But those words and pictures were digital files that went into the software program that Alex created instead of going to a printer. A bigger difference was adding things like touchable items, background music, and narration. For each touchable item, there had to be a separate drawing, so there were lots of bits and pieces to make.

 4.  What challenges did the form present, if any?

 Understanding the limitations. You quickly find out that just because you imagine something happening in the app, does not mean you have a magic wand to make that happen. The iPad will do great things, but telling it what to do involves long, careful code writing which Alex did. Sometimes putting together sounds, motion, and many other functions can be a lot of "moving parts" inside the program and it crashes. I have a greater appreciation of the fact that a computer program is not magic, but rather lots and lots of bits of information.

5.  Were there advantages to using technology to tell a story?

 It was fun to be able to create characters who could actually cough out smoke when you touched them!

 6.  Do you have plans for another app in the works?  

We do, but we're not sure what story we'll use. We learned so much doing the first one, we'd like to put that knowledge to use again. It will be much easier the second time around!

Thanks for the stopping by, Andrea.   I can’t wait to see what you and Alex create next. 

Bo Smoked! is available FREE for the iPad in the iTunes store. And don't forget to check out Andrea's blog, Picture Book Party



Too Many Tamales


Too Many Tamales

In addition to our Advent calendar, my children and I celebrate Christmas by reading at least one Christmas themed picture book at bedtime every night. Here is one of my favorites. 

Too Many Tamales.jpg

Title:  Too Many Tamales

Author and Illustrator:  Written by Gary Soto, Illustrated by Ed Martinez

Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1993

Genre:  Picture book

Ages: 4-7

Themes:  Christmas, cooking, family traditions, Hispanic heritage


“Christmas Eve started out so perfectly for Maria. Snow had fallen and the streets glittered. Maria’s favorite cousins were coming over and she got to help make the tamales for Christmas dinner.  It was almost too good to be true when her mother left the kitchen for a moment and Maria got to try on her beautiful diamond ring…

This is the story of a treasure thought to be lost in a batch of tamales; of a desperate and funny attempt by Maria and her cousins to eat their way out of trouble; and of the warm way a family pulls together to make it a perfect Christmas after all.”

Why I like this book

I’ve always been fascinated by other cultures.  My degrees in literature in two languages - English and Spanish - are proof.  My family and I live in San Diego and  I feel it's important for my children to learn about our Hispanic friends and neighbors.  Too Many Tamales teaches children about a different cultural tradition.  It’s also a tale about why it’s better to tell the truth than cover up a problem. Soto’s book is more than a lesson in culture or morality; the beautiful and original Christmas story is told with such warmth and humor that children of all ages will want to read Too Many Tamales again and again.

Activities and Resources:  

Scholastic has a wonderful discussion guide about Too Many Tamales. 

Too Many Tamales is one of the videos  in Weston Woods’s Stories from the Hispanic Tradition.

Love to cook with your kids?  Make tamales (and invite me over)!

Here is a kid-friendly recipe for a non-traditional approach to sweet tamales.

Since making tamales is a lot of work, here is an easier recipe.  Not authentic, as there are no husks or wrapping involved, but equally delicious I'm sure!

For more book ideas, check out Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Book Friday on her blog.  Here is a link to past reviews (organized by topic).



The Tree Lady


The Tree Lady

Susanna Leonard Hill sponsors Perfect Picture Book Friday on her blog.  It’s a wonderful resource for parents, teachers and book lovers of all ages.  I'm participating today with a book review related to the city in which I live:  San Diego, California.

Title:  The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever

Author and Illustrator:  Written by H. Joseph Hopkins, Illustrated by Jill McElmurry

Publisher: Beach Lane Books, 2013.

Genre:  Non-fiction

Ages: 5-10

Themes:  Biography, trees, nature, notable women, San Diego history

Opening/Synopsis:  “Meet Kate Sessions, a young woman with a grand passion for trees.  She has guts.  She has vigor.  And she has a vision – a green, leafy vision that will one day transform a city.”

After graduating from the University of California (the first woman to do so with a degree in science), Kate Sessions took a teaching position in San Diego. Accustomed to the giant redwoods of her Northern Californian birthplace, Kate found the dry and dusty landscape of San Diego lacking. Never one to accept the status quo, Kate set out to “be the change she wished to see in the world.”  The lifelong nature lover left her teaching position and became a gardener, seeking out and planting trees that would thrive in the San Diego soil. Kate single-handedly started a movement that transformed the drab, desert town into the lush and vibrant city it is today. More than 100 years after her arrival, residents and visitors alike enjoy the gardens and parks that Kate created.  Thanks to her, San Diego lives up to its nickname - “American’s Finest City.” 

Why I like this book:  Kate had a "can-do" attitude.  She followed her dreams and used her talents to make her small corner of the world a better place. 

Activities and Resources:  You don’t have to wait until Arbor Day to enjoy Shauna Evan’s fantastic tree related activities. Her site includes book recommendations, craft  and snack ideas. For a short video about Kate Sessions, check out the Women’s Museum of California.  Kate was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006.