Earth Day 2020 – Picture Book: Outside In

The theme for Earth Day 2020 is climate action. The enormous challenge — but also the vast opportunities — of action on climate change have distinguished the issue as the most pressing topic for the 50th anniversary. 

Climate change represents the biggest challenge to the future of humanity and the life-support systems that make our world habitable.

I think one of the best ways of helping young children become involved in both this annual celebration and in a daily awareness of their stewardship role is to share earth-affirming books with them.. One of those was released last week by friends of mine. OUTSIDE IN

Title: Outside In

Author: Deborah Underwood

Illustrator: Cindy Derby

 Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers, 2020

Ages: 4-8

Themes: nature, the earth, earth day, outside, indoors, outdoors


Once we were part of Outside and Outside was part of us. There was nothing between us.


Outside is waiting, the most patient playmate of all. The most generous friend. The most miraculous inventor. This thought-provoking picture book poetically underscores our powerful and enduring connection with nature, not so easily obscured by lives spent indoors.

Why I like this book:

Writing this as I am, during week 6 of the 2020 COVID-19 ShelterInPlace, I can’t think of a more poignant and empowering message for our young children. But this is not a messagey/didactic book at all. it shows us that though we may choose to or need to wall ourselves up in our homes and cars, we can never truly block out the outside. It is so comforting to know that outside will find a beautiful way in. Always. I need to hear this.

Powerful poetic language reveals the healing intimacy and beauty that Outside wants to share with us. “Outside steals inside: a spider seeking shelter, a boxelder bug in the bath, a tiny snail on kale.” There are layers for adults and layers for children in this book of wonder, and both will want to play with Outside by the end.

Cindy Derby’s illustrations elevate all the senses for me and the wash draws me into the mood of the text. Don’t miss the recurring snail folks! I feel like author and illustrator really outdid themselves with this book. And it is the perfect piece of art to sustain me inside as I hold onto all those past and future playdates with Outside.


Every child will be able to share a bit of Outside.

The American Museum of Natural History has a tone of online activities for the family for Earth Day 2020.

Maybe do some bird watching or build a bird house/feeder.

Craft a nature collage from things gathered on a socially-distancing walk.

Educators at the Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center have gathered resources for parents looking to share the experience of Earth Day with their children.

Understanding the Urban Watershed Curriculum Guide with Activity Ideas(Grades K-8) is a compilation of lessons and activities with chapters that explore water, water systems, and watersheds with vocabulary, activity ideas, discussion questions, and suggested reading.

For more ideas, check out this list of Nifty Fifty environmental activities for kids, as well as nature-themed resources for kids of all ages, called Greener Together.

Chat with your kids about some of the really positive repercussions for the earth of us sheltering in place.

Posted in Book Promotion, children's books, Children's literature, Earth Day, Perfect Picture Book Friday, Picture Books | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Hi, I’m Norman – Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: Hi, I’m Norman – The Story of American Illustrator NORMAN ROCKWELL

Author: Robert Burleigh

Illustrator: Wendell Minor

 Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2019

Ages: 5-9

Themes: American artists, Norman Rockwell, oil paintings, artist’s biography,


Hi, I’m Norman, Norman Rockwell. Come on in.

This is my studio. Here’s he easel where I paint, and there are the paints, the brushes, my chair, and the walls hung with sketches—you name it.

I love it here. Every artist loves being in a studio. I close the door behind me and enter my own special world. Because art is my life and has been for as long as I can remember. Of course, I haven’t always had a nice studio like this one. No, not at all.


This is a first-person narrative exploring Rockwell’s life in episodes based on important moments in American history. Norman Rockwell is not only a great American artist, but he also successfully chronicled two generations of American life, making him one of the most beloved and well-known American artists of all time.

Why I like this book:

Robert Burleigh and Wendell Minor have joined forces to present a stunning introduction for young people to American Illustrator, Norman Rockwell, who is best known for capturing the American spirit as a painter and illustrator in the late twentieth century.

Beginning at the front end pages and running all the way through the back, readers learn about what inspired Rockwell. Burleigh uses first person narrative and you can hear Rockwell telling his own story of growing up, including comments and the occasional question that Rockwell might have raised along the way for readers to ponder. Picture book artist and author (and art director) have picked a perfect selection of works by Rockwell to highlight his life and work.

Wendell Minor’s love for Rockwell and his work is so evident in these pages; one can see that he has spent hours studying its style and content. He has captured the essence of Rockwell’s art and his love of the artist is palpable in his watercolor, gouache, and pencil illustrations.

This intimate biography of an American icon, is a must-purchase for Rockwell fans and school artist biography collections.


During this #shelterathome period, the Norman Rockwell Museum is offering the virtual museum for an online experience!

The back matter includes a two-page biography about Rockwell, which fills in many gaps. Author and Illustrator Notes broaden the experience and add depth to this work. A listing of paintings by Rockwell and rendered in the book art are listed (in chronological order), a timeline of Rockwell’s life, five of Rockwell’s most outstanding works are briefly discussed, a list of resources for all ages, and some quotes from Rockwell’s biography round out the book.

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

Posted in art, Biography, Children's literature, Perfect Picture Book Friday | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Play Like an Animal – Perfect Picture Book Friday & Giveaway

Title: Play Like an Animal, Why Critters Splash, Race, Twirl and Chase

Author: Maria Gianferrari

Illustrator: Mia Powell

 Publisher: Millbrook Press, 2020

Ages: 5-9

Themes: animals, playing, playing to learn, playing for fun

Second spread:

You love to play!
Animals do too!
When animals play, they’re practicing how to
get along,
and escape from predators.
But most of all, they’re having fun, just like you!


Exuberant text celebrates all the different ways animals play, from rhinos taking mud baths and parrots somersaulting through the air to kangaroos boxing and dolphins diving through the surf. Additional text explains how playing benefits animals.

Why I like this book:

Maria Gianferrari’s text skips and bounces playfully over the pages and paired with Mia Powell’s delightful illustrations they introduce children to warthogs, rhinos, ravens and many more animals at play, just like kids. This is a vibrant celebration of play.


Fascinating back matter gives more detail about the animals featured, and encourages all readers to make time for play.

Kirsten Cappy (@curiousstudiobooks) has produced a fab PLAY LIKE AN ANIMAL: STEM game cards to prompt creative play + a read aloud with Maria.

Quick Q & A with Maria.

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[JM] What is your favorite animal from Play Like an Animal?

[MG] I love Mia’s vibrant and whimsical art—it’s so cheerful! I love both the colors and the lines of the spread with the dolphins as well as the one with the monkeys—too cute!

[JM] Was there a specific moment that triggered the idea for the book?

MG There wasn’t really a specific Aha moment, but I had been thinking a lot about play, and how creatures like dogs love to play, and also how kids seem to have so little time for free play these days. Their lives are very structured, full of sports and enrichment classes and supervised play dates. Combine that with cut backs on recess and schools focusing solely on test scores and it’s not surprising that our kids are anxious. Play is a natural stress reliever, not only is it fun, but it teaches us all to cooperate, problem solve and express our creativity. I was stunned to discover that there weren’t any books on this topic, and my subversive little book was born. My motto is play every day!

[JM] Were there other animals included in earlier drafts?

MG Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough spreads to include squirrels. They were initially part of the monkey spread. They love to chase each other and race around tree trunks and are so fun to watch when they’re doing this.

[JM] What is your process like in a book like this, which is a mix of fiction and non-fiction?

MG I would describe this as a work of expository nonfiction. It’s an informational “list” book organized around a topic, that of animal play, rather than a book that has a narrative structure. First, I have the idea for the topic, play, (or tongues as was the case with my book, Terrific Tongues). Then I research the animals that fit the topic and pattern. After that, it’s time to experiment and “play” to find the best way to structure the material, and in this case comparing kid and animal play.

[JM] Did you have animals you played with when you were growing up?

MG We lived in a rural area and used to play outside all day with our neighbors’ three dogs, Tippy, Sam and Sparky. They’d run after us as we raced through the cornfields and woods.

[JM] Non-fiction picture books seem to be increasing in number, which is wonderful. I am seeing various adjectives used to describe different forms. How would you describe Play Like an Animal?

MG It’s a great time to be both reading and writing nonfiction! As I mentioned above, this is a work of expository nonfiction. I highly recommend Melissa Stewart’s blog, “Celebrate Science.” It’s highly informative and she has a multitude of posts on the wide variety of works under this umbrella category and the range of voices and different approaches and text structures one can take. It can often be the most challenging part of the process—trying to find just the right way to present the information in a fun and engaging way.

[JM] Do you have a favorite state or national park?

MG This is also a very hard question!! Back in 2011-2012, my husband, who’s a scientist, had a sabbatical at Scripps in La Jolla. We were living in Massachusetts at the time, and decided we’d drive to California and do a national park tour on both the way there, and on the way back. Another reason was that it would be easier (and safer!) for our late dog, my beloved Becca, to accompany us in the car rather than on an airplane.

I loved so many different things about the all of the parks we visited: from Badlands, to Wind Cave to Crater Lake on our way to San Diego, and Grand Canyon, Arches and Petrified Forest on our way home. But if I had to pick one, I’d say Redwood National Park. I was in awe of the ancient redwoods, so stunning and magical and the atmosphere in the understory, full of equally ancient ferns and creatures. It felt so peaceful there.

Maria Gianferrari’s childhood playground was nature: climbing trees, playing hide and seek in the cornfield and slapping cow patties for fun! Nowadays she tries to keep the spirit of play alive in her writing. She enjoys playing Dominion with her family sans the curse cards, and her late dog, Becca, was always ready for a game of “catch the flying biscuit.

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

To enter the GIVEAWAY (for US citizens only), please comment below with your favorite childhood play.

Posted in Book Promotion, Book recommendation, children's books, Children's literature, nonfiction, Perfect Picture Book Friday | Tagged , , | 17 Comments