Pick a Circle Gather Squares: A Fall Harvest of Shapes

From Ice to Snow

Sugar White Snow CoverWe spent our first and final Summer 2014 day at the Jersey Shore yesterday, Seven Presidents Beach, not too far from Monmouth University. It’s been such a busy summer with so many changes ahead for our household and everyone in it. We finished the day with a refreshing ice from Rita’s (mmm, mango!) and today it’s back-to-school clothes shopping and preparing for snow.


By preparing for snow I mean tomorrow’s author visit at the Hunterdon Land Trust Farmers Market—one of my favorite places—at Dvoor Farm in Flemington. I’ll be featuring the release of the third book in my picture books series published by Albert Whitman and illustrated by Susan Swan: Sugar White Snow and Evergreens: A Winter Wonderland of Color

Since it’s a bit early to focus on winter itself, the children’s activities will focus on color, with beading and stamping craft fun—and of course I’ll have plenty of coloring activity sheets on hand that are related to the other two picture books in the series that are already in circulation: Pick a Circle, Gather Squares: A Fall Harvest of Shapes and Cheers for a Dozen Ears: A Summer Crop of Counting. (I’ll also be signing and selling copies of the books, for anyone in the mood to get a jump on holiday shopping!)

Sugar White Snow Snowman-Cardinal Spread

And while I’ve been preparing all summer for the appearance of my winter book, the first signs of fall have accompanied the last edits and proofing of the fourth and final book in the series, on spring, which arrives next March. That book now has an official title: Sun Above and Blooms Below: A Springtime of Opposites, and takes a class field trip to see eggs hatch at a local farm. The lively teacher in the book is Miss Ava, named after my delightful and unstoppable niece. I can’t wait to give her a copy!

As for now, tomorrow is an opportunity to enjoy the delights of winter without the foyer puddles from piled up winter boots and snow shoveling. If you’re home for the (Labor Day) holiday, I hope you stop by the HLT market for some awesome August corn and to meet my Sugar White Snowman!

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A Few More Fair Photos

Well, the Middlesex County Fair is over…until next summer. I had a wonderful time chatting with everyone who stopped by my table to look at my books and participate in the Pick a Circle, Gather Squares scavenger hunt. Here are a few more photos of some of the fun and lovely people I met:
Middlesex County Fair Fun Family Middlesex County Fair Grandma and Grandson Cheers for a Dozen Ears Fans Middlesex County Fair SWS fan mom and daughter

I’m looking forward to returning to the fair next summer! By then I’ll be able to share all four books in my picture book series: Pick a Circle, Gather Squares: A Fall Harvest of Shapes, Cheers for a Dozen Ears: A Summer Crop of Counting, Sugar White Snow and Evergreens: A Winter Wonderland of Color, and Sun Above and Blooms Below: A Springtime of Opposites (March 2015)!

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A Few More Fair Photos

Felicia Chernesky with Middlesex County Fair Fans August 8 2014Garden State Promise
County Fair Fries

A few more Middlesex County Fair photos. Go New Jersey!

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Middlesex County Fair Cheers for a Dozen Ears Fan

Middlesex County Fair Scavenger Hunt kidI had so much fun visiting with families attending the Middlesex County Fair last night. Stationed in the “Hey Kids You Want to Be a Farmer?” exhibit, I signed copies of Cheers for a Dozen Ears  and my other books, and conducted countless Pick a Circle, Gather Squares-based shape scavenger hunts. Here’s a fair fan who took the hunt very seriously—but you can see from her smile she enjoyed searching for rectangles, diamonds, hexagons, and more within the many fun farm-themed activities in the exhibit. My favorite? A heart-shaped patch of black on the hide of a cardboard Holstein in the exhibit!Pick a Circle, Gather Squares--Scavenger Hunt! with x

I’ll be back again tonight, and during the afternoon hours on Saturday and Sunday, and am looking forward to another fresh-squeezed lemonade (super yum!) and samples of Jersey tomatoes and sweet corn from the stand manned by the Middlesex County Extension of the Rutgers Cooperative. Delicious. CHEERS!

p.s. If you’d like to see a nice way to turn your next farm stand visit into a learning opportunity “using Early Literacy’s TalkPlaySingWrite, and Read concepts,” check out yesterday’s post on Cheers, “Going to the Farm Stand,” on One Books, Two Books, Old Books, New Books.

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Meet Me at the Fair!

Final Cover for Cheers for a Dozen Ears, by Felicia Sanzari CherneskyPick a Circle, Gather Squares--Scavenger Hunt! with xMeet me at the Middlesex County Fair! I’m packed and ready for the weekend festivities—from pig races to popcorn.

I’ll be at the “Hey Kids You Want to Be a Farmer?” exhibit from 6:00 to 9:00 tonight and tomorrow, and 1:00 to 4:00 on Saturday and Sunday to sign and sell books, and conduct a shape scavenger hunt and other children’s activities.

Need a respite from the cotton candy carouseling? Stop by for a casual and comfortable colorful counting celebration of the summer season and fall harvest! (And get a snow cone sneak peak of my forthcoming Sugar White Snow and Evergreens: A Winter Wonderland of Color!)

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I spent a portion of this weekend working on revisions to the text of the fourth book in my seasonal concept book series published by Albert Whitman and illustrated by Susan Swan. This book covers spring and a school field trip to a local farm to see chicks hatch. The concept is opposites, and it’s been the most difficult volume in the series to write. I found a boost of inspiration yesterday when we stopped at a farm stand in Hillsborough and took a few photos of these Rhode Island Red hens. At the stand we bought a dozen large brown eggs, three patty pan squash, and a pint of husk cherries. I’ve seen but never tried them, and they are fascinating in appearance and flavor, which is a cross between a sweet cherry tomato and, to me, a strawberry.

There’s a lot coming up in August, notably my participation at the “Hey Kids, Do You Want to Be a Farmer?” exhibit at the Middlesex County Fair later this week. I’ll be conducting a scavenger hunt and signing and selling copies of my books, Pick a Circle, Gather Squares: A Fall Harvest of Shapes and Cheers for a Dozen Ears: A Summer Crop of Counting. I have bookmarks, stickers, and erasers for the kids and am looking forward to immersing myself in the county fair setting. I’ve heard there are going to be pig races, and when I close my eyes, I can hear the whir of the carousel and smell that midway popcorn and cotton candy.

But for now, it’s back to the chickens! Bok!

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Image B Cheers CoverIt’s been a while since I’ve posted. Frankly, it was a tough winter on many fronts! I’ve done battle with some health issues, but that hasn’t stopped me from writing, and soon I’ll be sharing some good publishing news…

For now, I’m celebrating this most welcome approach of spring and the readiness to commence author signings for Cheers for a Dozen Ears, which appeared last month. I’ve been chomping at the bit, but it does seem more appropriate to start now now, when the growing season is about to begin. Cheers is a celebration of summer’s bounty. Think of the watermelon days that lie ahead! It’s almost still too difficult to imagine, but with the daffodils in bloom, images of sunny summer days are getting easier to envision.

To get things started, I’ll be talking about and signing copies of Cheers and the first book in my picture book series, Pick a Circle, Gather Squares, at a special Educator Reception at the Barnes & Noble in Bridgewater, New Jersey, next Wednesday, April 16, from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., which is being held during their Educator Appreciation Week.

I’m really looking forward to getting out there—and if you are in the area, I hope you’ll consider stopping by to say hello!

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Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall: Mother Nature Rules Them All

Final Cover for Cheers for a Dozen Ears, by Felicia Sanzari CherneskyWell, it’s starting to feel like spring where I live, but March weather often includes a little bit of every season—sometimes all in the same day!

And ever since I’ve been working on my picture book series published by Albert Whitman, I’ve been dabbling in all the seasons at once, too. Sugar White Snow and Evergreens, title pageCheers for a Dozen Ears: A Summer Crop of Counting released March 1. Sugar White Snow and Evergreens: A Winter Wonderland of Colors appears this September. I just finished working on the manuscript for the last book in the series, on spring, which will arrive in bookstores March 2015. And the first book, Pick a Circle, Gather Squares: A Fall Harvest of Shapes, which released September 2013, just received a starred review in the February 2014 Science Books & Films, a journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in the children’s book section under the mathematics heading.

Right now, that seems especially fitting.

And I’m just delighted with the reviewer’s specific take on the book:

cover_thumbChernesky, Felicia Sanzari. Pick a Circle, Gather Squares: A Fall Harvest of Shapes. (Illus. by Susan Swan.) Morton Grove, IL: Whitman, 2013. 32pp. $16.99. 2013005186. ISBN 9780807565384. C.I.P.

K, EP, ★

With brightly colored pictures, Pick a Circle, Gather Squares: A Fall Harvest of Shapes cleverly blends the study of shapes into activities of the autumn season. After a few short introductory pages that set the narrative at a pumpkin farm, individual shapes are introduced on double page spreads. The reader is encouraged to find the shapes in various objects within the pictures. Some of the shapes are rather unusual; while circles, squares and rectangles are introduced, so are ovals, diamonds, hexagons, hearts and stars. This book would be useful for making connections to mathematics and science lessons for the very youngest learners. For instance, the use of the word “cube” on the pages that deal with squares could lead to a mathematics lesson on three dimensional objects. A look at hexagons could lead to a science lesson on bees and beehives. The rhyming narrative should appeal to those who can read independently and the challenge of finding shapes within the pictures should appeal to all. This would be a welcome addition to supplemental libraries for preschool through grade 2.

—Ellen McCabe, Associate Librarian, Emeritus, Binghamton, New York

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A Daily Dose of Fruits and Veggies

Book Basket for PICTO Night by Felicia Sanzari Chernesky

Here’s the book basket we created for an upcoming PICTO night, a very popular picture bingo basket auction fund-raiser that’s held yearly at my youngest child’s school. The basket contains a signed copy of each of my books, a certificate for my forthcoming Sugar White Snow and Evergreens: A Winter Wonderland of Colors, and a few bookmarks, all surrounded by some fun play fruit and veggies. It felt good to work with the vibrant colors of the growing seasons—both summer and fall—because, as we all know too well, it has been such a long and tough winter.

That’s part of what I like about this recent Booklist review of Cheers, due out in just a few days:

Cheers for a Dozen Ears: A Summer Crop of Counting.
Chernesky, Felicia Sanzari (author). Illustrated by Susan Swan.

Mar. 2014. 32p. Albert Whitman, hardcover, $16.99 (9780807511305). PreS-Grade 1.
REVIEW. First published January 16, 2014 (Booklist Online).

On a hot, steamy day in August, a brother and sister visit the local farm stand with their mother. As they gather fruits and vegetables, the rhyming, rhythmic text switches into counting mode, featuring numbers from 1 to 12 and leading off with “1 watermelon so smooth and round. / 2 purple eggplants that weight two pounds.” Checking for items on Mom’s grocery list, the children find items such as “stinky onions,” “fuzzy peaches,” and “fresh-picked corn,” before pausing for a last-minute addition: a sunflower. It’s an everyday excursion for these kids but an evocative, vicarious experience for young children who don’t have a farm just down the road. While there’s a bit of humor in the easy-going text, the book’s jovial spirit is created chiefly in the lively digital collages, which combine cut-paper elements with painted effects for a richly colorful visual experience. This pleasant picture book makes a flavorful read-aloud choice, best savored in the summertime.

— Carolyn Phelan

While each of the picture books in this series covers an early learning concept, a season of the year, and some aspect of a visit to a local farm, the rhyming text and the color-drenched, textured, and patterned illustrations by the wonderful Susan Swan blend companionably to engage readers in the characters’ experiences—and this reviewer (to my delight) seems to have felt this.

For me, that’s the essence and aim of these books. In Pick a Circle, I hope readers are bouncing along with the book’s family as they search for the shapes of the harvest as they enjoy a pumpkin hayride, a popular fall tradition everywhere.

In writing Cheers, which was actually the first picture book manuscript I ever wrote, I was inspired by a visit with my son—in preschool at the time, and learning to count—to a farm stand on the road that leads to the school that’s hosting the PICTO night where the above-pictured basket will be auctioned!

Those kinds of connections mean a lot to me, which is also why I dedicated Cheers to my mother, who taught me and my sisters how to pick out fresh produce at local farm stands in northern New Jersey, where I grew up. To call the process a ritual would make this post better suited to a foodie’s blog, which it obviously isn’t, but it’s accurate. For me, as with more and more of us these days, if I’m not engaged in growing a garden myself, a visit to a local farm stand or farmer’s market involves something other than just picking up the week’s lettuce and apples—it’s a way to slow down, reconnect, and celebrate the land and enjoy some fellowship.

There’s nothing sappy or high falutin’ about this. It’s a pretty obvious statement these days. We all seem to be growing hungrier again for the simpler, fresher, real things in life, and those delicious moments where we can disconnect from all forms of social media and plug back into the world and commune with our fellow human beings:

Spread from Cheers for a Dozen Ears: A Summer Crop of Counting, by Felicia Sanzari Chernesky, illustrated by Susan Swan

Spread from Cheers for a Dozen Ears: A Summer Crop of Counting
by Felicia Sanzari Chernesky, illustrated by Susan Swan

For me, this holds true even in winter. My family looks forward eagerly all year round to Saturday visits to the indoor Stangl Factory Farmers’ Market and on Sundays to the Dvoor Farmers’ Market.

These markets are populated by earnest, inviting, and friendly people, and glorious goods that uplift body and spirit—and both are just minutes from home. It’s a blessing that it’s so easy to find some of the golden sunshine we associate most often with summer in the chill and silver months.

Sugar White Snow and Evergreens, title pageAnd speaking of winter, while we may be tired of it, it’s still a lovely season. I can’t help but share this gorgeous snowscape, beautiful for the contrast between color and purity. It’s the title page from Sugar White Snow and Evergreens, which appears September 1 and focuses on the concept of colors as it takes a sleigh ride with a family during a mouthwatering visit to their favorite local farm to learn how maple syrup is made.

I’m excited for readers to experience the colors and textures within this rhyming picture book. Susan Swan, you’ve done it again! I can’t wait to see what illustrations you’ll create for the final book in this series—on spring.

To glorious new green growings!

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‘Neath Ice and Snow, the Waters Flow

under snow and iceI know it’s been a bit since I’ve posted a blog entry, and that’s partly because I’ve been getting ready for what’s to come in 2014, including the appearance of books 2 and 3 in my picture book series published by Albert Whitman & Company and illustrated by the very talented Susan Swan.

Cheers for a Dozen Ears: A Summer Crop of Counting, due out March 1, just received a nice review in Publisher’s Weekly (see below). And I recently got to take a look at the gorgeous cover art for book 3 (due out September 1), which focuses on winter and colors as it follows a family on a sweet and frosty excursion to a local farm to see how maple syrup is made—something my own family will do when we visit Howell Living Farm near Lambertville, New Jersey, in February.

Just before Christmas, I learned that Albert Whitman will move ahead with book 4, which features spring and the early learning concept of opposites—and that makes the whole series! I couldn’t be more delighted, and thankful to my agent, Susan Hawk (so many Susans! so many feathers!) and the wonderful Wendy McClure, senior editor at Albert Whitman, for being patient, supportive, and instructive guides along the way. Talk about a harvest hayride!

There are other projects in the works as well, so I am looking forward to continuing to being productive this year. I’ll be updating this website this winter, posting dates for forthcoming workshops and appearances, and getting back into the social media swing of things—the most challenging part of publishing for me. Above all things I love to be busy and useful, so I am grateful to be a newly working cog (as author) in this process. Encouraging fuel comes in the form of notes and kind words from family and friends (like Colorado Susan), and from teachers and (grand)parents whose students and children are fond of Pick a Circle, Gather Squares. That has been a joy.

Every winter I recall reading and rereading The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats as a child. It’s still my favorite picture book! I vividly remember picking it out for purchase from a Scholastic Books flyer in early grade school, because it was the first time I made such a choice myself. Once I had that precious copy in my hands, I worked through the words on my own and poured over the richly textured illustrations, never tiring of Peter’s snowy adventure.

Just as I’m certain that my mother reading Longfellow, Poe, and selections from The Best Loved Poems of the American People to me and my sisters put me on the poetry path, I’m sure those good first experiences with a picture book fostered my ardent love of reading. And when I look at  Susan Swan’s color-drenched, collage-style illustrations in the unfolding Albert Whitman picture book series, it really does feel as if things have come full Pick a Circle.

Here’s the Publisher’s Weekly review of Cheers for a Dozen Ears:

Final Cover for Cheers for a Dozen Ears, by Felicia Sanzari Chernesky

The team behind the shapes-focused Pick a Circle, Gather Squares returns with a counting book that emphasizes eating fresh, local produce. A mother and her two children with sun-varnished faces and mussed hair, visit a farm stand, first selecting “1 watermelon so smooth and round./ 2 purple eggplants that weigh two pounds.” Vibrant variations in color and composition in Swan’s collages point to the myriad of edible treasures to be discovered at the fruit stand or farm. Chernesky closes by underscoring the importance of supporting local growers: “But first, put some money in the can./ Farmers work hard to feed the land.” Ages 4–7. Author’s agent: Susan Hawk, the Bent Agency. (Mar.)

I’m counting my Jersey corn blessings. Abbondanza!

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