15 Best Picture Books of 2014

This is an exciting day! It’s the day I announce my list of the Best Picture Books of 2014, just in time for you to make your holiday shopping list. You will love each and every one of these books and so will your children.  I read so many outstanding books this year, I just could not limit my list to 10 books. Each of these titles were reviewed by me during the 2014 calendar year and were published in the last quarter of 2013 or during the calendar year of 2014.

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#1 Best Picture Book of the Year

The Lion and the Bird

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Written and Illustrated by Marianne Dubuc (Enchanted Lion Books)

What Makes This the Best Picture Book of the Year and One of the Best of All Time

The Lion and the Bird is absolutely perfect in every way. It’s the only picture book I read this year that made me cry, because I was so touched by the story. When my daughter came home from college I gave it to her to read, and she cried too. The story tugs at your heart, then warms it up and enriches your soul like it’s never been enriched before.  It’s about loneliness, an unlikely friendship and love, using select few words and outstanding illustrations, with adorable little details, that are so full of emotion and charm, you just won’t know what to do with yourself. The Lion and the Bird is more than just a book.  It’s a symbol of hope and kindness and hands to readers the key to true happiness, all wrapped up in a beautiful package with a bow. There can’t be a better picture book on the planet than this one, so don’t even try to convince me otherwise.

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The Rest of the Best Picture Books in Alphabetical Order

I simply cannot rank these books in order of greatness. They are all winners in their own unique and outstanding ways.

Banjo and Ruby Red

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Written by Libby Gleeson and illustrated by Freya Blackwood (Little Hare – Hardie Grant Egmont)

What Makes This Book Outstanding

I was smitten with the oil-painted illustrations by Freya Blackwood as soon as I saw the cover of the book. She uses beautifully saturated colors along with wispy black ink outlines, resulting in the most eye-catching images. The story is about a farm dog, named Banjo, whose job it is to keep the chickens in the farm yard. Banjo clashes with the most stubborn chicken on the entire farm, Ruby Red, but something happens that turns a rivalry into a very special friendship. Banjo and Ruby Red teach us that compassion, kindness and friendship can even exist between complete opposites. The story is touching and the visual experience you get from reading this book is extraordinary.

Read My Review

Read My Interview with Illustrator Freya Blackwood

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The Day I Lost My Superpowers

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 Written by Michaël Escoffier, Illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo (Enchanted Lion Books)

What Makes This Book Outstanding

My regular readers all know that Michaël Escoffier, and Kris Di Giacomo are my favorite children’s book author/illustrator team. No matter what the topic of their picture book, they deliver it with unparalleled wit, humor and charm. Kris’ endearing illustrations are irresistible.  The Day I Lost My Superpowers is written from the perspective of a very little girl with a cape and a mask (and a pacifier) who spends her days polishing her “superpowers,” that is until something goes very wrong.  Words can’t begin to properly portray the adorableness of this child and her imaginary play. The carefully chosen words are magical and the illustrations, with all their little details make the reading experience extraordinary. There isn’t a child (or adult) out there who can’t relate to this charming story.

Read My Review

Read My Interview With Illustrator Kris Di Giacomo

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Fox’s Garden

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Written and illustrated by Princesse Camcam (Enchanted Lion Books)

What Makes This Book Outstanding

This story of compassion is about a fox in need who receives a kind and selfless gesture from a little boy. It’s a wordless picture book, so the reader does all the work figuring out the storyline by interpreting the illustrations. And those illustrations are exceptionally unique. Princesse Camcam creates them by using cut paper and arranging the pieces in display boxes. She then uses lights behind the paper to create brightness, shadows and depth. The illustrations make you feel as though you are right in the middle of the wintry scene yourself. The ending is pure joy, and the story is so genuine you’ll just be a better version of yourself after reading it.

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The Grudge Keeper

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Written by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler (Peachtree Publishing)

What Makes This Book Outstanding

Imagine a town called Bonnyripple, with a “keeper of grudges.” These grudges have been written on paper and rolled up and tied, and there are oodles and oodles of them. Then imagine the chaos that can ensue from all those papers with all those grudges and all that baggage!  The message in The Grudge Keeper is larger than life. The tongue-twisting words are a pure delight to read out loud and the illustrations take you back to an earlier time, with all their eye-catching detail. The Grudge Keeper is a brilliant book and by far one of the best picture books I’ve ever read. If you’ve ever held a grudge, are holding one now or know someone who holds a grudge, then you must buy this extraordinary book. If you know a child, you should buy it for him or her too. This is a classic story that will stand the test of time.

Read My Review

Read My Interview With Illustrator Eliza Wheeler

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I’m My Own Dog

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Written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein (Candlewick Press)

What Makes This Book Outstanding

The clever wit of I’m My Own Dog, combined with the darling and humorous illustrations make this stand way out among picture books. The story is told from the point of view of one very smart alec dog, who leads you to believe he is the owner of the human, rather than the human being the owner of the dog.  Creative genius and Caldecott Honor winner, David Ezra Stein has a knack to tell a story with so few, clever chosen words and uniquely wonderful illustrations. I interviewed him and was so impressed with the amount of thought and work that goes into his books. There isn’t a detail that’s been overlooked here: even the font of the text matches the playfulness of the dog. You don’t have to have a dog to love this fantastic picture book.

Read My Review

Read My Interview With Author/Illustrator David Ezra Stein

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Just Right for Two

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Written by Tracey Corderoy and Illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw (Nosy Crow Books)

What Makes This Book Outstanding

Just when you’re happy to be alone, along comes a stranger who’s very different than you in every way. After you get acquainted with that stranger, well, he’s not a stranger any longer. And once he’s gone, that’s the time you really start to miss him. The message of friendship and sharing in Just Right for Two is delivered in such a gentle and heartwarming way. Rosalind Beardshaw’s illustrations are among my favorite of the year. The characters are absolutely adorable and remind me of fluffy stuffed animals that your child will want to take to bed every night. After reading Just Right for Two, we know are better off sharing with a pal or loved one than we are spending time alone with all our stuff. This is a life lesson we can all benefit from.

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Mr. Frank

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Written and illustrated by Irene Luxbacher (Groundwood Books)

What Makes This Book Outstanding

Inspired by the author’s childhood, Mr. Frank is a tribute to her dad who owned a tailor’s shop for many years up until his retirement. The wholesomeness of a Mr. Frank’s old-fashioned American business is delightfully presented. There’s something extraordinary about a man who spends his life providing an expert service to the people in his town, and does what he does so well.  Irene Luxbacher’s outstanding illustrations are a mix of pencil drawing, paint, as well as scans of photographs and textiles – including some of the fabrics her dad used in his shop. How cool is that? The colors are vibrant and you can almost feel the textures she magically creates. This feel-good story has a lovely surprise ending, leaving you with joy in your heart, wishing you were a small shop owner too.

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Mr.Wuffles

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Written and illustrated by David Wiesner (Clarion Books)

Mr. Wuffles takes humor to a whole new level. This black and white cat has a pile of toys, but he’s only interested in the tiny aliens that have landed in a spacecraft and occupied the house. And that cat is out to get them. Those aliens don’t know what hit them with that cat around, and the goings on are both hilarious and oh, so cleverly concocted. There are only a few words, plus a made up language and phenomenal, beautifully colored illustrations.  This book earned David a  Caldecott Honor, plus he is one of only two, three-time Caldecott Medalists in the history of the award. The story is so clever and original, and the experience the aliens have, who befriend insects inside the walls of the house, is uproariously funny. This almost wordless picture book has a comic strip flair to it and gives readers the chance to do the deciphering.  It’s an incredible treat to do that with illustrations as amazing as these.

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Read My Interview with David Wiesner

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Paul Meets Bernadette

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Written and illustrated by Rosy Lamb (Candlewick Press)

What Makes This Book Outstanding

The cover of Paul Meets Bernadette had me hooked. All throughout the book, every page is an artistic oil-painted masterpiece in and of itself. Oh, what I’d do to own any original illustration from that book! Author Rosy Lamb is an incredibly talented American sculptor and oil artist, living in Paris, and she was inspired one day to try her hand at her first picture book after gazing at her own goldfish bowl sitting in the middle of her art studio. Paul is a fish who swims round and round until the day he meets Bernadette, who suddenly appears in his bowl. She shows him that there’s a lot he’s missing by not taking the time to notice what’s all around him. The message is that the world can look quite different when you see it through the eyes of love. Paul Meets Bernadette is an extraordinary picture book, and my interview with author Rosy Lamb, remains my favorite of all the interviews I’ve ever done. You’ve just got to read her amazing personal story, and you’ve just got to buy this book!

Read My Review

Read My Interview With Author/Illustrator Rosy Lamb

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Peggy

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Written and illustrated by Anna Walker (Clarion Books by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

What Makes This Book Outstanding

Peggy is an adorable chicken who is content sitting in her hen house day in and day out. But one day, a mighty wind takes her high in the air, outside the comfort of her home and she lands in a nearby city – a place she never would have gone to on her own. We learn through Peggy that we all must step outside our comfort zones to broaden our horizons and experience all the world has to offer. Anna Walker uses subtle humor to tell her lovely story, and her watercolor illustrations are stunning. Peggy is such a likable chicken, and what’s there not to love about a chicken named Peggy anyway? She will steal your heart and inspire you to step outside your own “hen house” and create your own unforgettable, life-changing adventure.

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Sam and Dave Dig a Hole

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Written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen (Candlewick Press)

What Makes This Book Outstanding

There’s been a lot of hullabaloo about NY Times Bestselling Sam & Dave Dig a Hole, and it’s all well deserved.  This author and illustrator team exemplifies pure creative genius. Sam and Dave are brothers who start digging in the yard to see what treasures they can find, along with their extra observant pooch. The reader knows more about what’s going on than the boys in the story, and what makes this book so outstanding is that the reader has to really pay attention in order to figure out what happens at the end. It’s incredibly clever and original and so entertaining! It really makes children think. The illustrations are so perfect for the storyline and the deadpan humor of these two masters of children’s literature is unparalleled. This is a book that will be flying off the shelves for years to come. You’ve just got to get it.

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Shh! We Have a Plan!

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Written and illustrated by Chris Haughton (Candlewick Press)

What Makes This Book Outstanding

Four characters set out to catch a bird, but their plan fails – over and over again. There’s always hope though, so one says to the others, “Shh! We have a plan!”  Chris Haughton’s keen sense of humor is beguiling and the artwork is spectacular. With blue on blue tones (except for the bird) the illustrations are unique and expressive, adding as much silly humor to the story as the words. And the surprise ending is super clever. Shh! We Have a Plan provides laugh out loud humor and has all the elements of a winning picture book. There’s simply nothing that could be changed to make this book better. It’s perfect just the way it is.

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Take Away the A

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 Written by Michaël Escoffier, Illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo (Enchanted Lion Books)

What Makes This Book Outstanding

There are alphabet books galore, but there’s none like Take Away the A. Once again, my favorite author/illustrator team creates a real winner here with this super creative way to teach children their ABCs and more. Each letter of the alphabet is presented on a two-page spread, and a short sentence presents a word with the featured letter of the alphabet subtracted. So when just one letter is taken out of a word, it transforms into an entirely new word, and the words are all humorous. This book that seems simple in its purpose is beautifully sophisticated and gets little people’s brains spinning. Kris Di Giacomo’s illustrations are darling and humorous. I don’t know how these two can repeatedly take their ideas and turn them into masterpieces, but they manage to do it every single time. Publishers Weekly agrees with me on this one, because they named it one of the Best Picture Books of the Year too.

Read My Review

Read My Interview With Illustrator Kris Di Giacomo

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Quest

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Illustrated by Aaron Becker (Candlewick Press)

What Makes This Book Outstanding

Aaron Becker’s first book ever, Journey, landed him a Caldecott Honor, was a NY Times Bestseller and Best Illustrated Picture Book. This second title in his wordless picture book trilogy is just as outstanding as his first, and there’s nothing formulaic about it. Each title stands on its own. Aaron’s watercolor illustrations are truly magical – among the best you’ve ever seen. His use of color is mesmerizing and the world he creates is one where I long to be.  A boy and a girl set out to save the king, who is in great danger. The story is full of excitement, adventure and around every corner there’s a surprise. All kids can relate to child heroes and that’s what these two in the book really are. Because Quest is wordless, readers get to decide the storyline for themselves. This second book in the trilogy leaves you eager to dive into the third title, Return, when it’s out next year. Aaron is in Spain right now finishing that up as we speak.

Read My Review

Read my Second Interview with Author/Illustrator Aaron Becker

Read my First Interview with Author/Illustrator Aaron Becker

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Check out my list of the Best Picture Books of 2013 here.

Celebrate Geography Awareness Week! Barron’s Amazing Fact-Packed Fold-Out Atlas of the World

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Cover image courtesy of Barron’s Educational Publishing

Barron’s Amazing Fact-Packed Fold-Out Atlas of the World

  • Targeted Audience: Preschool, Lower Elementary (Ages 8-12)
  • Genre: Non-Fiction Atlas
  • Author: Jen Green
  • Illustrator: Christiane Engel
  • Publisher: Barron’s Educational Series
  • Publication Date: October 1, 2014
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • Dimensions: 10″ x 11.5″
  • Printing: Full color
  • Length: 56 Pages
  • Retail: $18.99
  • ISBN: 978-0764167461

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© Copyright – Inside image courtesy of Barron’s Educational Publishing

An Interactive Visual Trip Around the World

One thing is for sure – Barron’s knows how to get kids excited about learning in big, beautiful and creative ways. Aptly named, Barron’s Amazing Fact-Packed Fold-Out Atlas of the World  takes readers around the globe in glorious color and imagery. When you open the cover a magical pop-up appears with a vivid map of the world and display of flags from every country. The page folds perfectly in like origami when you close it, and kids will find it fascinating to figure out just how it all works. An intro page offers The World at a Glance, with offset colorful boxes and graphics filled with facts about the earth as a planet, its people and climate. The pages that follow present the continents, with super cool facts and four-page pull-out maps requiring the reader to turn the book on its side. There’s information about geography, history, culture, geology, industry and so much more.

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© Copyright – Inside image courtesy of Barron’s Educational Publishing

What This Book Teaches

Barron’s Amazing Fact-Packed Fold-Out Atlas of the World teaches readers how to read a map by guiding them with eye-catching imagery and filling their heads with facts that are so interesting, they’ll want to learn more about the world. With school district budget cuts, typically leaving geography education at the bottom of the priority list, geography illiteracy is an epidemic in America. The action we must take to cure that epidemic starts right here. Children discover firsthand that geography is anything but boring, and there’s no electronic devise that can replace the wonders of a physical map. By knowing more about where they live as well as far away places unfamiliar to them, children, our future leaders will be better equipped to succeed and make allies in a world full of people and nations that rely upon each other for so many reasons. Plus they will discover there is so much more to life than what’s just outside their own doors.

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© Copyright – Inside image courtesy of Barron’s Educational Publishing

Why You Must Buy This Book

DSC_00341-500x332As a teaching author myself, who wrote a picture book about Costa Rica, I have visited dozens and dozens of schools and at every single one I visit, without exception, just about every child is excited to run up to take a closer look at the big maps I bring of the world and the USA. They are always surprised when I tell them how affordable wall maps are and suggest they put them on their wish lists for future gifts. If I were to show them this book, their eyes would light up.

Barron’s Amazing Fact-Packed Fold-Out Atlas of the World is such a beautiful and engaging book that proves to children that geography is an intriguing subject that offers so much to learn, the possibilities endless. So buy this book for the special children in your life for the holidays, and watch them as they explore it with wonder, opening their minds to new and exciting wonders that will make them smarter and more worldly.

© Copyright – Image of me at an author visit at a summer camp in southwest Miami-Dade County teaching the children about geography

About The Author

Jen Green has writer over 250 books, mainly on geography, nature, environment, and history. She has also written about social issues, earth science, the human body, survival and art. After receiving her doctorate in 1982, Jen worked as an editor and editorial director in publishing before writing books herself full-time.

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© Copyright – Inside image courtesy of Barron’s Educational Publishing

About The Illustrator

Christiane Engel’s illustrations have been published in children’s books all over the world, from novelty books and pop-up books to picture books and a 200+ page kids’ bible.

A1Iv4sXAm7LFurther Learning

  1.  Become a member of National Geographic Kids.
  2. Find out about National Geographic’s Giant Traveling Maps.
  3. Visit the National Geographic Museum.
  4. Buy a World and US Map Set for your wall.
  5. Explore Geography for Kids.
  6. Visit the National Council for Geography Education website.

© Copyright – Inside image courtesy of Barron’s Educational Publishing

Read my article about National Geographic’s Giant Traveling Maps.

Check out his title too:

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Link to my book, The Travel Adventure of Lilly P. Badilly: Costa Rica:

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Three Little Peas (Not in a Pod)

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Cover image courtesy of Enchanted Lion Books

The Three Little Peas

  • Targeted Audience: Preschool, Lower Elementary (Ages 3-7)
  • Genre: Fiction-Picture Book
  • Author/Illustrator: Marine Rivoal
  • Publisher: Enchanted Lion Books
  • Publication Date: September 2, 2014
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • Dimensions: 9.5″ x 7.5″
  • Printing: Full color
  • Length: 48 Pages
  • Retail: $16.95
  • ISBN: 978-1592701551

Two Peas on an Extraordinary Adventure

Every time I review an Enchanted Lion picture book, I say, “This book is so original, there can’t possibly be any new ideas left for future stories from this publisher.” Then I’m proven wrong, time and time again. The Three Little Peas is a story of a glorious garden in bloom, from which two little peas emerge from two separate pods and land on the dirt. Outside the protection of their pods they have nothing left to do but explore the rest of the garden. There they find adventure all around them. It’s all new and exciting and is both fun and a bit frightening at times. When danger lurks do these two little peas have the wherewithal to survive?  And where does the third little pea fit into the story? You’ve got to read it yourself to find out!

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© Copyright Inside image – Courtesy of Enchanted Lion

The Most Unique Illustrating Process

Author/Illustrator Marine Rivoal uses an old technique to create the illustrations for this book called etching. It’s a very involved, time consuming and fascinating process. She uses a zinc plate, covers part of the plate with tape and sketches on the tape with a scalpel. Then the plate receives an acid bath, and the areas of the plate not covered by tape erode. What results is a bas-relief. The taping and drawing are done in layers, followed by an inking process. The different depths of the etchings on the plate create the different shades of blacks and greys on the final printed piece. In the back of the book are photographs and a full explanation of this fascinating process.

These etchings create the most original illustrations with thick outlines that have a bit of a smudge-like quality to them that’s whimsical and gloriously child-like. The amount of work that went into creating each of these images is astounding. Marine’s lush garden scenes will delight children as they admire all the magical details. The bright little  green peas pop off the page, among the grey scale images.

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 © Copyright Inside image – Courtesy of Enchanted Lion

Why You Should Buy This Book

If you have an appreciation for true, original art, The Three Little Peas is the perfect book for you and your child to enjoy.  The passion that went into creating this book in both words and pictures is what makes it shine. The story is so charming, and children will delight in the adventures these two peas take. As they follow them through the garden, readers discover the many plants and critters that live and thrive there and depend upon each other for survival. And the simple, sparse text is ideal for young children who are just starting to read. The end of the story is absolutely adorable and will teach children about the circle of life.

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© Copyright Inside image – Courtesy of Enchanted Lion

Buy a copy of The Three Little Peas. It will make a wonderful holiday gift!

About the Author/Illustrator

MarineRivoalAfter receiving her baccalauréat, Marine Rivoal went to art school, where she threw herself into learning everything she could about the art and craft of bookmaking. In 2008, she received her second degree, this time in graphic arts, from the Estienne Art School. Next, she went to the School of Decorative Arts in Strasbourg, from which she graduated in 2011. There she deepened her skills and knowledge of engraving and began to experiment with different printing techniques. Today, Marine continues her experiments at a collective for printing and engraving on the outskirts of Paris.

Image of Marine Rivoal courtesy of Enchanted Lion Books

Further Learning

  1. Plant some peas in your garden with your child.
  2. Learn more about gardening with children here.
  3.  Have your child create his or her own crayon etching.

If you like this book, you’ll love this title by Enchanted Lion too:

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Make a Chocolate Cornucopia Centerpiece for Thanksgiving

A few years ago I made a Chocolate Cornucopia Centerpiece for Thanksgiving, spilling out Homemade Chocolate Pecan Turtle Candies and Chocolate Truffles. It’s a showstopper of a centerpiece that your guests will remember and you’ll be proud to display. This is definitely an adult cooking project, but your kids will love helping you out! It’s quality time together you’ll treasure for years to come. Why not read a Thanksgiving book together before making your centerpiece? It’ll make your project extra special.

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I got the directions from an episode of The Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network. I used a larger cornucopia mold than she did, so I had to increase the amount of chocolate I used. Before you begin, learn how to temper chocolate. If you do not temper it properly, it will become gray when it dries, and all your hard work (and money) will be wasted.

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I topped my cornucopia with chocolate leaves. For the candies spilling out of the cornucopia, you can find a recipe to make chocolate turtles, truffles, fudge, chocolate mints or even just buy some of your favorite chocolates. A mixture of milk, dark and white chocolates looks best.

I displayed mine on a cake pedestal placed on top of a crystal tray I filled with autumn finds such as artificial gourds, corn, pumpkins, apples, etc.

Happy Cornucopia Making and Happy Thanksgiving!

These are the molds I used:. I sprayed mine with non-stick spray before pouring chocolate in them:

Large Cornucopia Mold Part A

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Large Cornucopia Mold Part B

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Chocolate Leaves Mold

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Smart Kids Get Fit with Media Smart Youth from the National Institutes of Health

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With more than one in every three children and adolescents overweight or obese in the United States, it’s just as important to educate our youth about health, nutrition and fitness as it is to teach them reading, writing and arithmetic.

I recently attended the Florida After School Alliance Annual Conference in Orlando where I sat in on a workshop, conducted by Katie Rush from the  Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, part of the National Institutes of Health. She was promoting Media-Smart Youth: Eat, Think, and Be Active!®, a free interactive workshop program for middle school students created to educate them about the role media plays in influencing their food and exercise choices. It also teaches them about nutrition, healthy eating and physical activity in fun and creative ways. During the workshop, I was overwhelmed by the successful stories from after care teachers who have implemented the program. After reading what Katie has to say about Media-Smart Youth in this interview, you too will be just as impressed by this program as I am. You’ll want to encourage your child’s school or after care program to get on board. Or perhaps you’ll decide to facilitate the program yourself.

Photo of Katie Rush at the Florida After School Alliance Conference 2014

When was Media Smart-Youth first developed?

The National Institutes of Health released the first edition of Media-Smart Youth in 2005 after a development process with extensive review and testing.

Is the program based upon any official guidelines?

Yes—the program aligns with federal guidelines on nutrition and physical activity. It’s also undergone an in-depth evaluation, which showed that the program helps increase students’ knowledge and intention to make healthy choices.

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Like all NIH programs, Media-Smart Youth is supported by public funding. That’s how we’re able to make it available to folks at no charge. People may download free copies on our website or order hard copies that we’ll mail for free.

© Copyright – Image of Media Smart Youth Flyer courtesy of NIH

It’s truly remarkable that Media Smart-Youth and all the materials are completely free, including the shipping. Other than the cost of food for preparing some of the lessons are there other expenses for administering Media Smart-Youth?

The cost of running a Media-Smart Youth program can range depending on the resources an organization has at its disposal. Aside from healthy snacks, the biggest program expenses might be the cost of renting space to hold the lessons and of paying a facilitator to lead them. But we’ve found that most organizations already have access to free space, as well as help from staff or volunteers.

Many of the program supplies—like paper and markers, cups and paper plates—are readily available to facilitators. Other equipment, like a camera or DVD player, can be useful but aren’t required. Finally, some groups spend money on transportation for field trips. Those are optional, and plenty of sites have led successful programs without taking field trips.

Watch the Media-Smart Youth Eat it Up! video

I’m sure there are ways for schools to get creative and save on food costs.

We always encourage sites to explore community partnerships if they’re concerned about program expenses. Local grocery stores or farms are sometimes willing to donate food for healthy snacks. Office supply stores or other local businesses can sometimes help cover the costs of supplies and printing. Schools, churches, local health organizations, and other nonprofits are often willing to provide space or other resources. And local media partners—such as staff from a nearby news outlet, or even older students in a high school AV club—may be able to assist with some of the youth’s media projects.

Are there statistics on how many schools and students have participated in Media Smart-Youth since it started?

We try to make it as easy as possible for people to access our materials, so we don’t require any sort of registration or reporting from program sites. That makes it difficult to count the number of sites that have run Media-Smart Youth programs over the years, and the number of youth they’ve served.

But we do know that there are a range of different organizations that have found success with the Media-Smart Youth program, from YMCAs and Girl Scout troops, to 21st Century Community Learning Centers and others. We have some great case studies on our website that highlight the experiences of different types of organizations around the country.

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© Copyright – Image of Workshop Curriculum Guide that comes with the program free of charge

Can you give us an example of one of the ten lessons included in the program?

Sure! Lesson 7 – The Power of Advertising is organized in the same way as all of the program lessons. Here’s a brief rundown of the activities:

  • Activity A: “What is Advertising?”

Youth participate in an “advertising relay race” to quickly identify many of the ways they’re exposed to ads. Then the facilitator leads them in a discussion about more subtle forms of advertising, like logos or product placement. There’s an optional DVD clip facilitators may use to underscore some of the main ideas.

  • Snack break: The snack break for this lesson is a whole-wheat English muffin or rice cake, topped with fat-free/low-fat cottage cheese or Greek yogurt and fruit.
  • Activity B: “Thinking About Body Image”

Youth create collages of images of models, celebrities, and athletes found in popular magazines. The facilitator uses those collages to jumpstart a discussion about body image and the media, and how images we see in ads and on TV aren’t very realistic.

  • Action Break: In this action break, youth try out various yoga poses, as demonstrated in one of the Media-Smart Youth DVD clips or, if no DVD player is available, by their facilitator. (This is just one action break of many options in our curriculum. We encourage sites to adapt things however works best for them. So, taking a break to play soccer outside could work just as well.)
  • Activity C: “Omission Mission”

In each lesson, youth have the opportunity to create a media product of their own. For this mini-production, youth work in teams to develop a radio jingle for a made-up product, Giddyup Granola Bars. They’re given a set of facts to include and then choose one fact to leave out. Then the teams perform their jingles for the full group, and the other youth have to guess which fact was left out. This activity helps the youth understand how advertisers are very selective in the information they choose to include in ads—and in what they leave out (whether it’s cost, nutritional content, or other information).

  • Wrap-up: In the last two minutes, the facilitator asks the youth to say something fun or interesting they learned in the lesson. Then the youth leave with two handouts: one with the recipe for that day’s snack, and one with “Tips for Media-Smart Parents” so parents and caregivers can help extend the learning at home.

That is an excellent lesson and it really sounds like fun too. What materials are required for this program, and if teachers wish to facilitate Media Smart-Youth in an after care or community setting, is there some form of training to help them get started?

DSC_0009For sites that may have multiple staff or volunteers leading lessons, we offer a free train-the-trainer guide, with instructions for a half-day training that people can lead on-site in their own communities.

We also offer webinars from time to time to provide prospective facilitators with an overview of the program’s aims and tips for implementation. Beyond that, we offer free technical assistance to facilitators via email or phone (MediaSmartYouth@mail.nih.gov, 1-800-370-2943).

But the curriculum guide itself is also chock-full of great suggestions and information that facilitators should consider before getting started. Really, everything they need to know is right there.

© Copyright – image of Media-Smart Youth Training Guide

“Youth in this country spend, on average, more than 7½ hours a day using entertainment media. And they’re exposed to up to 30,000 ads a year, on TV alone, many for less healthy foods.”

How much of a role does media play in encouraging children to make poor food choices and setting the stage for a sedentary lifestyle?

Media is certainly influential, and maybe even more so today, with the prevalence of social media and broader access to smartphones. But it would be difficult to measure the precise level of influence that media has on any given child. What we do know is that youth use media a great deal, and during that time, they’re exposed to a ton of marketing messages. Youth in this country spend, on average, more than 7½ hours a day using entertainment media. And they’re exposed to up to 30,000 ads a year, on TV alone, many for less healthy foods.

Youth need at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day. That’s why we encourage families to reduce screen time and get moving.

That said, our message in Media-Smart Youth isn’t that media is bad; it’s just pervasive, and we want kids to develop the skills to think critically about what they’re exposed to so they can make healthy decisions for themselves.

Watch the Media-Smart Youth Video What Are Media?

Those statistics are really eye-opening. Can you give us an example or two of positive outcomes that have been the result of this program?

I’d be happy to! That’s one of the highlights of my job—hearing success stories from sites and sharing their successes with others. Here are just a couple:

At the YWCA in El Paso, youth in a Media-Smart Youth program got to learn about media first-hand by taking a field trip to the local Telemundo affiliate and talking with the news crew. The youth ended up being interviewed about their Media-Smart Youth program on the station’s nightly news. When they returned home at the end of the day, all their family members had tuned in to watch—the kids felt like hometown heroes.

Here’s another story I love: at Alkebu-lan Village, in Detroit, the youth snacked on candy and nachos after school every day, until trying out some new snack recipes in Media-Smart Youth that taught them that snacks can be tasty and healthy. After the program, the youth approached the owner of the local convenience store and asked him to offer healthier options. Because of that, he changed his inventory.

There are so many good stories—I love hearing about the creative things the kids come up with, with their capstone projects for example, and how they take the lessons to heart.

Watch this video highlighting different media projects created by participants

Getting a convenience store to add some healthier food choices is really monumental! I understand that the program was upgraded in 2013 and part of that upgrade included Tips for Media-Smart Parents. From the feedback you’ve received, are parents happy to get involved?

Yes, I think the parents are pleased to see their kids enjoying the program. And I think the facilitators are grateful whenever parents can lend a hand in reinforcing the lessons at home—that’s so important.

How does it feel to be part of something so positive that is changing so many lives for the better?

It feels terrific. But really, I have the easy job—it’s the facilitators in the local communities who should get the credit for all they’re doing. Their hard work goes a long way toward helping kids live healthier lives. My hat’s off to them!

Thank you so much for your time and for all this phenomenal information, Katie. You have inspired our readers implement this program for their children!

Summary of the Media-Smart Youth Program071-media-smart-youth-logo

  • This is a workshop curriculum for children ages 11-13 focusing on media awareness, nutrition and physical activity.
  • All learning materials are free (including shipping) and available for order, including the Curriculum Packet (with the Facilitator’s Guide, DVD, and poster) and Train-the-Trainer Packet.
  • Materials can also be downloaded on line for free on the website.
  • The program has proven to be very successful in many venues across America and case studies are available.
  • Media Smart Youth was updated in 2013.
  • Learn how to get started here.

© Copyright – Media Smart Youth Logo courtesy of NIH

For more information or to order free copies of the Media-Smart Youth after-school program materials, contact NICHD Information Resource Center:
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