Saturday, February 16, 2019

Crow's Nest: A Read, Discuss, Do! Activity

HAROLD LOVES HIS WOOLLY HAT by Vern Krousky is a cute and heartwarming story about a little bear who learns what it really means to be special. When Harold wears his woolly hat, he knows he's special. So when a crow swoops by and swipes it, he is determined to get it back! He tries offering the crow various things in exchange for his hat, but nothing works. But when he climbs up to the nest and sees what his hat is being used for, what he does next helps him realize that it was never his hat that made him special!


DISCUSS: What does Harold discover in the nest? What does he do about it? What does Harold do that shows he is a special bear even without his woolly hat?

DO: Create a picture of a crow's nest like the one in the book, complete with an open nest that can be filled with odds and ends (and maybe a tiny hat?).

You will need:

  • Construction paper: one light color, one black 
  • A paper egg carton
  • Scissors
  • School glue
  • Glue stick
  • Short pieces of yarn
  • Small fabric scraps
  • Light colored crayons 


Using the black construction paper, cut out a tall, narrow tree a couple of inches shorter than the length of the paper. Be sure to give the tree short, random branches. Use the crayons to give the tree a suggestion of bark (use the illustrations in the book for inspiration if you're stuck). Use the glue stick to glue the tree to the light colored construction paper.

Use a strong pair of scissors to cut out one section of the egg carton, then cut that one section in half at an angle. This will be the nest! Use white glue to attach it to the top of the tree. Let it dry.

While the nest is drying, make a crow out of black paper. Use the glue stick to add the crow to the picture. Next, cut several very skinny strips of different lengths. These will be the "twigs" on the nest.  Use white glue to glue the twigs onto the nest (be sure the nest has fully dried first). 

If you like, give the crow something to carry! Simply glue a length of yarn or fabric (or anything else you can think of) so that it looks like it is hanging from its feet. The last step is to fill the nest so that it will be a very cozy place for baby crows to hang out!

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Eight Perfectly Poetic Picture Books

When you think of poetry for kids, does your mind jump to poetry collections like Shel Silverstein's A LIGHT IN THE ATTIC and Jack Prelutsky's IT'S RAINING PIGS AND NOODLES, or the poems published in magazines like HIGHLIGHTS FOR CHILDREN and LADYBUG?

If so, you're not alone. But some of the best poetry for kids comes in the form of picture books. Not a collection of poems in the form of a picture book, but a picture book that tells a complete story in verse.

This is not necessarily referring to a picture book written in rhyme. While there is obviously a poetic element to a rhyming picture book story, a poetic picture book does more than tell a story with fun language, even meter, and rhyming text. The entire book, whether rhyming or not, reads and feels like poetry. Because it is poetry!

Verse is a powerful storytelling tool. The language is lyrical, often rhythmic (even when it doesn't rhyme), and there is an intimate, emotional quality with verse that often escapes traditional prose.Verse draws the reader in in order to share an experience, not merely relate a story.

The eight books listed below are books that I believe are stunning examples of picture books that utilize verse to its fullest effect. I hope you will use them to help open the eyes of young readers in your life to the world of poetry in picture book text.

A DANCE LIKE STARLIGHT by Kristy Dempsey, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Told in a flowing, free verse style, this picture book about a young girl's dreams of becoming a ballerina is sure to tug on your heart strings. Floyd Cooper's warm illustrations perfectly capture the life of the text.

DOGKU by Andrew Clements

This is a sweet story of a dog finding a home, told completely in haiku.

WON TON: A CAT TALE TOLD IN HAIKU by Lee Wardlaw, illustrated by Eugene Yeltsin

Another pet story told in haiku, this book is both amusing and touching.

HOUSE HELD UP BY TREES by Ted Kooser, illustrated by Jon Klaassen

Let's just say I wish more of Ted Kooser's poetry would be published in picture book form!

TWILIGHT CHANT by Holly Thompson, illustrated by Jen Betton

This book is beautifully lyrical, with illustrations to match. It perfectly captures the almost magical feeling of twilight.

OVER IN THE WETLANDS by Caroline Starr Rose, illustrated by Rob Dunlavey

I've never been in the midst of a hurricane, but the text and illustrations in this book make me feel like I'm *almost* there!

A HOUSE THAT ONCE WAS by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Lane Smith

This book perfectly captures the adventurous, mysterious feel of exploring an abandoned structure.

ONE DAY IN THE EUCALYPTUS, EUCALYPTUS TREE by Daniel Bernstrom, illustrated by Brenden Wenzel

The language in this book is perfection. It captures the silly, exaggerated feel of the folksy tale, with words and sounds that at once bounce off the page and roll off the tongue. It is an absolute joy to read!

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

I Have an Announcement to Make!

Do you like salsa? And picture books? And fractured fairy tales told in rhyme? Then I have a treat for you! Coming spring of 2020 from Clarion Books is...

Federico and the Wolf, a rhyming, gender-swapped retelling of Little Red Riding Hood with Mexican flair, to be illustrated by the awesomely talented Elisa Chavarri!

This book will be my first solo picture book, and I couldn't be more excited about sharing it with you. I hope you will follow along over the next year or so for updates, giveaways, and other fun stuff related to the publication of this new story!

Friday, November 30, 2018

The Best Books for Your Holiday Gift List!

Books make the best gifts, but it can be hard to know for sure if the recipient will enjoy a book you choose. So, to help increase the odds that the books you give this year will be received with enthusiasm, I've selected favorites that are sure to please a variety of readers of all ages. Most of these books have been published within the last couple of years. I hope this helps you find that just-right book for every kid (and kid at heart) on your list!

Board Books

For the babies and toddlers on your gift list, check out When Your Elephant has the Sniffles, and the three other books in the series, by Susanna Leonard Hill. These books are colorful, short, and full of humor.

Or, if you know a family of Star Wars fans, consider Star Wars Epic Yarns, which are brilliantly simple books with needle-felted illustrations. These aren't just for the little ones! Adult Star Wars fans would probably love these too (if they're anything like me).

Picture Books

For fans of gorgeously illustrated nonfiction, consider John Ronald's Dragons: The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien by Caroline McAlister, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler.

Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus by John Hendrix is another fantastic option.

Someone who enjoys oversized books with lots of details and fun facts would appreciate Everything and Everywhere: A Fact-filled Adventure for Curious Globe-trotters by Marc Martin.

In the market for an ABC book? Check out Animalphabet by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Sharon King-Chai. It's gorgeous, unique, and has lots of fun page flaps!

For the fan of a rhyming read-aloud, you can't go wrong with A Hippy-Hoppy Toad by Peggy Archer, illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf.

Another great rhyming read-aloud is Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse by Laura Sassi, illustrated by Rebecca Gerlings.

Or send someone on a wordless, imaginative adventure with The Fish and the Cat by Marianne Dubuc.

Middle Grade

For the fantasy fan, Dragonwatch, the first in a new series by Brandon Mull (book two, Wrath of the Dragon King, was published in October). It's a follow-up series to Fablehaven, so be sure the recipient has read Fablehaven first (or get it for them instead).

Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech is perfect for fans of heart-warming stories about friendship, family, and pets!

Another good fit would be Moo, also by Sharon Creech.

For the reluctant reader in your life, consider Garvey's Choice by Nikki Grimes, a short verse novel with themes of friendship and strained family relationships.

If you know a young reader who enjoys stories about dystopian societies set in a future post-apocalypse, consider The List by Patricia Forde, a fast-paced story reminiscent of The Giver and The City of Ember.

Young Adult

Does someone on your list enjoy lyrical stories that tug on the heart strings? Consider One by Sarah Crossan, a verse novel about conjoined twins.

Another good verse novel is Solo by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess, an engaging story with themes of music and family.

For the fan of magic, danger, and a bit of romance, The November Girl by Lydia Kang can't be beat! It's gorgeously written, mysterious, and will keep readers turning the pages.

And, for the fan of dark speculative fiction full of death and mystery, I recommend Scythe and Thunderhead, the first two books in a new series by Neal Shusterman.

Need more ideas? Check out these book lists for other great suggestions:

Ten Rhyming Picture Books to Read if You Like What About Moose?

Top Ten Verse Novels for Middle Grade Readers

The Best Picture Books from 2017

Top Ten Rhyming Picture Books

My Favorite Books of 2016 

Monday, October 29, 2018

Torn Paper Wreath: A Read, Discuss, Do! Activity

MOUSE'S CHRISTMAS GIFT is a new picture book by Mindy Baker and illustrated by Dow Phumiruk. In the story, when Parson falls ill and is forced to cancel the Christmas Eve service, Mouse takes things into his own paws, setting up the nativity and lighting a candle in the church window. This small act inspires people around town to contribute to the joy of the Christmas season, even in a time when there seems to be "no money for Christmas." MOUSE'S CHRISTMAS GIFT is a sweet, charming story full of Christmas spirit that you will want to share with your loved ones year after year.


DISCUSS: In the story, the villagers were concerned that there was “no money for Christmas.” But gradually, people added to the Christmas celebration using things they had on hand or were able to make themselves using available materials. In what ways can you help spread the joy of Christmas using your own skills and items you find around the house? Make a list of all the possibilities! 

DO: Make a torn paper Christmas wreath.

You will need:

  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Red and green paper
  • Paper plate
  • Red yarn or ribbon (optional)

Cut out the middle of the paper plate. Tear green paper into random pieces (I used construction paper, but any kind of paper will do). Tear the red paper into small, roundish shapes to look a bit like berries. Glue the green paper pieces onto the plate until it's completely covered. Next, glue the red pieces around the wreath. Once that's done, tie a length of ribbon or yarn into a bow and glue it at the top. If you don't have ribbon or yarn, draw a bow on red paper, cut it out, and glue it to the top of the wreath. Let it dry, then hang it somewhere for all to see!

Other wreath ideas: 
  • Make smaller versions of the wreath to decorate homemade Christmas cards to give to friends, family, and neighbors. 
  • Use fabric scraps instead of paper.

To learn more about MOUSE'S CHRISTMAS GIFT, or to purchase a copy, visit:

Or your local independent book store!

Friday, October 19, 2018

Review: SAVING WINSLOW by Sharon Creech

Saving Winslow
by Sharon Creech
Joanna Cotler Books

When Louie has the opportunity to nurse a struggling new born miniature donkey back to health, he doesn't let his not-so-successful track record discourage him. He names the donkey Winslow, and despite the pessimistic outlook of family and friends around him, Louie dedicates himself to making sure Winslow grows to be strong and healthy.

But this story is about much more than a boy nursing a donkey back to health. It's a story of a growing friendship between Louie and his new friend Nora. It's a story about family bonds that stay strong over long distances. It's a story about defying the odds, and being neighborly, and learning to let go.

Saving Winslow has a cast of characters that are believable and relatable. Though the story's resolution is a bit predictable, the book has a quick and easy pace, and the plot feels natural, not overly dramatic. The author approaches the topic of death in a delicate, yet realistic way that is ideal for the middle grade audience.

I recommend Saving Winslow for anyone who enjoys stories about relationships between children and animals, for those who has a soft spot for animals in general, and for people who enjoy simple, feel-good stories that make them smile (and maybe cry a little). If you enjoyed books like The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, Charlotte's Web by E.B. White, or any of Sharon Creech's earlier books, then you will enjoy Saving Winslow.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Read, Discuss, Do! Activities that You Can Do Anywhere

Read, Discuss, Do! is an initiative that encourages parents to take simple steps to extend the benefits of story time beyond the last page. These steps are:

1. Read a book
2. Discuss the book
3. Do an activity related to or inspired by the book

If you search "story time ideas" online, you will find a lot of projects ranging from the simple to the complicated. There are many fun, creative ideas out there! However, it can be a bit overwhelming, and possibly even discouraging for those short on time and craft supplies. So the primary purpose of Read, Discuss, Do! is to present simple, book-specific ideas that can be done without a lot of fuss or fanfare, with items that are commonly found around the house.

Sometimes, though, even that isn't convenient. You could be in the car, on a plane, or sitting in the waiting room at the doctor's office. Or you might just want to stay curled up on the couch! But that's no reason to cut story time short. After reading the book and discussing the story in general, try going further with one or more of these activity ideas:

1. Make up alternate endings.

2. Ask your child to relay the story to you in their own words.

3. Act out the story in part or in whole.

4. Use context clues to define new and unfamiliar vocabulary.

5. Investigate the illustrations for additional layers to the story.

6. Look through the text for examples of literary devices, such as alliteration, rhyme, and simile.

7. Tell personal stories that relate to the text of the book.

8. Examine your immediate surroundings and compare/contrast them with the book's setting.

9. Have little ones explore the text to find familiar letters or words.

10. Go back through the illustrations and count repeating elements.

11. Play a game of charades based on the book's characters and events.

Are you interested in book-specific ideas or more inspiration on other ways to extend story time beyond the last page? Check out these Read, Discuss, Do! craft ideas here on my blog, and search #ReadDiscussDo on Facebook and Twitter!