The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish

Posted by on Nov 20, 2015 in Early Learning, Fluency, Holiday, Michigan Author, Readers' Theater, Self Smart | 0 comments

The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout FishI’ve been hooked on Pout-Pout Fish since the beginning (fellow Michigander Debbie Diesen is a long-time friend),  and the newest book, The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish, is as wonderful as the original.

Mr. Fish feels caught up in the “tizzy-busy” rush of the holidays. (Dan Hanna does a brilliant job of tucking jokes in his illustrations of the packed store shelves!) The repetition of these lines not only supports our early readers, it completely captures the overwhelmed feeling many of us get :
“For a gift should be big,
And a gift should be bright,
And a gift should be perfect –
Guaranteed to bring delight.
And a gift should have meaning,
Plus a big of bling-zing,
So I’ll shop till I drop
For each just-right thing!”

When Mr. Fish has shopped until he’s plopped and still worries that his friends will be disappointed, the lovely Miss Shimmer reminds him that “the best gifts of all come straight from the heart.” Together they make wonderful gifts and, most importantly, enjoy their time with their fishy friends.

Let’s scale back this season. Share The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish with your kiddos, and talk about what you can make and do instead of buy.  Consider replacing physical gifts with shared activities. I know some grown-ups who’d prefer the gift of a Readers’ Theater performance of this story to receiving another bag of potpourri. I wish you all oceans of joy and contentment this year!

Find more fishy fun at
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“One Family” is one you need for Thanksgiving!

Posted by on Oct 16, 2015 in Art, Counting Book, Early Learning, Holiday, Integrating Knowledge and Ideas, Letter / Number Knowledge, Logic Smart, Math, Math Tie-In, Non-Fiction, People Smart, Print Motivation, Self Smart | 0 comments

One Family by George Shannon with pictures by Blanca GomezThanksgiving is my favorite holiday, but it’s a challenge to find Thanksgiving picture books that connect with kids: I find many “pilgrim and Indian” books that are cringeworthy with stereotypes, or stories about turkeys. This year,  I’m focusing on the “thanks” in Thanksgiving and sharing One Family by George Shannon with pictures by Blanca Gomez.

The simple counting book is elevated here to show the beauty of what a family can be.

“One is one. One lamp. One clock. One book to share.” A white-haired, bespectacled white woman cuddles a cat as she reads.

“One is two. One pair of shoes. One team of horses. One family.” An Asian mom and her son ride hobby horses in a cozy bedroom.

Counting up to ten, we see all kinds of inclusive loving groups: two dads and their daughter (all with different shades of skin), grandparents and kids, a family with the dad and his sons wearing turbans, a mix of adults and kids where it’s not clear what the relationships are but who cares because they’re smiling and together. On the last page showing all the people we read, “One is one and everyone. One earth. One world. One family.”

Use this book to inspire your students to write and draw about their own families. To continue the counting 1 to 10 structure, students can write about what they are thankful for this holiday. Pair this with the wonderful new nonfiction book Families by Shelly Rotner and Sheila M. Kelly if you want to compare and contrast to hit the Integration of Knowledge & Ideas standard. I count you among my many blessings!

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September Bonus List of Books and Activities!

Posted by on Sep 25, 2015 in Early Learning, Integrating Knowledge and Ideas, Key Ideas and Details, Letter / Number Knowledge, Michigan Author, Music Smart, Nature Smart, Non-Fiction, People Smart, Phonological Awareness, Print Awareness, Print Concepts, Professional Development, Range of Reading, Rhyming, Science, Self Smart, Social Studies, Song Books, Vocabulary | 0 comments

Because I gave a presentation to awesome librarians this month and I couldn’t resist sharing all the great ideas we came up with, you get a bonus post this month! And because you’re getting a bonus post, I hope you’ll allow me to indulge in a bit of horn-tooting.

My debut picture book, GROUNDHOG’S DILEMMA, illustrated by Matt Faulkner (swoon!) will be published by Charlesbridge this December 1st, and it recently received a good professional review:

“Faulkner’s anthropomorphic animals and vibrant colors recall Uncle Wiggly, and the illustrations are packed with humorous details that repay rereadings. Remenar’s graceful prose and the subtlety of her message, pitched to older preschoolers and early-elementary students, are a good match. A sly and funny take on truth-telling and friendship.” – Kirkus, Oct. 2015


Ok, horn-tooting over.

I spent a morning with a roomful of youth librarians and bunches of new books. We came up with these activities revolving around the key early literacy skills: Talk, Sing, Read, Write, Play. (Look here for lots more good stuff from Every Child Ready to Read.) Many of our activities can be used with a variety of books. I’m including our list of ideas and the books we shared. Enjoy!

* Read Rufus Goes to School by Kim T. Griswell and talk about what you need for school, what you shouldn’t do in school, and favorite books you know how to read.
* Read Groundhog’s Dilemma by Kristen Remenar and talk about your favorite/least favorite parts of winter and spring. Talk about animals that hibernate and those that don’t. Talk about why the characters in the story wanted or didn’t want Groundhog to see his shadow.
* Read Clothesline Clues to Sports People Play  by Andy Robert Davies and encourage kids to guess the sport. Discuss unfamiliar terms like foil and quiver.
* Use nonfiction books with photos of bees to go along with Bee Dance by Rick Chrustowski. Bring in a honeycomb and give kids bendy straws so they can act like the bees in the book.
* Read Pepper and Poe by Frann Preston-Gannon and discuss why Pepper feels the way he does.
* Discuss good and bad manners after reading The Entertainer by Emma Dodd.
* Encourage kids to respond to “which would you choose?” while reading Hot Rod Hamster by Cynthia Lord.

* Sing rhyming words, even nonsense ones, after reading Hi! by Ethan Long.
* Sing “Milkshake” after reading Lulu’s Party by Kit Chase.
* Sing the book Old Mikamba Had a Farm by Rachel Isadora.
* Sing “The Days of the Week” song after reading Pepper and Poe by Frann Preston-Gannon, or “If You’re Happy and You Know It”.
* Sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” after reading Groundhog’s Dilemma by Kristen Remenar.

* Read nonfiction books about groundhogs and Groundhog’s Day along with Groundhog’s Dilemma by Kristen Remenar. (It delights me every time I type it!) Use puppets to help narrate/read the story.
* Use magnetic or felt letters to rearrange and read aloud, after reading Little Bird’s Bad Word by Jacob Grant.

* Kids can decorate the first letter of their name or make pictures with die-cut letters after reading Alphabeasties by Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss.
* Write your own “wumbers” inspired by Wumbers by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld.
* Draw or write about something you cherish after reading Thankful by Eileen Spinelli.
* Trace your shoes and decorate the tracings after reading Whose Shoe? by Eve Bunting.
* Write a letter or draw a picture to convince Groundhog to predict winter or spring after reading Groundhog’s Dilemma by Kristen Remenar. Kids can write and draw about a time when they’ve had to resolve a dilemma. Outside with chalk, or inside on paper, kids can trace their own shadows!
* Create maps of your playground, classroom, school, library, etc. after reading Henry’s Map by David Elliot.
* Paint Q-tip paintings of trees inspired by Fall is Not Easy by Marty Kelley.
* Write your own “word equations” inspired by This Plus That by Amy Krouse Rosenthal.


* Use a string and pin it to a world map to show all the places from Because Amelia Smiled by David Ezra Stein. Compare it to Madlenka and Nothing Ever Happens on My Block.
* Act out Uh Oh! by Shutta Crum.
* Play a version of “Going On a Bear Hunt” after reading In the Canyon by Liz Garton Scanlon.
* Incorporate different dances like The Hokey Pokey and The Twist and act out The Sky Is Falling by Mark Teague. Have a dance party!
* Create hand/body motions and make the sound effects for Niňo Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales. Come up with other characters who might want to wrestle!
* Move like cats and act out the emotions from Pepper and Poe by Frann Preston-Gannon.
* Have a storytime party where kids act out what should and should not happen at a party after reading The Entertainer by Emma Dodd.
* Paint small boxes like houses after reading Vincent Paints His House by Tedd Arnold.
* Rearrange letter tiles to show how one word can become another after reading One Boy by Laura Vaccaro Seeger.
* Act out Groundhog’s Dilemma by Kristen Remenar. (Still fun to type!) Little ones can curl up in a box and pop out for Groundhog’s Day to look for their shadows, or try making shadow animals on a wall.

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I’m New Here

Posted by on Sep 3, 2015 in Early Learning, People Smart, Print Concepts, Readers' Theater, Self Smart, Uncategorized | 4 comments

I'm New Here by Anne Sibley O'Brien It’s September, the start of a new school year. I have no apples for you teachers, but I do have the perfect back-to-school picture book to teach empathy and point of view: I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien.

Maria, Jin, and Fatimah are new to their schools and to the United States. Through their stories, we get a glimpse of what it’s like to hear a new language, to see a new alphabet, and to try to pick up a new set of classroom expectations. “Back home… I knew just what to do.” All of your students can relate to the unsettled feeling of a first day in a new classroom. With I’m New Here, you can expand upon that feeling to help your students empathize with people who are new to our country. I love that Anne Sibley O’Brien not only shows what it’s like to be an immigrant, but how we all learn from each other. On one page, O’Brien writes from Jin’s point of view, “I am learning from others. And they are learning from me.” Jin asks a little boy, “How to spell cloud?” The boy responds, “C-L-O-U-D.” Jin holds up a piece of paper with Korean characters on it. “This is cloud in Korean.” “Cool.”

Michelle A., a gifted kindergarten teacher of English as a Second Language students and a remarkable friend, told me about Step Inside thinking. After you’ve read through the book, ask your students to “step inside” a character and imagine that they are Maria, Jin, or Fatimah. Students can write and draw from the perspective of the character, describing what was a challenge and what helped. You can turn this book into a readers’ theater script for students to perform, or have students take on the roles in an impromptu performance as you reread the book. As a class, you can talk and write about what you all can do to help a new student feel welcome. Whether or not you gain a new student during the year, all of your students will gain a wider, more empathetic perspective from I’m New Here.

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27 Books You Can Use This Year

Posted by on Aug 17, 2015 in Counting Book, Craft and Structure, Early Learning, Integrating Knowledge and Ideas, Key Ideas and Details, Letter / Number Knowledge, Logic Smart, Math, Math Tie-In, Nature Smart, Non-Fiction, Phonological Awareness, Poetry, Print Concepts, Print Motivation, Range of Reading, Rhyming, Science | 0 comments

During the “Moving Beyond the Basics… Reaching for More” conference on Aug. 11 at the Byron Center High School in Michigan, a roomful of teachers and I read through boxes of books. (Thank you, Annemarie Johnson and Kate DiMeo, for inviting me to share informational picture books and to talk about kids’ book publishing.) ((Have I mentioned that my first picture book, GROUNDHOG’S DILEMMA, will come out this December 1 from Charlesbridge?)) After browsing and brainstorming, we generated a list of 27 books with lesson ideas we can use this year in kindergarten through third grade. Feel free to share it!

Title Author Illustrator  Lesson Ideas
Alphabeasties and Other Amazing Types Werner Sharon Forss, Sarah alliteration, identifying letters in different fonts – visual learners
Aunt Ant Leaves through the Leaves Coffelt, Nancy homonyms/homophones
Bee Dance Chrustowski,Rick vocabulary, informational reading, chronological text structure, debate if it is “narrative” or “informative”
The Best of Times Tang, Greg Briggs, Harry multiplication in third grade, rules for each and tables
Boy, Were We Wrong About the Weather! Kudlinkski, Kathleen V. Serra, Sebastia compare/contrast what we once thought to what we now think, text features, weather in first grade, landforms in second
Families Rotner, Shelley Rotner, Shelley “all about” writing at a simple level = great mentor text
Greedy Apostrophe: a cautionary tale Carr, Jan Long, Ethan grammar – ways to use an apostrophe
Henry’s Map Elliot, David mapping skills lesson, pictures with labels = text feature, mentor tex for writing
How To Surprise a Dad Reagan, Jean Wildish, Lee mentor text for “how to” writing that goes beyond basic instruction format, mentor text for incorporating all five senses in details
In Mary’s Garden Kugler, Carson Kugler, Tina compare/contrast with “The Most Magnificient Thing”
The King Who Rained Gwynne, Fred homonyms/homophones/word play, figurative language
Lucky and Stu vs. the Mikanikal Man Van Wright, Cornelius reading for pleasure! Friendship themes and good “boy” book
Math Fables Tang, Greg Cahoon, Heather number sense for youngers
Me, Too! Dunklee, Annika Smith, Lori Joy opinion writing: “Reason #1”, friendship story to discuss
Messy Jesse Bowles, Paula writing prompt, “what I’m good at”, punctuation lesson
Nino Wrestles the World Morales, Yuyi using context to decode unfamiliar words, appreciation of other languages/cultures
One Boy Seeger, Laura Vaccaro finding words within words
One Word from Sophia Averbeck, Jim Ismail, Yasmeen persuasive writing, writing for an audience, text features like glossary
Ostriches Are Not Pets! Niver, Heather Moore persuasive writing
Over in the Wetlands Rose, Caroline Starr Dunlavey, Rob vocabulary – word choice and author’s craft, context clues, inferring, how do animals prepare for storms compared to how people prepare?
Rufus Goes to School Griswell, Kim T. Gorbachev, Valeri use at the beginning of the school year, shows importance of learning how to read, point out persuasive reasons why pigs should (not) go to school
Simple Machines Adler, David A. Raff, Anna use as a mentor text for flip books, compare/contrast, nonfiction with illustrations and not photos, text features, easy nonfiction that’s not about animals
Speed, Speed, Centipede! Dahl, Michael Trover, Zachary early math counting by tens, shows 10 frames
This Plus That: Life’s Little Equations Rosenthal, Amy Krouse Corace, Jen writing with math symbols
Water is Water Paul, Miranda Chin, Jason “show, don’t tell”, art tells story as much as text does
Wumbers Rosenthal, Amy Krouse Lictenheld, Tom lesson on speech bubbles
Zero the Hero Holub, Joan Lictenheld, Tom higher math concepts, friendship, lesson on speech bubbles
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The Most Magnificent Thing

Posted by on Jun 10, 2015 in Art, Early Learning, Key Ideas and Details, Logic Smart, People Smart, Science, Self Smart | 0 comments

The Most Magnificent Thing

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley SpiresThe perfectionist in me was upset to have missed posting last month, so as a reminder to be more patient with myself, I pulled out the very wise, very magnificent book, The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires.

The unnamed girl has an idea for a magnificent thing. She uses all kinds of cool tools like hammers, screwdrivers and wrenches (rock on, tool girl) but she just can’t make in reality the fabulous idea in her head. She works and reworks it, but “(h)er hands feel too BIG to work, and her brain is too full of all the not-right things.” So many kiddos can relate to this feeling, and to the ensuing meltdown. Her assistant (her dog) suggests she take a walk, where the girl gets a break and a bit of perspective. In the end, she’s able to see that a part of her original creation can be reworked into a wholly new, magnificent thing. LOVE!

This is a wonderful book to share at the beginning of next school year. You and your students can discuss the universal feelings of frustration during the creative process, comment on how the girl worked through her angst, and come up with ways you can handle it in your classroom (your Self Smart kids excelling with Key Ideas and Details? Score!) Then, get out recycled stuff like paper towel tubes and fun art stuff like pipe cleaners and challenge your kiddos to build their own most magnificent thing. Kids can write and draw plans before building, and write descriptions of what they’ve made at the end. (What is that, exactly? It’s magnificent!)  Assisting others and taking breaks are encouraged as part of the process.

Bringing tools like screwdrivers into the classroom can be tricky, but one successful way to do it is to have a “take apart” center. Ask for donations of broken electronics and small tools, or scour your local thrift shops. It’s great for fine motor skills to unscrew those little screws, and examining the inner workings of an old alarm clock is real-life science!

I have a really exciting reason for why I missed May’s post, and I’m glad the ink is on the contract so I can share it with everyone now: along with my picture book, GROUNDHOG’S DILEMMA, my second book will be published in December, 2015, too! DRAW WITH A VENGEANCE is a grown-up book, and since it comes from my snarky side, I’m using a pseudonym – Helen Wrath. For those of you kid-lit lovers who enjoy a bit of dark humor, I hope you’ll check it out!

Kristen Remenar in Publisher's Weekly

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The Poetry of Firebird

Posted by on Apr 10, 2015 in Art, Craft and Structure, Early Learning, Fluency, Non-Fiction, Poetry, Range of Reading, Self Smart | 0 comments

Firebird: Ballerina Misty Copeland Shows a Young Girl How To Dance Like the Firebird by Misty Copeland and Christopher Myers

Because poetry doesn’t have to rhyme, because poetry can tell a story, because the best poetry lights sparks of hope inside of us –  this is my choice for April’s Month of Poetry.

Firebird is written by Misty Copeland and illustrated by Christopher Myers. A little girl sees ballet soloist Misty Copeland and thinks “the space between you and me/ is longer than forever”. Misty lets the girl know that with hard work and dedication “we’ll make the night sky our starry curtain/ the moon our silver spotlight/ as we spin across the planets/ pirouetting tightly as the curls on our heads”. Misty Copeland is the second African American soloist in the history of the American Ballet Theater, and her uplifting poem-story is perfectly enhanced by Christopher Myers’ gorgeous art.

The poem is written in two voices – the little girl and Misty Copeland. After you share this book for the sheer pleasure of it, talk about the voices of the poem. (You’ll be rockin’ Craft & Structure as well as Range of Reading.) It can be read as literally two people, or we can see it metaphorically, as if the young girl is talking to her future self or as if Misty is talking to her past, younger self. Encourage your students to write poems where they can write as their “today” selves talking to themselves in the future or the past. Because poetry is meant to be shared aloud, hold a poetry slam where students can read their poems aloud, taking on both parts or asking a friend to read a voice. Who knows what future dancers, scientists, and presidents may come to life in your classroom? 

Also, if you’re on the lookout for an Orthodox Easter book (which will be celebrated this Sunday), I recommend Catherine’s Pascha: A Celebration of Easter in the Orthodox Church written by Charlotte Riggle and illustrated by R.J. Hughes. For those who celebrate Passover, Easter, and/or the coming of Spring, I wish you all joy and a sense of hopeful renewal!


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