MYSTERY OF LONG SILENCE EXPLAINED!
My first two books, GROUNDHOG’S DILEMMA and
DRAW WITH A VENGEANCE (under the pen name, Helen Wrath), were published.
I had a stroke.
I was in Boston at the American Library Association conference, attending for the first time not only as a librarian, but as a published author. I had a line at my booksigning event, dinner with a book promoter, brunch with my editor, coffee with an agent – and just before leaving for the airport, I lost all the peripheral vision on my right side. My husband called an ambulance and I spent four days at Tufts Medical Center recovering from an ischemic stroke.
I seemed to be slowly healing well, but in April I started having tremors and seizure-like episodes, up to eight a day. The four Michigan neurologists I saw were stumped.
Dr. Leung, the neurologist who treated me at Tufts, emailed to ask if he could interview me – he’s conducting research on young stroke survivors and I just barely still qualify as “young”! After the phone interview, this kind and generous doctor asked if I had any questions for him. I described the weird episodes, and he said, “If you’re ever in Boston, I’d be glad to see you as a patient.”
Off we drove to see Dr. Leung. Turns out I have epilepsy and most likely I’ve been having small seizures for years, maybe decades. (My friends used to tease me in high school about how I’d zone out. I was even diagnosed with a sleep disorder years ago because I’d have these odd, trancelike episodes that left me exhausted.) Having a stroke lowered my brain’s threshold for tolerating these electrical disturbances, hence the new tremors.
Now I’m on anti-seizure medication, and I’ve had only 3 small seizures in 15 days. If I hadn’t had the stroke while in Boston, I wouldn’t have seen Dr. Leung, and I might have gone on battling seizures without medication.
To make a long story longer, I am gratefully on the mend and will soon be bombarding your computer with more picture books that are just right for preschool – grade 3. Putting my entire life on pause while I healed made me realize how passionately I love what I do – writing and sharing great books for kids. Thanks for reading with me!
It’s self-indulgent, but I can’t resist; my December pick is my new picture book that just hit the shelves, Groundhog’s Dilemma! It’s gorgeously illustrated by award-winning author/illustrator Matt Faulkner (with whom I’m about to celebrate five years of wedded bliss.)
Half of Groundhog’s friends want him to predict an early spring, and the other half want a longer winter. Groundhog wants to please everyone, so when February 2nd comes, Groundhog has a dilemma: to see or not to see his shadow?
Because the characters in this book have strong opinions and are trying to persuade our hero Groundhog (who is not immune to the lures of membership on a team or blueberry pie), use Groundhog’s Dilemma as a springboard for writing an opinion piece. I have a free, printable page on my website so students can write a persuasive letter to Groundhog (Core Writing Standard #1? Check!). Kids who send letters to Groundhog via my email or snail mail will receive responses!Read More
I’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!
Thanksgiving 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!Read More
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.
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.Read More
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|