Try Food as a Way Into Reading

Posted by on Jun 22, 2021 in Biography, Craft and Structure, Early Learning, Integrating Knowledge and Ideas, Key Ideas and Details, Logic Smart, Nature Smart, Non-Fiction, Print Motivation, Range of Reading, Science, Self Smart | 0 comments

"Try It! How Frieda Caplan Changed the Way We Eat" by Mara Rockliff and Giselle Potter
Try It! How Frieda Caplan Changed the Way We Eat by Mara Rockliff and Giselle Potter

Learning is best done through experience, and food is definitely a way into learning for many of us. To tie reading in with some cool hands-on (and mouths-on) experiences, grab this biography, Try It! How Frieda Caplan Changed the Way We Eat written by Mara Rockliff and illustrated by Giselle Potter.

Apples, bananas, tomatoes, potatoes, these were almost the only things that Frieda Caplan saw when she went to her produce market. But Frieda wanted to try something different.

She brought mushrooms to sell. Everyone thought they were weird.
Until they tried them. Suddenly everyone wanted mushrooms. People even dubbed her the “Mushroom Queen”.
But she wanted more than just mushrooms.
She tried kiwi, jicama, sugar snap peas, cherimoya, champagne grapes. Red bananas, baby corn, star fruit! All kinds of new foods! She brought them all to her produce market.
And people tried them. And liked them!


A master teacher, Ed Spicer, taught his first graders that learning is all about trying. He encouraged his students to celebrate trying something new, even if they weren’t successful at first, even if they didn’t like it – that in itself is learning. You can create really memorable learning experiences by reading Try It! How Frieda Caplan Changed the Way We Eat and talking about new food.

Read this book with your kids/students/campers and talk about foods that seemed weird before you tried them. Are there foods they didn’t like before but now they do? You can make charts together of interesting foods and kids can put their names in the columns of “Yes, I like it” or “No, I don’t like it” or “I don’t know – I haven’t tried it yet”. If you have food magazines, kids can cut out foods they like and foods they want to try. Model for them, if kids start saying something is gross, that you used to think a certain food was gross but that part of growing up is that your tastes develop. Tell them about foods you used to think were weird that you now enjoy.

If you’re working with your own children or with children you know don’t have any fruit/vegetable allergies, you can bring in something like star fruit to try. I have researched allergies and it turns out for almost every food, someone is allergic to it. (Check out verywellhealthy.com – I never knew some kids aren’t bluffing about being allergic to broccoli!) To play it safe with a large group of kids, pick a cooked fruit, like applesauce. (Still, avoid anything with strawberries.) Do you think green applesauce is weird? What about pear sauce? Weird food is only weird until you try it!

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“We Shall Overcome”

Posted by on Feb 21, 2021 in Early Learning, Fluency, Key Ideas and Details, Music Smart, Non-Fiction, People Smart, Poetry, Print Motivation, Social Studies, Song Books | 0 comments

Music can reach us in a way that nothing else can. During February – and every month – We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song written by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton is a cross-curricular book you can use to teach American history and social justice.

We Shall Overcome written by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
“We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song” written by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

The song, “We Shall Overcome” has its roots in the time of slavery in America. Its impact has lasted for over a century and has inspired change-makers around the world. The lyrics are interspersed through the book, along with gorgeous art showing moments in history when the song was sung.

Classroom teachers, music teachers, parents, and all those who work with children, you need this book. With your students, you can talk about what the lyrics of the song mean and why this song was and is important. The last illustrated page reminds us that the work for equality is not done. We need to raise our voices and declare that the barriers against justice will be overcome. Sharing books like We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song will teach our children that they are a part of the change for good, too.

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Play the Book!

Posted by on Jan 17, 2021 in Craft and Structure, Early Learning, Fluency, Holiday, Integrating Knowledge and Ideas, Key Ideas and Details, Michigan Author, People Smart, Self Smart | 2 comments

cover of Groundhog's Dilemma
“Groundhog’s Dilemma” written by me and illustrated by Matt Faulkner

Oh, 2021, we waited all through 2020 for you and frankly, you’re not off to the start we’d hoped for. We’re exhausted in so many ways. We still need to show up for our little ones. We need a bit of lightheartedness. “Playing the book” is a fun way to connect while it helps your child deepen their understanding of a story.

Groundhog puppet to color
Groundhog is ready to be printed and played with!

Groundhog and all of his friends are ready to be printed, colored, cut out, and played with!

Squirrel image to color
Squirrel and his kits are ready to play, too!

When a child retells a story, they are showing how much they understand. They are moving from just listening to a book to making connections.

Playing the book lets your child to go beyond retelling by extending the story with their own imagination. Use this link to print out Groundhog and all his friends (or click on the cover of my book in the upper right-hand corner of this screen for puppets and more free fun stuff to do!) Give the characters funny voices when they try to convince Groundhog to make Spring come early or to keep Winter lasting longer. Give the characters new adventures. Take time to play. And may this year bring us all more joy.

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Reading an “Again, again!” book in a new way

Posted by on Dec 4, 2020 in Craft and Structure, Early Learning, Fluency, Integrating Knowledge and Ideas, Key Ideas and Details, Logic Smart, Print Awareness, Print Concepts, Print Motivation, Professional Development, Self Smart | 4 comments

Happy Almost-the-End-of-2020! I think this year has been most challenging for those living with or working with small children. How do you keep them enticed if you can’t get new books from the library or from school? How do you keep yourself from going nuts if you’re tired of rereading the same books? Here’s how.

Mara’s “again, again!” book. I can’t say I blame her!

Ask your child, “What do you notice when you look at the cover of this book?” It’s really interesting to hear the details kids notice that we adults may not, the details the illustrator intentionally puts in.

“I see faces in the trees!”

“I see them now, too! Do you notice anything else?”

“The trees have snow on this side and the tree over here doesn’t have snow. So that’s winter and that’s not winter.”

“I wonder why the illustrator drew the trees that way. “

You can talk about what you see until your child is done reading the picture and wants to hear the words. The pictures often give information that the words don’t. Reading pictures is a big part of learning to read words.

This technique of letting kids lead the reading was a big shift for me as a teacher/librarian. I’m eager to get to the words. I’ve often told kids what I want them to learn from the book, trying to pour in knowledge. Lifelong learners are gatherers of knowledge. We can put kids in charge of pulling in meaning first.

Even if it’s a book you’ve read a dozen times, encourage your child to take the lead. They can tell you what they see and show you how their minds are making meaning. You may see the familiar book in a new way when your child says, “Again, again!”

“Reading Picture Books With Children” by Megan Dowd Lambert (Charlesbridge, 2015)

This Whole Book Approach is wonderfully taught by Megan Dowd Lambert in her book, “Reading Picture Books With Children: How to Shake Up Storytime and Get Kids Talking About What They See”. I highly recommend it!

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It’s important: “Let’s Talk About Race”

Posted by on Feb 26, 2020 in Craft and Structure, Early Learning, Key Ideas and Details, Non-Fiction, People Smart, Print Motivation, Self Smart, Social Studies, Uncategorized | 2 comments

Let's Talk About Race written by Julius Lester and illustrated by Karen Barbour

Talking about race is hard for me, but that doesn’t let me off the hook. Racism isn’t either/or, as in I don’t shout hateful slurs therefore I’m not racist. I’m racist because I’d rather hide any prejudice I have from growing up as a white, middle-class, suburban female in America than have important conversations where I might feel uncomfortable. My silence won’t help our kids. So let’s talk about it.

Let’s Talk About Race was written by Julius Lester and illustrated by Karen Barbour. Lester, who sadly died in 2018, wrote, “I am a story. So are you. So is everyone.” He wanted kids to know that being African-American was an important part of his story, not the entirety of it. He wanted to engage kids in conversations to see our differences and our commonalities. “What is your favorite food, your religion, your favorite color, your nationality? All of these things are a part of our stories.” But, he reminds us all, “…some stories are true. Some are not. Those who say ‘MY RACE IS BETTER THAN YOUR RACE’  are telling a story that is not true.”

After you read Let’s Talk About Race with your kids, talk about race! Open up a safe conversation where students can share and ask questions. Work hard not to deny experiences, and challenge with compassion any statements that make others “less than.” And talk about all the other wonderful parts of our stories, from favorite foods to hair color to pet peeves. You can make a questionnaire based on all the elements Lester talks about for kids to answer about themselves. Then, kids can find someone who had the same answer on their list. When we help our children talk about race and equality, we help build a stronger, kinder world.

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Easy choice: GROUNDHOG’S DILEMMA!

Posted by on Jan 22, 2020 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

In Michigan, the only predictable thing about the weather is its unpredictability, and I bet it’s like that where you live, too. Weather makes life so hard for Groundhog in Groundhog’s Dilemma – my book!

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?

I have free printable activities for you! Just click on the book cover on the right side of this page. You can use the fun facts sheet for informational reading and as a springboard for animal research projects. 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 prompt for writing an opinion piece. Students can write a persuasive letter to Groundhog. Kids who send letters to Groundhog via my email will receive responses!

February 2nd is my birthday so Groundhog Day has always been my favorite holiday. I hope you enjoy it as much as these kiddos do!

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Less “tizzy-busy”, more joy!

Posted by on Dec 4, 2019 in Early Learning, Fluency, Holiday, Key Ideas and Details, Michigan Author, People Smart, Print Motivation | 0 comments

The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish

Pout-Pout Fish fans, this is the just-right book for the holiday season! The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish is a wonderful addition to The Pout-Pout Fish series.

Mr. Fish feels caught up in the “tizzy-busy” rush to find the perfect gifts.
“… a gift should have meaning,
Plus a bit of bling-zing,
So I’ll shop till I drop
For each just-right thing!”

The repetition of these lines not only supports our early readers, it completely captures the overwhelmed feeling many of us get. When Mr. Fish has shopped until he’s plopped, Miss Shimmer helps him make wonderful gifts. Most importantly, they 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. I wish you all oceans of joy and contentment this year! Find more fishy fun at www.poutpoutfish.com.

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How-To Poems and My Love of Hedgehogs

Posted by on Sep 26, 2019 in Craft and Structure, Early Learning, Key Ideas and Details, Nature Smart, Non-Fiction, Poetry, Range of Reading, Self Smart, writing | 0 comments

The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog and Other How To Poems
“The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog and Other How-To Poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko and illustrated by Richard Jones”

How-to poems are an easy introduction to poetry, to nonfiction, and to writing what you know. This book of poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko and illustrated by Richard Jones has such a wide range of topics that all your students will find at least one poem that they love. My favorites are “Toasting Marshmallows” by Marilyn Singer and “How to Scare Monsters” by Rebecca Kai Dotlich.

This book was given to me by fellow librarian Linda Pannuto because my storytimes always began and ended with Barb the Hedgehog. (She can curl up into a ball when she is shy.) And look at what Barb and I now have! Honey Hedgehog Cookies from Trader Joe’s AND a hedgehog purse! I’m all prickly with excitement!

Share “The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog and Other How-To Poems” and have students write an informational poem about what they know how to do. Share Honey Hedgehog Cookies while they write and get your own Folkmanis hedgehog puppet to share. Hands off the purse, though. That beauty is mine.

(Shout out to Lisa Wheeler and Janie Bynum for their book, “Porcupining: A Prickly Love Story” from which I stole Barb’s name. You two are sharp.)

The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog and Other How To Poems
“The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog and Other How To Poems” selected by Paul B. Janeczko and illustrated by Richard Jones is recommended by Barb. She also recommends Honey Hedgehog Cookies.
Hedgehog purse!
Hedgehog purse!


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Start your new year off with compassion

Posted by on Aug 18, 2019 in Early Learning, Fluency, Key Ideas and Details, People Smart, Print Awareness, Readers' Theater, Self Smart | 2 comments

Start your new year off with compassion

This is a post I’ve shared before but I think it’s more important than ever to make your classroom a place of acceptance and compassion from day one.

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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On a Snow-Melting Day: Seeking Signs of Spring

Posted by on Apr 5, 2020 in Uncategorized | 2 comments

April is Poetry Month and in Michigan it’s also a month full of “puddle-sploshing, crocus-poking, mitten-soaking” days. This month’s book is On a Snow-Melting Day: Seeking Signs of Spring by Buffy Silverman.

This simple poetry book is full of rhyme and imagery paired with gorgeous photos. It’s a list poem with onomatopoeia. You can read each line and see if it applies to your surroundings. Do you live where “mist lifts”? What do you see from the book that you can see when you go outside? Take your kids outside and have them point out what they see. Make a list and turn it into a list poem. See if you can come up with some cool onomatopoeia and maybe take photos. It’s a wonderful invitation to go outside and enjoy the poetry of the changing seasons. Remember to bring boots for puddle-sploshing!

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