Two Perfect “Picks” for Valentine’s Day: Porcupining and Hokey Pokey

Posted by on Feb 14, 2013 in Early Learning, Holiday, Integrating Knowledge and Ideas, Logic Smart, Michigan Author, Nature Smart | 2 comments

This Valentine’s Day, I’d like to share with the readers I love (you!) some of the things I love: wonderful pun-packed picture books by my author-crush Lisa Wheeler and free, already-planned activities to make teaching those books super-easy.

Porcupining: a Prickly Love Story and Hokey Pokey: Another Prickly Love Story, both written by Lisa Wheeler and illustrated by Janie Bynum, feature one of my most-beloved picture book characters, Cushion the Porcupine. We first meet Cushion in Porcupining where he is looking for love in all the wrong places. This forlorn hero of the petting zoo finally finds true love with Barb, a hedgehog. Then, in Hokey Pokey, Cushion wants to make his beloved Barb happy by learning to dance. Asking a fox, a rabbit, and a chicken for dance lessons only leads to prickly situations, and once again Cushion seems stuck out of luck. But Barb proves to be the perfect pick for Cushion when she teaches him all the moves he needs, and together they dance the Hokey Pokey.


Comparing and contrasting two stories with the same characters, same author, and/or same illustrator is a great way to teach the Common Core State Standard of Integrating Knowledge and Ideas. On her website, Lisa has a free teacher’s guide to go with these books. Use the graphic organizer from the teacher guide for Porcupining (written by super-cool author Tracie Vaughn Zimmer) to compare the main character, the problem, the three ways the character tries to solve the problem, and the solution in both books.  Then, print off the adorable recipe cards for Cushion Cookies (made by another super-cool author Hope Vestergaard) and your Valentine’s Day is set!

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My Book!

Posted by on Feb 7, 2013 in Holiday, Michigan Author, Uncategorized | 1 comment

Every week, I write about a terrific picture book to read aloud to students along with a lesson plan or an extension activity. I am jump-up-and-down, wave-my-arms-like-Kermit-the-Frog excited to finally be able to write about my picture book!

The title is To See Or Not To See. It’s the story of Groundhog and his dilemma on February 2nd. Half of his friends want him to see his shadow so that winter will last six more weeks. Half of his friends don’t want him to see his shadow so that spring will come early. What will Groundhog do? You’ll find out in the fall of 2015, when the book will be published by Charlesbridge!

Why such a long time to wait, you ask? I know, I wondered about that myself! But in the publishing world, two years is actually quick to make a picture book. My editor and I (my editor! Squeee!) will need to review my manuscript and decide what descriptions can be taken out because the art will show those details. An illustrator has to be chosen for the book – and I don’t get to do the choosing! In publishing, the author rarely has a say as to who will illustrate the book. It’s up to editors and art directors who know the business to match up the right art style with the words. So, an illustrator has to be picked and given time to work on the illustrations. Most illustrators (like my wonderful husband, Matt Faulkner) take months to make the art for a picture book. After that, the art and the words have to be printed together, ink colors made just right, decisions made about font and layout, marketing and promotional decisions have to be made… it’s quite a process!

I’ll be sharing the details here at if you’d like to follow along. I’m hoping to hear within a few weeks who my illustrator will be. I’d love it if my husband is chosen – but can’t imagine how I’d handle knowing that the art for my first book is being made up in my husband’s studio without constantly peeking in!

Thanks to all of you who’ve signed up for my newsletter and read my blog. I love sharing my good news with people who love children’s books as much as I do!

P.S. And, as a bit of glorious synchronicity, I got The Call from my editor about the sale of my first book, my Groundhog story, on my birthday, which is Groundhog’s Day. 🙂

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Let’s Talk About Race

Posted by on Jan 17, 2013 in Art, Body Smart, Craft and Structure, Early Learning, Holiday, Math Tie-In, Non-Fiction, People Smart, Print Motivation, Range of Reading, Self Smart, Social Studies | 0 comments

“It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” – Maya Angelou.

Next Monday we celebrate the birthday of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. What better way to honor his dream of a nation where our children “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” than with a wonderful children’s book celebrating our differences and our similarities.

Let’s Talk About Race is written by Julius Lester and illustrated by Karen Barbour. “I am a story,” Lester writes. “So are you. So is everyone.” Our race is just one part of our stories. “To know my story, you have to put together everything I am.”

How does your story begin? When were you born, and who is in your family? What is your favorite food, your religion, your favorite color, your nationality? All of these things are a part of our stories. But, “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.”

Lester goes on to tell a story that is true: if you press your fingers gently below your eyes, you can feel the bone beneath your skin. And if you press gently on a friend’s face, no matter what their skin color, you will feel the bone there, too.  “Beneath our skin I look like you and you look like me…” Instead of focusing on the stories we can make up about each other based on eye color, skin color, and hair texture, we can find out the true stories, the rich and complex stories, of each other.

After you read Let’s Talk About Race with your students, talk about race! 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 students to answer. Next, challenge students to find someone else who had the something the same on his or her list. You can integrate this into a math lesson by graphing some of the answers, like eye color, or get out the art supplies and let students make cool representations of themselves. If your students can “identify the main purpose of a text, including what the author wants to answer, explain, or describe”, you’ll hit the Common Core State Standard of Craft and Structure using a book with a truly worthwhile main purpose.

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Max’s Castle

Posted by on Dec 12, 2012 in Art, Body Smart, Early Learning, Holiday, Letter / Number Knowledge, Logic Smart, Phonological Awareness, Print Awareness, Print Concepts | 0 comments

Let me make it easier for you this holiday season, because I know how it is. You want to buy a book for a child for the holidays, but you think they’d probably like a toy better, but you don’t want to give plastic junk, and yet do kids even like educational toys? Do you give the kid an abacus and watch that smile dissolve, or do you give in and buy a lead-coated choking hazard that promotes violence and unhealthy body images?

Get Max’s Castle written by Kate Banks and illustrated by Boris Kulikov along with wooden letter blocks, a game of Scrabble, or Bananagrams and everyone’s happy! If you have an iPad, tech it up for free by downloading the free Magnetic Letters app to play along while you read!

Max’s Castle is full of imagination and creative problem-solving, along with letter recognition and spelling. I love the way Banks and Kulikov show that switching a few letters changes words. Max and his brothers use alphabet blocks to build a castle. Kulikov does a fantastic job with letter arrangement: Max is in the MOAT hanging onto a block that is angled with an M and a B when Benjamin says they need a BOAT. The boys use the letter blocks to solve problems, like when the ADDER that is literally “in” the DARK DUNGEON (Banks capitalizes the words the boys have built with blocks) is causing problems, the boys take the L from the BUGLE to make the ADDER a LADDER.

Once you share Max’s Castle with that lucky kid or with your lucky students, give the kids letter blocks or Scrabble tiles or the iPad with the Magnetic Letters app  to play with and rearrange! You can let students explore independently, or give challenges, like “Here comes a SNAKE ready to attack – what could you make to solve the problem?” Kids can switch out letters to make a RAKE to shoo away the snake, or TAKE it to the woods, or give it a SNACK to eat instead of eating you, etc. Encourage students to see if they can make the word look a bit like the object it represents, like Kulikov did, or use the blocks or tiles to build a structure like Max and his brothers did. Kids will build upon the Common Core State Standards of Print Concepts, Phonological Awareness, and Phonics and Word Recognition while they build fine motor skills. You’ll be the hero of the holidays!

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