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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Stay: The True Story of Ten Dogs

Posted by on Dec 6, 2012 in Art, Early Learning, Holiday, Key Ideas and Details, Nature Smart, Non-Fiction, Range of Reading | 0 comments

‘Tis the season for gift-giving and for “best of the year” lists. The New York Public Library put 100 terrific titles on their Children’s Books 2012 list, including my pick for Most-Heart-Warming-Non-Fiction-Book:  Stay: The True Story of Ten Dogs by Michaela Muntean with photographs by K. C. Bailey and Stephen Kazmierski.

Luciano Anastasini needed a second chance. He was a circus acrobat, from a long line of circus performers, until the day he fell fifty feet from the high wire. His body eventually healed, but he could no longer perform his old routines. He decided to train dogs for a new act, and since he was hoping for a second chance, he chose dogs who needed a second chance as well.

Bowser ended up at the pound because he was always stealing food from his owner’s table. Stick was a stray. Penny spun madly in circles, Cocoa was a digger, Tyke did the opposite of what he was told to do. Luciano took the dogs in and taught them to do fantastic, funny tricks. As the news spread about Luciano’s success with “hopeless” dogs, people brought him more dogs who needed a second chance: E-Z, Meemo, Sammy, Free, and Rowdy. Together Luciano Anastasini and his Pound Puppies have entertained circus crowds across the country. Muntean writes, “Sometimes a dog and a person will find each other at just the right moment – a moment when they need each other more than either could ever imagine.”

Share Stay: The True Story of the Ten Dogs with your students and discuss how Luciano turned each dog’s “flaw” into a strength in his act. (You’ll hit the Common Core State Standard of Key Ideas and Details, and hopefully have a wonderful class discussion on how our own flaws can become strengths, too.) Because it is the holiday season, consider making a craft that benefits shelter dogs. I love these easy, braided ropes you can make from upcycled old shirts. You’ll teach your students more than just informational reading skills; you’ll teach them that they can help make the world a better place.

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