Once Upon a Story
February 25, 2015

We’re having a big week.

We finally, FINALLY, had our 100th Day of School yesterday. This is after 3 snow days last week kept pushing back the celebration.

A celebration that, for one particular kindergartener in this house, was much anticipated. There was a 100 items guessing game, a writing activity for the hallway, and a special treat at snack time of trail mix comprised of ingredients brought in by the students (100 pieces each, of course).

And then during the day, they each answered this question:

Yeah, you know my husband and I both “awwww-d” over this, right?

We are so fortunate that she has a wonderful teacher who has so encouraged her this year. And y’all…the kiddo is so stinkin’ proud of herself and her ability to read independently. It sounds cliched, but it has opened up a whole new world for her.  And more than anything, that’s why kindergarten teachers (really, *all* teachers) are so important. The more confident those kids are, the more proud they are of their accomplishments (even the little ones), the harder they’ll push themselves.


Hooray for 100 days of reading 🙂

But then!

To add to the excitement of the week, it is also the 5yo’s turn to be the ‘Star Student’ in her classroom. This comes with all sorts of privileges, like having your own photo collage on the bulletin board, and being line leader, and getting a book at the end of the week from your classmates about all the things that make you special.

The other part of being the Star Student is getting to bring in a favorite book, and, if possible, a guest reader to share it. So this morning, I had lunch with a table of giggly 5/6yo girls, and then was a guest reader in the classroom.

This is the book we shared:

In her class of 25(ish) kids, about half had heard it. The other half were first-timers.

Any guesses what page was their favorite?

Hint: It’s always fun when an adult says, ‘naked’ and ‘underwear’ in school 😉

Hooray for kindergarten teachers (and all teachers) who make sharing a favorite book part of a child’s celebration.

And hooray for any teacher who can keep 25 5 and 6 year olds sitting criss-cross apple sauce and quiet.

They’re special people.



January 14, 2015

My daughter has had a break-through over the last two days.

She’s my avid reader. Or listener. She was using short phrases at her first birthday. She went to her first toddler storytime at 18 months and always sat through quietly. By the time she was two, she was listening to longer picture books. By the time she was four, it was chapter books.  When she started kindergarten in September, her ability to read independently took off.

She’s my verbal kid.

And then we hit a wall.

The “I can’t read this many words on a page” wall.

I noticed. I knew her ability. I knew it was a confidence thing. I encouraged, but I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.

She stuck to her guns.

I showed her books at the library that I thought she could handle.

She reached for simpler ones, and I rolled with it.

Last week, I brought home two books from the Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo and Chris Van Dusen.

She resisted. She didn’t want to read about a pig.

So I was surprised when she asked to read a little bit before bedtime last night. I read the first page. She read the second, then asked me to read the next page. We took turns for the first 2 chapters.

Between last night and lunchtime today (thank you, snow day) she finished it. All by herself.

She’s so stinkin’ proud.

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“Take a picture of the last chapter!”

Confidence plays a big part in this reading game.

You know what else does?


Let me introduce you to my son, my 3yo.

He was born in 2 hours and 45 minutes, start to finish.

He hasn’t slowed down since.

He does not like to sit on your lap and cuddle while you read. He does not like to sit still, period.

For the first 2.5 years of his life he would choose just about anything over listening to you read a book. Around the age of 2, we were able to settle him into a routine of listening to a story at bedtime, after he’d been bathed and dressed for bed, and was getting drowsy.  But during the day? Forget it.

About six months ago, he started bringing a book to me occasionally.  They were mostly interactive and there were lots of (loud!) interruptions, but it was nice to see his interest.

His ability to sit and listen really expanded, though, when his sister started reading. Because of all the people in the house, she is the one he most idolizes. And he’ll sit still for her.

Now we’ve started a practice of reading while dinner is cooking, the three of us. It starts with the 5yo reading the leveled reader she brings home from school every day. And then they take turns picking. And now, at three, he’s starting to actually enjoy this time.

The Washington Post recently published this article about pushing kindergarteners to read. I have my thoughts on that, but I think it starts before kindergarten. We’re guilty, sometimes, us parents. We get stressed and caught up in competition.

He/she doesn’t like books.

He/she should know all his letters and sounds by now.

What should I buy to teach my child to read?

The kid across the street is reading on his own, and he’s only four. Why isn’t my child doing that?

You’ve met my kids now. I’ve got one of each. One whose verbal skills have always been impressive, and one whose fine and gross motor skills have always been ahead of the curve (but who has a hard time sitting still).

They’re both doing just fine.

It comes.

Or it doesn’t, and you cross that bridge when you come to it.

In the meantime, I firmly believe in just plugging away. Even if it does mean you have to read the same Arthur book 1, 247,968 times.

Ask me how I know.

January 9, 2015

When Otis Courted Mama by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Jill McElmurry

Published by: Harcourt Brace

Release date: January 2015

Ages: 4-8

Pages: 40

From the publisher:

Apart from sticker burrs and sand fleas, Cardell’s life is mostly wonderful. He knows he’s loved through and through by his perfectly good mama and his perfectly good daddy. They live in different parts of the desert, but that’s okay–Cardell is mostly used to it. Then Otis comes calling, and Cardell feels a “grrr “form in his throat. Otis can’t make jalapeno flapjacks or play Zig-the-Zag anything like Cardell’s daddy. And so Cardell waits for Mama to say “”Adios, ” Otis.” But what will happen if she doesn’t?


About the Author:Kathi Appelt photo

Kathi Appelt’s perfectly wonderful stepfather was a terrific storyteller, and she grew up to become a teller of stories, too. She is the New York Times best-selling author of more than forty books for children and young adults. Her picture books include Oh My Baby, Little One, illustrated by Jane Dyer, and the Bubba and Beau series, illustrated by Arthur Howard. Her novels for older readers include two National Book Award finalists: The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp and The Underneath, which was also a Newbery Honor Book. In addition to writing, Ms. Appelt is on the faculty in the Masters of Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in College Station, Texas. To download a free, CCSS-aligned curriculum guide, visit Kathi’s website at kathiappelt.com.

Watch the WHEN OTIS COURTED MAMA book trailer (created by Kathi’s own two sons!) :


My thoughts:

I’m a big advocate for books that handle the tough stuff. As parents, we often want to protect our children from life’s challenges. Sometimes we can get away with that, at least for awhile. But inevitably, that tough stuff comes up, and when it does, it’s nice to have those books we can read with our kids. The ones that show children peers, families and situations like their own. It normalizes tough stuff, and makes whatever that child’s thinking,feeling, and experiencing “okay.”

When Otis Courted Mama is the story of a blended (coyote) family. Right from the start, it’s made clear that Cardell, is a well-loved kid (um, coyote). Even though his parents live in different parts of the desert, and even though each household is different, Cardell’s life is “mostly wonderful.” He doesn’t mind sharing his “perfectly good daddy” with his stepmother, Lulu, and his stepbrother, Little Frankie. And he doesn’t even mind the other coyotes who have come to court mama. They never stay around long, and then Cardell has his “perfectly good mama” back to himself.

So it’s a bit of a shock when Mama doesn’t say “adios” to Otis, who arrives one day with flowers and cactus candy. Cardell is confused. And defensive (this coyote is not like his perfectly good daddy!). And even a little protective of mama.  All emotions one might expect to see in a child whose parent begins a serious relationship with a new adult.

And while those relationships don’t always work out, some do. The adults who, like Otis, work hard to win the child over and who include the child, and who wait patiently…sometimes those adults become someone special. Not replacing mama or papa, but in addition to. And that’s the message Appelt delivers.

Jill McElmurry, who also illustrated the Little Blue Truck series, captures the essence of the Southwest that she grew up in.  From the golds and browns of day, to the purples and blues of night, to the bright red bandanna themed endpapers, every page explodes with color. And her subtle use of expression allows the reader to feel the full range of emotions, both Cardell’s and his mama’s, without Appelt having to put it into words.

A special book, especially for children of blended families, but also for children in other kinds of families, as they explore the different family dynamics the world has to offer.

And now:

EVERYONE can find a full-color door hanger and other fun downloadables at kathiappelt.com.

 Thanks to Harcourt Brace, ONE LUCKY WINNER will receive a copy of WHEN OTIS COURTED MAMA.  (U.S. addresses only). Enter below by 11:59pm on Friday, January 23rd.

 Good luck!

 Renee F., you’re a winner!

Follow sweet Cardell on all his tour stops!

Mon, Jan 5
5 Minutes for Book
Tues, Jan 6
Cracking the Cover
Wed, Jan 7
Thurs, Jan 8
Unleashing Readers
Fri, Jan 9
Once Upon a Story
Sat, Jan 10
Booking Mama
Mon, Jan 12
Geo Librarian
Tues, Jan 13
The Late Bloomer’s Book Blog AND NC Teacher Stuff
Wed, Jan 14
Teach Mentor Texts
Thurs, Jan 15
Kid Lit Frenzy
Fri, Jan 16
The Fourth Musketeer


January 1, 2015

image source



Whether you had a wild night out, or a quiet evening in, like we did, a new year has arrived.

I don’t do resolutions, mostly because I’ve got enough going on already, and trying to remember to start something new just stresses me out.

We do have some “bettering” traditions. We’ve been fixing up our townhouse, bit by bit, for the last 4 years, and we start each year with a list of projects we hope to have completed by December 31st. So there’s that.

And over the month of December, I created a new writing habit, thanks to author Linda Urban’s Write Daily 30 challenge. Thanks to that commitment, I managed to add just shy of 19,000 words to my current project, despite all the craziness (and sickness) in our household during the month of December. I’m continuing that challenge with Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s Daily Words.

And because words carry meaning, I’m going to adopt one for the 2015 year. Something I can put up on my bathroom mirror as a reminder everyday. I’m not sure what the word is yet, but I’m working on it.

File:Sunset next to Waikiki Beach, Oahu, Hawai, USA1.jpg

And then in July, we’re celebrating our 10th anniversary with a kid-free trip to HAWAII! So when I’m not on the computer adding words, I’m on the computer looking at pictures of white beaches, and umbrellas (both the shade kind and the kind in bright pink drinks).

So happy 2015, friends.

May the year bring you all the hopes you have on this, the first day of January.

December 24, 2014


The Christmas Cat

written by Maryann Macdonald

illustrated by Amy June Bates


 I reviewed this book last year, and, for the second year in a row, it has been a favorite with my kiddos.

December 23, 2014


Who is Coming to Our House?

written by Joseph Slate

illustrated by Ashley Wolff


December 22, 2014


The Animals’ Christmas

12th century carol

illustrated by Cheryl Peterson


 This book was published in 1983 by Random House and is no longer in print.

December 21, 2014


You Are My Miracle

written by Maryann Cusimano Love

illustrated by Satomi Ichikawa


December 20, 2014


The Birds of Bethlehem

written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola


December 19, 2014


One Christmas Night

written by M. Christina Butler

illustrated by Tina Macnaughton

Sweet little story. And there’s GLITTER on the pages! 🙂

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