Archive for March, 2011



Good Night Little Sea Otter is a gem of a book that can be read to a young child at bedtime. The soft illustrations are simply the best. All parents can relate to how clever the little Otter is in finding ways to avoid going to sleep just like all children do.

The book is very engaging and can teach children about the creatures that live in the sea. Parents can also use the book in various ways to teach young children about colors and simple words.  I can see the book as a valuable resource to be used in a preschool and daycare centers to teach: simple science concepts, language, colors, shapes and friendship. The story also showcases the strong bond that exists between mom and child.

This is the second book I have read and reviewed for Janet Halfmann. I’m growing quite fond with her abilities to write about animals. The author has a unique way of using animals to teach the young reader many important facts about science. Her writing style leaves me wanting to read all of her published books.

Lastly, Wish Williams’ illustrations made the story jump off the page. Every well written picture book story must always be complemented with top-notch art work.

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I first learned about the importance of make-believe play while attending graduate school at Bansktreet College of Education in New York. The whole concept made a lot of sense to me.

Children must be provided with ample opportunities to put their imagination to full use. According to Jean Piaget, this is one way children can develop cognitively.

Janet Halfmann’s book Fur and Feathers is about the best book I have read that showcases how far a child can go with his or her imagination.

It follows the adventures of Sophia, who helps her animal friends who lose their coats, made of fur, shells, feathers and scales, to a whipping wind. The wind leaves the animals to shiver in their bare skin.

Sophia first tries to help by dressing the animals with every piece of clothing she owns. Much to her dismay, the animals, though very thankful for her willingness to help, do not feel comfortable with human clothes.

Sophia’s vivid imagination than leads her to start sewing personal new coats for each animal.

I love this well-written book. If you are a parent who is interested in showing your child the importance of imaginative play, this is the book for you.

The educational resource “For Creative Minds” in the back of the book is worth its price in gold. Teachers and parents can use this valuable resource to teach children about the animal kingdom and scientific classification.

Lastly, illustrator Laurie Allen Klein does an exceptional job bringing the story to full life with her vivid art work.

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Are you a mom ready to give birth to second child? Do you already have an older child who is having a hard time accepting a new baby?

If you answered yes to either question, I highly recommend reading Kevin McNamee’s newly published What is that Thing?.

A new baby sister or brother can present a great threat to the older sibling. Often the older sibling has a hard time understanding why mommy and daddy have to give attention to the new baby.

The main character, Jenna, uses her imagination in a fun way to escape the reality of having a brand new baby sister. What a clever approach to teaching children that new siblings aren’t so bad after all.

Jenna eventually learns to accept her baby sister by interacting with her. Jenna touches her baby sister’s waving hands and the baby squeezes Jenna’s finger and smiles a big toothless grin.

Allowing the older sibling to interact with the new baby is one way to help defuse any misunderstandings.

This cute and heartwarming story should be read to all children who already have or are about to have a new addition to their family.

Further value is added by the award-winning artist K.C. Snider, who elevates the story with her top-notch illustrations.

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Reading Sunstruck by Mayra Calvani left me with a deep feeling of melancholy. I feel genuine compassion for the main character Daniella.

Her story made me think of how we have little control of where we come from. Daniella, an architecture student, finds herself in the company of some very eccentric and bizarre people.

The story takes place in steamy San Juan, Puerto Rico. They all co-exist in a warped and darkly world. The author does a great job exposing the deranged and macabre ways of the other characters in the story.

Well written fiction is supposed to evoke emotions in the reader, good or bad. In my case, reading the story reminded me of how we sometimes have very little control of our destiny. What we often become is a direct result of who have influenced us. Daniella’s boyfriend Tony is a smug and selfish man who is obsessed with fame and LSD. Reading about him made me wonder about the dark side of the human character.

The other characters: Zorro, Ismael, and Irene Carlier all gave me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. If you have a penchant for dark eerie characters, this book is for you. The author’s distinctive writing style held me captive, until I finished the book.

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Lily Hates Goodbyes is a timely book that tugs at your heart. The story explores the emotional ups and downs Lily experiences when her daddy leaves for the military for an extended amount of time.

So many children go through much turmoil not understanding fully why their fathers have to be gone. Mothers and grandparents can use this book as a good resource to help children cope with their father’s absence.

What resonates well with me is the way Lily’s mom allows her to get angry about her daddy’s absence. With the aid of her mom Lily finds various ways to cope that will help her until her daddy returns home. Lily’s mom also encourages Lily to draw many pictures of what is going on around her and places them into a box so her daddy can look at them when he returns home.

It is no doubt a very scary situation for a young child to learn to deal with the absence of a beloved parent, but this book really gives realistic and useful ways to cope with that unfortunate predicament that many military families must face.

Illustrator Nathan Stoltenberg’s captures the true essence of this story with vivid pictures that will warm many hearts

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Literacy Tips for Teachers from Literacy Specialist Carol Boles


Welcome to day three of Carol Boles’ 6-day NWFCC March Specialist Showcase tour and learn how “Peer Tutoring” is essential to reading success in our young muses by the National Writing for Children Center’s Literacy Specialist, Carol Boles.  


Peer Tutoring

The value of students teaching one another is often overlooked by teachers.  Paired Reading is a peer tutoring strategy teachers can use in their classrooms, to help their students become better readers.

Paired reading is a practice reading (the same story or text) activity where more capable readers are paired with classmates who are less capable readers.

There are many ways to organize a paired reading activity. Here are the steps to a one-on-one arrangement for elementary school teachers – using the reading literature book.

-Identify who your top readers are—either from fluency scores or informal reading inventories. Then, rank your readers from the most capable, to the middle and then the bottom readers.

-Divide your class into two groups.

-Pair students with a student who is at the same rank. For example: the top reader in group one, is paired with the top reader in group two, and so on.

-Group 1 reader, reads first by modeling aspects of fluency such as; pace, expression, voice, and accuracy; group 2 reader, then reads trying to match the fluency of his or her partner.

To become fluent readers, children need to participate in a variety of oral reading activities. Paired reading is just one technique used to help children achieve fluency.

Follow Day 4 of Ms. Boles’ tour tomorrow at Leave a comment and your name will automatically be entered to win a Three Angels Gourmet Co mug and a package of Divine Dill Dip Mix – at the end of the month, provided by the National Writing for Children Center.


Homeschooling Research Tips for Parents from Homeschool Specialist Amy M. O’Quinn

Homeschooling  Research Tips for Parents from Homeschool Specialist Amy M. O’Quinn

Welcome to day three of Amy O’Quinn’s 6-day NWFCC February Specialist Showcase tour as she discusses her personal homeschooling experience and tips.

As opposed to twenty or thirty years ago, homeschooling options are almost limitless these days. There are countless companies, catalogs, and websites available to help new homeschooling parents navigate their way through uncharted waters. Curriculum choices abound, and there is a homeschooling ‘method’ or style for everyone. Although I utilize much of both the Charlotte Mason and Classical methods, I guess our homeschool style could be labeled eclectic, as I pull ideas from many different places. In fact, I would venture to say that most homeschooling families are eclectic to some degree!

We use a variety of curriculum and resources, but with a specific end in mind. I definitely see the value in acknowledging the different stages of the trivium, and I remember these as I’m planning goals for our school year. But I am also drawn to the gentle art of learning associated with Charlotte Mason, and I like to incorporate art, music, and nature study. I especially like to use narration and copy work. And we read a lot! I also believe in fostering self-education (autodidactic) and independent learning. For when I’ve finished my years of teaching, I still want my children to continue learning and growing in many different  areas—not because they have to—but because they want to!

I truly believe that if parents feel called to homeschool their children, they have a responsibility to provide the best education possible. Homeschooling can be as expensive or as inexpensive as families want it to be or are limited to, but a good education is NOT dependent on lots of money or a costly curriculum. Time invested by the homeschooling parent and wisely and effectively using whatever resources are available makes all the difference in the world when teaching a child. Consistency and dedication are a must!

One of the best starting places to find information on how to begin homeschooling or review a list of frequently asked questions is at the Homeschool Legal Defense website at There are links to state laws, homeschool publications and periodicals, research information, organizations, etc.

Another good site is Here you will find discussion boards for all homeschooling methods and topics and even a place to buy/sell used curriculum.

The Old Schoolhouse Magazine website at also has many links, product reviews, and articles for anyone interested in homeschooling.

In fact, just doing an internet search on homeschooling will yield more hits than you can possibly use. But one of the best ways to find out about home education and how it ‘really’ works is to find another homeschooling family or mom who is willing to answer questions and share opinions about the good, the bad, and the ugly! Finding support is vital, because there will always be days when new homeschoolers (and veterans) feel overwhelmed, when they just need encouragement, or when they want to share their success stories. We’ve all had our great days and our ‘not so stellar’ days of homeschooling, but it really helps to talk to those who’ve walked the path before us!

Follow Day 4 of Ms. O’Quinn’s tour tomorrow at Leave a comment and your name will automatically be entered to win a Three Angels Gourmet Co mug and a package of Divine Dill Dip Mix – at the end of the month, provided by the National Writing for Children Center.


ESL Tips for Teachers from ESL Specialist Dorit Sasson

Welcome to day three of Dorit Sasson’s 6-day NWFCC February Specialist Showcase tour as she presents “Ways to Use Children’s Books to Build Oral Literacy and Vocabulary Skills for ESL Students.”

Before they even begin school, ESL children have already absorbed the grammatical structures, sounds, and vocabulary of a language. This assumption takes into account that parents speak with their children in their own mother tongue from a very young age. But what about building literacy skills for a second language? Research shows that ESL students are not reaching the same levels of reading proficiency as their native English speaking peers by the time they reach third grade.

Using children’s trade books (i.e. read-alouds) is a great way for parents and teachers to help build literacy skills for ESL students.

Bridging Oral Work with Vocabulary Development

Teachers and parents can make sure specific aspects of oral instruction correspond to vocabulary development and story comprehension of their respective curriculums. Young ESL students at the first stage of reading development (ages 6-7) are generally aware of sound-letter relationships, can map speech to print and sounds out words, attempts to break code of print and uses decoding to figure out words (Roskos, Less skilled readers however, do not have the automaticity in lower-level process (i.e., letter, word levels) to process information at the vocabulary level without expending a great deal of cognitive effort.

Use Language Scaffolds

In a read-aloud context, teachers and parents can provide a range of language scaffolds so that ESL students can map out the basic story components of plot and character and understand basic vocabulary integral to the read-aloud.

Such language scaffolds that naturally bridge the oral and written aspects of the curriculum include:

  • Using simple and concrete language to introduce and discuss new vocabulary
  • Using modeling strategies to help facilitate with comprehension
  • Anticipating and predicting further content
  • Encouraging ELLs to make connections with what they have heard

In order to ensure that ESL students understand 99% of a spoken text, teachers need to provide opportunities to discuss vocabulary in context, otherwise ESL students may spend an inordinate amount of their cognitive energies trying to guess at the word’s meaning thus losing the flow of the story. The read-aloud story gives teachers a framework with which to teach the letters, words or other stories.

Before teachers focus on new vocabulary words, they may need to check students’ familiarity with the context. In the story Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson, for example, the word gloves should be associated with cold and hands. Teachers will want to teach new vocabulary, such as the word gloves, in the context by providing contextual clues to help students recognize the meaning either independently or with the teacher’s help.

Other examples include:

  • Teacher discusses the word ‘grouchy’ as the underlying theme for Eric Carle’s The Grouchy Ladybug using a picture of a grouchy face.
  • Teacher explicates the word ‘snores’. What does the bear do when he is sleeping?

Non-verbal (i.e. gestures) and verbal clues (i.e. pictures) facilitate the process of scaffolding between hearing words and seeing them in their respective contexts before students have the necessary reading skills to acquire vocabulary independently.

The stages for discussing new vocabulary should follow several teaching principles relating to a particular pattern of development.


  • Passive exposure using techniques such as brainstorming as in the example of the word birthday. Teacher asks: What happens on a birthday? Teacher asks for dates of students’ birthdays.
  • Active exposure using presentation techniques such as showing pictures, guessing, and simulation.


Practice has important implications for vocabulary retention. Opportunities should be provided for reinforcing the meaning following the read-aloud.

  • Use questioning techniques for ‘snore’ in Bear Snores On. Parents and teachers can ask: Where is bear snoring? Who comes in the cave while bear is snoring?

While every teacher’s approach to oral work is different, strengthening performance is promoted through constant recycling, repetition and review of sound/symbol correspondences, phonics and vocabulary.

Works Cited

Carle, E. (1996). The Grouchy Ladybug. HarperCollins.

Wilson, K. (2003). Bear Snores On. Simon and Schuster.

Roskos, Kathleen A., Tabors, Palton, O., Lenhart, Lisa. Oral Language and Early Literacy in Preschool. Delaware: International Reading Association. 2004.

NOTE: This article is only part of a presentation regularly offered by Dorit Sasson as part of her in-service training programs for teachers of English language learners. For more information about speaking engagements and in-service, contact Dorit Sasson at or visit the Teachers’ Diversity Coach, at and click on the “speaking” page.

Follow Day 4 of Ms. Sasson’s tour tomorrow at Leave a comment and your name will automatically be entered to win a Three Angels Gourmet Co mug and a package of Divine Dill Dip Mix – at the end of the month, provided by the National Writing for Children Center.

Tips for Teachers from Author Suzanne Lieurance

Tips for Teachers from Author Suzanne Lieurance

Thank you for following me on Day 3 of my 6-day virtual tour for my middle grade historical novel The Locket: Surviving the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire from Enslow Publishers. Obviously, this book was designed for classroom use as a way to supplement the regular social studies textbooks when it comes to helping students learn about events in American history. But I think readers enjoy the book mainly because they get to know and like the main character, Galena, a young Russian-Jewish immigrant who lived in New York City with her family in 1911. This was an interesting time in American history and I wanted this book to help readers get a feel for what life must have been like for struggling immigrants back then.

I have also written a nonfiction book about this tragic fire called The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and Sweatshop Reform. It is part of the In American History series from Enslow Publishers, Inc. When I visit schools across the country I sometimes talk to students about using real events in history as the basis for creating fictional stories. I even have a workshop about this, so I can guide students to choose historical events to research so they can create fictional characters who witnessed these events and tell their stories.

I love to visit schools, libraries, and bookstores to talk about my writing and my books. I particularly enjoy helping teachers and school librarians see how they can use nonfiction to help students write better fiction. Teachers and librarians can find out more about this at my website at, too.


Follow Day 4 of Ms. Lieurance’s tour tomorrow at Leave a comment and your name will automatically be entered to win a Three Angels Gourmet Co mug and a package of Divine Dill Dip Mix – at the end of the month, provided by the National Writing for Children Center.


Tradebook Tips for Teachers from Children’s Author Sherrie Madia

Welcome to day three of Sherrie Madia’s 6-day NWFCC February Author Showcase tour where she discusses a Preschool Lesson Plan for her children’s book, Bumblelina.

Preschool Lesson Plan

Teachers can read this book to preschoolers as part of several different possible thematic units, including:  spring, bumblebees, the preschool experience, drawing, learning colors and the importance of trying.  The following lesson speaks specifically to spring and bumblebees.

Two underlying elements within the book are repeated sounds (“Bumblelina fumbles.  Bumblelina stumbles.”) that enable teachers to get kids thinking about these elements as an essential part of learning to read.  Also fun to include is a lesson on colors.  Each page of the book has one “hidden” spot of color, so it is fun for children to find the spot and identify the color.  Because the book is illustrated in line drawings, teachers might talk with children about using their artistic ability to draw their own bee character.  This can be a wonderful way to engage preschoolers in the story by having them draw their own bumblebees, using their imagination.

Another worthwhile exercise based on the notion of trying is to have children draw a picture of themselves trying to do something that was hard (e.g., buttoning a coat, zipping a zipper, pouring a glass of milk, writing their letters, etc.—and then draw the picture of them succeeding at the task).  The teacher might offer a story of something he or she had trouble doing as an adult—but succeeded at by practice and hard work. 

This exercise is a wonderful way not only to demonstrate to children the importance of trying, but also an exercise in enabling them to celebrate past accomplishments, thus serving as a means of building self-esteem and to reinforce the message of how important it is to try until you succeed.

Pages to Color

Here is a fun coloring page that also includes practice with the letter “B”:

Children will also enjoy this bee-hive coloring page, which lets them spend time imagining what it might be like inside a hive:


Rhyme and Movement

Every child like a hand rhyme, and learning simple rhymes and movements is an important component in teaching preschoolers. Children can pick up the rhyme and movement easily, and this reinforces both the topic of the book about a bumblebee, but the more important underlying theme, which is the importance of trying.  When used prior to reading Bumblelina, a rhyme and movement activity can help to focus children and settle them in for story time.

Here is The Beehive Hand Rhyme, which is a brief, easy-to-learn rhyme with hand movements:

To accompany your reading of Bumblelina during story time, here are some fun bumblebee crafts to make:

Paper Plate Bumblebee

Thumbprint Bees

Follow Day 4 of Ms. Madia’s tour tomorrow at Leave a comment and your name will automatically be entered to win a Three Angels Gourmet Co mug and a package of Divine Dill Dip Mix – at the end of the month, provided by the National Writing for Children Center.