picture books · post-op life · slice of life

What a kidder! #SOL20

Ari brought me a Little Elliot book to read. I had a feeling I wasn’t about to read Little Elliot Big Fun since he’s been swapping the book jacket from that book and another Little Elliot book. Why? Probably because he knows removing book jackets annoys me AND because he thinks it’s funny. (I’ll admit it. Swapping book jackets is kind of funny.)

As soon as I saw the end papers, I know I have Little Elliot Big Family in my hands. But I didn’t say anything. I read the title page and said, “Hmmm… this doesn’t match the book’s cover.”

Thing is, the book jacket isn’t just on the wrong book. It’s been replaced with a different jacket that’s both upside down and backwards!

I don’t get annoyed. Instead, I realize my son offered up a glimpse into his three-year-old antics (& a slice of life story to boot). I laughed, allowed him to lay his head on my shoulder, and read Little Elliot Big Family aloud to him while it sat inside of the Little Elliot Big Fun book cover.

picture books · slice of life · vocabulary development


Ari has been going through a mommy phase for the past week and a half. He calls my name what seems like 1,000 times a day. Over the weekend, we drove to a state park about 30 minutes from our home. I sat in the third row of the minivan, which meant (since he’s still rear-facing) Ari was looking at me for the entire drive. Despite being face to face, he kept saying “Mommy… Mommy… Mommy…” over and over. I’ll be honest, it was annoying.

Later in the day, I came across the image of a little girl, who looks a touch older than Ari, crying in a still photograph. She needs to be consoled, but that’s not happening. Like so many people, this photo shattered my heart since — unlike Ari who is going through a stage — she doesn’t feel secure. No one to hug her and promise her everything will be okay. Because it isn’t. None of this is okay. Separating innocent children from their parent(s) is cruel.

I had the privilege of spending Father’s Day with my parents, husband, and children. Not a moment went by without me realizing how lucky we were to be together.

After we returned home from celebrating Father’s Day at our favorite restaurant, I hopped on the elliptical for a 75-minute workout. I selected “Face the Nation” from my DVR recordings. I found myself feeling ill with every passing moment the Southern border parental separation issue was covered. By the end of “Face the Nation,” I turned on an episode of “The Daily Show” I missed last week just to keep myself from being nauseated.

When I got off of the elliptical, I marched myself down to my home office and opened an old picture book manuscript, WAITING FOR PAPI, that I shopped around to agents throughout 2015 and 2016. WAITING FOR PAPI offered a glimpse into the lives of undocumented children in American society. I wrote it after teaching in a community where some of the students’ fathers were placed in a detention center because they were undocumented. One of the girls (whose father was detained) was supposed to be in my fourth-grade class the following school year. However, she and her family were deported to their native country since her parents were in the United States illegally. For some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to remove her desk from the classroom when I set up my classroom. I kept the desk to remind me of the unease families without papers feel. These folks live in constant fear of deportation.

The desk stayed in the corner of my classroom. It served as a promise to one day tell her story. However, WAITING FOR PAPI received more rejections than I could count. The personalized rejections stated the subject matter was too mature for young children. (I tried revising as a middle-grade novel, but it wasn’t the form I envisioned for this book.) One agent even told me that no parent would ever buy a book about families being separated. As a result, I stopped trying to convince literary agents how American parents needed this story to help their children understand the lives of others who are not in this country without the necessary papers to live freely and comfortably.

But that was in 2015 and 2016. Unfortunately, in 2018, the separation of families along our Southern border has become a reality. Unlike many Americans, I’m not shocked that “this is what our country has become.” I saw what was happening in the community where I taught in 2008. I hate to say it, but what’s happening doesn’t shock me.

I began a new document after I finished reading the old manuscript, which — by mid-2016 — was a watered-down version of the story I wanted to tell. I don’t have a law degree so I can’t provide legal assistance to families in need. I don’t live close enough to the Southern Border to do anything concrete. But what I can do is revisit the story of the girl whose desk remained empty in my classroom during the 2008-09 school year. Her story deserves to be told. Once the manuscript is finished, I’ll summon the courage to query it. It is my hope to find an agent  (and a publisher) who believes this story is worthy of being told in a 32-page picture book. Not only do this country’s youngest citizens need a window into the lives of undocumented children, but undocumented children deserve mirror books.

This story has been percolating inside of me for a decade. By the time it ever goes public, Ari will be long past this mommy stage. So for now, I’ll keep writing and will enjoy being adored by my son. I will not allow myself to wish away what many other parents yearn for.


Dahlia Lithwick and Margo Schlanger of Slate compiled an excellent list of ways everyday people can help fight separation at the Southern border. Click here to read it now.

slice of life_individual
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picture books · reading · slice of life

Picture Books to Weather the Storm

We’ve been hit by the blizzard (aka: Stella). What do you do to keep a six-year-old from climbing the walls on a day like this? There are only so many TV shows I’ll let her watch or crafts she’ll want to do.

An idea came to me after reading the lovely comments I received from so many of you after yesterday’s blog post I shared.

“Isabelle!” I called.


“I have an idea of something we can do together today.”

“What?” she asked.

“Would you like to build a fort in the great room? We can turn on the fireplace and read picture books together. I’ll read to you.”

Her face lit up. “Yes! I want to!”

I thought of a tweet I saw from the Anne Arundel Public Library:

“What if we read one book for every inch of snow that’s fallen on the ground?”

“Okay. How much snow do we have?” she asked.

I texted my neighbor who I knew would know. Within minutes I found out we had 17 inches! (That was at 11 a.m.)

“17 inches so far. So we’ll read 17 picture books. What do you think?”

“Good,” she replied.

“I have stacks of review copies I need to read in my office. What if I bring them in here and you select the ones you’d like me to read to you?”

“I like that,” she said.

I brought in piles of picture books and let Isabelle select the ones she wanted me to read to her. Next, we built the fort with blankets, chairs, and heavy-duty clips. (BTW: This is the best fort we’ve ever made thanks to the newly-installed baby gate around the fireplace in our great room.) Isabelle placed pillows on the floor. Then, the two of us crawled in beside each other. (We left Ari in our view, but we didn’t let him inside. We figured he’d pull down the blankets.)

Our fort filled with books.
So far our favorite book has been A River by Marc Martin. The language is beautiful as are the illustrations. (I won’t disclose the titles of the ones we didn’t like.) Each of us gave it a thumbs-up!We’re taking a break so she can watch an episode of “Super Why” while Ari sleeps (and I write). More books to come soon!

We’re taking a break right now so she can watch an episode of “Super Why” while Ari naps (and I write). More books to come shortly!

**** Update: 3/14/17 at 11:15 p.m. ***

We read 19 books since we got 19 inches of snow. Here were some of the 19, which got a 👍🏼 from Isabelle and me.

picture books · slice of life

Books are a necessity. #sol16

Isabelle is getting ready to visit her grandparents this weekend. I asked her to pack her bag. Maybe it is because she knows I will pack her clothes or maybe it is because she values books, but this was all that was in her suitcase:

No toys. No games. No clothes. Just books.

I love this kid!

CONVERSATIONS · museum · picture books · slice of life

Early Morning Thoughts About Mo Willems #sol16

These are the Willems books Isabelle keeps by her bedside.
These are the Willems books Isabelle keeps by her bedside. She has a few more in other spots in our home. So, you can see why it’s going to be hard to choose just one.

“Mommy!” Isabelle called from the hallway at 6:45 a.m.

I couldn’t imagine what she wanted or needed before 7:00 a.m. (That’s when her OK to Wake Alarm Clock turns green, signaling it is okay to come into our room.)

“What’s up?” I asked when I came face-to-face with a wild-haired curly girl wearing pink bear pajamas.

“Well, can I bring my Trixie book to Mo Willams?”

Last night, right before bedtime, I informed Isabelle my parents would be taking her to see Mo Willems at the New York Historical Society this summer. I informed her she could select one book to have him sign. Apparently, this had been on her mind all night since she couldn’t decide which one to pick when I told her last night.

“Sure you can,” I said.

“So he writes the Trixie books?” she asked.

“Yeah, he writes all of the Knuffle Bunny books. And he writes the Elephant and Piggy books and the –”

Isabelle finished my sentence. “And the Pigeon books too!”

“That’s right. He writes three different series of books you know, plus a few others.”

“That’s a lot of books!” Isabelle chuckled.

“It sure is!” I responded.

“Oh,” she laughed as her curls bounced. “He might be busy that day!”

I laughed, delighted by her insight and thankful she might have an understanding of why there’s going to be a huge line she will have to wait in to get her book — whichever one she decides to bring — signed.
books · picture books · slice of life

If You Were Clever Jack, Where Would You Be? #sol16

Isabelle reorganized the books in her room about two weeks ago. She brought many of her books downstairs to her playroom and to our great room. She swapped the upstairs books with downstairs books. There were baskets of books that made their way up and down the stairs. I stayed out of it as best as I could since I thought it was good she wanted to shift books to different places.

I thought wrong. I’m now royally screwed since I didn’t get involved in the book swap.

I’m in the midst of going through the page proofs of my forthcoming professional book for Stenhouse with a fine-tooth comb. I wrote lessons for 20 different picture books, one of which is Clever Jack Takes the Cake by Candace Fleming and G. Brian Karas. Clever Jack resided in Isabelle’s bedroom book baskets until two weeks ago. Now it is SOMEWHERE in our house, but I HAVE NO IDEA WHERE IT IS!

We have mini picture book libraries in nearly every room of our house. (Is it pathetic to admit Isabelle even keeps a basket of picture books in our master bedroom’s bookshelf?) Finding one book is not easy if you don’t know where its chief reader placed it!

I texted my husband about this situation in a panic this afternoon. He called me back immediately. “Is that the one with the boy named Jack?”

“Yes!” I said.

“And he goes to give a princess a cake for her birthday?”

“Yes!” I said.

“And she lands up being allergic to the strawberry on the cake and that’s all that’s left?”

“Yes! You know the book. But do you know where it is?” I asked.

“I have no idea,” he replied.


“Can you go and get it from the library?” Marc asked.

“I could, but I’d rather find my copy. Besides, that’s assuming our library has it in the stacks. Otherwise, I’ll have to wait for it to come in.”

“Did you check the guest room closet?” Marc asked.

“Why would it be there? Those are mostly just my old picture books from school.”

“I’ve seen Isabelle playing in there lately. It could be there.”

Why has she been playing in there?!!? I dread looking through that closet. Here’s why:

This isn't exactly the most organized place where I keep books. Then again, it is inside of a closet.
This isn’t exactly the most organized place where I keep books. Then again, it is inside of a closet.

“Or it could be on the bookshelves in her playroom,” he offered.

That’s another big job. Here’s why:

It’s not just the open shelves that contain books. Some of the pull-out bins contain books too.

Don't ask me how many times I've asked my daughter to keep the spines facing out in her playroom bookshelves. And she still doesn't do it!
Don’t ask me how many times I’ve asked my daughter to keep the spines facing out in her playroom bookshelves. And she still doesn’t do it!

“I’m not going to go through anything until Isabelle gets home from school. Maybe she’ll remember where she put Clever Jack,” I said.

* * * * *

Isabelle munched on her snack after school. I thought that would be the perfect time to ask her about Clever Jack‘s whereabouts.

“Remember when you reorganized your books a couple of weeks ago?”

She nodded.

“Do you remember where you put Clever Jack Takes the Cake?”

“Why?” she asked.

“Because I need it,” I said.

“Why do you need it?” Isabelle asked.

I attempted to explain why I needed it for checking some things in my book. That didn’t help.

“But why do you want it?” Isabelle said again.

“Listen,” I said feeling exasperated. “Do you remember where it is or not?”

“Not,” she replied.

Great! I’m going to have to tear this house apart tonight on my own.

Until then, I’m going back to work, forging ahead with the rest of the manuscript (and the books I was able to find). Note to self: Don’t let the kid touch the picture books in the pile I created on the couch for the next week!

This is where I'm sitting to do my proofing. Looks cozy, right? It would be ten times cozier if I had Clever Jack Takes the Cake by my side!
This is where I’m sitting to do my proofing. Looks cozy, right? It would be ten times cozier if I had Clever Jack Takes the Cake by my side!


Update: Clever Jack has been found! (I’m a little embarrassed to say it was in my office all along.)

Isabelle recognized Clever Jack by its spine, which was facing out in my office. Perhaps now she'll understand the importance of book spines facing out.
Isabelle recognized Clever Jack by its spine, which was facing out in my office. Perhaps now she’ll understand the importance of book spines facing out.

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Head over to http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com for more slices of life.

nonfiction · picture books · read aloud · slice of life

Mea Culpa

Mea Culpa: I haven’t read enough informational books to my daughter.

There, I said it.

I’ve known this is a problem for a long time. However, Isabelle doesn’t seem to gravitate towards information books since she isn’t deeply passionate about anything. She isn’t obsessed with trains or dinosaurs. That is, she isn’t one of those kids who marvel about facts. Isabelle’s strongest interests are going to hotels (She likes to travel!) and visiting Hersheypark. However, there aren’t too many informational books for four-year-olds about hotels and she’s too young for the biographies of George Ferris. I suppose these are halfway decent excuses for not exposing her to much nonfiction. But, honestly, I really haven’t wanted to fight a reading battle I didn’t have to fight with my kid, which is why I haven’t pushed anything other than fiction and poetry.

This weekend, I reorganized some of our bookshelves they were beyond messy. Isabelle helped me reorganize a shelf containing picture books. Afterwards, she pulled a book that looked attractive to her and asked me to read it. I was delighted when I saw the title since it was…

…an informational text!

She must’ve picked it because of the leaves on the cover. (She had just come in from jumping in leaf piles my husband was trying to rake.) I didn’t question why she grabbed it off of the shelf. Instead, I cozied up next to her on the couch and read.

I started out by stopping and talking with her after reading each page spread since I wanted her to hear how I was synthesizing the information I was learning from the text. I asked her questions and tried to have conversations with her about what she was learning. She was less-than-interested in talking about what she was learning, which was evidenced by her slouchy posture on the couch and a few “I don’t knows.” Therefore, I tried not to push too hard since I didn’t want her to equate a book that we can learn from to torture. I eased up on the talking and focused more on the reading. I even used some Whole Book Approach strategies with her, which I often do while reading fiction texts, so that we could talk about the design and pictures.

In the end, Isabelle said she liked the book because she likes fall and leaves. However, I don’t know how she’d feel if I kept picking informational texts to read with her. She’s the kind of kid who likes a good story. And right now, I think it’s more important that she has a positive view of books and storytime with mommy. She has the whole rest of her life to read nonfiction.

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Head over to http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com for more slices of life.

picture books · slice of life

Spiraling Back to Patterns

We worked with Bruce Goldstone's I SEE A PATTERN HERE.
We worked with Bruce Goldstone’s I SEE A PATTERN HERE.

I should’ve known better. Just because she “mastered” something a few months ago doesn’t mean I shouldn’t return to it.  But that’s what happened.  As soon as Isabelle mastered basic patterns, I stopped working on patterns at home.  Because, you know, there are about 50 other things that need to be worked on.  I should’ve revisited them, at least a little bit, but patterns seemed to slip my mind since other things like /l/ blends and writing uppercase letters seem to be more top-of-mind these days.

Yesterday, we were playing with pegs at home. There was a purple peg, then a blue peg, then a purple peg, then a blue peg. “What comes next?” Isabelle couldn’t answer. She didn’t realize the purple peg would come next in the patterns.  We tried again with different colors.  Again, she was unable to correctly answer which peg came next.  My heart sank. Why couldn’t she generalize the pattern work we had done several months ago to what she was working on now?

This morning, I walked into Isabelle’s play room where she was playing with Legos. I inserted myself into her play using errorless teaching to help her with identifying patterns with the Legos to minimize frustration.  It worked, but she didn’t really want to do patterns.

“I don’t like patterns. Patterns are not good!” Isabelle declared.

“Oh, I love patterns. Patterns are so interesting. And they’re everywhere.  Look at your dress.  The polka dots are in a pattern?”

“They are?”

“Yes, they are. They repeat over and over again.”

“Oh. Well, I still don’t like patterns. Patterns are not good.”

“I used to teach my fourth and fifth graders about patterns. They loved learning about patterns. In fact, I have a book I use with kids when I work in schools about patterns.  It’s a book for bigger kids so I’m not sure you’d be interested in it.”

I gave her a sideways glance. She was looking at me so I continued.

“It’s a book about patterns for big kids. I used it with some six- and seven-year-olds this year. Would you like to see my big kid book on patterns?”

I was expecting a no.  But instead I got a “Yes! Show me!”

Even though we were going to be a little late for camp if I showed her the book, I hustled to my office to grab I See a Pattern Here by Bruce Goldstone. She loved the full-color photographs on the first two page spreads, which is all we got to this morning since it took her awhile to complete the bead patterns, using the errorless teaching method, on the page spread pictured above.

“Would you like to look at more pages now?”

“After camp. Let’s do patterns after camp.”

“Okay,” I said. “Go get your socks and shoes on.”

We got through two page spreads of Goldstone’s book with no yelling and no tears. We have a long way to go, but at least she was willing to work with me this morning, right?

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Head over to http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com for more slices of life.

picture books · slice of life

Same-Sex Wedding

Isabelle watches the wedding from the floor of our hotel room.
Isabelle watched the wedding from the floor of our hotel room.

My daughter was an uninvited guest at a gay wedding and I’m 100% okay with that.

Let me backtrack: The three of us traveled to Washington DC for Memorial Day Weekend.  After spending Saturday walking all over the city (i.e., from Georgetown to Foggy Bottom to the White House to the Smithsonian Castle to the National Gallery to the Metro Station and then back to our hotel!), we needed to take a little rest before dinner.  Isabelle didn’t want to nap (Shocker!) so we allowed her to play quietly while we laid down.

I heard beautiful string music coming from the courtyard outside our hotel room.  I peered out the window and discovered a wedding procession.  “Isabelle, come look!  It’s a wedding!”

Isabelle scurried over to the window as the flower girls made their way down the aisle.  Next came the ring bearers.  “The bridge will be coming out next!” I squealed.

The music didn’t change as a young man walked down the aisle escorted by a slightly older woman.  Where was the bride?   Once the tuxedo-clad man and the woman who was escorting him down the aisle arrived in front of the minister, the music stopped and the minister had everyone sit down.

What’s happening?  Why is everyone sitting?  Is there going to be some kind of break before the bride walks down the aisle?

I looked at the minister to see what he was doing next and that’s when I realized there were two men — both in tuxedos — standing in front of him.  A same-sex wedding.  How would I back-track from the bride thing and clarify to Isabelle what was happening?  And that’s when I made a connection to a book I’m thankful she picked up in my office and has had us read to her over 50 times.

“There’s not going to be a bride,” I started.

“No bride?” she asked.

“That’s right. Remember how Stella had two daddies in Stella Brings the Family?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied.

“Well, this wedding is kind of like Stella’s family.  Before Stella her daddies probably got married.  This wedding has two grooms and no bride.”

“Okay,” she said.

Isabelle watched the wedding for a few minutes and then went over to the hotel room desk to color, peeking out the window every few minutes to spy on the wedding.  She returned to the window for the recessional and then watched the new family’s photo session after the ceremony was over.

* * * * *

stellaOn the very day Ireland became the first country to legalize gay marriage, I assumed the wedding taking place in our hotel’s courtyard was between a man and a woman.  It’s 2015 and I feel badly for that, but my assumption is probably because of the way I saw marriages growing up. I didn’t have to have a complex conversation with Isabelle about why there were two men at the altar, rather than a man and a woman, since she knows families look different from ours.  We’ve had those conversations because we read Stella Brings the Family to Isabelle after she begged me to read it to her once I finished writing craft lessons for it for my forthcoming book. Initially, I thought the content would be too sophisticated for her, but reading the book led to important discussions. I realized reading Stella to her at age four was a good decision since it allowed her to learn about different family dynamics.She accepted the same-sex wedding.  Unlike those who oppose gay marriage, she doesn’t think there’s anything weird or unholy about what the two men were doing in the courtyard of our hotel on Saturday afternoon.  I’m sure she’ll have questions about gay marriage as she gets older, but for now, she accepts it.  And I am thankful.

Isabelle accepted the same-sex wedding she witnessed.  Unlike those who oppose gay marriage, she doesn’t think there’s anything weird or unholy about what the two men were doing in the courtyard of our hotel on Saturday afternoon.  She saw two people pledge their love to each other as she watched from our room.  While I’m sure she’ll have questions about gay marriage as she gets older, she accepts it now.  And I am thankful.

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Head over to http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com for more slices of life.

picture books · slice of life

Wake-up with a Kiss

The brush of lips against my hand. That’s what woke me up this morning. As I came-to I realized I hadn’t moved since I fell asleep a little before 11. Still in my back. Pillows under my knees just as perfectly as they had been at night. I can go back to sleep.

I checked my bedside clock to see how much longer I could sleep. When I rolled onto my left side I saw more than red digits staring back at me. I saw the kisser too.

“Hi Mommy!”

“Oh my G-d, Izzy!” I noticed the clock. “It’s not even 5 a.m.! You can’t keep waking us up this early.”

My husband, who I initially thought kissed my hand, rolled out of bed and escorted Isabelle back to her room so we could both sleep for a little bit longer.
———-Two hours later.———-

I’m wide-awake and Isabelle waltzes into our bedroom at her proper wake-up time. 


Such a proud little reader.  A proud little reader who will need a nap this afternoon.