food · picture books · slice of life

Play with Your Food!

Ari discovered Foodie Faces by Bill and Claire Wurtzel at the library last summer. We checked it in and out several times. We promised each other we’d try to have a foodie face day, but it never happened.

My parents visited last weekend and brought “the good lox” (Ari’s words. He’s a smoked salmon snob!) with them. This evening, as I prepared bagels and lox for supper (since I don’t have time to cook on Wednesdays), I got excited to open up the vacuum-sealed package from Acme Smoked Fish’s retail store. I lovingly placed the lox and cream cheese atop a sesame seed bagel from Modern Bread and Bagel* in Manhattan. Then, I sliced up some tomatoes my parents left behind. I was just about to snap a photo so I could send it to my parents to thank them for the lox delivery when I realized I had made a foodie face!

“Ari, I made a foodie face with my bagel and lox!”

“Show me,” he replied.

I set the plate on my placemat. He started at it quizzically.

“The bagel halves are the eyes, and the tomato slices are the mouth,” I said.

“It needs a nose,” Ari replied.

“You’re right,” I said.

I grabbed a yellow pepper from the platter in the center of the table and stuck it beneath the bagel eyes.

“Better?” I asked.

Ari smiled.

*=If you love bagels, but cannot eat gluten, you’ll want to check out Modern Bread and Bagel. They ship nationwide! Slice and freeze them as soon as they arrive. Thaw them out an hour before you’re ready to eat, and it’ll be almost as good as eating a fresh bagel in their shop.

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bedtime stories · picture books · slice of life

Woolly Bears Aren’t Bears

I’ve read Sweet Dreams Lullaby by Betsy Snyder HUNDREDS of times since it was Isabelle’s favorite bedtime book when she was a tyke. So when Ari said, “Where are the wooly bears?” when I read it aloud to him last night, I had no answer. Instead, I shot this video. (Why did I shoot it? No one really knows.)

But, yet, they were RIGHT THERE… in that last spot!

How did I figure this out? (Well, it wasn’t from googling because I was envisioning grizzly bears… or even black bears!) On the endpapers, there are constellations with the words of what they are beneath each constellation. There was one that looked like a caterpillar that said woolly bears beneath it.

“Wait a second! It says woolly bears beneath that constellation. Do you mind if I look this up on my phone?” I asked Ari since my iPhone isn’t out at bedtime.

“That’s fine,” he replied.

Moments later, I found myself on the Farmer’s Almanac site and discovered that woolly bears are caterpillars.

No wonder Isabelle never thought to ask “Where are the woolly bears?” Perhaps she knew, all along, that they were caterpillars.

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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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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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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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