All things literacy — Authors, Books, Connections . . .

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Celebrating Ezra Jack Keats and the Snowy Day

A Literary package for young and old --

Ezra Jack Keats's iconic picture book The Snowy Day must be on every child's book shelf.  Now comes a wonderful book about the persistence and ambitions of the author/illustrator Ezra Jack Keats.

Ezra Jack Keats book was first published in 1962 and was the 1963 winner of that year's Caldecott Award.  The main character was a boy named Peter who made his debut in this story about a snowy day.  Keats's collages were superbly executed and were enhanced with paper marbleized with an oil paint and water technique.

Now over fifty years later Andrea David Pinkney has featured Keats in this book that details the evolution of the book that was inspired by a New York Times magazine photo (circa 1949) of a little boy in Harlem.  That boy became the prototype for Peter.  Peter appeared in six more books.  Read more about this book on NPR.

In 2017 the United States Post Office is releasing this set of Snowy Day stamps.  Add a knitted hat and mitten set and you'll have a gift package that will please parents and child


Keats, Ezra Jack.  (1962) The Snowy Day.  Viking.

Neary, Lynn. (2016 December 1) 'A Poem for Peter' Recalls One Unforgettable 'Snowy Day." NPR: Author Interview.  (WEB)

Pinkney, Andrea Davis.  (2016) A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of the Snowy Day.  Illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher.  Viking Books for Young Readers.

United States Postal Service.  The Snowy Day Stamps.  Issued 2017.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

TAKE ACTION: Santa Claus Soap and Lace

 I am done lamenting the outcome of our 2016 election - -and am taking action.  One means of doing this is to support agencies that support women and other marginalized residents of our country.  Accordingly this holiday season (2016) I am packaging some small gifts that those being served by non-profits can either choose for themselves or choose as a gift to give to someone as a holiday gift.  These gifts are destined for the Catherine McCauley Center in Cedar Rapids IA.

 Now for the project  ~A Gift and a Little History~

In 1864 Nathaniel Kellogg Fairbank moved to Chicago from New York, and established a lard-processing and soap-making company.  Using lard and lye was a rather standard set of ingredients to use in the making of soap.  Fairbank established the Santa Claus Soap company.  The company's best known product was Santa Claus Soap known for its cleaning ability.
The soap was advertised as being for all year around.
In 1875 the company was purchased by the American Cotton Oil Company and renamed the N.K. Fairbank & Co.  In the latter part of the 1800s the company had 400 employees and was selling over $5 millions of product each year.  The company expanded and created a Cottolene lard substitute, Fairy Soap, a scouring soap, and Gold Dust washing powder.

And now the gift.
We found a vintage label for Santa Claus Soap - and duplicated the label on small shipping labels (Avery 8163;
Then we found some natural soaps that we wanted to include in a gift package for someone.
It was simple to create a good looking gift simply by wrapping the soap in tissue paper and sealing the tissue with the vintage Santa Soap label.
Click here to download pdf of the label set.
Very young children can wrap the soaps rather easily since the tissue can be wrinkled, and the wrapping does not need to be perfect.  The label will hold the tissue down and will make the "package" look fine.
You can download the labels to be used on (Avery 8163; shipping labels here.
We then folded sets of two white wash cloths, wrapped each set of two cloths with the soap - secured by a lace ribbon. We made fifteen sets / soap and washcloth packages.


These fifteen packages are destined for the Catherine McCauley House in Cedar Rapids -- an organization that serves women and gives them a hand up. 

Source of history information:
Hanneman, Joe (2015 Dec. 2015) Ads in History: Santa Claus Soap.  Treasured Lives-Discover You History.  (Blog) Retrieved from:

Monday, September 19, 2016

Talk Like a Pirate Day - September 19

Pirates • Pirates • Pirates  September 19 
(every year) is International Talk Like a Pirate Day

And a few books - to focus on pirates.

View video about how to make a pirate map at

There are many books to feature Pirates. The Pirate Activity Book will correlate with most of them. The Lost Treasures book by the Owens has an interactive web page that older readers will enjoy exploring -- and solving the puzzle. Visit

Sobel, June. (2006) Shiver Me Letters: A Pirate ABC. Illustrations by Henry Cole. Harcourt.

Tucker, Kathy. (1997) Do Pirates Take Baths? Illustrated by Nadine Westcott. Albert Whitman.

Long, Melinda. (2003) How I Became a Pirate. Illustration by David Shannon. Harcourt.

Kennedy, Kim. (2007) Pirate Pete's Talk Like a Pirate. Harry N. Abrams.

Kramer, Andrew. (2010) Pajama Pirates.  Illustrated by Leslie Lammie.  HarperCollins.

Long, Melinda. (2010) Pirates Activity Book. Illustrations by David Shannon. HMN Books.

Yolen, Jane. (1998) The Ballad of the Pirate Queens. Illustrated by David Shannon. Voyager pb.

Yolen, Jane (2008) Sea Queens: Women Pirates Around the World. Illustrations by Christine Joy Pratt. Charlesbridge.

Dubowski, Cathy East. (1996) Pirate School (All Aboard Reading Level 2). Illustrated by Mark Dubowski. Grosset & Dunlap.

McPhail, David. (1997) Edward and the Pirate. Little Brown.

Owens, Jeremy. (2007; 2010 pb) Lost Treasures of the Pirates of the Caribbean. Illustrated by James Owen. Simon & Schuster.

The following two sites are more appropriate for an adult to pick and choose ideas to share.  I do not recommend sharing directly with elementary students, and maybe not even middle school students.  Salty language and lines with a lot of innuendo.
International Talk Like a Pirate Day has a teacher's page that might be helpful.  Check it out here! 
If you want to speak Pirate - go to this English to Pirate translator

And you might like these non-fiction books about pirates.
Wilson, Jacqueline. (2002)  Pirate (Eye Wonder Series).  Dorling Kindersley.
Platt, Richard.  (2002) Pirate (Eyewitness Guides). Dorling Kindersley.

There are a couple of cookbooks but these are really not worth finding -- but the titles might inspire a writing exercise -- ask readers to create their own idea of what pirates might eat.  What type of sandwiches? What do pirates eat?  And what might be some recipes for those foods?  Create a class book of Pirate foods (and plan to skip the two food titles, not much inspiration :>)
DK Publishing. (2007) The Pirate Cookbook.  Dorling Kindersley.
Schuette, Sarah L. (2011) A Pirate Cookbook: Simple Recipes for Kids (First Facts).  Capstone Press.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Meet Peter H. Reynolds - Creativity*Courage*Persistence

Peter H. Reynolds and Paul Reynolds
One of the most intriguing authors / illustrators is Peter H. Reynolds.  Reynolds and his equally as talented twin brother, Paul,  were born in Canada on March 16, 1961.   The Reynolds  have contributed much to the lexicon of children’s literature.   

Explore Peter H. Reynolds’ career, his books, and see how you might connect aspects of your curriculum to any of the titles.  Are there connections to full-length novels/information books that you could make?  Are there possibilities here for one of those morning read-alouds.
You may recognize Peter H. Reynolds as the illustrator of the book jackets for the Judy Moody books, or the newly re-illustrated jackets for Judy Blume’s popular titles beginning with Superfudge and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. But he really shines with these books picture books that he has created.  
The North Star is Reynold’s tribute to "off-the-path" thinking - and to those who encourage it. Self-determination, creativity, hope, and vision are the cornerstones of this allegory.
For anyone who has been afraid to express themselves - from a child in art class to an adult whose fear has shut down a long-held dream, Peter H. Reynolds' book The Dot (Candlewick Press) is there to remind us all to "Make your mark, and see where it takes you."
We’ve lost count of how many editions The Dot has had -  and the number of translations into foreign languages seems to change every few months. Suffice to say, The Dot has ”made its mark” around the world - and continues to do so. It's also an animated film by Scholastic/Weston Woods and FableVision. The Dot’s sequel is called Ish and is also a wonderful film.
Explore activities, reviews, testimonials and frequently asked questions about The Dot, the first in a trilogy that explores creative expression and human potential...
ISH is the sequel to The Dot and a tribute to an approach to thinking – and relaxing — about your art, your writing, your craft. Your life.  There is one more book in this "creatrilogy" series.

Reynolds, Peter H. (2012) Sky Color.  Candlewick.
Creative thinking expands into the world of art.  Marisol is eager to help make a mural for her school's library -- she loves to paint.  But the mural needs a sky and how can Marisol paint the sky without blue paint? ... this is where creativity and inspiration come into her world. Share this book and a box of $1.29 watercolors and a pad of paper. 

– and in September Celebrate DOT DAY.  Sign up to participate next September 15th – or declare your own dot day.  Wisconsin Dot day… Iowa Dot Day... or simply My Dot Day - or maybe a school wide dot day.  Any day can be dot day if you make it so.

 Out of the box thinking helps Maya develop something extraordinary when she is given a go-cart kit.  When it's time to use the kit to build an entry for the race - she does.  Her go-cart does not look like anyone else's.  No one said it had to be a go-cart.  And there is more than one day to cross the finish line. 

 Share a certificate with those in your class/family who are "going places" with their initiative, creativity, and stick-to-it-ness.  Certificate can be downloaded at
Article about the Blue Bunny Bookstore in Dedham, MA –
Buliszak, J.  (2013 Sep 20) Bookstore tour: Blue Bunny, Dedham, Massachusetts – A photowalk through the Blue Bunny.  McBookwords (Blog) Retrieved from
McCleary, M.  (2016 May 20) An unlikely media mogul: Fable Vision founder Peter H. Reynolds.  New Boston Post.  Retrieved from

Reynolds, Peter H. (2003) The Dot.  Candlewick.
Reynolds, Peter H. (2004) ish.  Candlewick.  
Reynolds, Peter H. (2009) The North Star.  Candlewick.
Reynolds, Peter H. (2012) Sky Color.  Candlewick.
Reynolds, Peter H., and Reynolds, Paul.  (2014) Going Places.  Atheneum.  (Check out other books by Peter H. Reynolds at – certificate at (pdf)

Monday, April 11, 2016

Spring - It's time to Plant the Beans - Jack and the Beanstalk


Time to Plant Beans

In the spring when there is no more danger of frost cooling the ground it is time to plant beans (beans can also be planted in the fall).  Beans like the warm weather (but above 80 degrees F is too warm).  Beans grown along vines which can grow high, and attach themselves to trellises or other structures.

These beanstalks are generally not as sturdy as those imagined by the storyteller who tells of the boy Jack, who climbs a beanstalk to the sky and encounters the giant who wants to eat little boys.  Fe This tale's historical coda's first line is "Fee-fi-fo-fum." It is generally used as the beginning of a quatrain (or sometimes couplet) famous in the classic English fairy tale "Jack and the Beanstalk".
Planting beans in the garden and sharing the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk with young readers is a great connection to begin their awareness of gardens, plantings, and so forth -- while sharing some great books that could be part of a continuing classroom comparing and contrasting traditional retellings and those fractured or literary versions that play off the classic motifs and themes.

Try these traditional versions--I would first share these and look at how each of these traditional retellings have many of the same elements and scenes ... but with some of the details changed. The story grammar is very much the same.

Search for any version of the story in anthologies or collections.  Those most authentic are generally based on the version of the tale by the English storyteller, Joseph Jacobs.  One of my favorite collections is:
dePaola, Tomie. (1986) Tomie dePaola's Favorite Nursery Tales. Putnam Juvenile. (This collection contains many classic favorites: Three Bears and Goldilocks, Three Little Pigs, Jack and the Beanstalk and others.)  This collection is out-of-print but certainly worth a search in libraries or out-of-print sources.

Individual retellings include:

Jack and the Beanstalk: Retold in Verse for Boys and Girls to Read Themselves
deRegniers, Beatrice Schenk. (1990) Jack and the Beanstalk: Retold in Verse for Boys and Girls to Read Themselves.  Illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf. Aladdin (pb).  (In this version, deRegniers's husband felt she should not glorify a thief, so she made sure to include a statement within her retelling that explained that the giant had stolen the items from Jack's father years ago, and thus Jack was just retrieving goods that were rightfully the property of his family.)

Galdone, Paul. (2013 new edition) Jack and the Beanstalk.  Illustrated by Paul Galdone. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  (Original 8x11 inch sized edition was published in 1982 and is still available in paperback.  I rather like the big shoe on the cover...; probably the most traditional of all the retelling.)

Kellogg, Steven. (1997) Jack and the Beanstalk.  HarperCollins.  (Based on Joseph Jacob's version of the classic story).

Kurtz, Jack. (2004). Jump at the Sun: Jack and the Beanstalk-Fairy Tale Classics.  Disney-Hyperion.

Jack and the Beanstalk
Crews, Nina. (2011). Jack and the Beanstalk.  Henry Holt & Co.  (From Kirkus Reviews: Contemporary urban version of the ancient tale of beans and boy, with spiky parts rounded off. Stays pretty close to the original.  Includes a contemporary and multicultural cast.)

And then share versions of the fractured retellings -- how did the reteller use the traditional motifs and how did the reteller make the story a unique tale.

Birdseye, Tom. (2001).  Look out, Jack! The giant is back!  Illustrated by Will Hillenbrand.  New York,
NY:  Holiday House.  ISBN:  978-0-8234-1450-5. A sequel in which the giant's big brother comes after Jack, but Jack's quick mind gets him out of trouble in the nick of time once again.

Jim and the Beanstalk
Briggs, Raymond. (1997) Jim and the Beanstalk.  Penguin/Viking. (This is a sequel to the original, and has Jim (Jack's grandson) returning to the giant's home.  Now the giant is near-sighted, needs false teeth, and is bald.  Jim befriends him and climbs DOWN the beanstalk to get the giant eyeglasses, and in subsequent trips the gets false teeth, and a red curly wig.  As a reward, the giant drops a giant gold coin (and a thank you letter) to earth as Jim climbs down for the final time.)

Fleming, Candace. (2010).  Jack takes the cake.  Illustrated by G. Brian Karas.  New York, NY:  Schwartz & Wade Books.  ISBN:  978-0-375-95697-3.  A poor boy named Jack wants to deliver a birthday present fit for a princess.

Leedy, Loreen. (2013).  Jack & the hungry giant eat right with my plate.  Illustrated by Loreen Leedy.  New York, NY: Holiday House.  ISBN:978-0-8234-2602-7.  A didactic version that has Jack being greeted by a kind giant who cooks him a nutritious meal. Jack learns about healthy eating habits from the giant and his wife.

Osborne, M. (2000).  Kate and the beanstalk.  Illustrated by Giselle Potter.  New York, NY:  Atheneum Books for Young Readers.  ISBN: 0-689-82550-1.  Kate uses her quick wits to outsmart the giant at the top of the beanstalk, and make a fortune.

Wildsmith, Brian. and Wildsmith, Rebecca. (1993).  Jack and the meanstalk.  Illustrated by Brian Wildsmith and New York, NY:  Dial Books for Young Readers.  ISBN 0-8037-128-6.  The animals find a way to save the day when a  scientist's (Jack) experiment to grow bigger vegetables threatens the whole Earth.

Each of these tales in this second list are literary or fractured tales built on the motifs and themes of the "Jack and the Beanstalk" tale.

Brian Wildsmith -- 
One title in this literary list that I was not familiar with was the Wildsmith title and I can't figure out how I missed that one.  Brian Wildsmith is a great favorite of mine.  One of the funny stories about him is when he visited schools he was often requested to autograph books --- he detested that part of the visit so he would invite a couple of children in the group to come up and help him autograph.  They signed his name along with Wildsmith himself.  And sometimes he would slip in an autograph that was in mirror writing.  But that was years ago as he is 85 now and does not travel much.  He has lived in France for decades (since the 70s).  Of his four children, the youngest Simon is a printmaker in France, and his second child (oldest daughter) is a children's book writer.  Rebecca Wildsmith has some very nice books on her own.  A great duo when it comes to great books.  My favorite of Brian Wildsmith's - because of its exquisite art is his wordless ABC (Oxford, 1962).  I wanted to get two books, take them apart so I had 26  cards, and laminate them as alphabet cards in my library.  In fact, I may still do that and put them in the grandchildren's playroom here at the house.  Might be a fun addition.  Or maybe just use the appropriate ones to spell out names or initials.

For curriculum suggestions involving Jack and the Beanstalk check out Steph Heath's pinterest board at  She's got a great collection of activities that might interest teachers or parents.

And for those of you who wish to cook with beans, you will find them an excellent source of nutrition.  For tips on cooking and using beans check out:
Sung, Esther. (n.d.) Our favorite bean dishes.  Retrieved from

Or purchase a copy of Bean by Bean: More than 175 Recipes for Fresh Beans, Dried Beans, Cool Beans, Hot Beans, Savory Beans, even Sweet Beans! by Crescent Dragonwagon (Workman Pub., 2012). 

Happy reading and cooking.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

25 Day Sewing Room Transformation

~~~~~~~ An Intrinsic Challenge ~~~~~~~~~~

We have lived in this house in rural Iowa for over 30 years.  With six children in the household, my sewing/craft room has moved from a storage room, to a basement corner, to a restructured bedroom, and many places in between.  Long after the children have left home, and three years ago when we did some remodeling of our lower level, I claimed the restructured room tucked behind my office area.  Next to my office area in the fireplace room (adjacent to the "new" room) would be my cutting table (a Formica® topped dining room table re-purposed as my craft/sewing table when we put a new maple dining table in our family dining area).

The room, however, was not given much attention, but in went my sewing machine -- and myriad of other "not sure where this goes" items.  The room became a catch-all, not conducive to peaceful sewing, but somewhat serviceable.  Well to be honest it became a junk room with a sewing machine in it.
On March 12, 2016 I attended a regular meeting of the Cedar Rapids Chapter of the American Sewing Guild.  Kristine Larson, the first vice-president and program chair had put together a program focused on organizing one's sewing area.  She featured sewing rooms from Guild members -- and shared organizational ideas.  I came home from that meeting feeling that perhaps I should take stock, and I did.  What a mess!

~~~~~~~ Before ~~~~~~~~~~

See what I mean -- a hot messy mess!  Not a fun place to be and certainly made it difficult to find what I needed -- when I needed it.  But inspired as I was 25 days later -- on April 6, 2016 I am writing this to share what can be done with a small space.  My cutting table remains.  But come with me and see what my sewing/craft room looks like now.


 I choose to use black, grey stripe, blue, and blue chevron storage cubes to provide some contrast and interest.  Basically the black cubes (15 inches deep) hold my fabric stash.  Generally I tend to buy project specific fabric but do purchase book motif fabric in anticipation of projects - and there are large pieces that can be incorporated as an apron pocket, and so forth that I want to keep.
 The white shelves with the blue and black cubes hold my yarn, crochet hooks, and related supplies.  The chest of drawers (a nursery item purchased decades ago for my first child) was repainted white to match the shelving, and now holds fat quarters, bindings - cut strips for quilts), and larger scraps that might be used to piece in a quilt block or for a appliqued figure on an apron or towel, and so forth.
The white baskets hold sewing notions, silk ribbon, and my rotary cutters; the blue cubes hold craft items, card-making blanks, and some gift items to combine with a thematic sewn item.
 This shelving unit holds finished projects -- just waiting to find the just right recipient.  The books along the side are books that complement some of the finished projects.
 I really do have to get a more attractive ironing board cover.  Some day...  The re-purposed wardrobe has been in this room but now stores my table cloths, cloth napkins, napkin rings -- I have thematic linens for most seasons of the year. 
 On the side of the wardrobe I was able to use the 3-M adhesive hangers to put up a 72 spool holder.  On the wall I put another 32 spool holder (this one is for those spools with matching bobbins) and a sewing collage that Mr. PEB and I constructed.  Underneath the sewing collage sits a holder made by my granddaughter from a pallet.  It holds my acrylic cutting guides.  A small peg holder holds some of my scissors.

~~~~~~~A Few of the Details~~~~~~~~~~

I love the "new" space and especially because I was able to incorporate some reading references into this room.  I wanted this room to be one that Mr. PEB (a cute little three-year-old who frequents our house) will view as a "reading" spot.  And there are subtle (and not so subtle) nods to reading and books in many corners of the room.
 This collage glued and decoupage includes copies of jackets from three books that have a sewing theme.  In each of the titles, a garment wears out, and the tailor/seamstress fashions a new garment out of the salvageable portion of the previous garment.  The books featured are:
Something from Nothing by Phoebe Gilman (Scholastic, 1993), 
Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback (Penguin Viking, 1999), and
My Grandfather's Coat by Jim Aylesworth. Illustrated by Barbara McClintock (Scholastic, 2014).
The buttons are included to mirror the button motif on the clock on the other side of the room -- and simply because Mr. PEB likes to categorize objects and buttons are good objects for that.  Fabric being sewn are remnants from the quilt made for my Beatrix Potter Room
This corner tabloid shares some references to some favorite books.  The picture on the wall are framed ephemera that accompanied a signed print that I have framed and hanging in my art gallery on the first level.  This is a silhouette of Red Knit Cap Girl - a character that is featured in several books by author / illustrator Naoko Stoop.  Stoop's most recent book is Red Knit Cap Girl and the Reading Tree (Hatchett Group, 2014).
Red Knit Cap Girl and the Reading Tree
Above the shelf on the north wall is a montage of items that touch on literacy.  The Green Frogs pay homage to the gift shop that I create items for.  Green Frog Gifts features such items as pillow cases made for fans of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, items featuring characters by Dr. Seuss, and other books such as crayon motif pillow cases to accompany a copy of The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywait (Philomel, 2013) and The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywait (Philomel, 2015).  See those items on the Green Frog Gifts or on Green Frog Gifts Etsy site.
This piece of art is a signed print, Peace of Art,  by Peter H. Reynolds author/illustrator of many popular books including The Dot (Candlewick, 2003) which inspired Dot Day.  Find out more about his books on Reynolds website.  The clock was decorated with colorful buttons; and the frog is a wooden pull string frog created by Levi - Italy Südtirol, a gift from author/illustrator Jeni Reeves.
These three pictures pay homage to reading and life.  The blue framed collage has been created with images that refer to a favorite book by Paula Wallace, Choose Your Days (Cinco Puntas, 2016).  The old bear in the book reminds Corky that she has the keys to decide whether or not her days will be sunny or gray.  The red framed collage pays tribute to Beatrix Potter and the fact that England is commemorating the 150th anniversary of her birth.  Peter Rabbit on Monday (Feb 29, 2016) became the first character from children's literature to appear on British coinage.  The black framed collage is a picture of Mr. PEB "Reading is our thing" - and a sewing neme "And sewing is our game."
And finally some prints from art created by illustrator Claudia McGehee. Owl, Cardinal, and Fox Reading.  Find out more about McGehee, her art, and her books on her website.