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

Monday, September 09, 2019

Little Green Witch (or maybe The Little Red Fort)

Fall is coming and that brings along some favorite books for Halloween.  But before we can really enjoy one of my favorites Little Green Witch by Barbara Barbieri McGrath. Illustrated by Martha G. Alexander. (Charlesbridge, 2005) we need to start now and read all the versions of "Little Red Hen" that we can get our hands on.  Check out the lesson sequence created for the "Little Red Hen" tale at
Read the poem "The Mouse, The Frog, and the Little Red hen"  - a copy can be found at  And then during the last week in October read Little Green Witch by Barbara Barbieri McGrath.
It'll be worth a search to find this gem.  And pay close attention to the illustrations and the literary allusions to the little red hen.  Alexander's sly inclusions are inspired.
And when checking the companion books mentioned, don't miss making Great-Granny's Magnificent Strawberry Shortcake.
Check this blog entry: 
Image result for Little red fortBut if you have missed any of the chances to share Little Green Witch as a finalé during the fall be sure to read this brand new twist on Little Red Hen -  The Little Red Fort by Brenda Maier, with illustrations by Sonia Sanchez (Scholastic, 2018).  This is a girl-powered perspective on cooperation today.  A great read.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Grandparents Day

Grandparents Day

Any day can be a day to celebrate grandparents and Grandparents Day is a great day to get started.  We've put together some great books to share with young scholars who may want to talk about their own grandparents and perhaps make a card, write a letter, or just make a phone call to tell them how much they mean to them.

Grandparents Day is a national holiday or observance, celebrated each year on the first Sunday after Labor Day, although it is not classified as a federal holiday.
2019 - September  8   
2025 - September 7
2020 - September 13
2026 - September 13
2021 - September 12
2027 - September 12
2022 - September 11
2028 - September 10
2023 - September 10
2029 - September  9
2024 - September 8
2030 - September  8

Alma Flor Ada shares a story of a young grandchild who loves her visits with her European-American grandmother and grandfather on Saturdays; and her visits with her Mexican-American Abuelito y Abueltia on Los Domingos (Sunday).  A quiet story of favorite family days.

Based on an Yiddish folk story, Jim Aylesworth tells of a grandfather who is able to recycle his handsome blue coat to become a smart jacket, and as each item becomes worn and shabby, the jacket becomes a vest, then a tie, and finally the worn tie is made into a toy for grandfather's great-grandson's kittens, and when the kitten is finished, a mouse makes use of the remains for a cozy nest for her babies.  Grandfathers often have many talents - and making something from nothing is a talent.

Those familiar with "the House that Jack Built" will recognize the early cumulative refrains of this story of a family dinner.  From the sunflowers on the table to the diverse selection of dishes: squash, and potatoes, and tasty tamales, samosas, and homemade bread and pies (and faces) each family member contributes his/her own part of the meal to be shared around the table that Grandad built.  The final pages make this a great story to share around thanksgiving time - "For these hands we hold, for tasty good food, for family and friends ...for the grace that is given and love that is shared, we give thanks ...around this table that Grandad built."

Thursdays are special days.  Papa has a normal routine each day -- but Thursdays well that is the day he has a special routine.  And his granddaughter shares the quiet story of a grandfather and his granddaughter.
Joowon Oh's spare text and his watercolor and cut-paper illustrations are sure to delight even the youngest of readers and inspire stories of special days with grandparents - from readers of all ages.

The author, Mina Javaherbin, writes what seems like a personal story of a believed grandmother that was a constant presence during her childhood in Iran.  Where every grandma was - there was Mina.  Mina's friend and neighbor, Annette, had a grandmother too.  Their grandmother's were best friends too.  The grandmother's knit together, and while one went to the mosque the other went to church but each loved and prayed for the other.  Both were kind and good. A story that must be shared and shared again.  A lovely story of a grandchild's love and admiration for a grandparent, and a story that instills, subtly the idea that diversity in religion does not preclude shared fun, kindness, and friendship. 

At the end of this story readers may realize that Grandpa spends his days gardening because he is grieving for the "Granny who is dead." But Henry does not understand why his grandpa does not hear him.  "Give him time" says Henry's mother.  And Henry does "six and a half minutes."  Eventually Henry engages Grandpa with his challenge to name his top three - sandwiches, then jellyfish, and onto other favorites.  It is  those other favorites that readers will not only understand the love that Grandpa has for Henry, but also for Granny, and the love Granny had for Henry.  A beautiful tribute to a memory of love past and love that is still held dear.  And it just might be the next best book to share when someone loses someone they love dearly.  What are your top threes... might just be the way to remember that someone.

If you are interested in using the books on this list with other ideas for reading and sharing access this free resource at

Monday, August 26, 2019

Writing Letters - World Letter Writing Day

A Lost Art - Writing Letters
Sept 1 - or December 7 (or any day in-between)
Grandparents, aunts, and uncles, and neighbors enjoy receiving letters.  Make any letter writing assignment authentic.  World Letter Writing Day or short WLWD, is observed on September 01 and in the USA letter writing day is observed on December 7 or each year.  So take your pick -- join in the fun and write a letter today.

Many educators choose to ask their students to write letters to authors or illustrators of their favorite books. Here are some hints.

 Writing Letters to Authors

In an effort to keep letter-writing alive, a standard and often used activity for classrooms is to ask students to write letters to an author.  The assignment, I suppose, is meant to provide a "real world" audience for the letter writing and to provide practice in the art of letter writing.

Sites such as Reading Rockets have articles about letter writing ("How to Write to an Author" by Mary Amato [online] and most include some type of comment as Amato does: "You can find a lot of information about authors on the computer. But nothing beats writing a real letter to a real author. If you write an author, you need to send your letter to the writer "in care of" his or her publisher."

This comment (and similar ones) assume that the author will provide information about him or herself.  I remember a comment made by Katherine Paterson years ago when she was a guest on a Scholastic forum where students could post questions for her to answer throughout a period of time.  She graciously responded to each question but after a time she admonished her readers that being able to write a letter or ask a question of an author should not replace a well-planned research visit to the library.  Inundated with questions of the quality of "How many books have you written?" "What was your first book?" "Have you won any awards?" she pointed the young readers / writers (and their teacher) to the proper place to find those often asked questions — the library. Today the library still serves as a storehouse of knowledge about authors.  There are reference books that feature contemporary authors (including some that I have authored).  In addition many authors have their own dedicated websites.

When Beverly Cleary was actively writing (and speaking), in the early 1980s, she delivered a speech in Des Moines, Iowa in which she admonished those who would  assign an entire class to write letters to an author.  After all, she asked the educators, should she be writing books or answering letters.   She was clearly irritated at being inundated with the same type of questions that Katherine Paterson received.  I have always thought the situation relatively humorous in that just a couple of years later (1984) she actually won the Newbery Award for Dear Mr. Henshaw (HarperCollins, 1983).  Dear Mr. Henshaw featured a sixth grade boy who corresponds with his favorite author.

But Beverly Cleary did not speak for all authors.  At that same conference Arnold Lobel was also a speaker.  He followed Cleary's presentation by a couple of hours, and during the course of his remarks he said that at one time he regarded receiving letters from fans as somewhat of a chore, especially when he received a set of class letters all asking the same thing.  But then he said, "I thought about the letters again, and realized that the class could have written any other author but they choose ME." 

But there is no doubt that answering letters is a time-consuming task.  In addition to reading the same questions over and over some authors simply do not have the time.  At one time Penguin Group publishers had a website providing information about Tomie dePaola and they stated: "He receives nearly 100,000 fan letters each year."  Imagine just opening 100,000 letters a year.  That is an average of 274 letters a day--every day of the year.  Suffice it to say that dePaola would simply not have enough time in the day to do that - and certainly not time enough to do that and continue writing and illustrating as well.  Despite that dePaola used to provide a mailing address for contacting him on his website and he also posted a letter to "Dear Friend," saying that he loves to receive mail and answers as many letters as he can but it sometimes takes him a long, long time to send replies. He no longer does that as answering letters is so time consuming.  He has an assistant who helps him with his personal and professional tasks around the office and his studio, so he can concentrate on his artistic endeavors.
In addition, it is no longer a standard to send letters via the publisher.  In times past, an author often published with one publisher throughout his/her career.  Now it is more common that an author will have several publishers. Deciding which publisher to send the author letter would be another question.  Sometimes a letter goes from one publisher to another before being sent on to the author.  Often letters are not forwarded individually from a publisher but stockpiled and sent in a package when enough accumulate - providing for yet more delay.  Many other authors, on their websites, provide preferred mailing addresses for the receipt of letters. If you do want to send a letter, check the author's website for an address.  Sometimes the author much prefers an e-mail and actually has a e-mail address established for just that purpose.  Some authors find it much more efficient to quickly reply to an e-mail than to actually take out paper and pencil to write a letter, put it in an envelope, and get it sent.  Hopefully the writer has enclosed a self-addressed, stamped envelope.  If Tomie dePaola actually had to buy stamps to reply to those 100,000 letters he would expend over $50,000 just in postage stamps alone.

Many authors do not receive as many letters and many of those strive to respond to each and every letter (or at least class).  It is still time consuming and many still prefer e-mail.  So here are some suggestions for teaching the form of letter writing, providing a real audience for letters, and for learning about authors and their books.

 Q & A's - Writing Letters to an Author

Q.  Is it okay for the entire class to write an author a letter?
A.  While it is okay - consider this first.  If the entire class is focusing on one author as a class read consider using this opportunity to model the art of letter writing.  Using large chart paper or a white board, overhead and so forth write a class letter to the author.  It is a great time to review what you already know about the author.  Discuss what you might like to know, discover if that information is already available (here's where that planned research visit to the library comes into play), and identify what information we want to share with the author.   Writing the letter as a collaborative effort affords a great opportunity to model the process of letter writing, word choice, mechanics of writing, revision, and all other aspects of the process.  At the end of the session, ask for a volunteer to copy the class letter in the best of handwriting and prepare the letter to be put in a flat envelope for sending.  Always include a self-addressed and stamped envelope for a possible response.

But if you are determined to have each student write a letter to be sent via U.S. mail please send all letters together and unfolded in a larger mailing envelope. Please include a self-addressed and stamped envelope if you wish to receive a response.

Q. What is appropriate to ask in a letter?
A.  If this exercise is truly an educational experience one must be also be willing to teach proper etiquette for letter writing.   Here are a few dos and don'ts.
  • Do be respectful.  One would not send Grandma a letter telling her what was wrong with her Thanksgiving dinner and never should readers think they should write an author to tell him/her about what is wrong with his/her book.   EXCEPTION: If there is a definite error in a book, perhaps it is okay to point out that the pronoun "her" does not match  the brilliant plummage of the quetzal in David Wisniewski's Rain Player (Clarion, 1995).  Or that the prime number answer in Jon Scieszka's Math Curse (Viking, 1995) needed revising.  After a reader wrote Scieszka the answer was revised.
  • Do ask legitimate questions. Before Bill Peet's death, one class of first graders read Bill Peet's Whingdingdilly and then watched a video where he gave the number of animals that made up the Whingdingdilly.  The class could name all but one of the animals.  In desperation they wrote Bill Peet a note asking for the final animal's name.  Of course it was Scamp whose dog brain and eyes still resided in the Whingdingdilly's head.  Bill Peet did send a postcard providing the answer.
  • Do enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope.  Understand that an author may not be able to answer all letters but including a self-addressed stamped envelope will help if the author is able to send a response.
  • Do proofread the letters.  Letters sent to an author should be proofread and corrected for mechanics of writing, and edited for content.  This is not a time to be content with a first draft.
  • Do NOT ask for free books or other things of value.  Authors are not charities.  They have to buy their own books and do not have unlimited supplies.  Just like all other individuals they must budget their charitable contributions.  Each contribution requires time and money.  Your charity might be a wonderful cause but there are hundreds of worthy campaigns and authors likely have their own choices of charities.
  • Do NOT ask the author to write YOUR homework assignment 
Q. How do I find an author's address?
A.  The very best way is to check the author's website.  Use the address the author gives you.  If there is not an address on the website but an e-mail contact, the educator might write a brief e-mail inquiring regarding preference for letters or e-mails and if letters are acceptable requesting the best address to send the letters.  Lacking either of these two, do send a letter in care of the author's latest publisher.

Do authors enjoy receiving letters - absolutely.  What author would not like to know that their books are being read and enjoyed by readers?  However, be courteous, respectful, and sincere.  And educators - please use any writing suggestion as an opportunity to teach etiquette, and politeness.

But don't forget grandparents, aunts, and uncles, and neighbors.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Poetry: Poets and Poems

My friend Lee Bennett Hopkins first came into my life when I read one of his earlier books about authors and illustrators.  I loved Books Are by People (Citation Press, 1969); and More Books Are by More People (Citation Press, 1974).  These were the inspiration for my own writing that now includes over 30 books about authors and illustrators and their stories -- and one that focuses on poetry and poets, The Poet Tree.  While the book's biographical details have changed since the book was published the general information about poetry and its use stays the same.  When I was coordinating the Cedar Rapids School District's author conference, Lee was our generalist that was invited to speak during the second year of the conference.  That was coincidently the same year that Leo and Diane Dillon were our picture book guests.  We all became "conference friends" - meeting up during the American Library Association events, or the International Literacy Association (formerly International Reading Association) conferences.  He was also good for a bit of gossip, a laugh, and always animated conversation, and a warm greeting.

Along the decades that passed Lee became the nation's poetry guru, mentoring young poets, establishing poetry awards, and always advocating for sharing poetry.  He became an icon in the world of poetry and a friend to hundreds of writers.

Some quotes Lee shared during his life time says a lot - a few of my favorites:

Lee's legacy lives on in his hundreds of anthologies and pieces of poetry he created -- and through the many poets he mentored.  In his honor, my goal for the coming school year is to encourage everyone who works with young learners to put poetry into their classroom every day.  This is a start ...

Lee Bennett Hopkins was the guru of poetry - and we share his efforts to make poetry in the classroom more than a unit. Surround children with poetry every day. Check out this help. - a poetry packet to get you started.

Lee's favorites included the color purple and poetry -- he was often dubbed the Pied Piper of Poetry.  All a perfect tribute to a guy who loved a form of writing that often included alliteration.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Laundromats and Haiti - An Unlikely Alliance

Laundromats and Haiti - An Unlikely Alliance

Melanie Hope Greenberg created a book providing early learners with a slice of life from Haiti and a glimpse of Aunt Lilly's adopted home In Brooklyn, NY.  Aunt Lilly grew up in Haiti and came to Brooklyn to find work and she lives there still.  Through the many paintings Aunt Lilly paints she provides readers a glimpse into her beloved Haiti and its singing birds, beautiful flowers and an idyllic life, in Haiti, on the island south of Florida (and the United States).
Using Aunt Lilly's work in the laundromat early learners are also given a look into another life as well.  Many urban children might be very familiar with laundromats - laundromat; coin wash where clothes are washed and dried without much personalized professional help.  However, in some laundromats there are attendants, much like Aunt Lilly, who take in bundles of clothes and wash and dry them while the clients are at work.  In other laundromats, the users must stay and do their own washing and drying using the coin operated machines in the facility.  I'm guessing that the larger urban areas are the ones that have attendants in the laundromats - in larger cities such as Brooklyn, NY.  Smaller cities such as Cedar Rapids, Iowa have self-service laundromats. Often we assume children know about these places and are aware of the nuances of their existence.  Not true.  The six-year-old who made this video really had not been in a laundromat.  His experience with washing and drying clothes had been in his house with the family's own personal washer and dryer.  He has never lived in an apartment building, never shared washing facilities.  For many other children that is an accepted part of their life.  This book will be a mirror for some children and a window into another experience for others. Aunt Lilly's Laundromat by Melanie Hope Greenberg provides an opportunity to discuss the function of laundromats - and the experiences related to the function of washing and drying clothing.  According to ISBS World there are a few more than 21,000 laundromats in the United States as of 2019.  For more information see: Laundromats in the US Number of Businesses 2000-2025; retrieved from

Beyond the function of laundromats - this book also provides a discussion starter for locating and learning about the country of Haiti.  Aunt Lilly's paintings showcased by Greenberg throughout the book gives us all a view of the lush beauty of an island many of us will never see.  Few curriculum units in our nation's schools deal with Haiti but the country is a close neighbor of the United States and our citizens should be aware of the country and the culture.  According to National Geographic "Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with 80% of the population living in poverty." (

When Pryor Optimus (6 years old) was introduced to Aunt Lilly's Laundromat he not only had an opportunity to learn about laundromats but he became aware of Haiti as well.  We looked at the maps in his activity room downstairs and discussed the fact that Haiti was part of an island and was located south of Florida (a state that was in his schema).
Watch Pryor Optimus's book readers you tube video taking a peek at Book Readers: Aunt Lilly's Laundromat.  

 Aunt Lilly grew up in Haiti and came in Brooklyn NY and opened her laundromat.

Coincidently while discussing Aunt Lilly's Laundromat, family friends were involved in making 4000 draw string bags to be filled with toiletries and small gifts for the children of Haiti - to be sent for school children during the holidays.  While attending a local firefighter's fundraising breakfast (with a flea market at the venue) we found 100 hot wheel cars - just right toys to stick into 100 of those bags.  While Pryor really loved hot wheel cars, after a discussion, he said, "I still like this blue hot wheel car, but I will let some other boy or girl have it.  They will like it too."  A small step toward compassion and caring for another human.

So at first glance Aunt Lilly's Laundromat is a simple story of a woman who works in the city, helping her neighbors, and sharing her own joy of life.  But it is really so much more -- it is a starter for much more learning.  As with all great books this book tells a good story - one that will draw readers back time and again to search through the details and to soak in the intricacies of the illustrations (did you notice as Pryor Optimus does - the snake and bugs on the vases? or the dots in the pictures, or the lush country side of Haiti?).  This book like many others, does not need  to teach everything about laundromats or about Haiti but each can provide an awareness, a slice of life that can be built upon as other books are read, and as other experiences become part of the learners' lives.

"A good book is not nearly as simple as it might look." ~ Clair Patricia Hansen

Read --
Aunt Lilly's Laundromat by Melanie Hope Greenberg (2018).

And find out more about the author and her other books on her blog at

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Literature for Young Readers - Progress in Diversity? 2015 to 2019

Literature for Young Readers 

How far have we come?  Or Not?

Diversity in Children’s Books 2015 Infographic 

Huyck, David, Sarah Park Dahlen, Molly Beth Griffin. (2016 September 14). Diversity in Children’s Books 2015 infographic. blog. Retrieved from
Statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison:
Released for non-commercial use under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

Diversity in Children’s Books 2018 Infographic

Citation: Huyck, David and Sarah Park Dahlen. (2019 June 19). Diversity in Children’s Books 2018. blog. Created in consultation with Edith Campbell, Molly Beth Griffin, K. T. Horning, Debbie Reese, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, and Madeline Tyner, with statistics compiled by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison: Retrieved from

How far have we come? Is it far enough?  What would make the progress more significant?  How do these statistics relate to the population of the United States? Interested in your comments and assessment.  Comment below.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Say Something by Peter H. Reynolds

Say Something by Peter H. Reynolds (Orchard/Scholastic, 2019) encourages young learners (and everyone) to find their own voice and speak up when they have something to say.
Well one six-year-old has found his voice and feels empowered.  Recently we (he and I) discussed that we would make a special activity place for him in the "back room" downstairs.  It is accessed by French doors and is beginning to shape up nicely.  Feeling that he had a space that he could call his own at our house he decided to put up a sign that declared "No G.G."  G.G. is me.
But since the room is still evolving I need to be in there to set up his painting easel, to make a space for him to draw and a comfy place to read by his bookshelves.  So today I entered the room.  It was not long before this note appeared on the back of the "No G.G." sign.
Translated the message reads:

Okay well then.  I guess I stay out until the sign comes off (or he goes home to his mom and dad).  I have a feeling this is not the last of his efforts to "say something."
Every child should be encouraged to find their own voice and to do it to express what they need/want to say.  Clearly he wants control over HIS space.  I hope he plans to vacuum and dust too.  LOL.

Read more about the writing of Peter H. Reynolds at this earlier blog post: Meet Peter H. Reynolds (May 2016).  McBookwords.