Monthly Archives: December 2011

The Three Questions

Happy Friday, everyone!

It is time once again for Perfect Picture Book Friday sponsored by the very talented Susanna Leonard Hill. I will be out of pocket for a few days. I hope you all have a safe and happy New Year’s. I’ll type to you again in 2012!

Title: The Three Questions: based on a story by Leo Tolstoy

Written and illustrated by Jon J. Muth

2002 Scholastic Press

Suitable for:  ages 6-12 (or any age)

Themes: questions, truth, philosophy, helping others

Opening and Brief Synopsis: “There once was a boy named Nikolai who sometimes felt uncertain about the right way to act. ‘I want to be a good person,’ he told his friends, ‘But I don’t always know the best way to to do that.’  Nikolai’s friends understood and they wanted to help him.”

Nikolai asks three questions:

1. When is the best time to do things?

2. Who is the most important one?

3. What is the right thing to do?

Each of his animal friends answers these questions differently, so Nikolai decides to visit the wise turtle. During his visit with the turtle a terrible storm erupts, and Nikolai rushes to help a panda and her cub who are in trouble. It is through this experience and a little help from the wise turtle that Nikolai discovers the answers to his three questions.

Links to resources:

Why I like this book: This story is based on a fable by Leo Tolstoy. It addresses three essential questions about life that I think we all ponder regardless of age. I love the turtle’s response at the end of the story, “Remember then that there is only one important time, and that time is now. The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side.  For these, my dear boy, are the answers to what is most important in this world. “ Children will be drawn to the book’s breathtaking watercolor illustrations and the thoughtful story that is so eloquently retold by Muth.

My New Year’s Resolution

I have always been fascinated by stories of survival. During the past week I was stuck at home with the flu, and  I had a lot of time to read. After reading one amazing story about the survival of a young Jewish boy during the Holocaust, I decided to read other adult and young adult books about survival during World War II.  I wanted a more global perspective, so I searched for books about people and experiences that I had not previously read anything about. I certainly learned a lot about that period in history.  What really struck me was the common theme in all four stories. Human dignity is as vital a component to survival as water, food, and shelter. 

I’ve been thinking about these stories a lot over the past few days, and particularly, about that common theme. A sense of self-worth is necessary for survival  in any decade, during war or peace. Those who strip others of their dignity take so much more. For every bully in the world, however, there are hundreds who choose to lend a helping hand, to say a kind word, and to treat others with the respect they deserve. In the new year, my resolution is to lend a helping hand when I’m in a hurry, to say a kind word when I’m in a terrible mood, and to treat others with respect even when they do not return the courtesy. I want to be a better person in 2012.


Click on each image to read a full description.  A Lucky Child by  is an extraordinary memoir written by Thomas Buergenthal about his narrow escape from death in Auschwitz and his life thereafter.  Unbroken written by Laura Hillenbrand is the story of Louis Zamperini, a young Italian American who survives after his bomber crashes into the ocean only to be captured by the Japanese and held as a prisoner of war. Weedflower  by Cynthia Kadahota is a fictional story about a young Japanese girl living in an internment camp in Arizona during World War II. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys is a historical fiction novel based on the imprisonment of Lithuanian citizens in Siberia during World War II.

A Lucky Child and Unbroken are particularly difficult to read due to the extreme violence depicted during captivity.  These books are particularly notable, however, because the stories continue long after both men are liberated.  The stories of life after liberation are part of what makes these two books so exceptional.

Hibernation Station

Perfect Picture Book Friday

Not even the flu can keep me from posting a perfect picture book! For more perfect picture books, see Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book Page.

Title: Hibernation Station

Written by Michelle Meadows and illustrated by Kurt Cyrus

Simon & Schuster 2010

Suitable for: ages 0-6

Themes: hibernation, animals, winter, rhyme

Opening and Brief Synopsis: ” Fuzzy slippers, warm pajamas, forest babies and their mamas…show up early at the station! Time for winter hibernation.”  The animals of the forest are dressed in pajamas and ready to hop aboard the hibernation train. There are a few mishaps along the way, but eventually all are settled in there log-shaped train cars cozy and warm for their winter ride.

Links to resources:

Why I like this book: I like to pair fiction books about things the children are learning about in their classrooms with non-fiction books when I read aloud in the library. This picture book is the perfect companion to a non-fiction book about hibernation.  The story also rhymes-always great for emergent readers. The illustrations in the book are precious.  I love the idea of a hibernation train-quite imaginative and fun! This book would also make a great bedtime read aloud.

Watch the book trailer:

Twas the Week Before Christmas…

My poem for Susanna Leonard Hill’s Twas the Night Before Christmas contest requires a little explanation. Several years ago I taught the first grade in an inner city school in Fort Worth, Texas. This school was built entirely underground. (a very bad thing in Texas, as the soil shifts terribly) Every time it rained, water trickled down my outer wall. The building was decrepit and moldy, and the children and I were sick most of the time. The children who attended the school came from the projects and the two homeless shelters located down the street from our school. Many of my students ate just two meals a day-the two meals provided by the school.

A local church adopted our campus, and every year at Christmas volunteers from this church gave presents to each girl and boy in the school. These amazing people also donated gifts for the children to take home to their families.

My poem was inspired by the time I spent at this school. Some parts are imaginary (there was no train) but the story is mostly real. I loved these children as if they were my very own. Teaching them changed my life forever, and  I often wonder where they are now.  I hope they are all safe, happy, and warm.

‘Twas the week before Christmas when all through the school
The children excitedly prepared for Yule.
The choir sang carols of joy and good cheer,
And how they’d behaved for their parents all year!
The students drew snowmen and reindeer and elves
Which teachers hung proudly upon all the shelves.
My class in pajamas, and I with my book,
Read about the adventures that Santa Claus took.
When out in the hall there arose such a roar
We jumped from our seats and ran to the door.
We peeked ‘round the corner to see what was there,
For a moment the children could only stare.
I cried tears of joy when I saw their bright eyes
The volunteers planned an amazing surprise.
Hot cocoa they poured for the girls and the boys,
And parked in the hall was a train full of toys!
The kids-how they squealed! Their faces aglow
As each took his present tied up with a bow.
This Christmas each angel received a new gift
The worries that this special day would sure lift.
They returned to our classroom so happy to be
Heading home with these gifts to put under the tree
When I opened the door, all the children said “Look!”
On each little desk sat a shiny new book.
“Do you like them?” I asked,  I brought them for you
From every direction came hugs, how they flew!
This Christmas was special, I knew right away
For as long as I lived I’d remember that day.

Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian

It’s Friday!!

And it’s time for Perfect Picture Book Friday sponsored by Susanna Leonard Hill. For more perfect picture books, visit Susanna’s amazing perfect picture book page.

Title: Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian

Written by Margarita Engle and Illustrated by Julie Paschkis

Henry Holt & Company 2010

Suitable for: ages 8-12

Themes: metamorphosis, science, insects, butterflies, history

Opening and Brief Synopsis: ” Each year, the sky fills with summer birds.  Many people call them butterflies.  Everyone believes that these insects come from the mud, as if by magic. I disagree.  I am only thirteen years old, but I capture insects.  I study them.  I have to catch my insects in secret.  Neighbors would accuse me of witchcraft if they knew…” Born in Frankfurt Germany in 1647, Maria Merian began painting and studying small insects from a young age. Her natural curiousity led her to discover the scientific process called metamorphosis. In Europe people believe that insects that changed form were evil, but Maria disagreed. Later in life Maria traveled to South America and published her books of  paintings and scientific studies.

Links to resources: Nature Pavilion sells kits for raising butterflies. Each year our second grade students watch their caterpillars spin cocoons, and then they release the butterflies after they hatch.

Why I like this book: I am amazed that a thirteen year old girl was  brave enough to defy the beliefs of her people in the 1600’s.  She was lucky not to have been charged with witchcraft. That a young girl could see the beauty in the natural transformation of these creatures when adults could not fascinates me. I also like the picture book format of this non-fiction book. Maria tells the story in first person.  The illustrations are also spectacular and beautifully detailed.

An itty bitty post

Working with children every day brings so much joy to my life…

This afternoon a kindergarten student drew a picture of a colorful rainbow with a smiley sunshine and asked me how I liked it.  I told him I liked it so much that I wished I could jump right into his picture and sit next to the rainbow. The look on his face was priceless!

A first grade student accidentally left a crayon mark on our reading tent in the library today. With tears in his eyes he approached me to confess what he’d done. I told him that it wasn’t a big deal, that we all have little accidents from time to time. Still he cried until I “pinky swore” that I would not tell his teacher.  Instantly no more tears!

The third grade students filled out elf applications to Santa today after reading the picture book How Santa Got His Job. On page two of the application the students are asked to tell Santa why they would make good elves. One child wrote, “I am very mucher, Santa!” (mature-I love their inventive spelling!)

Another first grade student demonstrated his new “robot” dance moves for me this morning.  He had been practicing for days, he told me. 🙂

Enjoy your day, everyone!

It’s beginning to look a lot like…

It’s definitely beginning to look a lot like winter vacation in my library…the problem is there are four more days before the break! The kids are hanging from the rafters, and I am slowly recovering from a nasty cold…oh, dear!

As tired as I may feel, I am really excited today, because I became an official member of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators!  I’ve just downloaded From Keyboard to Printed Page-very useful information for a beginning picture book writer! I also discovered the Golden Kite Award on the scbwi site. I highly recommend Turtle in Paradise, one of the 2011 fiction recipients. I am currently reading the second 2011 recipient Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine. It is an intriguing story told from the perspective of a child living with Asperberger’s Syndrome.

Writing Update:

I am nearly finished writing my ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas poem for Susanna Leonard Hill’s winter holiday writing contest! I thought this would be easy…yea, right! I have two lines left to write, and I am completely stuck. I finally decided to set it aside for a day and see if something perfect comes when I am not so focused on the task. I don’t want to force the ending!  I am asking my fourth grade students to write their own versions of the poem this week. Monday’s class produced some really great writing, and the students had a blast!

Just Being Audrey

It’s Perfect Picture Book Friday!

Sponsored by Susanna Leonard Hill

Title: Just Being Audrey

Written by Margaret Cardillo and illustrated by Julia Denos

HarperCollins 2011

Suitable for: grades 3-5

Themes:  acting, dance, war, philanthropy

Opening and Brief Synopsis: “More than anything, Audrey wanted to be a ballerina. She was too tall, her feet were too big, and her neck was too long.  Still, Audrey danced on.  She held fairy-tale ballets in her yard, the trees and squirrels her audience.”  This is the life story of Audrey Hepburn.


*This book is a new release and a 2012-2013 nominee for the Texas Bluebonnet Award. I will add activity links to this post as soon as they are created. I have no doubt that the Texas Library Association is working on several as I type!

Why I like this book: This book is technically a biography, but it reads like a picture book. The simple watercolor and ink illustrations complement the story perfectly. I learned many interesting facts about Audrey Hepburn’s personal and professional life in this book.  I didn’t know, for example, that she, her family and forty other people hid from the Nazis in a small house in the Dutch countryside during World War II.  Just Being Audrey is a beautiful story about an individual who, above all, remained true to herself throughout her life. I simply adore Just Being Audrey!

Watch the book trailer:

A secret writing retreat…

What is Mrs. K. reading today?

I’m reading a YA novel called Sparrow Road by Sheila O’Connor. Twelve year old Raine must spend an entire summer at Sparrow Road, a remote and scenic getaway for artists. Raine’s mother accepted a job as a maid and cook in the main house for the summer so Raine has no choice but to follow. Mysteries abound at Sparrow Road as Raine meets the artists in residence and learns that the old mansion they live in was once an orphanage. No one may talk during the day at Sparrow Road. In the beginning Raine resents this rule.  When she begins to write in a journal, however,  she discovers that her creative mind thrives in this foreign environment where there are no televisions, telephones, or radios of any kind. A former orphan resident mysteriously replies to the questions Raine asks about the orphanage in her journal. Is he a ghost?

These and other questions  have yet to be answered as I have only read a third of the book.  Sparrow Road sounds like a marvelous retreat for writing. I think I could handle the no talking during the day rule, but no phones at all?… This book is full of secrets, and I love a good mystery.  The possibility of ghosts is an added bonus!

Writing Update:

I am currently entertaining a new story character.  She is slowly evolving, and I know she will soon reveal her story to me.  She is strong and resilient, this much I know. She also has a name, but I’m not telling!


This afternoon I took the plunge and  joined Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 in 2012 challenge.   Thank you, Julie for hosting this amazing contest!   Support from my writing peers throughout my PiBoIdMo experience kept me on track and writing every day. I look forward to participating in this new challenge with all of you throughout the year!

This evening I finally read my PiBoIdMo journal from cover to cover. I must admit, I was a little hesitant at first, afraid of what I might or might not find. When I began to read, I realized why writers must write every single day. I had already forgotten some of my most intriguing and unusual picture book ideas!  I enjoyed rediscovering these little gems, and I narrowed down my ideas to a top twenty list. Out of those twenty there are five that really peak my interest.  They are, not surprisingly, related to events from my childhood and my adventures in teaching. My best writing is usually inspired by my life experiences.  I have found that a good deal of time must pass between these life experiences and my writing before something worthy materializes. With age and wisdom comes understanding, and with understanding comes the real story.

I discovered several picture book writing tools and templates on a website I use frequently for lesson planning called  sponsored by the International Reading Association. I am using the plot pitch template to flesh out my “little gems.”

The Children’s Picture Book Project

Motivation is when your dreams put on work clothes.  -Benjamin Franklin