Archive | December, 2013

Thank You, Santa

26 Dec


This is one of my favorite after-Christmas storybooks!  It is almost 10 years old now, but just as relevant as it was when it was first published.  I used to read it every year in my classroom when we returned from our winter break.

A little background for you…Before the kids left in December, I sent home a note saying they were allowed to bring one item to school in January that they could share with the class.  And I talked about it with them ahead of time.  They understood that meant only one item, that said item must be something they received over the holidays, that we were going to talk about our items during the morning meeting (which meant morning meeting was going to go on, and on, and on that day… oh well, if you can’t beat them join them), and that it should not be the most expensive item they had received because we were going to share these items in the group.  This was actually a pretty popular homework assignment, and we hardly ever had anyone who forgot to bring something.  On occasion, some poor child did forget, but they still got a chance to talk to the group about their favorite gift.

So, now we’re all up to speed… On the first day back, the kids were exploding with excitement and I was prepared!  We sat in a circle, read the morning message from me welcoming them back for the new year and describing a special item I had received that year.  I would share my item, usually a book or scarf or new ornament for the tree.  Then I would tell them who gave it to me and why I liked it so much.  Then it was their turn.  Every child told us about a special gift they had brought to class. We would pass it around the circle and the child would talk about who gave it to them and why it was special.  There were lots of gifts from Santa, mom & dad, grandparents, etc.  Seriously, this took ALL morning!

After lunch, I read Thank You, Santa by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Kerry Argent.  This book was published in 1994 and is simply one of the best books I have read to introduce students to letter writing.  The illustrations are gorgeous and the kids are mesmerized by the story.  In this story Santa and a little girl, Samantha, exchange letters every month for a year, so there are a total of 12 letters written in two hands spanning two pages each.  Starting in January, Samantha writes a thank you letter to Santa for the gifts she received.  He is so thrilled to actually get a letter in January, that he writes her a letter in February.  They continue back and forth writing letters each month for the whole year.  Another wonderful element of the story is that Samantha lives in Australia so her seasons are the opposite of those in the northern hemisphere, giving us another layer to enjoy in this story.  Santa teaches her about the animals living near the north pole and she is worried about Santa’s littlest reindeer at the North Pole and the polar bear living in the zoo in Australia.  Many of the letters are part of gift packages that Santa and Samantha send to each other throughout the year as well.  Her last letter to Santa is her wish for snow for the polar bear at her zoo (in her December summer).  The final illustration shows us how Santa grants her Christmas wish.

Of course in the classroom, we talk a bit about the 12 months of the year.  But the biggest lesson I prepared is letter writing.  We spend another good portion of the day introducing letter writing – the reasons to write a letter and the five parts of a friendly letter.  Before the students go home for the day, they draw a picture of the gift they shared with the class and make a very quick word web surrounding the picture including the name of the person who gave them the gift and some important information about the gift.

All of the gifts go home at the end of the day with another note from me asking parents to send me the complete name and mailing address of the gift giver.  We spend the rest of the week writing our thank you notes and envelopes.  At the end of the week, I send these home to parents with instructions to read their child’s letters and to please add the stamp to the envelope.  Some children have informed me that their parents also sent a photo of them playing with the gifts to the gift givers.

I hope you get a chance to read and enjoy this fabulous book!

On a note of full disclosure…. in my last few years of teaching, I had a scripted reading program which left me no time during reading class to be creative.  However, and I’m sure some of you have already figured this out, I started using only our writing time and used this book to introduce the concept. The point is, if it is something you love, you make time to do it!  I used great books to introduce writing, science, social studies, and even math concepts.  You can too!

If you like this post, don’t forget to comment and please share it with your friends!


New Old-Fashioned Card

22 Dec

Here we are at our first Christmas as friends, bloggers, and mutual-followers, and I don’t have a thing to give you!  You have all inspired me, just by believing in me enough to follow my quest to authorship, and I thank you.  I have found enjoyment, education, the encouragement at your blogs.

I would like to extend a holiday wish for peace, joy, and love for all of you.


You’ll have to open the link below to watch the card come to life.

Flash Fiction

19 Dec

OK friends, here’s another holiday contest entry!  This one is more difficult than it looks – you have to write a children’s story about why and where Santa is running in 150 words or less!  The contest is sponsored by the Institute of Children’s Literature and the entries can be read on their Facebook page.


You are allowed up to three entries… so of course I wrote three!  Please read and enjoy!  I would love to hear back from you on which one is your favorite.


Grandfather’s Clock

(150 words)

Anyone who’s ever tried to stay awake on Christmas Eve knows it can’t be done.  And I know why.  Many years ago, my family spent Christmas at my grandparents’ house.  They had this old, old grandfather clock in the hallway.  I checked that clock every five minutes.  Finally I declared, “Grandpa, your clock is broken!”

Grandpa just laughed and took me onto his lap.  “There’s nothing wrong with that clock,” Grandpa said.  “Don’t you know that on Christmas Eve time runs slowly?  Santa made a deal with Father Time to extend the hours and minutes so he could make all his deliveries.  He starts his trip with the first evening star and travels west around the world until the sun catches up with him.”

Laying in bed that night, I listened to the tick-tock of the grandfather clock dragging out time, and I imagined Santa racing to beat the sun.


Santa’s Final Stop

(149 words)

Santa gathered his bag and slid down the last chimney of the night.  He landed with a thump that echoed in the house.  Santa shook himself and looked around.

“Oh no,” he thought.

Santa glanced up and spied a note propped up on the mantel.

“Dear Santa, We have moved to New York City.  Here is my new address.”

“Jingle Bells!” Santa exclaimed looking at his watch.  “It’s almost morning in New York City!”

“Let’s fly boys,” Santa shouted.  The team lifted and sped eastward.  The sun was slowly making its ascent.

“We can do this!” he shouted.

Dawn was breaking over the water.  Santa made a hasty landing.  Grabbing his bag, he descended the chimney. Amid the boxes stood a small, decorated tree.  Quickly Santa unloaded his bag.  Overhead he heard footsteps running for the stairs.

“He came! He found us!” Santa heard as he disappeared from sight.


Santa’s Run

(149 words)

Harper stood at the corner waiting for the runners in the annual Santa Run to pass by.  She bounced on her tiptoes to keep warm.  Her new hat was pulled tightly down to her eyebrows and her scarf wrapped up to her nose.

“Here they come!” Harper shouted.  She clapped her mittened hands together.

The first runners dashed around the corner in a blur.

Then the second round of skinny runners sprinted by wearing Santa hats.

The third group jogged past in Santa suits and fake Santa beards.

The final group walked dogs with reindeer ears and elf hats.

Just as the crowd turned to go home, one last hopeful rounded the corner.

“It’s Santa!”  Harper cheered!

His belly bounced as his boots hit the pavement.

“I just knew he would be here!” Harper exclaimed.

She stepped forward and gave Santa her Thank You note.


“Merry Christmas, Santa!”


Seriously folks, leave me a note.  I really want to know what you think.  I’m thinking about reworking at least one of these ideas into a full manuscript for a picture book, and I’d love some feedback from you on which one you think has the most merit.  I promise, if you write a comment I’ll put a good word in for you with the big guy.  There just might be a little something extra in your stocking.  Merry Christmas!


The Journey That Saved Curious George

16 Dec

This weekend I had the fortunate opportunity to meet Louise Borden, Cincinnati author of several children’s books.  We had a wonderful chat about her research and writing.  I am so lucky to have met her.  She is an amazing author and I am sure you will love this book as much as I do.

The Journey That Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H.A. Rey

Children’s Biography

Written by Louise Borden

Illustrated by Allan Drummond

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2005

Louise Borden writes this biography with passion for the Reys, German born Jews, who are caught in the mass exodus of Paris in 1940.  Her words allow even the youngest readers (appropriate for ages 8+) to feel the sense of urgency as the German army marches closer and closer to Paris, how many neighbors thought that Hans and Margaret might have been German spies, and how they had to gather all the necessary papers, visas, passports, tickets, and money for their exodus.  Through it all, she keeps the link to Curious George visible to the reader.  She describes how the Reys carried their manuscript and illustrations with them, even though they could carry very little with them as they biked and took trains through France, Spain, and Portugal.  She demonstrates how the Reys often escaped capture by simply showing officials the story and illustrations that would eventually become the first Curious George book.

Allan Drummond illustrates this story precisely.  Every detail is captured in his illustrations.  He too, stays true to the story of Curious George being sure to include  images of the yellow hat, the pipe, and of course George.  Scattered among the detailed illustrations are photos take by Hans and Margaret Rey, copies of letters to and from editors, and Hans Reys personal diary/expense log.

This is definitely a must-read for anyone who knows and loves Curious George, but especially for children (and adults) learning about World War II, the German occupation of France, and the exodus of thousands of Jewish citizens.

For more information about Louise Borden and Allan Drummond visit their websites.

Louise Borden

14 Dec

Have you ever been so preoccupied that you walked out of a store without paying?  I have.  I did.  Today!  I was in my favorite children’s book store, The Blue Manatee, in Cincinnati laughing and talking with old and new friends.  One of the employees is a teacher I used to work with, and who works there part time.  Every time I visit on a Saturday we hug and catch up with each other’s news.  And today was extra special because I got a chance to meet a children’s author.  Louise Borden, is a native Cincinnatian who has written several books for children and young adults.  She read from some of her books and talked to the kids and parents in attendance.

IMG_1321 IMG_1317

I picked up a picture book, Big Brothers Don’t Take Naps and her new non-fiction The Journey That Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H. A. Rey.  She graciously signed both copies and we talked for a long time.  I was fascinated with her story as an author.  I also learned that we have a lot in common, having been and lived in many of the same cities around the world.


We chatted for so long, that when I walked out of the store, autographed books in hand, I was in a happy fog and simply left without paying!  I didn’t realize my mistake until I got home and started showing my husband my new purchases… uh, are they called purchases if you don’t purchase them?  Yikes!  I called the store right away, explained what had happened and gave them my credit card number over the phone.  Whew!  Yes, these are my new purchases!



Winter Lights

11 Dec

This week, Susanna Leonard Hill is hosting a holiday writing contest on her blog. The rules dictate that the story be about a holiday (Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanaza) mishap, mix-up, miscommunication, mistake, or potential disaster not to exceed 350 words.

You can read more details about the contest at

I’ve already read some really amazing stories submitted this week, but I’m going to see what my little holiday gem brings.  I’m taking a chance by not mentioning the holidays in my 346 word story, thereby allowing the reader to make inferences through the text.  That being said, I’m having trouble giving my little story a title.  After you read it, I would love to get some title suggestions from my astute readers.


Winter Lights

by Juliana Lee

Nico brushed the snowflakes off his shoulders.

Picking up his bundle, he hurried toward the barn.

Meow, Meow, Meow

The sound came through the icy air.

Meow, Meow, Meow

Nico’s whiskers trembled.

Meow, Meow

There near the holly bushes, Nico saw a large ball of fur shivering.

A tail twitched.  A head poked up.  Then two.  Then three.

How many were there? Nico wondered.

Meow, Meow, Meow

Nico stepped forward.

Meow, Meow, Meow

“Follow me,” he said.  “You can stay in the barn tonight.

Meow, Meow

Nico started off.

Eight kittens tumbled after him ears over tails.

Cow gave them fresh milk.

Meow, Meow, Meow

Donkey gave them dry straw.

Meow, Meow, Meow

Sheep gave them soft wool.

Meow, Meow

Nico searched the starless sky.

He saw only one light, shining in a window.

In the morning, the world was painted white.

Meow, Meow, Meow

The snow continued to fall.

Meow, Meow, Meow

Nico strung berries and leaves together.

Meow, Meow

The second night Nico searched the cloudy sky again.

He saw two lights shining in the window.

The snow continued to fall.

Meow, Meow, Meow

The world outside looked like a snow globe.

Meow, Meow, Meow

The barn was warm and smelled of evergreen.

Meow, Meow

Every evening Nico searched the dark sky.

Every evening Nico saw one more light shining in the window.

The snow drifted against the barn.

Meow, Meow, Meow

Nico mixed seeds and nuts.

Meow, Meow, Meow

The kittens played with thistle ornaments.

Meow, Meow

On the eighth night the snow stopped.

The moonlight reflected the snowy world.

Nico led the kittens out of the barn.

Meow, Meow, Meow

A ribbon of kittens trailed through the snow.

Meow, Meow, Meow

Tiny paw prints marked their path.

Meow, Meow

Nico counted eight candles in the window.

The light glistened on the frosted pane.

“What have we here?”

Meow, Meow, Meow

“A gift for a lonely old woman!”

Meow, Meow, Meow

“Come in, Come in.  You must be freezing!”

Meow, Meow

Nico saw the star in the sky.

It was a good night.

Dear Santa

7 Dec


Dear Santa,

Books, Books, Books!  I love books!  Here are some of the top picture books for this year and some websites for you to look at for more ideas.  I know books are heavy, so if you want to save your back, I would be just as happy with gift cards to local bookshops!  Thank you, Santa… you’re the best!


Paige Turner

P.S. When you’re finished with these don’t forget to peruse the adult aisles for mom and dad.






Best Picture Book Lists for 2013

Association for Library Service to Children

Goodreads Choice Awards          

Huffington Post’s

Best of Kids Books                                              

New York Times                                

Publishers Weekly

School Library Journal


Lots o’ Links to PiBoIdMo 2013

6 Dec

This has been more than a month of learning.  It has been a month of connecting, inspiring, and encouraging.  I have met some wonderful people through PiBoIdMo and made lots of new writing connections, but more so… friends!  Many thanks to Tara Lazar for all the links to awesome writers, teachers, and literary geniuses!


I’ve spent too much time reading and learning not to have recorded some ideas that I can go back to later as needed.  Having done all this for myself seems a little selfish, so I decided to leave my notes in my blog for anyone else who needs a quick shot of inspiration or motivation.  With each one, I added the link back to Tara Lazar and her amazing Picture Book Idea Month blog.  Of course, one could simply go back to Tara’s  archives and search for the posts, but for me it was easier to have my own set of links with my notes for quick reference.  If you decide to copy this list (by all means, do) you may want to rewrite the notes to suit your own needs.  I went with a one or two line description to jog my memory.

And let me once again thank Tara Lazar publicly for hosting this wonderful online event! I have learned so much through humor, wit, sassiness, silliness, creativity, honesty, and professionalism!

Pre-Pi Bo Id Mo 2013

1.  Leeza Hernandez

Pledge to take Ten-Minutes-a-Day for yourself!

2.  Marcie Colleen

Prepare Your Writing Space

3.  Julie Hedlund

Founder of 12×12

Tara’s PiBoIdMo is almost considered a mandatory first step to 12×12.

4.  Betsy Devany

Have Fun!   Got out of cooking Thanksgiving Dinner so she could write!!!!

5.  Kayleen West

Didn’t start writing until she was 48 years old.  Started with PiBoIdMo2011 and has already published two books with two, almost three more contracted.

6.  Julie Falatko

Sneak Up on Sneaky Ideas and Catch Them

7.  Dianne de Las Casas

How End Papers can Enhance a Picture Book

Pi Bo Id Mo 2013

1.  Tammi Sauer

Start with a Title:  Showcase a Main Character, focus on the Setting, Create a Sense of Suspense, Utilize Fun Language Play

2.  Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen’s

Idea Wheel  Characters x Outcomes  CxO=#of story ideas.

3.  Greg Pizzoli

Sometimes limitations will force you to be creative.

Doing the work you feel driven to do, can produce work you might not expect.

4.  Katie Davis

30 Days of Picture Book Inspiration  (One Activity per Day to Work On)

5.  Ryan Sias

LOOK!  Favorite places to look are kids, kids again, and library/bookstore, galleries/museums, and internet.

6.  Michael Garland

Not all ideas will be books.  Go with your heart when writing, you never know which ideas will be published.

7.  Pat Zietlow Miller

Finds Inspiration in the Air and in Other Books   Snippets of Words and Admiration

8.  Mike Allegra

Importance of Play and Imagination to Creative Writing

9.  Paul Schmid

I think, therefore I am stuck.  (Or how I tell my brain to shut up so I can be creative.)

10.  Drew Daywalt

Muse in a Man-Cave

11.  Todd McQueen

Ships and Harbors   Will the idea float?

12.  Elizabeth Rose Stanton


13.  Jane Yolen

Show up!  Luck only happens if you’re already working on it!

14.  Zachariah Ohora

Pimp Your Character!

15.  Adam Lehrhaupt

Writer’s Block:  10 Ideas to Jump Start Your Brain

16.  Anne Marie Pace

Inspiration comes from Hope, Deadlines, The Ticking Clock, My Kids, and Kid Readers

17.  Lenore & Daniel Jennewein

Collaboration:  Give each other space.  Check your ego at the door.  Try to have fun!

18.  Dorina Lazo Gilmore

Cooking with mama, grandmas, and aunties gave her material to write.

19.  Maria Guion

Inspiration is a scam!  Stay away from oracles and romantics!  Sit down at your desk and work!

20.  Pat Miller

Back Door Ideas:  Piggyback, Get Emotional, Mother of Invention, Carry a Net, Plant Bulbs

21.  Steve Barr

Look and Listen

3 Part Chart:  Main Character/Setting/Supporting Characters  (Mash-up Activity)

22.  Bitsy Kemper

Writing Time- Use it Wisely    Blog or Manuscript?   Manuscript always wins!

23.  Kelly Light

Drive and Determination!  Work 10-hour days, 7 days a week!

24.  Maria Gianferrari

Embrace failure as a recipe for success.

Recipe:  Knead/Change genres or format, Marinate/Let it sit a bit, Fold In/a new point of view, Set Aside/Take a break and procrastinate  and lots more.

25.  Wendy Martin

Themes:  Most books fall into 3 categories –  happy/silly, scientific, and biographical.

Out of the Box Themes – death, cancer, alzheimer’s, down’s syndrome, loss of friend (life issues)

26.  Renee Kurilla

Windy Day – Pay attention to everyday things (like wind) to get really great ideas.

27.  Annette Simon

Used book titles, stacked on top of each other, photo of spines to tell story!  Genius!

28.  Joni Sussman

Write for a Jewish market.  Can you turn a story into a Hanukkah story?

Contact Tara directly for the email address and subject line code to submit to Joni Sussman at Kar-Ben Publishing.

29. Kami Kinard

“You can’t wait for inspiration.  You have to go after it with a club.”  Jack London

30.  Laurie Keller

TRUST YOUR OWN INSTINCTS  Write what you like, and tell it your voice.

Post Pi Bo Id Mo 2013

 Take the PiBoIdMo Pledge:

I do solemnly swear that I have faithfully executed
the PiBoIdMo 30-ideas-in-30-days challenge,
and will, to the best of my ability,
parlay my ideas into picture book manuscripts.

1. Corey Rosen Schwartz

Weigh your best options.  Check Amazon to see what competing titles are out there.  Shop out manuscripts to editors/agents.

2.  Kristi Valiant

Work on the Big Picture until you have a unique story.  Then master the details!

3. Stacy McAnulty

BOM your story!  (Billing Out Material)  Engineer the Creativity!  Make a spreadsheet of characters, settings, problems, etc and work out details integral to the story.

4. Ame Dyckman

Take only your best ideas, write a title and opening line for each, then tape them all over your house!  Look at them every day and let them speak to you until you have a full manuscript!

5.  Artie Bennet

Final day of Picture Book Idea Month.  Artie Bennet entertains us with The Butt Book!  Somebody has go there, might as well be him!

6.  Tara Lazar

Tara leaves us with a parting message and a link to her most popular post, Self-Ended Picture Book Layout.

This has been a wonderful experience and a wild ride!  Thank you Tara and all the contributors to the community.  You are much appreciated!

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