To Squish Or Not To Squish

It's been about twelve years since I discovered the illustrated picture book Hey, Little Ant by Phillip and Hannah Hoose. Kaitlyn's first-grade teacher, Angela Koopman, had it on her wish list at the Book Fair that year, so I bought a copy for her and figured I'd best get one for our family. It was perfect timing for me because a career change had taken me from being a high school counselor to a middle school filled with fifth and sixth graders, and this little jewel with a powerful punch served as my very first guidance lesson tool to teach respect and the golden rule.

I made an acronym out of the word ANTS and created a bookmark using these four virtues as talking points to use with the students to enrich the lesson. After reading the tale aloud, we took a look at who the ants are in our lives and what is our ANTidote for handling them?  

                    A is for Awareness
                    N is for Negotiation
                    T is for Tolerance
                    S is for Sensitivity

The lesson went really well, so I posted it online at my little school webpage for our parents to read. The author found my article and wrote me an email to thank me for the interesting spin I'd put on his work. He encouraged me to submit the idea and a copy of the bookmark to Teaching Tolerance magazine and guess what?  They liked it and my review was published!  If you own a hardcover copy of the eighth edition or later, you'll see an excerpt from that article on the back jacket cover.

It's too small to read, but this is how the article looked!

A few years later, we hosted a Picnic With The Author Of Ant and Phil came to Family Character Night, where he brought his book to life by acting it out for us. He followed that with an old-fashioned Sing Along and it was a glorious gathering. If you don't know this gem, which is available in twelve languages, I'd encourage you to check it out.  It will always be one of my all-time faves! There's even a musical score in the back if you'd rather sing the book. Click here to hear the song.

A few of our first-grade classes are currently in the midst of a PBL (Project-Based Learning) study using this book but substituting the word spider for ant.  They are working on deciding whether or not they should squish spiders, not based on how they feel about spiders, but by looking at the data that they find out about them from their research. Are spiders actually our friends? I can't wait to hear what they decide.  

If you love picture books as much as I do and want even more titles that you can think about, explore, and teach with, you simply must visit


Auction Action

Our school carnival fundraiser is just around the corner; what does your school do to raise funds?  Here I am with Mr. Whitlock, selling tickets at last year's Round Up; I always take the first shift so I'm free to be a part of the silent and live auction action:

So, our PTO is in charge of this family FUNdraiser.  As such, they encourage faculty and staff to get involved and connect with kids by donating Teacher Treats to the auction. We put in all sorts of things like Principal For The Day, Karaoke With The Music Teacher, A Canoe Trip with the Assistant Principal, Movie Night with the Third Grade Team, Picnic With Your Kindergarten Teacher, First Grade Team Cheerleading Squad, Root Beer Floats with the Second Grade Team, Guitar Lessons with Mr. Cloyd.  

So what did I contribute? This year I'm donating three things: 

1.  A hand-made black scarf (knit with eyelash yarn), a Knit Kit, and a one-hour knitting lesson.
2.  An autographed copy of Maria Dismondy's Pink Tiara Cookies for Three and a Tiara Cookie Cutter with a one-hour cooking class for up to four kids.
3.  A copy of Nan Forler's Bird Child which accompanies a Tuck-in Time package for up to 10 children. What is that? you ask.  I've teamed up with my administrative team to offer a one-hour, bedtime-story session that could serve as a birthday party treat or as a sweet surprise to a family's own kiddos. We'll show up with milk and cookies to read three stories that'll lull their little ones to dreamland. 

This year's Round Up promises to be so much fun; click here to see pictures from last year's event. A special thanks to Maria and Nan for supporting our efforts by donating copies of their books to this annual outing and to our AmAzInG volunteers for working so diligently to put together this wonderful family-togetherness opportunity.


In Harmony

We can't all talk at the same time, but we can all play the recorder at the same time!  Here now, our third grade students who passed through Record Karate to earn their Orange Belt playing the melodic lullaby Hush, Little Baby in harmony.  Isn't our music teacher epic?


Going BLUE?

Today I'm excited because I'm guest blogging over at
The Character Educator about Going Blue at the same time as I'll be leading a Round Table discussion and workshop in Puerto Rico.  

As I write this post, I'm actually Going Green by listening to the beautiful sounds of the coquí, a frog no bigger than your thumbnail, outside my hotel room after a beautiful subtropical rain this afternoon. 

Go get yourself a fruit punch with a little umbrella on it and pretend you're here with me as you enjoy the Sounds of the Rain Forest.


The Word Collector

One of the childhood memories that's indelibly etched in my heart is that of my 7th-and-8th grade teacher telling us to "hoard words like a coin collector." So I did. And once I started collecting words, I couldn't get enough of them. I decided to hoard them in two languages through my high school days and I eventually earned degrees in both English and Spanish at the University. I loved words SO much I even took classes in French, Russian and German. 
In fact, today I'm in Puerto Rico visiting a bilingual school.

Unlike that coin collector, however, I wasn't ever miserly about my words. Besides being passionate about writing, I've always been a talker; have I ever mentioned that my brothers call me Bird because I was always chirping? Anyway, in high school, I was part of the Forensics team and the event that took me to state-level competition was Storytelling. 
I was sparked by interpreting words and bringing them to life.

So you can imagine my delight when I got a preview copy of an April 2012 release by Sonja Wimmer called The Word Collector.

Published by Cuento de Luz, this book infuses an interestingly unique layout of phrases and words that tango across the page as they tell the positively magical story about Luna, a girl who's passionate about words. Its intriguing illustrations cleverly capture the essence of how the glorious words have infiltrated every aspect of Luna's life. So when something happens and people get "too busy" for words, 
Luna heads out into the world to share hers.  
My favorite two pages say this about Luna's quest:  
"Wherever there were people who were sad and lonely, she wove threads of warm words, 
words of friendship and compassion."  
After all, what good is having something that you can't give away? 
I predict you'll be tickled to find out what happens when her suitcase empties and all of Luna's words are gone.

Use this story to encourage your students to start hoarding words.  What kinds of words will they look for? How will they collect them? What will they put them in? How many words will they need before they have a book? Will they be able to collect them all? If not, how many words will be enough? What types of words might they NOT want in their collection? And what will they do with their words once they've collected them? Check out this book; the extension possibilities with this poignant treasure are infinitesimal. 


The Kindness School

Do you know about The Kindness School in Washington?  Just imagine . . . 

We can ToTaLLy try that epic idea about putting random notes of cheer into library books for the next person who reads them. Why not treat yourself to four minutes of Andy Smallman and his ideals about kindness!


Just In Case

Happy Sunday!  I snapped this picture a few weeks ago as my teenaged son was preparing to take off to take his SAT.

Here's what he packed to take along; I just LOVE that he still puts those cute eraser caps on his pencils and carries a pencil sharpener in his pencil case, just in case. He also had a few spare batteries in there, just in case.  
Looks like he's prepared and ready to go.

It got me to thinking about the stuff I take along with me, just in case, like a blank thank-you note, because you never know when you're going to need one, right? And then it got me to wondering:  What do you carry with you, just in case?


Chore Bingo

We played Bingo (though we called it Bravo!) a lot when I was a Spanish teacher because it was a really fun way to learn our new second-language vocabulary words.  We'd put words from our list in the empty squares and first I'd call them in Spanish so that the students could hear the pronunciation and get used to seeing how the word was spelled.  Then we'd ramp it up and I'd call the English and they'd have to find the Spanish equivalent.

Here's a fun twist to an old favorite, why not try CHORE Bingo? Brainstorm with your class a list of at least 30 chores, tasks, or responsibilities that a kid could have at school, at home, and in their community. If they get stuck, help them realize that "doing my homework," "going to my Scout meeting," or "soccer practice" are all responsibilities.  Once your list is complete, have students randomly fill in the squares on their CHORE board with responsibilities from the list.

Click here to download this Chore Board
As students complete their boards, copy the list onto a piece of paper and cut the tasks into strips that will be put into a pile and randomly drawn out during the CHORE Bingo game. Students will each need at least 25 "chips" that they'll use to cover the tasks as they hear a match; dried beans, kernels of corn, pennies, or squares of construction paper work well. Once students have their chips and their completed boards, you're ready to play.

The teacher (or a student leader) can select a strip of paper with a task on it and read it aloud. If students have this task on their CHORE Bingo board, they will cover it up. Continue to draw tasks from the pile until a student gets five in a row or four corners and the middle. The student who achieves this goal first says, "CHORE" and has won the game. You can also play rounds asking students to cover their tasks in fun shapes like a T, a Y, a Z, etc. or play "Black Out" where players have to cover all 25 squares to win. Once you've played a few rounds, talk with students about what happens in the game when they cover (or complete) their chores and how that relates to their real life responsibilities.

NOTE: For a variation for younger kids, why not try JOB Bingo? Have students make a 3X3 grid and fill it with nine chores (or eight and a free homework pass!).


SUM Fun!

The Westwood-Bales families hit the jackpot with SUM togetherness and fun when faculty and staff hosted our fourth annual Math Night and Health Fair! Community organizations sponsored the fifteen booths at the Health Fair and gave away coupons, pencils and toothbrushes to advertise their service and celebrate their partnership with us. Families enjoyed a healthy alternative to the Cake Walk - the Fruit Loop - and moved to music to encourage preventative maintenance for our health and wellness.

Such a great graphic created by our AmAzInG webmaster Jane Ann!

Inspired by resources from Box Cars and One-Eyed Jacks, our math stations included things like measurement activities and movement challenges, mancala and memory games, shuffling numbers and two-digit scramble, the guesstimate game and geometric shape-ups. The Credit Union even joined us to chat with our students about fiscal responsibility and money matters. 

We gave Golden Rulers to last year's Math Night participants.

Families at the rotation I hosted stopped by to listen to readings of the 
Kathryn Otoshi books entitled Zero and One. 

Here's One of the books I shared.

During the stories, I stopped a few times to asked how the numbers felt. When I inquired what that's called when you care about and can understand how someone else is feeling, each time a student was able to answer empathy - yay!

After reading the stories aloud, I posed the question: 
How do you know that you count at our school?

A first-grade cutie shows that she counts at our school.

I showed this zero cut into a paper and we pondered about what it is that gives us value and makes us count. Note to self - with more time, students could write down or draw pictures of their thoughts so that we could post them in a prominent place.

Here's the bibliography I made available at my station of twelve books with a character theme that have a numbers-or-shapes-related connection, 
making them easy to integrate into a math lesson. 

Zoe the Misfit by Ellen Dee Davidson (triangles/fitting in)
One Thousand Tracings by Lita Judge (measuring/caring)
Mouse Was Mad by Linda Urban (sphere/feelings)
The Greedy Triangle by Marilyn Burns (triangles/belonging)
One Grain of Rice by Demi (the power of one/fairness)
One by Kathryn Otoshi (numbers/upstanding)
Zero by Kathryn Otoshi (place value/self-esteem)
Square Cat by Elizabeth Schoonmaker (squares/fitting in)
Being Wendy by Fran Drescher (cubes/accepting differences)
The Hundred Penny Box by  Sharon Bell Mathis (money/caring)
The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes (numbers/fitting in)
Billy Bully: A school-yard counting tale by Alvaro and Ana Galan (counting/respect)

If you've got a favorite Math Strategy, link it up with Rainbows Within Reach by clicking on the link below:


Great Sadness

Character education has lost an awesome ambassador and amazing advocate with the passing of Sandy McDonnell this week and there is a missing piece in the hearts of those of us fortunate to have met this gentle giant.  It was about ten years ago when we started the application process and our journey to become a National School of Character (NSOC) and it didn't take long to figure out that something special was going on with character education in the Show-Me State. How was it possible that SO many NSOC finalists came from Missouri?  After some research, I realized that that something special was actually someone special,
Sandy McDonnell.

Here we are accepting our award in DC; Sandy is far right.
After his stellar 40-year career with McDonnell Douglas, Sandy became the ultimate cheerleader for character.  He decided that his retirement could be well spent helping develop character in tomorrow's leaders; as such, he dedicated the rest of his days to a very lofty goal. And what did this visionary hope for and dream about?  That every school in Missouri, and ultimately in America, would become a National School of Character.  Click here to watch the heartwarming interview and hear Sandy's final thoughts to the Character Education Partnership; please keep his family and friends in your thoughts and prayers during this time of great sadness. 
We will miss Sandy dearly and we thank his wife Priscilla for her undying support and encouragement of his HEART work.


Enjoy The Newness

Just like springtime in the south, today's post is going to be a visual dream.  Let's start with a picture that Joshua took a few years ago.  I just LOVE this shot of that colorful monarch caterpillar eating away at our milkweed.

Those little creatures get SO greedy when they're feasting before the famine.  Watch closely and you'll even see two of them engage in a little 'cat' fight!

Ultimately it's all worth it because their transformation is breathtaking!

The book Don't Worry Bear by Greg Foley explains this process so beautifully and is a book that I use with kids who need help coping with change as well as with those who are wracked with worries.

My usual question after we read the story aloud is, "If you could talk to Bear, what would you say?" And my favorite answer so far?  "Don't Worry, Bear.  Try to relax and enjoy the newness!"

Bulbs are tricky to grow in our gumbo, so I'm enJOYing the newness of this Iris bloom because that doesn't happen a lot around here and, when it does, 
it totally takes me back to the farm and my childhood.

Oh, and the bluebonnets are about to explode. If you've never seen them up close and personal, come visit us in Texas 'cause 
they. are. eye. candy! Sweet.

Wanna sing about the newness? 
Don't miss the clever butterfly song at Dr. Jean and Friends.


Muy Bien

There was always an extra mouth or two to feed at our childhood dinner table since our parents took in foster children, hosted foreign exchange students, and pretty much invited anyone who wanted to learn to farm "The American Way" to come on over.  And not just to eat, but to work and learn and stay as long as they wanted to be there.

Meet Carlos.  He moved in from Mexico right around the time I was registering for high school; he's the reason that I decided to study Spanish. Carlos couldn't speak a word of English past hello and goodbye, so I decided to help him out by learning his language. It was WAY too cold in Wisconsin for someone from that far south, however, so he didn't stay with us long enough for me to speak a word of Spanish, beyond hola and adiós, with him. 

So today I'm grateful about two things. The first is that we're going to get to do what I experienced with my family of origin SO many times:  Welcome our foreign exchange student, who arrives this evening from Germany so that he can see first-hand what it's like to live "The American Way."  We are incredibly excited to host a teen from the family with whom Jacob will stay when he travels to Berlin in June. What an amazing experience it promises to be for both of the boys as they get acquainted with one another and learn all about each other's culture while practicing their second-language skills.

I actually had these license plates when I was a Spanish teacher!
The second reason I'm over-the-moon with gratitude today is that this time next week I'll be in Puerto Rico visiting a school that was recently named a National School of Character finalist. I've also been asked to conduct a workshop while I'm there, so I'll actually get three days on the island. It's such an honor to get to make this trip and learn all about the exemplary work in character education there and see the promising practices in action.

That makes me ever-so-thankful to my parents for saying  when that foreign embassy contacted them to ask if a teenager from Mexico City could stay with us for a spell.  What a gift that some thirty-five years later I'd have the opportunity to practice my second-language skills working and meeting new friends on la Isla del Encanto during the same time that my son practices his with our new German family member. ¡Olé!


How Does Included Feel?

Change can be challenging to children. Have you ever had to switch schools? As if going through the transition of a move isn't difficult enough, research says that the most common target for a bully is . . . 
you guessed it, the new kid.  

Do you know about The New Bear At School by Carrie Weston? It's a fun read-aloud! Boris doesn't quite fit in; what is this experience like for him?  How would your kids feel if they were Boris? What would they need? And what will it take before he's accepted into his new school family?

We have an ideal at school we call L.I.N.K. (Let's Include New Kids!).  I call it an ideal because it's not really a program or a club, but it's something we feel passionate about, that new students become part of our family and feel included right away. In the past, we've even held special events for them, like a Reader's Theater with the administrators or a Root Beer Float treat in the Library, so they could meet one another and connect. This clip from Sesame Street that I snuck into a few of my empathy lessons strengthened my resolve that our newbies do, in fact, feel included when they move to our school.  Just listen to the tone in Elmo's voice before and then after.  Powerful!  What do you do to include your new kids on the block?


Black & White

I grew up in a black-and-white world (literally), surrounded by Holstein cows, on our family farm.  The motto on the sign in front of our dairy – Home of the Working Cow – was fodder for the mean kids who routinely asked if the Working Cow was my sister or me.  We got up early to milk the cows and went to bed late after milking them again. Twice a day, every day.  We didn’t get many vacations and we didn’t enjoy luxuries like TV time or play time. Our playground was our milking parlor.

That's me, milking cows, 40 years ago!
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining.  Look at how happy I am in this picture.  I actually acquired a really good work ethic by doing chores and being so responsible. What I'm pondering today is my black-and-white world (figuratively). And I'm not just talking monochromatic photographs. You see, I was brought up looking at things through a black-and-white lens.  There wasn’t much, if any, gray area.  Not much was left to interpretation and rarely was anything up for negotiation. Parents said what they meant and meant what they said.  Yes meant yes and no meant no and adults were always right.  So were teachers and school administrators. (Bad things would happen if the school had to call home!)  Your aunts and uncles were pretty much always right, too, as were your grandparents.  Even the neighbors? Absolutely. They were allowed, encouraged even, to step in and correct us if they saw us straying too far off of the right path.  'It takes a village to raise a child' certainly rang true in our black-and-white world.

Goofy was one of my favorites!
I won the blue ribbon in Showmanship with Goofy that day in this picture at the Brown County Fair, but not everything about my black-and-white world was positive. Under authoritarian rule, we heard mantras like, “Children are to be seen and not heard.” And “Spare the rod, spoil the child.”  There's absolutely NO wiggle room in either of those mission statements.  Only. Black. And. White!  I got my fair share of spankings, so no worries about us being spoiled, that’s for sure. But what would it have hurt to give us a small voice?  I'm sure we could have come up with something valuable to say. . .

Over the years, we've gotten more and more comfortable with shades of gray.  Kids today do have a voice and corporal punishment isn’t quite as commonplace as it was back on the farm. It seems the proverbial pendulum has swung the other way.  But I'm wondering about that black-and-white thing where values are concerned.  A handshake meant something, it was your word and honesty was more than a policy, it was a way of life. I like to think that in today's world, right is still right and wrong is still wrong. And yet, in a nearby town when some 200 seniors were caught cheating on an AP English IV test at the end of last semester, they were allowed to retake the test. Does that seem like a little too much gray to anyone? 

And that village concept is more important now than ever before, but how many aunts or uncles step in to help out in today’s day and age?  I hope a lot, but that’s not necessarily the trend I’m observing despite research that strongly suggests that kids who are connected to mentors (like an extended family member or neighbor!) are less likely to get into trouble and more likely to find success in life. Can't get much more black-and-white than that. Still, I know that today's families often struggle to keep track of their own kids, much less watch out for the neighbor’s herd.  How are we doing in our village?  Would we exceed expectations on the state assessment in that area?

This counselor is all for giving kids a voice and listening to our future leaders, encouraging them to reach for the stars and empowering them with the tools to do just that, second chances even; at the same time, this farmer’s daughter likes it when the pendulum comes back to some timeless non-negotiables:
Tell the truth. Keep your promises. Respect one another. Mind your manners. Be courteous. Take care of your stuff. Show up and be on time. Give your best effort. Forgive mistakes. Do the right thing. Obey the rules. Apologize. Work hard. Play Fair. Be kind. 
Look out for one another. Help those in need. 
Treat others like you want to be treated.

Those are the things that my elders drilled home in my black-and-white world way back when that still hold true for our techno-color world today.


Silly Frilly Grandma Tillie

Today I'm celebrating St. Patrick's Day (and what would have seen my Grandma Natzke turning 102) by sharing good news about the latest FlashLight Press release, Silly Frilly Grandma Tillie. This colorful gem is sure to knit its way into the hearts and minds of its readers as young and old alike connect with the grandiosity of this gentle Grandmother. Cheerfully complemented by Anne Jewet's playfully uplifting illustrations, Laurie A. Jacobs' text weaves a web of intrigue when this super-hero Grandma comes to babysit. Check out this book to see exactly what unravels with Grandma Tillie, whose bag of tricks and outrageous antics keep her granddaughters guessing.
  It will undoubtedly keep you in stitches, too!   

I gave my copy to one of our knit-club mentors who recently became a Grandma herself and has two adorable granddaughters; I can totally see her playing the role of 
Gorilly Tillie or Tillie Vanilly!

Want an activity guide to enrich the story? Our friends at Flash Light Press make them available for all of their titles. Prepare to have a ball with this one!


Punch Bowl Surprise

With all of us home for spring break and tons of time on our hands, I've been happily creating in the kitchen!  Yesterday, I made this yummy version of Death By Chocolate, aka Punch Bowl Surprise.  It's a surprise because sometimes I use chocolate cake, sometimes brownies, sometimes I buy Buncha Crunch and other times Heath Candy, and sometimes I flavor the top layer of whipped cream with chocolate syrup, other times I use a chocolate-caramel combo.  I've even used a drop of almond extract before.  
I like to keep my family guessing.  

Just how do I make this? you ask.  Bake chocolate cake or brownies, then cut into pieces when cooled.  Divide in half; that's your first layer and your fourth layer.  On top of the first layer, put some Buncha Crunch or Heath bits.  (Fresh strawberries or raspberries work, too, if you want to make it healthier!)  Then spread a layer of chocolate pudding followed by a layer of whipped cream. Repeat and refrigerate. It's that easy. Oh, and what's not so surprising about Punch Bowl Surprise is how quickly we can make this decadence disappear.

Today I'm heading for Austin to take our college girl back for the rest of her freshman year.  How is that possible?  It's been such a treat to have her home this week; how abundantly blessed we are.


Something To Squawk About

From the jacket cover:  Matilda is a chicken with attitude:  proud, dignified and scrappy. Aunt Susan sends her to Mae, who loves to take on special projects.  However, Mae’s quick solutions can cause bigger problems, like that time she made Dog glow in the dark. . . 
     Nothing is quick or easy with Matilda.  Mae never had to work so hard before!  Soon new projects grab her attention, and Matilda is neglected.  But when Aunt Susan plans a visit, Mae has to find out what it takes to care for a special chicken like Matilda.

I was so excited to find the book Squawking Matilda by Lisa Horstman because it’s got responsibility written all over it – responsibility to projects, responsibility to promises, and responsibility to pets.  It's about best effort.  It’s also got a caring and compassion piece that might just pull at your heartstrings a bit.  Like a lot of little ones, Mae has a ton of creative ideas, some of which work out, some of which do not.  She also tends, like a lot of US, to get easily distracted and fly from one project to the next, sometimes without completing either one.  So when Matilda comes along, caring for a chicken seems like a worthwhile cause, but Mae gets distracted and Matilda feels forgotten. What will it take to find Matilda when she goes missing to reconnect with that scrappy bird?  And can Mae ultimately win Matilda over and secure her happiness?

Responsibility. It’s a HUGE word with even bigger significance. It’s about choices and consequences. And it’s about stakeholders, people who care about and are affected by our choices.  Who are the stakeholders in Mae’s story? What are some things that Mae does in the story that don’t quite work out?  What does Mae do that does work out well?  Is Mae a good problem solver? How do you know?  Is Mae good at taking responsibility?  At showing responsibility?  Are those two things the same or different?  How did Mae show responsibility toward her projects?  How did she show responsibility toward her promise to Aunt Susan?  How did she show responsibility toward Matilda?  What was that experience like for them?  And what, if anything, does this story have to do with the state-mandated assessments that are just around the corner for many of us?

Want to infuse some meaningful movement?  Dance a celebratory Chicken Dance after you see what happens to make this proud chicken Mae’s “best project yet!”  Then sing this little ditty I wrote with your chore champs using the tune of  
M-i-c  k-e-y  M-o-u-s-e:

When I do things to the best of my ability, I'm
r-e-s  p-o-n  s-i-b-l-e.
I think before I act and I'm reliable, you see.  That's
r-e-s  p-o-n  s-i-b-l-e.
Persevere (clap clap clap), never quit (clap clap clap)
Show up on time, yes you can count on me - 2 - 3 - 4.
Do what I'm supposed to do, stay in control of me. Be
r-e-s  p-o-n  s-i-b-l-e.


Friendships In Bloom

OK, so those of you who follow Farley and Reagan know that there's a TX meet-up in San Antonio . . . tonight . . . at like 5:30 . . . that I'm missing.  I know, I know, I'd hoped to make it, even though I'm four hours down the road from them. I wanted to meet them and laugh with them and hang out for a bit. But with my daughter at home from college and with gas prices climbing toward $4 per gallon and with our foreign exchange student coming Tuesday next week, I just couldn't swing it. This time. Reagan, if you're reading this . . . could you SKYPE me from the restaurant so I could virtually be there?  Pretty please with a cherry on the top?  OK, that's my pitiful attempt to get there even though I can't make it.  Speaking of cherries:

"In the cherry blossom's shade
there's no such thing
as a stranger." 
- Kobayashi Issa

It was after a third-grade benchmark test, actually, that I first learned the story behind the Cherry Blossom Trees in Washington D.C.  The boy who needs a quiet environment and takes the test with me eagerly shared all of the details from his favorite story. It was a story about friendship, he told me, a gift from a Japanese dignitary to President Taft and his wife. When the first batch of 2000 trees was infected with insects and nematodes, they sent another 3020 to replace the diseased ones. Today they serve as a symbol of friendship, he added. So interesting. All I knew was that they are breathtaking! Here's a picture I took when I was in D.C. last spring:

Cheryl over at Primary Graffiti created an amazing unit using the book Cherry Blossom Friends by Corkey Hay DeSimone.

Debbie Tenzer over at Do One Nice Thing recently shared this amazingly BeAuTiFuL time-lapsed footage of the Blossoms in Brooklyn.  Do yourself a favor and watch the magic unfold before your eyes: 


Meet The Authors Of Nimpentoad

Today I'm excited to introduce three new authors through this guest post; meet Henry Herz and his sons Josh and Harrison of Nimpentoad, and read on to find out more about their journey into the exciting world of children's literature.  

Nimpentoad's Creative Journey by Henry Herz

When my sons were five and seven years old, and I wanted to share my love of fantasy with them. They were too young for watching most of the fantasy and sci-fi movie classics, and there are only so many good fantasy books available for that age range. Struck by inspiration one day, I came up with a way to share the joy of entering the magical realms of fantasy. I would write a fantasy book for them!

What I did not anticipate was that my boys would give me feedback on the story. They devised some of the character (“Nimpentoad”) and creature (“Neebel”) names, and made plot line suggestions. And who better to help make the story appealing to kids than other kids? So, my goal of interesting my sons in fantasy transformed into also encouraging them to write. Very cool.

Nimpentoad is the fantasy story of a courageous and resourceful little Nibling who leads his tribe through the perilous Grunwald forest, overcoming obstacles and encountering strange creatures along the way.  I decided that we would self-publish Nimpentoad, so the next step was to find an artist who had the skill and style suitable for our book. This turned out to be the most time-consuming part of our journey. Nimpentoad's artwork is (I think you’ll agree) eye-catching, with incredible detail. The kind of detail that makes the reader want to climb into the picture and go exploring.

Once again, my sons were involved, this time helping with art direction. We would describe what each illustration should contain. Collaborating remotely via email and DropBox, our artist would give us a rough sketch, and we would provide feedback on details and color palette. Nimpentoad came to life, while my boys added another dimension to their experience. Eventually, we had a good book, but we lacked readers. So, we then embarked upon the most arduous part of our journey – promoting Nimpentoad

Luckily, my boys (dare I say it) are charismatic and precocious, and are comfortable conducting public readings and doing book signings. At the risk of infringing on child labor laws, I booked my sons as much as their school schedules would allow. We’ve done readings and signings at San Diego libraries, elementary schools, La Jolla YMCA, the New Children’s Museum, Mysterious Galaxy Books, Readers Books, Warwick’s Books, and Barnes & Noble. At the San Diego Public Library 46th Annual Local Author’s Exhibit, my sons asked for autographs from Chris Ryall (of IDW Publishing) and famed graphic novelist Eric Shanower. Both of these gentlemen then graciously asked for my boys’ autographs. Again, very cool!

At the La Mesa Centennial Readers & Writers Festival, we shared a booth with Ron Noble, animator of Rugrats, Rocket Power, and Wild Thornberry's. He was very kind, and my boys left that day with personalized Wild Thornberry sketches. Incredibly cool!

All these experiences have further enriched the journey for my sons. They understand some of the aspects of running a business and publishing. They are now comfortable meeting new people, doing public speaking, and rubbing elbows with famous authors. It has been a great ride.

Click here to enjoy their Radio Interview by Fictional Frontiers.


The Gift Of Peace

Peace comes in all shapes and sizes.  As a blogging community, we have another opportunity to share some peace in the form of gift cards, lesson plans ideas or other gestures of caring with those school families who were devastated by recent storms.

Crystal over at Kreative In Kinder is organizing this project as a practical way to show our love and send it their way. Hop on over today to see how you can help.

What PEACE do you bring to our school family?  That's the inquiry that I posed on this peace-filled bulletin board I created with my Really Good Stuff border and peace-print accents right before spring break to keep peacemaking in the forefront of our hearts and minds.

Then, on the last day before break, I'm on car rider duty (my FaVoRiTe!!) and I open up the car door of this precious kindergarten girl named Aubrey. She glances my way and immediately starts to sky-write something. Not quite sure what to make of her code but taking my cue from a birthday bouquet in her mother's hands behind her, I ask her if she just drew 
a happy birthday cake for her teacher. 

Core Values Bring PEACE To Our School Family!

That's when she replied with the most heart-warming smile I've seen in a while, "No, Mrs. Gruener, I'm drawing a peace sign for you." Now that is the kind of p.e.a.c.e. I'm talking about. I can't help but wonder what made her draw me a peace sign as she launched herself into that day, but I am totally grateful that peacemakers like Aubrey bring THAT kind of peace to our school family. 
I am still walking on air from her generous gift, just as our friends in need will be when they hear from you!

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