Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Holiday Gift that Kept on Giving: writing a children’s book song parody

Check out our guest post from children’s book author Sue Fliess!

The Holiday Gift that Kept on Giving: writing a children’s book song parody

WE WISH FOR A MONSTER CHRISTMAS, my new holiday book illustrated by Claudia Ranucci and published by Sterling Children’s Books (available now!), was both fun and challenging. Heavy emphasis on challenging. It started when my agent sent an editor a story I’d written, which she promptly, though kindly, rejected. This editor, Meredith Mundy at Sterling, happened to visit my website and see that I had some of my song parody videos I’d created about writing, one being a Christmas carol. In her note to my agent, she mentioned that her house does well with children’s books that are parodies. Might I consider writing one? Sure! I said. Why not?! I said. How hard could that be? I said.


First, my list of Christmas carols was long. It was just a matter of choosing one, right? But we soon learned that it had to be a song in the public domain. My long list suddenly became very, very short. But that didn’t stop me. I thought about them for awhile, of how I could change the titles, hoping that process would spark a storyline. Thankfully, it did. We Wish You a Merry Christmas became We Wish for a Monster Christmas. Now I just had to write it. What I didn’t realize until I started digging in, was that each stanza of the song required 3 rhyming words each, plus an ending word that rhymes with ‘year.’ For example:

He’ll eat all our peas.
We’ll check him for fleas.
He’ll hang by his knees from the brass chandelier.

Then there were the longer, stickier, multi-syllabic, stanzas:

He ate every chair and table.
He chewed through the TV cable.
So Dad says we won’t be able to keep him in here.

I started making lists of words that may play a role in a story of children wanting a monster, then getting a monster, for Christmas. I pulled it off. It was done. There may have been some tears. Okay, there were tears! But I was happy with the final story –and even better, it actually made sense! And the rhymes worked. We sent it to Meredith.

She asked for a revision.

“Sure!” I said. But what I was thinking was, “That’s impossible! I can’t do it!” Fortunately, I needed to add a stanza or two to break up the repetition, but didn’t have to change any existing stanzas, save for a tweak here and there. So I went back to my process, and came up with more ways the monster could cause trouble.

I was so happy (read: relieved) when we finalized this text. It was by far one of my most challenging projects to date, but in the end, I was so glad I volunteered to try it. The best part is that you can sing the whole book! I even made a karaoke version for you to follow. What are you waiting for, warm up those vocal chords and give it a try!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Beginning the Year with Cy Makes a Friend

Can you believe it’s Back to School time already? Our summers flew by but don’t they always? Erin and I have been thinking about ideas to use in our classroom, especially for the first few weeks of school. We try to create activities based on books with universal themes like sharing, friendship, or kindness. Some of our favorites include Chrysanthemum, Berenstain Bears and the Trouble with Friends, and First Grade Dropout. We incorporate ways for our students to interact with the book from as many angles as possible. My book, Cy Makes a Friend, came out in March. Our students really related to the whole friendship theme and the obstacles we sometimes face when trying to make a friend.
Since then, Erin and I have been working on an activity packet that allows our students to go a little deeper into the story while also having fun! My amazing illustrator, Tracy Subisak, added some color pages. We want to share it with you! Let us know what you end up using. We’d love to see your pictures! Here are some covers of books my students made after reading Cy Makes a Friend.

I love how grumpy Mama Cyclops and her purple baby look!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Ten Months

The students have left the school and only the teachers remain. We begin the tortuous task of disassembling our classrooms for the big summer cleaning. This is the time for reflection because it's quieter now though I keep thinking someone is calling my name: "Ms. Stephens! Ms. Stephens!" Turns out to be a side effect to having heard 24 students say my name at least a dozen times each, every day for ten months. Hey, math people, that's like 51,840 times a year. I won't miss that.

Or will I?

For ten months I have been loved, hugged, and cherished by those same 24 kids. They have allowed me into their young, eager minds as well as their innocent hearts. They have let me become a small part of their journey ahead. They have cared about the little things, such as my new shoes or the fact that I love barbecue potato chips. They have bonded over the big things like our controversial election and their roles in a positive future for all.

Ok. I will miss all of this. A lot.

When people judge teachers because we only work ten months, know this: if we did not have those two months to recover and refuel there would be no teachers. We would be extinct. For ten months teachers teach, mentor, parent, nurse, counsel, befriend, shelter, guard over, and sometimes even feed their students. We are overworked, underpaid, often disrespected, and forever exhausted. Creating ambassadors who will change the world is some of the hardest work on earth.

Don’t shame teachers for our two months off. We have earned every minute. Instead pat a teacher on the back, shake their hand, volunteer in their classroom, or thank them for doing their part to help raise and educate everyone's kids. After all, those kids will become your doctors, judges, entertainers, caretakers, plumbers, builders, engineers, and even your president.

Please take a moment and allow your school-age self to share a memory about one of your favorite teachers. To all of my teacher friends, I shout from my much deserved vacation destination - YOU ROCK!

Enjoy your summer from two of the happiest teachers around!

Ann Marie & Erin

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Chicken in Space

We want to tell you about a must-buy book! It’s called CHICKEN IN SPACE and it’s written by Adam Lehrhaupt, illustrated by Shahar Kober.

It’s about a chicken named Zoey and her pig sidekick, Sam. Zoey uses her imagination to take a trip into space and she insists Sam joins her. They run into an asteroid, a comet, and even alien attack ships, but nothing deters Zoey from completing her mission. Our students belly-laughed at this charming story of determination, grit, and adventure. Head over to YouTube to watch an old-fashioned book trailer that will get your kids excited to read!

You can find out more about the author at

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Right Angles Made Easier

Right angles are HARD to teach, am I right?! Here are some strategies we use to try to make it a little easier. First, we like to show them the corners of a square and have them position their arms in the same directions. Then we show them how *not* to make a right angle. No “Yay!” arms (an acute angle with both hands up toward the ceiling) and no “Ta-da!” arms (an obtuse angle with arms out to the sides).

After some explicit teaching about shapes that do and don’t have right angles, we use Morgan Clark’s memory game.
We’ve also shrunk it down and added headers to use as a sort for students to glue the shapes onto. This gives you a good idea of who can remember and identify shapes that have right angles.

Then we created this worksheet for students to count how many right angles a shape has and draw shapes with a given number of right angles: tricky skills to master.

Finally, we have these handy-dandy right angles.
My fantastic inclusion teacher pointed out how hard it can be for some students to align a book/index card/paper accurately with an angle to determine whether or not it is a right angle. Not only do they put their tool on the outside of the shape but they also can’t see both sides of an acute angle. These right angles were traced onto scraps of lamination. I also traced an oversized right angle for me to use during for whole class instruction. These tools have only three rules. 1: You must put the vertex of the right angle on top of one of the vertices in the shape. 2: If the right angle closed it would eat part of the shape. 3: One line of the right angle must be on top of on of the sides of the shape. This year when my students completed the “Right Angle Identification” worksheet, the class average was 53%. Yikes. After I showed the class how to use their new lamination tools, the average went up to 92%. That’s without any re-teaching, just a new tool. Color me impressed.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Exploring Polar Bears: A Cross-Curricular Unit

It’s time to meet our polar bears!
We have created a unit for any classroom from kindergarten to second grade. We have graphic organizers, prompts, and paper to enrich your students’ writing. There are a variety of math activities including measurement, estimation, computation, and lots of skip counting! We offer map, menu, and research project ideas to foster creative science and social studies skills. Best of all, we end our unit with a game, a craft, and a snowy snack recipe. Polar bears are currently a threatened species. One of our best defenses against animal extinction is to bring awareness to the students we teach. Our unit can help facilitate productive conversations, as well as provide you with effective activities to build upon basic abilities. Check it out at Teachers Pay Teachers.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

From Here to There: A Book Birthday!

Happy Book Birthday to Sue Fliess! FROM HERE TO THERE hits stores today!
Our students are going to love this best friend, pen pal story.

Read more about the book on Amazon.