Wednesday, September 11, 2019

How Sweet it is to Be Sorted by You

I’ve got a new favorite unit. Every year when our sorting unit comes up I try to think of ways to keep it interesting with my first graders. Last year one of my coworkers jokingly mentioned that we could sort with Oreos. Because of my deep love for the cookies, I ran with the idea!

In Virginia we have to sort by size, shape, color and thickness. Luckily, Oreos can be used for all of these! I bought both chocolate and golden Oreos of the regular, mini, and thin varieties. I also snagged Oreo Thin Bites and Nabisco’s Oreo Cookie 100 calorie packs (because they’re shaped like hexagons!). I made packs for my students that contained one of each kind of cookie and then called out various ways for them to sort. (Please excuse the messy picture. I took it before I realized I'd write a post about it.)
**Update- I cannot find the 100 calorie packs anywhere this year!! I'm going to grab some chocolate teddy grahams to have a different shape instead.

We started off sorting by one trait and used this chart to keep things organized. Then the students flipped it over and we sorted by two traits. For this, we just made neat piles on the blank back of the paper.
It was a pretty sweet lesson if I do say so myself. ;)

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The One & Only Wolfgang

Happy Book Birthday to THE ONE & ONLY WOLFGANG! Steve Greig, Mary Rand Hess and Nadja Sarell have created one incredible book about one incredible family. Here are some activities you can complete after reading to extend the fun!

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Alphabet Snack Sorting

Last year I taught summer school for the first time and was looking for a fun, meaningful, and delicious way to wrap up the last day with my soon to be kindergarteners. I began searching Pinterest for snack ideas because, let’s face it, everything is just more fun with food. After a few minutes of coming up empty handed I saw a picture of a snack mix that included Alpha-Bits cereal and it hit me- An alphabet sort using tasty treats!

I immediately began to think of every snack I’ve ever given my son that had letters on them. I created my shopping list and off I went. After searching through eight different stores I had to give up on the idea of Apha-Bits, but still had a good mix of salty and sweet. Here’s what I included in my snack mix:
Mini Alphabet Pretzels (from Wegmans)
Alphabet Cookies (from The Dollar Tree)
Scrabble Cheez-Its
Mini M&Ms (sorted as the letter M)
Cheerios (sorted as the letter O)

I made charts on 17x11 paper and had students get a few spoonfuls of each ingredient in our snack mix. Then they went back to their seat and sorted. I had a few who needed a bit of extra support, but most were able to match the letters to their mat independently. They had so much fun I’m planning to do this activity again with my first graders at the beginning of the year!

Happy Snacking!


Friday, June 28, 2019

Ten Things Teachers Should Do During the Summer and Ten Things You’ll Probably Do Anyway

It’s summer and we still can’t get away from the To Do List phenomenon that seems to plague teachers! We’ve decided to share ours with you. It’s broken in two parts. Choose one or both! If you think of more ideas we’ve forgotten feel free to share them in our comments section! You can download our list and use a fun pen to check off what you’ve done! Happy summer!

Sunday, May 26, 2019

I'm Done! Are You?

“I’m Done!” How many times do teachers and parents hear that phrase? Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan has managed to create a character who sounds exactly like half the kids in my class! Little Beaver thinks he’s done building the dam and continues to join his friends in play. His parents have to keep reminding him that he isn’t quite done yet. This back and forth is so relatable to young readers. My students even started repeating the phrase long after the book ended in a voice they thought Little Beaver might use. I created a few extra ideas if you’d like to extend the story past your reading time. Get your copy of the book here!

Monday, May 13, 2019

Twinderella, A Fractioned Fairy Tale and a Book Bite

Twinderella, A Fractioned Fairy Tale, by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Deborah Marcero, is our most favorite fraction book ever! Seriously, our grade level had one copy to start, thought we were going to share it, then –Poof– everyone insisted on having their own copy! This charming math story conquers fractions as parts of a region and parts of a group. We couldn’t ask for more. The text is just the right length and tells a succinct, attention-grabbing fractioned fairytale. We even made a book bite for it so we could extend the use of the book. Have fun!

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

A Perfect Interview

An adorable new picture book just hit the shelves and we have an interview with the author, Jodi McKay. PENCIL’S PERFECT PICTURE is a great classroom read-aloud and a cozy bedtime story. The illustrator, Juliana Motzko, created an irresistible Pencil and gave life to many other school supplies. After reading the book, we had our students draw their own perfect pictures. Get your copy today!

1. How long have you been an author?
I feel like I’ve always been an author. I was the kid who wrote stories and plays for my friends, and then as a teen and eventually as an adult I always managed to add creative writing into my school work and career. I started to write seriously though in 2013 when my son went to kindergarten and I had a little more time on my hands to learn the craft of writing and practice those skills.

2. What made you want to become an author?
When I first gave writing a shot I was 19 and at that point I wanted to be an author because of the way writing made me feel. When I started really writing at 35 I wanted to become an author because I saw how reading made my son feel. He loved (and still does) to read and so reading books and telling stories became an important part of how we connected and how he explored his own imagination. I had to be part of something that had such a significant effect on him.

3. Tell us about your most recent book, PENCIL’S PERFECT PICTURE. Where did you get this idea?
Pencil’s Perfect Picture started out as a companion book to Where Are The Words?, my first book. In the end of Where Are The Words? the Period says that Pencil can help finish the story by drawing the perfect pictures. While my editor liked the story, she suggested that we make it a stand-alone and add a family touch. I definitely agreed with that vision and so I gave Pencil the goal of drawing a perfect picture for his dad. The rest of the story takes Pencil through art school where he asks the other artists like Paintbrush, Marker, and Pastel what makes their pictures perfect. His inability to get a straight answer combined with his dad’s reaction to Pencil’s picture was my way of telling kids that art is meant to be fun and there is no standard of perfection. What makes art perfect is that it comes from the heart.

4. Authors get rejected a lot. What do you do when you get rejected?
Ugh, rejection can really hurt sometimes! I usually give myself a minute to deal with the loss of the excitement and hope that comes with submitting a beloved manuscript. After that I move on to the next story that makes me feel just as excited and hopeful.

5. Both of your picture books have a pencil as a character. What’s up with you and pencils?
Hahaha! I know, right? I promise that I am done with the pencil, and probably art supplies as well. I have to keep the punctuation going though, can’t have a story without punctuation.

6. What’s the hardest part about writing picture books? What’s the easiest?
For me, the hardest part of writing a picture book is making sure that I don’t get so wrapped up in the plot that I forget to include the heart of the story. It’s really easy to create the superficial stakes behind the character’s main goal, but adding in the underlying emotional risk or motivation takes a little more thought, actually a lot more thought. What comes easiest is probably the story structure. I’m not sure if it’s because of my relatively organized nature, but I know how to structure a story pretty well and well enough to be able to break from it occasionally and still have it work. It’s the first thing I look at when I revise and the first thing I talk about when I give critiques.

7. Describe what it’s like to hear the news that you’ve just gotten a book contract.

8. Can you tell us anything about what you’re working on now?
I am in the final stages of revising a story with my agent that I really like even though I can’t stand to think about the main character. It’s… a spider (*gags*). I know, “why would you write about such a disgusting character?” Well, sometimes we have to push ourselves a bit. I just hope it goes out on submission soon so that I don’t have to keep thinking about it. (Blech)

9. What do you do when you’re not writing?
I read a ton! Thank goodness for the library or we would be in some massive book debt. I also try to stay active to counter the hours spent writing or reading and I have a ten year-old and a goofy dog who keep me out and about.

10. What advice would you give someone who wants to become an author?
Embrace patience; patience with the process of writing, patience with publishing, and patience with yourself. There really isn’t much that happens quickly in this world of writing and if you expect it to be then it will become more frustrating than rewarding. So, while you are in the midst of practicing patience, find ways to take your mind off of what you are waiting for. Go for a walk, spend time in the children’s section of the library or bookstore, be creative in other ways, or write about something other than a story- like answers to interview questions :0)

Bio: Jodi McKay lives in Michigan with her husband, son, and two furry friends. She is the PAL coordinator for SCBWI-MI, and is active in several online writing groups. She has two books published by Albert Whitman & Co., WHERE ARE THE WORDS? (2016) and the forthcoming picture book, PENCIL’S PERFECT PICTURE (May, 2019).
Jodi is represented by Linda Epstein of Emerald City Literary Agency.
Want to chat with Jodi? You can find her here:

Friday, April 12, 2019

Going to School with Little Larry and Mary Rand Hess

Mary Rand Hess is a New York Times bestselling author and we got an interview with her! She’s sharing inside details about her approach to writing, her published books, and her current work in progress. One of the coolest reveals is about her latest book, LITTLE LARRY GOES TO SCHOOL, the story of an orphaned chimp. Enjoy the read! Thank you, Mary!
How long have you been an author?
I have been writing seriously for over 25 years. Right out of college, I started writing for newspapers, magazines, and literary journals, and then made my way to screenplays, picture books, and young adult novels.

What made you want to become an author?
In second grade, we had to present a book report. I adapted Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White into a puppet show, making my own puppets and performing an abridged version for the class. I remember getting a standing ovation, and to my surprise was asked to perform it again (and believe me, I was not the teacher’s pet). It was in that moment I knew the power of storytelling. By fifth grade, another teacher told my mother I was destined to be an author. I rejected the notion at first because I wanted to be on stage singing and playing the piano.

But in truth I had always loved telling stories. Whether it was putting on puppet shows (thank you, Mr. Rogers), plays, or creating storyboards, it was enchanting to orchestrate a world of make-believe. In that world, anything could happen—I could even become a rock star. It wasn’t until I was twenty-years-old that I realized my fifth grade teacher was right, I was born to be an author.

Tell us about your most recent book, LITTLE LARRY GOES TO SCHOOL. How did this book come together?
I was approached by National Geographic to coauthor Little Larry Goes to School (The True Story of a Timid Chimpanzee Who Learned to Reach New Heights) with Gerry Ellis, who is a renowned wildlife filmmaker, photographer, and writer, and whose work has appeared in National Geographic, BBC Wildlife, New York Times, Ranger Rick, and more. Gerry and I became fast friends and bonded over the adorable Little Larry. Gerry shared his amazing photographs and accounts of being up close and personal with this little chimp (who found a way to fit in with the other chimps, while learning to be brave). It wasn’t long before I felt like I knew Gerry and Little Larry well. Gerry has spent countless hours documenting the lives of great apes, including young chimpanzees like Little Larry. If you love the wild and you love great apes, Gerry’s your person!

Authors get rejected a lot. What do you do when you get rejected?
Rejection stings a little... sometimes a lot, but it is a part of the journey. When I receive a rejection, I like to listen to music to process my thoughts and feelings, and then I usually write a stanza of a new poem, or dig out an older one I’ve been working on to get my mind on the important ingredients of creating and revising. I also love hugs from my family and dogs. And when I’m really feeling down in my blues, I compose on the piano. I think rejection is a necessary part of the process and makes us more thoughtful creators. And when time has passed and I feel wiser, I take out that rejected piece and give it another shot at success.

What’s the hardest part about writing picture books? What’s the easiest?
Picture books are definitely not easy to write. Many people have met the fate of trying to write a picture book and realizing it was not as easy as they thought. The hardest part for me is deciding how to execute a story in a picture book, and cutting back on words that I love and want to keep. Writing poetry has been good practice and has helped me understand the importance of the economy of words when it comes to a picture book. The easiest part is brainstorming characters, story ideas, and storylines, because ideas tend to be endless. Sometimes I think I’ll never get to them all.

Describe what it’s like to hear the news that you’ve just gotten a book contract.
It’s like a friend stopping by for a surprise visit and bringing you a birthday cake and a present, even when it’s not your birthday. It’s also like... “Well, it’s about time!”

Can you tell us anything about what you’re working on now?
I just finished up a book called The One and Only Wolfgang: From Pet Rescue to One Big Happy Family with my friend Steve Greig of @wolfgang2242 Instagram fame. The story is about Steve’s real-life family of senior dogs, chickens, a rabbit, and a pig named Bikini. These pets, who were once “unadoptable,” but are now “unstoppable” together, show us what it means to be a big quirky family, where everyone belongs. I’m thrilled to say the book releases September of this year!

What do you do when you’re not writing?
I LOVE hanging out at the beach with family, visiting with friends, taking naps with my dogs, baking, listening to copious amounts of music, and composing and riffing on the piano while my dog sings.

What advice would you give someone who wants to become an author?
Write the story that you can’t get out of your heart and mind. Write about characters, settings, and storylines you feel passionate about. Read lots of books in all different genres, and revise, revise, revise! Know that everyone will experience rejection—it’s part of the creative process. Keep writing and believing that you have the power to inspire with your words.

Need some fun ideas about what to do after reading Little Larry Goes to School? Check out our book bite!
Bio: Mary Rand Hess is a poet, screenwriter, mixed-media artist, and New York Times bestselling author of notable and award-winning books such as Solo and Swing (Blink YA), coauthored with Newbery Medalist Kwame Alexander, Animal Ark: Celebrating Our Wild World in Poetry and Pictures (National Geographic Children’s Books), also coauthored with Kwame Alexander and Deanna Nikaido, Little Larry Goes to School (National Geographic Children’s Books), written with renowned photographer, writer, and filmmaker, Gerry Ellis, and the forthcoming picture book, The One and Only Wolfgang: From Pet Rescue to One Big Happy Family (Zonderkidz), coauthored with Steve Greig of @wolfgang2242 Instagram fame. She is currently at work on a few novels in verse, picture books, and screenplays. Mary lives in California with her husband, teenage sons, and two quirky dogs (one of whom sings while she plays the piano). Visit her at

Monday, April 8, 2019

Easter Egg Animals

If you’re like me, you have plastic Easter eggs tucked away somewhere… just in case. Since I started teaching I’ve tried really hard not to become a teacher hoarder (some years more successfully than others) and this means getting rid of things I haven’t used in years! So when I came across my leftover stash of Easter eggs, I almost got rid of them. Then inspiration hit and I made Easter Egg Animals!

My first thought was a bee. I used a black marker to draw on some stripes and a white pipe cleaner to make some wings. I tucked the ends of the pipe cleaners into the egg and when I put the two halves together they stayed nicely in place. Some googly eyes made the perfect finishing touch.

Then I picked up the pink egg and I knew it should be a pig! I grabbed a pink pipe cleaner and used some Krazy Glue to attach the legs. Two small pieces for the ears were tucked into the egg like the wings of the bee. This egg had tiny holes in both ends, of which I took full advantage. A curly tail went into one end and a thumbtack with the end cut off went into the other. To make it stay, I used a small piece of eraser on the inside. I love that it still has a hole under its nose so that it looks surprised.

With the green egg I had left, I made a frog. More pipe cleaners helped to make his feet and tongue while small white pompoms became his eyes.
Not only have I used these eggs as Easter decorations, but I’ve also used them to hide around the classroom and practice positional words, to inspire engineering projects and to serve as reading buddies for students.

If you have even more eggs leftover, you should do a Pinterest search on teaching ideas using Easter eggs. There are tons of other ideas. (I highly recommend the Easter egg word families or synonym and antonym egg hunt!)

Thursday, April 4, 2019

How to Track and Easter Bunny- A Book Bite

Well, Sue Fliess is back on the scene giving tips for finding one of our favorites…the Easter Bunny! HOW TO TRACK AN EASTER BUNNY is written in rhyme at a perfect pace to keep your students engaged! There are some amazing ideas in the back too! We’ve written a mini book bite to give you activities to accompany this book at home or school! Hip-hop-hooray!

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Yes, Dragons Get Colds Too!

This book, DRAGONS GET COLDS TOO, is hot off the press, dragon breath and scales included. The hilarious Rebecca Roan has written an irresistible book full of laughs and tips for taking care of your sick dragon. The illustrations from Charles Santoso are eye-catching, and endearing. We’ve created some hands-on fun that will go right along with your copy of the book. Tip: Your dragon will not get well without this step-by-step advice!

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Staff Motivators to Survive the Winter Doldrums

If you are an educator, then you already know that January and February are looooong months. Especially if you live in a region where you don’t get any snow (i.e. SNOW DAYS)! We’ve created some ways for you and your staff to escape the winter blues.
-Fill snack size baggies with mini-marshmallows and make sticker or paper labels that say “Snowman Poop,” “Marshmallow Kisses,” or “Cloud Fluff.” Pinterest has lots of label ideas! Place them in staff mailboxes when no one is around to see you!

-Decorate the staff bathrooms. Hang snowflakes (made by your students) and quotes about happiness and being inspired. Ask your students to give you some quotes of their own. (These usually get lots of laughs from staff members.)

-Sponsor a staff scarf exchange. Invite everyone to clean through their closet or drawers looking for that scarf (or scarves) they never wear anymore. Encourage everyone to wash the scarf before the exchange. Pick a day to bring in the scarves and display them on the table. Then go shopping for a new scarf! (Also, you get to keep a scarf for every scarf you bring in. If you bring in three scarves you take three!) You can also do it anonymously where each participant chooses a name and gives a scarf to the person they choose. No matter which way you exchange, pick a day where everyone wears their new scarf to school. Take a group picture as a keepsake for everyone. If you happen to have any leftover scarves, donate them to a local charity.

-Hot Chocolate Friday: Meet up in the lounge or library to drink hot chocolate. Everyone can bring their favorite kind or ask your PTO or social committee to sponsor the event. Use your hot chocolate Friday to talk about your weekend plans NOT the stressors of work.

-Host a book exchange. Encourage staff members to clean out their bookshelves looking for books for both children and adults. Bring the books in and display them on tables. Have some browsing time then choose your new book(s). For every book you bring in you take home the same amount. Post pictures on social media to spread the book love and to inspire others to have book exchanges too.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

A Chat with Laurie Wallmark

We are extremely lucky to have the talented Laurie Wallmark on our blog! She has wowed us with her books, ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE and GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE, and now she has another must-read. Thank you, Laurie, for giving us an inside look into your writing life and your most recent book.
How long have you been an author?
I’ve been writing for about twenty years now. My first book wasn’t published until 2015, though.

What made you want to become an author?
Unlike many of my kidlit author friends, I wasn’t interested in writing as a child. I was a math and science kid all the way. Other than a few poems and songs, the only writing I did was for school assignments. One day, I had an idea for a middle grade novel, so I decided to see if I could transform that idea into an actual book. I did, and that book became the first step on my path to being a writer. It’s now one of my trunk novels, hidden away, never again to see the light of day.

I’m always on the lookout for women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) whose achievements have been overlooked. In fact, I keep a list of possible subjects for future biographies. Hedy co-invented a vital piece of technology that helps keep our electronic communications safe from hacking, yet most people only know her as a movie star with a pretty face. I wanted to share the achievements of this amazing inventor with the world.

Authors get rejected a lot. What do you do when you get rejected?
It’s hard to have your work rejected, but I try to tell myself that a rejection is only one person’s opinion. Somewhere out there is an editor who will love my book as much as I do. She just hasn’t met my book yet.

All of your published books are about women. Do you have more women-centered books yet to be written?
I have two more women in STEM books coming out in the next two years. The first, Numbers in Motion: Sophie Kowalevski, Mathematician, tells about the life and achievements whose work solves problems as different as calculating the path of a planet or a spinning football. The second book hasn’t been announced yet, so all I can say is it’s another unsung woman in STEM.

What do you do when you’re not writing?
Read. Read. Read.

Describe what it’s like to hear the news that you’ve just gotten a book contract.
It’s incredibly exciting to receive a call that says an editor has fallen in love with your book. (See my previous answer about rejection). Together, you will work to bring out a book that hopefully kids will love, too.

What advice would you give someone who wants to become an author?
A writer writes. You need to work at your craft if you want to become an author. In addition, it helps to develop a thick skin to cope with those inevitable rejections.


Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark’s debut picture book, ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE (Creston Books, 2015), received four starred trade reviews (Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and School Library Journal) and many national awards including Outstanding Science Trade Book and Cook Prize Honor Book. Her picture book biography, GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE (Sterling Children’s Books, 2017), earned a Kirkus star, is a Parents’ Choice Gold Medal winner, and is on several public libraries’ “best of” lists, including New York. Her recently released book is HEDY LAMARR’S DOUBLE LIFE (Sterling Children’s Books, 2019). Laurie has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from VCFA. You can find Laurie on the Web at and @lauriewallmark.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Staff Valentines: An Act of Kindness

Valentines Day is quickly approaching. I love the little notes and cards my students make for me. I’ve had one in particular hanging by wardrobe for seven years now. This year, my class will be spreading kindness across the school by making valentines for the entire staff! It’s been a few years since I’ve done this, and I’m excited to revisit the idea.

First, I get a current staff list from the office to make sure I don’t leave anyone out! From specialists to custodians, cafeteria helpers to gen. ed. classroom teachers, everyone goes on the list! Then I make a Word Doc for the SMARTBoard so that we can all read it easily from around the room. I make sure there’s enough space next to each staff member’s name for me to write the name of the student who chooses to make a valentine for that person. (This helps kids with spelling and provides me with a way to keep track of who’s working on what.) As students pick various teachers, I try to look for connections (She was my sister’s fourth grade teacher! I go to his classroom for reading!) to make the valentines as meaningful as possible. Students trace and cut out hearts using construction paper, write a message and decorate the valentines. Then it’s time to deliver some smiles!

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Do You Want to be a Ninja?

Sue Fliess ( has done it again! She’s written another can’t-resist, must-have, children’s book called, Ninja Camp. Her talented illustrator, Jen Taylor, has created the perfect pictures to take every reader on an authentic ninja camping experience. We wrote a Book Bite to help you and the kids in your life, can become “ninjas of the night” too!