Sunday, November 17, 2019

Bears Make the Best Math Buddies

We are super excited about this post! We’ve developed a Book Bite for Carmen Oliver’s BEARS MAKE THE BEST MATH BUDDIES. This adorable math book allows for more than math in the classroom so we just had to share. If you love this book, she has BEARS MAKE THE BEST READING BUDDIES and BEARS MAKE THE BEST WRITING BUDDIES coming in January. These books make great buddies for our students!

Monday, September 30, 2019

Pick a Picture Book Author

Fall is off to a great start because we have an interview with Patricia Toht, author of many irresistible picture books. Read on to find out when she started writing, why she does it, and what the future holds for her. We’ve also included a Book Bite for PICK A PUMPKIN, her latest book, which just happens to be perfect for this time of year!

1. How long have you been an author?
My path has been a long one! When I meet with students, I like to tell them that I started writing before the turn of the century, then I laugh as their mouths drop open. Shortly after I graduated from college, I had a brief go at writing for children (around 1986), but I didn’t try in earnest until 1995, when I stopped working full-time for awhile to stay at home with my four children.

2. What made you want to become an author?
I fell in love with children’s books as a bookseller first. I opened a children’s bookstore in the Chicago suburbs in 1988. Seven years later, Borders, Barnes & Noble, and Super Crown bookstores all moved in a few miles away and siphoned off enough sales to sink us. But my love of selling books eventually grew into a love of writing books.

3. Tell us about your most recent book, PICK A PUMPKIN. Where did you get this idea?
I took a poetry class with Illinois poet Heidi Roemer, which reawakened an affinity for poetry. PICK A PUMPKIN began as a shorter poem about selecting the perfect pumpkin, and it eventually grew into carving a jack-o’-lantern, too. Researching picture books about pumpkins, I couldn’t find any that focused on that process, and I hoped there was a need in the market for a book like that. I soon wrote PICK A PINE TREE, too, and submitted them as companion books.

4. Authors get rejected a lot. What do you do when you get rejected?
Believe me, I don’t always take rejection well! But I read a book by Steven Pressfield called The War of Art, and this quote has always stayed with me:
“So you’re taking a few blows. That’s the price for being in the arena and not on the sidelines. Stop complaining and be grateful.”
I try to remind myself of this. And I’ve also grown to know that writing can be a numbers game. The more you write (and submit), the greater your chance that something will resonate with an editor.

5. You’ve already written PICK A PINETREE and PICK A PUMPKIN. Will there be another PICK A ___ book in the future?
I have a few ideas, but that editor is not interested right now. She wants me to diversify my writing a bit, so I’m working on different things.

6. What’s the hardest part about writing picture books? What’s the easiest?
The easiest for me is coming up with ideas, although I throw out a lot of ideas before I find a really great one. The hardest is the first round of editing with my editor because I’ve worked so hard to make the manuscript the best (I think) it can be before I submit. I can be a crabby re-writer for a few days after my first editorial letter!

7. Can you tell us anything about what you’re working on now?
I have two more books that are in the illustration process. TAXI, GO follows a taxi through the stops and starts of its day, and will be illustrated by Maria Karipidou. TOGETHER WITH YOU is a celebration of grandparents and grandchildren, and pairs me up with Jarvis again!

8. What do you do when you’re not writing?
I’m a library associate in a big, busy middle school. I love it! But I do miss my days working at the public library where I led family storytimes. For me, there’s nothing like a room of “littles” to make my heart happy!

9. What advice would you give someone who wants to become an author? 
It’s not new advice – READ, READ, READ! Because I owned a bookstore, I read hundreds of picture books each season to discern which ones to purchase. I eventually developed an internal sense of picture book rhythm and length, and learned about certain elements like page turns and the “rule of three.” I still check out loads of picture books from my local library. Also, I know that I always have more to learn, so I read craft books, attend conferences, and work with critique partners to improve my writing. (I write for the GROG blog. To learn more about page turns, the rule of three, and how to make a “dummy” of your picture book, check out my posts.)

Bio: Patricia Toht is a poet, picture book author, and school library associate. She once owned a children's bookshop before turning a love of books into a love of writing. She is the author of four picture books - ALL ABOARD THE LONDON BUS, illustrated by Sam Usher, DRESS LIKE A GIRL, illustrated by Lorian Tu, and PICK A PINE TREE and PICK A PUMPKIN, illustrated by Jarvis. Find her online at, on Twitter as @PatriciaToht, and Instagram as patricia.toht. She is represented by Julia Churchill at A.M. Heath (London).

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!