Twenty Surprises and Successes in 2020

I have joined the 12 Days of Christmas with Julie Hedlund Facebook group for writers, and on Day 2 of the 12-day challenge we were asked to share 2020 surprises with the group, and on Day 3 to post our 2020 successes on our blogs.  I decided to combine the two and post both on my blog – it is a list that includes a combination of personal and professional surprises and successes, and isn’t in chronological (or alphabetical) order. 

  1. When my youngest child turned 18 in February, I became the proud mama of four young adults.  It is surprising how fast 18 years flies by – my sweet little baby became a beautiful young woman in the blink of an eye – just as her three older siblings before her (well, my two baby boys became handsome young men).
  2. I was invited to join the Board of Trustees of the Friends of the Library, Montgomery County. I am very excited to be part of this wonderful group that supports the good work of our public library system.
  3. I am on the planning committee of the Gaithersburg Book Festival, and coordinate the workshops for children and teens. We successfully converted our amazing one-day hometown festival into a month-long virtual event.
  4. I was able to invest in several professional development opportunities throughout the year: ALA eCourse Leading from the Library, Maryland State Department of Education’s Teaching Online in Maryland, shadow facilitator for another MSDE course, and trained to teach literacy using the Orton-Gillingham multisensory method.
  5. In August I decided to take the plunge and invest in my dream of becoming a children’s author and joined Storyteller Academy.  The courses and instructors have been so informative, helpful, and inspiring!  I am thankful for Kathy Halsey, a fellow school librarian, and my critique group, too. 
  6. I have also joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and am excited for their upcoming Winter Conference!
  7. I have written five picture book manuscripts and started submitting to agents and publishers.
  8. I have participated in one pitch party #PitMad and got a couple of hearts.
  9. I presented Leading from the Library at the Montgomery County Public School – School Library Media Program annual professional day and at the Maryland Association of School Librarians annual conference.
  10. I am the lead teacher for our school’s CARES Enrichment Program, which provides free tutoring for students who need a little help building their confidence with reading.
  11. Despite the pandemic, I was able to get to the beach twice this summer – Old Orchard Beach in Maine and Rehoboth Beach in Delaware. Putting my feet into the sand and feeling the power of the ocean revives my soul. While in Maine, I got to lie down on the beach, listening to the roar of the ocean waves, as I watched the Perseids meteor shower. Magical!
  12. I was again able to be a mentor for the NEED Project / Exelon STEM Innovation + Leadership Academy for teen girls, and helped create a series of professional skills workshops.
  13. In addition to my library media lessons, I have hosted monthly Zoom bedtime read alouds for my students. I strive to build a community of readers and dreamers!
  14. I have been able to participate in three Zoom meetings at once – using three different emails and devices.  Wouldn’t have been able to do this in person!
  15. I have attended virtual workshops and conferences that I wouldn’t have been able to attend during a typical school year.  Notables were KidLit Rally 4 Black Lives, Empowering Educators Conference with Jason Reynolds and the Mazza Weekend Conference.
  16. I have lost track of how many children’s books I have read this year, but because of the pandemic and distance learning, I have been able to spend more time walking my dog and listening to adult fiction and nonfiction as well as middle grade novels. I am constantly in awe of the amazing new books that are published each year.
  17. I have been able to spend more time taking care of myself – eating healthy and exercising – and finally taking care of some medical issues that I had been putting off for a very long time.
  18. My flower beds (wildflowers, daisies, and peonies) were just beautiful this year, and my mammoth sunflowers grew to 12-14 feet tall in my little backyard sunflower patch!
  19. I have had more time to build and nurture relationships with my friends and colleagues.
  20. My family and I were able to stay connected via video chat, text, and Zoom calls.  And the occasional socially-distant face-to-face visits.

My goals this year are to continue helping others, continue letting my creativity flow, continue challenging myself, and continue spending time with friends and family. Here I come, 2021!

Osiyo Native American Heritage Month

Osiyo (hello in Cherokee)!

During the month of November – Native American Heritage Month and Picture Book Month – my lessons focused on the beautiful picture books Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard (illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal),  We are Gratitude: Otsaligeliga by Traci Sorell (illustrated by Frané Lessac), and We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom (illustrated by Michaela Goade).  It is incredibly important to share books that serve as windows, mirrors, and sliding doors, and I strive to help my students find text-to-life connections with all books.

Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story  is a lovely book about the importance of fry bread by explaining it in terms of the senses – how it feels, tastes, looks, smells, and sounds.  The ample backmatter further explains how “the story of fry bread is the story of the American Indians: embracing community and culture in the face of opposition.” My Fry Bread lesson includes an author interview, recipe video, read aloud, and discussion questions. 

We are Gratitude: Otsaliheliga takes the reader through a year of seasons, beginning and ending with the season of uligohvsdi (fall/autumn) the Cherokee New Year.  This story reminds us to be grateful every day,  in every month, in good times, and in sad times. My We Are Gratitude lesson includes not only an interview with Traci, but a read aloud video, and information about pileated woodpeckers, stomp dancing, and cane flutes.

We Are Water Protectors is a powerful book about the need to safeguard Earth’s water supply.  The artwork by Michaela Goade is stunning! I loved her art so much I found her Etsy store and ordered her beautiful Moonrise print. My We Are Water Protectors lesson includes a read aloud by the author and lots of additional information that helps students understand the importance of water to Indigenous people (and all of us!) and about the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Additional resources that may be helpful to readers of my blog:

Carole Lindstrom

Book Reading & Interview: https://youtu.be/2YHaRmj9wLU

Children’s Book Podcast:  https://www.matthewcwinner.com/post/carole-lindstrom-and-michaela-goade

Website:http://www.carolelindstrom.com/

Emily Arrow

Read Aloud & Song https://youtu.be/OmsGDCimLK8

Frané Lessac

Website: https://franelessac.com/

Juana Martinez-Neal

Interview: https://youtu.be/ghu66fEFVHI

Interview: https://youtu.be/-ZVTdxFgRRE

Website: https://juanamartinezneal.com/

Kevin Noble Maillard

Children’s Book Podcast: https://lgbpodcast.libsyn.com/kevin-noble-maillard-and-juana-martinez-neal

Interview: https://youtu.be/ocPWdWPiCgs

Virtual Storytimes: https://youtu.be/ZGoPq2CeJdw and  https://youtu.be/od-7XLABK2o

Michaela Goade 

Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/shop/MichaelaGoade

Website: https://www.michaelagoade.com/

TeachingBooks 

Website:  https://www.teachingbooks.net/

Traci Sorell 

Interview: https://youtu.be/qsIxsPDOVoA

Website: https://www.tracisorell.com/

Wado (thank you) for reading my blog, and donadagohvi (until we meet again).

Ms. McDonald, Look Behind You!

In my county in Maryland, we have been teaching virtually since March. Beginning in May, I began hosting a virtual monthly bedtime read aloud, with themes such as family, love, friendship, and positive self-esteem.  The month in which we had the most fun was October.  My Halloween-themed read aloud included titles such as Creepy Carrots, Creepy Pair of Underwear, Monster Trucks, Stumpkin, Ten Little Pumpkins, The Pomegranate Witch, and Zombies Don’t Eat Veggies!

A good friend of mine created an amazing wall display of the ten pumpkins, complete with their individual personalities, and a pomegranate tree and witch silhouette. Orange lights, witch’s hat, pumpkin, and electric candles completed the spooky atmosphere of my office. My mom dressed up as a witch, and came from behind me with pomegranates so that I could show them to my students, my awesome principal dressed up as (what I called) an Elton John look-alike, and read Turkey Trick or Treat and shared “corny” Halloween jokes between my readings.

While all books were well received by our students, it wasn’t until I read Aaron Reynold’s and Peter Brown’s books that my listeners screamed with excitement!   My talented friend had created stick puppets of Jasper Rabbit, the three creepy carrots, and the creepy Frankenstein underwear, and as I read the stories, she knelt on the floor and had them pop up and dance behind me.  It was sooo much fun seeing my students light up, so excited, and trying to warn me of their existence. They screamed so loud that my media assistant kept trying to ‘mute all’, so they could hear me read, but they didn’t care if they could hear the stories – they knew them by heart – and they were desperate to warn me!

At the end of the event we had a Zoom costume parade, and “pinned” each student that wanted to show off their costume.  While this wasn’t our typical in-school Halloween celebration, it certainly did help to fill that need to be together on a fun and creepy holiday.

What fun we adults had putting this Halloween reading celebration together for our students!

  • Creepy Carrots written by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Peter Brown
  • Creepy Pair of Underwear written by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Peter Brown
  • Monster Trucks written by Anika Denise and illustrated by Nate Wragg
  • Stumpkin written and illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins
  • Ten Little Pumpkins written by Rosie Greening and illustrated by Lara Ede
  • The Pomegranate Witch written by Denise Doyen and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler
  • Turkey Trick or Treat written by Wendi Silvano and illustrated by Lee Harper
  • Zombies Don’t Eat Veggies created by Jorge and Megan Lacera

#BeWhoYouAreDay

Todd Parr’s first annual #BeWhoYouAreDay was a fantastic celebration of diversity. I adore Todd’s illustration style, his thoughtful topics, and his letter to the reader at the end of each book.  I am slowly building my home library collection of Todd Parr books for my future grandchildren (and for me).   

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg had died shortly before I created my lesson around #BeWhoYouAreDay, and I included a lesson about her as she definitely lived a life of being true to herself everyday!   

My lesson plan is here – in it I include a video from Todd to his readers and lots of encouragement for my students to celebrate their uniqueness. Below is a beautiful example of #BeWhoYouAreDay art that one of my sweet Falcons created.  I hope that my students will take the important social-emotional messages and carry them close to their hearts as they go through life.

Dot Day Dreamers

I take Peter H. Reynold’s International Dot Day seriously, and want to ensure that my students have a chance to participate in the celebration and make their mark. Being creative, courageous, and collaborative are important skills to hone!   I typically celebrate for two weeks, giving my students a chance to enjoy reading The Dot again, and then I also share additional books that are dot-related.

The first week we started off with a scavenger hunt to find something round or something with dots on it.  I gave the kids two minutes to find something and bring it back to share, Then, I read The Dot and we discussed it’s meaning.  We got up and danced to Emily Arrow’s Dot Song video. Then we watched the wonderful KidLit TV video of Peter creating Dot Dreamers, and created our own. Some of my favorite Dot Day Dreamer drawings are below:

The second week we read Mixed: A Colorful Story by Arree Chung.  As with The Dot, this is a book with multiple layers of meaning, and we did have some great discussions about it. A link to my week 1 & 2 Dot Day lessons are here.

The second week, with my youngest students, we read Hervé Tullet’s Press Here and Let’s Play!  and I attempted to get the kids up and moving with their hands and bodies.  This works so much better in person, when I give them a primary color dot to hold on to, and ask them to move it – but we did our best on Zoom. The kids then drew pictures of how they would play with their yellow dot – a few playful examples are below!

Our annual Dot Day celebration and the art that my Dot Day Dreamers create is always so wonderful to see!

Read Alouds & Lunch Doodles

In these days of COVID-19 and wanting to help my students find comfort in hearing (and seeing) their school librarian read to them, I created The Creative Librarian YouTube channel [note: these are now unlisted]and have been regularly posting videos on it.  I know many educators and administrators around the United States are doing the same thing, and it is so heartwarming to see how this is helping bring our communities together (virtually).  I have also been overjoyed to see how many authors and illustrators are creating blog posts, videos, and additional activities for their readers.

Just a few  of them are below:

Happy reading, viewing, listening, and creating!

Omu’s Thick, Red Stew

Anyone who knows me knows that I like to include music and movement in my lessons – especially for my primary grades.   This year’s JumpStart Read for the Record picture book selection, Thank  you, Omu! written and illustrated by Oge Mora had a wonderful music and movement circle time activity for my prekindergarten and kindergarten students. 

I printed and laminated enough of the veggies for a whole class, and brought in a plastic pot and spoon for them to drop the veggies in as we sang and I stirred (and they pantomimed) Stir, Stir, Stir the Stew. Singing and moving to If You’re Thankful and You Know It brought out lots of smiles and laughter among the kids (and adults) in the library.

My first graders explored adjectives that described Omu, drew a picture of her, and wrote a sentence using lots of adjectives. With my second graders, they also explored adjectives to describe her stew, and wrote a sentence about it in addition to drawing and writing about Omu.

As I always do when there is one, I shared the author’s note, as well as a few (there are many!) of the awards the author has received because of her beautiful work. 

I was first introduced to this book when Matthew Winner interviewed Oge Mora on his Children’s Book Podcast in 2018.   This debut picture book was written in homage to Oge’s grandmother’s generous spirit (and her tasty stew).  The beautiful illustrations help the reader to see how the scent of Omu’s thick, red stew pulls her neighbors together as a community.  Omu’s giving spirit is returned to her in a special way at the end of the story.

I sent home a copy of the Thank You, Omu! Activity Guide for Families, in both English and Spanish and encouraged my students to ask their families to cook a big pot of their favorite family recipe and share it with their neighbors.    I hope they did!

Don’t Worry, Get Happy with Paul Noth

The 10th Gaithersburg Book Festival is right around the corner, and I am excited to share the third in my trilogy of interviews with GBF featured children’s authors.   Paul Noth will be a featured author paired with Jonathan Roth for both their book presentations, and a children’s workshop entitled Creating Characters with Character, where Noth and Roth will help elementary age kids come up with characters that are fun, interesting and have meaning to the creator. They will brainstorm ideas, draw figures, come up with meaningful motivations and, of course, cool character names.

Paul Noth, known for his witty cartoons regularly appear in the New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal, has also written for Late Night with Conan O’Brien and The Late Late Show, among other television shows.  He hasn’t been known as a KidLit author till of late. He is the author of How to Sell Your Family to the Aliens (April 2018) described by School Library Journal as “Strange and original with just the right amount of juvenile humor, this story features odd and endearing characters and a wonderfully weird plot.” At the Gaithersburg Book Festival he will be speaking about  How to Properly Dispose of Planet Earth (January 2019), which Kirkus Reviews states that it is … “a story where everyone deserves to be the main character.”   Coming in September 2019 is How to Win the Science Fair When You’re Dead which promises to be another “laugh-out-loud” funny book for middle grade readers.    

How did your journey take you from The New Yorker, Wall Street Journal, and evening talk shows, to children’s books?

I’ve always wanted to write both picture books and children’s novels. Once my work started appearing regularly in the New Yorker, several agents reached out to me asking if I had ideas for kids’ books, so that provided the opportunity.

What is one (or more) thing(s) that you really want your readers to know about you?

Sometimes I think the less they know about me the better. I like my books and cartoons to speak for themselves. But if they have to know something, it’s that I have two dogs, Watson and Biscuit.

Who is the student you are writing for?  Describe him/her.

He or she treasures funny books and cartoons as much as I do.

What are you most looking forward about the Gaithersburg Book Festival (can be more than one thing ;-D )

I’m really looking forward to collaborating with Jonathan Roth again. He and I hit it off last time. We work well together.

When you tell other authors and illustrators about GBF, what do you say?

I say it’s a great festival and well worth the trip.

What message do you have for your readers?

Thank you for reading my books! I know the second one, How to Properly Dispose of Planet Earth ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, but book 3, How to Win the Science Fair When You’re Dead is out in September!

What message to you have for educators, and especially for school librarians?

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Please visit www.paulnoth.com for more information about him!

Gaithersburg Book Festival will be held on May 18, 2019, 10 am – 6 pm on the grounds of Gaithersburg City Hall.  Visit the website here!

Paul’s books will be available for sale at the Politics and Prose Book Store tent.

Paul Noth and Jonathan Roth

Author Presentation:  Begins at 12:15 pm

Location:  Willa Cather Pavilion

Children’s Workshop: Creating Characters with Character

Time: 11:15-11:45 am

Location: Children’s Workshops Tent

Exploring the Amazing Natural World with Susan Stockdale

The 10th Gaithersburg Book Festival is right around the corner, and I am excited to share the second in my series of interviews with GBF children’s authors! Susan Stockdale is a local author / illustrator and a true gem – her books are fantastic, fabulous, and just plain awesome.  

Susan will be leading a children’s workshop entitled Let’s Create Fabulous Fishes!  (10:15 – 11:00 am in the Children’s Workshop Tent).  She will read her picture book, Fabulous Fishes, then guide children in exploring different fish shapes, colors and patterns to create their own fish using oil pastels on black paper. Then the young artists will complete their art piece by adding a title to their artwork.

I caught up with Susan in April and want to share our conversation about her research and artistic process.

Your picture books – especially Fantastic Flowers and Fabulous Fishes – have a definite joyful feeling to them – what inspires you to create your books? 

I want to excite young children about our amazing natural world, which is always my muse. As a former textile designer, I delight in finding patterns in everything I paint, and nature presents a treasure trove of them.

Can you tell me about your art?  Your books indicate that the art medium is acrylic on paper.  What is your creative process?  How large are your paintings for your picture books? Do you create art using other mediums?

I gather reference photos of my subjects, create many pencil drawings of them and select those I like best for my final illustrations. I submit my drawings to scientists for their feedback to ensure they are factually accurate and revise as necessary. I then trace each drawing onto Bristol paper. For each color, I apply many layers of acrylic paint to give the image a flat, crisp appearance. I work solely in acrylic, my favorite medium, and my paintings are the same size featured in my books.

As a school library media specialist, I teach my students the importance of using multiple reliable sources for research, and citing sources.  I love that each of your books include a thanks to specific experts that helped with your research, a visual glossary, and a bibliography at the end.  Some include an interactive activity.  Can you tell me about your research process?

I research my subjects in magazines, books and reputable online resources; consult closely with scientists; visit natural history museums, zoos and other venues; and, when possible, view my subjects in their natural habitats. My most exotic research trips have been to Africa and the Galapagos Islands. Once I’ve gathered sufficient information on my subjects, I begin writing my manuscript. The poem always comes first, followed by the addendum.

Some of my research resources for Stripes of All Types: (l-r) books; websites; a trip to Costa Rica; visits to museum exhibitions; consultant Dr. Kris Helgen, former head of the Mammal Division at the National Museum of Natural History


Your picture books are wonderful examples of nonfiction genre of animals, and of poetry.  Why did you decide to write your books in a lyrical, rhythmic, and rhyming form?

I didn’t make a conscious decision to write in rhyme when I began creating children’s books. This form just came naturally to me. I’m sure it’s because my mother, a published poet, rhymed words together all the time when I was little. This had a wonderful influence on me. I love how rhythmic rhyme engages children in a fun and musical way. Children learn to anticipate the rhyming word and make predictions, so rhymes help them learn to read.  

What message do you have to students about the importance of research?

Research is essential to conveying accurate facts. I particularly enjoy the surprising information I uncover while researching, such as how Red-billed Oxpeckers “hiss when started, alerting their hosts to possible danger.” I included that fact in my Bring On the Birds addendum.

What is a message from you that I can share with my educator colleagues

Encourage students to read more nonfiction. It sparks their curiosity and opens their minds to the world. It helps them develop background knowledge they need to be academically successful. Also, studies show that reading more nonfiction early on helps children reach the appropriate reading levels in later grades.

What is a message from you that I can share with my students?

When I present at schools, children often tell me that “when I grow up, I want to write and illustrate books.” My response? You don’t have to grow up to do this! You can create your own books now. All you need is a few pieces of paper folded in half, a pencil, and an idea. Have fun!

To learn more about Susan and her books, please visit her website here.

Let’s Create Fabulous Fishes!

TIME: 10:15 am – 11:00 am

LOCATION: Children’s Workshops Tent

AUDIENCE: Elementary School students

Gaithersburg Book Festival will be held on May 18, 2019, 10 am – 6 pm on the grounds of Gaithersburg City Hall.  Visit the website here!

Susan’s books will be available for sale at the Politics and Prose Book Store tent.

Outta this World with Jonathan Roth


The 10th Gaithersburg Book Festival is right around the corner, and I am excited to share the first in my series of interviews with GBF featured children’s authors!  Jonathan Roth will be a featured author paired with Paul Noth for both their book presentations, and a children’s workshop entitled Creating Characters with Character, where Roth and Noth will help elementary age kids come up with characters that are fun, interesting and have meaning to the creator. They will brainstorm ideas, draw figures, come up with meaningful motivations and, of course, cool character names.

Roth is the author and illustrator of the Beep and Bob chapter book series.   Currently, there are four in the series:  Too Much Space!, Party Crashers, Take Us to Your Sugar, and Double Trouble (he also has the Astro Adventures boxed set).  In this fun-loving chapter book series that School Library Journal said is for “kids who love funny stories but may be too young for books like ­Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” timid space-school attendee Bob and his new alien best friend Beep (who thinks Bob is his mother) find themselves thrown into hilarious intergalactic adventures. 

Roth is also an art teacher with Montgomery County Public Schools, and I caught up with him during spring break. 

Who is the student you are writing for? 

I’m writing for the newly independent reader who I’m hoping will fall in love with books and reading. The stakes are high, because today’s kids have so much flashy lights competing for their attention. But good characters and stories can get right to the heart like nothing else, and I’m particularly aiming for students who like humor, adventure, friendship stories and space.

How do you balance being a teacher and an author/illustrator?   How much time are you able to spend daily or weekly on your own writing and art projects?

Teaching is very rewarding but…exhausting. I mostly write on weekends and breaks. I’m more apt to do illustration work in the evenings after school, or tasks relating to the business end of things. I definitely get a lot done in the summer!

What are you most looking forward to about the Gaithersburg Book Festival (can be more than one thing 😊 )?

I always discover great books and authors at the event! The line up for children’s and teen books is really first rate, and I’m honored to be on the roster for the second time. I’m also looking forward to it not raining this year! (Hope I didn’t just jinx it…) We also hope you didn’t!

When you tell other authors and illustrators about GBF, what do you say?

I’ve been attending since year one, and I tell them how lucky I am to have one of the best general book festivals in the country almost in my backyard! If they haven’t yet, I hope they can experience it one day, either as attendee or speaker.

What message do you have for your readers?

Thank you for reading, Beep, Bob and I really appreciate it! If you liked book one, be sure to read all four! And if you didn’t like book one, read all four anyway, because they’re bound to get better. Also, I love when you send me questions, thoughts or cool character drawings.

What message to you have for our follow educator colleagues, and especially for school librarians?

Thank you for all you do! I may be biased, but I believe teaching kids to be good readers and getting good books in their hands is one of society’s most important missions. These kids are the future and it’s in all our best interest for them to be well read, creative and critical thinkers. Or, to sum up more succinctly: teachers and librarians rock!

Jonathan Roth’s Beep and Bob website is here: http://beepandbob.com/

For the Beep and Bob Activity Kit, click here!

Gaithersburg Book Festival will be held on May 18, 2019, 10 am – 6 pm on the grounds of Gaithersburg City Hall.  Visit the website here!

Jonathan’s books will be available for sale at the Politics and Prose Book Store tent.

Jonathan Roth and Paul Noth    

Author Presentation:  Begins at 12:15 pm

Location:  Willa Cather Pavilion

Children’s Workshop: Creating Characters with Character

Time: 11:15-11:45 am

Location: Children’s Workshops Tent