Sunday, May 22, 2022

Books on Community Gardening and Pollination to Inspire Young Readers by Kristen Wilkinson

Miguel’s Community Garden, written by JaNay Brown-Wood and illustrated by Samara Hardy, is a beautiful, interactive story. The author guides readers to help Miguel find his sunflowers by comparing plant characteristics, such as leaf shape and petal color, which are illustrated in plenty of detail to allow readers to investigate the garden. The diverse cast of characters shows that everyone is welcome at the community garden. The colorful, detailed illustrations will keep kids’ attention while the story guides parents to discuss the different plants they see from spinach to mushrooms. You don’t need to be a plant expert to help Miguel find his sunflowers in time for the garden party!

The Reason for a Flower: A Book About Flowers, Pollen, and Seeds, written and illustrated by Ruth Heller, explains the process of pollination in fanciful verse. Read these two books together with your 6-9 year old child to show how pollination produces many of the foods present in Miguel’s Community Garden.
Explore your own kitchen to find foods that are the result of pollination such as tomatoes, apples or rice. If you have a garden or can visit one, go looking for pollinators like bees and butterflies, and see if you can watch them at work. Make note of which flowers they visit. Then come back in a few weeks to see if a fruit is growing from the pollinated flowers.
Exploring the natural world with your child can be as simple as looking for insects outside your front door. At the Environmental Learning Center, we emphasize that any time spent outdoors is valuable. Kids don’t need a grand adventure to the wilderness; they just need to explore in their neighborhood with a caring adult.  

Kristen Wilkinson is the Program Director for the Colorado State University Environmental Learning Center, an environmental education outreach center in Northern Colorado for children and adults.
Download the FREE PDF on Tips for Connecting Books to Summer Fun. Watch for more book titles and tips coming weekly through the summer. Sign up for the newsletter HERE to keep up with articles and you will receive the free writing template for Travel Trouble.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

5 Tips for Connecting Books with Summer Fun

It’s summer and it is tempting to set aside books for more hands-on activities, but why not explore those activities more deeply by connecting books with summer adventures like planting a garden, exploring science in the kitchen, becoming an inventor, going to a national park, or visiting a zoo?                                                                                                  

Discover book titles to go with each of these activities here on my blog in the summer series I am creating with Kristen Wilkinson, guest blogger and Program Director for the Colorado State University Environmental Learning Center, an environmental education outreach center in Northern Colorado for children and adults. She will be joining us throughout the summer with tips and book reviews.

Kristen and I started by creating the 5 Tips which we will expand on throughout the summer. They may be downloaded in a FREE PDF on my website at where more free PDFs may be found on my page for Parent Resources. If you are an educator, consider sending the PDF or the link home with students to promote summer reading and be sure to check out my page for Teacher Resources.


1. Plant a Garden– Plant zucchini in a reusable shopping bag on an apartment balcony or build a fence trellis with old bicycle wheels for climbing cucumbers. Explore these ideas and more with step-by-step directions and photographs in Grow All You Can Eat in 3 Square Feet: Inventive Ideas for Growing Food in a Small Space by DK Publishing. You may want to participate in a group garden like the main character in Miguel’s Community Garden written by JaNay Brown-Wood and illustrated by Samara Hardy. It’s ideal for ages 3-7. Maybe you’d just like to visit a community garden or attend a local Grower’s Market. For further exploration, SciShow Kids has YouTube episodes on How Does a Seed Become a Plant? and Grow Your Own Plants!

2. Explore Science in the Kitchen – Use those healthy foods you grew in your garden or bought at the Grower’s Market and have fun cooking. Take your culinary adventure one step further by learning the chemical properties of food. Make a science experiment out of the process with Science Experiments You Can Eat (Revised and Updated) written by Vicki Cobb and illustrated by Tad Carpenter. It is perfect for ages 8 and up. SciShow Kids also has a whole series on cooking with science: Baking a Cake with Science, How to Build a Solar Oven, and Why Does Cooking Eggs Make Them Hard?

3. Become an Inventor – Read about real-life inventors in books like Franz’s Phantasmagorical Machine written by Beth Anderson and illustrated by Caroline Hamel. Many items around the house can be used with the suggestions outlined by Temple Grandin in Calling All Minds: How to Think and Create Like an Inventor. If your kids have ideas for inventions that are a little too complicated or dangerous to try at home, send their designs to Kids Invent Stuff The website links to the YouTube channel where you can watch the engineer hosts, Ruth and Shawn, build the inventions of kids ages 4-11. They even offer prizes. Even if your kid’s invention idea is not selected, that’s okay. Submitting a written description along with a video or drawing is a great way to promote summer writing and creative thinking.

4. Visit a National Park  – If you aren’t able to take a big trip, go on a nature walk, visit a local natural area, or take a virtual trip through nature by watching America’s National Parks by National Geographic (Disney+) or Born in the Rockies by Nature (PBS) Either way, start your journey by reading books like National Parks of the U.S.A. written by Kate Siber and illustrated by Chris Turnham or Grand Canyon written and illustrated by Jason Chin. These books can be read aloud to young children or explored on their own by kids ages 7 and up. They are also great resources for adults.

5. Visit a Zoo or Wild Animal Park – If you don’t have one nearby, watch shows like Animals with Cameras by Nature (PBS). Read about the fascinating world of wild animals in books like Make Way for Animals!: A World of Wildlife Crossings written by Meeg Pincus and illustrated by Bao Luu and discover real-life animal heroes in 125 Animals That Changed the World by Brenna Maloney. Read more about wildlife crossings at

Don’t forget to visit your local library or bookstore to find more fun books and ask about their summer reading programs while you are there.

Watch for more book titles and tips including activities for Real-World Writing by following this blog. Sign up for my newsletter HERE to receive the free writing template for Travel Trouble.


Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Autism Awareness Month

I'm very excited to share the news that just out in April, 2022, is a new book about Temple Grandin. She Persisted: Temple Grandin is a chapter book from the She Persisted series written by Lyn Miller Lachmann.   

I interviewed the author, Lyn, in April of 2021 about her challenges with Asperger's Syndrome and her fiction title, Rogue. It's about a young girl on the spectrum who views herself like the X-Men character,  Rogue. It contains biographical connections to Lyn Miller-Lachmann's personal experience with Asperger's. Find that interview HERE.  

There have been several books for children written about (and by) Temple Grandin for a wide range of age groups. Last April, I wrote a post exploring several titles. Find that post HERE.

Another book to check out is I Am Odd, I Am New written by Benjamin Giroux, a child with Asperger's Syndrome when he was ten-years-old.  There is a great post describing the book at Unpacking the Power of Picture Books.  The original poem may be found at the Good News Network.

Check out the recent post from Brooke's Publishing on 13 Ways to Support the Behavior and Learning of Students on the Autism Spectrum.

For additional resources, check out the following websites:

Autism Speaks

Autism Society

Organization for Autism Research


Subscribe to my monthly newsletter HERE and receive a FREE fill-in-the-blank story template PDF called Travel Trouble. Each month you will get updates, activities, and tips about writing and working with students along with book news. 

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Activities for Using WATERCRESS with Older Students


When I worked in the public schools, SLPs and special education teachers were often required to link goals and objectives to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). With that in mind, I thought it might be interesting to look at how one picture book could be used across grade levels to address specific standards. I hope this information will be especially useful for professionals who want to use the same book with students of a variety of ages and ability levels.

The picture book I chose was Watercress, written by Andrea Wang and illustrated by Jason Chin. Earlier this year, Watercress, a picture book based on a childhood memory of the author, won both the 2022 Caldecott Medal as well as a Newbery Honor. Since Newbery titles are typically for older students, this book is a perfect example of a story that is appropriate for students of all ages. Watercress also won the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in the picture book category, making it an excellent book to connect to the social studies curriculum. Find details about Watercress at Neal Porter Books, Holiday House for Young Readers.

For a discussion about the difference between memoir, autobiography, and autobiographical, see my post titled Memoir Vs. Autobiography

For printable downloads of the educator guides in this blog post along with additional educator guides and freebies, visit the Teacher Resources page on my website at

I realize that not every state uses the Common Core. I have also created a version of this blog post that specifically incorporates the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). Whether you are a proponent of CCSS or not, it is intriguing to see how picture books can meet learning objectives for older students. In the activities below, I first describe a specific literacy reading standard and then share an activity that supports that standard.

In fourth grade, the reading standards begin to have a more direct correlation with the anchor writing standard CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.9. In fourth grade and up, a student is expected to apply the grade-level reading standards to draw evidence from a text to support a written analysis. Therefore, the activities for fourth grade and up for reading may also be used for writing.
Grade 3 Standard: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.3.9 Students compare stories written by the same author, and/or stories on a similar subject written by different authors.
Activity: Compare and Contrast Watercress with Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando, also written by Andrea Wang (illustrated by Kana Urbanowicz). Watercress centers on a personal experience of the author while Magic Ramen explores Momofuku Ando and his efforts to combat hunger in Japan after World War II. Discuss as a class how both books deal with hunger in very different ways. Have students write about a personal experience with hunger.
Grade 4 Standard: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.4.6 requires students to compare and contrast first and third-person narration.
Activity: Read Watercress as well as Thank You, Mr. Falker written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco. Both stories are about the personal experiences of the author, but Watercress is written in the first person while Polacco’s book is written in the third person. Discuss the two books and then write about how the different use of Point of View (POV) affects the narration.
For further exploration, share the picture book, The Hundred Year Barn, written by Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Kenard Pak. Although it is written in the first person and sounds like a personal story, it is NOT autobiographical nor is it a memoir. Discuss with students how they can determine if a story is autobiographical by looking at the author’s notes and online interviews. Write a compare and contrast essay including point of view. Have students write an account of a personal experience in the first person. Then write the same account in the third person. Ask them to explain which version they prefer and explain why.
Grade 5 Standard: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.9 By the end of fifth grade, students should be able to compare stories in the same genre specifically in regard to looking at how different authors handle similar subjects.
Activity: As in the fourth-grade activity, Watercress could be compared to the picture book, Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco. Both are picture books, and both are autobiographical, but Watercress focuses on one day in the life of the author, while Polacco’s book covers several years. Expand the conversation of point of view and discuss why each author may have decided to write the story in the time frame they chose. Have students write an account of a personal experience that takes place in the course of one day. Then write about a series of related experiences that take place over several days, weeks, or even years.
Grade 6 Standard: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6.9 By the end of sixth grade, students should be able to compare similar subjects explored across different genres.
Activity: Compare Watercress to Brown Girl Dreaming, told in verse, by Jacqueline Woodson. Her book won the National Book Award and was also a Newbery Honor selection in 2015. It is written as a series of poems starting with her birth, highlighting her young years moving from Greeneville, SC to New York City, and ending with her resolve to become a writer with the encouragement of her fifth-grade teacher. It is recommended for grades 5-6.

For further exploration, compare both books to the chapter book, 26 Fairmont Avenue written and illustrated by Tomie DePaola. It is a 2000 Newbery Honor Book for grades 2-5. Discuss how a picture book, a chapter book, and an autobiography told in verse all written about personal author experiences all became Newbery Honors. Write an essay comparing the similarities and differences between the three books.

Grade 7 Standard: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.7.5 Students analyze how a story’s form affects its meaning.
Activity: Andrea Wang, the author of Watercress first wrote the story as a personal essay. She later rewrote the same story as a picture book. Building on the sixth-grade activity described above, discuss whether or not Watercress could have also been written as a poem, a song, a film, a graphic novel, or a chapter in a longer memoir? Would additional information be required? How would the various forms have affected the story’s impact? For a writing activity, have students use Watercress as inspiration and write about a day in their life. Then rewrite what they have written as a picture book, a poem, a page from a graphic novel, a scene from a play, or a short chapter. Discuss why they chose the form they ultimately picked.

Grade 8 Standard: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.5 By the end of eighth grade, students should be able to analyze multiple texts, discuss the different structures of each one, compare and contrast the texts, and discuss how the different structures affect the meaning and/or style.
Activity: All books listed below are about the personal experiences of popular children’s authors that were written by the author.

Option A: Choose two or three books from the selections previously mentioned or the additional listings below and write a compare/contrast essay focusing on the structure of each book.
Option B: Choose one of the books from the list below and then choose a work of fiction by the same author. Write an essay discussing how the author’s personal experiences may have affected their fiction. Also, discuss how the structure of their personal story differed from the structure of the fictional title selected.


Watercress written by Andrea Wang and illustrated by Jason Chin
Thank You, Mr. Falker written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.
26 Fairmont Avenue written and illustrated by Tomie DePaola.

You may also want to add these additional titles:

Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl
My Own Two Feet: A Memoir by Beverly Cleary
The Tarantula in My Purse and 172 Wild Pets: True-Life Stories to Read Aloud by Jean Craighead George
Woodsong by Gary Paulsen
But I’ll be Back Again by Cynthia Rylant

For teens consider adding:

Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos
Ordinary Hazards: A Memoir by Nikki Grimes

Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy by Sonya Sones

Reference: National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010). Common Core State Standards (English-Language Arts). Washington DC: Author retrieved from

Also, see the Lerner Books post about How to Use Picture Books with Teens and Tweens: Q&A with Literacy Experts.

For more information about teaching students how to write personal narratives, see my book Story Frames for Teaching Literacy: Enhancing Student Learning Through the Power of Storytelling. 

Subscribe to my monthly newsletter HERE and receive a FREE fill-in-the-blank story template PDF called Travel Trouble. Each month you will get updates, activities, and tips about writing and working with students along with book news. 

Monday, February 14, 2022

Memoir Vs. Autobiography: All Our Stories Matter


I've been thinking a lot about memoirs lately. I'm embarrassed to say that in the past I didn't give the genre much value, primarily because I was confusing memoir with autobiography. Autobiography tends to be about someone who is well known and focuses on the formative events that led to their success while a memoir is usually about emotional truth and people who may or may not be famous (at least not until they write a best-selling memoir)! I was under the misguided impression that a person should be a celebrity of some kind or at least have a super interesting life experience to share like being raised by circus clowns or getting stuck on a deserted island.

As a result of the pandemic, I've realized how important all of our stories are. We've had relatives, maybe not even that long ago, who survived pandemic, polio, pox, or plague, otherwise, we wouldn't be here. Wouldn't it be nice if they had left behind a written record of their experiences so we weren't so surprised and unprepared when the coronavirus hit us? Sure, we can all google information about what the Spanish Flu was like in New York City, but what about small-town Texas, or Boise, Idaho? 

Flashing forward a few decades, I think about my yet-to-be-born great-grandchildren. When tragedy strikes, whether it be pandemic, war, economic collapse, or something else, wouldn't it be nice for them to be able to find comfort and strength in family stories? Would it be grand to have something more to rely on for information, experience, and hope, besides the media and whatever they had to say about the last pandemic or whatever? Only a small number of our stories about covid will ever be published. Must our great-grandchildren rely on those stories for their history? I think it's time we start honoring our family stories, and not just the stories about tragedy and loss, but also the stories about our hopes, dreams, and love.

Last year both my father and mother-in-law died, one from a trying illness and one unexpectedly from covid. I wish they had both told me more of their stories.  I found myself with bits and pieces of their lives trying to put together a patchwork quilt with too many missing pieces. I've been going through old photographs, reflecting back on what few stories they told me of their childhood, and talking to people who knew them when they were young. 

The need for this investigation feels even more urgent because our first grandchild was born between the two deaths. Exactly six weeks after one, and ten weeks prior to the other. It's an important reminder that life goes on, but how will she understand where she came from if these stories are lost? On a similar note, how will she know my story if I don't write it down? Oral storytelling is becoming a lost art, so if we don't write down our stories, they most likely will be lost. 

As I consider how to capture the stories I want to pass along, I've been contemplating the difference between memoir and autobiography. Below is a brief look at the major differences between the two. I'm not an expert on the subject, so if you want more information, look at the sources I used:, For tips on how to use mentor texts to encourage memoir writing in kids, see Bridging the Gap: Reading Critically and Writing Meaningfully to Get to the Core by Lesley Roessing, M. Ed. For a list of top adult memoir books, see the Writer's Digest post 19 Memoirs Aspiring Memoir Writers Should Consider Reading. 


TIMELINE: An autobiography typically follows a straight chronological timeline, starting with birth and covering a person's life to date. A memoir can move back and forth in time or cover one small segment of time like a day in the life,  a summer romance, or a person's formative years. Memoir may move through time chronologically but emphasize just one aspect of a person's life such as the relationship with a parent or overcoming a fear of public speaking.

SUBJECT: As mentioned above, an autobiography is usually about someone famous or well known and focuses on facts and experiences that led to their fame while a memoir can be about anyone and tends to be about emotions or ideas. Memoir may stick close to the truth or deviate from facts since this form relies on memories, which we all know can be faulty.  Leslie Roessing, M. Ed., is a featured author in my book, Story Frames for Teaching Literacy: Enhancing Student Learning Through the Power of Storytelling (Brookes Publishing, 2021). She wrote the chapter entitled, "Memoir: Writing Our Lives," and states on p. 203, "Memoir is based on how writers remember events and what those events meant to them. Memoir differs from personal narrative in that memoir includes reflection on the importance of the persona, place, memento, or event, while personal narrative is a story of events as they happen."The emphasis is on using facts for the purpose of relating an emotional truth with more weight given to the idea than the validity of the facts. On the other hand, because of its stricter focus on facts, autobiography often includes references to world events, which should be portrayed with accuracy. Historians often use autobiographies in their research making the emphasis on truth even more important.

STYLE: An autobiography tends to use a more formal style with language that is to the point while a memoir can be more casual or even humorous and may contain figurative language. Both tend to be written in the first person (I), but are sometimes written in the third person (he, she) as if being told by someone else.


Another term that can be misleading is the word autobiographical. It is often used to refer to an autobiography, but sometimes a fictionalized story has autobiographical elements. Stories can be inspired by true events and contain very little actual truth. On the other hand, sometimes fiction based on real-life experiences contains more emotional truth than a straight retelling of the facts. 


Reflecting on these terms makes me wonder if there is a form of biography that is similar to memoir where we might have the license to write about the emotional truth of another person and fill in the blanks where information is missing. Then again, can we ever know someone else's truth? I suppose that is another good reason to write our own story. If we don't do it, someone else might do it for us.

Subscribe to my monthly newsletter HERE and receive a FREE fill-in-the-blank story template PDF called Travel Trouble. Each month you will get updates, activities, and tips about writing and working with students along with book news. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2022


Caldecott Medal Winner
Newbery Honor Book
APALA Award Winner 

I'm so excited to share the news that Watercress, written by Andrea Wang and illustrated by Jason Chin, received three major book awards this week at the American Library Association 2022 Midwinter Meeting. Hopefully, you've heard of the Caldecott and Newbery Awards, but you may not be familiar with the APALA award from the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association. Its mission is to address the needs of Asian/Pacific American Librarians and the communities they serve.

In early summer of 2021, Andrea appeared on a panel with me, author Beth Anderson, and author/illustrator Dow Phumiruk. The topic was on Promoting Storytelling With Your Kids. The discussion and video are available on my blog with a link to the FREE PDF of the handout - Picture Books For Reminiscing. The handout includes questions for each of the picture books we discuss during the panel including Watercress. These questions may be used at home or in the classroom for any age group to stimulate discussing and writing about about personal experiences. The panel event was hosted by a local Denver bookstore, Second Star to the Right. If you are in the Denver area, check and see if they still have signed copies of Watercress available. I'm sure they are going fast!

I was not surprised that Watercress won the Caldecott given to "... the artist of the most distinguished American Picture Book for Children." Jason Chin's masterful watercolor illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to Andrea's story - an account of a personal childhood experience picking watercress from the side of the road with her Chinese immigrant parents. I was surprised and delighted, however, to learn that this quiet yet powerful picture book also won a Newbery Honor. Newbery books are typically for older students. Take for example, the recent Newbery Medal winner, The Last Cuentista, by Donna Barba Higuera. This novel for ages 10-14 is a bit more typical of the age range of books that usually win a Newbery. Read more about all of the 2022 Newbery and Caldecott Medal and Honor winners at 

What excites me most about Watercress winning a Newbery Honor, is that it demonstrates that narrative non-fiction picture books are not just for little kids. I have long been an advocate for promoting the use of picture books with older students. I hope that this award will encourage librarians and other educators to share Watercress, Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre (A Caldecott Honor Book), and other compelling and important picture book titles with older elementary school students and teens.

For specific tips on sharing these and other narrative non-fiction picture books with teens, see my article - Not Just for Little Kids: Five Reasons to Use Picture Books with Older Students over at Beth Anderson's blog. She was another author on the panel with Andrea Wang. Watch for Beth's new book, Revolutionary Prudence Wright: Leading the Minute Women in the Fight for Independence illustrated by Susan Reagan available February 1. Preorder now! Read the blog article by Sandy Brehl to learn more about the book.

The book giveaway on Beth's blog ended in November, but the tips are still invaluable. The winner of that giving away was Lillie Pardo, an intervention specialist teacher in California. Congratulations, Lillie!

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Saturday, November 13, 2021


This week I'm over at Beth Anderson's blog sharing my new article - Not Just for Little Kids: Five Reasons to Use Picture Books with Older Students. In promotion of Beth's blog, I'm giving away a FREE copy of Story Frames for Teaching Literacy: Enhancing Student Learning Through the Power of Storytelling.

Just leave a comment on her blog for a chance to win a FREE book. Be sure to read the article for tips on how to use narrative fiction picture books with older students. For instance, did you know that many picture books have a similar or even higher Lexile than chapter books or novels. Consider that the highly acclaimed The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway has a Lexile of 610L while the picture book, Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille, written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Boris Kulikov has a similar Lexile of 590L. Even more interesting, Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie has a Lexile of 860L. Head over to Beth's Blog to learn more.

On a separate note, Brookes Publishing is offering a 20% discount for my book and many others at the Brookes IDA Virtual Bookstore through December 24, 2021 in honor of the recent International Dyslexia Association Conference. Just use the code IDA2021 to get 20% off your purchase including Nancy Hennessy's new book, The Reading Comprehension Blueprint: Helping Student's Make Meaning from Text.

Hennessy was generous enough to let me use one of her visuals for expository text in Story Frames. Her books is full of practical and useful tools for teachers. 

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