Sunday, May 29, 2022

Children's Books for Better Speech and Hearing Month

Sharing books about main characters with disabilities promotes awareness and acceptance. The three books I will be discussing today also happen to have connections to my summer series on Tips for Connecting Books to Summer Fun. They are all fiction titles, but one is about gardening (albeit in dystopian Australia). One is about wild birds, and another ends with a concert in the park.

A good place to find some of the best books featuring characters with disabilities is on the American Library Association (ALA) website page for the Schneider Family Book Award. The purpose of the award is to honor an author or illustrator for a book that, "...embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences." Every January, the ALA announces winners in the age categories of 0-8, 9-13, and 14-18. Some of the highlights for the recent 2022 awards are below.

The winner in the young children's category was My City Speaks. Photographer Darren Lebeuf and paper artist Ashley Barron have created a visually engaging tale of a girl with a visual impairment and her father as they travel to familiar spots in their city (including a community garden) and finally arrive at a concert stage in the park where she plays the violin.

The winner in the middle-grade category was A Bird Will Soar, by Alison Green Meyers. It is written from the perspective of Axel, a boy on the autism spectrum who loves birds but often finds family confusing. He makes sense of the people around him by comparing them to birds. The insight into Axel's inner thoughts and feelings is part of what makes this book so remarkable. When a storm destroys an eagle's nest, Axel must help a struggling eaglet to heal. The story is filled with poems and lots of interesting bird facts. 

The winner in the teen category was Words in my Hands, written and illustrated by Asphyxia and published by Annick Press. It is an illustrated novel told in a combination of text, paint, collage, and sketch about a girl who is deaf and is living in a slightly futuristic world in Australia filled with food insecurity, political upheaval, and environmental turmoil. It is dystopian but at the same time frighteningly realistic. Ultimately it is a story of resilience and hope as Piper, the main character, strives to create a sustainable garden and find her "voice." Asphyxia, the author/illustrator, is deaf and has included a "Dear Reader" note at the end of the book that shares ideas for how the hearing can be more sensitive and inclusive of people with hearing challenges.

For books about gardening for younger readers, see the books in last week's blog post about Books on Community Gardening and Pollination.

Since May is Better Speech and Hearing Month, you may want to check out the book list I created last November about Children's Books Featuring Main Characters with Speech, Language, Learning, and Hearing Challenges. Because many kids with speech and language challenges also struggle with reading, you may also want to share stories from my list of Children's Books Featuring Main Characters with Dyslexia. Don't forget the list I shared in April for Autism Awareness Month

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.

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.