FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN: AN ANIMAL COUNTING BOOK: Six Extension Activities for Families and Classrooms

There’s a new NATURE-LOVING picture book on the trail, just in time for spring hikes and summer explorations with your child. It’s called FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN: AN ANIMAL COUNTING BOOK (Pomegranate Kids, March 15, 2019) and it’s written by Vivian Kirkfield with illustrations by Mirka Hokkanen. It’s a beautiful read and perfect for sparking thoughtful conversations with your little ones about nature – and especially about endangered species.

Here’s the description from the inside flap:  

“Water wakes. Wildlife greets the day and finds shelter, safety, and fun on the river in this lyrical, ecologically oriented counting book. One willow flycatcher, two dragonflies, three kit foxes, and more thrive in their habitat. As kids count, the day turns from dawn to dusk, and the character of the water changes as quickly as a child’s moods. Animals sing, leap, tiptoe, toboggan, hoot, hunt, flit, flutter, and hover. They ride out a storm, bask in waning rays, and tuck in under the silver moon.

Filled with modern wood engravings, Four Otters Toboggan celebrates wild beauty, encouraging readers of all ages to preserve and cherish our planet. After the story is finished, children can read more about each species in the back of the book, conservation efforts, what causes animals to become endangered, and what people can do to protect wild habitats.”

Now, in celebration of the book’s release, and in the hope of sparking some good conversations with your children, here are SIX extension activities for  FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN!  

1. Take a counting hike.  After reading FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN, take your child on their own nature walk through your neighborhood or at a local preserve. Bring along a notebook so they can keep a counting list of what animals, insects etc. they see. With each creature they spot, stop an marvel at what a wondrous gift it is to able to see these animals in the wild.

Here are some creatures my kids and I have spotted over the years:

2. Make your own animal counting book.  Inspired by Vivian’s delightful text and Mirka’s wondrous illustrations (and using the counting list they tallied in the hiking activity), challenge your child to create their own nature counting book.

3. Visit a local nature center.  Extend the lessons of the book by visiting a nature center or museum in your area. For example, all within an hour radius of our our, I have taken my kids to a nature museum by the sea, in the woods, and along the marshes. Some of these museums are tiny, but what they all have in common is that they celebrate and teach about the local species in each of those habitats.  

4. Watch the illustrator create one of the engravings from the story. One of the standout features of this delightful book are illustrator Mirka Hokkanen’s amazing modern wood engravings. With that in mind, older children might enjoy hearing and watching the illustrator herself as she describes the process using the very engravings that appear in the story!  Her presentation has three parts. I’m sharing the second part because it shows her actually engraving the owls from the story!  

Here it is: 

5. Create your own simple engravings.  After watching Mirka describe her process, you children might be inspired to try their own engravings. Here’s a link to a simple block printing project from Art Class Curator that even the youngest child can do.

6. Download the “Otterly Awesome Companion Activity Book for Four Otters: A Counting Book”.  This eleven page booklet includes crafts, coloring pages, puzzles, a hands-on idea page for how to care for endangered species and more! It will provide several sessions of wonderful follow-up conversation and thought.

To learn more about Vivian Kirkfield: https://viviankirkfield.com   

To learn more about artist Mirka Hokkanen: http://www.mirkah.com/books/

To learn more about Pomegranate Kids: https://www.pomegranate.com

Good News! IT’S EASTER!: Five Ways to Engage Little Ones and a GIVEAWAY!

Spring is in the air! And just as the last little piles of snow on my front lawn are melting, look what has arrived on my porch! It’s Glenys Nellist’s newest board book. Published by Discovery House and illustrated by Lizzie Walkley, Good News! IT’S EASTER is an upbeat rhyming introduction to the real meaning of Easter. And today, the author herself, has agreed to share five lovely ways to engage little ones as you read Good News! IT’S EASTER with them. (And in the EXTRA exciting department, Glenys has also offered to give one SIGNED copy of her new board book to one lucky reader! Find out how to enter at the end of the post.) Now, without further ado, here’s Glenys. Enjoy!

FIVE WAYS TO ENGAGE LITTLE ONES WITH GOOD NEWS! IT’S EASTER! by Glenys Nellist

1. Before reading the story, look at the cover together and let your child find and trace the path (featured on every page.)


2. As you begin reading, notice that every page of this book has a picture clue that you can use to invite your child to guess who, or what, will be found when they turn the page over.


3. When you reach the last two pages of the book ask your child to look at the end of the path and ask them what’s changed from the picture on the cover.


4. After reading the story, go on a “good news” hunt in your neighborhood looking for tulips, bunnies, buds, and other signs of spring and new life.


5. Bring the message of the book to life by planting seeds together, enjoy your own Butterfly Kit or take a trip to a butterfly sanctuary or nature reserve where you can observe tadpoles and baby animals. 

Thank you, Glenys, for sharing these ideas for sparking conversation using your lovely new book. To learn more about Glenys and her books visit her website or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

NOW for the GIVEAWAY!!! (Thank you, Glenys!) 

If you’d like a chance to win a FREE  copy of GOOD NEWS! IT’S EASTER written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Lizzie Walkley, let me know in a comment below. (NOTE: Must have U.S. address and at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Friday 3/22/19 at 12:01 am EST. The winner will be announced that day!   THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW OVER. Winner announced HERE.

LOVE IS KIND Valentine Tour: FINAL STOP!

This past Sunday, in celebration of Valentine’s Day, I read LOVE IS KIND to my Sunday School kids. I focused my lesson on what LOVE is and who the author of love is: GOD! Then we had cupcakes and made valentines.

But, oh, how I wish I had waited a Sunday so that I could use this amazing KidMin (Children’s Ministry) Object Lesson created by fellow Zonderkidz author Denette Fretz. She focuses her LOVE IS KIND Object Lesson on the theme “Kindness is a Choice” and ties it in with the Good Samaritan.

Oh, and there are marbles involved and a cute craft and great puppet idea! It’s not to be missed. Here’s the link. And while you are there be sure to check out her growing collection of picture book based KidMin lessons. They are amazing! (And there’s a giveaway!)

BLOG TOUR Stop FOUR: It’s a LOVE IS KIND Valentine Sibling Craft!


CUTE! Time for STOP FOUR of the LOVE IS KIND Valentine Tour and it’s craft time! This VALENTINE BOOK INSPIRED CRAFT FOR SIBLINGS makes a great valentine, but is also fun any time of the year. And the precious conversation that she suggests to accompany the craft is priceless. Head on over to Glitter on a Dime for more on the craft as well as details regarding their book giveaway.

LOVE IS KIND Valentine Blog Tour: STOP THREE

One of the reasons I wrote LOVE IS KIND was to show in fun story form what love and kindness in action could look like. And today I’m excited to be the guest of picture book author Jean Matthew Hall. Please join me over at her blog as we chat about ways to foster kindness in our kids. My hope is that our conversation will inspire you and your little ones to follow in Little Owl’s footsteps and spread love and kindness near and far. (Oh, and there’s a giveaway plus Jean has created a beautiful bookmark freebie!) I’ll make it easy for you. Here’s the link.

Celebrate Valentine’s Day with a LOVE IS KIND Party!

VALENTINE BLOG TOUR KICKOFF!

With its theme that love and kindness can be shown in many ways, LOVE IS KIND is a charming pick for a class or home Valentine’s Day Party. I’ve come up with more ideas than you’d ever use for just one party, so pick the activities that suit your class or home. Happy February! (Only 14 days until Valentine’s Day!)

Gathering Activities:

Play Musical Hearts.  First put on your favorite children’s kindness/friendship themed album.  (We like Raffi at our house.)  Then, using two heart-shaped boxes (or little heart pillows, if you have some) instead of the more traditional “hot potato”, sit in a circle and gently pass the hearts in opposite directions to the music. When the music stops, the children holding the hearts each say something kind to the person holding the other heart. (Ex. You are funny.  I like your striped socks.  You make me feel welcome etc.)

Play Little Owl Hide and Seek.  While one person has their eyes covered, another hides a little stuffed owl, or you could use one of the Little Owl muffin toppers without the toothpick (See link below.) Make sure everyone, except for the person with eyes covered, sees where the owl is hidden.  Then using hoos (like an owl would sound) help the person whose eyes were covered to find the little owl.  No talking or pointing allowed.  Only hoos – soft if they are far and loud if they are close. (Warning:  This game will be a big hit!)

Make Little Owl masks. Ahead of time gather feathers, crayons, glue and string. Then using the Little Owl mask printable found in the LOVE IS KIND Activity Kit, have each child create their own Little Owl Masks. (Note: I recommend printing the masks on card stock weight paper and pre-cutting for younger children.)

The Main Entertainment:

Read the book! For extra fun, have a basket of book-themed props available and after reading, have the kids re-enact the story using stuffed animals and/or themselves. Don’t forget to include three coins and three heart-shaped boxes of chocolates!

More Party Games/Crafts:

Make Valentines: Make old-fashioned Valentines using the heart coloring page in the LOVE IS KIND Activity Kit or cut your own from colored construction paper. Little Owl glued his on a doily. Decorate with markers, stickers and a personalized message.

Decorate Cookies: Prepare heart-shaped or owl shaped sugar cookies ahead of time. Then, have a cookie decorating station where kids can decorate using toothpicks, icing, sprinkles and sugar eyeballs! (To extend the love and kindness theme, consider having them prepare a plate of cookies to give a neighbor or deliver to a nursing home – along with the postcard notes below and/or valentines above.)

Write Love and Kindness Postcards: Illustrator Lison Chaperon created awesome postcard printables to celebrate the release of LOVE IS KIND. Print one (preferably in color) for each child and glue as directed. They are located in the LOVE IS KIND Activity Kit. When dry have your child write a sweet “I love you”  or “Kind thought” message to someone special – perhaps a grandparent or beloved aunt or uncle or teacher. Then affix proper postage and take a trip to the post office to mail! Or have them deliver with some of the cookies they made (above!)

Time for Treats:

Bake muffins (the link below includes a recipe for chocolate applesauce muffins that are both healthy and delicious) or choose your own muffin or cupcake recipe. Then top them with the adorable printable muffin toppers created by Lison Chaperon. Serve with juice or water. Enjoy!

Party Favor Ideas (not necessary but fun!):

Token gift card or coupon for local bookstore or chocolate shop.

Two or three heart-shaped cookies wrapped in cellophane with pink or red ribbon.

A small satchel of foil-wrapped heart shaped chocolates, again wrapped in cellophane or tissue paper and tied with colorful ribbon.

(Note: The link to the LOVE IS KIND Activity Guide is temporarily out of order. Please check back if you’d like to access that.)

Teaching RESPECT with Diva Delores and the Opera House Mouse

Sunday afternoon, I participated in a very special Girl Scout story time at The Book House in Millburn, where Fernando, Delores and I got to share our story, DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE!  Our goal was to help the girls earn their “Respect Myself and Others” Petals.

First, after an animated reading of DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE,  I asked the girls several respect-focused questions about the story.  Here they are, if you’d like to do the same with your class or troop:

What did you think of Delores? Of Fernando? 

Were they respectful to each other? How or how not?

 Were they respectful of themselves? How or how not? 

Did they learn from their mistakes and become better seal/mouse because of it? How?

Next, I had the girls think about their own lives.  How can they show respect for the themselves and others?  As they brainstormed examples, I wrote them down on a master list so we could all refer to them during the craft.  Here are their responses:

Finally, for the craft, I had the girls make Respect Fans.  The fan craft was a twist on the Feathered Fan craft below created by picture book author Rebecca Gomez. If you choose to do this activity, you’ll definitely want to follow this link to get the details on creating Rebecca’s charming feathered fan. 

Our added twist was to write examples showing respect for self and others in each blade.  (This is where the master list was helpful, especially since the girls were still beginning writers.)  Each fan needed to include at least two examples that related to self and two that related to others.  

I think all agreed that the lesson and craft were fun and successful in getting the girls thinking about respect and the many varied ways that it can be shown.

Thank you The Book House for having me, and thank you Daisies, for being such thoughtful, engaged participants.  Finally, thank you Delores and Fernando for letting us learn from your experiences! Happy Reading, all!

GOODNIGHT, MANGER: SIX Nativity Themed Activities for Older Kids (Ages 6 – 8)


My Christmas bedtime story, about trying to put a weepy baby Jesus to sleep in a very noisy stable, was inspired by watching my then preschooler play with the sturdy little nativity we take out each Christmas. Her sweet play led to some wonderful kid-friendly conversations about the true meaning of Christmas. Inspired by that, I recently shared 8 Nativity Activities to Teach Little Ones about Christmas. Today I’m delighted to share six more ideas — this time for slightly older children. Enjoy!

  1. Play “What’s Different at the Manger?” Begin by arranging your family’s indoor nativity with your children, taking time to name and explain the significance of each figure in the nativity. Reflect together at the wonder of the Christmas story. Then, take turns having one family member be the “finder.” The “finder” leaves the room, while the “changer” changes one small thing in the nativity. The “finder” returns. Will he/she be able to figure out what’s different? Take turns until everyone has a chance at both roles. 
  2. Ask 20 Questions “Nativity” Style. First, gather around the nativity with a stack of index cards. Then, brainstorm together single-word components of the nativity. Examples include a manger, Bethlehem, angels, shepherds, Mary, Joseph, and a star. Have the children write a word on each card. Then shuffle the cards. One person selects a card. Without seeing that card, the others must guess what the word is by asking YES/NO questions. After twenty questions, the round is over and the person with the card can share what their word was.
  3. Compare Stories. Pick a nativity-themed picture book to read together. Then compare it to the actual account of the Christmas story from the Bible. See if your children can find three ways the picture book is similar/different from the Bible story. The picture book, for example, may reconsider the story from a different point of view — such as the POV of the animals in the beloved nativity-themed picture book Who Is Coming to Our House? Or it might imagine “what would happen if…” such as in my Goodnight, Manger where I imagine what might have happened if baby Jesus cried. Be sure to wrap up the discussion with the reminder that the deeper truth behind each picture book is that Jesus, our savior, is the amazing gift of Christmas.  
  4. Build Your Own Nativity. This is a big, fun project that can be done individually or as a group and will occupy a nice bit of an afternoon (perhaps while you put your feet up and sip some tea). First, have your children list all the parts needed for a nativity. Next, have the kids decide what their building materials will be — Legos, clay, felt, cardboard? The possibilities are plentiful. Third, decide who will build what (if you are working together). Finally, build! Afterwards, have the children take turns retelling the story using their own handmade nativity.
  5. Go on a Nativity Hunt. Here’s an engaging STEM activity that will get you and your children outside on a crisp day. Walk around your neighborhood (or drive around town) looking for nativity lawn scenes. Younger children can name the figures you see and older children can keep a tally of each distinct finding. Their tallies, for example, could include the number of stables, stars, angels, sheep, and baby Jesus figurines they find. Afterwards, they can create a colorful pictograph to show their results. Be sure to wrap up the conversation with praise and thanksgiving that Jesus loves us and came to save us, and that’s why we celebrate Christmas.
  6. Create a Nativity Book of Poems! A Family Book of Nativity Poems is a great way to celebrate Christmas and create a family heirloom at the same time. Using sturdy drawing paper, have one child design the front cover. Another can design the back cover. Each page of the book will contain an illustrated poem. Using the index cards you created for activity #2, have each child select a nativity-themed word. That word will become the subject of their poem.  Have them write the title of the poem — the word — across the top of the page. Then let each child decide on their poetic form. The poem could be as simple as a deeply felt phrase:  
    Example: (for angels) “The angels sang for joy! La, la, la, LA!!!”
    Or, they might choose an acrostic:
    Example: (for Mary)
    Mother of Jesus Amazing grace Resting by the manger You smiled at Jesus’ face
    Finish off each poem with a beautiful illustration and bind everything together with ribbon through punched holes. 

A version of this post previously appeared on Noelle Kirchner’s amazing blog .  Thank you, Noelle, for having me and for letting me share here!

READ. DISCUSS. DO!: Learn about Opera with DIVA DELORES!

TRA- LA-LA! Today I’m delighted to share a DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE Read. Discuss Do! graphic created by children’s author Rebecca Gomez.  The Read. Discuss Do! (hashtag #ReadDiscussDo) campaign celebrates reading beyond the book by creating sharable images that give simple ideas for book related discussions and activities.  I hope this inspires a little opera investigating (and maybe even some singing) at your house today.   Happy reading, discussing and doing! 

For more DIVA DELORES extension activities, check the Books tab above!

GOODNIGHT, MANGER: 8 Nativity Activities to Teach Little Ones about Christmas

One of my favorite Christmas memories is watching my daughter play with the Baby Jesus that was part of our Christmas nativity. All through December she’d carry him around the house saying things like, “Baby Jesus crying. It’s okay, Baby.”  Then she’d gently feed him or rock him and sing a lullaby. Before listening to her tender play, I’d never thought of Baby Jesus as ever crying. Her sweet play inspired me to write “Goodnight, Manger”, a Christmas bedtime picture book that not only serves as a fun reminder that Jesus was once a baby who cried and felt everything we feel, but which also keeps Christ, rather than Santa, as the focus during the holiday season.   Now, inspired by GOODNIGHT, MANGER, here are:

8 Nativity Activities to Spark Meaningful Conversations about Christmas with Preschoolers


1. Play “I Spy…an angel!” Identify the figures in the Christmas story using the nativity as your playground. After you “spy” each figure, ask simple questions like “Who was Mary?” or “What were the shepherds doing that night?”


2. Play “I Count… three sheep!” Preschoolers love counting. After each count, think about how everyone in the nativity was looking forward to meeting Baby Jesus. Ask them what they think about that.


3. Play “Where is Baby Jesus?” In this variation of hide and seek, take turns hiding Baby Jesus in the nativity (or beyond). Each time you find Him, marvel about how exciting it must have been to see God’s promise for a Savior fulfilled in the birth of a special baby – Jesus!


4. Re-enact the Nativity. Using Luke 2:1-20 as your guide, re-enact the Christmas story using the figurines. Add animal sounds and alleluias to bring the story to life. For extra fun, you can also retell your nativity-themed picture books (such as Goodnight, Manger, for example) using figurines. Be sure to always link back to the all important message that Jesus is the gift of Christmas.  


5. Sing Carols. While holding the appropriate figurines, sing carols that relate to the nativity story.  For example, pretend the angels are flying as you sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” Have the wise men march as you sing “We Three Kings.” Place Baby Jesus in the manger as you sing “Away in a Manger,” etc.


6. Care for Baby Jesus. Just as my daughter did, let your child take care of Baby Jesus. Pretend to gently rock and feed him. Maybe even sing him a tender lullaby. Then be amazed together – that God loves us just like we love little babies. He cares for us and comforts us. His biggest gift ever? Sending Jesus to be the Savior of the world.


7. Make your own nativity figurines. Little ones love anything hands on, so roll up your sleeves and make sheep, shepherds, angels and more using whatever materials you fancy. Play dough, felt, glue, paper, crayons and even blocks are all perfect materials for a fun afternoon of nativity building. 


8. Go on a Nativity Hunt. Here’s a fun activity that will get you and your children outside on a crisp day. Walk around your neighborhood looking for nativity lawn scenes. Name the figures you see and celebrate! This also makes a good activity to keep children busy and engaged while running errands in the car.

A version of this post previously appeared on Noelle Kirchner’s amazing blog .  Thank you, Noelle, for having me and for letting me share here!