WHEN YOUR LLAMA NEEDS A HAIRCUT: 6 Extension Activities for Two to Four Year Olds

IMG_5747This week I’m delighted to share with you Susanna Leonard Hill’s ADORABLE new board book WHEN YOUR LLAMA NEEDS A HAIRCUT, illustrated by Daniel Wiseman and published by Little Simon.  It’s the third in her WHEN YOUR… series and just as cute as the first two.  Now, to celebrate reading in general – and this book in particular – here are six  book-themed extension activities perfect for 2 – 4 year olds. So, invite your darling little ones to find a good spot to read… and then extend the fun with one, two, or all of these activities (which rhyme, by the way, just because).

WATCH A LLAMA CLIP! CLIP!! After reading WHEN YOUR LLAMA NEEDS A HAIRCUT, you and your little ones might be wonder what it looks like when a real llama gets a hair cut.  If so, grab your tablet and watch some llamas getting hair cuts with this short but fun youtube video from Galloping Winds Ranch in Florence, Texas:


2. TAKE A HAIRY FIELD TRIP! After reading WHEN YOUR LLAMA NEEDS A HAIRCUT, you and your little one may decide it’s time to get your own buzz or trim.  Take along the book and read it while the stylist snip, snips.

3. CREATE A SNAZZY HAIRDO (without scissors)!  After enjoying all the snazzy llama hair-do possibilities, you and your little ones may decide you want to give each other hair-dos.  Make sure there are no scissors in sight, but do encourage gentle combing to remove the tangles.  A spray water bottle will add lots of styling options and help the hair-dos to stick.  Barrettes, ribbons, mousse and gel, optional.  Afterwards, pretend it’s picture day – just like in the story – and say “Cheese!” for the camera.

4. DO A PICTURE READ THROUGH… After reading WHEN YOUR LLAMA NEEDS A HAIRCUT, your child may want to re-read it to you using the pictures as clues! Reading the pictures is a great pre-reading skill because it encourages interacting with the page. So, snuggle up and enjoy being “read” to.

5. HAVE A LLAMA BOOK FEST!  After reading the story, you and your little ones may decide you want to read more llama-themed books! If so, head to the library and have a llama-themed book fest!  Your librarian can help you find some good books.

6. LLAMA CRAFT TIME IS THE BEST! After reading WHEN YOUR LLAMA NEEDS A HAIRCUT, you and your little ones may want to do a llama-themed craft. There are oh, so many, possibilities on Pinterest and elsewhere.  Here are a couple of  links to get you started.  Enjoy!

Llama Drawing Project: http://www.smallhandsbigart.com/llama-drawing-project/

Make a Llama Vase: https://abeautifulmess.com/2018/01/make-your-own-llama-vase.html




Miss A. did such a lovely job on this book jacket and review that I’ve decided once again to celebrate this reluctant reader’s blossoming joy of the written word by sharing her latest book review. Our children’s librarian recommended the prequel to this book, “The War that Saved my Life”, and Miss A. loved it so much that we were both ecstatic to learn that a sequel was in the works.  “The War I Finally Won” released this past October, but the copy we read was an advanced copy.  Miss A. loves the thought that she was one of the first kids to read it and hopes that many, many more take her advice and enjoy this wonderful story. Anyway, here’s her review.  Happy Reading!


A review


Miss A.

The War I Finally Won, written by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, is a sequel to The War That Saved My Life. In this story, Ada and Jamie are living with Susan in a cave-feeling house in Kent, England. Susan takes Ada to get surgery to heal her crippled foot. Ada’s surgery goes well, but then Lord Thorton, Maggie’s dad, brings a German girl named Ruth, for Susan to tutor. Ruth stays with Ada, Jamie and Susan in the cave house. Ada doesn’t trust Ruth because she’s German, but Ruth tells Ada that she’s from Germany but despises Hitler because she’s Jewish.

To complicate the situation, Lady Thorton also moves in with them because the soldiers need the Thorton’s house for a place for the soldiers to stay and rest. What’s even worse is that Maggies brother, Jonathan is fighting in the war and everyone is worried that he’s going to die. There’s a lot of drama in this book, and it actually helps Ada to overcome her struggles with loss, acceptance and love.

I love this book because I can relate to Ada on many levels. For example, when Ada didn’t trust Ruth, I thought she was a spy and didn’t trust her at first either. But later, as they grew to be close as sisters, I learned that trust is important to friendship. For most of this book, Ada dislikes Lady Thorton, but soon realizes that she and Lady Thorton have several things in common like lonely childhoods and feelings of loss. She realizes they are both just doing their best to survive in a tough world.  I can relate to feeling that sometimes life is tough, too. Finally, when Susan got sick and Ada felt worried and sad, I was worried about Susan too, since her friend Becky had died from pneumonia.  This is the scene when Ada finally says “I love you” to Susan. This shows that Ada has accepted Susan’s love and accepts her into her life.

I give this book five out of five stars! I thought it was sad, funny and engaging all at the same time. It was sad because there was death and loss because of the war. It was funny because everything is still so new to Ada and she often misunderstands things in funny ways. For example, she thought dragons were real.  It was engaging because the story felt so real that I didn’t want to stop reading it. Again, like the first, I recommend this book with all my heart!

READ. DISCUSS. DO! New Social Media Campaign Celebrates READING and BEYOND!

RDDMooseThis week my author friend Rebecca J. Gomez (WHAT ABOUT MOOSE? (Atheneum, 2015) and HENSEL AND GRETEL: NINJA CHICKS (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016)) shared with me a  wonderful new reading campaign she and her co-author Corey Rosen Schwartz are working on called Read. Discuss. Do!

Read. Discuss. Do! (hashtag #ReadDiscussDo) celebrates reading beyond the book by creating sharable images that give simple ideas for book related discussions and activities. Rebecca got the the idea after creating an image specifically for their co-authored book WHAT ABOUT MOOSE? (pictured above) in the hopes that it would encourage people to think beyond the story when reading with kids. However, when Corey saw the original image, she and Rebecca decided it would be fun to take the idea further and include other authors and their books!

That’s when Rebecca contacted me to see if I’d like to create a short #ReadDiscussDo activity for GOODNIGHT, ARK.  I replied, yes, of course. And so Rebecca created an image for my book as well. Thank you, Rebecca.  The format is similar to her original except she’s replaced her website address with the hashtag #ReadDiscussDo.

RDD Goodnight ArkRebecca hopes this fun reading initiative and social media campaign will really take off, reaching parents, caregivers, teachers, librarians and more.

How can authors, parents, teachers, or librarians get involved?  By tweeting and retweeting and sharing on Facebook, Pinterest etc. using the hashtag #ReadDiscussDo. We can also post story time tips using that same hashtag.  Rebecca will also be creating more sharable images for other books. If you’d like to learn more, contact Rebecca via the “School Visits” tab of her website.

Finally, I’ll end with a little hashtag hunt.  Head on over to Twitter or Facebook, type in #ReadDiscussDo and see what you find.  Have fun!

TEACHING RESOURCE: Cricket Media Teacher Guides (plus a POEM inspired by Jennifer Cole Judd’s “March”!)

IMG_4122For her birthday, my daughter received a subscription to CRICKET® Magazine, an engagingly written and beautifully illustrated literary magazine for ages 9 – 14 that’s part of a larger family of magazines published by Cricket Media. Other magazines in the group include LADYBUG® Magazine, for ages 3 – 6, and SPIDER® Magazine, for ages 6 – 9. I’m a long-time fan of these magazines. Several of my poems have appeared within their pages, gorgeously illustrated.  With this subscription, however, I’ve had chance to appreciate these magazines from a new angle – that of educator and mom.

As a homeschool mom who seeks to engage my daughter with interesting lessons, as well as ones that align with the common core, I was delighted to discover that Cricket Media has created in-depth teacher guides for each of their magazines. Curious to see what they were like, I downloaded the Teacher’s Guide for the March 2017 issue of CRICKET® Magazine.

The March 2017 CRICKET® Magazine Teacher’s Guide is 26 pages long and includes directions for how to use the guide, a skills and standards overview, plus detailed lesson plans for each story/poem with lots of thoughtful questions relating to key ideas, text structure, various literary elements, vocabulary and more. Each lesson also includes ideas for writing extensions. This month, I’ve been incorporating one story/poem from the issue, along with the accompanying discussion and writing activities, into our weekly literature/language arts lessons.

Early last week, my daughter wrote her own personal narrative as an extension for the first story in the magazine, “Wishin’ Impossible”, and we ended the week with a lovely in-depth analysis and discussion of the poem, “March”, which is found on page 10 of the March issue.

IMG_4124The extra special thing about this particular poem is that I know the author!  Jennifer Cole Judd is not only a talented poet whose work appears regularly in children’s magazines, she is also the author of the delightful rhyming picture book, Circus Train, which was published in 2015 by Two Lions. After a thoughtful discussion of Jennifer’s metaphorical poem which compares March winds to a lion, Miss A. was inspired by to write her own poem.

Thank you, Cricket Media, for creating beautiful literary publications that inspire my reluctant reader to both read and write!  And thank you, Jennifer, for sharing your beautifuly written pieces with the world!

Now, in celebration of reading and writing, here’s Miss A.’s poem:



A BOOK REVIEW by Miss A: “The War that Saved My Life”

Miss A. did such a lovely job on this book jacket and review that I’ve decided to celebrate this reluctant reader’s new joy of the written word by occasionally sharing her thoughts on what she’s been reading. Our children’s librarian recommended “The War that Saved my Life” and we loved it so much that we bought our own copy to keep.  It turned out to be an extra timely selection because Miss A. and I will be traveling to England in June.  That’s where this story is set and because of the story Miss A. is now extra excited about the trip and hopes that we will be able to see an Anderson shelter.  I’ll have to see what we can do about that.  Anyway, here’s her review.  Happy Reading!

The War That Saved My Life

A Review


Miss A.

The War That Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, is set in England during World War ll. Ada has a clubbed foot and she lives with her cruel mother and her younger brother Jamie. Soon after the story begins, Ada and her brother Jamie escape London so they won’t be bombed. Once Ada and Jamie arrive in the countryside, they stay with a woman named Miss Smith. Even though Miss Smith has never had children and is nervous about caring for them, she quickly grows to care for them. But Ada doesn’t understand this.

Instead, Ada is overwhelmed and confused. So, when Miss Smith tries to hug her, Ada thinks she’s trying to punch her. When Miss Smith gives Ada a compliment, she feels like she doesn’t deserve it because of her crippled foot.  When Miss Smith sews her a beautiful dress, she cries uncontrollably and can’t stop.  And,  just when she’s starting to accept Miss Smith’s love, her mother comes and forces them to return to London. Will Ada and Jamie be forever doomed to life with their cruel mother, or will they be reunited with Miss Smith?  You’ll have to read to find out.

I liked this book because it is very touching. When I read it I felt so emotional on the inside. My favorite part is when Ada makes a friend by a odd greeting. Her friend named Margaret fell off her horse and Ada helped her up and brought her home safely. I was rooting for Ada to meet a friend because she was so lonely. I felt so happy that Ada was finally able to feel what love and friendship is, not only with Margaret, but with Miss Smith too.

I give this book a 5 star rating because it’s sad, happy, and a little bit funny.  This book has such a good beginning and ending, that’s why I loved it. I laughed sympathetically when Jamie kept wetting the bed because he’s lonely. I cried when Mam came and took them and Miss Smith didn’t even wave goodbye. Finally, I was happy when Miss Smith came to save Ada and Jamie from the bombing. From the first page to the last, I recommend this book with all my heart!


IMG_3632 (1).jpgOne of the things I love most about doing signings at bookstores is chatting with customers.  Often, as I am inscribing a book, customers will explain why they are buying the book and who they plan to give it to. Well, this weekend, one lovely customer got extra excited when she saw “Goodnight, Manger”.  For the inscription, she asked that I inscribe it with a simple “Merry Christmas 2016”.  Then she explained that my book would be part of her family’s most wonderful tradition – decorating the house for Christmas with picture books!

IMG_3631 (1).jpgThis tradition, she explained, began the year her first child was born. That Christmas she and her husband purchased their first Christmas picture book and displayed it as part of their holiday decor. The next year they bought a second book, the third year a third book and so on.  For almost thirty years now, she has been decorating her house for Christmas with these picture books. Each year she nestles the new book somewhere among the special collection. And every year her children dash through the house looking for the new book.  Her children are in their late 20’s now, but the they still look forward to coming home for holidays each December and searching for the newest book. I’m honored and delighted that this year “Goodnight, Manger” will be that special book!

IMG_3629.jpgI’m also wholeheartedly embracing this magical tradition! Typically, each December, I pull out a special box that holds our Christmas picture book collection and place it by our fireplace.  All month we re-read our favorites and savor some new picks as well. But, I think that having the books out on display makes their presence even more special and engaging! Don’t you?

I’ve already caught my sixteen-year-old perusing the dining room display with interest. And I’ve decided, if the family is willing, that each night that we eat together (which unfortunately is no longer every night due to after school and evening activities), one of us will get to pick a favorite to re-read for the family after dinner.

For extra fun, I’ve decked this post with pictures of several spots in my house that are now decorated – picture book style – for the holidays.  I think they warmly capture the spirit and charm of our new Christmas picture book tradition. Happy reading, all!



GUEST POST: We Don’t Grow Up, We Just GROW (Thoughts on READ ALOUD TIME) with Juliana Tyson Kissick

I am so excited to have Juliana Tyson Kissick as my guest today. We recently reconnected on Facebook, but I first met her when she was in fourth grade! She was my student. Just take a peek at that adorable class, gathered joyfully around our Thanksgiving project that year. She’s seated in the center with a very young Mrs. Sassi standing behind her.  And there she is working hard. She’s also represented by one of the little birds depicted in the delightful card my mom made for me that school year. The card is dated 1995 and the note I found with it reads:

“Mom made a terrific birthday card depicting an early January day in the new classroom. It was pouring and the power went out. I kept the kids entertained until their parents came by reading. It was a treacherous day with lots of flooding and rain.”

READ ALOUD TIME.  It was my favorite part of the day and it happened every day, right after lunch.  Actually, I think it was everyone’s favorite part of the day – a chance to be transported by storytelling to magical worlds, faraway places and different times.  And I AM THRILLED that Juliana has agreed to share a little bit about what reading books aloud has meant to her over the years.  Take it away, Juliana!

unnamedWhen Laura invited me to write on the topic of reading aloud to children in the classroom, I felt an immediate surge of energy run through my gut. It was as if my soul were demanding I leap through the computer screen, exclaiming, “There is nothing more important than reading to children in schools!!” — a good indicator that I probably had something to say on the matter. And what I came to realize over the course of writing out my reflections was how valuable and multi-faceted the benefits of “story time” really are… and most certainly not just for children.  It’s like my Jewish, anecdotally-driven father always tells me (quoting the magnificent poet, Muriel Rukeyser), “The universe, Juliana, is made of stories, not of atoms.”


Story time. Is there a more cherished, enchanted hour in the world of a young person? The Phantom Tollbooth, Charlotte’s Web, The Boxcar Children, Little House On the Prairie, A Wrinkle in Time, Where the Red Fern Grows, The Giver…  I can remember every. single. book that was read to me (or that my classmates and I read aloud to each other) over the course of my elementary schooling. I LIVED for story time. And it wasn’t just because “story time” equated not doing math (something I still avoid, sorry Laura). No, story time wasn’t just an easy out…that’s what recess was for. And it wasn’t just because I was somewhat of a doctoral candidate in the esteemed academic discipline of Class Clownery and more or less couldn’t wait until I was allowed to give a personality (a British accent) to letters on a page… ok fine, maybe it was a LITTLE bit about that (I’m not British, for the record). But really, truly, at the heart of my love for story time was my love for adventure and meaning, adventure beyond the physical entrapments of my birthed circumstances and the moral lessons to help me make sense of it all. Story time was everything I dreamed this life could be and opened my eyes to what it already was… in other words, story time was church. It was spiritual. It transcended me. It was a gathering, a listening, an intuiting, a shared emotional rite of passage that didn’t have a right or a wrong answer. You couldn’t get a check minus in story time. You only had to be a person. And that, dear ones, is why the gift of telling story is just that–a gift. It validates the complexity of our humanity and the diverse range of our experiences, and all we have to do is breathe and listen. 

Unlike reading alone, the experience of being read to (or reading to someone) transforms written narrative into a conversation between heartstrings. When characters are given voice, when a scene depiction is read with purpose and conviction and tone, suddenly this is now a world and these are now living beings that are taking up physical and emotional space in our lives. It becomes real. And when something becomes real, like all the greatest of fiction has taught us, we conjure empathy and compassion. The characters don’t need to look like us, or talk like us, live in our hometown…heck they don’t even have to live on this planet. Story makes everything, and everyone, a worthy subject of our love and understanding. And oh how this world could use a whole lot more of that.

Just yesterday one of my best friends mentioned to me that she and her husband were reading the Harry Potter series to one other before they went to sleep… and I couldn’t help but get wholly and utterly inspired to treat my own grown-up self with the same kind of joy and validation I gave my story-loving, story-needing child self. We don’t really grow up, you see. We just grow. 

Blessings and giggles,


20150408_goodjuju_portraits-057Bio: It probably won’t surprise you to know that Juliana grew up to become a storyteller. She’s a multiple Ovation-nominated choreographer, actor, dancer, and founding member of Los Angeles’ very own Boom Kat Dance Theatre. After over a decade of performing professionally in Southern California, Juliana moved to San Francisco with her husband (and former boy across the literal street), Ryan. It was upon the move to Northern California that Juliana tapped into her love of visual art to further her storytelling career. In 2014, Juliana founded Good Juju Ink, an illustration design company dedicated to spreading “good juju” one funny-but-tender illustration at a time. Good Juju Ink’s greeting cards are sold online at www.goodjujuink.com and at Paper Source locations nationwide. 




I thought it would be fun to kick off fall with a GIVEAWAY!!! That’s right, to celebrate the release of GOODNIGHT, MANGER, the board book edition, Zonderkidz is offering FIVE copies of the new edition in a Goodreads Giveaway!

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, it’s bedtime for baby Jesus. Mama, Papa, and all of the animals try to lull the baby to sleep, but between itchy hay, angels singing, and three kings bearing gifts, it’s too noisy. Cuddle up as everyone works together to shepherd Baby into peaceful dreams.

Giveaway ends Tuesday, October 11th – which is the official release day!  Click here to get to the giveaway page.


GUEST BLOG: Reading At Lakeside Chautauqua

IMG_0572I am guest blogging today over on The Front Porch, the official blog of Lakeside Chautauqua. We’re headed to this lovely Ohio treasure next week to enjoy a relaxed week with family – including cousins! I will also be doing a special Christmas-themed story time at Green Gables (pictured above).  My topic today?  Reading!  So, grab a cup of coffee (or tea as I prefer) and head on over to the Front Porch. The breezes there are wonderful and the post, I hope, is inspiring.  Happy Thursday!

BOXERWOOD FAIRY FOREST: Learning from the Experts

IMG_1875My daughter and I recently spent a week in Lexington, VA visiting my dad. One of the highlights was visiting the amazing Fairy Forest at Boxerwood Nature Center and Woodland Garden.  The Fairy Forest opened this spring and is growing quickly.  Garden Director, Faith Vosburgh, explained that this colony for fairy folk is meant to be a place where children can come to explore and build. She showed my daughter buckets containing prickly balls, pine cones, pods, acorn shells, twigs and other bits of natural building material perfect for building and adorning fairy houses.

But, before building her own fairy house, my daughter wanted to explore the woods for inspiration. She peeked into the structures previous fairy house architects and engineers had constructed.

She looked at this house and this one and this one!

And this one… and this one!

And as she did, she took mental notes about what worked, in her opinion, and what didn’t.

Next, with her own plan in mind,  Miss A. was ready to begin.

She picked her special spot and cleared space for her foundation. Then, using bits of nature and her wonderful imagination, as well as some of the fairy abode principles she had observed, she built.

She built and built and built!


Until, finally, her fairy house was finished!

As a writer, think that the Boxerwood Fairy Forest is a wonderful, visual reminder that good writing should be grounded in a solid understanding of our subject/genre. Indeed, whether building fairy houses or writing picture books, it’s important to look to those who have built before us, or who are building alongside us, for wisdom and insight into what makes a long and lasting structure/story.

For me, that means reading, reading, reading! Each week this summer, I plan to lug home a bag full of picture books from the library. Some will be classics I knew and loved as a child. Others will be new books by contemporary authors. I will read them to myself, to the kids, to the dog and as I do I will analyze what makes them work or not. I will record my thoughts in a notebook for future reference.

Then, just as my daughter did at Boxerwood’s Fairy Forest, I will gather my own twigs, bark, and yarn, and build my own stories, applying what I’ve learned from the experts.

How about  you? What’s your version of a trip to Fairy Forest?  How do you plan to grow and learn as a writer this summer?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Happy Summer, all!