A Story for the Season

I love this time of year. We get to be with our friends and family to celebrate the season and give thanks. 

Recently I discovered another heartwarming story that provides a wonderful opportunity for discussions about giving, helping others in need, and empathy. 

What a perfect story to share with my children and kindergarten students this time of year!

Picture Book Title: SHELTER

Written by: Celine Claire

Illustrated by: Qin Leng. 

Publisher: Kids Can Press (2017) Age Range: 4-8

 Synopsis: A storm is coming and the forest animals rush to prepare when two strangers emerge from the fog. The animals wonder: Who are these strangers? What are they doing here? What do they want?

When the strangers kindly ask to exchange tea for a chance to sit by a warm fire, or have some cookies for dipping, even just a spot to take comfort in the light of one’s hearth, the strangers are turned away. Except for one generous critter named Little Fox. Because of his kindness, the others discover the meaning of compassion and generosity.

So there you have it! If you’re on the lookout for a picture book to read this time of year, check out Celine Claire’s heartwarming story.

Also, if you have a picture book about kindness, generosity, empathy, etc. that you enjoy reading with your family (or just love reading!), please feel free to leave it in the comments below.

Happy reading and Happy Thanksgiving!

Halloween Contest

 

Author Susanna Leonard Hill is hosting her 8th annual Halloween writing contest. Here’s the catch from Susanna’s blog:

TH8TH ANNUAL HALLOWEENSIE CONTEST
~ FOR CHILDREN’S WRITERS ~
AAHHHRRROOOOOOOOO!!!!!

The Contest: write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (children here defined as 12 and under) (title not included in the 100 words), using the words shivercauldron, and howl.  Your story can be scary, funny, or anything in between, poetry or prose, but it will only count for the contest if it includes those 3 words and is 100 words (you can go under, but not over).

I love being challenged to write something in so little words. It gets those creative juices flowing! Check out her sight to read other fabulous and frightening entries. Thanks, Susanna for the festive activity!

Here are my entries:

Halloween Surprise (99-words)

“Last stop,” Dad says pausing by an old house.

I squeeze his hand.

“This isn’t Grandma and Grandpa’s?”

“Come on.” He winks.

The wind howls around me.

I shiver. Even my fairy wings tremble.

Dad knocks.

Creeaakk…

Inside, a cauldron bubbles.

An old lady wearing a pointed hat stirs the pot.

“Come in,” she cackles.

I hide behind Dad.

“Her stew’s full of eyeballs and spiders!” I whisper.

I yank Dad to escape.

“Happy Halloween!”

“Grandma!” I giggle at her witch costume.

“Welcome to our BOO-tiful new house!” Grandpa howls, carrying candy.

“Now, that’s a trick, but such a treat!”

 

Halloween Mishap (90-words)

Time has come

What to be?

On this frightful Halloween.

 

Find a spell

add some goo

In the cauldron, stir the brew.

 

Gulp! I sip

down it goes

Pop! Out sticks a pointy nose?

 

What is this?

The wrong spell?

I’m not feeling very well.

 

Long black hair

to my knees,

In flies Broomstick on a breeze.

 

Help! I cry,

and I howl

now I’m feeling very foul.

 

Pop! A wart

more green skin,

shiver like a skeleton.

 

It’s too late

I guess I’ll be,

just a witch for Halloween.

 

 

Finding Time

Have you ever wished that time would slow down? Even just a little?

I know I do.

I think back to my pregnancy and being in awe of the amazing process a woman’s body goes through. I remember staring at my stomach watching this little alien creature take over, kicking me at all hours of the night.

Now, they’re 5 and nearly 7, still young, but not babies anymore.

I’m reminded of this everytime Google Photos sends me an email that says, “Rediscover this day. Look back at…”

More like, “Life is moving fast, don’t blink or you’ll miss it.”

Last week, the tears welled in my eyes as I stared at my son’s first birthday party. I remember his ruffled blond hair and the way he used to snuggle up close under my chin when I held him. Thankfully, he’s still a snuggler, but how could that time have passed so fast?

Now when the little reminder pops up in the corner of my email, bugging me to click on it and “rediscover” these moments, I can’t even open them.

Is it because it makes me sad?

Am I worried that I’ll realize these moments won’t last forever?

Or because I just don’t want to revisit the very “homemade” looking cakes I baked for each birthday (I’m no Betty Crocker. It’s okay, I’ve accepted it.).

Or maybe it’s another gentle reminder to live each moment to the fullest. To enjoy the small things in life.

The hugs.

The stories.

The muddy mess kids make when discovering a giant puddle in the backyard (I thank the lucky stars for hoses and cheap bar soap).

I also wonder if these images and thoughts are trying to tell me to be present…

That I need to remember yesterday’s memories, but recognize today’s.

And continue living life to the fullest.

Moreover, we can’t control time, but we can make time.

Especially for those that matter most.

 

 

 

 

Inspired by Nature: PB Review

My family loves spending time in the outdoors. After busy days at work, school, and moving through the daily hustle and bustle of life, there’s an urge to escape and get back to nature. A call to the wild, you could say.

Trekking through the forest, discovering a new trail, or watching the kids run wild and free, there is no doubt that nature is healing.

Over the past couple of years, we’ve set a family goal to visit as many national parks as we can. Our kids take part in the junior ranger programs and have the privilege of meeting the park rangers that work tirelessly to protect our landscapes and wildlife.

The kids have learned about animals, plants, trees, and how to preserve our natural treasures. So far they’ve each earned five badges, one for each park we’ve visited.

The reason I share this is that recently, I came across this picture book titled: OLIVER THE SECOND-LARGEST LIVING THING ON EARTH by Josh Crute and illustrated by John Taesoo Kim.  Not only is it beautifully illustrated, but it’s a story inspired by nature.

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Age Range: 4-8

Publisher: Page Street Kids

Synopsis: A tree named Oliver is tired of being the second-largest tree.  He stretches his limbs in winter, lifts logs in spring, soaks up the sun in summer, and munches on mulch in autumn, trying to grow big enough to be noticed. Until he discovers that he’s been a part of something much larger, the Sequoia National Forest.

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It’s a humorous story with a lot of heart, and there’s an excellent note at the end about the Sequoia National Forest and other second largest things in the world.

It’s a great reminder for children that you don’t always have to come in first. In fact, being second is important, too.

Words

Words are powerful.

Whether displayed on a billboard, expressed through feelings, or read in a book, they are everywhere. Depending on how they are presented, they can be perceived in various ways.

Naturally, I think of picture books and the effect they have on children, even adults.

Recently, my daughter and I were browsing the local bookstore when she bounded over giddy about a book she discovered.

I glanced at the cover. A young girl was staring at a man wrapped in a blanket crouched down on the sidewalk. At first, I was surprised she picked this. Generally, she’s attracted to bright colors and big illustrations. This story was more muted.

“Will you read this to me, Mommy?” she asked.

We found a bench and admired the modestly sized book.

“OLD MAN by Sarah V. and Claude Dubois.” I  began.

the old man book

The story starts by comparing the life of a young girl and a homeless man. With its sparse text and beautiful illustrations, my daughter and I were captivated.

“Mom? Why is he living on the street?”

“Where is the old man’s family?”

“Why can’t he remember his name?”

Questions poured out of my daughter’s mouth.

Sarah V’s. carefully chosen words kept us reading not two, but three times. We talked about homelessness, empathy, acts of kindness, and showing compassion for others.

When it was time to leave, the book’s message stayed with us. As a family, we talked about it during dinner and brainstormed ways we can help others.

This was another gentle reminder, that words, whether spoken or read in a children’s book, are powerful and have a lasting ripple effect on our lives.

If you haven’t read THE OLD MAN by Sarah V. and Claude K. Dubois, check it out. I highly recommend it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How National Parks Helped Teach our Kids about the Environment

“Mom, what are those big white things?” my daughter asks while peering out the window as we drive through the grassy plains of the Midwest.

“Those are wind turbines. The wind helps make energy which gets turned into power. Like the power that turns on the lamp in your room or the lights in the house.”

Immediately following my explanation came the rounds of questions that spilled out of a curious five-year-old’s mouth after being told that a giant monster-like structure uses wind to create power. It is pretty amazing when you think about it.

Our conversation ignited a critical discussion that my husband and I felt we needed to start sharing with our kids about caring for our environment. How can we instill in them an appreciation and respect for the natural living life around them? After wrestling with this big idea, we finally realized the answer is a lot simpler than we thought: It’s about giving our kids opportunities to interact with nature starting at a young age.

What better way to explore this idea than by visiting and discovering the national parks across the United States and exploring the incredible landscapes of our country? With a map of the U.S. displayed in our family room and pins to mark our destinations, we were ready to explore the history, nature, and learn all about the preservation of our land and animals as a family.

With over fifty national parks spread across the U.S. and nearly 300 million visitors each year, these natural wonders can be a cornerstone in the way we address environmental topics with our offspring. The big question is, where do we begin?

Badlands

My family and I found ourselves beginning our journey by trekking through the rough and jagged trails of the Badlands in South Dakota, witnessing the damaging yet, renewing effects of a natural forest fire that had happened near Jewel Cave National Monument. The charred, black trees were the only remains of what once existed in a dense forest. Through the chaos of fallen branches and rotting trunks, sprung new life. Peering through the now open land, flowers and grass were slowly taking the place of what was once alive. This moment sparked an organic conversation about the dangers and causes of forest fires, but also how they can stimulate new growth.

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My husband and I realized the value of teaching our kids about the magnitude of our actions on the ecosystems around us. While hiking on the paths in Yellowstone National Park, our children would discover a leaf or interesting rock along the way. To a young intrigued mind, this made the perfect souvenir to bring home and show friends. However, this proved to be another teachable moment as we explained the importance of leaving nature where you found it.

Kiersten Einsweiler, blogger and fellow adventure seeker from Hiking In My Flipflops, shares how she and her husband have helped their children to develop a deeper understanding of nature’s inhabitants: “We had a recent run-in with a snake on a trail, and my daughter was absolutely terrified – screaming and crying for a good part of the hike back. On the drive home, she thought maybe the snake was actually a ‘kid just like her’ and was just as scared as she was.”

With her children making this connection, Kiersten goes on to say that she believes her children see the “parallels” between how we respect human beings and living creatures and how nature is the “…home and space of a plant or animal.”

Our kids’ favorite experience on our life-long grand adventure was taking part in the National Park’s Junior Ranger program. Over the years, this program has evolved and now includes national monuments, with many being managed by the park service.

Their motto, “Explore, Learn, and Protect,” quoted by the many children sworn in each year, couldn’t be more true. With the typical participant age being between 5 and 13, our daughter could take part. Our son, who is three, was able to participate in the Pee Wee Ranger program offered at Jewel Cave National Monument located in South Dakota’s Black Hills. We have found that regardless of age, all children are encouraged to take part in their programs.

Making our way to Glacier National Park in Montana, our kids were equipped with various tasks in their Ranger booklets and prepared to earn their badges. Marveling at the giant “monsters of ice” as our son called it, we talked about the correlation between human activity and rising temperatures leading to shrinking glaciers.

Next up? Yellowstone, the world’s first national park located in Wyoming. It is known for its geysers, mountain beauty, and hundreds of animal species. With nearly 4 million people visiting the park, there’s bound to be garbage left behind. After picking up bits of trash found tumbling along the backcountry trails, my husband and I showed our kids what the saying, “Whatever comes in, must come out” quote truly means.

Along with Yellowstone, the national park service has made a concerted effort to become more sustainable based on the changing climate, and the impact visitors have made in the parks. Putting this into perspective, Isle Royale, a remote island in Michigan only accessible by plane or boat, spends $15,000 a year removing guests’ trash. This issue is one my husband and I feel we need to bring to the forefront of our children’s minds. Being respectful of the land, which means cleaning up after ourselves so other’s can enjoy it’s beauty too.

Providing tangible dialogue relevant to our future existence, there is a wealth of information to be shared with our little ones. For example, restoration of the Redwood forest, the impact tourists have on soil erosion in Zion National Park, or how trails protect naturally growing plants. And let’s not forget the increased water and air pollution in the Great Smoky Mountains. How about the encounter of non-native species causing detrimental damage in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park? These are the real-life experiences exposing the significance as to why we must protect these precious resources.

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Or the other right hand…

Looking back, we’ll never forget the moment they raised their right hand and promised to preserve and protect these places so future generations can enjoy them. From exploring the third largest underground cave to hiking, observing, and identifying animal hides, our children were sworn in and declared lifelong Junior Rangers. The quest to accomplish this noble deed and earning a badge to commemorate this momentous time will forever live in our hearts.

In the words of songwriter Woody Guthrie, “From the Redwood Forest to the gulf stream waters. This land was made for you and me.” As we move into the 21st century, our world continues to change along with its environmental issues. Taking the time to search out destinations that satisfy our lust for adventure and thirst for knowledge, let’s continue to bring awareness to our children who will pass it on to future generations.

 

 

#50PreciousWords

I participated in this year’s #50PreciousWords contest hosted by children’s author Vivian Kirkfield. The guidelines?

  1. Write a story appropriate for kids ages 12 or under, using only 50 words…they can all be different words, or you can use some of them over and over…just as long as the total word count of the story is 50 or less.

What a fun and exciting opportunity! To make it even better, I became one of the 20 winners! Wow.

If you’re looking for a writing challenge, check it out and give it a whirl. Next up? Vivian created the same challenge, but for kids. I know my students will love this!

Happy Writing!

Children’s Books: Environment and Animal Conservation

I always find it interesting seeing what kind of books my children pick out from the library.  But sometimes, I like to encourage them to find something connected to what we’re learning about as a family. For example, our goal of exploring all the national parks (we’ve visited 7 so far!) and as part of this journey, talking about the environment and animal conservation.

My kids like to mix it up. A little non-fiction and fiction. Believe it or not, even with fiction stories there are lots of ways to apply them to real-life conversations.

Red Knit Cap Girl to the Rescue by Naoko Stoop

Energy Island: How one community harnessed the wind and changed their world

Energy Island: How one community harnessed the wind and changed their world

What If There Were No Bees?: A Book About the Grassland Ecosystem (Food Chain Reactions)

What if there were no bees? by Suzanne Slade and Illustrated by Carol Schwartz

 

All Kate Messner Books

Over and Under the Snow

Over and Under the SnowOver and Under the Snow

Over and Under the Pond

Over and Under the Pond

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt

Up in the Garden, Down in the Dirt  

This is mostly about adding art to a community, but we tied in the importance of community gardens and their impact.

Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood

Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campoy and Therese Howell, illustrated by Rafeal Lopez

Are there any books that your family has discovered that you’d like to share? I’d love to hear about them!

Happy Reading.

Why We Family Garden

Rows upon rows of colorful produce, neatly packaged and anxiously waiting to be chosen. Shoppers are inspecting each perfectly shaped apple, taut skinned peach, and crisp lettuce head while contemplating the purchase of pineapples shipped from Costa Rica. Comparing this to the dirt covered carrots, roots dangling off the ends, or the misshapen strawberries freshly picked off the vine, when I have the choice, I’ll choose the latter or whatever else is in season.

This thought encourages my husband and me to continue talking with our son and daughter about how we get our food and why we should appreciate it. No more wasting half eaten apples or tossing a banana out because it has too many brown spots. Instead, we’ve shifted our old habits and started new ones. Let’s toss them in the backyard composter and watch them magically turn into black gold or throw them in the freezer to use in smoothies later on.

“In the United States, food now travels between 1,500 and 2,500 miles from farm to table, as much as 25 percent farther than two decades ago,” according to an article from World Watch Institute.

Imagine the many hands and miles traveled a single orange or stem of grapes go through before it graces our table. All the effort put into planting, growing, harvesting cleaning, packaging, and shipping just for our enjoyment. Then to be picked over because it’s not as shiny or perfectly shaped as the next.

“In 2008, 43 billion pounds of perfectly good food was thrown out of grocery stores,” according to Move For Hunger.  

Whether the food is damaged, out of date, unattractive, or left untouched due to lack of interest, that’s equivalent to $165 billion wasted each year. That’s an astounding number when you think about it.

Our environmental impact is a topic near and dear to our family’s hearts. We do our best to keep our carbon footprint at the forefront of our minds when making life decisions. That’s why we’ve decided to start a family garden.

It’s an easy way to demonstrate to our kids the amount of hard work involved in the growing of our favorite fruits and vegetables. Sure, we could hop into the car and drive down the street to the local supermarket. But that wouldn’t be an accurate representation of how the process works. Not to mention, tasting the long awaited fruits of your labor is immensely gratifying and humbling.

“Mom, where does our food come from?” our curious daughter will ask. I think to myself, I’ll tell you, and I will show you.

In the spring, we let our kids help pick the seeds, turn and add compost to the tired winter soil, dig, drop the seed, cover, and mark each planting bed. With careful attention, water, and lots of patience, our kids make a stronger connection to the earth and their food by reaping what they sow.

The pleasure we get from watching our children pick tomatoes or raspberries off the vine while shoveling them into their mouths and scouring the beds for more delicious treats is insurmountable. Humorously, I’ve learned my lesson and started planting double of everything after watching the goods get consumed before they even reach the kitchen.

With the rising statistics of unhealthy Americans in our country continue growing, nothing seems more important than instilling a healthy attitude about food within our children and helping them discover the growing process.

As the growing season comes to an end and fall is upon us, we take time to prepare the beds for the next season, tally the seeds that we need to purchase for spring, and say a word of thanks for another successful planting season.

Embrace What You Love

“I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it full speed. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it, and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good.”

-Roald Dahl

I came across this quote and wanted to share it with you. However, it’s interpreted, maybe it will make you step back and reflect a little. It did for me. It’s funny how I come across little reminders like this. 

I welcome these breaks. Don’t you?