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Shepherd

I recently had the opportunity to write book reviews for Shepherd, a cool new book review site. Shepherd describes itself like this:

“Shepherd is like wandering around your favorite bookstore but reimagined for the online world. We make book browsing fun and all the recommendations are made by authors, experts, and creators.”

It is still in beta form and new books and ways to search are being added and tweaked. I’m sure if you spend some time there you’ll have plenty of books to add to your bedside table!

Check out my reviews here!

Labor Day Memories

It’s Labor Day! I hope you are relaxing from your labors. Growing up a LONG time ago and on the East Coast school began the day after Labor Day. While all the schools where I live now have already put in many days of school I still think of Labor Day as the official start. In my youth Labor Day would find us watching the Jerry Lewis telethon as we frantically finished sewing clothes for school. While my forays into sewing are few and far between these days I still get the itch to sew this time of year.

Screenshot 2021-08-16 103634I also get the itch to read new things, learn new things and cover some books with brown grocery bags🙂! I’ve never been a crossword puzzle person, but I recently tried the Washington Post’s Daily Mini (+weekly Meta) and I’m hooked. They are small and you can check each word as you do it. I know crossword fanatics would never do that, but that little bit of help has kept me playing and I find I am solving them more quickly. I’m also learning how crossword puzzle makers think!

I was thinking how picture books, while glorious in their own right, are also a mini step for readers into the world of reading and how story works; for that matter how life works. The pictures give clues to help with the words. The new reader builds confidence as they read book after book. Eventually the reader moves on to bigger things, hopefully returning on occasion to the rich worlds offered by picture books. I don’t know if I’ll ever “move on” to bigger crossword puzzles, but my daily mini is perking my interest and giving me confidence.

Now for some book reviews

If Kids Ran the World, Leo and Diane Dillon,  The Blue Sky Press 2014

Inviting, bright illustrations show the world as it should be where kindness reigns and food, shelter, medicine, education and love are there for everyone. This world exists if Kids ruled the world. Until the world shows them otherwise kids assume all things are possible. May this book inspire us to find the child inside, see the world as it should be and strive to improve it each in our own way. An afterward suggest ways to make the world a better place.

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And kids now that the most important thing in the world isn’t money, or being king or queen, or pushing other people around. It’s love: giving it, sharing it, showing it.”

A Perfectly Messed-up Story, Patrick McDonnell,  Little Brown and Company 2014

A quirky, humorous mixture of real images and drawings that break the 4th wall. Louie is a character in HIS story. He’s happily going along when he find that someone has dropped jelly on the page, thus ruining the story. He is talking to the reader about it when plop some peanut butter drops on him. Then Louie finds fingerprints and orange juice. He gives a lecture on the importance of books and begins again only to find someone  has colored in the book. He tries to start again but decides it’s just a messy old book no one will want and he gives up. The story starts without him and he finds out that everything is just fine. And Louie decides it is just fine, messes and all!

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“Everything is fine. I’m still here. You’re still reading. And it is a pretty good story. Messes and all.”

I am a Thief!, Abigail Rayner, Illus Molly Ruttan, NorthSouth Books, 2019

20210420_160813Eliza Jane Murphy, who sees herself as a model student, becomes a thief when she takes a sparkly stone from a display of green things in her classroom. But then her “heart stopped singing”, her letters “went wonky” and she was “too heavy to swing.” She begins to explore her feelings by asking the adults in her life if they’ve ever stolen something. It turns all of them, except her dad, admitted to some minor thievery in their lives. But that doesn’t make Eliza Jane feel any better. So she tells her parents and knows what to do. When she returns it and confesses her teacher said she was brave. She realizes that “nobody is just a thief. Everyone is a lot of things”. Just as she is about to close her investigation on the family thieves she discovers her dad stealing the last piece of cake! Nice lessons showing we are all more than our mistakes, that adults make mistakes too,  and that admitting to and learning from mistakes is what counts.

Will you be my pen pal?

As you may have gathered I love the Peanuts comic strip. I’ve been reading it since I was a child and was sad when it ended. Shulz had recurring storylines and one I’ve always enjoyed was Charlie Brown writing to his pen pal. Sometimes the humor was about  Charlie Brown’s use of pen vs pencil, but sometimes Shulz conveyed profound thoughts.

I think Charlie Brown was on to something. A back and forth of letters allows us to learn about each other, to share things we might not be comfortable saying out loud. And the more we know about someone the easier it is to understand them-to not hate them.

Charlie Brown’s pen pal was in another country, but pen pals in our own country might help us overcome our differences. I love the idea of students writing to other students. It works on writing skills, communication and social skills. It could be in the same district, town, state or different state or region of the country. Sometimes we forget how much we have in common.

I’m thinking adults need pen pals too. After all children are more likely to do as we do! To that end I write a letter to my grandkids each week. At age 2 and 5 months they don’t write back yet, but I hope someday. I know we’ll learn a lot about each other that way.

Here’s a book showing the benefits of a school-to-school pen pal project.

Dear Dragon
By Josh Funk
Illustrated by Rodolfo Motalvo
2016 Viking

Two teachers announce, in their respective schools, a pen pal poetry project. Students write to each other all year . In June there will be a picnic where they will meet. George is a human and Blaise is a dragon, but they don’t know that. When each receives their letter they picture what is happening from their perspective. So when the dragon mentions skydiving the human pictures himself with a parachute. Before the picnic they decide to keep writing to each other. At first they are surprised they are different species, but then friends. That was the teachers plan all along!

If you start a pen pal project I’d love to hear about it-and you!

A Little Love for Teachers

My elementary school. New Windsor, NY

Do you have a favorite teacher? There are teachers I remember even though decades have passed since I was in their classroom. I think the best teachers help us see the joy in learning and the benefits of knowledge. They see our potential and help us see it too. No easy task.

Teachers aren’t drawn to the profession for the money! Because we certainly don’t pay them what they are worth. I think most want to make a difference. To see a face light up when they’ve reached a student. It’s always been a difficult profession. Teaching a group of individuals, while figuring out how to reach each one takes skill.

In the decades since I was in school the world has changed and those changes have increased the challenges our teachers face. And on top of that the impact of the pandemic students, their families, their communities has added challenges and stress we will be measuring for years.

thank you

And so I want to say THANK YOU to teachers past and present. The future of the world truly is in your hands as you teach each generation. (No pressure!) I hope, as a nation, we soon recognize that investing in education is integral to our country truly having “liberty and justice for all” and being a country where ANYONE can achieve their dreams.

And to celebrate…
a couple of books!

20210420_160553Dear Dragon
By Josh Funk
Illustrated by Rodolfo Motalvo
2016 Viking

Two teachers announce, in their respective schools, a pen pal poetry project. Students will right to their pen pals all year but it must rhyme. In June there will be a picnic where they will meet. George is a human and Blaise is a dragon, but they don’t know that. When each receives their letter, they picture what their pen pal is talking about from their own perspective. So, when the dragon mentions skydiving the human pictures himself with a parachute. Of course, the dragon is flying! George and Blaise enjoy writing to each other so much that they decide they will continue after the project is over. They can’t wit to meet at the picnic. When they meet, they are hesitant at first since they are different, but all the pen pals soon become friends which is what the teachers planned all along. (Teachers are smart!)

This is a sweet story about looking past physical differences.  I love the idea of letter writing and pen pals. It’s a wonderful way to get to know someone. As Blaise writes, “Who’d have thought this pen pal thing would make me a new friend?”

20210420_160732Because I Had a Teacher
Kobi Yamada
Illustrated by Natalie Russell
Compendium, 2016

A quiet tribute to all the teachers in our lives. The simple text and quiet illustrations show what kinds of things we learn from teachers. Things like that mistakes are part of getting something right, that there are different ways to be smart, challenges can be fun. Most important, it concludes that “because I had you, I learned to believe in me.”

Better Speech & Hearing Month

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This week I’m putting on my other hat! It’s Better Speech & Hearing Month and I’m a speech therapist. Most people have some idea of what we do but most don’t know the full scope of our profession. We need a more encompassing name because speech is on a part of what we do. We work on speech and language disorders in adults and children. Fluency disorders, including stuttering. Voice and resonance disorders. Swallowing disorders in adults, children and infants. Cognitive-communication disorders including social communication skills, reasoning, problem solving, memory and executive functions. Accent modification for ESL speakers. Both speech therapist and audiologists work with people with hearing disorders.

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Being able to communicate want and needs, to socialize and interact with others is an essential part of living. Most of us take this ability for granted. It is what makes us feel connected to our life, our families, our world. It is also how we feel in control of our life. Think about a child as they learn language. Very early they learn the power in words-particularly NO. They learn that if they call you, you come. Remember you couldn’t wait to hear mama or dada and later you wished you could change your name?

Speech therapist try to find the key that makes communication a reality for each person they work with. The client or patient, and often their families, are partners in this quest. Everyone has work to do. Communication is a two-way street. Sometimes when we see someone struggling to communicate our first instinct is to talk for them. Sometimes that’s ok, but most of the time what is most helpful is to show patience as they communicate in their own way.

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Eating is another ability we take for granted. It is also essential to living not just because it fuels our body, but it also connects us with others as we break bread together. For some the ability to chew or safely swallow food is compromised. This can affect people of all ages and the causes vary, but speech therapists work to help clients consume a diet that will sustain them and give them pleasure. You may be asking, why a speech therapist? We are uniquely qualified because the muscles, structures, nerves we use to eat we also use to talk.

You can help

If you know someone who has difficulty communicating ask yourself,

  • How would I feel if that was me?
  • Would I want to be ignored or acknowledged?
  • How would I want to be treated?
  • Can I change how I’m communicating to help them?
  • Are there other ways I can communicate-a smile, a touch?

And of course, a book!


A Boy and A Jaguar
Alan Rabinowitz
Illustrated by Catia Chien
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014

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A real-life story with powerful illustrations about zoologist and conservationist Alan Rabinowitz. When Alan was a boy, he was a severe stutterer. His father often took him to the Bronx Zoo because he loved animals. And when he talked to animals he did not stutter. He decides he will be a voice for animals so they aren’t misunderstood like he is. While his family tries to get him help it is not until he is in college that he receives the help he needs and becomes a fluent stutter. Now he can speak, but he says, “I can speak but nothing has changed on the inside. I still feel broken.” So, he goes to nature, where he is at home and studies animals. He studies jaguars in the jungle. He works to get protected areas for the jaguars. He uses his voice to speak for them and the result is the world’s first and only jaguar preserve. He sits with a jaguar and thanks him because he is now whole and at home.

Dr. Rabinowitz has a Q&A about cats on the jacket. He is an advocate for stutters and feels his stuttering put him on the path toward his passion so he credits it.

So if you see a speech therapist or an audiologist this month ask them about what they do and thank them for helping others in their quest to communicate and break bread with you!

Get Caught Reading!!

I have a confession to make. I always keep a book in the bathroom and I always read a little anytime I’m in there. I’m not sure exactly when this started, but I think for those minutes throughout the day I slip into whatever world I’m reading about. It’s Get Caught Reading Month and we don’t need any bathroom pictures, but what are the strangest places you read a book?

I spent a morning this month gathering picture books at the Garrett Public library. The children’s librarian is a friend and she and her staff helped me find a large stack of picture books about various topics. So I thought I’d review a few and maybe you “get caught reading” one of them this month!

You Nest Here with Me
Jane Yolen & Heidi E. Y. Stemple
Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Boyds Mill Press, 2015

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Soft, earth-color water color and mixed media illustrations bring a variety of birds to life as a mother puts her daughter to bed telling her that like a baby bird her nest is anywhere, they are together. Each bird species is seen in its environment. Pigeons on concrete ledges, catbirds in greening hedges. The mother concludes that birds are safe in nests while they grow, “learning all they need to know. So till you’re big as big can be…You’ll nest right here in our house with me.” Informative back matter gives a few facts about the 14 birds depicted in the text. This would be a great book to read this month for Mother’s Day and if you looking for screen-free things to do, bird watching is fun!

You Be Mommy
Karla Clark
Illustrated by Zoe Persico
Feiwel and Friends, 2020

20210420_141942In a role reversal, mommy is tired and asks her daughter to be mommy tonight. Colorful illustrations show all that mommy has done from working, cleaning up messes, being a chauffeur, caring for pets, and little things like wiping noses and granting wishes! As her daughter tucks her in, going through their bedtime ritual, she gets tired too and wants Mommy to be mommy. So Mommy rallies and carries her little one to bed. As she tucks her in she says, “for you’ll always by my little treasure. And I’ll be Mommy forever and ever.” A gentle reminder to a child of all that parents do in a day, but reassuring too.

A House for Every Bird
Megan Maynor
Illustrated by Kaylani Juanita
Alfed A. Knopf, 2021

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Told in the first person, the main character talks with the birds she’s drawn when they don’t choose to live in the bird houses, she’s drawn for them. Then the birds begin to chat with each other and trade houses. But our young creator wants to be in charge. She wants the birds to stay where she put them. In frustration she says, “but I was trying to help. I made a house for every bird. How was I supposed to KNOW what you like?” To which a bird replies, “ask us.” And so, she learns that you “can’t tell a bird by its feathers.” To know birds or people you have to take the time to get to know them! In the final spread the birds are around a table. Before she draws birdseed for all she asks what they like to eat and it turns out her birds like things like nuts, bugs, fruit and veggie burritos!

The illustrations are warm and inviting with lots to look at and discover-bird wearing hats, houses made of grapes and more.  The main character’s drawings looking like a child drew them. I think seeing them in a book will give confidence to other young artists.

Gifts of the Magpie
Sam Hundley
Capstone Editions, 2021

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Very clever book as Magpie (a bird known for collecting objects) makes things for her friends, but she misunderstands what her friends want because of homonyms! So, the mouse wants another mouse for a friend and gets a computer mouse, the goat wants Spring (the season) and gets a metal spring, the squirrel wants nuts and gets a nut that goes with a bolt. At first the friends are disappointed, but they begin to see how useful Magpie’s gifts are. Everything that creates the illustrations were “dug relics”-treasures unearthed by hunters using metal detectors and shovels. End pages explain the scrap art, give information on magpies and homonyms and suggest you make scrap art and send the author a picture.

“Mistakes happen, but creative thinking can turn blunders into wonders!”

And then it’s Spring
Julie Fogliano
Illustrated by Erin E. Stead
A Neal Porter Book, 2012

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I love Erin E. Stead’s illustrations in this quiet and hopeful book.  The colors are soft and earthy, the faces expressive and there is so much to look at. When the white of winter ends all the world is brown and a little boy, dog, bunny and turtle plant seeds and wait for green. The sun and the rain come but still it’s brown. The boy and his companions engage in other spring activities and wait. And wait.  Until finally all the world is green. Waiting is hard, but good things come.

“And it is still brown, but a hopeful, very possible sort of brown.” Haven’t we all seen this in Spring!

AND I love when people get caught reading books from my Flashlight Press family. Check out all their books here!

Screen-Free??

When my children were young the only screen we had to worry about was the TV. And since we didn’t get cable, the few channels we got weren’t a big problem. But now, as my children raise their children, screens are as much a part of our lives as a refrigerator. Let’s face it, we are all addicted to them. So a screen-free week might be impossible, but maybe intentional screen-free time can be achieved with some planning.

Hide the screens

If you wanted to have an ice cream free week, you wouldn’t keep any in the freezer, so when it’s screen-free time put the screens out of sight. Tablets, iPads, laptops, e-readers, phones-put them in the closet. You could even cover that big screen TV with a white sheet and do shadow figures!

Stock up on substitutes

If you are trying to keep away from ice cream or some other not good for you food, you stock up on food to replace it. So if it’s a screen-free evening plan what you’ll do instead. Will it be board games, crafts, baking, hide-n-seek, a hike to look for birds or pick up trash (hmm-screen-free and doing something for the environment!).

My favorite substitute

AND of course I think books are a wonderful way to fill screen-free time. I read to my children daily, often several times a day when they were young. The picture book age saw us snuggled together on the couch or a bed. Or sometimes at the table while they ate. When we moved on to chapter books and novels, they’d each stretch out on a couch and I read from my comfy chair. And, though not daily, we had a book we read together through middle school. We explored places, topics, feelings, fantasy worlds and had discussions.

A book to get you started

Old MacDonald had a Phone
Written by Jeanne Willis
Illustrated by Tony Ross
Andersen Press, 2021

To the tune of Old Macdonald we learn about a farmer and his smart phone. When he drops it in the lake he orders another one online and buys a hundred by mistake. All the animals take one and suddenly “Nobody would put them down so nothing else got done.” So the farmer takes the phones and locks them in the shed but the animals are mad and still do nothing. Finally his son suggests they use them sensibly. SO there’s a farm meeting and the creatures all agree. Humorous illustrations of animals doing all sorts of people-things with and without phones. A reminder that phones are good, when used correctly!

One more thing…

If you do pass some screen-free time reading, take a picture because it’s Get Caught Reading Month! More about that next week and a book giveaway!

How do you feel about self-promotion?

When I started writing for children I naively thought if I write it the readers will come. But in today’s world there are so many things competing for our time and our children’s time that self-promotion is necessary for survival as an author.

Self-promotion makes me uncomfortable. For me it feels like selling. To sell something you are saying my thing deserves your attention and money over someone else’s thing. But what if the other thing is better? I wouldn’t want to steer you wrong😉. That’s why I couldn’t sell Amway eons ago, but instead watched as friends made a fortune! And I wasn’t very good at encouraging my kids to sell stuff for school fundraisers.

When I started writing for children I naively thought if I write it the readers will come. But in today’s world there are so many things competing for our time and our children’s time that self-promotion is necessary for survival as an author. And so authors seek followers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites. We are pushing our books and our expertise, hoping to connect with readers, writers, publishers, teachers, bloggers… We both support and compete with each other. I find it much easier to say something wonderful about a fellow author’s book than my own. I’d rather review someone else’s book than ask for someone to review mine.

BUT my books are worth promoting. They do offer something to readers, parents, teachers.

So here it goes! (although I am going to let the reviews speak for me!)

“I have a son 9 years old diagnosed with OCD 6 months ago. We have had a terrible time to get him to even go to therapy much less open up and participate. He has had much embarrassment and shame. I got him this book and at first he would not let me read it to him. Finally after much thought he decided to go for it. After reading this book he totally opened up to me and we talked for over a hour about his OCD. He said for the first time he didn’t feel alone. He read this book 6 times the first day and even slept with it. He couldn’t quit talking about how it is the best book he ever read. We were able to use this little boys struggles and compare them to my sons. It was like the first time that someone actually understood what he was going through. I was hesitant to buy it because it seemed to be for younger kids, but I sure am glad now!!”

“Reading this book for the first time with my son, was like reading his own story. We are fresh on this path of understanding, and for us, it is important he knows he is not alone. This book made me realize just how much he does that is not under his control. He also recognized himself in the story. Very good first step.”

“AND It changed my life. I might have my husband read this to me before bed. If I had this as a kid I probably would have turned out normal.”

“My son has PANDAS, which is an autoimmune response to strep throat. When he acquires strep he present OCD symptoms. Our lives were hell for 3 months until we bought this book. Mr. Worry helped my son overcome his compulsions and obsessions. I HIGHLY recommend this to anyone who has a child with OCD or anxiety issues.”

This book is a must for anyone who has or knows of a child with Tourette’s Syndrome. My 8 yr old son, who has Tourette’s, brought in the book to his 2nd grade class. His teacher read it aloud and then the class asked my son questions. The book went a long way in helping overcome the social obstacles that a child with Tourette’s will surely face, and clearly explains that some behaviors are truely out of the child’s control and why. I would recommend this book highly for children, parents and teachers alike!

“We love this book. It has helped my son to relate to a character in a book and realize that he isn’t the only one who has tics. It’s also helped his brothers to stop teasing him and get so aggravated when his tics become annoying.”

“I am a social worker as well as a mother of a child just diagnosed with Tourette’s. This book was wonderful! My son has been trying to understand what is going on with him and this book was very useful. It explains Tourette’s to the child as well as the adult. One thing I loved about the book is it shows the boy in the story having new tics. This allows for readers to understand that tics change as well as showing many types of tics. One example was the boy in the story began to spit, a tic my son has and gets made fun of for. My son’s face lit up and he felt less “weird”. My son and I are going to do a presentation at his summer camp so others understand why he does what he does, I will be including this book.”

“Youngsters will enjoy this tale because Grace’s kid-sized sass does not erode their family’s underlying strengths. Actually, caregiver trainers or parenting instructors can use this title to launch discussion on how active listening and flexible parameters underscore accountability in a kid-friendly way.”

“We enjoyed this book for many reasons! We read it to our grandchildren and they had a lot of questions which was exactly why you read great books. We had great discussions about why children may want to run away, getting mad, and communication being the key to not always getting your way! Also, the art work was spectacular!”

“What a charming book! I absolutely love the chat between the girl and her dad. He listens attentively to her, validates her feelings, and encourages her. Adding the yoga poses throughout the book is a major bonus. Thanks to the authors for incorporating yoga in an accessible and fun way. A gem of a book for young children!”

“I can see a variety of purposes for using The Day I Ran Away in the classroom, beyond just enjoying the book. Helping kids handle angry feelings is a good first logical choice. Everyone has moments when they’d just like to run away from the person or situation that is making them mad. Teaching how to write dialogue is another possible teaching point.  The Day I Ran Away is a great example of crafting a backstory, two sides of a physical space, and passage of time.”

“This book was a game changer for my foster son who had night terrors. Going to sleep was daunting and scary every night. We struggled for months before we found this book. After reading this book he was able to make a plan for when he woke up scared. He memorized the words and was able to help himself calm down before bedtime. Holly Niner writes such great books with the emotional health of kids in mind. I am so thankful that we found this book!”

“Super cute book and I love that a fellow speech language pathologist wrote it! Beautiful illustrations with an engaging story! Great for language lessons!”

“Lovely story that teaches how to approach the unknown with a spirit of problem solving & thoughtfulness instead of fear.”

 “LOVE this book and so do my grandkids. The story has so many things that kids love in literature. A very cute and smart mole, silly haunting monsters, repetition and a lot of humor. In addition, it has great problem solving and predicting components that teachers will love. Great addition to any teachers or children’s library.”

“This book is a great one to get students thinking about problem solving when things aren’t going well among classmates. How can you keep everyone happy when you are all so different and you all like different things? And if you are a parent who wants a new bedtime read, No More Noisy Nights certainly lends itself to that… put qualms about noises that go bump in the night to bed with the friends in this book.”

Now ONE more thing that makes me uncomfortable!

If you’ve read any of my books I’d be grateful if you found the time to write a review. Reviews do help new readers find their way to my books!

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