I’m going to try something completely different today…  Author Susanna Leonard Hill is organizing a “Valentiny Writing Contest.” The challenge? Write a Valentine’s story appropriate for children, maximum 214 words, in which someone is hopeful.

So… here’s a little piece of my writing out for all to see. (GULP!)

The Happy Little Paper

(207 words)

Light shines into the drawer where I live with the other unused paper. A chubby little hand slides inside.

“Pick me! Pick me!” We all cheer.

The hand grabs me and I fly up, up, up out of the drawer. I flutter a corner of my page to wave goodbye to my friends.

I wonder what I will become?

Will I be a grocery list, reminding Dad to bring milk home from the store?

Will I be a paper airplane, feeling the wind on my wings as I fly through the air?

Will I be a beautiful picture, hanging on the fridge for everyone to admire?

Gosh! I hope I won’t be one of those crumpled up papers sitting on the table by the markers!

The hand sets me on a table with markers and crayons laying all around.

This is it! I can’t wait!

The hand picks up a crayon and starts to draw.

Hey! That tickles!

I hear the child singing softly as the hand draws a big shape in my middle and little doodles around my edges. The big shape has bumps on top and a point at the bottom.

Oh! I’m the best surprise of all:

“Happy Valentine’s Day Mom, Dad, and Alex”



Nothing gives me more peace than photographing nature.

I’m so excited to have a guest joining our blog today! The following is a post from author & nature photographer Lieve Snellings, the creator of a series about Margot the groundhog. Thanks to our groundhogs here in America, we know we’re in for another six weeks of winter. But perhaps this post about the beauty and inspiration of nature will help make that time pass quickly!


About 10 years ago I was introduced to this heavenly pleasure of nature photography. I was so charmed seeing all these pretty animals and birds in our Quebec garden. I had seen cats washing themselves, but here I also saw birds, squirrels, groundhogs… doing the same. Observing them was so much fun.

I don’t know if these lovely creatures have emotions like humans have, though I could hear them talk. And Margot the woodchuck started to tell me I had to publish their story, to show small and big kids that all creatures in nature are living beings and that they love to live too.  Of course Margot wanted to play the first violin in the orchestra, but that was OK. She loved to share the attention with her family and friends.

It was Margot, who told me about Eufrazie the hairdresser and how she create a special hairstyle for every critter, also birds, when some festivity is coming up. It was exciting to see all those birds with this special haircut. I had to photograph them and share this with you all.

Squirrel 2

Maybe you are interested in how to photograph birds too. I’m glad to offer you these 14 easy tips:

  1. If you want to start photographing birds, you do not have to go far. It is best to start in your garden or street or a park or field in your area.
  2. It is important to get to know the behavior of the birds you want to photograph. Around what time of the day do they show up? On which branch do they usually sit? Do they show up alone or in the company of others?
  3. Use a tripod.
  4. Hide yourself, make use of a shelter, something you’ll not too visible. An old paravan, with opening to pierce the lens of your camera through can also be a handy thing to hide.
  5. Don’t make sudden movements.
  6. Birds adhere to the same habits, they regularly return to the same place. Choose a spot, prepare your camera and wait until the bird returns to that spot.
  7. Set your camera to a fast shutter speed (S in high number) and the aperture or diaphragm as large as possible (F in small number) – this is to allow as much light as possible to come in and to make the shutter speed as short as possible.
  8. Take your photos in the larger format (highest megapixels) because otherwise you lose a lot of quality when you make a cut-out afterwards.
  9. Make sure you are dressed warm enough because you may have to sit still for a while.
  10. Pay attention to the foreground and background.
  11. Birds like to fly against the wind direction to keep more control. So when you choose to photograph birds in flight, draw with your camera in the flight direction.
  12. Experiment with different points of view.
  13. Photographing birds is in fact, like top sport. Patience, exercise and perseverance are important.
  14. It is pleasant to have a bird encyclopedia or a bird app on your smartphone or tablet, so you can look up which birds you just saw and to learn more about them.

I wish you can enjoy as much as I did and do.


…if you want to learn more about my work.

Thanks for sharing these fantastic tips, Lieve!

Halloween Books!

One of my favorite places to find book lists is What Do We Do All Day. Erica has lists for just about any type of books you can think of!

Erica recently shared four Halloween book lists:

Diverse Halloween picture books

Halloween picture books about self-esteem

Halloween early chapter books

Scary and non-scary Halloween novels for family read aloud time

Erica has plenty of other fantastic book lists (a full set of her book lists is available here), so I definitely encourage everyone to spend some time on her blog!

One of my other favorite bloggers, Vicki at Babies to Bookworms, has written two great Halloween posts – one featuring monsters, and the other featuring pumpkins!

The monster post, listing 13 Monstrously Fun Monster Books, gives thirteen wonderful monster picture books, including my husband’s favorite Grover book of all time!

monster at the end of this book

In her pumpkin post, Vicki recommends a pumpkin book, and suggests a number of fabulous pumpkin-themed activities to do with your kids.

pumpkin day pumpkin night.jpg

Enjoy your Halloween activities, whatever they may be!

Have you read any great books lately?

Sticks ’N’ Stones ’N’ Dinosaur Bones

Dinosaurs make kids crazy. Usually in a good way—they are fascinated with stories about dinosaurs, they love seeing the skeletons in museums, and they can play endlessly with dino-shaped toys.

Sticks n Stones n Dinosaur Bones

Sticks ’N’ Stones ’N’ Dinosaur Bones tells the story of two adults who were crazy about dinosaurs too. O. Charles Marsh and Edward D. Cope were paleontologists in the 19th Century who became known as the Bone Hunters. They searched out bones and fossils of dinosaurs.

Professors Marsh and Cope led the “Bone Wars,” also known as the Great Dinosaur Rush, from 1877 to 1892. They each selected a location in the United States to conduct their expeditions. The searches soon turned into competitions to see whose discovery was greater, and there was increasing pressure to find bigger and better treasure.

In Sticks ’N’ Stones ’N’ Dinosaur Bones, this pressure led Professors Marsh and Cope to engage in some questionable behavior. The note at the start of the book describes them using “less-than-ethical methods,” including lying, stealing, blackmail, and even destroying fossils. They attacked each other’s reputation and pointed out (and exploited) the other’s errors.

The book is told entirely in rhyme, with a substantial amount of humor built in (dinosaurs with names like “Watchumacaurus,” “Thingamasaurus,” “NeverWas Rex,” and “Phonybalone-us”). It is a lot of fun to read while learning more about this historical time.

The end pages of the book show pictures of actual dinosaurs that Professors Marsh and Cope found and named—Stegosaurus, Triceratops, and Dimetrodon, to name just a few. During their Bone Wars, the two rivals claimed to have discovered more than 142, although today’s paleontologists accept only 52 of those species.

Author Ted Enik has been an illustrator for the Magic School Bus series, Eloise, and the Fancy Nancy I Can Read series. Sticks ’N’ Stones ’N’ Dinosaur Bones is the first in his Unhinged History series. His original art can be found on his website at

I was fortunate to receive an advance reader copy of the book in exchange for my unbiased review.  Many thanks to Mr. Enik and Schiffer Publishing!

Have you read any great books lately?

Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show-and-Tell

Now that everyone is back to school, it’s time for kids to start thinking about what to bring for show-and-tell. I’ve already heard about this special classroom event from my little one—she can’t wait to bring something in to share with her new classmates!


Unlike my daughter, Maggie feels very different about show-and-tell in this sweet story by Randi Lynn Mrvos. Maggie’s teacher, Ms. Madison, plans a “Summer vacation show-and-tell” and Maggie does not know what to bring.

Some of her friends have exciting tales to tell about their summer travels, and interesting souvenirs to show to the class. These souvenirs range from the more traditional (postcards) to the more exotic (poison dart frog). But Maggie’s family didn’t go on a trip and she thinks she has nothing to share.

The depth of Maggie’s emotions about the upcoming show-and-tell is evident in both the text and illustrations. While her friends are drawing pictures of the things they plan to bring, Maggie draws “a big fat zero.” In the accompanying picture, her eyes are downcast, her face is flooded with sadness.

Contrasted with Maggie’s misery when she thinks about show-and-tell is her joy when she is with her dog, Trooper. When her beloved pet kisses her cheek later in the evening, Maggie’s giggles almost jump off the page!

Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show-and-Tell is a wonderfully-written picture book. My little one saw the cover and begged to read it with me. She was very engaged as we read, telling Maggie what she should and should not do, expressing affection in response to pictures of Trooper, and exclaiming her surprise at certain points in the book.

Maggie’s dog, Trooper, was inspired by a real dog named Charlie. Ms. Mrvos has included “Charlie’s Story” in an author’s note, along with photographs of Charlie. I’m not going to spoil it for you—you’ll have to read Maggie and the Summer Vacation Show-and-Tell to find out why Charlie’s tale is so unique!

Ms. Mrvos has also provided a discussion guide in the back of the book. The guide not only suggests questions for children to consider, but it also introduces the concept of the simile and encourages kids to craft their own similes. There is a longer discussion guide on Ms. Mrvos’s website,

In addition to her picture book writing, Ms. Mrvos is the editor of Kid’s Imagination Train. Kid’s Imagination Train is a free online magazine created to encourage kids to read and to learn. Kids can illustrate feature stories for the e-magazine and have their work published online. If you are interested in publishing a story in Kid’s Imagination Train, check out the post Ms. Mrvos wrote on the subject for our blog earlier this year.

Writers can also find guidance and inspiration from Ms. Mrvos at her blog,

Have you read any great books lately?


Stories about animals are a wonderful way to teach or remind children how they should treat others. My own kids’ teachers have often encouraged parents to make up and use such stories (in oral storytelling format) to help modify behaviors or work through problems. Shelter by Céline Claire is an excellent example of this teaching tool.ShelterShelter is the English translation of the French book L’abri, released last year. It teaches kindness and caring toward others—even strangers—who are in need.

This is the tale of five families of forest animals who wake one morning to learn that a storm is coming. They prepare by gathering wood and stockpiling food.

Soon, everyone is safely tucked away in their homes—except two strange bears who emerge from the fog as the wind howls.

The bears ask the different animal families for help, but are turned away at one door after another. My little one’s reaction to the way the bears were being treated was all I needed to see to know that the moral of this story was hitting home for her.

The story is very concise—just a few lines on each page—and all of the words are well within a young reader or listener’s understanding.

Qin Leng’s illustrations are beautiful. She alternates between full-page spreads to the strategic use of white space on the page to separate between the different animal homes. Ms. Leng’s choice of colors in her watercolor paintings is perfect for the story Ms. Claire is telling.

In one full-page spread, Ms. Leng expertly and effectively depicts the bears outside in the gloomy storm, knocking on an animal family’s door. The animal family is inside, refusing entry and lying to the bears. The impact on my little one was immediate—she could see the deceit, she knew the animals should be treating the bears with kindness instead of turning them away, and she spoke out for the bears.

Ms. Claire is the author of a number of children’s books, but I think Shelter is the only one that has been published in English as well as the original French. Ms. Claire’s website is (but you’ll need to read French!). Follow Ms. Leng on Instagram to see some recent illustrations:

Shelter will be released on October 3, 2017. I received an advance reader copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. My daughter and I are grateful to Ms. Claire, Ms. Leng, and Kids Can Press for the opportunity to read Shelter.

Have you read any great books lately?

Eclipse Day!

It’s a big day in Nashville – many folks are traveling here to watch the full solar eclipse! In honor of this incredible event, I thought I’d share some books about eclipses (the descriptions below are the publishers’ statements found on or the publishers’ websites):


THE BIG ECLIPSE by acclaimed children’s illustrator and author, Nancy Coffelt, captures the sense of wonder and excitement of a total solar eclipse through its cast of animal characters as they follow the path of the 2017 eclipse across America. Readers of The Big Eclipse will learn all about eclipses – how and why they happen, strange eclipse effects, eclipse myths and even what hippos do when day turns to night!

The book tells why it’s important to protect your eyes when viewing the sun, especially during an eclipse – and how to safely watch the upcoming eclipse. Each book includes instructions on making a simple solar projector and comes with a safe solar eclipse viewer.

Penny Parakeet

Join Penny as she travels to St. Joseph, Missouri to witness the total eclipse of the sun with her new friends Aunt Mellie B and Sarah the parakeet from the French Riviera.

top ten

Excitement is building for the Great American Eclipse on August 21, 2017. This book for kids ages 9-12 answers their questions about eclipses. Included are not only how solar and lunar eclipses happen and how to safely view a solar eclipse, but also 
• How often do eclipses happen? 
• What happens to animals during a solar eclipse? 
• Do other planets have eclipses? 
• What does a lunar eclipse look like from the moon? 
Top Ten Facts About Eclipses answers these questions and more. Young astronomers reading this book will know facts about eclipses and what to expect when viewing the Great American Eclipse.

what happens

Everybody gets thrilled when hearing about an eclipse happening. It gets broadcasted in the news and people actually look up at the sky, waiting. But for children to better appreciate what an eclipse is, proper introduction needs to be in place first. The purpose of this book is to give your child the introduction that he/she can understand.


Follow along with Eddie, a budding young scientist, as he navigates the 2017 Great American Solar Eclipse. Eddie uses his curiosity and imagination to become an “expert” in eclipses so that he can thoroughly take in this spectacular scientific event. His energy and enthusiasm for all things science help him to engage with his family and friends while experiencing this great science adventure. The book details solar eclipse facts and encourages safety for children while observing the solar eclipse.

Cowee Sam

Cowee Sam returns as the Great Pyrenees guardian dog of Cowee Mountain Valley Farm. Meet some of the other working dogs in the neighborhood and join Farmer Joe and his family as they get ready to host their own solar eclipse party. Learn about some of the science behind this exciting event. Mark your calendar for August 21, 2017, 2:36 PM Franklin, North Carolina, is in the path of totality!

Sun dark

Get ready for the Great American Eclipse of 2017 with this charming and straight-forward story about how eclipses of the Sun and Moon occur. Includes activities using ordinary items to make models, and explores common questions. 

This illustrated book is a fun way to get young astronomers ready for August 2017, when millions of North Americans will have the rare chance to witness a solar eclipse. The book tells how two curious children and their grandparents re-create eclipses in their living room using a lamp, a tennis ball, two Hula Hoops, and Ping-Pong balls. Later, in the backyard and around the house, the family explores safe ways to view a solar eclipse and ponders phenomena from sunspots to phases of the Moon. Written by the authors of NSTA’s award-winning book Solar Science, When the Sun Goes Dark gives children and adults hands-on techniques for learning the science behind eclipses of the Sun and Moon.

where did the sun go


For thousands of years, our ancestors created myths and legends to explain the puzzle of solar eclipses. The poems in this book bring the ancient beliefs of many different cultures to life. Designed for children, parents, and educators, this delightful book includes a puppet show script, with instructions for easy to create puppets, stage directions and other helpful hints for creating a fabulously fun show, while answering the question, “Where Did the Sun Go?”


When a solar eclipse frightens an entire village, a young Guatemalan girl named Maria searches for answers. The ensuing story goes great lengths in teaching children about bravery and the importance of nature. Join Maria as she races across the landscape of her mountain community and faces her fears head-on. This Tz’utujil Mayan folktale, suitable for children, originates from the lakeside village of San Juan la Laguna, Guatemala.

sun went out

The Day the Sun Went Out is a beautifully illustrated children’s science storybook. The story begins with Alexander and his parents hiking in the mountains one Saturday morning. After awhile on the hike they notice an unusual occurrence in the daylight. The day grows dark and Alexander begins to wonder why. Learn about important astronomers like Johannes Kepler, and hot facts of solar and planetary motion alongside Alexander, his mom and his cousin Max. Join them as they explore the sun and the Kepler Mission. Challenge your youngsters to wonder with Alexander as his questions how life on Earth is in a careful balance with our sun. Ponder how our lives are woven into the enormous cosmos in which we all live. See what Alexander discovers about the natural world around himself. At the same time make your own discoveries about how you feel about the sun’s importance in the meaning of life.


Have you read any great books lately?

Ulaq and the Northern Lights

I have always been fascinated by the Northern Lights. I don’t know if it’s because I grew up in the North – I used to stand outside at night wishing (or hoping) to see them. Or maybe it’s just because the Northern Lights are simply a very cool natural phenomenon!

Harriet Peck Taylor has created an extraordinary tale about the Northern Lights in Ulaq and the Northern Lights. A fantastic picture book for all ages!UlaqOne evening, a very curious fox named Ulaq sees “strange blue and green ribbons of light that swirled across the darkness.” He can’t rest without knowing what they are.

Ulaq begins running across the snowy tundra, asking all of the animals he meets to explain the lights. Without hesitation, each animal gives him a new (and different) explanation for what the lights are and what they mean.

To Seal, they are a sign that there will be plenty of fish to eat over the coming year. Wolf sees the flames of the campfires of distant hunters, while Polar Bear sees a sign from unborn children. Caribou explains that the lights are swaying ghosts and that it is dangerous to be out in the open because sometimes the ghosts actually come down from the sky.

The more animals Ulaq meets, the more explanations he hears. You’ll have to read the book to see what Ulaq finally figures out about the Northern Lights!

Ms. Taylor included an Author’s Note explaining that:

People living in northern regions often created their own legends to explain the mystery of the northern lights, which scientists call the aurora borealis. Some people thought the lights were ghosts, while others believed they saw flames in them, and still others thought they saw their ancestors, or foxes, fish, or other images. This story is based in part on several of those legends.

Ms. Taylor’s illustrations in Ulaq and the Northern Lights are beautiful. The various shades of blue in the sky, the sea, and the snow are vibrant. Each of the animals are outlined in white, which creates a striking contrast with the dark blue of the sky.

I love the first paragraph of the author bio found on the back flap of the book:

Harriet Peck Taylor was surprised by the aurora borealis late one night while camping on the shores of Lake Superior. She noticed a faint glow in the sky. Slowly it became brighter and began moving like a great curtain of green and white light. As curious and awed as Ulaq the fox, she knew then that the northern lights would form the basis of one of her stories.

Ms. Taylor is an artist known for her batik paintings and is author and illustrator of seven picture books for children. Visit her website,, to see some of the beautiful, colorful, and inspiring art that she has created. Or you can look through the hundreds of pieces of artwork she has created over the years at

Have you read any great books lately?

Finding Winnie

I suppose I always knew there was a real Winnie-the-Pooh—because I had heard the story of the real Christopher Robin. But it never occurred to me to wonder where Winnie came from before he was in the zoo. What a pleasant surprise to discover that he came from my home country of Canada!Finding WinnieFinding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick tells the story of Winnie’s journey to the zoo. Winnie is not only the “Most Famous Bear,” but he was a world traveler as well!

The story begins with a veterinarian from Winnipeg, Manitoba, named Harry Colebourn. “If a horse had the hiccups or a cow had a cough, Harry knew how to make them feel just right.”

Harry became a soldier during World War I so that he could help care for the other soldiers’ horses. He was traveling across Canada with his regiment when their train stopped at a place called White River. Harry walked onto the train platform and found a trapper with a baby bear.

Harry thought for a long time. Then he said to himself, “There is something special about that Bear.” He felt inside his pocket and said, “I shouldn’t.” He paced back and forth and said, “I can’t” Then his heart made up his mind and he walked up to the trapper and said, “I’ll give you twenty dollars for the bear.”

Harry named the bear Winnipeg, or Winnie for short. Harry trained Winnie to “stand up straight and hold her head high and turn this way and that, just so!”

Harry took Winnie on the soldiers’ ship across the Atlantic Ocean to England. She became the Mascot of the Second Canadian Infantry Brigade.

Winnie was part of Harry’s regiment until it was time for the men to go to France to fight. It was not safe for Winnie to go with them. So Harry took Winnie to live at the London Zoo.

“There is something you must always remember,” Harry said. “It’s the most important thing, really. Even if we’re apart, I’ll always love you. You’ll always be my Bear.”

While Winnie was living at the London Zoo, a little boy went to the zoo with his father. The boy saw Winnie and they became true friends. He was even allowed to go into Winnie’s enclosure and play with her.

The little boy’s name was Christopher Robin Milne. As soon as he met Winnie, he knew that there was something special about her. He decided that his own stuffed bear should be named Winnie-the-Pooh.

Ms. Mattick has written Finding Winnie as a story within a story—she tells it to her own son, Cole, as part of the book. Ms. Mattick is the great-granddaughter of Harry Colebourn, and brings a personal touch to this fantastic story of the world’s most beloved bear.

Ms. Mattick included an album in the back of the book with pictures of Harry Colebourn, his diary from 1914 noting the purchase of Winnie, and a picture of Christopher Robin with Winnie at the zoo.

Ms. Mattick’s website is If you would like to learn more about this amazing bear, you can find links to videos about Winnie and other great information on Ms. Mattick’s website!

Have you read any great books lately?