November 2 – Look for Circles Day

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About the Holiday

Today is one of those days that gets you really observing the world in a new way. As you go about your day at the office, at school, at shops, or just while driving here and there, be aware of all the different circles you see. Sure, there are the obvious ones—the tires on your car, the signals on a stoplight, the lid of your water bottle or coffee cup…but how about all the less-seen circles? Knots on trees, a lemon slice, the center of a flower, the ripple of a raindrop or pebble dropped in a puddle… Whether you look for circles through the eye of geometry or they eye of art, be fully aware of the shapes around you!

Squares & Other Shapes: with Josef Albers (First Concepts with Fine Artists)

Paintings by Josef Albers

 

Opening Squares & Other Shapes, readers encounter a vibrant magenta square nesting in an autumn maple leaf-hued square which floats in a square of clear, winter-sky blue. On the next page two orange squares beckon you to follow into the glowing, yellow center square. Could it be a doorway or window leading somewhere?

In another painting, a bold yellow rectangle and an equally bold blue rectangle host guests: “two little rectangles lying down for a nap.” But the calm is shattered on the next page as stacks of red and blue rectangles shake and tumble: “Watch Out! It’s raining rectangles!”

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Image courtesy of phaidon.com

Now circles want a turn, and they want to have fun! In a large black rectangle a white circle and a red circle play stoplight: “Circle, Circle, Stop!” while on the next page blue, black and spirally circles jump and frolic—“Bounce, Circles, Bounce!” Turn the page—can you count all of the little circles in the rectangle or all of the baby circles in the rectangle on the right-hand page? Some of the babies are leaping away—or are they just joining the group? What do you think?

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Image courtesy of phaidon.com

Next the black rectangle is back, but this time with two white squares inside. Wait a minute—how did those little yellow circles get into the bottom square? “Hey circles, get out of that square!” Of course triangles don’t want to be left out. Dusky triangles in many sizes connected tip to tip enjoy their light, white background, but on the next page they’re left in shadow—“Hey triangles, who turned out the lights?”

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Image courtesy of phaidon.com

Be careful turning the page to look at the two intersecting triangles: “Ouch, these triangles look sharp!” Maybe it’s better to move on to the big, vivid triangle on the right. Oooh, so many colors! Nine, in fact! Hmmm… “Is this one big triangle, or lots of little triangles?” These paintings are getting more complex! Now there are “blue squares in pink squares, pink squares in blue squares; rectangles in rectangles, circles in circles, and more triangles in triangles. But here’s a different painting: the rectangles are perfect rectangles, but the squares are a little off, and what kinds of shapes do those curved lines make?—“Funny shapes in funny shapes!” And the last painting? Back to squares. Red, purple, and blue squares. “Beautiful squares.”

Following the paintings, the last page provides a captivating biography about Josef Albers’ life and work aimed at the book’s young audience.

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Image courtesy of phaidon.com

Imagine being able to own a stunning collection of famous paintings by a world-renowned artist and educator to teach your child about shapes, color, and art. With Squares & Other Shapes by Josef Albers you can! The second in the First Concepts with Fine Artists series, Squares & Other Shapes presents readers with more than 30 painting by Josef Albers, one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. Most well-known for his Homage to the Square paintings, Albers worked with color and shapes to challenge perceptions and promote creative thinking.

Shapes are one of the earliest concepts introduced to babies and young children. Even the youngest readers will be riveted by the beautifully reproduced paintings in this large board book that present squares, circles, rectangles, and trianges in clear but creative ways. The easily understood labels, repetition, and recognizable patterns offer key strategies that are known to build strong reading and comprehension skills. Kids will love the humorous text that brings the paintings to life, helping them to also see that art is not static, but active and open to interpretation by each viewer.

Squares & Other Shapes with Josef Albers is a wonderfully conceived concept book that can grow with children as it offers readers enjoyment and education on so many levels. The book would be an often-sought-out addition to home and library bookshelves and also makes a perfect present for baby showers and other gift-giving holidays.

Ages birth – 5 (and up)

Phaidon Press, 2016 | ISBN 978-0714872568

Look for Circles Day Activity

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Circle of Shapes Puzzle

 

Build a circle from different shapes with this puzzle that grows as you add pieces! You can also use these shapes to create your own art!

Supplies

Directions

  1. Print the shape templates
  2. Cut out the shapes
  3. Trace shapes onto different colored paper
  4. Cut out the colorful shapes
  5. Build the puzzle from the central square to the edges of the circle (It may be easier to keep the puzzle in place by sticking the pieces down with a little tape applied to the back of the pieces)

You can also use the shapes to create your own art!

Picture Book Review

 

September 11 – Grandparents Day and Q&A with Author Ellen Mayer

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About the Holiday

In the early 1970s Marion McQuade had the idea for a special day of the year when grandparents and grandchildren could show their love for one another. She further wanted it to be a day when grandparents could pass down the wisdom they had gained over their lifetime as well as share a bit of family history. Of course the same goes for grandparents learning the latest and greatest from the kids in their lives—from new technology to current fads. When all generations share their experiences, we’re all a lot smarter—and have closer relationships!

Rosa’s Very Big Job

Written by Ellen Mayer | Illustrated by Sarah Vonthron-Laver

 

Rosa may be little, but she has big ideas about how to help. While Mama is out shopping for groceries for that night’s dinner, Rosa decides to surprise her by folding and putting away the laundry. The basket is piled high with fluffy dry clothes, sheets, and towels. Rosa watches her grandpa reading the newspaper. “‘Please help me, Grandpa!’” she says. She tugs on her grandpa’s hands, trying to pull him out of his chair. “‘Come on, Grandpa! Get up.”

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Image copyright Sarah Vonthron-Laver, text copyright Ellen Mayer, courtesy of Star Bright Books, starbrightbooks.com

Grandpa seems to have a little trouble managing: “‘It’s difficult to carry these enormous piles,’” he sighs. But Rosa knows that smaller armloads work better. Grandpa’s clothes come unfolded as he puts them in the drawer. “‘Be neat. Like me,” Rosa says, showing him her tidy stack. Poor Grandpa! He has to keep hanging up the same jacket over and over. “‘It’s difficult to keep this jacket from sliding off the hanger,” he says. Rosa has the answer: “‘Zip it up,’” she explains. “‘Then it stays on.’”

Grandpa sinks back into his chair. “‘You are terrific at doing laundry, Rosa. And I am exhausted,’” he says. But this is no time to quit—Rosa has big plans. As she steps into the now empty laundry basket, she exclaims, “‘Come on, Grandpa! Get in the boat. Help me sail back to there.’” Rosa points to the linen closet.

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Image copyright Sarah Vonthron-Laver, text copyright Ellen Mayer, courtesy of Star Bright Books, starbrightbooks.com

Suddenly, the floor swells with ocean waves teeming with fish. Grandpa channels his inner sailor as he holds aloft a sheet as a sail. As the wind billows and they come perilously close to the kitchen table, he says, “‘It’s difficult to sail around this enormous rock!’” Contemplating the rising sea, he exclaims, “‘It’s difficult to sail over this enormous wave!’”

There’s a dangerous storm ahead, warns Grandpa, “‘I can’t hold the sail in this strong wind.’” Rosa is there to help and grabs one side of the sheet. “‘Hold tight,’” she orders. “‘Use both hands.’” At last the seas die down and Grandpa is ready to steer the laundry basket back to port, but Rosa has a more entertaining thought. Spying a sock on the floor, Rosa wants to catch the “enormous fish.” Grandpa obliges and picks up a hangar for a fishing pole. He holds Rosa as she stretches out over the edge of the laundry basket to land her fish.

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Image copyright Sarah Vonthron-Laver, text copyright Ellen Mayer, courtesy of Star Bright Books, starbrightbooks.com

Just as Rosa nabs the fish, Mama comes home with her bags of groceries. She’s surprised to see that the laundry is not in the basket. Rosa runs to her and proudly explains, “‘We put all the laundry away. It was a very big job. We carried enormous piles. Grandpa dropped things. And I picked them up. It was very difficult for Grandpa. He got exhausted. But not me. I am terrific at laundry!’” Mama agrees that Rosa is a terrific helper. Then Rosa leads her mother to see the most surprising thing of all—the fish she has caught for dinner!

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In her series of Small Talk Books® Ellen Mayer presents exciting stories for preschoolers full of imagination and rich language learning. Rosa’s Very Big Job introduces Rosa, a sweet girl bubbling with enthusiasm and the desire to help. The close relationships between Rosa, her mother, and her grandpa promote cooperation as well as effective modeling of speech patterns and a way to introduce larger words in an organic manner through play and common chores. Rosa’s inventive idea to turn the laundry basket into a boat is delightfully enhanced by her grandpa’s willingness to share in the story and expand on it. Humor, cheerful banter, and the easy camaraderie between Rosa and Grandpa invite young readers to join in the fun as they build confidence in their language learning.

Sarah Vonthron-Laver depicts Rosa’s afternoon with her Grandpa with joy and the spirited energy young children bring to everything they do. Grandpa is happy to spend time with his granddaughter, yet shows honest feelings of tiredness and frustration that spur on the plot. The transition from doing laundry to using the basket as a boat is as seamless as a child’s imagination, and the way Rosa and her grandpa use household items to create “sails,” “rocks,” “fish,” and “fishing poles” will give readers great ideas for post-reading play. Bright colors, an adorable kitten, and familiar surroundings welcome young children into the world of reading and expanded vocabulary.

Rosa’s Very Big Job would be a welcome addition to a young child’s bookshelf, not only for its fun story that kids will want to hear again and again, but for its leap into imagination that kids will want to replicate.

Dr. Betty Bardige, an expert on young children’s language and literacy development, provides tips for parents, grandparents, and caregivers following the text.

Ages 2 – 6

Star Bright Books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1595727497

Discover more about Ellen Mayer and her books as well as book-related activities and literacy initiatives she’s involved with on her website!

Find Sarah Vonthron-Laver on Facebook!

Grandparents Day Activity

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Original illustrations by Saran Vonthron-Laver, Copyrights © 2016 Star Bright Books. Paper dolls created by AislingArt and Celebrate Picture Books, copyrights © 2016

Rosa’s Very Big Job Paper Dolls

Rosa loves helping out at home. She’s terrific at doing laundry – folding and putting away the family’s clothes, socks, and linens. You are terrific at helping too! Can you help Rosa, Mama, and Grandpa get dressed and ready for the day with these printable paper dolls? You’ll even find a laundry basket, socks, and Rosa’s sweet kitty to play with! 

Supplies

Printable Paper Dolls, Clothes, and Extras

  • Heavy stock paper and/or poster board
  • Scissors
  • Glue

Directions

  1. Print dolls on regular paper or heavy stock paper. Dolls printed on heavy stock paper may stand on their own with the supplied stand cross piece. For dolls printed on regular paper, you can cut the supplied stand templates from poster board or card stock and glue the dolls to the backing.
  2. Rosa’s kitty and the laundry basket can also be attached to the supplied template if needed
  3. Print clothes for each figure
  4. Color the blank clothes templates any way you’d like
  5. Cut out clothes and extra items
  6. Fit outfits onto dolls
  7. Make up your own stories about Rosa, Mama, and Grandpa!

Interview with Author Ellen Mayer

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Today, I’m happy to present a fascinating interview with Ellen Mayer, a writer and expert in early literacy, in which she discusses her involvement with various organizations and programs, her baby granddaughter, why Hug Your Cat Day is at the top of her list of holidays, and gives us a peek at a very special sugar egg.

I’m really interested in your work in the education and literacy fields. Could you talk a little bit about your job as an education researcher and an early literacy home visitor, and how you got into those fields?

I got into these fields after leaving a Sociology PhD program right near the end.  I didn’t want to be an academic and teach, I wanted to do applied research – to solve practical problems out in the world and to make a difference in the lives of those who were struggling. At the Harvard Family Research Project at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, I studied the ways that families from underserved communities were engaged in supporting their children’s learning and education, and created research-based materials for families and schools to promote effective engagement. One of these was the Family Involvement Storybook Corner—curated picture book selections with family engagement themes. That got me interested in early literacy and picture books.

After researching family engagement in children’s learning for many years, I decided I wanted to go out into the field and be a practitioner and work directly with families on this topic. I worked as an early literacy home visitor with diverse families with the Parent-Child Home Program, modeling ways to share stories with little ones to build early language. I actually got paid to read picture books and play with families in their homes!

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At the same time, I was pitching my Small Talk Books®, a collection of playful stories about everyday activities that provide fun for kids and ideas for adults – Rosa’s Very Big Job is one. The adults in the stories are engaged with children’s learning, modeling conversational ways to build young children’s language.

I read that your book Red Socks, another of the Small Talk Books®, is being used in a program to turn wash time at Laundromats into talk time for literacy development. Could you discuss this early literacy initiative?

Yes! Wash Time/Talk Time is a terrific campaign led by Too Small To Fail, a joint initiative of the Clinton Foundation and the Opportunity Institute teaming up with a host of partners to turn Laundromats in underserved areas into venues for early literacy. This campaign distributes free books and information to families in Laundromats about building early language to help close what’s called the “word gap” by promoting parent conversation with babies and young children. Almost 60% of children in our country start kindergarten behind in their language development and this then sets them on a downward path and they get even further behind in school.

Red Socks was a natural fit for this program. In it a Mama narrates what she is doing for her little pre-verbal child as she folds the laundry and dresses the child—and as they search for a missing sock!

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Illustration © 2015 by Ying-Hwa Hu, text © 2015 Ellen Mayer, courtesy of Star Bright Books

I have to say that it’s a dream come true that Too Small To Fail is using my book.

Wash Time/Talk Time is really reaching the families on the other side of the word gap who most need the ideas and inspiration in Red Socks. When I began writing the Small Talk Books® I wanted to include stories about doing laundry, as it’s something we all do as parents and provides lots of things to talk about with children. (Like the color of socks!) In fact, I used to sit in Laundromats and observe families when I was thinking up ideas for stories. I guess that’s the sociologist in me.

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We just had the opportunity to visit one of the Laundromats in the campaign—at the Free Laundry Day in Tampa, FL hosted by The Laundry Project—and share Red Socks with families. You can see some of the fun illustrator Ying-Hwa Hu and I had here: 

What inspired you to begin writing picture books?

I came to picture book writing through a backdoor. When I was at Harvard Family Research Project, I was thinking about new ways to convey our ideas from research into practice for parents, and it occurred to me that a read-aloud picture book could address an audience of parents, as well as the primary one of children. My boss was enthusiastic about the idea, and so I enrolled in an adult ed class on writing for children. Then I turned one of our research case studies about challenges an immigrant Latino family had in communicating with their son’s teacher into a picture book, Tomasito’s Mother Comes to School/La mamá de Tomasito visita la escuela. Joe Cepeda did the art for it, and we made it downloadable for free.

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Illustration ©2007 Joe Cepeda

What’s up for you next?

Some new things! I have a fellowship with the Storytelling Math Project that’s funded by the Heising-Simons Foundation and coordinated by TERC, a not-for profit STEM research and development organization here in Cambridge, MA. I’ll be a member of a group that’s identifying, creating, and promoting math-infused storybooks for diverse young children and I hope to create a couple of Small Talk Books® along these lines—probably about supermarket shopping! I also was asked to help out the Highlights magazine editorial team that creates HELLO magazine for 0-2 years and be an outside reviewer for issues before they go to publication. And then I’ll be volunteering as a visiting children’s book author to the Somerville Family Learning Collaborative, the family engagement and early childhood hub of the Somerville, MA Public Schools, sharing my books with playgroups and new parent groups.  

But mostly, I plan to write! I have a bunch of picture book manuscripts in various states, and ideas for new ones. These manuscripts are different from the Small Talk Books®; they don’t have a deliberate educational underpinning to them. They are fun, and just fun. One, for example, is called What To Do With Ruby-Lou and it’s about a baby who doesn’t laugh, no matter what her family does. Who is going to be able to get a laugh out of Lou? Well, it’s a surprise and it just might require some audience participation. I’ve had an agent in the past and hope to find a new one to rep me with these picture books.

You recently became a grandmother. Can you tell me a little about your granddaughter?

I thought our granddaughter was the most wonderful and expressive baby in the world when was she born – of course! She and my advance copy of the new Rosa book arrived into the world at just about the same time.

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At three months now my granddaughter is a big reader and is riveted on the B&W hi-contrast board book genre, especially one board book about cars and trucks. She moves her head back and forth, from one end of the spread to the other, scanning the images on the page like a studious scholar of some ancient text.

What is the best part about being a grandmother?

For me the best part about being a grandmother is being able to simply enjoy my granddaughter and play with her and watch her develop, and not have to worry about taking care of her daily needs. I didn’t have to stress when she refused to take the bottle before starting full-day childcare. That wasn’t my job. (She did take it – of course!) They live nearby, and seeing her once or twice a week, I love noticing small changes on each visit. I also love seeing our daughter and son-in-law parent.

Have you given thought to what you’d like your granddaughter to call you?

Our daughter asked us ahead of time what we’d like to be called when we became grandparents. I thought it was a wise idea to be proactive and select a name immediately, to avoid being named by the grandchild something like “Grandma GA-GOO-GA.” My great aunt Jane is called “Nini” as a grandmother, and I’ve always loved that, but I didn’t want to steal it. So I chose “Mimi.”

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It sounds as if Grandparents Day may be one of your top holidays! Do you have another favorite?

When I was little, I liked Easter a lot because it combined a lot of my favorite things: crafts, springtime, running around outside, candy. Also, we didn’t dress up much as kids, but I do remember Easter bonnets!

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When our children were little, their birthdays became my favorite holiday celebrations. Now that they are grown, maybe I need to pick a new favorite holiday? I see that June 4th is Hug Your Cat Day. That might be just right: we have a rather large and ferocious cat and when she actually lets you hug her, well, it’s a cause for celebration.

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Do you have an anecdote from any holiday that you’d like to share?

When I was six years old, I saw the Easter Bunny. I was staying at my Grandparents’ house, and I looked down the stairwell, and there he was, crossing the landing at the foot of the stairs. He was quite tall, wore a yellow slicker that was too small for him, and he was carrying a large Easter basket. I’m afraid I didn’t have my Brownie camera with me at the time to snap a photo.

But I do have an unwrapped sugar Easter egg that I’ve saved from that era.

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Thanks for sharing so much about your work and life, Ellen! I wish you all the best with Rosa’s Very Big Job, your other Small Talk Books®, and of all your other ventures!

You can also find Ellen Mayer on Facebook and Twitter

Rosa’s Very Big Job can be found at

Star Bright Books | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Other Small Talk Books® available from Ellen Mayer and Star Bright Books include Cake Day, Red Socks, and A Fish to Feed and can also be found at the above booksellers.

Visit Ellen Mayer on her:

Website | Facebook | Twitter

Picture Book Review

September 6 – Read a Book Day

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About the Holiday

Avid readers, rejoice! Today is your day – a whole 24 hours dedicated to the fine pursuit of perusing an old favorite or a newly discovered book! To celebrate visit a local bookstore or library then find a cozy nook or shady spot and settle in for a good, long read.

Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille

Written by Jen Bryant | Illustrated by Boris Kulikov

 

When Louis Braille was born he was so small that no one in town expected him to live. But he did! Louis thrived and with his curious eyes took in everything around him. Louis was smart, too, with a prodigious memory for names and stories. His father worked with leather, making harnesses and bridles. Louis wanted to be just like him and often reached for the sharp tools on the workbench, but his father always warned him away.

One terrible day, however, when Louis’ father glanced away, Louis grabbed an awl and tried to work it into the smooth leather, but it slipped. Louis’ damaged eye was bandaged and he was told not to touch it. But when the bandage began to itch, young Louis couldn’t help himself and spread the infection to his other eye. By the age of five, Louis was left in darkness, unable to see the faces of those he loved or the attractions of home.

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Image copyright Boris Kulikov, courtesy Alfred A. Knopf

Louis learned the sounds of the world. He discovered the number of steps around his house, to the outbuildings, and eventually to the shops and businesses in town. His brother taught him how to whistle and use the reverberations to avoid obstacles. He also learned to feel the shapes of letters made of straw, leather, or nailed replicas made by his family. He played dominoes by feeling the dots with his fingers.

While Louis listened to others read to him, he longed to be able to read on his own. Whenever he asked if there were books for blind people, however, the answer was always, “No.” A noblewoman who lived nearby heard of Louis and invited him to study at the Royal School for the Blind in Paris. At the age of 10 he moved to the boarding school.

The Royal School was anything but sumptuous. Louis’ room was crowded, damp, and dark. His uniform itched, and meals were meager and cold. He so wanted to return home, but the promise of books for the blind kept him there. Those books were reserved for the best students, and Louis vowed to be one. Finally, Louis was led to the library. A book thudded onto the table in front of him. “‘Voila! There it is,’” the guide said.

Louis opened the book. To read it he had to feel the raised letters, but the letters were huge and a page only held a few sentences. To make matters worse, the book consisted of only a few pages. “‘Is that all?’” Louis asked. The guide told him there were others but that they were all the same. More than ever Louis wanted to go home.

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Image copyright Boris Kulikov, courtesy Alfred A. Knopf

In the morning Louis was shaken awake; the headmaster had an important announcement.  It seemed that a French army captain had devised a secret code read by touch instead of sight. This code could be used at the school, the headmaster said. The code consisted of raised dots set in patterns that represented various sounds. The boys learned the new code then learned how to write it, using an awl-like implement that punched dots into paper.

While the code was a breakthrough, it was hard to learn and all the other boys in the school had given up—but not Louis. Still, reading the code was not like reading a book with letters, words, and sentences. Louis asked the headmaster if the army captain would work with him to improve the code, but when the headmaster asked, the answer was “No.”

Louis knew what he had to do. Night after night he punched dots into paper with the awl-like tool—just as he had watched his father do with leather. He tried “hundreds of ways to simplify the captain’s code.” Three years passed, and Louis turned 15. Finally, he had a workable solution. He asked the headmaster to read to him a book he had never heard. As the headmaster read, Louis copied his words, punching letters onto paper. Louis’ “new code used just six dots, arranged in two columns, like dominoes. Each dot pattern stood for a letter of the alphabet.”

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Image copyright Boris Kulikov, courtesy Alfred A. Knopf

When the headmaster finished reading chapter 1, Louis turned his pages over and “reading by touch, recited the entire chapter.” After that “word spread quickly. The other students rushed to try it. Si facile! ‘So easy!’ Et si vite! ‘And so fast!’ ‘We can read words and write letters like everyone else,’” the other boys exclaimed.

As Louis watched his friends read he remembered watching his “Papa in his shop, bent over rough strips of leather, making them useful. I had become like him, after all,” Louis thought.

An Author’s Note, more fascinating biographical information about Louis Braille’s life and other inventions, resources, and the Braille alphabet follow the text.

In her Author’s Note Jen Bryant says she wanted to express what it felt like to be Louis Braille. In Six Dots she succeeds in bringing the story of this very young inventor and genius to life with details of his accidental blindness, family support, school experiences, and ultimate victory. Told from Louis Braille’s point of view, the story has an immediacy that presents Braille’s frustrations, challenges, and achievements sensitively and honestly. His perseverance against all odds will inspire readers and give them a new perspective on the unique person Braille was, the importance of books for all, and what children not much older than the readers of Six Dots can accomplish.

Boris Kulikov’s mixed media illustrations take readers back to the France of the early 1800s, depicting with soft colors and period details the town, people, and influences in Louis Braille’s life. Braille’s initial accident is treated with thoughtful consideration of the book’s audience, and his blindness and dreams are portrayed with transparent outlines on a black background. Readers will be interested to see how Louis’s family and friends supported and helped him (an unusual occurrence of the time). As Louis grows, readers discover his other talents for music and sewing, and the tools Louis used to produce his Braille pages are clearly shown.

Ages 4 – 9

Alfred A. Knopf, 2016 | ISBN 978-0449813379

View Jen Bryant’s website for activities, videos, and links related to Six Dots—you’ll also discover more of her books too!

To see a gallery of images by Boris Kulikov for books and other illustration work, visit his website!

Read a Book Day Activity

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I Love the Library! Coloring Page

 

Today is a perfect day to visit your library and check out some awesome books! Here’s a printable I Love the Library! Coloring Page for you to enjoy too!

September 3 – International Vulture Awareness Day

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About the Holiday

With their bald pink heads and dusty brown feathers vultures and turkey vultures may not be the peacocks of the bird kingdom, but they play a crucial role in the environmental cycle. These scavengers live on carrion, clearing away and “recycling” the carcasses of dead animals. Because of the vulture’s appearance and stereotypical depictions, their plight as an endangered species goes largely unnoticed. Environmental groups in South Africa and England established today’s holiday (also known as International Turkey Vulture Day) to promote awareness f the declining number of vultures, a cause that has been picked up by zoos and other conservation groups around the world.

Vulture View

Written by April Pulley Sayre | Illustrated by Steve Jenkins

 

In the clear blue morning sky the vultures soar. “Wings stretch wide / to catch a ride / on warming air / Going where?” One turkey vulture scans the ground, dipping and tilting as it searches for its breakfast. A snake rattles and hisses in the rocks. The vulture passes it by. A golden fox gazes silently into the distance, but the vulture flies away. A bear half-way up a tree would be easy prey, but the vulture lets him continue his climb.

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Image copyright Steve Jenkins, courtesy of us.macmillan.com

The turkey vultures are searching for a particular meal. They “smell the air. / They sniff, search, seek / for foods that… / REEK! The aromas of the landscape rise to the vultures. Are they attracted by the “fragrant flowers? / No, no.” “That spicy smoke? No, no.” Maybe “that stinky dead deer? Yes, yes!”

The vultures descend to dine on their “rotten” meal. Afterward they clean themselves in the nearby water and preen their feathers. Still hungry, “they hop, flap, soar / to look for more.” As the sun sets the vultures’ “wings glide, wings ride / through cooling air.” They come from all over to vulture trees—beautiful, bare silhouettes on the sky—to “settle and sleep, like families.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-vulture-view-vultures-eating

Image copyright Steve Jenkins, courtesy of us.macmillan.com

With the rising sun and the warmer air, the vultures take to the sky again in search of their singular meal.

Intriguing facts about how vultures fly, the seven species of vultures, why and how vultures feed on carrion, nesting behaviors, and vulture festivals around the United States follow the text.

In this Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book, April Pulley Sayre brings a poet’s sensibility to the misunderstood vulture. In her lyrical lines the sights and smells of the vulture’s terrain and the vulture’s flight patterns are elevated to educate young readers of the actual beauty of this distinctive species. The benefits vultures provide to the environment as well as their familial attachments make these birds some of the most fascinating animals in the wild kingdom. Who among us doesn’t look up at the circling majesty of birds of prey? Sayre’s text gives readers the bird’s eye Vulture View.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-vulture-view-soaring-vulture

Image copyright Steve Jenkins, courtesy of us.macmillan.com

With his signature cut-paper collage illustrations, Steve Jenkins gives shape to the vulture’s world. The mottled dark body and the wings and tail fringed with white meet layers of pink that form the vulture’s wrinkled head. The rattlesnake is a smooth combination of greens and browns while the fox is brilliantly orange and soft. Hills and mountains jut from the bottom of pages, and a bony carcass lays amid tall grass, decaying and attracting a vulture. As the birds streak through wispy fiber clouds to descend upon the vulture tree in the shadowy evening, readers will come to appreciate the life and role of the vulture.

Ages 4 – 8

Henry Holt and Company, 2007 | ISBN 978-0805075571

Wow! You will find a wealth of information on April Pulley Sayre‘s website which includes her many books, educators’ resources, and much more information on natural history topics.

Even just hovering over the icon links on Steve Jenkins‘ website is fun—and there’s so much more to discover once you click on them!

International Vulture Awareness Day Activity

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Valuable Vultures Coloring Page

 

Vultures are a valuable part of our ecosystem. Here’s a printable Valuable Vultures Coloring Page for you to enjoy. Why not try your hand at using cut or torn paper like Steve Jenkins does in Vulture View to fill in the design?

Picture Book Review

August 29 – Get Ready for Kindergarten Month

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About the Holiday

Children of kindergarten age are looking forward to starting school like “the big kids,” and teachers all over the country are preparing to welcome their new students on the first day. All the desks or tables have the same supplies laid out, the same chairs pushed in, and the same promise of learning. Are all the kids the same? Yes…and no. Yes: They are all about the same age, wonder what the future holds, and want to make friends. No: they all come with different personalities, different histories, and different talents and abilities. And it is these differences that give each child their unique perspective on the world and will determine their unique contribution to it. Today celebrate each child’s distinct skills and gifts.

Be Quiet, Marina!

Written by Kirsten DeBear | Illustrated by Laura Dwight

 

Marina and Moira are four years old and in the same class at school. Marina was born with cerebral palsy; Moira has Down’s Syndrome. They like many of the same things. Both girls like to dance, play ball, dress up, and play with dolls. But when it comes to noises or rushing around, Marina and Moira are different. Marina likes loud noises. She often screams and shouts, and when she and Moira play together, Marina likes to tell Moira what to do.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-be-quiet-marina-girl's-similarities

Photography by Laura Dwight, courtesy of starbrightbooks.org

Moira, on the other hand, likes to sit quietly, and she can often be found taking a break in her cubby. She also likes to play alone with the little people figures. While both girls like to take walks outside, Moira stays with the teachers and the other students while Marina runs ahead. One of Moira and Marina’s favorite activities is when the teachers swing the kids in a big blanket. Then each student has to wait their turn. Moira can wait patiently, but for Marina waiting is hard; she gets angry and screams or cries. When Moira hears Marina scream, she feels scared. She covers her ears and leaves the room.

While Moira and Marina like to build towers and castles with blocks together, they have different feelings about cleaning up afterward. Marina doesn’t want to help and shows it by yelling. Moira runs from the room with her hands over her ears. “One day on the playground Moira was on the see-saw. Marina wanted to get on too, but she couldn’t…So she started to scream. She screamed so loudly that Moira covered her ears and walked away. Now Marina could get on the see-saw, but it was no fun alone.”

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Photography by Laura Dwight, courtesy of starbrightbooks.org

Another day Marina started to get upset while the girls were playing with the telephone. This time Moira didn’t run away. Instead she looked at Marina and said, “Please don’t scream!” Marina listened. She became quiet and the two continued to play together. Later in the week when Marina asked Moira to play, Moira told her she would, but only if Marina didn’t scream. Marina said, “Okay, I won’t.”

The two girls came to an understanding. Instead of being afraid of Marina, Moira now knows she is trying to be friends, and Marina realizes that if she wants Moira to play with her, she can’t scream. And they both know that if they need help they can ask their teachers. Now Marina and Moira are best friends, which means they can have fun playing dolls and building with blocks, dancing and dressing up and even going up and down on the see-saw. And when Marina screams, “‘It’s fun!’” Moira makes a little noise herself and shouts “Be Quiet, Marina!”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-be-quiet-marina-girl's-differences

Photography by Laura Dwight, courtesy of starbrightbooks.org

With simple, straightforward language, Kirsten DeBear reveals the story of how two little girls with what might be considered opposing personalities overcame their differences to become friends. While drawn to each other, these differently abled girls had trouble playing together. Through perseverance and communication, however, they came to understand each other. DeBear brings honesty and humor to this true story that applies to all children who need to accommodate other’s preferences while staying true to themselves when playing or working in a group. The happy resolution shows that there is room for all in our friendships and our hearts.

Laura Dwight’s black and white photos take a storyteller’s approach to chronicling the evolving friendship between Marina and Moira as they participated in schoolroom activities. The smiling girls are shown dancing, dressing in fancy hats, playing with dolls and a ball, building with blocks, and doing other fun things together. The photographs also depict moments of friction between the girls when Maura becomes upset and screams and Moira covers her ears and runs away. At the end of the book Dwight’s lens captures the experiences that led to better understanding between the two girls and their strengthening friendship.

Readers may recognize themselves as a “Maura” who likes loud noise and exploring on her own ahead of the group, or a “Moira” who prefers quiet and staying close to the group. Through the story of these two very smart little girls, all kids may learn to understand and appreciate themselves and alternate viewpoints.

Ages 4 – 7

Star Bright Books, 2014 | ISBN 978-1595726650

Visit Star Bright Books for a vast array of inclusive titles for children that embrace diverse ethnicities and abilities, promote literacy, and are widely available in 24 languages.

View a gallery of photography work by Laura Dwight on her website!

Get Ready for Kindergarten Month Activity

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Threads of Friendship Photograph Holder

 

In the same way that thread holds clothes, blankets, and other material goods together, friendship holds people together. Make this easy Threads of Friendship Photograph Holder to keep pictures of your friends close by!

Supplies

  • Wooden Spool of twine, available at craft stores and some discount retailers
  • Thin-gauge wire, no heavier than 18 gauge
  • Small gauge nail
  • Hammer
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Pencil
  • Photographs

Directions

To make the photograph holders:

  1. Holding one end of a wire with the needle-nose pliers, wrap it around the pencil four or five times
  2. Remove the wire from the pencil
  3. Squeeze the coils of wire together with the needle-nose pliers
  4. Cut the wires to different lengths so the pictures stand at various heights

To make the stand:

  1. Make two or three holes in the center of the wooden spool of twine with the nail and hammer, holes should be about ½-inch deep to steady wire.
  2. Place the coiled wires in the holes
  3. Put photos in the coils

Note:

Even young children can help hammer the nail, place the wire in the holes, and choose photographs. Adults should coil the wire, cut the wire, and help with hammering.

Picture Book Review

August 28 – Pony Express Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday commemorates the intrepid souls who risked life and limb to bring our ancestors important letters in a timely manner. Towns across America hold special, fun events to remember the riders who took to heart the postal carrier’s motto: “Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat nor gloom of night, stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Find a local festival or maybe reenactment and have a little Old West fun!

You Wouldn’t Want to be a Pony Express Rider! A Dusty, Thankless Job You’d Rather Not Do

Written by Tom Ratliff | Illustrated by Mark Bergin

 

So, you’re 16 years old and lookin’ for a job. There’s not much out there, and the pay stinks. Then you see a broadside advertising jobs with a newfangled technology. The description seems pretty good, exciting even—just up your alley. “WANTED: Young, skinny, wiry fellows not over eighteen. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.” And here’s the kicker—you make $25 per week! Heck most people only make $25 a month!

You decide to apply for this Pony Express position, and your life takes off in a whole new direction—to California, to be exact! William Russell, Alexander Majors, and William Waddell own the company. It’s real name is the Central Overland California and Pike’s Peak Express Company, but that’s quite a mouthful, so the enterprise is fondly known as The Pony Express. It’s a rapid mail-delivery system that promises letters and packages will go from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California (2,000 miles/3,200 km) in only 10 days. Can you imagine?!

Planning begins in January of 1860 and is completed in less than four months. Hundreds of horses are bought and about just as many riders are trained (they have to learn how to change horses in two minutes or less). Along the route 157 relay stations are also constructed. All this is to supply communication for the many pioneers who are steering their Conestoga Wagons out West, battling floods, snow, disease, and those pesky obstacles called the Rocky Mountains to find a better life for themselves and their families. 

You’re young, enthusiastic, and want to be part of this new landscape. You strap on your company-given “two revolvers, rifle, and Bowie knife,” have your horse shod, and take the Rider’s Oath: “While in the employ of A. Majors, I agree not to use profane language, get drunk, gamble, treat animals cruelly, or do anything else that is incompatible with the conduct of a gentleman.” Well, Dang! (Oops!)

The route West is fraught with danger, so forts and trading posts pop up along the way to protect and supply Pony Express riders. The pioneers also keep an eye out for you, so it’s handy to get to know them. While you ride you can be assured that you have the latest in mail-carrying gear. A special saddle modeled on those used by Spanish vaqueros (cowboys) is more comfortable for the long miles, and a mochila (a leather pouch that fits over the saddle) is stuffed full of the mail.

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Image copyright Mark Bergin, courtesy Scholastic

You were right about the job being exciting! Every day brings a new experience: dehydration, heat exhaustion, blizzards, frostbite, floods, 6-to-10-hour hard rides, plus you’re a target for outlaws and bandits. It’s worth it all, though, to bring a smile to someone’s face when they open a letter from their far-away sweetheart—and all for only $5.00 a letter (that’ll be about $120 in 2016). Just be thankful it’s not a business letter—that’ll set ya back $30, which is…uh…umm…well, a heck of a lot (oops!).

In 1844 some upstart named Samuel F. B. Morse invented the telegraph that uses a code of electrical signals to deliver messages. It only takes 5 years for all the major cities to be connected, and as more people move west, so do the poles and electrical wires.”In June 1860, congress authorizes construction of a telegraph line to California. If the telegraph ever reaches the West Coast, you will most likely be out of a job.” One thing about this Morse Code, though. Because “messages sent long distances have to be copied and recopied several times, mistakes are common.” Betcha in the future, though, there will be some kinda automatic correction system, and errors will be left back here in the past.

It’s 1860—a presidential election year—and the campaign has been ugly and hard fought. The country is divided, and fast delivery of the election results is crucial to keeping the United States together. You are part of saving the country, as the news of Abraham Lincoln’s victory reaches California from Washington in only 7 days and 17 hours—a cross-country delivery record! Within a year, the U.S. is at war and danger looms for the Pony Express riders. To protect the riders and the mail, the Overland Stage Company (soon to be known as Wells Fargo) and their enclosed stagecoaches take over.

And the Pony Express? Well, as you probably know, it’s losing money and limping along, what with the competition and the war and all. In October 1861 the transcontinental telegraph is completed and the Pony Express stables its horses. And you? You’ll be fine. With all the experience you’ve gained, you can easily find a job as a scout to guide folks over the trails to their new Western homes.

These “You Wouldn’t Want to Be…” series of books brings history to life by revealing the seamy side of events—and aren’t those really the most fascinating? Tom Ratliff corrals a heap o’ info on the Pony Express and the pivotal changes the United States experienced during the 1860s. While the text trots out fun sidebars, the short chapters are loaded with concrete facts about the development of the American West as it grappled with the need for faster and better communication.

Mark Bergin depicts the concepts presented with bold, vivid cartoon-inspired illustrations of the pioneers, riders, inventors, and townspeople who made up the Pony Express system. The people’s faces register well-earned skepticism, fright, and weariness, but also pride and excitement to be on the cutting edge of technology. Maps portray the 2,000-mile route from America’s middle to its western sea.

The Pony Express may be long gone, but as this book affirms, the more things change the more they stay the same. Teachers, researchers, and anyone interested in history will want to hoof it to add You Wouldn’t Want to Be a Pony Express Rider! to their collection.

Ages 7 – 10

Scholastic, Inc., 2012 | ISBN 978-0531209479

Pony Express Day Activity

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Pony Express Mail Carrier Coloring Page

 

Can you color this printable Pony Express Mail Carrier Coloring Page as quickly as a rider could deliver the post? You’ve got 10 days—so don’t rush!

Picture Book Review

August 26 – Women’s Equality Day

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About the Holiday

Today’s holiday commemorates the day in 1920 when the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, giving  women the right to vote. Over the years women all over the world have fought and are still striving to gain equal footing with men in areas such as employment, salary, and education and to be free from fears of violence and discrimination. Empowering women across the globe and ensuring their voices are heard is an issue for all people to be involved in.

For the Right to Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story

Written by Rebecca Langston-George | Illustrated by Janna Bock

 

Malala Yousafzai lived in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, where her father, Ziauddin, ran a school in the town of Mingora. Malala loved school and even when she was tiny visited classes with her father often. Not all Pakistani children could go to school—some families couldn’t afford it and some believed girls should stay home to clean, cook, and keep house. But Malala’s father believed his daughter had the same right to an education as his sons. Malala thrived at school. She learned multiple languages and won many academic awards.

“But Taliban leaders who controlled the area were against letting girls go to school. They declared that females should be separated from males. They wanted to outlaw education for girls.” The Taliban leaders even tried to intimidate Malala’s father. “One ordered Ziauddin to close his school because girls and boys used the same entrance.” Ziauddin refused.

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Image copyright Janna Bock, courtesy of Capstone Press

While her father was worried, Malala’s determination grew stronger. She studied harder at school, and during the school holidays while most Pakistani women covered their hands with henna flowers and vines, Malala painted science formulas on hers. The Taliban continued to exert a tight grip on the Swat Valley, and instituted new rules: men could not shave, women had to cover their faces, movies were banned. And the radio “crackled with the sound of the Taliban preaching: No education for girls! Girls who attend school bring shame to their families!”

The Taliban frightened many, and empty seats in school classrooms began to be more frequent. Ziauddan and Malala appeared on TV to express the importance of education. In response the Taliban threatened Ziauddan and his school. Despite the threats Malala and her father continued to speak and write, “demanding equal education for girls.” The Taliban began patrolling the streets, perpetrating violence and destruction on anyone who didn’t obey their rules.

In December 2008, the Taliban announced that all girls’ schools would close by January 15. “Even before the deadline, bombs started to rain down on nearby schools as warnings.” The British Broadcasting Corporation wanted to reveal to the world what was happening. They wanted a girl to write a blog about her experience and “how it felt to be denied an education. Malala volunteered.

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Image copyright Janna Bock, courtesy of Capstone Press

She took the pen name Gul Makai and related her blog by phone to a reporter who typed and published her words for two months. The first post appeared on January 3, 2009. On January 14 Malala wrote: “‘They can stop us from going to school, but they can’t stop us learning!’” Because activists were growing angry, the Taliban let girls ages 10 and younger go to school. Malala and her friends were 11. They began dressing to look younger and hid school books in their clothes. If they had been caught lying about their ages, they and their teachers could have been beaten or executed.

In May 2009 the Pakistani army began battling the Taliban and ordered everyone to evacuate. Malala and her family had to pack their belongings and leave. Malala wanted to take her books along, but there wasn’t room. She could only hope that they—and her home—would survive the fighting. Three months later, the people of Mingora were allowed to come home, but the town was not the same as they had left it. Shops and buildings were destroyed, burned frames of cars were strewn across the roads. The school’s walls were riddle with bullet holes. But the Taliban was gone. Ziauddin reopened his school for boys and girls.

While Malala returned to school, her life was not the same. Because of her blog, speeches, and interviews, she was internationally famous. Everyone wanted to hear what she had to say—everyone but the Taliban. “Talban leaders began to threaten her on the Internet. Saying she was working for the West, they announced Malala was on their hit list. The police warned the Yousafzai family to leave, but Malala refused to hide. She refused to be silenced.”

Because of the danger, Malala’s mother wanted her to ride the bus to school instead of walk. On October 9, 2012 as Malala and her classmates rode the bus home after school, the bus was stopped and a man boarded, demanding to know which girl was Malala. While no one spoke, the girls couldn’t stop their eyes from flashing quickly toward Malala. That was all the man needed. He “pointed a gun at Malala. Three shots shattered the silence.”

The bus driver rushed Malala and two of her friends to the hospital. Word spread quickly about the shooting through the town and around the world. Malala lay unconscious for days as the Taliban threatened her again should she live. As determinedly as Malala fought for equal education, she fought for survival. Finally, she was flown to a hospital in England for more surgery and to keep her safe. Gifts and wished poured in from all over the world. Malala stayed in the hospital for three months and underwent many procedures to correct the damage done by the Taliban’s bullets.

When she had recovered, Malala returned to her family and to her place on the world stage where she continues to speak out for the rights of all. On July 12, 2013 in a speech at the United Nations, Malala “declared, ‘One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world.’” On December 10, 2014 Malala became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for her “strength, power, and courage” to “lift her voice for children everywhere.”

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Image copyright Janna Bock, courtesy of Capstone Press

Malala. Those three syllables have become synonymous with bravery, freedom, and education. Rebecca Langston-George tells Malala’s remarkable story with the same unstinting vision that fuels Malala’s mission. Told sensitively, but candidly, this compelling biography reveals the harrowing evolution of the Taliban’s reach that, far from intimidating young Malala, only served to make her more determined. Langston-George’s excellent command over her well-chosen details and gripping pacing enhances the power of this important true story. Readers should come away inspired—not only by Malala’s life, but the fact that they too can make a difference.

Janna Bock depicts the changing landscape of Malala’s hometown both physically and philosophically with illustrations that help readers clearly envision and understand Malala’s life and environment. The faces of the townspeople and the Yousefzai family register distress and fear, but also determination, courage, and optimism as schools close, Mingora comes under fire, and the citizens become refugees. Malala’s shooting, and recovery are portrayed with thoughtful consideration of the readers, and the ending takes children inside the United Nations to witness Malala’s ultimate triumph.

An Author’s Note detailing more about Malala’s story then and now as well as a glossary and index follow the text.

For the Right to Learn: Malala Yousafzai’s Story is an important biography of current events and people shaping the world and our children’s future and is a must read for all.

Ages 8 – 12

Capstone Press, 2016 | ISBN 978-1623704261

Discover more fascinating books by Rebecca Langston-George on her website!

View a gallery of art by Janna Bock on Tumblr!

Women’s Equality Day Activity

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Be a Star! Letter to Your Teacher

 

The school year is about to begin! Do you feel excited? Nervous? Ready to learn? Your teachers are looking forward to meeting you! With the printable Be a Star! Letter to Your Teacher Template, tell your teacher something funny about yourself, something serious, and something you’d like to learn about this year. Add a thank you for all their work and dedication and give it to your teacher on the first day of school! If you’ve already started school, give it to your teacher this week!

Picture Book Review