PRUDENCE THE PART-TIME COW by Jody Jensen Shaffer, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis

PRUDENCE THE PART-TIME COW (Henry Holt & Company, 2017) is heart-warming, charming story about how a misunderstood cow uses thoughtfulness, consideration, and scientific reasoning to find a special place in the heart of the herd.

Prudence is simply not wired like the other cows. Instead of thinking and acting like a regular member of the herd, she’s preoccupied with engineering projects designed to improve the lives others. Ultimately, her inventions unintentionally create havoc on the farm, leaving her isolated and friendless. Motivated by the desire for acceptance, Prudence draws upon COW POWER inspiration to develop inventions benefiting everyone.  In the end, Prudence finds friendship by caring for others and being true to herself.

STEM enthusiasts will enjoy the lessons included in the Prudence the Part-Time Cow Discussion & Activity Guide. Using Prudence’s projects as inspiration, students analyze her inventions through the use of the Scientific Method. Students are asked to first observe how each project potentially benefits members of the herd. Next, they define the problem that is met by the project. From there, young students learn how to formulate a hypothesis, then describe and analyze the experimentation process. Finally, students are instructed to articulate a conclusion for the overall experimental process. Pretty advanced thinking for the PK-3 crowd, wouldn’t you say?

A Celebration of Color - My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood (a re-posting)

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This will be my second Michigan autumn. The vivid colors of the changing leaves, brilliant sunsets, and the rosy-red cheeked children continue to make me smile. Everyday is a celebration of change and color. So, this week, I'd like to focus on a guide I made for Tameka Fryer Brown's charming my cold plum lemon pie bluesy mood. The story explores the connection of the change of mood and its corresponding color. This book is a tribute to sibling rival survival and the tenacity it takes to do so.

 Folks, let me say that the story is lively, entertaining, and very clever. However, if you take a close look at the connection of theme and art, there is a whole lot of shaking going on. It's deep. Really deep. That being said, the guide consists of discussion questions, writing prompts, and basic color theory lessons that lead the reader to an intimate awareness of how color affects and/or reflects emotions.

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One of the most rudimentary-yet-satisfactory activities presented in the guide is Color Mixing. In it, the child experiences the joy of transposing primary colors into secondary and tertiary just by the drip of an eye dropper. It's a very simple activity that lends itself to some profound results.

I encourage you, on this blustery autumn weekend, to take a look at this guide. Better yet, check outmy cold plum lemon pie bluesy mood, the book that inspired the lessons within.

Under the Freedom Tree - A Remarkable Story

The tale of Under the Freedom Tree is a moving historical account of bravery and tenacity and inner conviction.  Susan VanHecke’s beautifully written account of three runaway slaves who became contraband of war is the type of story that stays with a reader long after the final page is turned. And, illustrator London Ladd’s heartfelt renditions of tragedy and triumph breathe life into the bold acts that ultimately played convincing roles in Lincoln’s decision to craft the Emancipation Proclamation. Folks, it was and is a true honor to create a Discussion and Activity Guide for this incredible story. It’s a keeper, for certain.


Mary Smith Peake - my hero!!!!!There are number of critical players in Under the Freedom Tree, people who changed history because of their beliefs in civil rights for all. For instance, there are Frank Baker, James Townsend, and Shepard Mallory – the three runaway slaves who risked their lives to find asylum at Fort Monroe, Virginia. Then, there’s General Benjamin Butler of the Union Army who deemed these men as ‘chattel’ and refused to return them to Confederate Army. And my most favorite person in the story – one that I’ve come to love – is Mary Smith Peake, the heroic teacher who courageously taught the children of the Slabtown community to read under the shade of a broad-limbed Live Oak – The Freedom Tree.

The guide is crafted in such a way that students will be able to retell this poignant story time and time again. It is my hope that, through the writing, matching, and historical sequencing activities offered in the guide, this remarkable recounting of the courageous individuals introduced in Under the Freedom Tree are celebrated forever.


on 2014-11-26 12:24 by Debbie Gonzales


Note! The guide created for UNDER THE FREEDOM TREE has been included as a part of a review for the School Library Journal's Booktalks to Go: History in Picture Books. This amazing book is keeping some great company with several other fantastic titles. Now that's something to be thankful for, isn't it?

The Graphic Organizer - A God-Send!

As previously posted in

Graphic organizers are some of the most beneficial tools around to teach complicated literary concepts such as theme, text structure, chronology, and sequencing - to name just a few. Also known as knowledge maps, cognitive organizers, or concept diagrams – graphic organizers provide a visual opportunity to grasp complex learning and instruction. And, they’re fun to use!

Here's a graphic organizer made to compliment a lesson in P. J. Hoover's school visit programming document. Click on the image and see how a graphic organizer can be used!Maureen McLaughlin and Brenda J. Overturf have joined forces to create an excellent e-book collection of graphic organizers that address both the narrative and informational text CCSS standards. The collection is entitled The Common Core: Graphic Organizers for Teaching K-12 Students to Meet the Reading Standards.  All of the organizers are developed to support students’ thinking process, and each is sensational.

The authors offer the following tips for the most effective use of graphic organizers. They say that educators should:

·        Clearly explain how the organizer works.

·        Demonstrate how to use it.

·        Engage students in guided practice.

·        Allow students to practice using the graphic organizer on their own.

·        Finally, engage students in reflection regarding how to use the organizer and in the topics and/or skills that they learned.

If you are an educator looking for ways to help your students grasp the expectations of Common Core Reading Standards 1 to 10, consider downloading this insightful e-book. It is loaded with plenty of strand-specific, power-packed graphic organizers, each complete with clear definitions stating the purpose and intent.

I particularly like the ones created to guide the understanding of informational text structures. Then again, I’m kinda geeky that way!

A Book Guide and Readers' Theatre for NO PIRATES ALLOWED! Said Library Lou

Big Pirate Pete says, "Click here and buy the book - or else!"Got a lively, entertaining, and not-so-quiet story for you – NO PIRATES ALLOWED! Said Library Lou written by Michigan author Rhonda Gowler Greene and illustrated by Brian Ajhar. I tell you, the experience of creating a Readers’ Theatre script and a Discussion/Activity Guide  for this picture book was like digging through a pirate’s chest full of jewels. This story has it all – danger, intrigue, conflict, and a slight suggestion of a love interest at the end.


In it, Big Pirate Pete is in search of treasure. According to his map, X marks the spot, and the spot is located smack-dab in the middle of tiny Library Lou’s domain – the Seabreezy Library. Pete is boisterous and tries to intimidate Lou. Undaunted and unflappable, Lou is firm with Pete. She promises that she will lead him to the treasure, after he complies with a few directives (Some of which are hilarious). In the end, Pete discovers that true treasure lies in books, a bounty worth more than pirate’s booty!


One of the many aspects that made working this projectsuch funisthat Brian generously allowed me to use his illustrations to compliment the guide and the script. I fell in love with his style, the way he plays with size and color and expression. Fantastic!

I so strongly encourage you to read this great story and then check out the guide and script – most especially, take note of the character cut-outs provided as a part of the diorama foldable activity. They’re great!

Better yet, gather up a cast of kids and film a production of NO PIRATES ALLOWED! Said Library Lou. Rhonda, Brian, and I would love to see it. Lights! Camera! Action! Arrrrrrrrr, matey!

Spanky: A Soldier's Son by Sue LaNeve


Click on the image to order the book!As I’ve said many times before, each guide I create offers a unique opportunity to learn something wonderfully new. Creating book guides for authors and illustrators also grant me the great pleasure of getting to know the individuals on a more personal level. Such was the great experience I had creating a guide for author Sue LaNeve’s award-winning Spanky: A Soldier’s Son.  It’s no surprise that LaNeve’s novel earned a bronze medal from the 2013 Military Writers Society. It’s that good. I can attest for it!

Click here to access the guide.The story is about a boy whose father is deployed to Afghanistan, leaving Spanky and his broken-hearted mother to fend for themselves in a new community. His father’s departing words were, “Son, make me proud.” These words haunt him as he deals with bullies, self-doubt, and adult-like responsibilities. Eventually, Spanky begins to trust and believe in himself by acknowledging the leadership skills he holds within.  In the end, he makes his father proud – and then some.

The story is great. Sue is fantastic. But, the aspect I enjoyed most about this project was partnering with Sue’s mom, Audrey W. Lederman, M Ed., as a consultant for the guide’s contents. You see, Audrey once worked with the talented and gifted. She was a true gift to me, I’ll tell you. Her insights and ideas were astounding!

Sue and Audrey - now there's a mother/daughter team that can't be beat.

For sure!

The Splurch Academy for Disruptive Boys: The Rat Brain Fiasco Game Board

Click on the image to buy the bookTo continue with the activity guide throw-back theme of late, let me tell you about this great game board I made for Julie Berry’s hilarious Splurch Academy for Disruptive Boys: The Rat Brain Fiasco quite some time ago.  I made the guts of the game. She and her sister made it pretty – or rather, scary.

The Splurch Academy series is far from high fantasy, my friends. It’s just an example of some light-hearted, goofy, all-boy, brain-sucking fun. In it, protagonist Cody Mack, a mildy ill-mannered boy, is sent to a school run by a faculty of monsters! At first they work hard to conceal their fangs by posing as a polite principal and his studious staff. But then, like any horror story worth its blood, Cody uncovers clues that a boy was killed at the school and scrambles to avoid meeting the same demise.

Click on the image to download the game, if you dare!The game is constructed by tracing plot points of the book, most are cited from the text and are as ghoulish as ghoulish can be.  I like to imagine some wiry, seven-year-old boy’s grubby fingers flipping through the pages, intent upon relishing a re-read of the story's sloppy, slurpy gore. Delicious!

And, the best part is that the plot point game is inexpensive, easily reproduced, and distributed.

Ba-da-bing! Ba-da-BOO!

Vampire Baby by Kelly Bennett

Click on image to purchase Vampire BabyThis picture book was written by one my most favorite authors, Kelly Bennett, and it is the perfect pairing for the upcoming season of blood-sucking fun! In Vampire Baby, the once sweet and cuddly Tootie has transformed overnight into a diaper-wearing vampire! Tootie bites all the time, and her favorite person to gnaw on is her older brother. He tires of being her perpetual victim and encourages a real vampire family to take her away. In the end, his protective nature takes over and he realizes that he loves Tootie, fangs and all.

Needless to say, creating a guide for this delightful story was great fun for me to do. I encourage you to check out the book and then review the guide. In it, you’ll see plenty of fun and games as well as an academically sound manipulative activity focused on teaching story structure. Folks, this concept is a tough one to teach. However, with some paper, scissors and Vampire Baby in hand, the heady literary elements of setting, character, rising action, climax, and resolution become less threatening and easier to comprehend.

Hope you have a safe and happy Halloween. I plan on it. Wish me luck keeping my hands out of the candy bowl. I'm a blood-sucker for candy corn.

One of My Favorites - Monster Stew

Click on image to purchase through IndieboundJust like teachers can't help but to have favorites, I feel the same way about the guide I created for this charming book written by  Stephanie Greene and illustrated by Stephanie Roth Sisson. The story tenderly depicts a young child's ambivalent fear of Halloween spookiness in a subtle and sweet way. I enjoyed creating this guide almost as much as I enjoyed reading the book.

There are plenty of discussion questions and fun lessons to choose from in the book guide. One the most enjoyable activities is the Black Cat Domino Game, and it's super easy to make, too. Just print the domino game pieces off on card stock. Trim around the edges of the domino cards and you're game-ready! The game can be played with one or more kiddos. Simply shuffle, stack cards face down, and begin matching the quantities of black cats printed on the cards.

 I do hope that you'll take some time to check out Princess Posey and the Monster Stew and then access the guide. Hopefully you'll find something in it that will compliment your Halloween festivities in a booo-tiful way!

A Book Trailer Construction Guide for Black Pool - An E-Book

Creating a guide for C. H. Garbutt's Black Pool: A Jack Flynn Adventure was a first for me in that this compelling story has been printed as a e-book by That's e-book enhanced by this really cool WeJIT technology that engages the reader's decision-making process throughout the story's progression. Neat stuff.

To access the guide, click on its cover.Being that Black Pool is digitally contrived, I thought it would be suiting to create a CCSS Annotated Book Trailer Construction Guide - one in which the reader can delve deeply into characterization, theme, setting, mood, and sensory detail. There are tons of graphic organizers in the guide, each designed to explore specific aspects of literature. Upon completion, students will have all that they need to craft a story board and create a book trailer script!

The best part of doing what I do is working with the variety of books that come my way. I love reading them, and then thinking of the various ways I can interpret the story's message in through discussion and hands-on activities.

What's next, you ask? Stop by next week and I'll tell you all about it!

Fab Guide for The 14 Fibs of Gregory K.

The 14 Fibs of Gregory K. is precisely the type of story I would have used in my classroom when I worked with those wacky upper elementary kiddos. It's funny and tender and intelligent and delicately didactic, in a super-subtle way.  Both boys and girls will enjoy this tangled tale of confusion, mild deception, pi (pie), and poetry.  

 Its a story about a boy who has a poet's heart and a father who is blind to the his passion. Author Greg Pincus nailed the voice of a conflicted, well-intentioned kid who, because of his desire to please others, gets caught in a web of lies - or fibs. Ultimately, through the study Fibonacci and his fascinating numeric sequence, the protagonist finds a way to be true to himself, as well be honest with his dad about his love of writing.

Fibonacci - and that ain't no lie.

In addition to being lively and full of comical action, this book is layered upon layer with depth of  that would reflect these literary elements and have some Fitheme and premise. I wanted to make a CCSS aligned guide Fibonacci fun, too! In it, along with gobs of discussion and writing activities, are three brainiac lessons that I had a total blast creating - The Pi Number Roll, Fibonacci Numbers in Excel, and - the all time classic - The Fractal Foldable! 

It's my hope that Pincus' The 14 Fibs of Gregory K. will become as timeless as the Golden Rectangle. I know it's tons more entertaining.

A Guide Celebrating America's Finest!

Author Patricia Newman deserves a 21-gun salute for penning two exciting titles. Navy SEALs: Elite Operations and Army Special Forces: Elite Operations are both part of the Military Special Ops series and are phenomenal.  Newman takes the reader behind the scenes to show what it takes to become some of America’s best. Full of action and ammo, young readers are sure to enjoy this engaging non-fiction.

The books are rich with well-crafted text, great glossaries, fascinating photos, plenty of interesting sidebars and quotes from servicemen of all ranks – a plethora for this book guide crafter to work with. Patricia asked that I make a joint guide, one that would encompass the integrity of both books in one. My intention was to design a make-shift scavenger hunt that would mandate that the reader would have to read carefully to solve the puzzle, of sorts. The mission was accomplished, I must say.

One of the most gratifying activity (and the most fun) to create was the Path to the Green Beret and Earning the Trident Foldables. Here, the reader must perform reconnaissance through the text to discover the steps a Special Ops hopeful must take to earn the high honor to serve our country as a Navy SEAL or in the Army Special Forces. The foldables earned a gold star. Check them out.

Whether by land, or sea, or air… I can tell you, after making this guide, I am so very glad that the Navy SEALs and Army Special Forces are here. God bless America and the fine men who serve her.

School Visit CCSS Coaching

Authors and Illustrators, it's time to get a winning school visit game plan in place. Anymore, though, schools are requiring more of you than simply inspiring kids to fall in love with the written word, aren't they? Yep. Educators want your presentation to be academically sound, too. And, furthermore, they want documented proof that you're going to deliver the goods.

Oh, man. What now?

Recently, a librarian asked author/illustrator Don Tate to present documentation showing how his school visit presentation aligned with the Common Core State Standards. "Not a problem," I told him. Together, he and I met this librarian's request with ease.

Don described his engaging, well-planned presentation to me, point by point. After spending some time analyzing and strategising, I comprised a detailed document  packed with CCSS annotations and follow-up activities that he can confidently take with him wherever he pleases.

The most satisfying part of this project was to witness the relief Don expressed when he realized that he wouldn't have to alter his presentation format one iota. Score!

Call Me Oklahoma! - Simple Saturday Style

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One of my all-time favorite cheesy musicals is Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! You see, when John and I were first dating, he took me to see it at the Dallas Summer Musicals. I'll never forget how I felt when the cast joined together and sang Oooooooo-klahoma. My heart raced. Tears puddled in my eyes. I wanted to be down there with them clapping and stomping and yee-hawing all around the stage. 

And, when I read the following quote, Miriam Glassman's  delightful story roped me in immediately. 

The show was called Oklahoma! and it was full of cowboys and spunky women twirling around. The musical had Paige bouncing in her seat, and at the end of the show, when all the people onstage waved their hats and yelled, “Yeehaw!” Paige felt so full of joy, tears sprang to her eyes. She longed to be the kind of person who yelled “Yeehaw! (4)"

Paige Turner, the protagonist in Call Me Oklahoma! , and I are soul mates. She and I share the same emotional connection to the musical. I've been in that moment, Paige. I was hypnotized by the surrey with the fringe on top, too. I know how you feel, Little Sister. I do.

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As with all of the guides I make, along with being academically sound, I wanted to do something extra - O.K. - special with this one. I strive to add components that keep the child engaged in the story long after they've finished reading the book. In this one, I made a game cube that corresponds to key plot points in the story. It's super fun. Check it out. A Simple Saturday project at it's best! Yee haw!!!!

A Simple Saturday Guide Hits the Big Time

 Eileen Meyer, author of the most amazing Who's Faster? Animals on the Move creatively displayed the work that I did for her during a recent Author Showcase hosted by the Illinois School Library Association. There she prominently presented the guide that I created for her, as well as my CCSSI annotated school visit booklet on an attractive foam core poster at her table. According to Eileen, she received lots of "oooohs and aaaahs" for the guide and annotations, plus a number of "envious looks" from author passer-bys.

Note at how cute Eileen looks at her table. But don't let that sweet smile fool you. This lady is nothing short of brilliant. Her presentations are not only academically sound, they're lively and kid-friendly. She knows what kids want and understands the academic soundness that teachers need. Believe me, my Simple Saturday friends, I've unearthed every academic gem that her fine work offers and those jewels dazzle like diamonds!

New Guide for Tea Cakes for Tosh

I just put the finishing touches on a Discussion/Activity/Genealogy guide for this most amazing picture book, Tea Cakes for Tosh, written by the lovely Kelly Starling Lyons and illustrated by the phenomenal illustrator E. B. Lewis.

Starling's story is one of warmth, devotion, and confusion. In it, Tosh relishes in the retelling of his family's past told by his grandmother, Honey, while she makes tea cakes from a recipe passed on through generations. Like the familial stories, she recalls the recipe from memory. The recipe, like the stories, are an innate part of her being, and as Tosh discovers, an important part of him, too. When Honey's memory begins to fail, Tosh must assume the role of tea cake maker and family story teller.

The book is set to launch December, 2012. It's one to cherish, for sure!

Things to Love About One Day I Went A Rambling

When author Kelly Bennett asked me to create a guide for her latest picture book, One Day I Went a Rambling, I took a cheerful jiggity-jaunt down memory lane. For, you see, years ago I directed a summer arts and creativity camp for kids and this marvelous book is one that I would have centered the program's entire theme around, had it been in print at that time.

If I would have had this book in hand way back then, I'd have done exactly what Kelly asked me to to, which is to compliment the story's theme by creating a homemade band props out of everyday, commonplace objects like paper plates, plastic bottles, a shoe boxes. Then, as a program finale, I would have cast and performed a Reader's Theatre rendition based upon this wonderful tale. I believe in this story's the timeless inspirational message - when we have the eyes to see, anything is possible! 

One Day I Went Rambling is sensational. There is so much to love about this book. Below are three reasons why you should buy it, read it, and enjoy it. Order away. You'll be glad that you did!  

  • I love protagonist Zane's, unassuming, individualistic demeanor. In the story, Zane sees the fantastical creative potential in everyday items such as feathers, shells, a wooden crate. He's lost in a visionary quest for adventure. Way to go, Zane, my man. I love that. Way to go.
  • I love illustrator Terri Murphy's pictorial expression of the story's theme. Reader, once you have the book in hand, I encourage you to take a several slow, sweet moments to absorb her artistic interpretation of all of the characters involved in the story. Note the deep, emotionally subtle yet whimsical techniques of her masterful work. Absolutely amazing. And trust me, she is, too.  
  • I love that the story is founded upon the premise that magic that can be found in the mundane - a hubcap as a a flying saucer, or a pop top as a magic ring, or even Grannie's slip as a covered wagon top. This book illuminates the notion that all things are marvelous in the eyes of the beholder, if they're willing to see life in this way.

One Day I Went A Rambling speaks to the inherently creative nature that lives within us all. When we dare to let loose and dance to the beat of the unique drummer that resides in our hearts, others will sit up, take notice, and - maybe, just maybe - dance along beside us.


Remembering Maurice Sendak

 Years ago, I directed a large summer arts camp for kids ages 3 to 10, the theme of which was “Let the Rumpus Begin!” For the program finale we performed a play based on Where the Wild things Are. As costumes, each child–75 of them–had construction paper triangle claws taped to their finger and toe nails. We also taped larger construction paper triangles to the tips of their ears and made Styrofoam fangs. Oh, boy! When it came time for those wild things to roar their terrible roars and gnash their terrible teeth the sound was deafening! Their roars were so wonderful, we had to repeat them a time or two.  

This fond memory has been buried in the folds of my heart for well over 30 years now. I can still see those kids tilting back their heads and letting their inner wild thing rip! What a grand time we had together; those kooky kids, the art program staff, and I. All centered around a timeless piece of children's literature created by a master. Thank you, Maurice Sendak. You've left a legacy of joy that will last forever.


Trekking Down the Jes' Happened Timeline

With each guide I work to create something that will help keep the book in the minds of teachers and librarians for a long time. Something that they can easily pull up and reuse. Something that the kids can make by themselves. The objectives of teacher guide exercises must stem from the varied themes presented in the story. And, I try to create activities in which the kids must repeatedly refer to specific pages in the book. Gotta keep that book in their hands!  

The overarching theme in Don Tate's It Jes' Happened: When Bill Traylor Started to Draw is the passage of time. It is a remarkable tale of a man who, while in his 80's, began to draw pictures depiciting the vivid memories of his life as a slave, a sharecropper, and a freeman. This great story is pieced together with multiple references of time and place, more so than in many picture books I've seen. So, I thought, since the aspects of time and place are critical to Bill Traylor's story, let's make a timeline!

 There is some assembly required to create this project. Not to worry, though. It's super easy to make. Everything you need is listed in the guide. With a little glue, some scissors, and the book in hand the incredible events of Bill Traylor's life and death can be chronicled over and over again.

 There are lots of other interactive activities in Don's guide. For instance, comprehension is reviewed by working an awesome crossword puzzle. There's a writing exercise built around writing in a character's point of view. And a poetry activity in which the students pull from their own memories as inspiration - the best kind.

So, get the book, download the guide, and have yourself some grand old fun! Make it jes' happen.