All posts by Guest Contributor

Hashtag Theme

The theme is the heart of a story. However, students often confuse theme with the main idea or an important topic. The main idea consists of what the story is mostly about. When the story’s content is studied in depth, typically several relevant topics emerge. In the same manner, a theme cannot be a one-word statement, such as love or courage. These are simply topics in the story. What about love? Where was love shown? How was courage displayed?

The story’s theme delivers a message from the author to the reader, or teaches a lesson or moral. Sometimes this message/lesson/moral is stated, and sometimes it is implied. When relayed, this message must be in the form of a statement and should reflect the true heart of the story.

Think about fairy tales, folktales, myths, and/or legends you’ve read in years past, and reflect on them. What are some common themes you have identified in these stories? How do you know they are themes and not the main idea or important topics in a story?

You may use visual tools and process questions (as in the Foundations & Frameworks Reading Program) to help students uncover the theme. To help them condense their ideas into a succinct statement, add a fun twist: challenge students to create a Hashtag Theme Statement in 50 characters or less. For example:

Foundations & Frameworks teachers can have students add these statements in the “To Think On” section of their SPECS Logs as if they were posting it on social media. This fun exercise can also be given as extra practice before a performance task test.

Condensing the heart of a story into a concisely-worded statement is a challenge. Incorporating a fresh, relevant challenge that sets limits but inspires creative thinking fosters effective learning.

Mary Beth Fields, M.Ed. is a K-12 Reading Specialist, a Clerestory Learning Program Support Specialist, a teacher, professor, and mom to three children — her favorite teachers.












An Unforgettable Book Raises Questions

A good book fills a reader’s time.

A great book fills a reader’s mind.

An unforgettable book raises questions.

I’ve noticed this in other forms of media, too. Television shows and movies that raise questions are more memorable.

This makes sense. The brain is uncomfortable with unanswered questions, and it will pursue answers long after the credits have rolled or the final page has been turned. Each time the mind chases answers, it rethinks the source of the question, deepening memories of stories in the process.

Such unforgettable books come from skilled writers, such as Margaret Peterson Haddix.

What if you were convinced the government was wrong, but you were forced to stay in hiding? Haddix introduces this question in Among the Hidden and develops and deepens its significance in the rest of the Shadow Children books. Though Haddix poses the question in the context of future societies, its answers and their implications are not foreign to today’s world.

Shadow Children books by Margaret Peterson HaddixWhat would living in the past—literally—mean? And if the past was all you knew, how would you respond when thrust into the modern world? Great questions, and ones that Haddix explores in Running Out of Time.

If history could be changed to save lives, should it be? Haddix introduces this question with one of children’s literature’s most remarkable opening scenes: a plane lands, seemingly without a pilot, and its seats are loaded with infants. From this point in Found, Haddix explores the question with an extensive literary roller coaster that culminates in the final book of The Missing series, Redeemed.

The Missing Series by Margaret Peterson Haddix

If the world you know was flipped so that values were reversed, how and where would you find your place? Haddix forces the protagonist of Game Changer to explore that question.

Haddix seems driven by questions.

What if the place you make your temporary home is neither yours nor home? House on the Gulf.

When it comes to war, does the truth set you free? The Always War.

And most recently: What happens when individuals discover the world they know is not reality, and that realization places them in a world-changing position? Under Their Skin.

Memorable stories raise questions, spark thinking, and yes, even change lives. Margaret Peterson Haddix writes books that hold and convey that much power.

Kevin D. Washburn, Ed.D. fondly recalls daily read-aloud time with his fourth-grade students. Enraptured by brilliantly-crafted writing—which often posed more questions than answered—those students tell him now (more than 25 years later) that reading experience is a favorite grade-school memory. Dr. Washburn is Executive Director of Clerestory Learning.

Are You Listening? Teaching Young Minds to Focus

As teachers, repeating ourselves ad nauseam is not our intention, but we all do it. We engage, refocus, and double check our students have learned what we taught. Sometimes it feels like we work significantly harder than our students.

Focus is the beginning of all learning in the classroom
I attended a Learning and the Brain conference and was challenged by its theme: focus is the beginning of all learning in the classroom. What we choose to focus on is what makes up our cognitive schema. This concept seems simple, but I have since realized how profound a problem focus is for all ages.

As a Learning Specialist, I decided to observe classrooms through this new “focus” lens. I noticed in a classroom of students, even well-behaved students, focus was consistently inconsistent at any given time. In fact, I have yet to observe a group of 20 students all fully engaged for the same five uninterrupted minutes (this assumes focus requires more than having eyes on the teacher and lips closed).

Expectation of focus is a balanced responsibility
Some educators believe focusing students is the teacher’s job as informed by best practices, brain research, and engaging learning activities. But, they say, due to technology’s influence, students’ ability to focus is waning. However, I began to believe expectation of focus can be a balanced responsibility; we have to do our part, but our students have to do their part, too.

I pondered three questions:

In general, how do we teach students to focus?

How do I teach five and six-year-olds to focus?

How much cognitive control can we expect from elementary school children?

We can only control what we understand
Our brain controls our actions, thoughts, emotions, and learning. Yet how much do we really understand about our brain and its connection to who we are and what we do every day? We can only control what we understand.

So, my first attempt to improve focus in the classroom was to teach students what it means to focus.

Mindful Monkey, Happy PandaA psychologist in Atlanta introduced me to Lauren Alderfer’s Mindful Monkey, Happy Panda. The book’s main characters, Monkey and Panda, engage in a conversation that teaches readers what it means to be “Monkey Minded.” Monkey is always doing two or three things at once. When he is eating, he is thinking about playing; when he is playing, he is thinking about reading. His mind is never doing just one thing and, therefore, he feels scattered. Monkey notices that Panda is  peaceful, happy, and enjoying life. He learns that Panda’s secret to happiness is that he only thinks about one thing at a time. By focusing on one thing, Panda is able to fully enjoy the one thing he is doing. Monkey decides to give it a try.

The goal is to have children see both states of mind are appropriate at different times
Two useful phrases, Monkey Minded and Panda Moment, help teach principles of cognitive control to young students. If students can experience what it feels like to focus on one thing, a Panda Moment, then they are ready to notice when they are Monkey Minded. The goal is to have children see that both states of mind are enjoyable and appropriate at different times throughout the day. When it is time to learn, focusing all attention on the teacher, like a Panda Moment, is best for learning. If Monkey Minded moments occur during learning, important information can be missed, making learning difficult.

Panda Moments will come easily to some and with great difficulty to others. These are opportunities to build attention stamina  by introducing focusing strategies and breathing techniques. I believe students are able to focus just as well as they did before technology and video games. The only difference is that the new generation needs teachers to define what it means to sustain focus, and to help students build stamina since the world is full of ever-present distractions.

If we can empower students to recognize when they are doing their part and hold them accountable when they are not, we will be able to use our best teaching methods and students will be able to use their cognitive ability to listen, experience, and learn.

Secondly, I realized helping students understand their brain can help them focus. 

Fantastic Elastic BrainAt the Learning and the Brain conference, I discovered JoAnn Deak’s picture book, Your Fantastic Elastic Brain: Stretch It, Shape It, a fantastic tool to help students understand the brain, how it works, and how it impacts them every day. It uses age-appropriate language and captivating illustrations to help kids learn what is happening in their brain when they engage in daily activities. Here are a few favorite teaching points (among many) from this book:

  1. The brain is a muscle that wants to grow and be strengthened
  2. Making mistakes and practicing is essential for learning because the process helps our brain make and strengthen connections
  3. Learning new things stretches the brain and helps it grow.
  4. Our emotions impact our learning, but we can control and change our emotions if we pay attention and make helpful choices.

Finally, I was challenged to better understand focus as a teacher.

FocusIn Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, Daniel Goleman discusses how cognitive control and emotional intelligence are essential skills to achieving potential. As educators, we need to reflect upon how we teach students about the brain and its power to control thoughts, actions, emotions, and how all three cognitive aspects interact to create life experiences. We can only control what we know and understand.

Helping students understand how their daily experiences, emotions, and intelligence are a product of the brain in action empowers them to shape their brain to best of their ability. By understanding and balancing the teacher/student responsibility for focus in the classroom, we are able to establish a solid beginning for all learning.

Brynn Redmond is the K-1 Learning Specialist at The Lovett School in Atlanta, Georgia.

5 Things to Consider When Choosing a Biography

Through books we encounter people who overcame tremendous odds, served humanity, invented and discovered new horizons, or created wonderful works for our enjoyment. There are also those we identify as “anti-heroes” whose example give us pause for discernment. Even the Bible is filled with one biography after another, each one reporting highs and lows of a person’s life. We grow by reading about the lives of others, especially when their stories are presented well. Here are five things to consider when choosing a biography:

My Great Aunt ArizonaConsider the biography’s subject

I have read about people who are famous, and about ordinary folks just like me. My Great Aunt Arizona by Gloria Houston tells the life and times of a teacher who lived and taught many years ago in the Blue Ridge Mountains. A picture book biography like this can inspire even me to keep teaching! Russell Freedman’s work, Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery, can challenge a young reader to discover what else she might want to attempt or dream.

Be familiar with acclaimed children’s book biographers

Among my favorite biographers are those who prepare the book for a specific reading level or who have a unique style. David Adler is a great choice for the younger reader and Susan Bartoletti writes for the older reader. Jean Fritz is well known for her biographies of great Americans. And, Russell Freedman offers a unique view of reality through photographs to authenticate his works.

Family RomanovBe sure biographical content is accurate

It is important to select a biography with accurate content. The annual award given for non-fiction books, The Orbis Pictus Award ( is a terrific means of assessing a book. Last year’s medal winner, The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia, by Candace Fleming, is filled with facts, reports, photographs, and the jewels of their lives. Since I grew up in the era of the Cold War, and the rule of Communism in the USSR, this biography of the family and its demise was purely fascinating. Fleming also received an honor award for this book from the American Library Association—the Robert Sibert Award for Information books, ( These recognitions can usually assure the reader that the book’s accuracy is without question.

Try multiple books by different authors about the same subject

This allows the reader to compare different points of view, to notice variations in reporting, and to be stretched by more than one writing style. For example, Amelia Earhart has been documented by many: Amelia Earhart: The Legend of the Lost Aviator by Shelley Tanaka, and A Picture Book of Amelia Earhart by David Adler are among dozens of books about this notorious woman.

Our White HouseLook for biography collections

Collections of biographies are another way to introduce children to this rich genre. Judith St. George and David Small have a few books that present these with humor: So You Want to be President? and So You Want to be an Explorer? among others (these are out of print, but check your library). Another collection of note is Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out created by the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance. This collection is a rich assortment of stories and illustrations by 110 renowned authors and illustrators who reveal some wonderful truths about this home and its residents.

Don’t stop there

Share your story. Children often wish for a written record of their parents’ childhood or families. After reading a few of these stories, you will see that there is much to be gained from those who lived before us. Leave that treasure for your children and your children’s children. Go, enjoy some great biographies. Then write!

Penny Clawson, Ed.D.  Although a resident of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for more than 30 years, Dr.  Clawson’s roots in New York City still can be detected if you listen very carefully. Her unique mixture of metropolitan, suburban, and rural experiences brings a varied perspective on life, Christian education, and the Lord. Penny grew up in New York City, attended college in center city Philadelphia, and then taught in York, Pennsylvania, at the Christian School of York for 15 years before coming to Lancaster in 1983 to begin her ministry at Lancaster Bible College. Penny’s love for the Lord, His word, children’s books, and her students is evident in any venue. 

This, I Want for My Daughter

Schoolroom in the Parlor

Huddled under voluminous blankets, watching the white pile up outside my windows, I reach for the old purple paperback that first gave me the word snowbound.

The book’s been sitting on a shelf next to the glider where I feed my four-month-old daughter six times a day. It’s there with the other children’s books whose covers can carry me back to parts of my life that I would otherwise never remember. This cover is a painting of a young girl standing in front of a glowing hearth, reading a book aloud to four other children. Their eyes are fixed on her.

I remember this image so well, I can almost feel the warm light on my skin, almost sense the snow outside their windows. Inside the cover, I find my name inscribed in careful, crooked second-grade cursive. I haven’t read Schoolroom in the Parlor by Rebecca Caudill for nearly twenty years. I don’t know what to expect when I open it again.

“‘I put all my books away the day Miss Cora’s school ended,’ said Chris. ‘That was the Friday before Christmas. I’m going to leave them there until school starts again. That won’t be till the first Monday in August’…”

I’m eight years old again, snug as a bug in a book.

The family is setting up the fire in the parlor they’ve turned into a schoolroom for the winter.

blazed up

These words crackled with warmth long before I knew what they meant. I still don’t know what andirons are.

Brown Paper Package

Father rides off on horseback to choose a prize for the children’s ‘Great Thoughts’ contest. The oldest daughter and teacher-for-the-winter Althy has taught a proverb or poem every day in January—who will remember the most, come the end of the month? The mysterious brown paper package from Father goes to the winner.

When the snow really sets in, the children all join in shoveling paths to the stable, the well, and the woodpile. The two youngest girls are handed long black breadpans to use as shovels. When I first read this book, I had no memory of snow, and no experience with breadpans. But I wanted to be there, knee-deep in the drifts, watching Father shovel faster than any of the rest of us, chipping in to weather winter as a family.

“Come outdoors with me a minute…”

When words like firmament and ethereal come up in the schoolroom, Mother takes her youngest daughter outside to show her the stars, the “spangled heavens.”

Author Rebecca Caudill never tells you how great this family is. But you feel it in everything they say and do.

The adventures the Fairchild children enjoy are real, exciting adventures. They’re given freedom and challenged with responsibilities (playing on their own in the orchard all day, rafting across the river to the store…), but there are limits. There are expectations and consequences. Their lives are warmly lit and safely enclosed, like the cozy schoolroom in the parlor. As a child, I barely noticed Mother and Father. Now I see that it’s Father and Mother who make it all safe, make it home, make it possible.

This, I want

Caudill doesn’t paint this family as overachievers. The children aren’t angelic geniuses. Mother isn’t super-organized, equipped with charts, books, or blogs about homeschooling and cookery. Father doesn’t wax eloquent about efficiency, education, and hard work. These are regular people, regular parents who simply care about what their children learn.

It’s a simple story. And it’s stoking my fires of hope: this, I want for my daughter. I want her to have a sweet and sturdy structure for her adventures. I want her to have a mother and father who don’t need to be the main characters of their own life stories.

And I want her to learn how to be amazed.

“Bonnie! Bonnie, wake up!” somebody was saying…

Father set the lamp on the table. He lifted Bonnie from underneath the covers, set her on the edge of the bed, and began to jerk on her shoes and stockings….

”Let’s go now,” he said, and he hurried down the stairs, lighting the way with the lamp….

Mother was already outside. Chris and Emmy and Althy were there.

“Look!” said Father to Debby and Bonnie. “Look at the sky.”

“Debby and Bonnie turned their faces up and looked into the sky. There, across the immense dark-blue dome of the sky, enormous yellow-green curtains of light, tipped with fieriest red, rolled and folded, one after another–rolled and folded, rolled and folded…And below, on the still, snowbound earth stood the Fairchilds, wrapped in blankets, watching, watching.”

It’s a true classic that can capture the imagination of the same girl at nine and at twenty-nine. When I finish it, I set Schoolroom in the Parlor back in its rightful place on the shelf of treasures—just until my daughter’s hands are ready to turn the pages.

The Blue Hill Meadows by Cynthia Rylant Blackout (picture book) by John Rocco Sarah Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan

While Schoolroom in the Parlor is no longer readily available new, here are a few recommended titles that also express the wonder of learning and a supportive family influence.

Kate Roberts is a writer, editor, and new mom who has watched stories speak into children’s lives over nine years of working with children as a nanny, teacher, and special-needs caregiver. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and daughter. They love to read Winnie the Pooh together.

The Truth of the Story Makes it Worthwhile

Choosing books for Christmas is always a delightful experience. There are many from which to choose, so when selecting a book I ask myself how many things I might share with the children when we read this book. There needs to be more than the fun, excitement, and joys of the season. This helps me eliminate some and treasure others.

A Christmas TapestryThe Christmas Tapestry
by Patricia Polacco

One of my favorites is Patricia Polacco’s Christmas Tapestry. This story begins with the question that many children and adults both ask, “Why did God…?” Jonathan Weeks, a pastor’s kid, finds himself in Detroit, Michigan, where his father has taken the call to a new church, and asks his dad this age-old question. Who has not asked that question at some point? Yet, before the story ends, Jonathan and his family see how the Lord has woven a tapestry that is beautifully crafted to touch the lives of Jonathan, his family, and others in significant ways.

Lesson #1
God has a plan and we need to trust and walk obediently

When a blizzard hits Detroit, Jonathan and his father discover the church’s sanctuary has been damaged by snow and ice, the car won’t start, and waiting for a bus is bitterly uncomfortable when it is cold and snowing. This combination prompts a trip to town where they find a beautiful tapestry to hang over the damaged wall in the church, and meet an old woman who offers them hot tea. Father and son are shocked to learn that Rachel, the woman, created the tapestry as her chuppah many years earlier as a young bride in Germany. However, the real surprise comes a day later when the plasterer—who arrives to repair the wall— recognizes the tapestry as the one his bride made before they were separated and taken to Nazi concentration camps. Their reunion, so many years later, is the celebration that is well beyond a Christmas joy.

Lesson #2
The horror of the Holocaust

These lessons can be enhanced with additional children’s books. A wonderful story of the wedding chuppah is an integral part of Patricia Polacco’s The Keeping Quilt. The appliques on this quilt are family pieces, and the quilt has been used as the wedding chuppah for generations. Polacco includes this artifact in Mrs. Katz and Tush when Mrs. Katz describes her wedding chuppah. The chuppah has wonderful significance in each of these stories, and is a symbol of the banner of God’s love. Jewish history and customs enter into this story, as well as others. A is for Abraham: A Jewish Family Alphabet by Richard Michelson is a wonderful introductory piece for children to learn of these many special traditions.

The Keeping QuiltThe Keeping Quilt
by Patricia Polacco

Mrs Katz and TushMrs. Katz and Tush
by Patricia Polacco

A is for AbrahamA is for Abraham
by Richard Michelson

The events of the Holocaust are important for children of the 21st century to understand. Some people survived the Holocaust by escaping or by being released at the conclusion of the war. Others did not survive and are remembered today with regrets. There are excellent books that describe this tragic time in history. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry offers an account of a brave girl in Denmark who faces danger to rescue another. Similarly, The Butterfly by Polacco describes the events in France at the same time period, and Shulamith Levey Oppenheim reports these events in Holland in The Lily Cupboard. There were those who were able to leave Europe without being imprisoned there, but faced difficulties elsewhere, as in Rebekkah’s Journey: A World War II Refugee Story by Ann E. Burg. Bold attempts to protect the Jews are told in The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark by Carmen Agra Deedy and Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story by Ken Mochizuki. Choose from among these books to help readers of Christmas Tapestry understand the depth of fear and persecution that the Zukors—the old woman and her long-lost husband—faced, and thus the height of their joy when reunited.

Number the StarsNumber the Stars
by Lois Lowry
The Butterfly
by Patricia Polacco
The Lily CupboardThe Lily Cupboard
by Shulamith Levey Oppenheim

 Rebekkah's JourneyRebekkah’s Journey
by Ann E. Burg

The Yellow StarThe Yellow Star
by Carmen Agra Deedy
 Passage to FreedomPassage to Freedom
by Ken Mochizuki

Following the war, there were stories of others like the Zukors who survived. For older readers, share Hiding to Survive: Stories of Jewish Children Rescued from the Holocaust by Maxine B. Rosenberg (out of print) or Surviving Hitler: A Boy in the Nazi Death Camps by Andrea Warren. These tell personal accounts of life changing events. For a similar story appropriate for younger readers, share Don’t Forget by Patricia Lakin (out of print) or Six Million Paper Clips: The Making Of A Children’s Holocaust Memorial by Peter W. Schroeder to help readers grasp the number of lives touched by this event.

Surviving HitlerSurviving Hitler
by Andrea Warren
Six Million Paper ClipsSix Million Paper Clips
by Peter W. Schroeder

The Zukors immigrated to Detroit from Germany when they were released. Why Detroit? Explore the life of an immigrant with Russel Freedman’s Immigrant Kids. Although the time period of most accounts is earlier, the theme is beneficial to understanding the move to a new culture. The welcome to the USA is beautifully described in Emma’s Poem: The Voice of the Statue of Liberty by Linda Glaser. The account of this young Jewish author and her sonnet that became the words of welcome is a great addition when examining immigration.

Immigrant KidsImmigrant Kids
by Russell Freedman
Emma's Poem: The Voices of the Status of LibertyEmma’s Poem
by Linda Glaser

Polacco often will tell her audiences that it is the truth of the story that makes it worthwhile. The Christmas Tapestry, described as a “true story,” includes truths that are so important for our children. It can be read over and over, allowing the reader or listener to be struck with the sovereignty of God who orchestrates tiny details as well as  immense events, and all for His glory. Read and rejoice with Jonathan and the Zukors who see God’s hand weaving a plan to bring joy to us and glory to Him.

Penny Clawson, Ed.D.  Although a resident of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for more than 30 years, Dr.  Clawson’s roots in New York City still can be detected if you listen very carefully. Her unique mixture of metropolitan, suburban, and rural experiences brings a varied perspective on life, Christian education, and the Lord. Penny grew up in New York City, attended college in center city Philadelphia, and then taught in York, Pennsylvania, at the Christian School of York for 15 years before coming to Lancaster in 1983 to begin her ministry at Lancaster Bible College. Penny’s love for the Lord, His word, children’s books, and her students is evident in any venue. 

A Picture Book Can Be Worth a Thousand Lectures

Every elementary school teacher knows the secret to a successful school year is not dependent upon phenomenal lessons delivered, but rather on classroom culture and learning environment. When a classroom is full of students at peace in mind and heart, they are ready to listen, collaborate, take risks, feel confident, and achieve. Once the learning environment is established, then teaching can have its power. Achieving this requires setting expectations at the beginning of the school year; to maintain it takes daily calibration, like a conductor tuning every instrument to play in harmony.

During my first years in the classroom, I used a lot of lectures to calibrate my classroom culture. I stated expectations for respect, taught valuable lessons about life, and instilled a desire for quality character traits. But many times, I felt my words falling on deaf ears. I can remember ranting, “Are you listening to me?” Or at the end of my stellar pep talk I’d say, “Repeat back what I just said,” only to have a student respond with a confused look. This made me realize his intergalactic tour was way more interesting than the words coming out of my mouth.

Looking back at my childhood, I remembered my mother teaching me many lessons through books, so I decided to try that approach. Thus began my children’s-literature obsession. I discovered a multitude of fabulous stories with captivating characters capable of lasting impressions. I realized these impressions could paint pictures worth a thousand words in the minds of my students, leaving nuggets of wisdom to ponder and apply to life situations.

I let the picture book do the talking,
and it started to make all the difference.

My pep talks, inspired by characters and books, soon sounded like, “This situation reminds me a lot of Mean Jean. What did Katie Sue do to solve her problem with Mean Jean? Do you think that might be something you could try?” I let the picture book do the talking, and it started to make all the difference. As a class, we took it a step further and created a “Wall of Wisdom” where we collected quotes or lessons learned from books that would help us deal with life’s obstacles. Suddenly, we were making connections between book characters and our own lives. I even heard students giving each other advice from the Wall of Wisdom.

It seems that our story-seeking, visual minds and innate desire for connections allows children’s literature to become a powerful tool—it can help shape the character and moral compass of both young and old. Here are 10 of my favorite children’s books that powerfully convey a valuable lesson.

The Quiltmaker's GiftThe Quiltmaker’s Gift
by Jeff Brumbeau and illustrated by Gail de Marcken
Generosity True happiness comes from what we give others, not from what we get from others.

Th Empty PotThe Empty Pot
written and illustrated by Demi
Honesty — “I admire Ping’s great courage to appear before me with the empty truth…”

The Story of Ruby BridgesThe Story of Ruby Bridges
by Robert Coles and illustrated by George Ford
Tough Times — Be courageous, forgive your enemies, and trust that God will make you strong.
Harmonious Social PerspectiveCultivating Confidence and Promoting Individuality

Stand Tall, Molly Lou MelonStand Tall Molly Lou Melon
by Patty Lovell and illustrated by David Catrow
Confidence and IndividualityLove who you are and “walk proudly.”

The Recess QueenThe Recess Queen
by Alexis O’Neill and illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith
BulliesCure bullies with love.

written and illustrated by Janell Cannon
CompassionSometimes when people are mean it’s because their love bucket is low;
they just need someone to help fill it up.

You Are SpecialYou Are Special
written by Max Lucado and illustrated by Sergio Martinez
Identity and Other’s Influence — “The stickers only stick if you let them.
The more you trust my love, the less you care about the stickers.”

written by Christopher Myers
Stand Up for Others — “Stop!” I cried. “Leave him alone.” And they did.
“Your flying is beautiful.” And for the first time, I saw Ikarus smile.

How Full Is Your BucketHow Full Is Your Bucket? For Kids
written by Tom Rath and Mary Reckmeyer and illustrated by Maurie J. Manning
Encouraging Others and Selflessness
“The strange thing was that for every drop he helped put in someone else’s bucket,
he felt another drop in his own bucket.”

Mr. Peabody's ApplesMr. Peabody’s Apples
written by Madonna with illustrations by Lauren Long
Judgment and Gossip — “It doesn’t matter what it looked like, what matters is the truth.
Next time, don’t be so quick to judge a person and remember the power of your words.”

Note: Since Mr. Peabody’s Apples is out of print, you may enjoy this similar title:
Help! A Story of FriendshipHelp! A Story of Friendship

written and illustrated by Holly Keller

Brynn Redmond is a Learning Specialist at The Lovett School in Atlanta, GA. With experience as an elementary classroom teacher and a reading specialist, Brynn has grown passionate about sparking a love for reading, writing, learning, and discovery inside young minds.

The Book That Gave My Reader Wings


When my middle daughter Liberty was 7 years old, she wanted to read more than anything. She spent hours looking at books and tried so hard to decode them, but she literally couldn’t see. Born a preemie, her vision was weak and reading real books was HARD, even with very strong glasses. The more time passed, the more she wanted to read real books and the more her frustration with “baby books,” basic decodable readers with bigger font sizes, grew. We were homeschooling at the time and I made the decision to back off a bit. We took a look at the unique way she learned and decided we needed some very active learning. We did sight word hopping, ABC dancing and a lot of word art. As her phonemic foundation solidified, her confidence soared until it came time to read a book. She had the skill, she was ready to read, but seeing it was literally such hard work that she just couldn’t bear it.

In the months that followed, I was determined to help her enjoy reading, even if she couldn’t read the words herself. I let her choose much of what we read and we instituted a system where I would read and she would “help” me. We would look through the book and mark a selected sight word with highlighter tape and then when we came to those words she would read them. Before long, she was choosing a sentence to read on each page. We were making real progress, and she was enjoying great books but she longed to read them on her own.

Elsies Bird

Then came Elsie’s Bird by Jane Yolen. It was nominated to win our state’s children’s book award so our public library had an awesome display with many copies. The cover is gorgeous, done in watercolor and full of life and it literally drew her in. “Mom,” she said, “I need to read this book.”  She checked it out and began to devour the illustrations. On the way home from the library, I could hear her reading, really reading it to her little sister. I had read the book previously and knew that in places the font was small and almost cursive-like. I couldn’t believe she was reading it! My amazement grew as she was willing to lay aside her frustration and work to blend the words she didn’t know. It was in this book that I realized she needed to say the letters out loud in order to blend them, because she needed to hear them since seeing them was very difficult. I cried as I drove and witnessed the breakthrough we had been praying for. When she finished she said, “Hey Mom, this book is awesome.”  She read it over and over and renewed it to read over and over again.

Elsie’s Bird was indeed the book that freed Liberty to become a reader. It gave her a reason to read and the courage to try, even when it was hard. She owns her own copy now and still chooses to read it often. It is often the book she recommends to others, and it is always her answer to the question, “What is your favorite book?” When I think of my own struggling reader and her experience with Elsie’s Bird, I am reminded of how powerful choice is to a reader. I am also reminded that especially struggling readers deserve to have the opportunity to read high-quality literature to build their skills, so that when they find their favorite book, they too will be prepared to take flight as a reader.

Jami Spaulding is the elementary librarian at Lincoln Christian School in Lincoln, NE. She loves spending her days connecting great kids with great books and helping them develop the skills to become lifelong learners. Jami and her husband are blessed to be raising their own three readers. You can follow her adventures in the library at or on twitter @jamibookmom