Monday, December 11, 2017

It’s a Parody Party!

guest post by Sue Fliess

Okay, so maybe I get overly giddy about writing parodies, but for me they are just so much fun! I’m not sure what inspired me to write my first parody song, but once I did, I was hooked. Essentially, I like to take popular songs and change up the lyrics to make it about writing or poke fun at part of the writing journey. I think it’s cathartic to me to be able to express some of the less appealing parts of being in book publishing or being a writer. Humor gets me through the rough patches, and I figured others in the same boat might need a laugh. I’ve done parodies on finishing a book, revising, wanting more books, and even dipped my toe into the political spectrum. But I had not thought of doing a parody for a book, which seems hard to believe! So when an editor, who’d seen my parodies, asked me to try my hand at a parody for a children’s book, I said yes! And We Wish For A Monster Christmas was born!

Try it with your class!
Depending on the age of your students, you can have them do simple or more complex parodies. For the younger set, maybe just take the title of songs they know, and have them change the titles, or just the main chorus. For older groups they can choose a song and rewrite all the lyrics. What I do is print out a page with 2 columns. The left column I have the actual song lyrics and on the right, I create my own to match the beats or syllables. But since it’s a parody, it doesn’t have to be exact. Also, my parodies surround a central theme, but for younger students, it may be a challenge to rewrite a whole song around one topic.

Literary parody
Not in the mood for music? Have your class write a parody of a nursery rhyme or poem they know from a collection. For instance, Mary Had a Little Lamb or Humpty Dumpty might be good starters. Again, they can just create a new title, or rework the whole piece.

No matter which direction you choose, it’s sure to be a fun activity that lets kids be silly and use their imaginations. 

Sue Fliess ("fleece") is the author of numerous children's books including A Fairy Friend, Calling All Cars, Robots, Robots Everywhere!, The Hug Book, Tons of Trucks and Shoes for Me!  Sue lives with her family and a Labrador named Charlie in Northern Virginia. For more information about Sue and to check out her books and song parodies, go to

Monday, November 27, 2017

Lucía the Luchadora

Guest Post by Cynthia Leonor Garza

My new picture book, Lucía the Luchadora, illustrated by Alyssa Bermudez, is about a little girl who wants to be a superhero. When Lucía is told by the boys that girls can’t be superheroes, she gets mad, spicy mad, but with the help of abuela, comes up with an ingenious plan. She returns to the playground with her identity concealed behind a lucha libre mask and cape and becomes a playground sensation. Soon, all the other kids are dressed up as luchadores, too, but when Lucía witnesses the boys telling another girl she can’t be a superhero, Lucía must make a decision: Remain hidden behind the mask or reveal her true identity, which a real luchadora must never do.

There are lots of ways this book can be used in the classroom to teach both younger and older students and English language learners. Dr. Rebecca Palacios, an inductee of the National Teachers Hall of Fame and preschool educator for over 30 years, developed a curriculum guide to go along with the book. Here are some activities drawn from the guide:

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL CONNECTIONS: After reading Lucía the Luchadora, explore social-emotional questions by asking:

·       At times Lucía felt “mad, spicy mad.” Why did she feel this way? How did she resolve her feelings?
·       Lucía felt so strong with her mask on. Why do you think she felt this way? 
·       How did Lucía help the pink crusader who felt so sad? Why was this important for her to do? 
·       Why are feelings important in our lives? How can we help others with their feelings?
ONOMATOPOEIA: Lucía the Luchadora also has lots of fun onomatopoeia like POW and BAM!  Have a ten-minute word scavenger hunt to find these words. Discuss what they mean. How do these words affect the story?
CULTURE: Explore the cultural aspects of the book. Look at the illustrations and have students find pictures they don’t recognize or words in Spanish. What might those pictures represent, and what do the Spanish words mean?
There is also an Author’s Note on luchadores, luchadoras and lucha libre at the end of the book as well as an illustration of lucha libre legend El Santo inside the book. Have older students research a famous luchador or luchadora. What is the difference between a rudo and técnico? Where do luchadores today live? What are they fighting for? Why is the mask so important in Mexican wrestling?
STEM & ART: Have some art and math fun by having the students create their own masks. Have them engineer a design and figure out how to fit a mask on a face. Discuss the symmetry of the design and which tools and resources would be best for creating such a mask. Have the students use geometric figures to make their masks, and incorporate some of art and design elements from the book.
Last, everyone needs a lucha libre name. Have students write about a fun alter ego!
BIO: Cynthia Leonor Garza spent most of her childhood under the hot South Texas sun running around with her three brothers. She's a journalist who has worked for several newspapers and her commentaries have appeared on NPR and in The Atlantic. Of all the lucha libre masks she owns, her favorite one is pink and gold. She currently lives with her two young daughters and husband in Nairobi, Kenya.  Lucía the Luchadora is her first picture book.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library

As a boy in Puerto Rico, Arturo Schomburg’s fifth grade teacher told him that “Africa’s sons and daughters had no history, no heroes worth noting.”  But in her new picture book Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library (Candlewick, 2017), Carole Boston Weatherford  writes,

“After that teacher dismissed his people’s past,
did the twinkle leave Arturo’s eyes
like a candle blown out in the dark?
No, the twinkle never left. It grew into a spark.”

That spark led Schomburg to collect a life’s worth of books, letters, art and prints that told the story of African accomplishments all over the world, especially Africans who came to the New World – like Toussaint Louverture who led a slave revolt in Haiti and Paul Cuffee who was one of the richest black men in early America. Schomburg found African roots in the family trees of naturalist John James Audubon and composer Ludwig van Beethoven.  When Schomburg’s collection outgrew his house, the Carnegie Corporation bought everything for $10,000 and donated it to the New York Public Library.

This book opens the door for students to learn and write about the unsung heroes Schomburg discovered but also others from their own ethnic backgrounds.

·       Learn and write a little more about someone in the book you’ve never heard of.
·       Research someone from your own ethnic background who came to America and made a difference.
·       Write a paragraph or a poem about someone you admire – either from your own ethnic background or someone else’s.

Arturo immigrated to New York from Puerto Rico in 1891, when he was 17 years old. He carried with him letters of introduction to help him find work. 

·       Students can work in pairs to write letters of introduction for each other. Each student imagines a future job and writes a letter recommending the other student for that chosen career. What qualities and skills would be important? What would convince someone to hire the person?

“Arturo Schomburg studied the past… His mission looked to the future. ‘I am proud,’ said Schomburg, ‘to be able to do something that may mean inspiration for the youth of my race.’” He told professors to “include the practical history of the Negro race from the dawn of civilization to the present time. Then young blacks would hold their heads high and view themselves as anyone’s equal.” 

Schomburg’s collection became the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library. Earlier this year, the Center was designated a national historic landmark.

·       Is your school named after a person? Learn and write something about that person.
·       What type of building or space would you want named after you?

If these projects are initiated early in the school year, students can be encouraged to look for people whose stories are not well known in all their classes. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

I'm Not Taking a Bath

In Peep and Egg’s third adventure, Peep And Egg: I’m Not Taking A Bath, Egg gets muddy playing with the pigs. Peep tries to convince Egg to take a bath…but Egg is not taking a bath. No way, no how!

After you read Peep And Egg: I’m Not Taking A Bath out loud to your class, try these activities to get your students writing.

1. Persuasive Writing
Peep tries to convince Egg to take a bath by suggesting different alternatives, such as going to the river, or the duck pond, or the dog bowl.
Write a letter to Egg. In your letter, try to convince Egg to try something new. It could be anything! Maybe you think Egg should go on a roller coaster. Maybe you think Egg should try your favorite video game. In your letter, give at least three reasons to convince Egg.
2. Excuses, excuses!
Peep gives a lot of reasons why taking a bath is not happening—too wet, too bubbly, too slobbery!
Imagine a family member is telling you to clean your room. Make up a list of excuses to show why you can’t possibly clean your room.
3. Make it fun!
Peep finally convinces Egg to take a bath by making bath time seem like a lot of fun.
Imagine it is your job to take out the trash or sweep the floor, but you don’t want to do it. How could you convince a brother, sister, cousin, or friend to do the job instead, by making the job seem super fun? Think of a game to make taking out the trash or sweeping the floor seem as fun as going to Disneyworld!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Jim the Wonder Dog--Writing About Pets

guest post by Marty Rhodes Figley

My newest book, Jim the Wonder Dog, is about a Depression Era Llewellin setter that many believed was either a genius or possessed of clairvoyant skills. This hunting dog predicted seven Kentucky Derby winners, the winners of the 1936 World Series and presidential race. He could also take direction in foreign languages (Italian, French, German, Spanish), shorthand, and Morse code—and recognized both colors and musical instruments. After a thorough examination by veterinarian scientists at the University of Missouri the mystery of Jim remained.  No one could ever figure out how he did those things. 

In the back of my book I have an extensive discussion of oral history. We have a much better understanding of Jim the Wonder Dog and the town where he lived because of the oral history created by the Marshall, Missouri Chamber of Commerce and the Missouri Valley College. In 1997, those two organizations conducted video interviews of people who had known Jim when they were children or young adults. Their recollections have details about Jim and Marshall, Missouri that would otherwise have been lost to time.

Classroom discussion: Discuss what an oral history is, its strengths and weaknesses.

Oral histories capture a moment in history that might have otherwise been lost.
In the case of my book, these personal stories, from people who are no longer with us, about their experiences with an amazing dog they could not forget, let history come alive. Their enthusiasm and love for Jim the Wonder Dog are apparent, as is their obvious enjoyment in having an opportunity to give their honest account of their treasured memories of Jim from so long ago.

Some disadvantages of oral history are: The person who is giving the firsthand account might not have been able to observe everything that happened or his perspective might have tainted what he saw. That person also might not have made an accurate observation because of his location, the surrounding circumstances (such as darkness, rain, or smoke), or his personal circumstances (such as excitement, sleepiness, or poor eyesight).  Finally, that person might not remember accurately.  Memories can fade with time or be influenced by hearing other accounts of the same event. 

Your students can make history come alive by creating their own oral histories by interviewing family members.

It’s important to conduct the interview in an informed manner.
Ask questions one at a time.
Give time for an answer before you ask the next question.
Try to ask questions that can’t just be answered with a yes or no.  Get more detailed responses.
Be a good listener.

Here are some questions  students could ask family members about their experiences with pets.  

Did you have pets when you were growing up?
How old were you when you got your first pet?
What kind of animal was it?
Where did you get it?
Who named it?
Who took care of the family pet?
Where did your pet sleep?
How did your pet show you love?
Did any of your pets have special talents?
What was the most interesting thing your pet did?
Did you feel your pet understood you? Why?
Did you have a favorite pet?
If so, why was this pet your favorite?
What did your favorite pet look like?
Did you ever have more than one pet at the same time?
If so, did they get along?

Bio: Marty Rhodes Figley is the author of several picture books including Emily and Carlo, Santa’s Underwear, Saving the Liberty Bell, and The Schoolchildren’s Blizzard. She grew up in Missouri and now lives in Virginia with her husband and Airedale terrier. She is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College where she earned a bachelor's degree in American Studies. Besides writing for kids Marty enjoys making pies and playing the guitar. Visit Marty online at /

Monday, October 16, 2017

Rock, Paper, Scissors!

The Legend Of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Adam Rex, is a great book to spark writing in your classroom.

Just in case you have any students who don’t know the game “Rock Paper Scissors,” you can start off by explaining the rules. Then you can let kids practice playing the game in pairs.

After you explain and play the game, have fun reading the book out loud to your class.

Once you have finished the book, here are some related ideas to get kids writing!

1.    There are some funny battles in this book, such as Paper versus. Half-Eaten Bag of Trail Mix and Scissors versus Dinosaur-Shaped Chicken Nuggets. Can you think of some other battles between regular objects that might be found in your home? Write out a battle scene between two of those everyday objects. Use dialogue! See if you can think of funny-but-not-too-mean insults to use, like those in the book (“Giant box monster” “tacky and vaguely round monstrosity” “weird scissory one”).

2.    There are humorous locations in this book, such as the “Kingdom of backyard” and the “tiny village of Junk Drawer.” What funny names can you make up for other locations in your home, school, or neighborhood? Write a story that takes place in at least one of those locations.

3.    An important theme in this book is that Rock, Paper, and Scissors are used to winning all the time…but they don’t like it. All three of these characters wish for well-matched opponents. Think about your own life. Do you agree that it is more fun to play a game if there is a chance you will lose? Have you ever been on a team that won every single game, all season? Did you like it or not? Do you have a younger sibling who you can always beat at every game? Is it still fun to play? Write a paragraph explaining whether you agree with Rock, Paper, and Scissors that playing games is most fun when you have an evenly-matched rival.

After you complete the writing activities, you might enjoy a fast-paced classroom battle of “Rock, Paper, Scissors.” Here’s what to do:
1)    Have students pair off (if you have an uneven number, you get to play too!).
2)    When one student wins against another student, the losing student instantly becomes part of the “squad” for the winner and starts chanting his or her name. “Emily! Emily! Emily!”
3)    When two winners play against each other, the one who loses—and his or her squad—all start cheering for the winner. Now you have a bunch of kids chanting “Nico! Nico! Nico!”
4)    Continue until only two students are left, with everyone else cheering for one or the other.
5)    One student becomes the class champion, with everyone chanting his or her name at once!  “ASHA! ASHA! ASHA!” Hooray!

Monday, October 9, 2017


In a new book, Writing Radar: Using Your Journal To Snoop Out and Craft Great Stories, Jack Gantos shares more than classic tips for writing a great beginning, middle, and end. He shares his own passion to become a published author. Do you have students who dream about seeing their own books on library shelves? If so, give them Writing Radar. Give them the opportunity to hear Gantos describe in emotional detail the moment he placed his hand in the exact spot where a fiction book written by an author named “Gantos” would be shelved.  

Fans of the Joey Pigza books will enjoy the story of how Gantos met the student who inspired the character of Joey at an author visit. Gantos has lectured in dozens of schools about the craft of writing. He shares those lessons in Writing Radar along with many short writing examples teachers could use as models in the classroom. Gantos uses anecdotes from his childhood to demonstrate how everyday experiences make excellent writing material. “The Cool-Air Chair” is a brief story of how Gantos liked to read with the refrigerator door open because it was the coolest place in his Florida home without air-conditioning. Examining how Gantos makes a fairly mundane activity into a very amusing story should help your students discover the stories in their own lives. The book is peppered with such stories and many chapters can stand alone as a read aloud, making Writing Radar a great text to use periodically throughout the year.

In a chapter called, “Breaking It Down,” Gantos provides a step-by-step guide to the elements of storytelling. Writing and reading teachers could use this as a model for studying character, setting, problem, action, etc.  

Finally, Gantos nudges the young writer to simply get moving—to write. In his most important writing tip, he says: “Don’t be that writer who waits all day for the perfect first sentence, or you will grow old while learning to hate yourself and writing.” Gantos cautions young writers not to expect creative thoughts to line up neatly “like a long string of dominoes standing on end and all the writer has to do is push the first one over.” He accurately describes the messy process of creating story while brimming with excitement for the craft. Writer Radar is an excellent resource for the classroom and all those who love writing.