Arts/Crafts, Cultivating curiosity, Education, Homeschool, Parenting, Reading

Tools and Activities for Keeping At-Home Kids Busy

For those who have students home from school due to COVID-19, children’s book creators are putting together a number of resources to keep your students occupied and engaged. Aside from creator content, I am also sharing some of my favorite sites for kid-friendly activities and content. My goal is to keep this site updated as I find out about more.

Arts/Crafts, Books, Cultivating curiosity, Writing

The Anti-Resolution Revolution

This year I participated in Julie Hedlund’s 12 Days of Christmas for Writers. As part of the process, Julie challenged us to reflect on our 2016 successes so we could build on them for 2017. This is a more positive path than creating New Year’s resolutions, which are often built on negativity and efforts to fix things that went “wrong” in 2016.

I enjoyed the time spent combing through my 2016 journals and reviewing all I was able to accomplish. Julie challenged us to share our lists, so here is mine in no particular order:

  • Signing with my wonderful agent, Lara Perkins of Andrea Brown Literary. I couldn’t ask for a bigger cheerleader, better brainstorming partner, or tougher editor.
  • Having Lara submit my first picture book to publishers. Though it hasn’t sold yet, we have been close a couple of times, and many editors offered encouraging words about my work.
  • Finally holding nine of my books written in 2015 in my hands. They include the six-book Protecting Our People series (Amicus), my first book with Capstone (Special Ops), and my two latest from Rourke.
  • Receiving a good review from School Library Journal on the Protecting Our People series.
  • Writing six new books for the school and library market, including four for Amicus, one for Capstone, and one for Rourke.
  • Researching and/or drafting five new picture books.
  • Revising four existing picture books.
  • Finishing a young adult novel I started as part of 2015’s NaNoWriMo and partially revising it.
  • Reaching thousands of young readers and writers during visits to seven schools and one public library.
  • Taking two courses that stretched my writing: Novel Writing through UC San Diego and Renee La Tulippe’s Lyrical Language Lab.
  • Reading many books on writing and creativity, including Big Magic, Creativity Inc., Story Genius, The Originals, Year of Yes, Writing Poetry from the Inside Out, On Writing, In the Palm of Your Hand, The Artist’s Way.

Putting together this list has me excited to start work in 2017. What did you accomplish in 2016?


Arts/Crafts, Homeschool, Parenting

Summer Plans

Yowza! I looked at the calendar and realized there are less than three weeks left in the school year. It’s time to start planning for at-home summer fun.

  • First up? Makerspace. The kiddos recently expressed an interest in having their own robot lab. Right now, this has included scavenging parts from the garage (old training wheels and wood, for example) and toting around their toolboxes. I think we could build an outdoor makerspace using tips I found here.
  • Random Acts of Kindness. We are brainstorming ideas for ways that we can be kind to others, especially people outside of our own family/friend circle. We’ll put strips of paper in a jar so we can pull out one or two ideas a week.
  • In fourth grade, my gifted and talented class did lessons based on DRAWING ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE BRAIN. I ordered the book several months ago and hope we can all do the lessons together.
  • Writing and Reading. Of course! We’ll set aside time for everyone to write and read. Here’s a great idea for DIYing a journal. Also, Barnes and Noble is offering a free book for students who compete a reading journal. Download it here.

What are your summer plans?

Arts/Crafts, Books

PPBF: The Noisy Paintbox

So I guess Perfect Picture Book Friday has become Perfect Picture Book Saturday. Sorry I’m a little late. Without further ado…


TITLE:  The Noisy Paint Box

AUTHOR: Barb Rosenstock


PUBLICATION INFO: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2014

ISBN: 9780307978486

SOURCE: library


GENRE: historical fiction picture book


“Vasya Kandinsky spent his days learning to be a proper Russian boy. He studied books of math, science, and history.”

From the publisher:

“Vasya Kandinsky was a proper little boy: he studied math and history, he practiced the piano, he sat up straight and was perfectly polite. And when his family sent him to art classes, they expected him to paint pretty houses and flowers—like a proper artist.

But as Vasya opened his paint box and began mixing the reds, the yellows, the blues, he heard a strange sound—the swirling colors trilled like an orchestra tuning up for a symphony! And as he grew older, he continued to hear brilliant colors singing and see vibrant sounds dancing. But was Vasya brave enough to put aside his proper still lifes and portraits and paint . . .music?

THEMES/TOPICS: biography, art

WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: I seem to be on a Barb Rosenstock roll lately, but she’s one of my all-time favorite historical writers. In this book, she uses onomatopoeia and repeated refrains to keep the story zipping along. GrandPré has done a masterful job of recreating the artist’s world and art.


  • Random House has developed a CCSS-aligned teacher’s guide here.
  • The book itself includes back matter including some of Kandinsky’s paintings and Web sites for further information.
  • Do you have a noisy paint box? Can you paint a picture with no flowers or trees, but only intended only to make you feel?

You’ll find way more cool books at Susanna Leonard Hill’s “Perfect Picture Books.” Every Friday folks review a host of new books. Join us!

Arts/Crafts, Books

Book Review: Draw the Magic Blue Fairy



PUBLICATION INFO: Enslow Publishers, Inc., 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4644-0473-3

SOURCE: Publisher-provided copy

INTENDED AUDIENCE: preschool to adult (Yes, I joined the fun!)

GENRE: how-to

SYNOPSIS: If you’ve ever wanted to create a fairy world, here’s your chance. This how-to book shows you how to draw fairies, forest creatures, food and more.

THEMES/TOPICS: how-to, drawing, fairies

WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: Curto boils down these designs to simple shapes like triangles, ovals, and circles, so even preschoolers can participate. She also relies more on step-by-step drawings than words. I drew the fairy below (colored by Finley), while Cooper drew the cake and fairy wand. Not too bad, eh?


Arts/Crafts, Holidays

Thankful turkeys

My little turkeys are thankful for many things this year: mostly LEGOs, chocolate and their stuffed animals. Sigh. At least they are honest.

In an effort to infuse some gratitude into the Thanksgiving season, we built these “thankful turkeys” out of pinecones. We will add a new feather each day (for five total) with things we are thankful for.

To build these turkey’s here’s what you’ll need:

  • Pinecone
  • Construction paper: brown, orange, red
  • School glue
  • Black marker
  • Googlie eyes (optional)

Here’s what you do:

  • Cut turkey body by tracing a figure eight on the brown construction paper. Make the lower circle (body) larger than the upper circle (head).
  • Using orange paper, cut a triangular beak. Cut a couple of oval-shaped orange feathers while you are at it.
  • Using red paper, cut a waddle. Cut a couple of red feathers too.
  • Glue waddle, then beak to the turkey’s head. Add eyes using marker or googlie eyes if you have them.
  • Write things you are thankful for on each feather, one item per feather.
  • Lay pinecone on its side. Glue turkey body to short, pointy end of the pinecone. Glue feathers to wide base of pinecone.

These make a great centerpiece. We’ll be using them to decorate the kids’ table. Now if only we can get some non-material items listed on those feathers…

Arts/Crafts, Holidays

Bouquet Card Craft

This bouquet card is so versatile. We recently made it for Grandparents’ Day, but it also works for Mother’s Day, birthdays, teachers’ gifts, you name it!

I adapted the craft from FamilyFun Magazine, replacing the card stock stems with green pipe cleaners. We’ve made the card before with card stock stems, but they weren’t strong enough to support the blooms. You can find step-by-step instructions….here.

We used this template for the flowers, but you can design them any way you like.

Our barely-visible wording says, “A bouquet for Grandparents’ Day!” The FamilyFun site also suggests several alternate greetings for other occasions. Enjoy!

Arts/Crafts, Books, Homeschool

Summer Fun Shortcut: SHOW ME HOW!

Who doesn’t love summer days: lazy mornings with no school routine, no plans, no commitments? Oh, wait, that can be an at-home parent’s worst nightmare. Life always seems easier with a little structure and a planned activity or two, even if it’s just a jaunt to the park or a splash in the pool.

If you find yourself casting about for a little summer routine, look no further than Vivian Kirkfield’s Show Me How. This ingenious guide pairs 100 classic picture books with related crafts and recipes you can easily do with your child, which helps build self-esteem. The picture book recommendations are arranged around six themes. For example, the section “I Am Really Mad Right Now!” includes books like Where the Wild Things Are and Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, which help children learn how to express their feelings. The other themes are: “I Can Do It Myself!,” “I’m Special!,” I Love You and You Love Me!,” “I’m Afraid!,” and “Tell Me One More Story, Please!”

Reading “Where the Wild Things Are”

We road tested a few of Kirkfield’s book suggestions and activities. We read Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (1963), in which Max is “sent to be without his supper” for acting naughty. In his room, he creates a world where the wild things are and becomes king. Kirkfield pairs this book with a bookmaking activity. She provides directions for helping your child write and illustrate his or her own picture book using clippings from old magazines. She also includes the recipe for delicious “Wildly Spiced Apple Muffins,” which Cooper and Finley helped me make — and gobble up — for breakfast. Yum!

Our second book was Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans (1939), in which little Madeline has an appendectomy. Ouch! Kirfield suggests making get-well cards and sending them to someone who is ailing. Cooper decided to make a get well card for one of his imaginary friends using construction paper, markers and stickers. The accompanying recipe is Sweet Wheat Bread, since Madeline and the girls at her school eat bread with each meal.

This book is recommended for children ages 2-5, but I think it works for children up to age 7. Children ages 4-7 would probably get the most out of the activities and cooking experiences.

As a bonus, Kirkfield includes her own recipe for a successful day, which she used as a teacher with pre-Ks and kindergarteners and as a day-care provider. She provides a loose structure that includes times for eating, reading, music, crafts, free play and cooking.

Kirkfield is mom, grandmother, a former teacher and a former daycare operator who practices what she preaches. Her blog, Positive Parental Participation, is a great resource for teachers and caregivers of small children.

Arts/Crafts, Holidays

You rule, Dad!

Front of card
Inside view

Yes, I love a good, homemade card. This one was inspired by FamilyFun, one of my favorite sources for crafts and cards. Their version was three-dimensional, and required a mac ‘n cheese box. It’s a really cool “card,” but not conducive to mailing. I adapted the concept into a 2D version.

Here’s what you need:

  • One sheet black construction paper (8 1/2 x 11)
  • One sheet yellow construction paper
  • One sheet white paper
  • Gluestick
  • Scissors
  • Sharpie
  • Ruler

What you do:

  • Fold the black paper in half, placing short side together; then fold in half the other way.
  • Cut a 1-inch wide strip of yellow paper along the long side, creating an 11-inch-long strip
  • Write “You rule, Dad!” in the center of the strip. Then make hash marks at one-inch intervals to resemble a tape measure.
  • Glue this strip inside the card, along the bottom edge, then fold the strip a couple of times until it’s hidden inside the closed card.
  • Cut a small square from the white paper (approx. 4 x 4 inches) and have the children sign their names. Glue this above the yellow strip inside the card.
  • Cut out a geometric shape from the yellow paper. We made a house-like shape. Then write “tape measure” on it. Center the shape on the front of the card and glue.
  • Insert into envelope, and you are ready to go!

Happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there!

Arts/Crafts, Outside, Science/Math, Toys

DIY Stomp Rockets

We’ve purchased numerous stomp rocket kits over the years. Inevitably the foam rockets disintegrate within a matter of weeks. The plastic launchers often become brittle and fall apart. When I realized how easy it is to make your own rockets and launchers at home, I was in heaven; no need to buy expensive kits year after year.

Now, I confess that our parts came from a backyard rockets kit purchased at Barnes and Noble. The directions below are adapted from the book that was included, Stomp Rockets, Catapults & Kaleidoscopeby Curt Gabrielson. Using the book’s directions (pp .104-105), you can do it yourself even without the kit. Here’s what you’ll need:

2 liter plastic bottle

10-inch (approx.) portion of bicycle tubing

2-foot piece of PVC pipe, 1/2 or 3/4-inches in diameter

Duct tape

Masking tape

1 piece 8 1/2 x 11 paper for your rocket body (make sure to decorate it)


1 circle of paper , 3.5 inches in diameter with a wedge removed


Here’s what you do:

1) Fit one end of the inner tube over the top of the 2-liter bottle. Duct tape to seal.

2) Attach other end of the inner tube over one end of the PVC pipe. Duct tape to seal. This is your rocket launcher.

3) Roll up your decorated 8 1/2 by 11 paper, using the PVC pipe as your guide. Make sure the rocket body fits snugly over the PVC pipe, but not so snugly that it can’t fly. Tape the edge securely.

4) Cut at least three fins from card stock. Ours had a hypotenuse of 3 inches. Tape these to the bottom end of your rocket at equal intervals.

5) Cut a circle approximately 3.5 inches in diameter. Cut a small wedge from the circle. Roll it tightly, making sure the cone fits snugly over the top end of your rocket. Using the dowel, push the cone through the rocket until it emerges at the top end. If necessary, tape it.

6) You are ready for launch! Place your rocket over the PVC pipe. Launches work best with two people: one person to stomp on the bottle, the other to point the PVC up to the sky. We had to blow into the PVC pipe to re-inflate between launches.

You can experiment with your rockets to spark discussion. What happens if you don’t put a cone on your rocket? What if you don’t include fins?