Education, Homeschool, Reading, research

A WONDER-ful ELA Nonfiction Reading and Research Activity

Each month, I’ll spotlight a book-based educational activity teachers and homeschooling parents can use with their students. These activities are pulled from the educators’ guides developed for my books by author and former educator Marcie Colleen. You can download the full A TRUE WONDER educator’s guide here.

Reading Nonfiction

While reading A True Wonder: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything aloud to the class, have students take notes in two columns.

  • Things we learned
  • Questions we have

Pause before each page turn to add notes to the columns. These columns can either be worked on individually or put on the smartboard and worked on as a class.

Once the story is read, discuss the Questions We Have column.

  • Were any of these questions answered as the story went along?
  • If so, ask students to find the answer within the text.
  • Record the answer next to the question in a third column labeled Answers We Found.

For all remaining questions in the Questions We Have column, that have yet to be answered, students will need to take the steps to find answers, either through Internet or book research.

Assign students to specific questions to help them focus. Record all answers in the Answers We Found column.

After the answers have been shared with the class, engage in a discussion on research practices.

  • What was the most difficult part about finding answers?
  • Was it easier to find answers on the Internet or in a book?
  • Which source is more reliable, the Internet or a printed book? Why? 
  • How can you determine whether to trust a source?
  • What tips would you give someone who is about to do research?

Read the Author’s Note (The Origin Story…of This Book) and The Women of Wonder Woman at the back of the book.

  • Create an additional chart to document what information in the back matter was included in the story and what information was not included.
  • Why do you think Kirsten Larson chose to include certain information in the main text and leave other information to the back matter?
  • Choose three facts from the back matter and explain why you think each was not included in the story.

Extension: Design and illustrate posters representing each Fact, Question, and researched Answer based on A True Wonder: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything and display them within the classroom.

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.

Books, Education, Homeschool

Nonfiction PB Pairings: Reading the stories behind children’s classics

Top 10 Must-See Travel Destinations

I just finished two wonderful nonfiction picture books that reveal how two classic children’s books came to be. And that made me think about what fun it would be to pair these picture book biographies with the children’s classics in the classroom.

First up is FINDING NARNIA by Caroline McAlister, illustrated by Jessica Lanan (Roaring Brook, November 2019). In our schools, students read C. S. Lewis’s THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE in fifth grade. A magnificent companion, FINDING NARNIA is the story of (C.S. Lewis) and his brother Warnie, the imaginative world they invented as children, and how those childhood stories grew into the world of Narnia.

Next, MIEP AND THE MOST FAMOUS DIARY by Meeg Pincus, illustrated by Jordi Solano (Sleeping Bear Press, August 2019), explains how Miep Gies rescued Anne Frank’s diary when Anne and her family were taken by the Nazis. This book pairs perfectly with Anne Frank’s DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL, which our students read in 7th grade.

For younger readers, Melissa Sweet’s SOME WRITER! THE STORY OF E. B. WHITE (HMH, 2016) could be read alongside E. B. White’s CHARLOTTE’S WEB (approximately 3rd grade).

Finally, I’m looking forward to the forthcoming BEATRIX POTTER, SCIENTIST by Lindsay H. Metcalf, illustrated by Junyi Wu forthcoming in September from Albert Whitman. What a great book to read alongside THE TALE OF PETER RABBIT.

The takeaway: if your classroom is reading a classic work of literature with students, check your library to see if a picture book biography is available about the author. PB bios and classic children’s books are always better together.

If you have other great pairings, please share them in the comments. I’ll add them to the Pinterest Board I’ve started.

Books, Education, History

Perfect Picture Book Friday: Henry and the Cannons

Wow, it’s been awhile. My last PPBF post was in October! Yikes.

Yesterday’s blizzard in Boston and New York inspired this PPBF pick. Stay warm everyone! (I probably shouldn’t tell you it’s in the 60s in California.)

TITLE: Henry and the Cannons


PUBLICATION INFO: Roaring Book Press, January 2013

ISBN: 978-1596432666

SOURCE:  Library


GENRE: nonfiction


“It was the winter of 1775. The American Revolution had begun, and things weren’t going well for the Patriots of Boston, Massachusetts.”

From the publisher: “Before Washington crossed the Delaware, Henry Knox crossed Massachusetts in winter—with 59 cannons in tow.

In 1775 in the dead of winter, a bookseller named Henry Knox dragged 59 cannons from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston—225 miles of lakes, forest, mountains, and few roads. It was a feat of remarkable ingenuity and determination and one of the most remarkable stories of the revolutionary war. In Henry and the Cannons the perils and adventure of his journey come to life through Don Brown’s vivid and evocative artwork.”

THEMES/TOPICS: history, nonfiction

WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: I’m working on a slice-of-history picture book and used HENRY AND THE CANNONS to study form and structure. Much like Barb Rosenstock’s THE CAMPING TRIP THAT CHANGED AMERICA, this book focuses on one episode in American history and shows how it connects to a larger story.


Don Brown found an unsung hero, as there’s little for students about Henry Knox on the Web. Here are a few sites:

  • The Knox Museum in Maine has several Revolutionary War lesson plans on its education site.
  • The Library of Congress has a lesson plan built around a letter from General George Washington to Henry Knox.
  • Daughters of the American Revolution exhibit about Knox.
  • Travel the Knox Trail in the Hudson River Valley (but probably not today due to the weather.)

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!

Books, Education, Homeschool, Nature, Science/Math

Perfect Picture Book Friday: FROM SEED TO PLANT

Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book Fridays are back. I missed the boat last week, but I wrote my post early this week so I wouldn’t forget.

TITLE: From Seed to Plant


PUBLICATION INFO: Holiday House, 1991

ISBN: 978-0823410255

SOURCE:  library

INTENDED AUDIENCE: ages 5 and up

GENRE: nonfiction


“Most plants make seeds. A seed contains the beginning of a new plant.”

Gibbons moves through a plant’s life cycle, showing children how seeds are formed through pollination, how they are dispersed, and how they grow into new plants.

THEMES/TOPICS: nonfiction, educational, nature, science

WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: Cooper was working on a plant life cycle project for school this week, and we checked this book out from the library. Gail Gibbons is a nonfiction favorite in our house. She uses beautiful drawings and simple writing to explain science concepts in a way young children can understand.


  • The book has a “Seed to Plant” activity in the back using bean seeds. It’s a different take on the classic bean sprout in a baggie activity used in many preschool classrooms.
  • We’ve also done seed collections before to spark discussion about the different types of seeds and how they are scattered. You’ll find that activity…here.
  • Finally, for older students, you can try the plant life cycle project that Cooper’s class did. Students had to collect five different types of seeds and draw or collect pictures that showed the seedling, mature plant, flower and fruit. They had to label each stage, and I had Cooper draw arrows so he could see that the whole cycle is a circle. I’ll blog about our project next week.

Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.

Education, Homeschool, Science/Math

Exploring e-Learning Options

I’m always interested in exploring technology and how it can be used at home and in the classroom as a learning tool. As I’ve written in the past, I’m a big fan of the online Starfall games for helping preschoolers learn phonics and basic math skills. We’ve also had great success with free PBS Kids Lab games, which focus on math, reading and science featuring some of my children’s favorite characters like Sid the Science Kid and Curious George. As an instructor for the University of Phoenix, I’ve used computer-based marketing simulations with my students to help them visualize how marketing changes they initiate affect how customers perceive the product. Recently, my high-school friend Abby introduced me to two, more-focused e-Learning tools: ExploreLearning’s Gizmos and Reflex Math, and I’ve been playing with both through the company’s free trial.

Reflex Math has one specific purpose: to improve math fluency, in other words how quickly children can answer basic math facts. Before computers we did this with flash cards, timed worksheets or, one of my major memories, reciting times tables everywhere I went. Reflex Math has turned this practice into a series of games that hold children’s attention and motivate them. Students first create their own avatar and journey to an island to explore several math games. As they solve facts and earn coins, they can buy things for their avatar at the store.

I tested out an Egyptian-themed facts game where I “shot” serpents each time I answered a problem. I also solved a picture puzzle, earning pieces for each problem I mastered. I later chose the ninja game and climbed higher and higher each time I typed in a correct fact. For early elementary students, this game-based method of practice is far superior to flash cards, etc. I’d rather shoot a serpent or be a ninja any day. And for $35 for student for home users, the price is right.

The company’s other product, Gizmos, is a series of science and math simulations geared for grades 3 and up. I focused my attention on the science Gizmos, which allow you to conduct “hands-on” investigations in a classroom or home environment where you may not have expensive lab equipment. Gizmos also has a time advantage. Many of the experiments I preformed would have taken days or weeks in a traditional lab, whereas I was able to conduct them in just a few minutes on the computer.

Gizmos simulations run the gamut, from biology to astronomy and physics. I studied genetics by breeding mice, for example (a high-school simulation). I experimented with the effects of sun, food and water on the growth of different plants, carefully controlling for each variable. And, I learned about the phases of the moon by viewing a simulation that showed the Earth’s rotation and the Moon’s orbit around the Earth. For each Gizmo, ExploreLearning provides a student exploration sheet, which walks the student through the simulation, helping her to explore all its aspects. They also include a teacher guide, vocabulary sheet and an assessment.

Should Gizmos replace the science lab? I hope not. Getting your hands dirty, being forced to slow down, think and observe are all irreplaceable benefits of actually doing science. These are the moments I remember from middle and high-school science. With that said, schools and home school environments often don’t have the resources, time or ability to breed mice or equip boats with sonar to explore the oceans. In these instances, the Gizmos simulations stimulate inquiry and help learning come alive. For the homeschool market, Gizmos is $59 for first time buyers then $99 upon renewal if purchased through the Homeschool Buyers Co-op.

Education, Homeschool, Science/Math

PBS KIDS launches 40 new math games

I’ve been reading Lisa Guernsey’s book, Into the Minds of Babes: How Screen Time Affects Children from Birth to Age Five (Basic Books, 2007). Her key TV and game usage advice is that parents must be aware of the content (what you let them watch/play), context (how and how much you use media) and your child.

The boys don’t typically play a lot of computer games, but I’m a huge fan of Starfall. I swear Starfall is how Cooper taught himself to read. With that in mind, I read with delight the news that  PBS KIDS now boasts more than 40 new math games on its PBS KIDS Lab site ( These games are absolutely free and challenge preschool and early elementary children to learn math concepts with their favorite characters. Many of the games are designed for children as young as age three, so I thought I’d let Cooper and Finley try them out today.

You can help Dinosaur Train’s Buddy find and sort gemstones of different shapes and sizes. Go apple picking with Curious George to learn number recognition. Or help George count backwards to make his rocket blast off. Most games eliminate the need to click and drag, relying on clicking only, which makes the games easier for little hands.

The PBS KIDS Lab is not limited to math games. Children can help Gerald from Sid the Science Kid match objects to the climate in which they belong. Or, they can bake a cake for a celebration with Super Why?, forcing them to sound out and spell words along the way.

The boys were delighted with the new games. The 3 to 5-year-old games were a little too easy for Cooper, but he enjoyed them nonetheless. Finley enjoyed the games targeted to the preschool age group as well. Both boys were thrilled when their efforts resulted in a print-out prize (a coloring and cutting sheet), which they eagerly cut and decorated.

The site also includes a number of ideas for activities you can do at home to reinforce concepts. For example, have your child help you set the table and count out the napkins or forks. Or build a house for a favorite toy character to learn concepts like bigger and smaller. Home-based activities include supplies lists, complete instructions, as well as suggestions for books appropriate to the theme.

One final note: If you have a child in middle school through the college years, PBS KIDS is participating in the 2012 STEM Video Game Challenge. The challenge provides cash prizes to kids who can develop new math-based games for children ages four through eight. Here’s the link:

Education, Geography, Homeschool, Nature, Science/Math

Reindeer Investigation

I thought it would be fun to investigate reindeer, or caribou as they’re called in most of the world. Everything the boys know about reindeer to date has come from their Christmas books, and according to their stories, reindeer fly and occasionally have red noses. Of course this is true of Santa’s reindeer, who are magic, but not all reindeer.

To begin the activity, I asked the boys what they know about reindeer. Answers included that they fly and live at the North Pole with Santa. Then I asked what they wanted to know about reindeer. Here are some of their answers:

  • Can reindeer fly upside down or just right side up?
  • Can they do loop de loops in the sky?
  • Are they ectotherms?
  • Do they live anywhere else besides the North Pole? Do they live in the East, West and South?
  • How big are their families?
  • What do they eat?
  • Can they go fast or slow?
  • What kind of noise do they make?

Next, I asked them where they thought we could find information about reindeer. We talked about looking in books, observing reindeer at the zoo and using the computer. For today, the easiest source was the computer. Here are a few reliable Web sites that should help you and your children answer questions about reindeer.

Education, Homeschool, Reading

5 Stars for Starfall

When it comes to kids and technology, I’m a Luddite. My Wii is gathering dust. We don’t have a DS or an iPad, and I certainly can’t tell you what Angry Birds is. Typically, I limit the boys to a couple of PBSKids shows per day, but they can only watch when I’m getting ready for the day or cooking dinner at night. Still, I give the Starfall computer program 100% of the credit for teaching my son how to read at age 4.

My mom, an elementary school computer teacher, bookmarked the program on our computer a couple of years ago, and she’s played it with my son from time to time. I upgraded to the subscription version of the Starfall program last year ($35 per year).

My son became obsessed with “Word Machine,” an animated game that helps children learn short vowel sounds. The word machine starts with a word, for example, mat. Pull the lever, and a boot squashes the “m” and replaces it with an “r.” The game then has the child sound out “rat.” The colors are bright, the characters are silly, and I think my son enjoyed pushing buttons, pulling levers and watching what happened.

Before I knew it, he was sounding out words left and right, and I was struggling with how to teach him long vowel sounds. I even bought a set of Starfall early reader books. We had been using Bob books, but the black and white pencil drawings were no match for Zac the Rat and his jam or Peg the Hen (who flies a jet, by the way).

My son is now showing his little brother how to play Word Machine. It’s pretty funny to watch him coach. Pretty soon my husband and I won’t be able to spell words in front of them, when we don’t want them to know what we’re saying.

Education, Geography, Homeschool, Travel

Business Trip Geography


My husband is spending a few weeks flying over Antarctica as part of a NASA mission to study ice in the area. This has provided us with a wonderful opportunity to learn about the Antarctic, southern Chile and penguins.

We bought an inexpensive globe at Barnes and Noble for about $30 so we can show the boys where "Daddy" is. We've been lucky, as NASA has online tracking resources so we can track "Daddy's" route over the area when he's flying:

However, the Web site will let you track conventional airline flights anywhere in the world.

No matter where we are traveling, National Geographic's Web site provides a host of resources, some tailored just for kids. We learned about Italy from the site earlier in the year, when my husband had a business trip there (which we missed, sadly).

We'll be learning more about Antarctica from this National Geographic site later this morning. Anarctica:

You don't have to go to the South Pole to get your kids excited about new places, though cute penguins help. A destination two hours away may be just as exciting to young minds. So, buy a globe, get online and learn about our world.