Education, History, Homeschool, Writing

Real Life Wonders 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.

This is an image of a female volunteer

Every day we are surrounded by people who quietly fight for the common good or stand up for what they believe is right. These outstanding individuals show what the power one person has to impact our neighborhoods and communities.

Who are the superheroes in your community? Interview and write a report or make a presentation about someone in your own community who you think makes a positive impact. This can be done as a whole class, in groups, or as individuals. Here are some things you can discuss:

  • Why you believe this person to be a hero to the neighborhood and community.
  • Describe the person activity/activities that significantly benefitted their neighborhood.
  • How long has the hero contributed to the neighborhood? What was their most recent activity?
  • Describe the creative and innovative methods used by the hero to benefit their neighborhood.
  • Include any other interesting information relevant to the hero’s activities.
  • What is this hero’s impact to the neighborhood and/or community at large? Include documentation such as pamphlets, articles, presentations, photographs, newsclippings, letters of support, etc. if applicable.

Present these reports to the class. Invite the heroes for a “Real Life Wonder” celebration.

Books, History, News

Big Book News: My first graphic novel

I’m so excited to share that my first-ever graphic novel is currently in the works with the incredible Barbara McClintock, who illustrated my all-time favorite version of THE MITTEN. The book is actually a graphic novel/verse novel mash-up, of the completely true (and incredible story) of museum curator Rose Valland.

Books, History, News

It’s a Kirkus ⭐️ for A TRUE WONDER

Kirkus says A TRUE WONDER is a star.

Big news! Kirkus Reviews gave A TRUE WONDER a ⭐️.

Now, if you’re not in publishing (like my kids) one star might not seem like much.

But book reviews aren’t like Yelp or Amazon ratings. With Kirkus, you get either a starred review or just a plain old review with no star at all. So, I’ll take the star!

If you have a subscription to Kirkus, you can read the full review here.

As a reminder, you can preorder A TRUE WONDER wherever books are sold. If you order through Once Upon A Time Bookstore in Montrose, you’ll get a signed book plus free art postcard from Katy Wu.

And, if you’d like a chance to be entered to win the A TRUE WONDER tee shirt, sign up for my newsletter and let me know you’ve preordered the book from any store.

Books, History, Science/Math

PPBF: Ben Franklin’s Big Splash

Sorry the blog’s been so quiet, ya’ll. Following the whirlwind of the holidays, I’m now on deadline for two books with my publisher, Rourke Educational Media, and working on a third for a reading program. I took a short break to bring you a book I’ve been wanting to share for a while…

TITLE:  Ben Franklin’s Big Splash

AUTHOR: Barb Rosenstock

ILLUSTRATOR: S. D. Schindler

PUBLICATION INFO: Calkins Creek, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-62091-446-5

SOURCE: personal library


GENRE: historical fiction picture book


“Before the world knew the famous Doctor Benjamin Franklin, his neighbors knew him as Ben, the sturdy, saucy, smelly son of a soap-maker — the boy who, on sweltering summer days, snuck away from stirring soap and snipping candlewicks in his father’s shop to head straight for the river…”

From the publisher:

“Ben Franklin loved to swim and, at the age of eleven, he was determined to swim like a fish—fins and all! This fascinating and lively account of young Ben’s earliest invention follows the budding scientist’s journey as he tests and retests his swim fins. That first big splash led Ben to even more innovations and inventions. Includes Franklin quotes, a timeline, bibliography, and source notes.”

THEMES/TOPICS: history, invention

WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: I read this one with my six-year-old last night, and he could totally relate to Ben’s passion for swimming. Plus, Ben swims in the buff, which kids find hilarious. (Don’t worry, Schindler keeps Ben modest.) As a parent, I appreciated that Ben’s swim fins and sandals didn’t work out as planned, but he didn’t give up. And just when the six-year-old wanted to know about Ben’s other inventions, I turned the page to find back matter highlighting some of Ben’s contributions.


  • What would you invent: What problems do you see around you? How could you solve them with a new invention? Draw a sketch or write a paragraph describing your ideas.
  • Ready to put your ideas to the test? NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab has a great video series on science fairs, which includes an overview of the engineering design process similar to Ben’s swim fin efforts.
  • PBS has eight lesson plans to accompany its series about Benjamin Franklin. Learn about inventions, newspapers, and more.

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, History, Nature, Outside

PPBF: To Dare Mighty Things

With warm weather at last, we’re releasing butterflies, watching birds, and swimming in the pool. Our outdoor activities prompted today’s Perfect Picture Book Friday pick about presidential outdoorsman, Teddy Roosevelt.



AUTHOR: Doreen Rappaport


PUBLICATION INFO: Disney Hyperion, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4231-2488-7

SOURCE: library


GENRE: nonfiction picture book biography


“’Teedie,’ as he was called, coughed, sneezed, wheezed, had raging fevers, and hardly ate.”

From the jacket flap:

“President Theodore Roosevelt is known as “the man with a plan,” the “rough rider.” His figure stands tall in American history; his legacy stretching him to larger-than-life proportions.

But before his rise to fame, he was just “Teedie,” a boy with ambitious dreams to change the world, and the conviction to see his stupendous imaginings brought to fruition.

As an American president, he left an impressive mark upon his country. He promised a “square deal” to all citizens, he tamed big businesses, and protected the nation’s wildlife and natural beauty. His fearless leadership assured that he would always be remembered, and his robust spirit now dares others to do mighty things.

In her moving picture book portrait, award-winning author Doreen Rappaport uses her well-honed approach of personal quotes and vivid prose to spin together the tale of a sickly boy who became a monumental man. Coupled with C. F. Payne’s dramatic artwork, the story of President Teddy, touchstone of American history, is brought to life.”

THEMES/TOPICS: history, biography

WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: Teddy Roosevelt is a fascinating character. He truly remade himself from an often-sick youth into the quintessential outdoorsman and bold politician. I’ve read other books that focused on snippets of his life, for example Rosenstock’s THE CAMPING TRIP THAT CHANGED AMERICA, but this is the first truly comprehensive biography I’ve seen. Rappaport integrates primary sources into the text and presents a balanced picture. She shows how Teddy intervened in other country’s affairs, like those of Panama, ultimately building the Panama Canal. Of course, Teddy Roosevelt could care less what others thought, she tells us. Rappaport reveals Teddy as truly larger-than-life, and Payne’s illustrations follow suit beginning with the cover. It shows only Teddy’s laughing face. No title. No author’s name. No illustrator’s name. Just Teddy, truly larger than life.


  • Rappaport’s back matter has resources for further exploration, including books and Web sites.
  • A teacher’s guide is available through her Web site.
  • She also has links to several videos of Teddy, including one of him hunting big game  in Africa.
  • And, of course, you too can dare mighty things and try some of the things Teddy did: ride a horse, watch birds, hike, and write your own books about what you find.

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, History, Science/Math

PPBF: The Daring Miss Quimby



AUTHOR: Suzanne George Whitaker

ILLUSTRATOR: Catherine Stock

PUBLICATION INFO: Holiday House, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-8234-1996-8

SOURCE:  library


GENRE: nonfiction picture book, history


“Harriet Quimby was the picture of a modern American woman of 1912.”

From the publisher:

“In 1912, airplanes looked like bicycles with wings and only men flew these new machines. When the spirited young woman, Harriet Quimby, decided to learn to fly, everyone said it would be too dangerous. But Harriet tried it anyway. Soon the whole country was just wild about this daring woman, dressed in her special purple satin flight suit, who flew through the skies to become the first woman in the United States to earn her pilot’s license and fly across the English Channel.”

THEMES/TOPICS: women’ history, aviation, biography

WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: What’s not to love about Harriet Quimby? While most women of her day sported corsets and long dresses, she donned a shiny purple flight suit. She also drove fast cars, wrote for magazines, and enjoyed adventure after adventure in the days before women could even vote. Whitaker’s book conveys Harriet’s spirit and zest for life in an age-appropriate way. And Stock’s watercolor images are simply heavenly.


  • Whitaker includes an in-depth author’s note and women in aviation timeline. See an online timeline here.
  • Kids can learn about the science of flight at the National Air and Space Museum’s “How Things Fly” website.
  • NASA has a number of aeronautics educator resources on its website.
  • Why not build your own paper airplane? Try different designs and see which flies the best.

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, History




AUTHOR: Susan VanHecke


PUBLICATION INFO: Charlesbridge, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-58089-550-7

SOURCE:  library


GENRE: nonfiction picture book, history


“1861: May moon gleams bright as Colonel’s buttons. Three slip out unseen.”

From the jacket flap:

“One May night in 1861, three slaves escaped the Confederate line and rowed across the harbor to a Union-held fort. Frank Baker, James Townsend, and Shepard Mallory didn’t know what they would find across the water, but they knew it had to be better than what they left behind.

At the fort, General Benjamin Butler considered the men’s plight. The Fugitive Slave Act required him to return the runaways to their master. But what if they were declared “contraband of war”? Then the Union could claim them as enemy property—and protect them.

Frank, James, and Shepard—the Civil War’s first “contrabands”—opened the door for thousands of other runaway slaves who poured into the fort. The contrabands built a community, helped the North win the war, and learned to read under the spreading branches of the tree later known as the Emancipation Oak. This is their story—and the story of the beginning of slavery’s end.”

THEMES/TOPICS: slavery, history, courage

WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: Oh, dear, where to start? First, Hampton, Virginia, home of Ft. Monroe and Emancipation Oak, is my hometown. Yet, before this beautiful book, I had never heard this compelling story. Second, VanHecke tells this tale in brilliant blank verse, reminding me of other historical favorites told in similar fashion, like Brian Floca’s MOONSHOT or LOCOMOTIVE. Plus, Ladd’s images have a kind of poetry too.


  • UNDER THE FREEDOM TREE has its own Web site complete with Educator’s Guide and Reader’s Theater script.
  • You’ll also find videos of Emancipation Oak and Pres. Obama declaring Freedom’s Fortress a national monument.
  • If you visit Hampton, you can see Emancipation Oak.
  • And my boys love walking Ft. Monroe. The cannons are their favorite part. The National Park Service has a page just for kids with activities related to Ft. Monroe. And don’t miss the Casemate Museum.

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, History




AUTHOR: Rose Blue and Corinne J. Naden



ISBN: 978-0-525-47849-2

SOURCE:  library


GENRE: picture book biography, historical fiction


“You’re up early this morning, Ron. What’s the rush?” asked Mrs. McNair.

From the publisher:

“Nine-year-old Ron loves going to the Lake City Public Library to look through all the books on airplanes and flight. Today, Ron is ready to take out books by himself. But in the segregated world of South Carolina in the 1950s, Ron’s obtaining his own library card is not just a small rite of passage – it is a young man’s first courageous mission. Here is an inspiring story, based on Ron McNair’s life, of how a little boy, future scientist, and Challenger astronaut desegregated his library through peaceful resistance.”

THEMES/TOPICS: Civil Rights, equality, justice

WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: McNair’s story will inspire young children to do something about justice and  inequality. McNair doesn’t follow “the rules,” but he’s moved to do what’s right.


  • Please see this past post about Martin Luther King, Jr. to learn how to talk about Civil Rights with very young children.
  • Here’s a Common Core aligned second-grade lesson plan for the book.
  • The Challenger Center has a number of educator resources, as well as information about the Space Shuttle mission.

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, History



AUTHOR: Matthew Olshan

ILLUSTRATOR: Sophie Blackall

PUBLICATION INFO: Random House’s Schwartz & Wade Books, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-375-86225-0

SOURCE:  library


GENRE: picture book biography, historical fiction


From the publisher:

“In Paris, France, there lived a humble postman named Lalouche. He was small, but his hands were nimble, his legs were fast, and his arms were strong. When his job was replaced by an electric car, he turned to boxing to support himself and his pet finch, Genevieve. But—’You? A boxer?’ the fighters asked. ‘I could sneeze and knock you down!’ Still, Lalouche refused to give up. And perhaps small Lalouche was just nimble . . . just fast . . . and just strong enough to beat his fierce competitors. This is a marvelous story, full of humor and heart, and illustrated by Sophie Blackall, winner of a New York Times Best Illustrated Award.

THEMES/TOPICS: boxing, history, France

WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: The illustrations are the star of the ring in this book. The characters’ expressions are priceless, and the images have a 3D feel, thanks to a Japanese diorama technique Blackall used. In fact, Matthew Olshan wrote the book specifically for Sophie Blackall to illustrate. She collects old pictures of boxers. Learn about how the story came together from Sophie at her blog.


  • The book includes an author’s note about French boxing and early electric cars.
  • A brief history of French boxing can be found here.
  • Information about boxing from PBS Kids.

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, History, Uncategorized

PPBF: Thomas Jefferson – Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything

TITLE: Thomas Jefferson – Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything


PUBLICATION INFO: Penguin’s Nancy Paulsen Books, Jan. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-399-24040-9

SOURCE:  library

INTENDED AUDIENCE: ages 5 to 8 (publisher), but I think 7 and up is a better estimate

GENRE: picture book biography


“Thomas Jefferson had red hair and some freckles (about 20 I think), he grew to be very tall and oh yes, he was the third president of the United States.

From the publisher:

“Renowned artist Maira Kalman sheds light on the fascinating life and interests of the Renaissance man who was our third president.

Thomas Jefferson is perhaps best known for writing the Declaration of Independence—but there’s so much more to discover. This energetic man was interested in everything. He played violin, spoke seven languages and was a scientist, naturalist, botanist, mathematician and architect. He designed his magnificent home, Monticello, which is full of objects he collected from around the world. Our first foodie, he grew over fifteen kinds of peas and advocated a mostly vegetarian diet. And oh yes, as our third president, he doubled the size of the United States and sent Lewis and Clark to explore it. He also started the Library of Congress and said, “I cannot live without books.” But monumental figures can have monumental flaws, and Jefferson was no exception. Although he called slavery an “abomination,” he owned about 150 slaves.

As she did in Looking at Lincoln, Maira Kalman shares a president’s remarkable, complicated life with young readers, making history come alive with her captivating text and stunning illustrations.”


WHY I LIKE THIS BOOK: Many picture book biographies of Jefferson focus on Jefferson’s roles as writer of the Declaration of Independence or President of the United States. Kalman’s book is the first I’ve seen that addresses Jefferson as a complex character, a man who condemned slavery while owning 150 slaves, and a man who might have had children with his slave, Sally Hemings. This is heavy stuff for young children, and I think much of the subject would be difficult for children younger than 7 to understand. Kalman’s conversational tone and bright artwork lighten some of the weightier topics. And I do appreciate that she is forthright with young readers, showing them that nobody’s perfect, not even Thomas Jefferson.


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!