Do Something Nice…For World Teacher’s Day.

Today is DO SOMETHING NICE DAY  and  WORLD TEACHER’S DAY.  I thought it might be special to combine the two and do something nice for a teacher.  We sometimes take our children’s teachers for granted, forgetting the dedication and hard work they put in each day to make learning possible.  We often read stories in the media about the “bad” teachers  – the ones who do little for, or maybe even harm, those in their care.  For every one of those teachers, there are hundreds who nurture and lead children on a path of success and accomplishment.

When was the last time you thanked a teacher?  A verbal thanks is good.  A letter or phone call is better.  A small token is great.  Home baked cookies, a bouquet of flowers, a cup of tea or coffee and a bagel.  A gift card for a treat at a local coffee shop or Staples..  Volunteering to help in the classroom is also great.  With tight budgets and staff cuts, many classrooms no longer have aides to assist teachers with their many jobs.  An extra pair of hands in the classroom now and then is always welcome and much appreciated by the teachers I know.  You don’t need special training to cut, paste, laminate, or assist with lesson preparations.   

If you’re artistic, volunteer to teach an art lesson in a Kindergarten class without an art program.  Many schools no longer have libraries.  Offer to read and do storytime activities with kids.  Have musical talent?  Bring it to school.  Offer to put up a bulletin board, paint a bookshelf, make curtains for a classroom window, or teach kids to bake soft pretzels.  Share your own time and talent with your children’s teachers.  Your life and their life will be richer for it.


Thank You Mrs. Andre’s Class!

Last Friday I had the pleasure of visiting Darlene Andre’s fifth grade class in Illinois via SKYPE.   They were in the middle of reading WHEELS OF CHANGE  and had a lot of questions about the story, characters, setting and issues presented in the book.  There are so many wonderful writers in the class and ALL the students were interested in learning about how to write and get books published.  Many shared some of their own writer’s notebooks as well.

We discussed gender roles, when it’s okay to “break rules”, how to develop characters and setting, and many more topics based on the students thoughtful questions.

Mrs. Andre's Fifth Grade Class.

Mrs. Andre’ and her Fifth Grade Class.

Thank you boys and girls for a wonderful visit to your classroom. And thank you for being interested in WHEELS OF CHANGE.  Keep on writing so one day I can read YOUR books! ♥

Three Cheers For Birches School: A Fantastic Welcome From Some Great Students.

This morning I had the absolute pleasure of visiting the fifth grade classes at the Birches Elementary School in Washington Township, Gloucester Co.  NJ for an Author Visit.  Their Social Studies teacher, Mary Byatt, had read WHEELS OF CHANGE and thought it was a great segway into her unit on the Civil War, reconstruction and the Industrial Revolution.  We had some great discussions about gender roles, civil rights, technology, and fun and games.

What an amazing group of students!  They were attentive, engaging, and really interested in what life was like in 1908.   Here are the photo highlights of  one of the best author visits so far.  THANK YOU MRS. BYATT AND THE FIFTH GRADERS AT BIRCHES!  YOU ROCK!

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Happy Birthday WHEELS OF CHANGE:Join the Celebration With Free Books, Gift Card and More!

It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly a year since the launch of my first MG Historical WHEELS OF CHANGE (Creston Books).  My heartfelt thanks to all who have been so supportive and enthusiastic through the whole process.  I couldn’t have done it without your support!


To celebrate the event, I’m offering TWO signed copies – along with TWO AUTHOR SKYPE VISITS to a classroom or school.  The book is perfect for the 3rd to 6th grade population and can be used as a tie in to units on the Industrial Revolution, racism, the rights of women, or study about changes in Washington DC over the last 100 years.

I have Curriculum Guides, study questions, vocabulary lists, and activity sheets, as well as sheets on Etiquette and Manners at the turn of the Twentieth Century.  The book has been recognized as a Notable Social Studies Trade Book for 2015 by the National Council of Social Studies and the Children’s Book Council.       NCSS_NotableSealRP

I am also giving away ONE $25.00 GIFT CERTIFICATE to Target to a teacher or viewer who passes on an information packet about the book to their local school.  I’ll put your name in a hat and pick it out.  Once you’ve won, you can send me your contact information and name of the school and I’ll forward the packet to you to pass on.

To enter, please leave your comment below for one entry.  Tweet or share this post of FB or other social media for another entry.  Let me know how many entries I should count for you. You have until Sunday, 9-27-2015 to enter.  I’ll announce the winners on Monday 9-28-2015.

The Wheels on the Bus and Other Ways Kids Travel to School. by Shiela Fuller

Darlene here: I don’t know about you, but I found this post fascinating!  It seems that some children will do just about anything to get to school.  Here’s Shiela Fuller with an around-the-world look at how children travel to and from school.

In the United States, children are required by law, called compulsory education, to be educated between the ages of six and  sixteen (The Amish community is not bound by this law). Around the world, compulsory ages range from: six through eighteen in Belgium, six to twelve in Iran, six to fourteen in Uruguay, seven to twelve in Singapore, etc. A complete chart can be found here: .

Think about how you get to school. Do you carpool? Ride a bus? Walk? How far is school from where you live? Next time you leave home for school, think about these kids and the determination that drives them, despite the treacherous journeys they travel to school.
In Indonesia, schoolchildren must cross a frail suspension bridge that hangs low over the Ciberang River. It became damaged after a flood and the children risk crossing it because it is the shortest distance. In other parts of the country, students travel to school by canoe, bamboo raft, and some ride on the tops of wooden boats. In Sumatra, students are willing and daring, to cross a tightrope above a river and then walk an additional seven miles to school.

In rural China some children climb ladders that rest along the mountainside to reach their school and others travel along narrow paths carved into the cliffs. When “school season” begins in yet another region of China, the teachers chaperon the boarding school students on a two day journey along cliffs, gravel, and rapids, and “wade through four freezing cold rivers and slide across a 200 m chain bridge on four single plank bridges” .

A quarter of a mile above the Rio Negro River in Columbia, South America, zip wiring is the way to go. Kids fly through the air at 40 mph on steel cables that connects their home to the other side of the valley. This is the only way in and out of the village.
In the Rizel Province, Manilla, Philippines, kids carry inflated tire tubes to school an hour each way so they can float across the river that separates them from school. If the river is flooded, they have to find shelter and wait until the river is safe to cross.

As a new school year begins, and you line up to get on the school bus, or hop in the car pool, remember these kids and the hardships they endure as they make their commute to school. Education is so important, they are willing to risk their lives for it! And just in case, perhaps put a tire tube in your back pack!

Pictures and more information about the ways kids get to school around the world can be found in these links:

Shiela Fuller has been a Cornell University Project Feeder Watch participant for many years and an avid birder since 1988. Currently, she enjoys writing picture books, yoga, chicken raising, wildlife photography, and is the legacy keeper for her family.

Thank You Sussex Ave. School

Yesterday I had the joy and privilege to do a SKYPE visit with the Sussex Ave. School in Morristown, NJ.  I spent some time with Antoinette Lubrano’s fourth grade class who read and discussed WHEELS OF CHANGE.  They asked wonderful questions about the writing process, how I did research for the book and who my favorite characters were.  posterThe students also did some amazing projects about the book that they shared with me. Here’s the link to a glogster post:   Emma made this Animoto video about Emily and Henry…the man Papa hired to be his blacksmith in the story.    Catherine Gaynor made a poster about how she and Emily were alike and different.   Many thanks to all the students in Ms. Lubrano;s class for making my visit such a memorable one. You boys and girls ROCK!

Ms. Lubrano's 4th grade class, Sussex Ave. School, Morris, NJ

Ms. Lubrano’s 4th grade class, Sussex Ave. School, Morris, NJ

Catherine Gaynor's poster.

Catherine Gaynor’s poster.

Kindle School Rocks!

On Wednesday, 2-25-2015, I had the pleasure of an author visit at the Elwood Kindle School in Pitman, NJ.  While there, I met some amazing fourth and fifth graders who shared some of their knowledge of what life was like 100 years ago.  I read passages of WHEELS OF CHANGE, shared the origins of the story and then asked students to share some photos of their grandparents and great grandparents as children and young adults. 

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We had a great time talking about fun and games at the turn of the Twentieth Century, how chores have changed, and what it might be like living during that time period. The students were very knowledgeable about what takes place in a forge, as well as how to care for the many animals that lived side-by-side in those days gone by.  Everyone was excited to know that Tootsie Rolls and Hershey Kisses were popular candies in 1908!       Bookmarks were handed out, hands stamped with lucky horseshoes, and books signed as well.      pitman2

It was a delightful group of children, and I was thrilled to be able to share a bit of my story with them.    BIG THANKS to all the great students at Kindle for a delightful morning!      pitman 1

Fourth Graders at Kindle School.

Fourth Graders at Kindle School.

Fifth graders at Kindle School

Fifth graders at Kindle School

An Extraordinary Open Book Experience.

Last week I had the pleasure of participating in AN OPEN BOOK CHILDREN’S LITERACY FOUNDATION (AOB) program in Washington, DC. For those unfamiliar with this program, AOB brings an author to under served schools and provides copies of the author’s book to ALL the students in a chosen school in DC. These children often do not have an opportunity to own books and most have never met an author before.  Through the generosity of this non-profit group, more than 90 copies of WHEELS OF CHANGE were distributed to 3rd, 4th and 5th graders.

What a thrill it was to be welcomed by such an enthusiastic group of children and educators! I had the privilege to visit TWO schools on Friday 2-20-2015: The  KIMBALL ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, 3377 Minnesota Ave. SE, Washington, DC 20019.

Here I met some amazing third and forth graders who knew a lot about their home town and asked some great questions about WHEELS OF CHANGE.

Kimball Elementary School, Washington, DC

Kimball Elementary School, Washington, DC

After a lively discussion on the changes in their town over the last hundred years, and learning about a forge and what a carriage maker and blacksmith does, the kids got to see a real horseshoe and seemed pleased to get their signed books.   open bk 8


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Kimball Student

Kimball Student

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Each child also got a "goodie bag" with a bookmark, stickers, and candy that was popular in 1909.

Each child also got a “goodie bag” with a bookmark, stickers, and candy that was popular in 1909.












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My  second visit took place at the KETCHAM ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, 1919 15th Street SE, Washington, DC 20020. 


Dara LaPorte telling the students about how a horseshoe is put onto a hoof.

Dara LaPorte telling the students about how a horseshoe is put onto a hoof.

Here I met some amazing fifth graders who also astonished me with their knowledge of the nation’s capitol 100 years ago. We had fun talking about what wasn’t in town back then (cheeseburgers, sneakers, cars, TV, electricity) and whether or not they would like living in a time when horses and carriages ruled the day.      open bk b

Janet Zwick - one of the Open Book coordinators - and some fifth grade students at Ketcham.

Janet Zwick – one of the Open Book coordinators – and some fifth grade students at Ketcham.





Ketcham Student

Ketcham Student

After the presentation, I again had the privilege of signing books for the students and answering their questions. One of my favorites was this:

STUDENT: “Did you write the book with pencil and paper?”
ME: “I did use pencil and paper until I had a complete story. Then I went to the computer and typed it up.”
STUDENT: “Didn’t your hand get tired?”
ME: “I didn’t write it all in one day. It took many months.”

Ketcham Student

Ketcham Student

STUDENT: Nodding her head, “Oh.”

To find out more about this wonderful program, visit:

Read Aloud Day

Wednesday, March 5, 2014 is the Annual Read Aloud Day. Join in the National Celebration by reading some of your favorite books at your child’s school, the local library or even at the park. What better way to get children interested in reading than by sharing a good book with them.  When our kids see us reading, they will learn the value of the written word. Check out my previous posts for some great Picture Books to read aloud.


I had the pleasure of meeting Jonathan Sprout at the Annual Conference of the New Jersey Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (NJSCBWI) last June.  Not only is he a talented writer and composer, he is a 2010 Grammy Award nominee for his AMERICAN HEROES recordings for children.

 Thanks for joining me today, Jon.  Congratulations on the Grammy nomination.  How did you find out you were nominated?

I received an email at 10:30 the night of December 2, 2009, just a half hour before the Grammy nominations were announced to the world in California. The email was sent to the six nominees. The moment is frozen in my memory – the hotel chair where I was sitting, the cold Connecticut night. I recall instantly jumping up out of my seat, completely shocked. Several of the nominees were friends and acquaintances. I called a couple of them to reality-check with them. We were all giddy.

 Are you a musician through training, or is it something that comes naturally?  Please tell us a bit about your background.

Well, my official training ended with the conclusion of my guitar lessons in eighth grade. I took one music course in college and nearly failed it. My degree is in psychology. Music was my fantasy until I graduated from Bucknell, when I took the emotional plunge and decided to try and make the dream of making a living playing guitar and singing a reality.

How did songwriting come about?

Why does a dog wag its tail? I needed to express myself, and I found that songwriting (which actually began as poetry writing + musical ideas) was my best vehicle for true expression. In addition, I was a shy kid. I won over friends with my writing and my music. Songwriting helped extrovertize me.                   1289 #1 GOOD, A12, back fence, waiste up

Where did you get the idea and inspiration for the AMERICAN HEROES recordings?

My changes have come to me in little steps. First, I became a successful musician. Then, I became a successful singer-songwriter musician. Then, I discovered children and realized that a lot more of me showed up on stage when I performed for kids than when I performed for grown-ups. After about six years as a successful children’s singer-songwriter, performer and recording artist… well, I wanted to leave more of a legacy. Leaving an audience laughing and happy is good. Leaving an audience inspired and motivated is much better. I wanted my music and my programs to have more teeth to them, to more deeply influence the impressionable minds I was fortunate to have in my sphere every time I performed.

 I searched for many months for the next, best version of Jonathan-the-writer-and-artist. Over time, I remembered I’d always been attracted to biographies. Researching and writing about heroes turned out to be a great fit for me, personally. It’s important that I stress something here: I’ve always led with my heart (as opposed to following marketing trends). Actually, I had no idea if writing and performing songs about heroes would work. It was a huge stretch for me as a performer to try performing concerts about heroes. I’d have to talk about these people in addition to singing about them. The thought of being a storyteller… well, it seemed strange to me. Remember, I was a shy kid.

 But I tried it and it worked. And I’m still at it!

You’ve performed over 5,000 children’s concerts.  Tell us how you got into this field.

Mom! She was an elementary school teacher. “Come in and play for my class,” she said, over and over, through the years. Honestly, I thought I was rather beyond singing for undeveloped heads and hearts. But I did my mother a favor and sang for her Perry L. Drew Elementary School students in 1981. It was a fun visit. The kids were surprisingly appreciative. As I was leaving Mom’s classroom, I was approached by the teacher in the classroom next door who held the purse strings for the school’s assembly programs. She had $150 left over and she wanted to spend it on me. So, a few weeks later, I gave a 45 minute concert for the entire school which included the most kid-friendly of my songs. The kids went nuts. They loved me and they did not hesitate to say and show that. I recall feeling stunned by the directness of that first kid’s concert experience. I remember walking off the stage and saying to someone. I get it! This is what I want to do – sing for children!

 Who’s your favorite historical “Hero” and why?

Who’s your favorite child? They change in importance as I change. For a while it was Susan B. Anthony because she was a hero day-after-day-after-day. That woman gave over 4,000 speeches for less-than-appreciative audiences over the course of 50 years. Without pay. Without much gratitude from the world. How did she do it?

Lately, my favorite hero has been John Muir—“the most influential nature lover America has ever known.” He could have been rich and famous from some of his inventions, but at 29, he had a bad accident when a file flew up into his face. For four weeks, he lay in bed with both eyes patched, unable to see anything, not knowing if he ever again would see. That’s when he made a promise that if he ever again could see, he’d forget about his inventions and instead devote his life to the inventions of nature. His sight was restored. And siding with the wilderness is what he did. And what I most love about this guy was his technique for inspiring awareness to the importance of the wilderness. He did not so much point out how wrong the greedy lumber companies were to dynamite the giant redwoods and giant sequoias. Instead, John Muir used his words to paint inspiring images. He wrote books and magazine articles about the beauties of these trees and their mountains and rivers. His words inspired countless others to fall in love with nature and to see things they had not before seen. Then came our national parks. The rest is history.

…Sorry, I get a little carried away when I talk about my heroes. Feel the passion?

What’s the best thing about doing a children’s concert?

The joy I feel watching children mesmerized and smitten by the stories and songs about heroes, by the stage lights, by the powerful speakers… by the concert and all of its dramatic facets.  Many kids experience their very first concert right there in front of me. I’m symbiotically feeling the excitement right along with them.

Tell us about your song writing workshops.

They run about an hour for a maximum of 30 students. Most of the time is spent crafting the lyric. Often a child will come up with a melody and I’ll “find it” on my acoustic guitar. I emphasize the importance of re-writing, revising, tweaking, etc. (It often takes me several months with a song before I consider it done.) We always record the song so the school will have a copy. Inevitably, it’s an uplifting, high-action hour that inspires kids to realize they can write exciting things.

What would readers be surprised to know about you?

I bicycled across much of the US and hiked about half of the Appalachian Trail. I love traveling to Europe, especially France; and take pride in my low-carbon-footprint lifestyle.

What are you currently working on?

The proofs for my tenth album: American Heroes #4. It’s my fourth album about American Heroes. It took me four years to research (110 books and several research trips from MA to FL), write and record. There is a corresponding chapter nonfiction book for ages 7-12 that I have half completed. I am shopping the book.

Any advice for those who want to incorporate music or performance into classroom or school presentations?

Putting music and words together adds a wonderful new dimension to one’s writing. Music makes words more memorable and emotional. But the process is a lot more complicated that most realize.

My advice is to please make the music at least as good as the words. Make it music that parents and teachers want to listen to. There are way too many mediocre children’s albums in existence. I believe that children’s ears and tastes for sophisticated music are just as developed as the ears of adults.

Where can we find your songs and recordings?

iTunes,, and to name some places. My website,, has links to places where my music can be purchased.

 I’m at People can download “He Will Not Give Up” when they sign on to my email list there. There are links to my facebook, Linkin, Twitter and Youtube pages from too.