Three Cheers For Tuscaloosa Academy! My First Classroom Visit in 2023.

I always look forward to a new year because that usually means a chance to connect with students and teachers through author visits. Last week I had the pleasure of a virtual visit to GINGER STEWART’S 7th and 8th grade classes at TUSCALOOSA ACADEMY,  in Tuscaloosa AL.

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The classes were in the middle of reading  WISHES, DARES, AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY and had some wonderful questions to ask about the book.

They were eager to share their enthusiasm about the story, and their favorite characters. Mrs. Stewart had them read sections each day and then they talked about it and shared their thoughts.

They also did character studies regarding the traits and behaviors of each character.


It was so gratifying to see the students enthusiasm for the story. It was also music to my ears when Mrs. Stewart said the class liked the book better than their previous read aloud CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN.

Thank you students for an enjoyable visit and for the book love! I hope I can visit your wonderful classroom again some time. And a BIG thanks to Mrs. Stewart for choosing to share WISHES, DARES, AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY with her students.



Author/Illustrator Mike Ciccotello Presents: Draw With Mr. Mike

Are you an author who writes picture books and would love to know how to illustrate them? Do you have or know children who love to doodle and draw? Do you want to stretch your creative muscles and learn something new? Then I’ve got a great YouTube series for you: DRAW WITH MR. MIKE starring PB Author/Illustrator Mike Ciccotello. Here’s Mike to tell you about his series in his own words:

Thanks for the invite to talk about my drawing program, Draw with Mr. Mike!

When my twins were three, I observed how they started to create art. I had an idea of showing them how to use basic lines and shapes to create complex objects. We worked on a few drawings, and I was delighted to see them follow along. They were excited to see what they were able to create. So I decided to include this in my school visits, and it was a hit. The kids enjoyed the opportunity to create art together.

Creating art between three to seven is fun for children, but it can also be problematic if they lack confidence in their abilities. Breaking down these drawings into their simplest forms makes them easier to understand. And then, step-by-step, as we fit the shapes together to build a finished piece of art, we are also building the child’s confidence.

After developing this idea, I knew I wanted to reach more children, but I didn’t know how to take my lessons and make them available to the public. Then, an old colleague from my days at CNN approached me with an idea. Her company, Identity Digital, could help me figure it all out, and that’s when the Draw with Mr. Mike show became a reality.

We started recording episodes and posting them to Vimeo, YouTube, and on my website.

Each episode demonstrates the same principle of using basic lines and shapes to create a complex character, object, or scene. Now I’m focusing on creating more episodes to reach a wider audience, improving my production every week, and doing my best to make fun and educational drawing lessons for kids.

Here is the blurb from my website:

Do you know a child who loves to draw? Or maybe a child who needs a confidence boost when it comes to making art? If so, then DRAW WITH MR. MIKE may be a great fit. In these short, easy-to-understand videos, young artists will learn how to take basic shapes and lines, and turn them into a rocket ship, a castle, a butterfly, and other kid-friendly images. The lessons are geared toward 3-7 years old—but, of course, they are open for artists of any age to join in.

So grab some favorite drawing materials, and join me in this exciting art journey. Let’s see how these shapes and lines fit together!

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Mike is the author/illustrator of BEACH TOYS vs SCHOOL SUPPLIES, Beach Toys vs. School Supplies and TWINS.

Follow him on Twitter @ciccotello

WISHES, DARES, AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY is One Year Old. Let’s Celebrate With These Prizes…

Last April, my middle grade novel-in-verse WISHES, DARES, AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY made its debut. It was strange and very different to have a book debut during the pandemic to which many of my author friends will agree. And while I didn’t get to have a BIG in-person launch, I had some smaller events over the past year. Here we are, one year later.   WoCCover01

I want to share my joy at having the book so well received by teachers and classrooms. Thank you to those educators who read the book to their students over Zoom and in classrooms. Thanks also to the NCTE for recognizing it as a 2021 Notable Verse Novel. And, thanks to all of you fellow authors and friends who have reviewed the book and shown your support this past year. I am grateful for all of you and appreciate your kind words and book love.    hug

To celebrate the first birthday/anniversary of WISHES, DARES, AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY I am giving away a signed copy of the book, a Zoom or Skype classroom visit, and a Barnes & Noble gift card. Two winners will be drawn at random. One to receive the book and visit, a second to receive the gift card. To enter, leave a comment below letting me know one thing you are grateful for since this Pandemic began.

My love, and best wishes to all of you. May your blessing be many and your worries be few.


Love to Read? Share It With Kids on March 2: Read Across America.

“When people make the time to read with children, children get the message that reading is important.” NEA

Students, parents, teachers and people from many walks of life, will read to children March 2,  in recognition of “National Read Across America Day,” a program the National Education Association established 20 some years ago.

Athletes and actors will issue reading challenges to young readers. Governors and other elected officials will recognize the role of reading with proclamations.

Naomi Gruer, a children’s writer and preschool teacher, participated in a remote event,   “World Read Aloud Day,” a few years ago.

“Reading to kids made me so happy because, in that moment, we explored the world inside the story together.”

To prepare the children for the online experience, Naomi asked them to listen for certain things as she read — a funny incident or a silly outcome or a character acting in a peculiar way. “The minute I was on Skype with the kids, everything else melted away. It was as if I was in the classroom with them,” she said.

Later, as a Microsoft Guest Educator, she was asked by several educators to read to their students. One request came from a teacher in Spain, who wanted English to be read to her classroom.

Naomi applied the same format to all her remote classroom sessions: an introduction, followed by reading (either chapters or picture books depending on the age of the students.)

“They listened actively and were ready to point out and discuss the humor. Introducing students to my dog was the ultimate ice breaker.” Naomi blogs at

What You Can Do:

There are many free and low cost ways to provide children with books in print, online, audio and video formats. For example, the “We Need Diverse Books” program provides free diverse books to schools serving low-income students around the country.

To learn more:


How to help kids develop the reading habit:

  • Keep books everywhere you spend time. Put them in the car, in every room of the house and tuck them in backpacks and purses.
  • Visit the library often. Knowing how to use the library and learning the benefits of a library fosters a love of reading as well as a genuine respect for the services libraries provide.

Do you have a favorite children’s book? Please share it in the Comment section.

Marilyn Ostermiller is a long-time journalist and voracious reader of  children’s books.

Malayna Evans shows you how to escape the tomb with Aria Jones … from the comfort of your own sofa.

One of the best things about launching my debut series, set in ancient Egypt, has been visiting schools, talking to middle grade learners about all the things we inherited from ancient Egypt, their amazing artifacts, fascinating afterlife beliefs, and daily life practices. Long story short, I’m a sucker for all things ancient Egyptian. I spent a good decade of my life earning a Ph.D. in the subject so it’s fun to put the education to work, even if kid lit wasn’t the original plan.

With book two, ARIA JONES & THE GUARDIAN’S WEDJA, launching this month, I’m missing school visits and one-on-one time with readers. But I’m also a mom of a middle school aged child so I’ve struggled personally with the challenges of learning from home.


In an effort to support educators and parents, as well as celebrate my book launch, I’ve put together a little ESCAPE THE TOMB activity package designed for home or classroom. In the book, Jagger and Aria and their friends take shelter in a mastaba—rectangular tomb structures that housed shrines and underground burials of elite ancient Egyptians. Ancient Egyptians visited the mastabas scattered around the Giza plateau, near the Great pyramid, to stay connected to their ancestors. They would say their names aloud and offer sustenance, mostly commonly bread and beer. They believed the dead could intervene to help the living … bread and beer were a great way to earn that assistance. Jagger and Aria don’t have bread and beer on hand, but lucky for them, the Excellent Spirit of the mastaba they hide in is perfectly happy with Skittles and a juice box. I’ve used this scene to set up an activity guide that invites kids to move through five tasks in order to tempt the spirit to help them escape the tomb. You can download it here:

Like so many Americans, I’m looking forward to the day we can safely go back to our regularly scheduled lives … and schools and bookstores and libraries. In the meantime, there’s nothing like a good book (and a handy activity guide) to keep the spirits high. Hopefully mine is enjoyed by many.

If you’re looking for more ancient Egyptian themed content, feel free to visit the educator’s page on my website ( for free downloads, including a crossword puzzle, educator’s guide, and scavenger hunt.

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If you’d like a chance to win a signed copy of  ARIA JONES AND THE GUARDIAN’S WEDJA, leave a comment and your name will be placed in a basket. Share the post on social media and you will get a second entry. (Let us know that you shared) One winner will be drawn at random and announced on this blog next month.

Malayna Evans was raised in the mountains of Utah and spent her childhood climbing, reading Sci-Fi, and finding trouble. She earned her Ph.D. in ancient Egyptian history from the University of Chicago. Evans lives in Oak Park, IL, with her two kids, a rescue dog, and a hedgehog. She’s passionate about coffee, travel and sharing her passion for ancient Egypt. You can learn more about Malayna at or follow Malayna on Twitter:

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.