Forest Friends

I love creating dolls and stuffies so I’m always on the look out for great patterns. How to sew Little Felt Animals by Sue Quinn is one of my all time favorite pattern books. The instructions are clear and conscise and the patterns are easy to use. You can chose to machine sew or hand sew and both turn out great.

Take a look at these cute little squirrels I made using her pattern and a few of my own modifications. Don’t you want to grab some felt and get busy making your own little critters? I’m finishing up the clothes for a rabbit family next. Stay tuned for a photo shoot!

Imagination + Outdoors = Pure Joy

Last weekend, druing our family reunion, I visited a delightful restaurant. It was managed by my industrious and imaginative eight-year-old nephew and staffed by his creative cousins. On the menu were Crunchy Leaf Kabobs, Delicious Dirt Smoothies, Smashed Acorn Soup, and Green Grass Gravy.

Nature’s Naturals opened up Saturday morning faster than you can say, “No internet connection.” With both a drive thru and sit down menu, the staff were busy stomping acorns, and smashing leaves all day.

This was old school, low tech, and no equipment needed kind of play. No adult organization nevessary, just the great outdoors and a child’s imagination. It was a wonderful reminder of why children NEED undirected play time. They need the opportunity and space to experiment and explore.

Next weekend I hope you and your kids go outside and plan – absolutley NOTHING! Let them invent their own play world and see how their imagination explodes.

Meet Author Nancy Churnin!

Nancy Churnin writes the most wonderful biographies. They are stories that show the heart and soul of the individual, stories that inspire readers to be their best self and stretch for their dreams. Books like Manjhi Moves a Mountain – about a man who literally moved a mountain one bucket at a time, to help the people of his village. Or the lovely story of William Hoy and how a deaf baseball player changed America’s favorite game.

With six biographies on the shelves and more to come, Nancy Churnin is the perfect subject for a classroom Author Study. And with Nancy’s help I have put together a complete Author Study Unit that is free for you to use with your classroom. Please enjoy the interview with Nancy and download my five lesson Author Study Unit and Free Worksheets



How do you choose the subjects for your books?

The William Hoy Story, my first book, came about because I wanted to make the dream of my friend, Steve Sandy come true. Steve is deaf and his dream is that William Hoy, a great 19th century deaf baseball player, will be well-known and one day be honored in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. I promised to write the book before I knew how to write a children’s book! I thought I’d knock it out in an afternoon, only to very slowly comprehend that I needed to take classes, join critique groups, write, write, write and revise, revise, revise. It took me 12 years to sell that first book, but I not only learned about how to write a picture book, but how much I loved writing picture books. I was determined to find more people who inspired me and would inspire kids, people who deserved a spotlight, but didn’t have one yet. After spending so many years making Hoy happen, I found myself particularly drawn to people who aren’t the biggest or strongest, but who have the heart to persevere against the odds. I found my next subject Manjhi in a newspaper article. The minute I learned about this man who spent 22 years chiseling a path through a 300-foot mountain so that the kids in his poor village could get to school and the sick could get to a doctor on the other side, I knew I had to write his story.

Why do you like to write biographies?


We all have moments of struggle and self-doubt when the path before us seems dark, forbidding — more than we can handle. But biographies of people who have forged past doubt to focus on and ultimately achieve a dream can be a light to us on our journey. Everyone’s journey is unique. But other people’s journeys can provide an example of what can be accomplished if you have a dream and you persevere. I’m not going to be a champion ballplayer like William Hoy or chisel a path through a 300-foot mountain like Manjhi, but if I believe in a story, I’m going to keep working on it until it gets where it needs to go. And, after all, you never fail until you give up. I think of the 12 years I spent on my first book with pride, because I didn’t give up even when there were some people in my life wondering and, no doubt, having fun at my expense, thinking is she really still working on that? Kids get that all the time, too — they’re told they’re too young, too little, too this, too that, too unrealistic to accomplish something that’s never been done. I hope these people I write about remind them that they can accomplish anything if they don’t give up, that they have the power to set goals that will make the world a better place. And I hope my 12-year journey to my first book reminds them that anything worth doing is worth doing until you get where you want to go.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in the Bronx in New York City.

What was special about your childhood?

I grew up in a world of books. When my parents married, they were very poor. The first thing they bought was a book called Tomorrow Will Be Better. They kept adding to that library so that by the time I was born we had a whole room of floor to ceiling books that we called the library. My mother read to me every night, Mondays through Saturdays — my first favorite book was The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. She read me an extra chapter on Saturdays so she could take off Sundays. I also loved going to the Kingsbridge Heights Library where the librarians would recommend amazing books. I still remember one title I asked the librarian to repeat a couple of times because it sounded so bizarre. I am glad I trusted that librarian because that book was The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and it became one of my favorites! Another thing special about my childhood was that my grandparents, Sam and Mary Farber, had a bungalow colony in the Catskills called Mountain View Cottages. For a city girl growing up in a concrete Bronx grayer than Frank L. Baum described Dorothy’s Kansas, spending summers walking through woods, staring up at stars, running and rolling down hills, swimming, roasting marshmallows at campfires, riding horses — it was heaven. When I need to go to my happy place in my head, that’s where I often go.

What are some of the jobs you have had?

I have spent most of my life as a journalist, working as a theater critic for the Los Angeles Times San Diego Edition and most recently for The Dallas Morning News. Reviewing and writing about theater has been my favorite thing to do outside of writing books. I left The Dallas Morning News in January 2019 and am now a full-time children’s book author.

What are your hobbies?

My hobby when I was writing for newspapers was writing children’s books. And now that I do that full-time, I am happy to do that all the time! I still enjoy theater and singing. I love to walk my dog named Dog and hang out with my family.

What advice would you give to student writers?

Don’t waste time thinking about what other people would like you to write. Reach deep and think about what stories you want to tell. Read and re-read stories that you like to see how they’re put together. But remember, each new story is its own challenge and journey. There are some structural things you can learn that will help you on your way. But ultimately everything you write will be as unique as you are. Don’t try to be like anyone else. Be the best version of yourself. And don’t get discouraged if your first draft doesn’t resemble the vision you have in your head. There is an expression called the crummy first draft. No matter how many books authors write, no matter how experienced they seem, we all have to write that crummy first draft that we revise and revise and revise until it starts to move and breathe and feel like the original idea we had when we started. Find a support group of fellow writers that truly want you to succeed and that you truly want to help succeed. Don’t beat yourself up. Be kind to yourself. Be patient. Things take as long as they take and the length of time they take is different for each of us. The people who succeed are the ones who don’t give up.

What would you like students to know about you?

I am happy that I have been given the opportunity and support to write these books, to share them with you, to bring you a little light in the form of these stories and in the time we spend together here on this wonderful blog. I believe, with all my heart, that we are here to do what we can to heal the world, to do our best to make it better and to pass on whatever tools we can to the next generation to move our progress even further along the field. What I want you to know about me is how much I believe in you. You are why I do what I do. I am thankful for the opportunity to try to be helpful to you in your journeys.


Looking for a fun spring read-aloud? Look no further! Hippy Hoppy Toad by Peggy Archer is just the story you’ve been hopping to read!

This book of rolicking rhyme will have your little ones  begging to go outside on their own toad hunt. And what better way could there be to celebrate spring than with toads and rhymes? How about with a free lesson plan and worksheets to go with that great book?

I’ve put together a cute HippyHoppyToad LessonRhymeCards, and a RhymeWorksheet just for you teachers and parents-who-are-now-teachers!

So go ahead – have a toad-ally awesome day!

Celebrating Lincoln with Free Activities and lesson Plans!

LINCOLN CLEARS A PATH is a fresh look at some of Abraham Lincoln’s amazing accomplishments. Written by Peggy Thomas and illustrated by Stacy Innerst, this picture book examines how Lincoln’s life growing up in a farming community affected his presidency and his creation of the Department of Agriculture, the Homestead Act, and the Emancipation Proclamation. Thomas usues lyrical language to pull the reader into Lincoln’s early life and Innerst’s illustrations are evocative of sepia toned pictres from the time. This is a book that will capture the attention of students and the hearts of historians. It’s a book every library needs on its shelves. And every teacher is going to want to use the FREE activities and lessons created to accompany this great book. Click belwo for wfree worksheets and activities to accompany this book.

Author Interview

Author Peggy Thomas graciously agreed to answer a few questions about LINCOLN CLEARS A PATH.

What inspired this book?

I was poking around for a third president to go with Farmer George Plants a Nation and Thomas Jefferson Grows a Nation.  Editors like trilogies:-) I researched James Madison, but his farming did not have a huge impact on America. Same with John Adams who would have been interesting because he was a farmer from the North. His approach to farming was very different from the southern plantations. Then I was surprised to discover that Abraham Lincoln had a huge impact on farming. I had never heard that, and was pretty sure kids hadn’t either.              

What do you want children to know about Lincoln?

I want kids to realize that Lincoln did more than write the Emancipation Proclamation. He drastically changed our culture and the landscape of the United States. He opened the west to homesteaders and approved the trans-continental railroad (good for agriculture, bad for Native Americans). He initiated the land grant colleges and established the USDA.

He did all of this during the Civil War, our darkest period in history. In a short 4 months in the summer of 1862, Lincoln managed to “clear the path” for the United States to become the bread basket of the world.

Do you have any favorite Lincoln quotes?

Yes. Here is a good one for writers: “When I read aloud, two senses catch the idea; first, I see what I read; second, I hear it, and therefore I can remember it better.”

You can also hear your mistakes clearer. That’s why I read my manuscripts, or have someone else read them out loud.

What project will you be working on next?

I have one more agriculturally related book coming out next year. It is a mid-grade biography of Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug. He was an agricultural scientist who literally fed the world.

Borlaug was the kind of guy who ignored the status quo, knew what was right and would yell at the King of Pakistan in order to prevent a famine. He was a rebel. I think kids will like him.

Absolutely Truly – I love this book!

Have you ever fallen in love with a book? My latest middlegrade book crush is ABSOLUTELY TRULY by Heather Vogel Frederick. I highly reccommend this for a heartwarming winter read.

The adventure begins when Truly Lovejoy’s family moves from Texas to the tiny town of Pumkin Falls, New Hampshire. Her solider father, is recovering from an IED explosion in Afghanistan and goes to work managing the family bookstore. Truly has to endure moving in the middle of the school year, leaving behind her best friend and cousin, and being the tallest kid in seventh grade.

Soon after she arrives, Truly finds a mysterious letter hidden in an old copy of CHARLOTTE’S WEB. Enlisitng the help of her new friends, Truly embarks on a treasure hunt from the past. The town is full of crazy characters, and snowy charm. Truly’s family fights, forgives, and works together like a real family. This is one book that the whole family can enjoy. I highly recommend it as a read-a-loud.

And best of all – there are two more Truly books! You can follow Truly and the whole gang as they solve mysteries in YOURS TRULY and REALLY TRULY.

Really truly – I guarentee you’re going to love these books!

Winter Bird Fun! And FREE Lesson Plans!

Winter is a wonderful time to introduce little ones to the fun of birding. And it’s a great activity for classrooms, homeschoolers or fun family time. If you want to teach your little ones about birding – I have just the book for you. PLUS I wrote some fun FREE lesson pans.

FINDING A DOVE FOR GRAMPS is the creation of author Lisa J. Amstutz. ( fellow Nonfiction Ninja) This book tells the charming story of a boy participating in the Christmas bird count and his quest to spy Gramps’ favorite bird.

Lisa is an avid birder and she believes that getting kids interested in birding is a wonderful way to encourage a life-long relationship with nature. Birds live in backyards, and city trees. The can be found on every continent and in every climate. You don’t need any special equipment to watch birds, so they make the perfect subject for introductory animal observations.

If you want to add birds to your classroom, or family time, I highly recommend FINDING A DOVE FOR GRAMPS and be sure to check out my free lesson plans that go along with the book! To Download the free lessons just click on the link below.

Happy birding!!!


Wow! 2020 has been a year – Right?

Covid, economic shut-down, campaigns, home schooling, quarantine, protests, fires, elections, and still more covid. It’s the year that just keeps giving.

How have you coped with all the stress? I have friends who have taken up new creative pursuits like watercolor, woodworking, and bread making. Other friends have escaped to the outdoors to explore new hiking trails, watch birds, and start gardens. One crazy friend has taken up marathon running. Just thinking about that gives me stress.

As for me – I’ve taken up doll making. I’ve had so much fun sewing huggable cloth dolls

and their wardrobes. It felt like I was creating a story and an imaginary life for each one. I made shoes with tiny ribbons and buttons. They have outfits for school or parties, and of course cute nighties. They even have lacy underpants! It gave me joy to create each one.

Now It’s going to give me great joy to give them away!

I want to end 2020 by giving some joy to you dear readers! If you have a little girl in your life who would like a sweet doll leave a comment and tell me about her! I will do a random drawing and give away TEN dolls.

You can enter the drawing by doing one or more of the following things (the more you do – the more chances you have to win!!!) Subscribe to my blog, follow me on Instagram or twitter, or comment on this blog post. I can’t wait to see who will be receiving one of my girls!!

I’ll announce the winners in January!!!!

Applesause Day Free Lesson Plans

Looking for a way to add some fun to your learning this fall? Whether you are a parent teaching from home, a teacher leading a virtual class, or working in a socially distanced classroom, you can still celebrate fall with Applesause Day.

This delightful book by author Lisa Amstutz tells the farm to table story of creating applesauce. Follow Maria and her family as they pick apples and then follow Grandma’s recipe, cutting, cooking, and tasting delicious applesauce. Enjoy the FREE lesson plans I created to do some apple math, science, and art.

Apples are a great part of our American heritage and agriculture. Apples arrived with the settlers at James in 1607, and the first formal apple orchards were planted by the pilgrims in Massachusttes Bay. At first apples were mainly used for cider, but as farmers cultivated the seeds and blossoms, it became the sweet fruit we enjoy today.

Apples are grown in every state in the nation and are the third most important fruit crop in the United States. American farmers produce 48,000 tons of apples every year with every American eating 19 pounds of apples. There are over 2,500 varieties of apples grown in the United States, but American’s favorite apple is the Gala.

Ready to make an apple pie? You will need two pounds of apples for a nine-inch pie. Apples are fat sodium and cholesteral free and are a great source of fiber. They are the perfect snack and the perfect fruit for a class to study!

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