"kids who pretend to be..."

Picture books ideas come in all different forms, but here is my journey in writing and illustrating “Hello, My Name is Tiger”.

Hello My Name is, Tiger.jpg

I’d like to say that I had a grand plan for a picture book that would make kids feel like there are other kids just like them.

But the reality is I just drew a picture.

Before I knew I was going to write and illustrate my book “Hello, My Name is Tiger”, I drew a picture of a kid in a cat suit. Just out of the blue. Not sure why, other than Halloween was around the corner.

An editor saw the drawing and asked me if I had a story to go with it. I told her I would noodle it.

In thinking about it, I remembered that my daughter, when she was 4, had a friend named Simon, who wouldn’t take off his red-footed PJ’s for almost 4 months. He was Clifford the Big Red Dog and no one was going to tell him otherwise.

Simon was having a ball being his favorite character, and in my research I learned there are lots of kids who pretend to be cats and dogs or other creatures. Sometimes they are doing it for fun. But other times, they are going through something they are uncomfortable with and being in costume makes it a little easier. Seems like a good plan to me. I don’t remember, but I may have done this myself when I was a kid.

Actually, here is a picture of me as a bunny. I do recall wearing this on other days than Halloween.

Author Jennifer Goldfinger

Author Jennifer Goldfinger

I moved every two years when I was growing up. I was always the new kid and it stressed me out every time I started a new school. I felt like I was going through something that no one else was, that everyone else had it all figured out and everyone else had lots of friends. I wish now that I had someone tell me how I wasn’t really alone in my feelings. Kids who had been at the school and weren’t new, sometimes felt that way too.

In my book, Toby would rather be a cat than a boy as he starts a new school. He struggled with his isolation until a monkey (another boy) rescued him from being stuck in a tree.

Picture in tree.jpg

Eventually they also befriended a bird (a girl). They were going through the same thing separately until they found each other.

It was a roundabout way I got to making this book. But it all came together for me when I looked deep inside an emotion I had as a child and still have at times as an adult. I’m so familiar with this feeling that once I identified it, I was able to make a book that told my story through Toby/Tiger’s eyes.

Today's guest blogger is Ms. Jennifer P. Goldfinger. She is a children's author and illustrator. You can find more information about Ms. Goldfinger at http://www.jennifergoldfinger.com/. 

First Day Jitters

Young children may have a variety of feelings about starting school. Books are a way for children to make meaning out of their emotions, talk with a caregiver about how they feel, and enjoy the benefits of children’s literature. If you have children who are dealing with going back to school jitters, here are picture books you could read with them.  

Ash, B., & Gee, K. (2016).  The class.  New York: Beach Lane Books.

Ash, B., & Gee, K. (2016). The class. New York: Beach Lane Books.

Brown, Marc Tolon. (2015).  Monkey: not ready for kindergarten . New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Brown, Marc Tolon. (2015). Monkey: not ready for kindergarten. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Carlstrom, N. W., & Moore, M. (2009).  It's your first day of school, Annie Claire . New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers.  

Carlstrom, N. W., & Moore, M. (2009). It's your first day of school, Annie Claire. New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers.  

Child, L. (2004).  I am too absolutely small for school.  Cambridge, Mass.: Candlewick.

Child, L. (2004). I am too absolutely small for school. Cambridge, Mass.: Candlewick.

Cohen, M., & Himler, R. (2009).  Will I have a friend?  Long Island City, NY: Star Bright Books.

Cohen, M., & Himler, R. (2009). Will I have a friend? Long Island City, NY: Star Bright Books.

Cuyler, M., & Terry, W. (2017).  Bonaparte falls apart.  New York: Crown Books.

Cuyler, M., & Terry, W. (2017). Bonaparte falls apart. New York: Crown Books.

Danneberg, J., & Love, J. (2006).  Qué nervios! El primer día de escuela.  Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.

Danneberg, J., & Love, J. (2006). Qué nervios! El primer día de escuela. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.

Dewdney, A. (2009).  Llama llama misses mama . New York: Scholastic.

Dewdney, A. (2009). Llama llama misses mama. New York: Scholastic.

Goldfinger, J. P. (2016).  Hello, my name is Toby Tiger . New York, NY: Harper Collins.

Goldfinger, J. P. (2016). Hello, my name is Toby Tiger. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

Grandits, J., & Austin, M. A. (2011).  Ten rules you absolutely must not break if you want to survive the school bus.  New Yo

Grandits, J., & Austin, M. A. (2011). Ten rules you absolutely must not break if you want to survive the school bus. New Yo

Harris, R. H., & Ormerod, J. (2003).  I am not going to school today . New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books.

Harris, R. H., & Ormerod, J. (2003). I am not going to school today. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books.

Hennessy, B.G., & Meisel, P. (2006).  Mr. Ouchy's first day . New York : Putnam's Sons.  

Hennessy, B.G., & Meisel, P. (2006). Mr. Ouchy's first day. New York : Putnam's Sons.  

Kleve, E. (2007).  The apple doll.  New York: Farrar Straus Giroux.

Kleve, E. (2007). The apple doll. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux.

London, J., & Remkiewicz, F. (1996).  Froggy goes to school.  New York: Viking.

London, J., & Remkiewicz, F. (1996). Froggy goes to school. New York: Viking.

Marshall, J. (1975).  Eugene.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Marshall, J. (1975). Eugene. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

McCarthy, J., & Palacios, S. (2016).  Lola knows a lot.  New York: Balzer + Bray.

McCarthy, J., & Palacios, S. (2016). Lola knows a lot. New York: Balzer + Bray.

McGhee, A., & Bliss, H. (2004).  Mrs. Watson wants your teeth.  Orlando: Harcourt.

McGhee, A., & Bliss, H. (2004). Mrs. Watson wants your teeth. Orlando: Harcourt.

Rankin, J. (2002).  First day.  New York : Margaret K. McElderry Books.

Rankin, J. (2002). First day. New York : Margaret K. McElderry Books.

Rex, A. & Robinson, C. (2016).  School's first day of school.  New York: Roaring Brook Press.

Rex, A. & Robinson, C. (2016). School's first day of school. New York: Roaring Brook Press.

Robbins, B., & Stuart, J. (2001).  Tom's first day at school . New York : Dorling Kindersley Pub.

Robbins, B., & Stuart, J. (2001). Tom's first day at school. New York : Dorling Kindersley Pub.

Sadu, I., & Delinous, A. (2017).  Greetings, Leroy.  Toronto; Berkeley: Groundwoood Books/House of Anansi Press.

Sadu, I., & Delinous, A. (2017). Greetings, Leroy. Toronto; Berkeley: Groundwoood Books/House of Anansi Press.

Scotton, R. (2008).  Splat the cat.  New York: Harper Collins.

Scotton, R. (2008). Splat the cat. New York: Harper Collins.

Thaler, M., & Lee, J. (1989).  The teacher from the black lagoon.  New York: Scholastic.

Thaler, M., & Lee, J. (1989). The teacher from the black lagoon. New York: Scholastic.

Wing, N., & Wummer, A. (2011).  The night before preschool.  New York: Grossett & Dunlap.

Wing, N., & Wummer, A. (2011). The night before preschool. New York: Grossett & Dunlap.

Wing, N., & Durrell, J. (2001).  The night before kindergarten.  New York: Grossett & Dunlap.

Wing, N., & Durrell, J. (2001). The night before kindergarten. New York: Grossett & Dunlap.

Wing, N., & Zemke, D. (2005).  The night before first grade.  New York: Grossett & Dunlap.

Wing, N., & Zemke, D. (2005). The night before first grade. New York: Grossett & Dunlap.

Thank you to Emma, my librarian, for helping me find these books.

Instruction Worker

I was walking into my public library when I heard it.

“I’m an instruction worker,” said the little boy.

Hmmm? I looked. His Dad was taking his picture with a cell phone while the boy posed through a hole in the cardboard prop of a construction site.

Build a Better World

Build a Better World

In libraries across the country, a summer reading program is going on called “Build a Better World/ Construir un Mundo Mejor.” This is the 2017 reading theme for the Collaborative Summer Library Program. It was started in the 1980s by a group of librarians in Minnesota and has blossomed into a really cool national program to support children in the summer with reading opportunities. To prevent summer reading loss, many public libraries promote programs for children and families. Maybe the child is on to something. Maybe we can build a better world around us through instruction workers….

“Hold On, Mr. President!”

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, has recommended that we prepare young people for living in a world of powerful images, words, and sounds. Parents and professionals working with children have a responsibility to help them interpret and create personal meaning. What do we need to know about media that can help our children?

This was a question I asked renowned reporter, ABC news anchor, author of the book "Hold On, Mr. President," and White House correspondent, Mr. Sam Donaldson.

Mr. Sam Donaldson at our state's annual press women conference.

Mr. Sam Donaldson at our state's annual press women conference.

Check out the podcast to hear Mr. Donaldson share his ideas on several topics like: early childhood education, communication, media literacy, asking questions of public officials, and much more. http://www.marisamacy.com/podcast/

Source: Donaldson, S. (1987). Hold On, Mr. President! New York: Random House Inc.

In the Garden with Winnie-the-Pooh

As soon as I saw you, I knew an adventure was going to happen. ~Winnie the Pooh

If you are looking for a great read during A.T.T.O., look no further than the beautifully photographed biography of A.A. Milne. Timber Press published, “The Natural World of Winnie-The-Pooh: A Walk Through The Forest That Inspired The Hundred Acre Wood.”

Alan Alexander Milne (1882-1956) is the author of the Winnie-the-Pooh books. Both of Milne’s parents were teachers. He considered himself lucky to have such an idyllic childhood that he returned to his stomping grounds as an adult in his writing for children. The calm village of Hartfield in Victorian London and the English countryside inspired his stories. The Hundred Acre Wood where Christopher Robin encounters the likes of the silly willy nilly old bear, Tigger, Eeyore, and piglet is a real place called Ashdown Forest and the Five Hundred Acre Wood.

The family lived at Henley House which consisted of two detached buildings. A.A. Milne lived in one of the buildings with his Mom, Dad, and two brothers. The other detached building was the schoolhouse where his father was the headmaster. H.G. Wells was one of his teachers that sparked his interest in nature and the surrounding landscape. Alan adored his father and family, as well as school. It was his father’s love of mathematics that ignited a passion in Alan for the subject. At Trinity College, Cambridge Alan studied math before becoming a literary figure. Christopher Robin is based on Milne’s son and toys in his nursery. It is not surprising then, that the man who wrote such a beautiful story about friendship, understanding, and kindheartedness had such a strong meaningful connection between his home and school families.

Aalto, K. (2015). The natural world of Winnie-the-pooh: A walk through the forest that inspired the hundred acre wood. Portland, OR: Timber Press.

Summer Reading Triathlon

“Everything you need is already inside.” ~Coach Bill Bowerman of the University of Oregon

Do you enjoy going to a bookstore in the summer? Is it the free WI-FI? Is it the cold and caffeinated dessert drinks? Is it the air conditioned aisles of books and magazines? If you have kids, it could be the summer reading program.

For 20 years, Barnes & Noble has been running their summer reading programs. This summer they are hosting a Summer Reading Triathlon from now until the end of August. Kids read three books of their choice, and write in a Summer Reading Triathlon Journal. The Triathlon journals are available in English and en Español. When kids bring their completed journals to the store, they receive a free book from Barnes & Noble. The list of free books is printed on the journal.

The Triathlon program has an 8-page guide for educators complete with activity sheets and ideas for encouraging kids to read.

Readers can take part in voting in two categories: (1) their favorite literary hero, and/or (2) favorite literary place using Gold, Silver, and Bronze Medals to indicate their preference.

Closing ceremonies are planned for August 27th at 11am at stores nationwide where results of the voting will be shared, and kids can earn their own trophy. For more information about the Summer Reading Triathlon, check out the link. http://www.barnesandnoble.com/b/summer-reading/_/N-rs9


Statue of legendary Coach Bill Bowerman at the University of Oregon.

Statue of legendary Coach Bill Bowerman at the University of Oregon.

26.2 Reader

Imagine the frustration of starting a book you really want to read and then not being able to finish it. Some children begin reading a book and will abandon it before they get to the words “The End.” Finishing a book is similar to finishing a marathon. Both take endurance to complete.

In order to finish a marathon, an individual needs to be able to withstand the challenge of 26.2 miles of terrain. There are mile markers along the way to indicate location of the race. Readers can use book chapters in a similar fashion. 

At the finish line, marathoners often feel a sense of accomplishment. They may receive artifacts, like a medal, indicating they just completed a marathon. Additionally, they may see the happy faces of friends and/or family who have been cheering them on. It is not uncommon for marathoners to talk about their next running challenge or goal at the end of a race.

Dharma would like to run a reading marathon and finish a good book, but there are obstacles in her way.

Dharma’s Story: As a fourth grader, Dharma is reading at grade level. She has been reading middle grade chapter books for over a year. Dharma checks out Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fossey on her weekly visit to the library. It is a 400-page book. Dharma gets frustrated and gives up reading the book after the third page. Here are some ideas to guide a young reader, like Dharma, who selects a challenging book.

#1 Conference- Sit down and have a one-on-one conversation with the reader and discover why they want to read the challenging text. Maybe it is the genre or main character that has sparked their interest. With your help, they can be guided to a similar text that is within their reading ability.

After conferencing with Dharma, I found out that she really wanted to read Gorillas in the Mist after a visit to the zoo. She was looking for a fictional text about gorillas. We talked about some other books that she might also like. She decided to read Good Morning, Gorillas by Mary Pope Osborne. This middle grade chapter book was a good match for Dharma. She enjoyed reading and finishing the book. Dharma also started reading more Magic Tree House books by this author.

#2 Sharing- If a reader is able to read with fluency but lacks the stamina to finish the book alone, they could share the reading experience with a partner. Dharma could pair up with another reader. She could share her book by reading a page, and then her partner could read a page. This format could be used until the dyad finishes reading the book together. 

Another way to share the book is have the teacher or adult read the book aloud. Every day after lunch recess, my 5th/6th grade teacher Mr. Cecarelli would read a J.R. Tolkien book to my class for a half hour. It was a calming way for us to transition from playground to classroom by listening to a book that was interesting but probably too challenging for elementary school students to read independently.

#3 Activities- Incorporate authentic activities related to the text. Dharma could explore her interest in gorillas by reading magazines about animals, watching movie(s), singing songs, dance, art, reading board books (e.g., Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann) about gorillas to her baby brother, and more. A book club with other readers could introduce a social aspect of reading. 

Part of the joy of reading is finishing a good book. Guide, coach, cheer, and support your child to becoming a 26.2 reader. Bumper stickers forthcoming….


Enjoyment of a story can come in the physical way our senses experience a book. How our eyes, hands, and/or ears take in a story plays a part in how we feel about the book. I have listened to a lot of audio books on road trips. Sometimes the voice(s) reading the book is pleasing to my ears, and other times not so much. Some prefer digital books to paper, or vice versa. Readers have sensory preferences.

Children may also have a preference whether they are able to communicate it clearly or not. One author who created a sensory experience for kids is Dorothy Kunhardt. She wrote “Pat the Bunny” in 1940. Little ones can handle this small size book, turn thick pages, pat the bunny, scratch Daddy’s beard, put a finger in the finger, lift the peek-a-boo fabric, look in a mirror, turn a miniature book within the book, and smell the flowers. She was a pioneer in designing a genre of books for children that enhance interactions. Young readers have various sizes of paper or board books, and other book types too. Here are some others.

Shape Books- The average book is either a square or rectangle. Different shape books are also available. For young readers, a square shape book can be easier to hold and handle than other shapes. My daughter loves a book in the shape of a purse I bought her to match her Princess Sofia costume (Kelman et al., 2014). The purse has a handle that she likes to take with her places. The book links to her dramatic play. There are also stickers in the purse shaped book that provide yet another sensory element and interactive feature to the book. Another book with a unique shape is that of a dreidel (Kober, 2013). It is a board book and sing along for young children. Books of different shapes can be a fun way to learn concepts related to geometry and eye-hand coordination.

Cloth and/or Flap Books- Cloth books or quiet books give hands a different feeling than paper. It is a softer texture. Cloth books don’t make a crunchy sound like paper pages do when turning the page. The colorful and soft “Baby Love” (Magsamen, 2013) has a heartfelt message that young children can experience when they lift flaps or handle the squares. Cloth books are great for nap times, story times, and anytime.

Waterproof Books- We love books so much in our house that we even bring them into the bath tub. A favorite bath book is a story about sharing called, “The Rainbow Fish” (Pfister, 1992). Nontoxic plastic enables children to bring their bath books to the pool, bath, beach, or any place where there is water.

Write & Wipe Books- Another interactive book for young children are the write and wipe books. Their fine motor skills will be encouraged while they engage with other features of this type of book. Make Believe Ideas Ltd. is a publisher creating these books (Lynch et al., 2014). Tip: keep an eye on children or you might end up with ink on your walls. Just saying….

Pop-up Books- A variety of books are available for children that pop-up. The book becomes an interactive experience when objects propel from the pages or the gutter – inside of the book. DK Publishing has a series called, “Pop-Up Peekaboo!” The peekaboo colors book by Sirett and Calver (2013) is awesome for talking about cognitive concepts with children.

Finger Puppet Books- Chronicle Books has a wide collection of small board books with a hole in the center where one may insert their finger into the back and experience the story in a unique format. For example, in “Little Dolphin” (Van der Put, 2012) a blue finger puppet pokes out of the cover. By putting a finger in the opening, the puppet moves. My daughter has the bumble bee and giraffe books. These books are great for taking a picture walk and letting the child create their own story with the finger puppet and illustrations.

Design elements that create an interactive and sensory experience for children can be found in shape, cloth, waterproof, write-and-wipe, pop-up, and finger puppet books. Children delight when books come to life! Happy reading—and touching, smelling, seeing, hearing, and feeling!

10 Months Old with board book

10 Months Old with board book


Literature Cited

Kelman, M., & the Disney storybook art team (2014). Sofia’s purse. New York: Disney Press.

Kober, S. (2013). Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel! New York: Cartwheel Books.

Kunhardt, D. (1940). Pat the bunny. New York: Harcourt.

Lynch, S., Ede, L., Abbott, J. A., & Fennell, C. (2014). Write and wipe ABC. Nashville, TN: Make Believe Ideas Ltd.

Magsamen, S. (2013). Baby love. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

Pfister, M. (2000). The rainbow fish. New York: North-South Books Inc.

Sirett, D., & Calver, S. (2013). Colors pop-up peekaboo! New York: Dorling Kindersley Publishing.

Van der Put, K. (2012). Little dolphin: Finger puppet book. New York: Chronicle Books.


The Gift of Design: GUTTER (Part II)

In this three part series, I am exploring design elements in children’s picture books. I wrote about endpapers last week. This week I want to get my mind in the gutter—of a book.

The gutter is the center of a book. Most books have it. The space between the binding and the text or illustration is where you will find the gutter. Readers tend to ignore the gutter unless there is something unusual about it.

One book where the gutter is central to the plot is, “This Book Just Ate My Dog!” Richard Byrne is a genius, because he incorporates the gutter of the book in such a clever way.

In his story, a girl named Bella takes her dog for a walk. The dog disappears into the book gutter. Other things and people start to disappear into the gutter also. Then a mysterious letter shows up instructing YOU the reader to turn the book and shake. The shaking releases everyone and everything from the book.

His use of endpapers supports the story. Byrne has objects and words right side up on the endpapers in the front of the book, and then upside down endpapers at the back of the book.

To enjoy a book’s layout, play gutter games with children when you read. My daughter and I like to play the following game with the gutter:

I select a letter or picture from the left and/or right page(s) we have open, but I do not tell her what it is. I will give her a clue. I say something like, “I’m thinking of a letter that makes the /k/ sound. It has fallen out of the book. Do you know what letter? Where did it go?” Then she guesses the letter and determines where it went.

Breathe life into your story time routines by playing with the layout of a book. The book gutter can be used to play a game, or it can be part of the story the author or you make up. Exercise your mind and young readers will experience an adventure during your story time together.

Literature Cited

Byrne, R. (2014). This book just ate my dog! New York: Henry Holt and Company.

The Gift of Design: ENDPAPERS (Part I)

There are food stylists, hair stylists, and fashion stylists. I have a gift stylist in my family! Whenever I receive a birthday, Christmas, Mother’s Day, or “just because” present from my mother-in-law it is a gorgeous masterpiece. She told me once, “Part of the gift is the presentation.” She once designed packages and wrapped fancy gifts for VIPs in Beverly Hills. Her expression of creativity and knack for design is expressed in her gift styling. She has a keen eye for design.

Gift styled by Marsha Macy; photo courtesy of photographer Gail Kulp

Gift styled by Marsha Macy; photo courtesy of photographer Gail Kulp

Design elements are also found in children’s picture books. Like my mother-in-law’s gifts, picture books are works of art. They are objects of beauty, they entertain, and they contain several elements of design. In this series, I will share some ways to enjoy book design with children. Today’s topic is about: ENDPAPERS.

When you open a picture book, the first thing you’ll see are the endpapers. This is your invitation into the book. “Come on in,” they say. Just like the wrapping paper on a present, the motif tells a story. For example, we select specific wrapping paper for the occasion - like the birth of a baby girl in the picture above.

Endpapers serve a function by supporting the spine of a book. The design of endpapers can be functional and aesthetic. Interesting images, color, and/or patterns can help tell the story contained inside. Here are six books with interesting endpapers:

Stellaluna” has a variety of bat sketches. We see a bat: flying solo and with other bats, hanging on a tree branch upside down with other bats, looking in the hollow of a downed tree, flying into a cave, sleeping upside down, playing hide-and-seek with another critter in reeds, caring for a baby bat, fishing in water while hanging onto reeds, fighting an adversary. Hanging fruit with bites taken are also tidbits that support the storyline.

The Day the Crayons Quit” has colorful crayons sprinkled on the front and back endpapers.

Olivia Forms a Band” has a white background with big red polka dots.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go” has a person entering a maze. The path is yellow and lined with green grass. There are some mountains on the horizon in this Dr. Seuss classic (and perennial favorite for graduation gift giving).

How to Babysit a Grandpa” has 8 drawings by the grandchild that are affixed to a green background by tape and pushpins. Here are the grandchild’s drawings: Grandpa skipping along a path toward a house, Mom & Dad waving near a car with a cat in the foreground, Grandpa and grandchild jumping, Grandpa and grandchild playing a game, Grandpa and grandchild eating ice cream and cookies, Grandchild doing acrobats while grandpa claps, Grandpa and grandchild at the seashore, Grandchild stands in the doorway as Grandpa walks away from the house, down a path, and waving good bye. The parents are waving too from the window.

How to Babysit a Grandma” has 7 snapshots/photographs in the front endpapers: Grandma and granddaughter are surrounded by shoes with a camera in the left corner of the foreground playing shoe shop, Granddaughter playing shadow puppets, dog licking Granddaughter, Grandma running after the dog, dog wearing bows, Granddaughter and Grandma hugging, and dog with slippers. There are 8 snapshots/photographs in the back endpapers: Grandma and granddaughter are playing a game with their hands, Granddaughter is wearing a disguise, Grandma rolled up in a carpet with granddaughter and dog laughing, the two are dancing and doing karaoke, food on a plate in the shape of a smile, the two are going down a slide, Grandma is relaxing on a couch with granddaughter and dog in tow, and ducks.

Recognize design elements and have an intentional conversation about the endpapers the next time you sit down with a child to experience a picture book. Do the endpapers do more than simply support the architecture of the book? Are the endpapers part of the story? Is your book experience enhanced as a result of the endpapers? What do you like/dislike about the presentation? Enjoy the gift of design represented in the endpapers used in picture books.


Literature Cited

Cannon, J. (1993). Stellaluna. New York: Harcourt.

Daywalt, D. & Jeffers, O. (2013). The Day the Crayons Quit. New York: Philomel.

Falconer, I. (2006). Olivia Forms a Band. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Geisel, T. S. (1990). Oh, the Places You’ll Go! New York: Random House.

Reagan, J., & Wildish, L. (2012). How to Babysit a Grandpa. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Reagan, J., & Wildish, L. (2014). How to Babysit a Grandma. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.


To learn more about a place, immerse yourself in the literature of that region. I want to take you on a journey to the Southwestern part of the United States through literature written for children. Here are some selected books for young readers to delight, learn, challenge, and inspire. 

alphabetized by authors last name

Astorga, Amalia (as told by Gary Paul Nabhan)

Efrain of the Sonoran Desert: A Lizard’s Life Among the Seri Indians (Published by Cinco Puntos Press in 2001)

This book tells the story of the Seri Indians. Dr. Nabhan retells the story from Seri Indian Elder Ms. Amalia Astorga, and Janet K. Miller is the illustrator. Ms. Astorga’s story about her friendship and death of her pet lizard Efrain. Cultural and linguistic descriptions give the reader a deeper appreciation for the Seri Indians who are at-risk of becoming extinct with a population decrease to little more than 600.

Begay, Shonto

Navajo: Visions and Voices Across the Mesa (Published by Scholastic in 1995)

This is a book of poetry with paintings that depict Navajo life. Words flow together like songs. A treat for the eyes too with his beautiful illustrations. My favorite poem in this collection is one called, “In My Mother’s Kitchen.” This and the other poems take the reader into Mr. Begay’s world and life as a Navajo from the Southwest.

Bruchac, Joseph and James

Native American Games and Stories (Published by Fulcrum Publishing in 2000)

The father and son authors team up with illustrator Kayeri Akweks to share Native American tales and games. Contents include: (1) ball games and team sports, (2) bowl games and other games of chance, (3) games of skill, and (4) awareness games. This would be a great book for teachers or parents to use with children to have fun and gain a greater awareness of Native American culture.

Canales, Viola

*The Tequila Worm (Published by Wendy Lamb Books in 2005)

The main character, Sofia, is offered a scholarship to an exclusive boarding school in Texas away from the barrio and her family. Sofia is challenged when she is faced with having to learn how to survive in two different environments. A chapter book with 199 pages, The Tequila Worm has rich and relatable characters to interest tween readers.

Chavarria-Chairez, Becky

Magda’s Piñata Magic (Published by Piñata Books in 2001)

The tradition of the piñata is celebrated in this story of how a girl named Magda uses her imagination to create a joyful party. Full Spanish and English text is included in the book.  Illustrated by Anne Vega with enchanting pictures of the characters and places. Here is an example of the rich description that accompanies the colorful images, “The children’s mouths fell open! It was a life-sized piñata of Gabriel, wearing his favorite outfit, too – a cowboy shirt, a fringed best, blue-jeans, and boots complete with toy spurs.”  

 Cisneros, Sandra

Hairs/Pelitos (Published by Dragonfly Books/Alfred A. Knopf in 1996)

In perfect unity, the author Cisneros and the illustrator Terry Ybañez tell the story of family diversity. Each family member has different hair. The book has English text at the top of each page, and Spanish text at the bottom of each page. A book has a beautiful message to celebrate what makes us unique.

Garza, Carmen Lomas

*In My Family/En Mi Familia  (Published by Children’s Book Press in 1996)

Carmen Lomas Garza shows the many traditions she grew up with in the southwest. When you read this you will see that every time you turn the page you learn something about southwestern and Hispanic culture. A special treat is waiting for you at the end of the story where the author/illustrator answers questions from children.

Hayes, Joe

The Coyote Under the Table (Published by Cinco Puntos Press in 2011)

This book is meant to be savored over time, rather than read from beginning to end quickly. Your child will meet fascinating characters and stories that have been passed down generations in the storytelling tradition. The book has over 100 pages of a variety of folktales told in Spanish and English. Children can choose their favorite story and practice the art of passing on the story to others.

Hayes, Joe

The Gum Chewing Rattler (Published by Cinco Puntos Press in 2006)

As someone who loves to chew gum, this story captured my imagination and interest. Mr. Joe Hayes tells the story of his beloved childhood past-time of chewing gum. Mr. Antonio Castro L. brings the characters to life with the brightly colored pages of a rattlesnake chewing gum and blowing bubbles. Hmmm, I wonder if the rattlesnake added peanut butter to make the bubbles bigger like they do in chewing gum contests?

Hillerman, Anne

Rock with Wings (Published by Harper in 2015)

Shiprock, New Mexico is the star of this novel. I slipped this one in even though it is not really written for children. I just love it so much! The reader is treated to the beauty of this region through the story with Bernadette Manuelito solving a mystery. This is Ms. Hillerman’s second novel from the Chee and Leaphorn detective series started by her father, the late Tony Hillerman. Her first book in the series was “The Spider Woman’s Daughter.”

Hoagland Hunter, Sara

The Unbreakable Code (Published by Cooper Square Publishing in 1996)

This is an incredible story about the Navajo Code Talkers. The author writes about the WWII contribution made by Navajo soldiers who created a secret code used to transmit sensitive information during war time. Ms. Julia Miner depicts John, the young boy, talking with his grandfather in earth tones and beautiful detailed pictures. Children will learn about an important time in our U.S. history, Native Americans and the Navajo Nation.

Hodgson, Mona

Bedtime in the Southwest (Published by Rising Moon in 2004)

Animals in the Southwest are getting ready for sleep in this visual and poetic treat. Ms. Renee Graef illustrates this picture book brilliantly. Each page has rhyming text written in the form of questions. It is a wonderful story to read with a child when they are going down for a nap, or getting ready for bedtime for the night. Challenging sleep behaviors are questioned as children learn about the diverse animals living in the Southwestern habitat.

 Jimenez, Francisco

The Circuit (Published by University of New Mexico Press in 1997)

The Circuit is an auto-biography written by Dr. Francisco Jimenez who tightly weaves story after story from his years as a little boy moving from Mexico to California in the 1940s and 50s. The struggles and joy he faced are situations many of our children can relate to. My heart opened up! This is a tear jerker and love story written about family. Every teacher should read this book to gain a deeper understanding of what children facing learning dual languages and/or immigration issues. 

The Circuit.jpg

Lund, Jillian

Way Out West Lives a Coyote Named Frank (Published by Puffin Books in 1993)

Frank is an adorable coyote living a carefree life in the southwest. He plays with his friends Larry and Melanie. The colorful illustrations show Frank surrounded by southwestern beauty in nature. He, along with his friends, encounter other animals of the desert. Children will enjoy Frank’s playful adventures.

Marsh, T. J. & Ward, Jennifer

Way Out in the Desert (Published by Rising Moon in 1998)

Kids will love finding the hidden numbers on each page cleverly illustrated by Mr. Kenneth J. Spengler. Ten Southwest animals and their habitat in the Sonoran Desert are presented. A glossary is provided the reader at the end of the book, along with a song called, “Way Out in the Desert.”

Momaday, N. Scott

Circle of Wonder: A Native American Christmas Story (Published by University of New Mexico in 1994)

Mr. Momaday tells the story of “Tolo” based on his own boyhood growing up in Jemez Pueblo, New Mexico. Vivid colors help tell the tale about a special Christmas. Circles, the center of circle, and light imagery are used. My favorite part of the book is, “Tolo knew then that he had been led to the center of the Holy Season. He thought again of his grandfather, who he know was near among the trees, and of his parents , and of the Christ child, who had come to live the twelve days of Christmas in his home” (p. 36).    

Mora, Pat

*Doña Flor: A Tall Tale About a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart (Published by Alfred A. Knopf in 2005)

Illustrated by Mr. Raul Colón, this story is about Doña Flor who is different from everyone else. Doña Flor is a giant towering over all the people in her community. She uses her difference to her advantage to benefit the town. This is a story that shows children that being “different” is a blessing.

Mora, Pat

Bravo, Chico Canta! Bravo!  (Published by Groundwood Books in 2014)

The Canta family are mice. Mr. and Mrs. Canta are raising their 12 children in an old theater. This artistic family speak English, Spanish, and Italian. They also have the ability to speak “animal,” which comes in very handy when they are threatened by a cat that looks like a small orange tiger named Little Gato-Gato. Ms. Mora wrote this book with her daughter Libby Martinez, and illustrated by Amelia Lau Carling. The writing and illustrations honor the splendor in speaking multiple languages. My favorite part:

Chico yawned and sang, “Dulces sueños, sweet dreams.”

“Bilingual,” said Mrs. Canta. “Braco!”

Rabe, Tish

Why Oh Why Are Deserts Dry? (Published by Random House in 2011)

This book is part of the Cat in the Hat’s Learning Library series and illustrated by Aristides Ruiz and Joe Mathieu. The colorful pages will seem familiar to children if they watch the PBS show or have read the Dr. Seuss classics. The science of the desert is explained in a fun way. There are also helpful descriptions of how Spanish words are pronounced. When discussing a specific type of woodpecker, Rabe gives the reader a tip through a character holding a sign saying “Hee-luh” for the “Gila” woodpecker. At the back of the book there is a glossary and further readings on books about the desert.   

Roessel, Monty

Songs from the Loom: A Navajo Girl Learns to Weave (Published by Lerner Publications Company in 1995)

This non-fiction book that portrays the importance of weaving in the Navajo culture. In the preface of the book, Mr. Roessel explains his role in passing stories and traditions from one generation to the next. His photography is featured throughout the book, along with a rich description of Navajo fiber arts. 

Sáenz, Benjamin Alire

*Grandma Fina and Her Wonderful Umbrellas/La Abuelita Fina y sus sombrillas maravillosas (Published by Cinco Puntos Press in 1999)

This is a story about Abuela/Grandma Fina. She has a broken yellow umbrella that she takes with her on walks through town where she sees many of her friends and family. On her birthday, they throw her a party. Everyone brings her an umbrella. What is she to do with ten umbrellas?  Dr. Sáenz teams up with the talented illustrator Mr. Geronimo Garcia in this bright and colorful treat for both children and adults.

Sáenz, Benjamin Alire

*Perfect Season for Dreaming/Un tiempo perfecto para soñar  (Published by Cinco Puntos Press in 2008)

The main character is Octavio Rivera who is 78 years old. It is summer time when he goes on a dreaming spree. Talk to children about the dreams in Perfect Season. Ask children to share their own dreams. Mr. Andrade Valencia captures the story with his dreamy illustrations. This would be a sweet story to read anytime, but especially in September for Grandparents Day.  

Tapahonso, Luci

Songs of Shiprock Fair (Published by Kiva Publishing in 1999)

This story takes place in Shiprock, New Mexico. The author, Navajo Nation poet laureate Tapahonso writes about this special fair through the eyes of a child named Nezbah, while Mr. Anthony Chee Emerson breathes life into the vivid illustrations. This is a picture book and could be a fun bundle with Hillerman’s Rock with Wings which also takes place in Northern New Mexico.


*This book won the Belpre award from the American Library Association in honor of the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library.

A part of this post originally appeared November 3, 2015 on the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) website.



“Blessed are the hearts that can bend; they shall never be broken,” by Albert Camus

Sabrina Brinson, a researcher, found that most early childhood educators were unable to identify multicultural children’s literature featuring characters from diverse populations. There is a critical need to better prepare educators working with young children through professional development in early literacy with an emphasis on multicultural children’s literature.  

Early childhood educators can inspire and inform young children with multicultural literature. Parents can enjoy literature with their children by promoting positive images of different cultures and languages.

A necessary addition to any children’s literature collection is the story titled, “The Unbreakable Code.” It is based on the true story of how the Navajo language was used to create a secret code used in World War II in order to communicate messages among American soldiers. The Code Talkers helped win the war.  

Ms. Sara Hunter, the author, tells this touching story through the eyes of a boy named John who is having trouble saying goodbye to the Navajo community he loves. John’s grandfather encourages him by telling John about his past.

As a little boy, his grandfather also dealt with the same issues of separation and transition when he was sent away from his land to go to school. He was told he needed to fit in to the dominate culture by speaking only English. When he grew older and became a United States soldier, the same Navajo language that he was discouraged from using became an asset as he and other Navajos used their native language to contribute to American history.

Children can relate to this story of family. The grandfather uses storytelling to connect with his grandson. It is truly a gift when grandparents share their stories with grandchildren. The powerful imagery and message can be passed on from one generation to the next. By the end of the book, John learns important lessons from his grandfather.

Like John, children respond to life lessons when blended into a narrative. Culturally relevant text can engage all readers - especially children from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds (Feger, 2006). Early childhood educators and parents can use “Unbreakable” with young children in a few ways to teach children about the people of the Southwest.  Read this story to children. Talk to children about what it means to be a Navajo and connection to the homeland. Show children the pictures. Illustrations by Ms. Julia Miner accompany the story by offering detailed depictions of the Southwest. Ask children to compare this story to their own life. They can reflect on what is the same and different about the: (a) environment, (b) people, and (c) language from book.  

Here are some ways to include multicultural literature in early childhood classrooms.

  • Become informed about notable multicultural children’s literature. Organizations like the American Library Association have awards for multicultural books.

  • Embed multicultural themes into the curriculum.

  •  Include multicultural literature that can be used across disciplines (e.g., social studies, science, literacy, etc.) and areas of development (e.g., social emotional, speech/language, etc.).

  •  Participate in training and workshops that focus on facilitating early literacy development via multicultural literature for children.

  •  Share multicultural literature with parents/families, and methods of engaging with text.  

Young children will benefit from early literacy opportunities that promote a positive self image, are inspirational, and are a pleasure to read. Help children discover an unbreakable love of reading!

Additional Resources:

Brinson, S. A. (2012). Knowledge of Multicultural Literature among Early Childhood Educators. Multicultural Education, 19(2), 30-33.

Feger, M. (2006). "I Want to Read": How Culturally Relevant Texts Increase Student Engagement in Reading. Multicultural Education, 13(3), 18-19.

Hunter, S. H., & Miner, J. (1996). The unbreakable code. Flagstaff, AZ: Northland Pub.

Early Literacy

Young children are developing language and literacy skills from the daily ongoing activities in their environment. Parents and early childhood educators can promote early literacy development by being responsive to young children's language and emergent literacy attempts.

Recently my three year old and I were at our local farmer’s market. She became interested in a stand at the market selling woodcraft items. The vendor showed her an alphabet board he made. He invited her to place letters in the wood board. The three of us played and talked about the 26 letter names, letter sounds (e.g., phonemes), and shapes of letters for a half hour. This is an example from the market where early literacy opportunities can happen anytime and anywhere.

Language development is the precursor to reading. Talk to children. Listen to children. Partner with children to exchange rich language experiences. Sing with children. Read with children. Tell children stories and nursery rhymes so they hear spoken language without text.

A responsive atmosphere for learning language prepares children to hear and manipulate the sounds (i.e., phonemic awareness) needed for eventually reading text. Letter names (e.g., “C”) AND the sounds the letters make (e.g., /S/ as in city) can be used in alphabet play when children are ready. Children will be encouraged when they see you playing and responding to their emergent literacy development.


Phoneme = unit of sound

Phonemic Awareness = ability to manipulate sounds