Scaredy Squirrel and Engaging Children with Print


  • Watt, Mélanie.  Scardey Squirrel. Tonawanda, NY: Kids Can Press, 2008.
  • Justice, Laura and Ann Soka. Engaging Children with Print. New York: Guilford Press, 2010¹.

I am so lucky!  I attended a workshop on “Building Emergent Literacy Skills in Students with Disabilities” given by Dr. Laura Justice.  All I can say is wow!  I received 3 new books and my head is full of new thoughts.  I have always thought that reading was important for all children.  You may have noticed this theme in my work.  I read to my girls when they were little, because it was fun and engaging for each of us.  My girls are excellent readers. Would they have been better readers, had I had this information when they were young?  Who knows?

My girls grew up in a language and print rich environment.  We had books, newspapers, and magazines.  Both their parents and all their grandparents were avid readers.  The girls saw us read for work and for pleasure.  We spent countless hours reading to each of them.  We talked about books. We wanted them to share our love of books and reading. We wanted them to be good readers, too.

When I taught preschool, I tried to provide my students with a language rich environment.  As a former speech pathologist, I knew the value of developing good language skills in children.  I tried to model language for them. I didn’t have any formal training in reading, but I tried to provide the students in my class with the same kinds of experiences that I gave my girls.  I had lots of books in my room.  I tied activities to some of the books we read. I thought seeing objects with words labels around the room would help my students with their basic reading skills.  With what I know now, I could have been a much better teacher.

I never looked at children’s books quite like I did over the two days of that workshop.  It made me think about what skills we hope children bring to kindergarten.  We’d like them to know how to hold a book.  We’d like them to know what letters are and we’s like them to know some of them.  We’s like them to know that letters make up words.   How do they gain these skills?  They gain these skills from reading with someone.  Children, who come to kindergarten, without some of these basic skills have a learning gap.  It is good to know that some of the gap can be closed with specific book intervention at an early age.   For more specific information, check out Laura Justice’s book, Engaging Children with Print.

I think when I was reading to young children, I hit the language skills you need for reading, but I missed the some of the other aspects of print knowledge.  What is print knowledge?  Print knowledge is the understanding of the form and function of written language.  I don’t want to spend too much time on this subject, you will have to read this information for yourself!  I just want to share this book and point out some of the print elements in this story.

Scaredy Squirrel is a very funny book.  It is about a squirrel, of course, who is risk averse.  He doesn’t want to leave his tree.  It is dangerous out in the unknown.  He is afraid of a few things, including green Martians and sharks.  He thinks about the advantages and disadvantages of leaving his tree.  We find out that his schedule is the same day-to-day so that it is predictable. He has an emergency kit, an emergency plan, and an exit plan.  He feels very prepared. He keeps watch.  As with most well laid plans, something goes awry!  He drops his emergency kit.  What happens?  Is there a tragedy?  Does he survive?  Read this book for yourself.  It is wonderful.

Now that I know more, I can see why Laura Justice calls this a book that just keeps giving!  First, it is a fun engaging story.  Kids will want to hear it and read it.  Second, it has examples of different types of expository text embedded in the narrative.  What do I mean?  There are labels, schedules, routines, and compare and contrast examples within the story.  They are all important form of written expression.  And last but not least, it also contains a wonderful assortment of power words. Power words are those words that have important meaning across disciplines, but are not in lists of high frequency words. These are words that are important for children to learn to expand their understanding of language and literacy.  This story has a wealth of them.  Here is a short list of some of them: unknown, risk, venture, scary, afraid, advantage, disadvantage, predictable, control, and those were in the first eight pages.

Pick up this book and read to your child or a young friend.  As you read, take the time to subtly point out some of the expository pieces in the book.  You might connect Scaredy Squirrel’s daily schedule with your family’s daily schedule you have posted on your refrigerator or on your phone.  Do you have an emergency kit in your house?  You might compare and contrast what you have in your kit and what Scaredy has in his.  Think of creative, but explicit ways, to connect your child’s daily life to some of the power words in the book.  Through this shared reading time, you can build a language and literacy rich environment for your young learner.

¹Available to download for free from the Crane Center For Early Childhood Research and Policy:


With a Good Book – Happy Anniversary!

Frontpiece of Wildflowers of Texas BookAjilvsgi, Geyata. Wildflowers of Texas.  Bryan, TX: Shearer Publishing, 1984.

This blog, “With a Good Book” is a year old.  Happy Birthday!   I started this blog writing about the books I bought for my niece’s baby shower.  Her son, Elijah is nearly one.  I don’t know about you, but I have been vastly entertained remembering books I have shared with my family over the years. I reveled in the new books I have discovered this year. My random ramblings have delighted me!

Today, I want to reflect on home and family.  My family has been supportive and helpful throughout this year.  They encouraged me to start writing and sharing.  I value their loving support.  How could I continue without it?  We have lively discussions over the dinner table about our current reads.  We also reminisce about things we read in the past and how much they made us think or feel. As you may have guessed, we all love to read.

I was at home today and I took a walk in our back forty.  It was full of wildflowers.  TheDedication to Alexis' Dad for his birthday. sight that greeted me was a field of yellow spotted with purple.  I had to pull out my favorite wildflower reference, Wildflowers of Texas to identify these new flowers.  We have had this book so long that the dust cover is gone.  I took this picture of the inside front cover to show when we acquired it. Alexis and I bought for Jim for his birthday in 1985.  She was a very precocious two.  This book sees regular use every spring and summer.  The wildflowers in our yard, in our neighborhood, and around our state have always intrigued us.  We love walking in our yard and seeing how the flower change during the seasons.

Here’s some photos from this afternoon’s walk.  Here is the field of yellow dotted with purple near the large oak tree.  There are so many types of yellow flowers, it is hard to say what these sunny, yellow flowers are.  I think they are Sleepy-Daisies.  They bloom in the back forty from April through the first good freeze.

field of small yellow flowers
Back Forty in Bloom

The new purple flowers are called American Germander.  They have blossomed since the last good rain. They join the other blue and purple flowers in the yard: bluebonnets, dotted blue-eyed grass, and prairie verbena.

Sleepy Daisies and American Germander
American Germander and Sleepy Daisies

The dewberries bloomed and the blooms have given way to berries.  Our berries get too much sun so they are small.  I did pick a couple small ripe ones and they popped with sweet flavor in my mouth. If you want the big, fat, ripe ones, you must dig into the thicket.  I don’t want to discover a snake (we’ve seen rattlesnakes around here)! What are dewberries you ask?  They are a variety of blackberry.

Ripening Dewberries
Ripening Dewberries

I walked down by our rill to look at the barrel cacti.  Unfortunately, they had finished blooming.  I walked down that way last week so I didn’t miss their bright, fuchsia flowers.  The prickly pear, on the other hand, are blooming in profusion!  Their bright yellow blooms attract all types of insects.  I rambled back to the house.  It was a wonderful afternoon.

Prickly Pear in Bloom
Prickly Pear in Bloom

As I enjoyed my ramble through the yard, I have spent this year rambling through some very good books. Thanks to all of you who have followed my blog over this year.  It has been my pleasure to share my love of books and other random ramblings with you.

Here’s one of my favorite quote on books from Groucho Marx.

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend.
Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.

Go and share a good book with your best friend!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day: Paddy’s Pay Day

PaddyDay, Alexandra.  Paddy’s Pay Day. New York: Puffin Books, 1989.

Okay, this book isn’t about St. Patrick’s Day, but I think of it often on this day.  Paddy, an Irish Terrier is the subject of the book.  He is a charming character.  As you would suppose, Paddy has no words.  You can read the book and imagine what he would say, if he could.

Paddy works with Trilby O’Farrell. They do tricks and acrobatics for carnivals, parties, and benefits.  Every month, Paddy gets his pay and he goes to the nearest village to spend it.  Although Paddy has no words, the everyone in the nearby village him recognizes him and interacts with him just like he could talk.

What do you do when you get paid? Do you buy yourself a treat?  Do you take care of personal chores, like getting a haircut?  Do you spend some of your pay on donations to good causes? Do you look for some entertainment, like a going to a movie?  Do you treat yourself at a meal at your favorite restaurant?  Do you buy little gifts for your friends?  In this book, you can follow Paddy and see how he spends his day off! It really is a lovely book to share with a child.

In the story, Paddy has his usual monthly meal at Murphy’s. It must be an Irish Pub! He treats himself to a baked potato with all the fixings and Guinness beer.  While it is not Paddy’s usual meal here is a special one, he might enjoy at Murphy’s on St. Patrick’s Day.  If you want to try it with your family or friends, I have listed the recipes for the stew and the bread.  Guinness, of course, holds the recipe for the beer and I purchased the truffles at my local HEB grocery store.

StPatrickDinnerA St. Patrick’s Day Menu for Paddy

Robin’s Irish Stew
Irish Soda Bread
Guinness Extra Stout
Irish Cream and Irish Coffee Truffles

Robin’s Irish Stew

Here’s my take on Irish Stew.  I didn’t have a recipe for one so I made this one up.

  • 2 c chopped onion (about 1 large. I like sweet onions, like 10/15)
  • 1 c chopped celery (about 3 large stalks)
  • 2 c sliced carrots
  • 3 c dices potatoes (about 4 medium potatoes)
  • 2 large cloves finely minced
  • 1 lb. beef roast, cubed
  • ½ c flour, seasoned with salt & pepper
  • 1 bay leat
  • 1 T rosemary, crushed
  • 2 T Olive oil
  • 4 c beef broth, low sodium
  • 12 oz Guinness extra stout (1 bottle)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Dredge the meat cubes in the flour, salt, and pepper mixture.  Work in batches and remove coated cubes to a plate.

Use a large dutch oven or other large pot. Heat the olive oil in the pan on medium-high heat.  When oil is hot, add onions and sauté them for about 2 minutes until they begin to soften.  Add the meat cubes a handful at a time, stirring occasionally.  Continue to add meat until all of it is in the pot.  Cook until meat begins to brown about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom of the pan.  Add ¼ c of the beef broth and scrape the bottom of the pan, scraping up all the flour mixture stuck to the bottom.  You may need to use a metal spatula to get all the good flour mixture up from the bottom.  Add the carrots, celery, potato and garlic.  Cook for 3-4 minutes stirring often and scraping bottom of pot.  Add the remaining beef broth, scraping the bottom one more time.  Bring stew to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.  Add the bay leaf, rosemary, Guinness and then salt and pepper to taste.  Simmer stew for another 30-45 minutes.

Remove bay leaf before serving.  Serve with Irish Soda Bread or some other hearty bread.

Irish Soda Bread from Joy of Cooking. Volume 2, Page 273

Preheat oven to 375º. Have all the ingredients at room temperature about 75°. Abbreviations: c=cup, T=tablespoon, and t=teaspoon.

  • 2 c sifted all-purpose flour
  • ¾ t baking soda
  • ½ t salt
  • 1 T sugar
  • 6 T chilled shortening
  • ½ to 1 c raisins
  • 1 T caraway seed
  • ½ to 2/3 c buttermilk

Mix the first four ingredients together in a large bowl.  Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut the chilled shortening into the flour mixture until it has the consistency of corn meal.  Stir in the raisins and caraway seeds.  Add the buttermilk gradually to the bowl.  The mixture should not be dry.  Knead the dough briefly and shape into a round loaf.  Coat a cake pan with the oil and place the dough in the pan.  Cut a cross on the top of the bread letting it go over the sides so the bread will not crack in backing.  Brush the top of the bread with some of the buttermilk or regular milk.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes until the bread looks golden brown.  Tap the bottom of the loaf and if a hollow sound emerges, the bread is done.

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing/In the Unlikely Event

Blume, Judy. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. New York: Puffin Books, 1972.
Blume, Judy.  In the Unlikely Event. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015.

Let’s start with Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.  This is a story about Peter and his little brother, Fudge.  According to Peter, Fudge gets all the attention and he gets all the work. Sounds about right.  I know I was a big sister and I sometimes felt this way.  Fudge is very precocious! He invades Peter’s room, whenever he can.  He causes turmoil in Peter’s household.  What a boy! I had to apologize to my husband last night.  He was trying to sleep and I was on the last few pages of this book. It was making me laugh and I couldn’t keep it quiet for him.  This is a delightful book!  Read this book and discover, if Peter learns, as I did, to appreciate his little brother.

Judy Blume doesn’t confine her efforts to children’s books. She also writes for adults.  In the Unlikely Event is one of her most recent efforts for adults.  This story is about the effects that three plane disasters have on the town of Elizabeth, New Jersey.  While the story is fiction, the three plane disasters are not.  These events took place in the 1950s, when Judy lived in Elizabeth.  It is Miri’s story of coming of age and how she learned to cope with disasters of one type or another.  This was an amusing read, although I must admit to you that it didn’t make me chuckle like Peter’s adventures with Fudge.

Judy Blume

The back of the book I am reading has this to say about Judy.

She spent her childhood in Elizabeth, New Jersey, making up stories in her head.  She spent her adult years in many places, doing the same thing, only now she writes her stories down on paper.

I am so glad she was moved to put pen to paper!  Here are some other interesting things about this author.

  1. Growing up, she didn’t consider writing as a career. She wanted to be a cowgirl, spy, detective, actress or ballerina.¹
  2. Her grandson’s first word was “book”!¹
  3. She has a BS in Education from New York University²
  4. She is baffled by censors and is an advocate of intellectual freedom. ²,¹
  5. One of her favorite authors is Beverly Clearly. ³
  6. Her advice on writing: Never leave a book without a finished draft.²

If you are interested in this author, you might want to visit some of these websites.


The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus

santaclausBaum, L. Frank. The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. New York: Signet Classic, 1986.

I have a large collection of Christmas books. As I was unpacking them for the holiday season, I came across this slim gem. It has been a number of years since I have read it so I picked it up for my holiday reading pleasure. What a delightful treasure it was. Written in 1902, this book answers some of these age-old questions about this important jolly gentleman.

  • Who is Santa Claus? An orphan.
  • Where does he live? Laughing Valley
  • What was the first toy he made? A carved cat figurine
  • Who was the first child to receive a toy? Weekum
  • Who helps Claus build and color the toys? Ryls, Knooks and Nymphs
  • How does he manage to travel over the entire world on Christmas Eve? Exceptionally swift reindeer
  • Who were the first two reindeer? Flossie and Glossie
  • How many reindeer pull Santa Claus’ sleigh? Ten (Flossie and Glossie, Reckless and Speckless, Racer and Pacer, Fearless and Peerless, and Ready and Steady)
  • Where does Santa Claus get his sleigh bells? The King of the Gnomes
  • Who now rides in the Sleigh with Santa Claus? A fairy, a pixie, a knook, and a ryl

Pick up a copy of this little, but informative book on Santa Claus. He is a wonderful man and friend to children everywhere!

This year for Christmas I purchased a copy for each of my youngest nephews. I love to send books for Christmas. In keeping with my plan to send something for now and later, this was the book for Christmas Future. I can imagine each of my nephews snuggled up with one of their parents being read this charming book.

It’s Thankgiving

thanksgivingPrelutsky, Jack. It’s Thanksgiving. Illustrated by Marylin Hafner. New York: Scholastic, 1982.

Good morning!  Happy Thanksgiving!  It is a wonderful morning, cool and clear.  I offer some poetry for your enjoyment this day.

First a poem from this book. I have no recollection of picking up this slim volume of poems for this holiday, but it is one of my favorite little books.  When my girls were small, I used to share these poems over the day on Thanksgiving. Perhaps our favorite was “Daddy’s Football Game.” We would arrange dinner so that we could watch Texas A&M and Texas play on Thanksgiving day. I adore the poem “It’s Happy Thanksgiving”.  It is all about visiting his Grandma and cooking with her.  I remember visiting my Nana on Thanksgiving, but there were so many people in the kitchen I did not help her cook.  I do remember cooking with my Mom and I hope my girls remember cooking with me.

The First Thanksgiving

When the Pilgrims
first gathered together to share
with their Indian friends
in the mild autumn air,
they lifted their voices
in jubilant praise
for the bread on the table,
the berries and maize,
for field and for forest,
for turkey and deer,
for the bountiful crops
they were blessed with that year.
They were thankful for these
as they feasted away,
and as they were thankful,
we’re thankful today.

I got up early to write these words for a day I love.  By the time it is over I am tired and worn, but I love cooking dinner for our family.  I have just been told that the Texas A&M and LSU game begins at 6:30 pm.  It is a good thing we are eating early and will have everything cleaned up by kick-off.  The girls and I may send Jim off to the den to watch the game and we will play a game or watch a movie.  One of my favorite blessings is by Irving Berlin.  You can hear it in the movie, White Christmas. Here it is, perhaps you can hear Bing Crosby sing it to you while you read it.

When I’m worried and
I can’t sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep,
And I fall asleep counting
my blessings.

When my bankroll is
getting small,
I think of when I had none at all,
And I fall asleep counting my blessings.

Irving Berlin ©1952

As I go to start the last of the cooking, here are my own humble words for this day.

We are gathered together this Thanksgiving Day,
To celebrate and feast in our own special way.
We remember our family wherever they roam
and we are thankful for everyone’s heart, health and home.
For all that we have and all that we treasure,
We are truly blessed beyond all measure.
We hope you can celebrate, however is best
With friends or family to share how you’re blest.
Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 2016

Reflections on Summer Reading

reflections4During the drive into work a week or so ago, we were listening to an article on Morning Edition on summer reading. Jim turned to me and asked, “Why are they talking about summer reading?  It is almost September.  School has started.  What’s so special about summer reading? What? Do people quit reading in the fall?”  All these questions posed in rapid fire succession.

His questions got me to thinking about summer reading.  Here are my thoughts.

One way I think about summer reading has to do with school.  Libraries and schools run summer reading programs to encourage children to read for fun.  Hopefully we are encouraging them to select the books they like with the insidious side effect of helping to maintain and improve the skills they learned during the school year.  Should summer reading be an assignment?  I don’t think so, where is the joy in that?  I think back on long summer days lazing on the sofa or by the pool with a great book.  I always thought it was a wonderful way to spend my time.

As an adult, I still have a special feeling about summer reading.  I don’t know that I have any more time to read, but somehow I look forward to the books I’ve chose specifically for the summer.  Maybe I get to read a little later as the day is longer?  Maybe I change the kind of book I read?  I have vacation so I look for a special book to carry along with me.  Sometimes libraries run summer reading programs for adults in conjunction with the programs they run for children.  I remember the summer we spent in Virginia.  Our library had a board where you could post reviews of the books you read.  It was very enjoyable.  Somehow there just seems to something magical about the whole idea of summer reading.

As I was looking for information about summer reading, I found an article in the Boston Globe titled “How America Learned to Love Summer Reading. In the early 1890’s, Boston librarians noted a shift from loans of books on mostly history, science, and biography to a checkout of mostly light fiction during the summer months.  Summer reading became more popular as summer breaks and vacations became available to more people not just the elite.  Early on summer reading was intended to be light and escapist.  In the early 1900’s, the idea of summer reading changed and it was suggested that these summer reading hours should be devoted to self-improvement.  In another change along about 1915, it was allowed that if a person enjoyed a history or a biography or a novel in the winter he/she could enjoy them in the summer as well¹.

Here’s their final thought on summer reading and it is one I can get behind.

But summer reading has come to offer an ideal space in the middle, equally accepted as a way to escape the pressures of work or as a course in self-improvement. As you plan your reading for these last days of summer, there’s no longer a need to be defensive. Instead, you can be pleased to be joining a venerable, beloved American tradition—the right to relax with a book in the sun¹.

Summer Reading

Summer reading is a pleasure to me,
An indulgence to be savored.
An afternoon with my current book,
Relaxes and sustains me.