World Water Monitoring Day 2020

Recently, Rebecca Shoer, the mid-Atlantic Save Our Steams Coordinator (Izaak Walton League of America) interviewed me about how and why I am a stream sampler, and she posted the story below on @saveourstreams Instagram page:

🎉 We’re celebrating #WorldWaterMonitoringDay by sharing stories about our volunteer monitors all month! Lisa (right) got her start in clean water while pursuing her Master’s degree in wetlands research. She fell in love with wetlands and exploring local waterways. After completing her research, she moved to Texas and then Virginia to work with wetlands. She met Virginia Save Our Streams monitors Steve and Wendy Richards in 1999, got certified, and has been monitoring ever since!

Educating young people has always been a passion of Lisa’s. She has taught as a naturalist at Boxerwood Nature Center in Rockbridge County and even brought her own kids along to stream monitoring sessions. Her daughter Mauri (left) is now a certified monitor, too! More recently, Lisa has pursued her love of writing by writing children’s nature books, including Milkweed Matters, Oliver’s Otter Phase, and, most recently, The Hidden Life in Streams! You can follow Lisa @connors.halcyon.

Our stream monitors do more than collect critical stream health data: they’ve built a clean water community across the country! By educating their communities and advocating for local streams, our monitors are working to protect our country’s waterways. Ready to join us? Visit www.iwla.org/sos to find out how to get started.

Mauri and Lisa tallying macroinvertebrates.


I still remember the epiphany I had one day in 2017 that I should write a book about macroinvertebrates. I was a citizen monitor, I love to inspire children to learn and care for the natural world and I’d only once seen a book about macroinvertebrates for children (about mayflies). I never intended to self-publish it, let alone illustrate it myself, but something happened where I needed to self-publish and then, due to time and costs, illustrate also. It’s not exactly what I had in mind when I wrote it, but that is never the case with picture books. We have to leave room for editors, illustrators and readers when we write. It is our manuscript, but not our book. In some ways, this was a scary step to take in my growth as a writer/creator. But I believe the process is just as important as the product – and chances need to be taken to grow. I’ve made mistakes along the way, learning by doing.  In many ways, I am not the same person I was in 2017 anyway, so in a sense I did leave room for the editor and illustrator to come in and add her ideas. The Hidden Life in Steams was an important step toward my next goal – to illustrate a book with my watercolors (as opposed to photos) – stay tuned for a book about oysters and their important roles in our bays and estuaries.

A sneak peak – oyster larva

I hope you will consider sharing The Hidden Life in Streams with any young reader in your life who has an interest in streams and insects or perhaps you hope to spark an interest in a young reader. Partial proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to the educationprograms at Boxerwood Nature Center in Lexington, Virginia.


Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku


I’ve been reading lots of poetry this summer – poetry for grown-ups – but I would love to write a picture book in verse someday or a collection of poems. I have written a story called I Can Haiku, Can You? which I combined with a lesson plan and made available at my Teachers Pay Teachers store. It was a lot of fun to write. And it’s why the title Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku by Lee Wardlaw and illustrated by Eugene Yelchin (Henry Holt & Co, 2011) intrigued me.

Won Ton is the story of a cat in a shelter who is adopted by a boy, and the adjustments the cat must make to its new life. What is creative and fun about the story is not only that it is told in haiku, but that it is from the cat’s point-of-view. It’s humorous and sweet, and relatable to anyone who has a cat, and especially adopted a cat. Because much must be told in just a few lines and syllables for each ‘scene’ this book is perfect for reading between the lines and using illustrations to gather more meaning. It’s perfect for learning about and practicing haiku. The author has ateacher’s guide on her website.

Actually, the story is told in a series of senryu, which is explained in the author’s note. Senryu is also a form of Japanese poetry that was derived from and is similar to haiku. But where haiku traditionally focused on nature, senryu focuses on human nature, or rather the foibles of human nature. And so, in Won Ton the author is writing about cat nature in a playful way.

Even if you don’t have a cat or don’t like cats, I think you will enjoy Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku. Maybe you’ll be inspired to write some senryu or haiku about your favorite animal.


A Place Where Hurricanes Happen


Back to school time always reminds me of Hurricane Katrina because that was my first year as a fourth -grade teacher. In Virginia, fourth-grade science covers weather, and so we had a real event to parallel our instruction. A Place Where Hurricanes Happen by Renée Watson and illustrated by Shadra Strickland (Dragonfly Books, 2010) is a book that would have greatly augmented my curriculum as a way to bring a human side to the science.

A Place Where Hurricanes Happen is set on a street in New Orleans where a group of friends live. It is about Hurricane Katrina, but that is not the sole focus or purpose for the story. The book describes the friends. We get to know them and their lives before, during and after the hurricane. This helps us see that there is always more to a story. More than the tragedy, more than the loss, there are lives enjoyed, resiliency and hope. Because we get to meet the children and connect with their lives before the storm arrives, their individual experiences – some go to shelters, some leave for relatives, and some are trapped in their attic – are all the more visceral and powerful to read about. And for children who have lived through a hurricane, fire, tornado or flood, this book provides a kind of healing that often comes with time, but is so hard to grasp in the moment or even the aftermath of the disaster.

A Place Where Hurricanes Happen is worth sharing in the classroom and at home. It’s a chance to see a place where bad things happen, but where there’s also so much good.


In the Garden


Due to the intersection of two events – one I caused and one I did not – I have been able to be in my garden every single day since early March. I thoroughly reinforced my fence to exclude rabbits and groundhogs and therefore I actually have a garden to visit. And because of Covid-19, we have not travelled at all this summer, except to my garden. It’s overgrown, but lush and productive and so satisfying.

In the Garden by Emma Giuliani (Princeton Architectural Press, 2020) is also lush and satisfying. It has several spreads for every season and follows a girl and her brother with what chores need done and the plants one might find in each season. In the Garden takes the concept of a layered book to a new level in that it is layered literally with numerous flaps to lift for more content. Often this content is layered too, providing more in-depth science content for older readers. It is a marvel of production and design.


Emma Giuliani is graphic designer and illustrator living in Paris. However, most of the plants are known to American gardeners. The only clue that the author’s point-of-reference is from Europe is one small section about hedgehogs at the end – how they can help in the garden by eating insects and how they are extinct in the wild in North America. I had to look that up, not thinking that hedgehogs were ever native to the United States. Apparently, there was a genus native to the Americas that is now extinct, but none of the current living species of hedgehogs was ever native to the Americas. And it would not be a good idea to let any nonnative pet hedgehogs roam our gardens.

If your young reader has an interest in gardening, this book is a beautiful first-book introduction into the seasons, tasks, and some of the plants in a garden. It is definitely a book one can visit over again and again.


Bear & Hare Go Fishing


Most likely school does not look the same for your child this year, unless you were already homeschooling, and even then, Covid-19 might have changed things. No matter what school brings this year, it of course means that summer is ending. Why not go fishing before it’s over? Bear & Hare Go Fishing by Emily Gravett (Simon & Schuster, 2104) will take you on a last summer outing sure to delight as your young reader sees the parallel story not being told in the text. Expressive characters come alive in Gravett’s pencil, watercolor and wax crayon illustrations.

Can’t get to a lake or a river? Very young readers will be just as happy with a kiddie pool and a magnetic fishing rod. Make a craft day of it creating critters for the pool – catch and release only of course. Act out Hare and Bear’s outing. Does Hare even like fishing? There are lots of ways to play with this book despite its simple text. Whatever you try, don’t forget the picnic!

If you like this book, you might want to check out another book by Emily Gravett that I really enjoyed – AGAIN! about a dragon who wants his bedtime story read again and again.

Wishing all my readers a safe and happy fall.


A Love Letter to America


The inside jacket flap of Kwame Alexander’s and Kadir Nelson’s book The Undefeated (Versify, 2019) states that it is a love letter to America. With its powerful text and bold, larger-than-life illustrations it is that and much more. This book celebrates Black America and pays tribute to the righteous, the undeniable, the unforgettable, the unbelievable, the dreamers and the doers, while not glossing over the unspeakable. It won the 2020 Caldecott Medal and a 2020 Newbery Honor. One reading will make you see why, but this is a book to pour over again and again.

There is a lovely afterward written by Kwame that explains why he wrote the poem and what it means to him. There is back matter that gives a small blurb about the characters depicted in the illustrations. This information makes for a great starting point to learn more, to dig in and further the awe that one feels for the persistence of a people after reading the poem.

The Undefeated is a love letter, a poem, a tribute and a powerful lesson that should be in our home and classroom libraries. I am glad it’s in my library and I look forward to reading it aloud to a child when I next get a chance to tutor. Because this is not just a book about people from the past; it is a book to inspire an equitable future.


SCBWI Summer Spectacular

I just spent four wonderful days of immersion in children’s literature – all from my own home office – as I attended the SCBWI Summer Spectacular. Spectacular is the perfect word to describe the conference. I feel as though the presenters went out of their way to make it perfect because we could not meet in person.

Presentation sessions included:

Philip Pullman and Arthur A. Levine

Judy Blume and Lin Oliver

Kwame Alexander and Raúl the Third

LeUyen Pham and Dan Santat

Jacqueline Woodson and Nancy Paulsen

Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple

Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

Jason Reynolds and Caitlyn Dlouhy and Nic Stone

Grace Lin and Alvina Ling

Laurie Halse Anderson and Meg Medina

Jeff Kinney with Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver

as well as an editor panel and agent panel.

My head is still spinning and I am full of energy with some new ideas, and ways to tackle old ideas.  These stars in the kidlit world were generous with their time and ideas. Now it’s up to me to see how well I can marinate all their ideas with my ideas in order to create something new. Of course, I have current works-in-progress that need steady attention and new ideas I want to draft, but what I am most excited about is taking a look at all my old manuscripts with new eyes. Re-vision in its truest sense.

In the meantime, in my spare time, I will continue to share my favorite children’s literature with you through this blog. This week I want to highly recommend two books I read last month by Jason Reynolds, both for young adult readers, or for older middle grade who are eager to understand the history of racism that continues affects black lives today. Jason is the 2020-2021 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.

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Long Way Down (atheneum, 2017) is a novel in verse about a young man’s journey in an elevator on his way to avenge his brother’s murder. Basically, the whole book takes place in the elevator as he grapples with his decision, and it is not at all boring. The novel is fast-paced and gripping with a brilliant ending.

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi. (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2020) is an incredibly comprehensive account of history not told when I was in school and sure to engage reluctant teens. I wish I had had a book like this to spark further interest when I was in high school because I really didn’t like history class. I will be reading the original by Kendi soon.

Both books are important. There’s heavy content that begs to be reread, discussed and shared. I am thrilled that Jason Reynolds is our current National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. His ability to visit schools and engage all students is crucial in these times. Jason is a bearer of truths and a beacon of hope for young and old alike.


Outside In


A few weeks ago, I reviewed a book titled Bringing the Outside In, so I was intrigued when I saw a new book by an author I know at our library, Outside In by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Cindy Derby (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020). Where Bringing the Outside In was rollicking, fun and quick-paced, Outside In is its counterpart, a quiet reflective book seeking to ask just how important nature (Outside) is to us.

Outside In explores our relationship to nature. How are we a part of it? How do we feel when we are removed from it? Underwood’s calm, yet evocative words compel the reader to evaluate their own connections to nature and nudge them towards a deeper understanding and appreciation. Derby’s watercolor and powdered graphite illustrations are whimsical and approachable, allowing readers to remember and/or yearn for the nature connections depicted.

Throughout the book, Outside is a character beckoning us to wonder, observe and play. Outside In is a beautiful reminder that we cannot separate ourselves from the Outside. This is a book for kids and adults alike to cherish and share its message.


Acoustic Rooster and His Barnyard Band


It might be hard to feel motivated in the dog days of summer. It’s too easy to hide in front of a fan or with the AC, but then you’d be missing all the fun. Acoustic Rooster and his Barnyard Band by Kwame Alexander and illustrated by Tim Bowers (Sleeping Bear Press, 2011) is just what you need to beat the summertime blues😊. In no time you’ll be tapping your toes and swinging to the beat of jazz and itching to find out more about the African American roots of jazz.

Written in verse with lively characters modeled after jazz giants, Acoustic Rooster and his Barnyard Band is the story of a rooster determined to win the yearly band contest at his barnyard. I won’t tell you if he wins – I want you to read it yourself – but he does make a lot of friends and introduce the reader to instruments and musical vocabulary. The backmatter is great. Besides the musical vocabulary, there is a brief introduction to the characters/musicians – for example Bee Holiday is based on Billie Holiday – as well as a jazz history timeline.

I highly recommend Acoustic Rooster and his Barnyard Band for some fun summer reading. I hope you’ll be inspired to swing, getting some exercise inside or out. But I also hope you’ll be engrossed for many more enjoyable hours as you explore the history of jazz in America.


Bringing the Outside In


Covid-19 is still here, and we are lucky that it has affected us thus far in spring and summer when we can be outdoors more. I hope all you reading this post have the chance and the spaces to spend a lot of time outdoors. If you are sharing your space and time with young readers, I have a great book to help you enjoy the outdoors – and even the messes we sometimes bring back home.

Bringing the Outside In by Mary McKenna Siddals and illustrated by Patrice Barton (Randon House, 2016) is a rollicking look at the different activities we love to do outside. Written in verse with a quick pace, we are treated to the antics of young children when they play outside. Your grown-up side might already be groaning about the mess, but you’ll get a sweet surprise when you find the children themselves doing all the cleanup. The book starts with spring and goes through all four seasons ending with a reflection of the year and the memories of play. The illustrations are pencil sketches colored in digitally, yet they have a timeless appeal, and a whimsical feel. The spring section found me wishing for some rain so I could don my boots and splash around in some puddles.

This book could be a great starting point for listing all kinds of activities to do outside – especially when fall and winter arrive and we may think it better to be in more, but should go out more to help stay healthy. In winter, when I start thinking it is too cold for my daily walk, I remind myself of the Forest Schools popping up here and in Europe where students are outside most or all of the day, year-round. It is hard to justify my excuse for a 45-minute walk in my snug coat when somewhere grade-school children are out in the cold for hours.

Of course, pouring over the pages with your child is also perfect for reminding them when they come in from play that they can “clean up just like the kids in the book!” It’s quite brilliant really. And while a grown-up is only shown on three pages in the book, and never in the outside scenes, I hope you will take some time – but not all of a young one’s outside play – to be a kid yourself and splash, explore, skip, build and bring the outside in.