Category Archives: author spotlight

The Story of Mo Willems

by Katrina Morse for Family Reading Partnership

Did you ever know a kid in school who was always doodling during class? The margins of their papers filled up each day with patterns, wandering lines, and zany characters.

Now-famous children’s book author and illustrator Mo Willems, started out just that way. Doodling and drawing cartoons in school and at home in New Orleans, Willems was one of those kids who couldn’t stop creating and loved using his imagination. He drew, wrote stories, acted and even directed plays in his elementary and high school days and then as an adult tried his hand at stand up comedy.

After moving to New York City, Willems went on to create animation and write for children’s television, including Nickelodeon, and won Emmy awards for Sesame Street pieces. He eventually made his break into the children’s book world in 2003 with his book, “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.” From there Willems has been busily creating books for children and accumulating multiple honors and awards including the Caldecott Medal for illustration, the Theodor Seuss Geisel Medal for beginning readers books, and Carnegie Medal for excellence in children’s videos of his stories.

Willems’ style of illustration reflects his long history of cartooning. His characters are simple drawings in black line. Emotions are shown exaggerated in facial expressions and body language. Backgrounds are one or two flat colors or actual photographs. He has more than 50 published children’s books, many of which are parts of a series of stories incorporating kid-generated predicaments and humorous scenarios.

The “Knuffle Bunny” series stars a young girl named Trixie (like his own daughter) in a big city dragging around her stuffed bunny, who suffers some unfortunate mishaps in each book.

The Pigeon series features a whiny pigeon acting very much like a preschooler. He pleads, gets worried, is demanding, dramatic, and thankful too. Pigeon speaks directly to the reader of the book in each story, asking for help in getting what he wants. In this way the reader/listener is also part of the story.

Elephant and Piggie books are especially for children learning to read independently,with reading strategies embedded into the story. Each book has many “sight” words, that is, words that are used in literature frequently that children can learn just by seeing them over and over. There are a limited number of different words in each book and those words are easily decoded using phonics, or “sounding out.” The illustrations give clues to help children figure out hard words, so can be used as an additional strategy to help understand the story.

Now a stay-home dad and full-time author/illustrator, Willems lives in Northampton, Massachusetts with his wife Cher and teen aged daughter Trixie. His newest series, “Cat the Cat,” made its appearance in 2010. To the delight of his young fans, Willems is still creating and publishing children’s books and has posted many videos of his stories, riding the wave of his past 15 years of success.

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Filed under author spotlight, Early Readers, Mo Willems

Patrick McDonnell’s Books Teach Love and Kindness

by Katrina Morse for Family Reading Partnership

How about starting the New Year off with more love and kindness? Treat your family to some books by award winning author and illustrator Patrick McDonnell. His stories show the many ways we can cultivate kindness toward one another and accept others for who they are, especially if different from us. McDonnell’s picture books are written for young children, but his stories touch on big life messages that will resonate with adults.

McDonnell is widely known for his comic strip “MUTTS” that premiered in 1994 and stars a cat named Mooch and a dog named Earl (coincidently McDonnell’s real dog’s name). One of the author’s passions is in helping facilitate pet ownership and kindness toward animals. 5% of all sales of printouts of his comic strips ( go to The Humane Society of the United States’ Animal Rescue Team.

McDonnell’s work is strongly influenced by George Herriman’s “Krazy Kat” comic strip (1913-1944, New York Evening Journal). He uses the same bulbous noses, black eyes with no whites of the eyes showing, and loosely rendered black ink lines to define his characters. He does everything without computer technology and hand paints each image with watercolor. In the style of Harriman he also uses tender-hearted colloquial dialog between characters. “Yesh!” says Mooch, quite often.

But an even bigger influence on his artwork was Charles Schulz, creator of the Peanuts comics, and a mentor to McDonnell. Schulz was also profoundly influenced by Harriman, the defining comic strip artist in his time. Learning from Harriman, Schulz added depth of meaning and personal feeling into his “cute” characters and passed the value of incorporating sentiment into comics, on to McDonnell.

In 2005, McDonnell broke into the children’s book world with the book “The Little Gift of Nothing” about the significance of giving your presence and companionship to someone instead of a physical gift. Since then he has written and illustrated 12 children’s books and collaborated with Eckhart Tolle (author of “The Power of Now”) on a book for adults, “Guardians of Our Being, Spiritual Teachings from Our Dogs and Cats.”

Here are some favorite Patrick McDonnell books to read with your young children. Talk about what happens in each story and see if love and kindness grow this year!

  • “Hug Time.” Little orange-striped kitten Jules is so filled with love that he wants to hug the whole world. Jules makes a Hug-To-Do List and visits places around the earth, hugging many endangered species and getting many hugs in return.
  • “Wag!” “Fwip, fwip, fwip!” wags Earl’s tail. Mooch wants to know what makes Earl’s tail wag. After much observation, Mooch finds out. It’s love!
  • “Thank You and Good Night.” How many fun things can you do at a pajama party? These 3 friends have an evening packed with togetherness. They stage a funny-face contest, learn a chicken dance, play hide-and-seek, practice yoga, eat, watch for shooting stars—and they are thankful for it all.
  • “Art.” Art is a boy and art is a thing to do. McDonnell uses this homonym pair to play with the idea that unbridled creation in squiggles, wiggles, and zigzags can be a person’s identity. Can you tell Art and art apart?
  • “The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABC’s (the hard way)” Great for a child who already knows his or her alphabet, this wordless book is a continuously flowing story that needs the reader to identify what word is represented in each illustration of the alphabet. Here’s the trailer for the book on Youtube.

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Filed under alphabet book, art, author spotlight, creativity, empathy, Feelings, kindness, love, opportunities for conversation, wordless picturebooks

Be a Read-Aloud Super Hero!



Family Reading Partnership invites you and your family to join our March Read-Aloud Challenge, Books are my Super Power, an exciting and interactive celebration for National Read-Aloud Month.

Our theme, Books are my Super Power, highlights the many ways books empower young children to be thinkers and doers, and how to become Read-Aloud Super Heroes!

Why are Books a Super Power? Books provide opportunities for children to imagine themselves in the character’s situation, think about what they might do, and to practice being, among other things, kind, brave, persistent, and a good friend. These qualities really are SUPER POWERS for children.

Read aloud to the young children in your life and make reading at home a treasured part of your daily routine for the Challenge in March, and beyond. The benefits last a lifetime!

TAKE THE PLEDGE with your family and together we will invite every child to believe in the magic words: Books are my Super Power!

BooksSuperPowers2Here is how you can join the Books are my Super Power Read-Aloud Challenge:

  • Visit to learn more!
  • Take the pledge to read all month. Grown-ups can pledge to read and children can pledge to ask for read-aloud!
  • Download a Tool Kit filled with fun ideas and activities including Super Hero masks and wrist cuffs!
  • LIKE the Family Reading Partnership Facebook page to see all the action, enter to win prizes, post photos, and share your favorite read-aloud moments!

During National Read-Aloud month, March 2016, Family Reading Partnership’s book, “At Home with Books/En casa con libros,” is available at a deep discount so families and classrooms can enjoy more read-aloud!  Written and illustrated by Katrina Morse, this bilingual book is the story of the Bear Family and all the family members and friends that read aloud during the day. It is a book that encourages, supports, and celebrates reading aloud to young children. Read to the young children in your life every day because… Books are a Super Power!


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Filed under activities, At Home With Books, author spotlight, bedtime, benefits of reading together, Bilingual, book activites, Books are my Super Power, books for babies, books for toddlers, can do, children's books, family, family book traditions, family reading, fathers, friendship, grandparents, Read to me, Read-Aloud Challenge, Read-aloud resolutions, read-aloud resources, reading to babies, siblings, teddy bears, traditions

Wrap Up and Read!

by Katrina Morse, Family Reading Partnership

How are you staying warm this cold winter week? How about wrapping up in a cozy blanket with your young children and reading some favorite books aloud? Make it a daily routine to choose some books in the late afternoon when everyone is home. Find a spot on the couch or floor and then pull a blanket around everyone and enjoy your time imagining, exploring, and traveling through the stories. Here are some authors that write engaging stories that make great read-aloud:

Pat Hutchins writes stories that each answer a simple question. What happened to the cookies in “The Doorbell Rang”? What is the fox going to do next in “Rosie’s Walk”? Will everyone get the right message in “The Surprise Party”? Her writing style creates suspense that will keep your child wondering what will happen next.

Time-to-SleepDenise Fleming writes for the very young, but in a way that entertains grown-ups too. Her stories have things to find on each page if you look closely. There is rhyme, alliteration, and onomatopoeia that will tickle your tongue and make your child giggle. “Beetle Bop,” “Lunch,” and “Time to Sleep” are just a few of Fleming’s many books, all with illustrations created with her beautiful, colorful handmade paper.

Margaret Wise Brown’s stories have stood the test of time. Her main characters are usually animals that do people activities. “Goodnight Moon” and “Runaway Bunny” have the child-like sensibility of magical realism. Her books often have things in the illustrations that aren’t mentioned in the story but are fun to discover. Look for the little yellow butterfly in “Big Red Barn.” Can your child find the 5 sleeping kittens “Goodnight Little One”?

Mem Fox, an Australian author, has a book for every occasion. “Time for Bed” is a sleepy story that introduces animals. “Where’s the Green Sheep?” is a humorous hide-and-seek story. “Koala Lou” tells about a mother’s never-ending love.


Virginia Lee Burton wrote books in the 1940’s, so you and your child may be surprised by some of the “old-fashioned” ways of living shown in the illustrations. There were no cell phones or computers in those times! These stories will delight children with the constant action and determination of the main characters. There is a tractor in “Katy and the Big Snow,” a steam shovel in “Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel,” and a family’s home in “This Little House” that all have personalities that are brave and unselfish.

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Filed under author spotlight, family book traditions, family reading, winter

Margaret Wise Brown was a Champion for Reading to Children

Goodnight Moon“Goodnight Moon,” by Margaret Wise Brown, may be the most recognizable children’s bedtime book in America. With its bold green, red, blue, and yellow illustrations by Clement Hurd, the whimsical story has seen many children to sleep. More than 14 million copies of the book have been sold since it was published in 1947.

The book begins, “In the great green room, there was a telephone, and a red balloon, and a picture of … the cow jumping over the moon.” This isn’t a story with a plot, but instead is the description of a bedtime ritual told through the eyes of a child, written by a woman who never really grew up herself.

Margaret Wise Brown was born in New York City in 1910 and died in 1952 at only 42 years old from complications from a surgical procedure. Brown never married or had children of her own but lived a life full of a magical reality.

She acted like a character in her own storybook: She spent her first earnings as an author on an entire flower cart full of flowers. In a Paris hotel, she brought giant orange trees and live birds into her room. On the island of Vinalhaven, Maine, she had a house she called “The Only House” where she kept a nightstand outside with a mirror nailed to a tree and stored eggs and butter in her well. Once she gave an illustrator two puppies to use as models but the pups licked off all the paint on the newly created paper illustrations!

There were times of frustration, but Brown wrote prolifically, with over 100 children’s books published in her lifetime. Many stories she would dream and then quickly write down in the mornings. Among her most well known books are “The Runaway Bunny” (1942), “Little Fur Family” (1946),“The Color Kittens” (1949), and “Big Red Barn” (1956). She wrote an additional 70 manuscripts, which went unpublished.

“Brownie,” as she was known to friends, had a gift for understanding a child’s thoughts and concerns and wrote about the common place with child-like wonder. She loved to create rhythm in her stories by using rhyming words and repeating word patterns. She often builds anticipation by leaving off the last word of a sentence so you have to turn the page to find out how it ends.

Margaret Wise Brown was a champion for reading to children. In her own words, “[A book] can jog [a child] with the unexpected and comfort him with the familiar, lift him for a few minutes from his own problems of shoelaces that won’t tie, and busy parents and mysterious clock time, into the world of a bug or a bear or a bee or a boy living in the timeless world of a story.”

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Anna Dewdney Writes Great Read-Aloud Books!

LlamLlamaThere are some books that really come alive when read aloud. Anna Dewdey’s “Llama Llama” books beg to “said,” not just silently read. Each story about a young llama and his mama is rhyming and rhythmical with a lot of action words. You’ll find yourself pausing, shouting, whispering, speeding up, and dragging out words because the story is so packed with emotion.

The two main characters are furry, long necked, lovable llamas. Young Llama Llama has a distinct personality that is quickly revealed in each of Dewdney’s six books about him. This little llama gets mad when things don’t go his way, such as when he has to share or take a long trip through a boring store. He has serious separation anxiety when he starts school. He is scared and lonely when he is tucked in at night to go to sleep. Llama, Llama is a typical young child!

But in each book Llama Llama’s problems are acknowledged by his mama and then resolved when she suggests a new way to look at things. Suffering through a shopping trip is made better when mama says, “Please stop fussing, little llama. No more of this llama drama. I think shopping’s boring, too–but at least I’m here with you.”

Going to bed isn’t so lonely when you know your mama is close by if you need her. Going to school isn’t so scary when you are assured that mama will be there to pick you up at the end of the day. In the most recently published book, Llama Llama doesn’t even need his mama’s help to learn how to share and makes a new friend along the way. Maybe this little guy is growing up!

Anna Dewdney, the author and illustrator of these huggable llamas, lives in southern Vermont and spends her time writing, illustrating, and visiting schools and libraries. She has also written a handful of other children’s books and last year Dolly Parton made two of Dewdney’s llama books into a musical!

When reading these llama books aloud with your young child play with the words and ham it up! Besides having fun, in each story you’ll learn about mama llama’s humble solutions to real-life family dramas.

“Llama Llama Red Pajama”  is the original llama book and has been a New York Times best seller. Young llama goes through a range of emotions when he is tucked into bed–scared, lonely, sad, mad, and worried! Mama reassures her son that she is always close by and then he is finally able to go to sleep.

“Llama Llama Mad at Mama” When little llama has to suffer through shopping at the “Shop-O-Rama” he has a melt-down, starts screaming and flailing, and the groceries end up everywhere! Mama comforts her son and they clean up the mess and together look forward to the end of shopping.

“Llama Llama Misses Mama” Llama Llama goes to school for the first time and feels lonely and teary-eyed. Playing with his new friends at school keeps him busy until mama comes to pick him up and he shows her around his new school.

“Llama Llama Home with Mama” Both mother and son have to stay home for a sick day.

“Llama Llama Time to Share” When a new friend comes to visit, Llama Llama isn’t so sure he wants to share all his toys.

Also check out “Llama Llama Holiday Drama” and to be released this year, the 7th in the series, “Llama Llama and the Bully Goat.” For more information visit Dewdney’s website:

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Filed under author spotlight, books for toddlers, rhyming

A Baker’s Dozen of Local Talent

HUSH! by Minfong HoThe first weekend of June ushers in better weather in Ithaca and roads less congested with student vehicles. It’s time to celebrate the beautiful place we call home with picnics, baseball games, gardening, and of course the Ithaca Festival.

We have many things to be proud of in our community, including top notch children’s book writers and illustrators. There isn’t space to list all the authors and illustrators here, but you can find more, including authors who write exclusively young adult (YA) books listed at at the bottom of the Great Ideas page.  Find out more about each of these local talents online and enjoy their wonderful books!

  1. Michael DeMunn: author of “Places of Power” and “The Earth is Good” both about the power of the earth and discovering our own inner strength.
  2. Rachel Dickinson: resident of Freeville and travel, science, and children’s book author. Her books include “Tools of Navigation” and “Tools of the Ancient Romans” about inventors and the way they changed history.
  3. Lisa Eisenberg: co-author with Katy Hall of many rib-tickling riddle books including “Buggy Riddles,” “Gobble, Gobble, Giggle,” and “Boo Who?”
  4. Minfong Ho: author of the children’s books “HUSH!: A Thai Lullaby,” “Peek!: A Thai Hide-and-Seek,” “Maples in the Mist,” “Brother Rabbit,” and “The Two Brothers,” as well as author of four novels and many published short stories. Her books are often set in south east Asia.
  5. Gail Jarrow: author of many non-fiction books for young readers about animals or history including “Animal Babysitters,” “The Printer’s Trial,” “Lincoln’s Flying Spies,” and “The Amazing Harry Kellar, Great American Magician” as well as many novels
  6. Ruth Stiles Gannett (Kahn): Trumansburg resident and author of the “My Father’s Dragon” trilogy that is beloved by children across the globe. These stories are adventures starring the young boy Elmer with his backpack full of tricks helping him as he meets the animals and dragons of magical places.
  7. Alison Lurie: author of the fairytale collections “The Oxford Book of Modern Fairy Tales,” “The Black Geese,” and “The Heavenly Zoo” and many YA books
  8. Anne Mazer: author of “The Salamander Room,” “The Fix-Its,” “The No-Nothings and Their Baby” and for young readers “The Amazing Days of Abby Hayes” series, “Sister Magic” series, and many moreThe Salamander Room by Anne Mazer
  9. Katrina Morse: author and illustrator of Family Reading Partnership’s books “At Home with Books” and “Love Those Letters!”
  10. Catharine O’Neill: illustrator of many books including “The Very Best Hanukkah Gift,” “Leprechaun Luck,” and “Mrs. Dunphy’s Dog,” and author/illustrator of “Annie and Simon” books for young readers
  11. Edward Ormondroyd: Trumansburg author of 12 books including the picture book “Theodore” and young adult books “Castaways On Long Ago,” “David and the Phoenix,” and “Time at the Top”
  12. Johanna van der Sterre: illustrator for Highlights magazine and many children’s books including “Mendel’s Accordion” and “Why Do I Have to Make My Bed?”
  13. Mitch Weiss and Martha Hamilton, storytellers, performers, and authors of 18 books including “Scared Witless,” “Hidden Feast,” and  “Noodlehead Stories”

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Filed under author spotlight, children's books, illustrations

Ease the Transition to School with Read-Aloud

Whether your child is starting child care, kindergarten, or going back to the same school with a new classroom of children this coming week, it’s exciting and a little scary too.  The family routine changes and your son or daughter will be faced with new experiences and friends, new ideas and choices.

How can you help your child prepare for the big first day? Knowing what to expect, as much as possible, eases possible anxiety. Talk about what your new family routine is going to be like. What time will you all wake up? How will your child get to school? What will your child have for lunch? What will happen after school?

Ask your child how he or she feels about starting school and be a good example of remaining calm and positive. You won’t know exactly what activities will happen at school, but there are many children’s books that describe a typical school day. Authors who have a series of books based on one character, usually have a book about starting school. Some books explore feelings and others school activities. Before you read a “going to school” book aloud to your family, read it to yourself and see if it is appropriate for your own child.

• Rosemary Wells writes prolifically about universal childhood experiences, including school. One of her characters, a cat named Yoko, learns about food from other cultures, how to write her name, and what to bring for show and tell in 3 separate books. Wells’s “Kindergator” book series features Harry the alligator and his young classmates in situations that show how one child’s behavior affects everyone else in the group or class. Wells also wrote “My Kindergarten” and “Emily’s First 100 Days of School.

• Nancy Carlson writes about the world from a child’s point of view and has a few about school: “Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come!,” “Henry’s First 100 days of Kindergarten,” “Henry’s Show and Tell,” and “First Grade Here I Come!”

• Lucy Cousins uses her mouse character “Maisy” as a character in almost 100 different books for very young children.  Maisy explores colors, shapes, numbers, birthdays, a farm, the beach, and also learns about school in “Maisy Goes to Preschool.”

• Jonathon London’s “Froggy” character is featured in a series of books illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz.  In “Froggy Goes to School,” Froggy has a lighthearted attitude toward school and some humorous happenings on his first day.

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Filed under author spotlight, family reading, transitions

Carlson’s Books Give Kids a Positive Message

Nancy Carlson, a native of Minnesota, knew from the time she was in kindergarten that she wanted to be an artist. As an adult she was so determined to make that her career, she never considered any other goal. Now, some 50 years later, she has illustrated and written more than 50 children’s books.

Carlson clearly has an agenda when creating her books. She writes about issues children face, but from a positive point of view. Her stories are about being happy, telling the truth, trying your best, and being nice. The upbeat messages are mirrored in the bright colors and bold patterns of her illustrations.

A cast of animal or human characters play out the gamut of childhood emotions in her books. Many of them are based on friends or neighbors, starting with Harriet the golden retriever, whose personality is based on Nancy Carlson herself when she was young. In three different stories Harriet has to get over stage fright, share her Halloween candy, and be brave enough to ride a roller coaster.

Louanne the pig is a great role model for positive self-image. Sam and George are dogs that are bullies often encountered by other characters. Vinney the frog consistently has the outlook “Don’t worry; Be happy!”

Carlson’s stories may be overly optimistic for some children’s (and grown-up’s) sensibilities, but for others, these books will say just the right thing at the right time. She presents real life in the form of comical moral lessons. And for Carlson, the stories provide the perfect opportunity to do what she really loves–create art!

• “Smile a Lot” features Vinney the frog. After reading this book you realize how contagious a smile really is. “Smile a lot. It gets you through hard times. It gives you lots of courage. It helps you reach your goals” …and it’s much easier than complaining!


• “Henry’s Amazing Imagination!” features Henry the mouse. Henry used to lie about everything, until he learned how to tell stories for show and tell at school.

• “I Like Me!” features Louanne the pig and her “you can do it” attitude. When she makes a mistake, she tries again. When she falls down, she picks herself up.

• “Arnie and the Stolen Markers” features Arnie the cat. When Arnie doesn’t have the allowance money to buy some markers he wants, the temptation to take them is just too much. Find out what happens when his mother discovers what Arnie’s done.

For more information on Nancy Carlson, visit her website:

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