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Educators & Caregivers

5 Picture Books: Caring & Coping

Continuing my happy connection with A Novel Mind, I’ve guest posted another set of picture books with related discussion starters and follow up activities. The titles can help youngsters understand, cope, and grow as they manage all the changes and concerns related to life during the COVID closures. The blog post is here. Here are the featured books.

Due to space constraints (and my writerly issues with adhering to word count limits), a few points on context did not make the guest post. Those details are included here.

COVID-19 is very serious for certain people. But it is not inescapable. This fact can help young minds set boundaries around worry over illness and mortality. Balancing sad and scary realities with accurate information offers hope. Looking at healthcare successes does NOT erase how much anyone cares about people battling COVID-19 directly. Thinking about recovery or uninterrupted wellness allows scale and logic to ease panic or inspire confidence to stick with medically safe habits. Add this information to any of the suggested discussions of the selected picture books:

  • Numbers shared by Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center and the Center for Disease Control indicate the US survival rate is ~94-96%. JHRC offers worldwide numbers, too. Also reported:  on average, children, teens, and young adults get less sick than more delicate populations with complicated health histories.
  • Healthcare and essential jobs are especially hard now. The NIH National Library of Medicine and the Brookings Institute share research-based efforts to support essential staff. The articles are for adults, so kids will benefit from knowing reliable sources are working to keep the helpers healthy, too.
  • There are always silver linings. See these 101 Good News stories that happened because of COVID-19.


Reading Between the Lines: 5 PBs for All Minds

It’s an honor to join with the talented, thoughtful team at A Novel Mind. I’m excited to share my latest Big Ideas for [All Kinds of] Young Minds thoughts via the guest blog post linked below.

Reading lots of storybooks through an inclusion lens can reveal a message that ND is an element in many tales (and in real-life, too).

5 Titles Covered:  We Don’t Eat Our Classmates, They All Saw a Cat, I’m a Duck, Miss Brooks Loves Books (and I don’t!), Elmer, A Friend for Henry

Picture Book Roundup:  Reading Between the Lines for All Kinds of Minds

Neurodiversity (ND) is a term describing the wide network of traits that stem from mental, behavioral, or developmental differences/challenges. Neurodiverse (sometimes called neurodivergent) or ‘differently brained’ individuals have unique abilities, challenges, and preferences.

When A Novel Mind features neurodiversity-related titles, the ND themes are usually prominent. But today’s picture book round-up offers a more subtle twist. Many other picture books in the library – especially those with friendship themes – can also be great conduits for ND conversations. Specifically, they can:

  • promote empathy (not pity),
  • depict acceptance (not ridicule),
  • emphasize successes (even tiny ones), and
  • define disabilities or illness accurately and realistically (avoiding false heroism or stigma-based otherness).

Further, adults can enrich young readers’ understanding by asking questions such as:

  • · Have you or a schoolmate or friend ever acted like this/felt this way?
  • · What may have caused the behavior?
  • · If the behavior was difficult for you or for the person doing it, what made it better? Read the rest here.

Triple Dip 1: stars & belonging

The 3 titles of each TRIPLE DIP make a yummy mix of genres and stages of literary sophistication. Stages are not the same as ‘reading levels’ because quality books always work in some fashion for all readers no matter the word count or available ELA skills. Read more here.


Sophie and Little Star by Amber Hendricks (2018), picture book, 30 pages
When a little star falls from her home in the sky, she finds help from an unexpected friend. Together, the new friends search for a way to send Little Star home, but soon discover that not everyone you meet is kind, or helpful. Little Star begins to wonder if she’ll ever find a way home, and if she does, will she be able to leave her new friend, Sophie, behind?

Stardust by Neil Gaiman (1996), fantasy, 256 pages
In the tranquil fields and meadows of long-ago England, there is a small hamlet that has stood on a jut of granite for 600 years. Just to the east stands a high stone wall, for which the village is named. Tristan Thorn promised to bring back a fallen star. So he sets out on a journey to fulfill the request of his beloved, the hauntingly beautiful Victoria Forester—and stumbles into the enchanted realm that lies beyond the wall of his English country town. Rich with adventure and magic, Stardust is one of master storyteller Neil Gaiman’s most beloved tales.

Find the Constellations by H.A. Rey (2016), nonfiction, 72 pages
Explore star charts, a constellation guide, and details about seasons and the movement of the objects we see in the sky. This classic book makes H. A. Rey’s passion for astronomy evident on every page. New scientific information and other updates concentrate on the planetary and solar system information. Facts and figures for each planet have been revised. There’s also a brand-new online resource that allows readers to track the positions of the planets in the night sky till the year 2100!

Story summaries were gently adapted from Amazon, book blurbs, & author sites.


SCOOP 1 – Students cut out large paper stars. Add book-related details on both sides. Use 1 word or phrase per star point to describe:

  1. book theme
  2. main character
  3. writing style
  4. key facts learned
  5. plot twist
  6. setting
  7. life lesson learned
  8. favorite quote

Decorate both sides, add the title & author, punch a hole, and hang from the ceiling to create a class constellation. Varied string lengths look nice.

Upgrade:  Make 3-D stars with the practically-no-prep template from my store here.

SCOOP 2 – As a group decide a book rating system based on stars. Define key elements that would earn a book 1-star through 5-stars. For each book read, each person will:

  1. Rate the book with 1 to 5 stars.
  2. Prepare a 1-3 sentence explanation of the rating (based on rating definitions & details from the book).
  3. Discuss and/or write the rating and a 1-3 sentence review.
  4. Design a book rating & review poster or joint bulletin board. Option: Use the Stars Easy Cut-out Page at my store here.

SCOOP 3 – Make a constellation for your book based on a character, theme, or other important element of the book you read.

Cut out ~12 stars (or use my Stars Easy Cut-Out Page). Arrange the stars on dark blue or black poster board to represent the important book element you chose. Connect the stars with a few straight white lines to show the complete constellation. Name your constellation. Add a brief caption to explain how it represents the book. Bonus: measure the angles in your shape.

The CHERRY on TOP – Give a superstar gift.

Create another star (here’s the 3-D template option) as a gift for somebody. Label one star, “You Shine So Bright because…” or “You are A BIG STAR in my life because…” On the 2nd star, provide a personal reason that the recipient is a super star who helps you feel you belong in an important way. Decorate! Share the gift.

Now put the books aside. It’s time for…

A (real) Tasty Ice Cream Treat to Share

As a special treat for my blog readers, each Triple Dip post includes a real ice cream dessert recipe  to fit some aspect of the theme. Get ready to enjoy some

Ice Cream STAR Sandwiches*

ice cream sandwich star
Photo by

Kitchen Aids:  ~3″ star cookie cutter, ice cream scoop, baking sheets, knife/spreader, plastic wrap; oven, freezer

Ingredients:  For every 6 cookies you need…

  1. 1 roll refrigerated sugar cookie dough
  2. 6 scoops ice cream
  3. sprinkles – think shiny (silver) and bright (yellow)


  1. Roll out dough and cut out 12 star-shaped cookies.
  2. Bake according to package directions. Let cool.
  3. Place 1 scoop of ice cream on a cookie. Spread it to an even level to all 5 tips.
  4. Cover with a 2nd cookie. Neaten the edges with a knife.
  5. Tap or roll sandwich edges in sprinkles.
  6. Wrap sandwich in plastic. Freeze ~30 minutes to firm up for easy eating.

Option:  Instead of steps 3 & 4, try rolling out the ice cream onto a baking sheet. Refreeze, then cut out stars for the sandwich filling.

*This recipe is a combo-adaptation of this recipe and this one. Click through for their stellar variations.

Triple Dips logo

CALM FOCUS – 9 priorities with practical tips for productive at-home learning (especially for folks who aren’t professional educators)

School closings provide many opportunities and challenges while learning at home. The acronym CALM FOCUS helps.

C – CREATE a daily routine that mimics non-isolation school day patterns. Alternate ~50-minute work sessions with ~10-minute stretch/snack/hydration/stop looking at the screen breaks. Take up to 90 minutes for lunch and exercise. CUSTOMIZE to avoid overly strict agendas. If it’s a great day for a 2-hour lunch+bike ride, then shift the afternoon work sessions to a bit later in the day.

A – ALIGN with school assignments first. ADD activities based on your child’s interests and abilities, the resources you have on hand, & your ‘bandwidth’ to deploy any of it.

L – LOOK to the experts. Ask teachers, seek free online learning links (homeschool sites & beyond!), or brainstorm with parents you know. Need adaptations? Groups like Thinking Organized can help.

M – MEASURE progress by your child’s levels of engagement, variety of learning tasks, or adaptation in the face of all this change. MASTERY is wonderful, but few parents are instructional or assessment experts, so don’t define it (mastery) only by traditional grading.

F – FIND just 1-2 resources you really like and feel comfortable using per subject. Consider your own bookshelves as well as online resources. Make it a bit of a Scavenger Hunt with your child. Fifteen minutes evaluating resources together boosts some extremely valuable thinking skills.

O – OPTIMIZE household tasks as non-academic learning opportunities. Learning does not have to be documented or digitized. ORGANIZE a task your child can learn-by-doing with you. Think kitchen, laundry, fix-the-leaking-whatever, yard, sewing, photography, etc. skills. Add context. Find a ‘history of chocolate chip cookies’ or ‘best laundry detergent review’ article along with doing the new task together. Charge older kids with finding the article.

C – CONVERSE. Balance academics and stimulate all kinds of language processing and logic with thought-provoking options like these 42 discussion starters or this list of 101 options.

U – USE common sense. Find a work-rest-fuel-fun-physical activity balance to be productive for the duration. Neuroscience is on your side:  learning flourishes when this balance is a priority.

S – SPIRAL upward. A rocket-launch trajectory of advances is not the goal. Learning takes time to advance by revisiting key concepts while adding new info and skills. Sometimes progress is speedy, sometimes it stalls. If it seems dizzying (rude, anxious, overtired, or too-silly kid), you’re on the wrong spiral!  Either adjust the pace or find another way or time to address the content.