Sunday, December 3, 2017

My Favorite Books of 2017

I often am asked what books I would recommend. Here is a list of my favorite books that I read this year, though they may have been published in a different year. I love a lot of books and not appearing on this list doesn't mean I didn't love it....this list is of the books that someone touched me or made me laugh. Inevitably I will inadvertently leave off a book that I love or read one that I need to add, so please check back.

Picture Books

Starring Carmen by Anika Denise and illustrated by Lorena Alvarez. This joyful book is highly  entertaining. You will fall in love with Carmen and her brother.

Back to School with Bigfoot by Martha Brockenbrough and Samantha Berger and illustrated by Dave Pressler. You read who its by, right?? Of course it's super fun!

Monster's New Undies by Samantha Berger and illustrated by Tad Carpenter. This book is a finalist in my school's battle of the books for good reason. Although anything underwear related is highly popular with younger kids, there's a greater message in this book.

Come With Me by Holly McGhee and illustrated by Pascal LamaĆ®tre. Every single classroom in the world needs this book. I don't feel like it got the attention it deserves. How do you deal with a struggling world??? Come with me and I will show you.

Red and Lulu by Matt Tavares. Easily one of the most beautiful books I've ever seen. Again, in the middle of beautiful artwork (just look at that cover) is a sweet message about going home.

Twelve Sleighs of Christmas by Sherri Duskey Rinker and illustrated by Jake Parker. Super fun holiday book.

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Adam Rex. Drew makes me laugh so much and his sense of humor comes shining through. Adam's illustrations are also perfect.

Big Machines: The Story of Virginia Lee Burton by Sherri Duskey Rinker and illustrated by John Rocco. This is a great biography/historical fiction picture book and the art is stunning. You almost feel like you're watching Virginia Lee Burton conjure up the pictures.

Happy Dreamer by Peter H. Reynolds. I've known Peter for many years. This book is the most perfect representation of Peter as a person and it's also a love-letter to every dreamer.

Crown: Ode to a Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C James. This is not your normal picture book in the most amazing way. The art is great and the style is so fresh and so different.

Draw the Line by Kathryn Otoshi. I wordless picture book that says more than books with a thousand words. Beautiful.

Snappsy the Alligator and His Best Friend (Probably) by Julie Falatko and illustrated by Tim J. Miller. The original Snappsy made me laugh out loud while reading it in the Penguin booth at NCTE years ago. This next book does not disappoint. Snappsy is wonderful.

After the Fall by Dan Santat. Wow. Just Wow. An ode to moving on after a fall.

Groundhug Day by Anne Marie Pace and illustrated by Christopher Denise. Let's be honest, I would buy a book for Christopher's art only. The words make this book even better. A very sweet story.

Sarabella's Thinking Cap by Judy Schachner. This book would be a great companion to Peter's Happy Dreamer. Judy's art is much so that I actually gasped when I turned a page. Another great book for anyone who marches to the beat of their own drummer.

Claymates by Dev Petty and illustrated by Lauren Eldridge. You have to see this book to believe it. Honestly it's so different and so cool. My students absolutely love this book and for good reason.

Deck The Walls: A Wacky Christmas Carol by Erin Dealey and illustrated by Nick Ward. F U N book. My students loved it so much because it's fun. You can't help but to sing along.

This is Not a Normal Animal Book by Julie Segal-Walters and illustrated by Brian Biggs. This book had both the morning book club and the second grade class I read it to laughing so hard. Such a great laugh!

Love, Santa by Martha Brockenbrough and illustrated by Lee White. Struggling with how to explain the magic of Santa?? Struggle no more. This book is beautiful and perfect. What you thought would be a difficult conversation will become a joyful one and Christmas will never be the same a good way.

Love, Triangle by Marcie Colleen and illustrated by Bob Shea. What happens when a third person comes into a freindship?? Magically told by Marcie, you'll love this.

Brave by Stacy McAnulty and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff. "Like superheroes, brave kids can save the world, just by being brave." A wonderful message and an amazing book.

Life by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel. This book is stunning and has such an amazing message.

Early Reader

Joe and Sparky Go To School by Jamie Michalak and Frank Remkiewicz. True story...I've been friends with Jamie for a long time. One day, I saw this book and just had to buy it. I read it in my office at school and found myself laughing out loud. This is such a great early reader series.

Middle Grade or Young Adult

A Dog Like Daisy by Kristin O'Donnell Tubb. Sweetly told tale of a dog being adopted by a family, including someone with PTSD. A must read.

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate. I read this while waiting for a plane from NYC home. You might have heard about the flooding at LaGuardia last summer....that was me. This story is told by the tree and the tears were for something so beautiful, they just couldn't be helped. I love Katharine's writing and The Only and Only Ivan is my all-time favorite Middle Grade. This is very close to the all-time tops.

Matylda Bright and Tender by Holly McGhee. Holly and I have been friends a long time. I've known her in her job as an agent and for a few fun books. This book blew me away. Dealing with loss is a theme, but growing up is a larger theme. Absolutely stunning.

Patina by Jason Reynolds. A second book in the "Track" series, this is such an amazing book. Jason Reynolds is a master storyteller. Be sure to also grab Ghost, the first book in this series.

The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas. I am positive I have told you about this book if you know me at all. Perfect and soul crushing. There will be a movie, but books are always better than the movies. EVERY kid needs to read this book. The theme might be very tough for some kids, so I recommend an adult read it first. I recommended it to a special friend who is a grandmother of a voracious reader. I made the aforementioned recommendation. The stellar grandma and the girls mother also read it, an example of awesome parenting and grand-parenting. Everyone loved it.

A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold and illustrated by Charles Santoso. The most authentic depiction of a kid on the autism spectrum I have read along with a great story. Charles Santoso spins magic in everything he draws.

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder. I remember Laurel talking about writing this thing that she thought would never sell. Well, here it is and it's thought-provoking and glorious.

The Incredible Magic of Being by Kathryn Erskine. Julian moves to Maine with his parents to start a B&B but their plans are nearly derailed by a neighbor. A wonderful book with a really hopeful message.

Miles Morales By Jason Reynolds. Spiderman and other superheroes are not my usual reading materials. BUT, when the story is by Jason Reynolds, I'm all in. SO great.

The Way to Bea by Kat Yeh. I almost don't want to write anything about this and potentially spoil the ride, but you should read this book. Sometimes we get lost....sometimes we get found.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Ten Thousand Thanks!

Now that the dots have settled on another wildly successful Dot Day, I want to extend some thanks to some very important people. Be sure to read to the end. I'm a little nervous that I've missed people in this list, so I may go back and add some.

Peter H. Reynolds - There would be no day without the perfect book. Your words and your art have captivated the world. When I suggested we "have a day to let kids make dots and be creative," you had the brilliance to call it "International" and made a logo. Your belief in my dream made all the difference. Thank you.

Paul A Reynolds - Every year, you are there behind the scenes, connecting people, making things happen, watching the totals, and dreaming of a more creative future. Thank you.

Bill Norris - In 2011 you had the idea to keep track of who was celebrating. It was truly a brilliant suggestion because the power of numbers both helps people feel connected and also to keep all of us reaching to inspire more and more kids. You are also behind the scenes working and making things happen. Thank you

Julie Gribble and KidLitTV team- When you jumped on board, you rocked the ship!! You have made such an amazing groundswell of love and support happen. Last year with the Ready, Set, Draw, and the Storymakers and this year with an amazing Livestream. You constantly support this amazing mission. Thank you for allowing me to write a monthly-ish column where I can share ways to keep being creative. Apple autocorrect keeps changing Livestream to LIFEstream and, this year it's not wrong. You brought new life. Thank you to the entire team.

Shannon M. Miller,  Andy Plemmons, and Matthew Winner Before I even dreamed of how making connections would inspire classrooms to participate, you were at work making it all happen. I never have to wonder if you will create a new doc to share, it happens before I can even think of it. I will be forever grateful to all of you for your work. Thank you.

Quivervision - One of our Ambassadors contacted QuiverVision (then ColAr) and asked if they'd participate in Dot Day and before we knew it, there was a template and dozens of schools jumping on board. Having a new way to look at dots has been wonderful. Thank you! Thank you also for this amazing dot that you made out of submissions to Quivervision! WOW, I am blown away.

FableVision Learning - Andrea, Patrick, Patrick M, and Adrienne and all those that went before you have been instrumental in making Dot Day grow. From creating awesome blog posts and Maker Studio dots, to making sure that people are able to go to the website and find what they need, you all rock. Thank you!

Blue Bunny Books - Margie-the-Great, Melissa, and Diana worked wonders this year to get t-shirts, stickers, and books out to people celebrating. You will forever be my favorite bookstore. Thank you!

Candlewick Press - Thank you for supporting Dot Day by providing materials for celebrations and awesome book guides and ideas. Anne and company, you rock! Thank you!

DoInk - New this year! There were some really ingenious ways for teachers and kids to GreenScreen with their dots. Thank you for tweeting, sharing, and making a product that helps kids be creative.

Buncee encouraged many people to celebrate this year and for many years. This was, I think, the first year I've seen FlipGrid celebrations and they have been amazing and heartwarming. Thank you.

Faber-Castell - Thank you for being the sponsor of this year's KidLitTV Lifestream! That LiveStream was amazing and it happened through your generosity. Thank you also for creating stellar art supplies that help everyone be more creative.

Holly McGhee and Pippin Properties- To the super agent who first helped bring "The Dot" to the world, and a constant supporter of creativity, Peter, and me. Your love and kindness is truly appreciated.

The Celebridots - For those who don't know the story, in 2011 on Dot Day, I received an email from one of my favorite authors, Sharon Creech, and it inspired me to seek dots from other famous people to inspire kids to be creative. There are currently 260 dots from a huge variety of authors/illustrators/TV personalities which annually inspire kids. I never dreamed when we started the collection that people would use so many different mediums to create, and that has made the gallery an incredible source of inspiration. Thank you for taking time away from your own work to make your mark on kids.

North Tama School and Teachers - After celebrating for a few years in three of my classrooms, I asked if we could involve the entire elementary and the answer was yes. The teachers went so far above and beyond to dot the school, it was amazing. The next year, the entire secondary joined. What a testament to creativity and positivity. Many teachers have celebrated every year and I am always amazed by their creativity. Thank you.

My students former and present - In the past, people have asked me how I get older kids to participate and my answer is always, "put out art supplies." There is no trick. I think I've been blessed with amazing students who appreciate the time to be creative. In addition, many have gone on to celebrate in their own classrooms or, in the case of Stefanie Kline, in a daycare. I love my students and former students, they keep me going. Thank you for believing in this dream.

Every administrator who saw the importance of celebrating creativity and allowed or advocated for teachers and kids. I met a principal once who scowled at me when asked if her school participated. She said "if I take any more instructional time away from teachers, they will be very mad." This made me appreciate the ones who see practice creativity AS instructional time. Thank you, administrators.

Every teacher, counselor, care-giver, librarian, or person who celebrated and/or shared this day, I thank you. Much praise has been heaped on the founder, but it all belongs to YOU. YOU made this day what it is and even if I thanked you 10 million times, it wouldn't be enough. YOU are heroes.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Is creativity something you are born with or can it be cultivated over time?

It can be cultivated. Most importantly IMO it's important to be able to find something that you can do that makes you want to be creative. Does this make sense? Like reading--some people just need to find the right book? Kate Sullivan

I think that creativity is something that one can have an affinity for, the same as one might have for sports, dance or chess. However, it's a skill that has to be cultivated for it to become a profession. Angie Jones

"Creative" is usually considered "artistic" but that is wrong. I truly believe everyone is "creative", it just manifests itself in different ways. And yes it needs to be watered like a flower or worked out like muscles you want to make stronger. Lori Richmond
It can be cultivated, but it's something you have to have the desire to do. Christina Barragan Forshay

Creativity can be cultivated or squashed by your early upbringing. If someone gives you positive feedback about your art as a kid you want to do more and the more you do, the better you get at it. If someone forces you to color within the lines creativity is stifled. Timothy Young
Almost all 3-year-olds test at a genius level for creativity. By the time we reach 23, only about 3-percent retain the mental flexibility. Part is a helpful pruning--ultimately, seeing a sauce pan as a hat is only so useful. But part is trained out of us. So the challenge really is to keep creativity, and to keep practicing it in many contexts. It's sort of become synonymous with art and writing and such. But every aspect of our lives and all of our mental efforts are enriched with active creativity. What new ways can we solve problems? (That's one form of creativity.) What new things can we invent? (That's another.) Martha Brockenbrough

I think everyone is born with an ability to be creative, but you might need to find what form that actually takes. For instance, my child hates painting/drawing/coloring, but he creates the most amazing things with legos. My husband is not at all "artsy" or creative in a stereotypical sense, but his job is problem-solving, coming up with concrete solutions, and then implementing them. I do think that the ability to be creative can be squashed if a person isn't given the space or encouragement to be creative. Piper Kroeze

Yes, we are born creative. Conception, birth, growth, learning, change, life itself, are all one big creative process constantly unfolding. I don't think you need to necessarily cultivate it as much as keep it alive and protected from the forces that would tamper it. It is said of love that all we need to do to have it is to clear the obstacles that are keeping us from it. The same can be said of creativity. First step in being creative: release all fear of being “wrong” for if “right” is nothing more than what has been formerly and commonly agreed upon, then creativity and anything new and different by definition will at first be considered “wrong.” “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

― Jalaluddin Rumi
The same goes for creativity.
 There are many ways to define creativity. One of my favorites, as it applies so easily to design problems, is finding solutions within restrictions. The tighter the restrictions, potentially the more creative the solution. Just think of making a great meal out of 3 random things found right now in your fridge. Much more challenging than with a fully stocked chef's kitchen. This type of thinking can be applied to many more fields than we normally consider. I actually want my politicians and scientists and doctors to apply creative problem solving to their jobs just as much as I want designers, writers, and illustrators to.
Another way to foster creativity is to encourage lateral thinking and thinking in metaphors. Seeing things for their intrinsic reality vs their ascribed meaning. Hence a walk through a hardware store becomes a flurry of creative ideas of what these silver metal circles could be used for or those black rubber tubes. I cannot help but think that a well-rounded education that certainly encompasses music and art in addition to language, science, math, history, and physical education will foster this and lay the right contemporaneous neural pathways for cross pollination of concepts. Michael Arndt

I think everyone is born with creativity to some degree. For creativity to thrive, it needs to be cultivated, and it needs to not be squashed or conformed. Karen Kirschel

Both. We are all artists. #AshleyBryanWord Hazel G. Mitchell
Both. But the encouragement of it is what brings it alive. Everybody has creating in their body. They must be encouraged to find it and share it. Karla Altrogge Cruz

Yes, you are born with creativity sometimes life's pressures pushes it deep down into the sandbank of our minds. If given the right tools or sunlight it can be cultivated in formed into something far beyond your imagination. Watch it come to surface, It will grow to the height of the biggest tower if given proper attention and the water flow is consistent. If you sit still long enough your mind will outline your thoughts like the lines on an etch sketch. Dream In Color And Do It Out loud as I say. Your creativity relatively may be different from mine, it is all well. "To Walk Close To The Edge And Not To Look Over Is Simply Unheard Of" Nicole M. Stevenson Author

Regardless of where you get it, if creativity is stifled or squelched so does happiness. We must find our creative outlet or as some refer to it , passion, and continue to nurture and grow it so that our souls are filled with true joy. That creative outlet, whatever it may be for each person, is the path to our heart's joy. That happiness is like a wake of creativity that ripples outward and can and will impact others in it's path. Conni Mulligan

I would say both are possible. People can have natural innate creative talents. This we understand more than the other in my opinion. My mother always felt that she didn't have the aptitude for any artistic (non-musical) talents. As a teacher to gifted students, she wanted to be able to help her students use different mediums to express their creativity. By taking sculpting, drawing, etc classes, she realized that through technique she could learn to bring her creative ideas into fruition. Susan Shedenhelm Blake

Humans are creative beings. We make, we improve, and we solve. We are born with few instincts compare to other animals, but our brains are tremendously capable. It has billions of neurons forming complex networks. If networks aren’t used, they go out. But new networks are created all the time, regardless of age. We are able to learn and create throughout our lives. The capacity to be creative is in us all. Stacy McAnulty

Creativity is given and received; cultivating open circuits is a life-time endeavor. talents and technique have to be practiced and tweaked. Jeanne Poland

I think the answer is both. Everyone is born with creativity and curiosity. Kids are much more free to express their creativity in art, writing, music, etc. The older they get, the more creativity has to be cultivated to keep going and to continue to be important. It's so easy to get discouraged if something you create doesn't turn out how you hoped, or even worse, a friend, teacher, family member, or classmate doesn't like it or makes fun of it. To continue being creative, you need to nurture your art, and keep growing / learning to get to the next level. To continue to be creative, you have to realize that you will get better if you keep at it. Your art may never turn out the way you imagine it will, but if you keep making art, it will get better, and might turn out even more amazing than what you hoped it would be. Stephanie Ruble

Both. If you don't exercise it, like any other muscle, creativity will atrophy. I think we all start out as creative (watch any kindergarten class and you'll see that). But it's often squelched. Marissa Moss

"Some people are born as a vehicle of creative energy, and words or images pass through them to be shared with the world. The root word, create, means anyone is capable of creating; however, the 'ivity' suffix signals activity which requires you to actively allow your creations to flow outward. As an author, I do feel like words and ideas come to me (in dreams, while I'm driving or flying), but as an artist, I feel like I have a vision and have to actively work to create it into a piece of art. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me they had a great kid's book idea... Only a select few of us put pen to paper, persist and have patience and perseverance, to get published!" Susan Katz

I think we all have creativity. We need INSPIRING questions, experiences and models. Sally Isaacs

Sunday, July 2, 2017

International Dot Day Links to Share 2017


International Dot Day started in a few classrooms in 2009 and has grown into a worldwide celebration. It's a celebration of creativity that can start small, like butcher paper and markers or whole-school dot making in a variety of ways. The big idea is taking time out to be celebrate creativity.

I am constantly sharing links on Twitter and Facebook to encourage more classes to participate, adults are welcome to find me at the above social media sites. 

Countries in Orange have participants (Map as of July 2)

Discovery Education in the Home of Dot Day

Last year, Peter H. Reynolds visited the school where Dot Day began and Discovery Education was there to capture it all! You can see an archive video here. 


I also write a column for KidLitTV to keep creativity going all year! Find links to the articles here.

Official Page

The official page and sign up are available at There is a yearly signup. Please consider signing up and sharing the day with friends and colleagues.

Dot Day posters (Free) including in different languages.


The Celebridot site ( was inspired by Sharon Creech who sent me a dot on Dot Day 2011. I was so inspired by seeing what one of my favorite authors made for a dot, I asked others and this gallery is available to inspire kids to be creative. If you know an author/illustrator/actor/sports personality who is not on the list, please invite them to participate. Directions for submitting are on the site. 


I have curated many Dot Day celebrations through Pinterest. You can find that board here. 

Follow the Twitter hashtag #DotDay for the latest ideas and also be sure to tag your sharing!!

Connecting with other Dotters

Shannon M. Miller, Matthew Winner, and Andy Plemmons have created a great Google Doc for help connecting with other schools on Dot Day. You can find the 2017 document here. Be sure to connect to Shannon, Matthew, and Andy because they are awesome!

Andy Plemmons @plemmonsa
Matthew Winner @matthewwinner
Shannon McClintock Miller @shannonmmiller

Dot Day Products