Picture Book 10 for 10



Picture Book 10 for 10 is hosted by Cathy Mere http://reflectandrefine.blogspot.com/  and Mandy Robek at http://www.enjoy-embracelearning.blogspot.com/.


If you’ve spent any amount of time with first graders, you probably know they can be a bit egocentric from time to time.  This is the top ten list of books I use to help my students understand that it’s actually *not* all about them and that it’s a great idea to think about others sometimes, too.

(Note: For those who read our blog regularly, this post is part of a Twitter event where a whole lot of teachers and librarians make their lists of the 10 books they can’t live without and post them on August 10. This event tends to cost me a lot of money as I see several books on others’ lists that now I can’t live without. 🙂 )

1. I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry

The giant squid in this book brags about how he’s bigger than else in the ocean. Until he’s not.


2. The Great Lollipop Caper by Dan Krall

This book is about Lollipop and Caper (there are not many books that have a caper as a character). Caper feels terrible because all of the neighborhood children love Lollipop, but only adults enjoy his “complex flavor”. Caper hatches an evil plan to be loved, which of course backfires. In the end, Lollipop helps Caper to see his value after all.


3. Celestine Drama Queen by Penny Ives

Upon hatching, Celestine is a STAR. She even wears a tiara to school. When she gets a starring role in the school play, she becomes quite full of herself…until she gets stage fright on  opening night.


4. Too Tall Houses by Gianna Marino

Owl and Rabbit live next to each other and are good friends until one day when Rabbit’s garden grows too tall and blocks Owl’s view of the forest. A competition ensues in which each of them tries to out-build the other. A sudden tragedy causes them to rethink their actions and remain friends.


5. Cheetah Can’t Lose by Bob Shea

In this hilarious story, a less than humble Cheetah competes with two little cats on the Big Race Day. Cheetah thinks there is no way he could possibly lose, but the cats have some tricks up their sleeves that Cheetah doesn’t see coming. Bob Shea’s Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great would also fit well into this top ten (eleven) list.


6. I’m the Best by Lucy Cousins

Dog wins! He’s the best! This book is super fun to read aloud and Dog doesn’t really learn his lesson at the end of the book, which gets a great discussion going in the classroom.



7. King Hugo’s Huge Ego by Chris Van Dusen

King Hugo thinks quite highly of himself. When one of his subjects, a peasant girl, doesn’t bow to him as he passes, he bumps her off the road with his coach. The girl puts a spell on him that causes the king’s head to swell each time he talks about how great he is. The illustrations in this book are hilarious and the ending is a bit surprising.


8. Rosie Sprout’s Time to Shine by Allison Wortche

Everyone in Rosie Sprout’s class thinks Violet is the best. Except Rosie.  Rosie wants a chance to shine and decides to sabotage a project Violet is working on. In the end, she has to figure out how to make it right.


9. Introducing Limelight Larry by Leigh Hodgkinson

Larry the peacock thinks he is “fantastic–the bee’s knees with a cherry on top” and he absolutely does not like it that other characters are taking up space in HIS book. When he finally does get a whole page to himself, he finds that it’s rather lonely and decides to share the last page with his friends. Well…maybe not.

10.Mustache by Mac Barnett

Mustache is the newest addition to my learning-to-be-humble collection. I’ve read it about 7 times already in the last week because it’s that good. 🙂  King Duncan (lots of kings with big egos in children’s literature!) is very handsome and he knows it.  One of his men carries a mirror at all times so Duncan can stare at his reflection. Unfortunately, his kingdom is a mess since he only pays attention to himself. What will King Duncan’s subjects have to do to get his attention? Honestly…go buy this book right now.



I attended our school’s 8th grade graduation last night and we completed the final day of school today. I love witnessing the 8th graders receive their diplomas and Bibles. I couldn’t help but smile as I watched my former 4th grade students walk across that stage. They have changed quite a bit from when they sat in my classroom, but I could still recognize some of the characteristics that made them unique back then.

The end of the school year always makes me very reflective. I wondered, as I sat at graduation, what is it about my current class that I’ll remember when they are graduating from 8th grade. Will I remember our amazing Christmas collection when God incredibly provided the exact amount of change to bring our total to $1,000? Will I remember some of the discussions we had after Friday chapels? Will I remember dancing the Dinosaur Stomp? Will I remember the many times we laughed together? Will I remember some of the beautiful prayers my students have prayed this year? Will I remember how the running joke this year was my students asking, “Did you learn that in college? Will I remember sitting outside on a beautiful fall day when we were all trying to BE STILL? Will I remember ALL of us taking turns on the new zip line? What is it about this year that I will think of at the end of the 2015-2016 school year?

I then start thinking a much more frightening thought…what will my current students remember about me, their 5th grade teacher, when they see me sitting at their 8th grade graduation? I struggle with this idea every year. When the desks and lockers are empty, when the room is quiet, when the last paper is filed back into the proper spot…did I make a difference this year? Did I listen enough? Did I encourage enough? Did I share my faith enough? Did I push them enough to be their best? Did I give them my best? Did I pray enough? Did I let the Holy Spirit guide our discussions enough?

Do I have perfect answers for these questions? No, I don’t. I will always struggle with these questions, and that is okay!

As much as I struggle with these questions every year, I also realize the value of struggling with this. I’ve officially decided that when I stop asking myself these questions, then I need to stop teaching. In truth, no matter what the profession is, there is always room for growth and improvement…teaching just offers the unique opportunity to have a fresh start every August.

The word “enough” keeps popping up in these questions. I know that I, alone, will never be enough. It truly does take a village to raise a child. Parents and teachers need to be partners in the process of education. I am constantly overwhelmed by the positive parental support I experience at Hudsonville Christian. What a blessing to be a part of this community! Parents and teachers, however, will also never be enough. It is only by the grace of God guiding us that we are able to make even the smallest impact in children. Our Heavenly Father holds each of these precious “cherubs” in His hands…He is the only one that will ever be enough!

I said good bye to 27 precious students today. It’s a bittersweet day, but I know that they are ready for the next step on their journey. We finished chapel this morning with “How Great is Our God.” What a perfect song to end a school year with. God is greater than we can even begin to imagine. God has been, currently is, and will continue working in the lives of my students. No matter how many questions I struggle with about this past year, I know that God was clearly working in my classroom. It is with that confidence that I could sing:

“How great is our God,
Sing with me
How great is our God,
And all will see
How great,

Thanks for allowing me to share some of my end of the year reflections with you. Take time to reflect, refresh, and relax this summer! Keep asking those tough questions!

Giving all praise, glory, and honor to God!

In Christ.

Final thought…we ended the day by inviting parents to attend 5th grade singing. Thought I would share a couple videos with you from a wonderful time of praise…

The Project

All of the first graders at Hudsonville Christian have been learning some BIG words this year.  Words like HUMILITY, ENCOURAGE, SELF CONTROL, GRACE, ATTITUDE, IMITATE and many more. Our devotions this year have centered around these words, Bible verses to go with them, and piles of children’s books that either demonstrate the word in a positive way or show the exact opposite of what God wants us to do.


We call our devotions God’s Big Words.  And they’re kind of a big deal.  We talk about a word for several days and not only see evidence of it in the stories we read, but in our classroom communities and out on the playground. Each word helps us to think about the characteristics of God and how we can be more like Him.


We have been working hard on a project that uses all of the big words we’ve been learning about.


First, we spent some time reviewing the words, verses, and books.  We called this the God’s Big Words Museum.  The kids teamed up to make signs with the words on one side and the verses on the other.

And then the kids wandered around the museum and spent time remembering the books we read.

Next, we spent some time cutting out miniature versions of the Bible verse posters we have up on the walls of the classroom and glued them into our God’s Big Words reflection books.  The kids drew pictures to show the meaning of each word and verse.

Finally, we read The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo.

In the beginning of the story, Edward (a china rabbit), thinks only of himself and the idea of love is completely foreign to him.  Edward, by no choice of his own, endures a long and difficult journey and becomes a completely different rabbit by the end of the story.  The story is filled with all kinds of examples of God’s Big Words and the students did such a great job of finding examples in the story of the words we’ve learned in devotions this year.

The students wrote about how Edward changed throughout the story. The final question we asked them to write about was, “How has God changed you and helped you grow in His big words this year?”  Here are some of the answers the students gave:

“I’ve learned to have grace…to give people more chances.”

“Me and my friend are not messing around anymore. I am getting better at self-control.”

“I’ve learned to imitate God this year. I’ve learned the verses, too.”

“I’ve gotten better at self-control.  When Mrs. Kiepert reads us a story, I used to talk to my friends, but now I don’t.”

“I’ve learned patience because I don’t rush through things anymore.”

“I used to not pay attention in class very well, but now I do. This is self-control!”

“I’m getting better at truth. I lied to my teacher, but then I told her the truth.”

“I’ve gotten better at all of God’s Big Words. I at first didn’t know what they meant, but now I do know what they mean so I can follow God.”


What a blessing to end the school year knowing that God has worked in these young lives and hearts!



Potato Chip Trifecta

About a month ago, we needed something a bit more creative to hold the students’ attention and spark their interest. I came across an idea on Twitter from Michelle U’Ren (@MichelleURen1). What I loved about this idea was the fact that it crossed math and language arts. My students pointed out that it covered science as well…TRIFECTA!

It was the idea of sampling potato chips, figuring out what was the class favorite, and writing a persuasive paragraph about why others should buy their favorite chips.

I really wanted my students to sample the crazy new Lay’s flavors, but couldn’t find them when I went shopping, so I decided to mix it up a bit. I went with 5 different unexpected Pringles flavors. I created a blind taste test so students would not be persuaded by the name on the can. I wrapped the cans up and numbered them.


The students took their job very seriously as they sampled each chip and wrote down their observations and different words to describe their chip sampling experience! This is where my students observed that science was also involved due to the fact that we kept variables the same by each chip being made by Pringles. They pointed out that the experiment would have been about more than just taste if there had been rippled or kettle chips involved. They said that writing down their observations felt very “sciency” as well.

Sampling each chip and writing down observations.

Gathering their 5 chips.

They loved having their plate divided into 5 sections.

We collected the results for most favorite and least favorite chips and each student made a circle graph to represent these findings. Then each student wrote a persuasive paragraph about which chip you should buy. The writing turned out great!

Taking our sampling very seriously!

The chip flavors revealed!

Creating a circle graph.


Some writing samples.

This was a very fun project that combined math, writing, and science! The class loved sampling the flavors and helping me eat the rest of the chips!

The final bonus of this whole project was that all their writing and large circle graphs that we created made a great hallway display!


Chapel: The Rest of the Story

Are you busy?

Yeah…me, too.

So busy, in fact, that when God told me that my class should plan a school chapel, I said no.

Well, I tried to say no.

It all started a few weeks ago when my class was learning about the word ENCOURAGE during our God’s Big Words devotions.  We learned 1st Thessalonians 5:11–“Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” We read books with characters that encouraged each other. We watched a video where people were ‘paying it forward’ with various kind acts.  We read a book about being bucket fillers, not bucket dippers.  We sang a song about building God’s kingdom here on earth.

And so one night I was lying in bed, trying to fall asleep, when the idea for a chapel popped into my head.  It was almost as if I could see all the pieces floating in the air and landing in just the right order.  It was kind of crazy and, as you already know, my desire to take on an all-school chapel was quite low, so I’m pretty sure God was behind this idea.

I tried to just put it out of my mind.  Maybe it would be a great idea for next year, I thought.

Sleep did not come.

Surely all the available chapel spots are taken, I thought.

Sleep did not come.

I have assessments to do! I have things to teach!  I absolutely do not have time to plan and practice a chapel, I thought.

Sleep still did not come.

Finally, I said (in my head, so as not to wake Mr. Kiepert) “Fine!  I will look into it tomorrow!”

And so, after a lovely night of sleep, I did.  Miraculously, there was one chapel spot open–Friday, May 17.  When I told the kids about it and asked if they wanted to participate, they were over the moon!  And so I got kind of excited about it, too.  We planned it all out: we would use the video we watched in class, we’d do a skit about being a bucket filler, and we’d sing our favorite songs about being the light of the world and building God’s kingdom.  We decided to have a couple of people pray and a couple of people introduce the songs and several people introduce the chapel.

I got all of our parts figured out and typed them up and put them on fancy black construction paper.  I typed up an order for the chapel and asked for help from the appropriate people.  This was going to be great!

And then we started to practice.

Oh, dear.

No one seemed to be able to focus or remember their part. They stood when they were supposed to sit and they sat when they were supposed to stand.  When the people with speaking parts had their turns, the other kids were talking and giggling and finding staples in the carpet.  And those with speaking parts mumbled their way through them or talked so fast I couldn’t understand a word they were saying. This was surely going to be a disaster.

“Friends,” I said, “God wants us to do this chapel. And I’m pretty sure He has something to say to the kids and teachers at our school.  But we’re going to have to work really hard at making our voices loud and clear, so they can understand what we’re saying.  Okay?”

“Okay,” they all said. And they nodded as if they understood.


Mumble, mumble, mumble.

Fast talking, fast talking, fast talking.


And so it went, four days of practices. And then it was Friday. I asked the kids that morning, “How many of you are a little nervous about chapel this morning?” Most hands went up (including mine, but probably for an entirely different reason).  “Just remember, ” I said, “God wants to say something through you guys today and if God wants something done, it’ll get done.  No worries. Okay?”

“Okay,” they all said.

We got ready in the gym during snack recess. My kiddos were a wiggly, unself-controlled bunch. We had a microphone problem.  Some kids would have to go to a different place to say their parts than we had rehearsed. We watched nervously as parents filed into the bleachers and classes found their way to their spots on the gym floor. One of my boys said to me, “I don’t think I can do this.”  I said a quick prayer and asked that God really would put this all together so it would make sense, because we were sinking fast.

Chapel began, and what I saw unfold was simply a miracle. My opening pray-er remembered to pause for a moment after saying, “Let’s pray.”  My class watched the video intently and stood up to say the verse just like we practiced. They sat down, but my speakers remembered to stay standing. (!) And each and every one of those kids spoke so loudly and clearly that I could hardly believe what was happening.  The skit went as planned and then the singing started. Oh, the singing!  It brought tears to my eyes to hear hundreds of kids joining together and singing about being the light of the world and building God’s kingdom. The closing speaker and pray-er came up and did their parts beautifully and then we were done.

God had intervened in an amazing way. I heard that many classes had discussions that day about encouraging others and filling each other’s buckets. We talked as a class about how God really helped us to speak the words He wanted to say to our school.

Later that day, a 2nd grade teacher told me that one of her students had said, “When everyone was singing that last song, I think the Holy Spirit was there with us.”


And to think, I almost said no.

Break a leg!

I haven’t posted in awhile. I have a good reason…really, I do!

I just finished directing my 3rd production in two months. It all started on March 14 with our school’s 8th grade play (The Princess Who Had No Name), then a week later it was my church’s Junior Choir musical (The Old Testament Fast Forward), and tonight was our 3rd-5th musical (Thwacked!). I love working with kids and drama. I love it!

There is something so rewarding about helping children learn to have the confidence to speak or act in front of a large group of people. Public speaking is a life long skill. Speaking slowly, speaking clearly, not walking away from a microphone before you are finished speaking, making sure that the last word in your sentence is just as important as the first…these are all skills I have the joy of teaching children.

I loved being on stage in high school and college, but there is something far more magical that happens while directing. Experiencing a production going from auditions all the way to the performance is something I almost can’t put into words. The pain and hurt of not being able to give every child a part to the sheer joy of the student who does get a part. The frustration when students don’t have their lines memorized to the thrill when a student finally connects with their character. The sleepless nights leading up to and during “play week” to the night of perfect sleep after the production. All of these things are part of the reward I get to experience as a director.

It’s a joy! It’s a thrill! It’s something I wish I could truly put into words more effectively, but this is the best I can do for now. I hope it shared even a little of why I do this.

The next time your child has the opportunity to audition for a play or musical, have them at least try it! Even auditioning for something is a great experience! They might get a part…they might not. But, they will have gained some confidence just by putting themselves out there and trying something new.

I now get to experience that night of perfect sleep after the production (or after 3 productions)!

Break a leg!




I cried during our classroom devotions last week.  It happens at least once a year…my eyes tear up, my face gets red, my nose starts running, and my students look at me like I am absolutely nuts.

We’ve been learning about humility during our devotions by reading lots of children’s books with characters who are trying to be “the great somebody”.

Here’s the verse from The Message:

Get along with each other. Don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.Romans 12:16

The book that caused the tears to flow was Sidney & Norman: A Tale of Two Pigs, written by VeggieTales creator, Phil Vischer.  I know what you’re thinking…she’s crying about pigs?  Indeed.  Here’s a brief synopsis of the story:

Sidney and Norman are neighbors.  Norman has it all together. He’s neat, clean, organized, and always on time.  He thinks he’s a pretty good pig.  He’s a little puffed-up and prideful. In fact, he looks down on his neighbor Sidney, who is a hot mess–hair messed up, toothpaste on his tie, never on time for anything. Mid-story, both pigs get an invitation in the mail to meet with God.  On Tuesday.  On Elm Street.  He has something important to tell them.

Tuesday arrives and Norman is feeling pretty confident about meeting with God.  After all, he’s a good pig.  He can’t wait to hear God’s loving words and praises for his neat and organized life.  God does begin the conversation by saying that he loves Norman, but not because he is a good pig.  God also tells Norman not to look down on those who are not as put-together as he is…after all, God loves them just as much as he loves Norman. At first Norman is upset, but as the story goes on, he begins to see the error of his ways.

Sidney, on the other hand, is not so excited to meet with God.  He just knows God is going to be upset with him about his messes and mistakes.  He feels like he’s heading down a long hallway to the principal’s office.  Doomed.  When Sidney finally arrives, God has three things to tell him–and this is the part where I cried:

“First of all…I love you.  Secondly…I love you.  And thirdly……..I love you. That is what I wanted to tell you.”

Isn’t that just the truth??  We may feel pretty good about having it all together, but our days our filled with messes and mistakes and pride.  Thankfully we have this amazing God who loves us over and over again, despite all of that.  And once again, I am thankful for this job, where I get to share that joy-filled message with 6 and 7-year olds through tear-filled eyes.


Writing: Colors

Earlier this school year, we had some fun looking at books with patterns that moved through a series of colors or focused on just one color.  After exploring what other authors had done, we gave it a try, too.

This chart in our classroom was very helpful when it came to spelling color words:

We used this book, which is all about one color, for inspiration:

Green is a very simple book, each page telling about something that is green.  It also has some pretty amazing cut-out art that works two different ways.  If you have not seen this book, please check it out!

One of my students was inspired to create Red after looking at this book.


I love red because it is my favorite fruit-apple.
I love red because it is the color of a stop sign.

I love red because it is the color of a sunset.
I love red because it is the color of a book.

We also took a look at this book, which tells of a girl whose brother only likes blue.  She tells her brother all the colors she likes and why she likes them.

This book inspired Colors.


I love red because it’s a color of red roses.

I love green because it’s the color of green grass.

I love yellow because it’s a color of a yellow sun.

I love pink because it’s a color of a different flower.

The end

That is just a small sampling of the many color books these mentor texts inspired.  Thanks for checking them out!




Creative perspectives

When I started teaching, I tried to write down all the funny things kids said during a day. I tried to write down who said it and in what context it was said. I stopped doing that after awhile because I simply didn’t have the time to write all that down at the end of the day anymore. I wish I had kept up on it because kids say some really funny stuff!

I wanted to share with you one of those funny moments from today. We were learning about triangles in math. I was trying to prove to the class that the three angles in any triangle will add up to 180 degrees. I cut out a triangle and colored the three corners red so they would be able to see it more easily. I tore the three corners off…it looked like this:

I slid the three corners together under the document camera and asked, “What did the three corners make?” (I was of course looking for the answer of a straight angle which equals 180 degrees)

One of my very creative thinkers raised his hand and said, “THE CANADIAN MAPLE LEAF!”

Yup! It sure does! Needless to say…we had a great laugh over this. And I was once again reminded…kids have a unique perspective on things and say some pretty funny stuff!

Writing: Pattern Books

One of the first text structures I introduced to my first graders this year was the repeating pattern structure.  They are already quite familiar with patterns in text since many of the books they know how to read have a pattern in them.  We read several pattern books as a class, some more complex than others, and then tried to envision what our own pattern books would look like.  Here are some examples from my students:

This book is called Salamanders by a little guy in my class.  We have read several books that have wrap-around covers, so he decided to make his cover illustration take up both the front and back covers.

Salamanders are slimy.

Salamanders are small.

Salamanders are different colors.


The Moonlight was written by a student in my class who wants to be an author when he grows up.  🙂

In the moonlight werewolves come out.

In the moonlight owls wake up.

In the moonlight fox goes to sleep.


Finally, here is an example of a more complex pattern book…more words added to each page and an ending that changes the pattern just a bit.

My Family Book

My family goes out for ice cream.

My family goes to the bowling alley.

My family likes to go apple picking.

My family likes to play board games.

My family likes me.

The end


Thanks for checking out our pattern books!  Next up: books that move through a series of colors.

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