Reading Resource: Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library

Reading to a child regularly is known to improve his or her kindergarten readiness by increasing vocabulary, comprehension and a host of other skills. On top of that, reading to little ones supports their social and emotional development.

An at-home library, however small or large, is one way to encourage a love of reading at an early age. But, developing an at-home library can be difficult, especially for parents simply trying to put food on the table and provide basic care. 

I encourage parents to check out Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. The program delivers a free book once a month directly to your child. Children love getting mail that’s just for them, and this mail is a gift that can last a lifetime.

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Untold Stories

Untold Stories
by Laura Koennecke
10924747_10203407812172599_3398855842908337277_nWhen I was eleven, we lost my brother Kurt and almost every material thing in a house fire. It was a terrible time for my family that was softened by the kindness and generosity of the people who came together to help us. It was an overwhelming and foggy time, to say the least, but there are a few memories that stick out.

There was all the food being delivered daily. That was the year we had lasagna for Thanksgiving. There was Christmas at my aunt and uncle’s and the special gifts they picked out for us – including the stuffed bear for Sheryl that needed an x-ray at my uncle’s vet office for some reason.

And there were the socks. A boy from my bus route, a year or two older than me, showed up at my Grandpa’s doorway with a huge department store bag filled with socks. Brand new, never-been-worn socks in all sizes and colors. To this day, the thoughtfulness of this gift stays with me.

A few years later, this same boy’s father ended his own life. I cried for him, and I wanted to somehow return the kindness that he had shown my family. So I baked him some chocolate chip cookies. I put them on a plate, wrapped them in aluminum foil and set them on the table in the front hall. All that was left was for me to knock on his door and hand them to him.

They sat on that table for at least a week. I’m not sure what even happened to them. But I know I didn’t bring them to him. I didn’t know how to face that much pain, and I didn’t know if he wanted anyone to know what had happened.

I don’t know what led up to his father’s decision, but I do know that people didn’t talk about mental health much thirty years ago, at least not in front of kids. Thankfully that is changing, but there is still a dearth of information about it.

So why talk about this on a children’s literature site? Because books are powerful. Because they have the power to help heal, to start a dialogue, to let a child know that he or she is not alone, to provide an escape.

Because teachers and librarians can include books that deal with mental health on their shelves.

If you look for books addressing issues such as depression, suicide and addiction, there are plenty for teens. The School Library Journal has an excellent article by Erin E. Moulton about bibliotherapy and an extensive list of books by subject area. 

But according to the Educational Research Newsletter, “School personnel need to be aware that many learning disabled children appear to experience depression during the elementary years.” 

Obviously, this is important for parents to know too.

So where are the books for younger kids? That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m curious. And I’m not talking about “how to” books; I’m talking about books with nuanced characters that young readers and listeners can relate to.

And, are we as parents, teachers and counselors misreading the signs of mental health issues? According to the Journal of Learning Disabilities, “The presence of depression in school-age children may not be adequately recognized by teachers. Teachers may be misdiagnosing depressed children as having a specific learning problem.” 

Saying that teachers are misdiagnosing is a bit misleading as they aren’t doctors, but they are often the first people to see signs that a child is struggling.

The Educational Research Newsletter also notes that “Researchers do not agree on which is the primary condition; does being learning disabled lead to depression or are learning problems a symptom of depression?”  

There is so much to learn and so much more research that will be done, but ultimately we need to be aware that mental illness can affect anyone, even young children – either as someone suffering from it personally or someone trying to understand what a parent or sibling is experiencing.

So where do we go from here? I guess we keep talking about it, sharing our stories and reading about it. We talk to our children’s doctors. And we stop being afraid to knock on the door and deliver the cookies.

Do you know of a children’s book that addresses mental illness? Let us know in the comments.

About Laura Koennecke
Laura Koennecke has been writing and editing for about 15 years. She first started contributing to Aunt Sheryl’s Book Nook in November of 2015 with her essay titled, Another Christmas Story. One of her biggest joys is reading to her kids.

FTC Required Disclosure: This blog features Amazon Associate links, including linked images. Purchases made through these affiliate links will result in a my receiving a small commission. This applies to all products purchased at Amazon through the link, regardless of whether or not I’ve mentioned the product on this blog.

Take Your Child to the Library Day


Saturday, February 6th is Take Your Child to the Library Day, which encourages families to take their children to the library with a day of celebration and fun activities. Check with your local library to see if they are participating.

What if my library isn’t participating?
You can still make a fun day out of going to the library. Many libraries have regular storytelling times for kids. And once you’re home with your pickings for the day, you can encourage your kids to write or draw their own stories or act out the scenes in their favorite book.

What is the point when all my kid wants to do is play online?
Finding alternatives to screen time is more important than ever these days. Why not share some of your favorite stories and let a librarian help your kids find books that will be of interest to them? Make it a special trip by topping it off with a stop at the ice cream shop or another point of interest that’s near and dear to your little one.

I’m interested, but I just don’t have time to get to the library this month.
Take a look at this Take Your Child to the Library Day program guide for librarians. See if you can modify some of these activities for fun at home. Even setting things up for your kids for play where they act out going to the pretend library reinforces the value of reading and familiarity with this special resource.

Do you have a regular habit of taking your kids to the library? If so, what drives you to make it a part of your lives? If not, what’s holding you back? Let me know in the comments section.

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Review: Tree of Wonder: The Many Marvelous Lives of a Rainforest Tree

Tree of Wonder: The Many Marvelous Lives of a Rainforest Tree
by Kate Messner
Illustrated by Simona Mulazzani
Published by Chronicle Books (August 11, 2015)
Age 5-8

My Rating: 4 Stars

I recently started listening to a podcast called Let’s Get Busy, hosted by Matthew Winner, a school librarian who interviews kid lit authors and illustrators. Today, I decided to listen to the interview with Kate Messner about her most recent book, Tree of Wonder: The Many Marvelous Lives of a Rainforest TreeShe describes being on a research trip in Costa Rica where the idea for the book first sprouted. Her passion for life-long learning and wonder shine through in the interview, which made picking up a copy of her book a no-brainer for me.

Tree of Wonder: The Many Marvelous Lives of a Rainforest Tree showcases the extraordinary ecosystem of the rainforest by examining the life supported by a single almendro tree. Through non-fiction descriptions of rainforest animals, picture book storytelling and math concepts, the book reveals the interconnectedness of species.

Colorful illustrations by Simona Mulazzani depict the complex life that surrounds and intertwines the tree. Each spread features a factual description of a rainforest creature that depends on the almendro tree, plus a short fictional-style description of the action taking place in the illustration. The most unique feature of the book is the visual representation of the number of animals that doubles each time you turn the page. You see 1 almendro tree housing 2 macaws, 4 toucans, 8 howler monkeys and so on, until the end when there are tiny dots of 1,204 leafcutter ants.

There’s a lot of learning that can happen from a book like Tree of Wonder: The Many Marvelous Lives of a Rainforest Tree. It’s a fascinating introduction to ecology, biology and multiplication. The combined styles of writing and the variety of concepts that it covers make it a great choice for classroom libraries. Plus, after the story is told, there are math exercises and resources for getting involved with maintaining the rainforests.

What’s your favorite non-fiction picture book? Let me know in the comments section below.

FTC Required Disclosure: This blog features Amazon Associate links, including linked images. Purchases made through these affiliate links will result in a my receiving a small commission. This applies to all products purchased at Amazon through the link, regardless of whether or not I’ve mentioned the product on this blog. All reviews are my own opinion. I am not paid in any other form to write reviews.

Research Roundup: Storytelling, Vocabulary and the Developing Brain

Research Roundup is a new series where I’ll be highlighting and offering links to recently published research and articles on the hot topics of reading, literacy, education and child development.

Link: “Two-Year-Olds with Larger Oral Vocabularies Enter Kindergarten Better Prepared
This article, posted on, provides an overview of an analysis published in the journal Child Development, which looked at the link between vocabulary at age 2 and academic and behavioral functioning at the start of kindergarten.

Link: Home Reading Environment and Brain Activation in Preschool Children Listening to Stories
Published in the journal Pediatrics, the research looks at the effect of exposure to reading at home on activation of the brain area associated with narrative comprehension and mental imagery.

Link: Storytelling Skills Support Early Literacy for African American Children
Research from the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that the oral storytelling skills of African-American preschoolers were a predictor of emergent literacy in kindergarten.

Pre-reading skills, such as oral vocabulary and visualization, play a crucial role in subsequent cognitive development, academic success and life outcomes. The more we understand about specific learning mechanisms, the better we will be at helping little ones reach their full potential.

Do you have something to say about the studies above or about other research on child development? Leave a comment in the section below.

A Little Support for Teachers and Students Goes a Long Way

Educating kids takes a lot of resources, and the mind-boggling truth about classroom education is that teachers and students don’t always get the resources they need. Innovative teaching sometimes requires funding that doesn’t come from the school district through our tax dollars. Children from less-advantaged homes often struggle to bring in basic supplies needed for instruction. This is where creative funding solutions can make a big and direct impact. Here are a few ways teachers can get what they need to teach their students.
Teacher’s looking to fund their classroom projects and regular folks who want to help their local schools or help fund a particular educational goal should check out It is a simple way to give back in amounts as small as $1, and it’s a great way for teachers to enhance classroom learning.

CHS/National Agriculture in the Classroom Grant
The other day I was reading the Cornell Small Farms Program e-mail newsletter and came across a $1,500 grant opportunity for teachers with plans for classroom projects that “use agricultural concepts to teach reading, writing, math, nutrition, science and/or social studies.” The deadline for proposals is September 15, 2015. Click here for more information. Additional resources for teachers can be found at the National Agriculture in the Classroom website.

Other Grants
For examples of the many grants available to teachers and schools, check out this short list at

New to Grant Proposal Writing?
If you’ve never written a grant proposal before, here are a few resources that may help:

Grant Writing for Teachers and Administrators

Granted!: A Teacher’s Guide to Writing & Winning Classroom Grants

The Insider’s Guide to Winning Education Grants

FTC Required Disclosure: This blog features Amazon Associate links, including linked images. Purchases made through these affiliate links will result in a my receiving a small commission. This applies to all products purchased at Amazon through the link, regardless of whether or not I’ve mentioned the product on this blog. All reviews are my own opinion. I am not paid in any other form to write reviews. The commission that I make through Amazon helps me maintain this blog without other types of advertising. 

How are the Kids?

“How are the kids?” A nice conversational question. But, let’s be serious for a second. How are the nation’s kids doing?

Each year, The Annie E. Casey Foundation publishes a report called the KIDS COUNT Data Book. The publication uses 16 indicators in 4 categories (economic well-being, education, health and family and community) to assess the overall well-being of our nation’s children. It also ranks the states to provide insight into where improvements are needed.

As you might imagine, this year’s report focuses on the economic recovery and the lingering effects of the recession.

The child poverty rate has remained stubbornly high. At 22 percent in 2013, it was still several percentage points higher than before the recession.

— The Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2015). KIDS COUNT Data Book. Baltimore, MD. Retrieved from

Sometimes statistics can make your eyes glaze over. But, when you stop and understand that this means nearly a quarter of our nation’s children live in disadvantaged conditions – it is alarming. The report offers some hope – that the statistics regarding job creation and the economic recovery have improved since the latest available data for the 2015 KIDS COUNT Data Book. That’s encouraging, and I look forward to seeing the child well-being data as it comes out over the next 2 years. However, just waiting around for the economic recovery is not really an answer. Even with a full economic recovery, poverty and inequality will still exist, unless we take action.

We must renew our commitment to one of our nation’s primary values: Individuals who are willing to work hard should be able to provide for their families. We don’t need to accept the current proliferation of low-quality jobs as inevitable.

— The Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2015). KIDS COUNT Data Book.

It seems like common sense that poverty and inequality play a major role in outcomes for children.

Children raised in low-income families have less access than their higher-income peers to enriching early experiences, such as high-quality preschool, books and a rich language environment at home.

— The Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2015). KIDS COUNT Data Book.

Yet, too often poverty and inequality feel overlooked in discussions about education. We talk a lot about teachers, tests and school budgets. These are all important pieces to the puzzle, but the puzzle cannot be completed without talking about economic inequality. Is it that we simply can’t imagine fixing the economic inequalities that exist today? Is it easier to blame low-income parents for not providing a rich home environment than it is to help them tackle the extra burdens they face every day?

The best way to facilitate optimal outcomes for today’s children is to address their needs, while providing tools and assistance to their parents.

— The Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2015). KIDS COUNT Data Book.

There are a lot of great teachers out there doing what they can with the resources they have. And, there are educational innovators trying to change things for the better. But, what can we – mere citizens – do to improve the outlook for our nation’s children?

Here are a handful of ways you can make a difference:

1. Write to your legislator
Your ideas do matter. All it takes is one great idea voiced to someone in power. Yes, the letters we send to our politicians are read. Plus, more people speaking up about inequality, education and child well-being improves the chance that the politically powerful will pay attention.

2. Volunteer
There are many opportunities to volunteer at the local level – in schools and libraries and with local charities that address specific needs in your community. Are you great at math? You could become a tutor. Interested in improving your city’s literacy rates? There’s probably a group you can join that’s working on it, and they likely have a website.

3. Start a non-profit
Is no one in your town working on the issue that’s important to you? Start your own group. Here is a link to a helpful blog post at the U.S. Small Business Administration titled How to Start a Non-Profit Organization.

4. Stay involved with your kids and encourage them to help others
The first 3 ideas probably seem like they require a large time commitment, and in the case of starting your own non-profit, that’s very true. The easiest thing we could do, however, is to look at how we treat each other. Are we sending the message to our kids to help others when they are in need? If your child came home and talked to you about a classmate who was struggling at school or at home, would you largely ignore it or would you help your child find a way to help their classmate?

In what ways do you help improve the lives of our nation’s children? Teachers and parents – what is the most helpful thing an individual could do to help you make improvements in the lives of the children you care for? Let’s talk about it in the comments section.