Sunday, January 3, 2021

2020 Lemon Drop Literary Book Awards


I’ve taken all the Independently Published books I’ve reviewed from 2020 and awarded one a Certificate Of Excellence In Literature for its educational value.

When I review a children’s picture book, I strive to keep students, teachers and the rigors of lesson planning in mind.

A few of the questions I ask are: How will this book translate into the classroom? How will it help teachers meet their lesson plan objectives? Is it engaging and fun? Did I enjoy reading it and most importantly do I want to read it again?

Congratulations, Ansaba Gavor! In my humble opinion, Children Are Like Cupcakes, has met all the criteria to earn a place on my virtual classroom bookshelf!

This year I'd also like to recognize two authors who've created two wonderful educational learning series that also belong on my virtual classroom and home bookshelves.

Amelia Griggs' The Bella And Mia Adventure Series and its companion workbooks Bella And Friends Learning Series. Each book is adorable on its own; combined they're a complete set of learning fun with an extra scoop of sweetness!

Robin Woods Prompt Me Series. I've been using her Prompt Me Novel for my own story development and my characters are coming to life more than ever before!

Thank you, ladies, for all you do to help children and aspiring writers achieve their full learning potential. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

December Holiday Book Recommendations


                                      Photo by Keith Hardin from Pixabay


It’s the holiday season once more and you know what that means—holiday reading fun! December is all about family, miracles, and giving those you love presents.

Books make marvelous gifts that you can open again and again. To quote Cousin Eddie from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, “Clark, that’s the gift that keeps on givin’ the whole year.”

As a Pre-K/Kindergarten teacher and a mom, I’ve spent the past 28 years reading books to children. I’ve also given my fair share as a gift too. Along the way, I’ve discovered several special stories that I’d like to share with you.

I’ll list each holiday in sequential order (Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa).

                                       Photo by Evgeni Tcherkasski from Pixabay

Hanukkah 2020 begins Thursday, December 10 and ends Friday, December 18.

The Great Latke Cookoff By Lauren Muskovitz Ranalli

Chanukah Bugs By David A. Carter

Latkes, Latkes Good to Eat By Naomi Howland

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins By Eric Kimmel

                                        Photo by 6979608 from Pixabay

Christmas 2020 falls on Friday, December 25.

Snowflakes With Sugar By Amelia Griggs

Gingerbread Baby By Jan Brett

Gingerbread Friends By Jan Brett

The Polar Express By Chris Van Allsburg

Kwanzaa 2020 begins Saturday, December 26 and ends Friday, January 1, 2021.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Kwanzaa! By Rex Perry

My First Kwanzaa By Karen Katz

Together For Kwanzaa By Juwanda G. Ford and Shelly Hehenberger

Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story By Angela Shelf Medearis

I’ve also written a FREE downloadable December Alphabet Scrapbook that includes all three holidays. If you’re feeling inspired, you and your kiddos can even make your own with the second version. 

Happy Holidays and Happy Reading! 😊

Sunday, December 6, 2020

The Little Green Jacket Book Review


                                                       Available on Amazon

Author: Jodi Dee

Illustrator and co-illustrator: Jodi Dee and Steve Goad

Publisher: Jodi Dee

Released: April 22, 2020

Format: Kindle, hardcover

ISBN: 9780998527743

Reviewer: Ellwyn Autumn

Rating: 4 Lemon Drops



The Little Green Jacket tracks the journey of one little jacket as it travels from one youngster to another through donations, hand-me-downs, and secondhand stores.

Its tale begins on Christmas day when a boy named Mike receives it as a gift. The Little Green Jacket and Mike have fun together until Mike outgrows the coat and his family donates it to a youth group.

The next child to wear the jacket is Diego, followed by Vanessa and her younger brother Austin. Austin gives The Little Green Jacket to Planet Aid, after hearing about a disastrous storm on the other side of the world. Planet Aid delivers the jacket; a woman finds it and gives it to her daughter.


The Little Green Jacket introduces kids to the timeless messages of sharing and recycling. Not only did giving to others keep The Little Green Jacket from a landfill, but it also showed the benefits of giving to those in need.

Together with the black and white illustrations, I appreciated the vivid green color of the jacket. Throughout the entire story, the jacket pops off the page. Not only does this emphasize the jacket’s importance; it encourages young pre-readers to focus their attention on a distinct spot on the page.

This is a great way to help children distinguish pictures from print and reinforces that both elements tell the story. Good readers use pictures and print to help them think about what is happening in a story.

There is also a Seek and Find of the recycling symbol for children to locate throughout the book that strengthens this skill as well.

Another feature I appreciated was The Little Green Jacket’s inner dialogue. Written in matching green ink, the jacket’s reflections carry the story along and remind us who the tale is mostly about. While there are many characters in the story, The Little Green Jacket is the principal character.

There is also a multi-cultural theme incorporated into the story. From white, to brown, to black, The Little Green Jacket hugs and warms various children, reminding us that love is universal. Through the ‘eyes’ of the jacket, we hear other languages and travel from a rural farm in the United States to a storm ravaged community on the other side of the world.

Another marvelous thing about this book and its altruistic author is that 10% of net profits of each book sold will be donated to Planet Aid. Ms. Dee truly practices what she preaches.

I give it 4 Lemon Drops!

Classroom Connection:

Vocabulary: precision, journey, afar, patiently, sulked, garments, textiles, recycled, thrift store, organize, embrace, universal

Spanish words: mira, gracias, de nada, papi, abuela, manana, de arte,

The Little Green Jacket is a superb story to use when introducing the concepts of recycling and donations. After a read aloud of the book, children can help organize a coat drive for the school.

They can put their writing skills to use by designing posters and sending letters to people in the community asking for donations.

It goes without saying the book belongs in a classroom library as well as a creative writing lesson. The last line in the book has an excellent prompt to get students’ creative juices flowing, “What is your jacket’s story?”

Thursday, November 19, 2020

20 Holiday Activities For 2020

The 2020 holiday season is upon us. Unlike other years, most of us will celebrate these occasions though Zoom or exclusively with members of our own household.

We may cancel typical holiday outings this year, but that doesn’t mean the fun has to end too. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we need to respect each other. One of the best ways to manage that is to learn the traditions of other holidays.

No matter which holiday your family celebrates, they all have one quality in common—love of friends and family. Whether exchanging gifts or preparing a feast, it all comes down to spending time with our loved ones.

I’ve dug through my teaching files and scoured the internet to help make this holiday period a multi-cultural one for you and your little ones.

                                           Image by Nietjuh from Pixabay

Here’s a list of easy-to-do activities I’ve put together:

1. Holiday Seek & Find

Add a twist to your tree trimming this year! Hide your child friendly ornaments and send your kiddos on a hunt to locate them. The one who discovers the most ornaments gets to place the first ornament on the tree.

2. Drive By Christmas Lights

Okay, I recognize the title says At-Home activities, but this one requires you to leave your house. Pile into your car and cruise around the neighborhood to admire all the lovely Christmas lights. Here’s a checklist to use during your tour.

3. Gingerbread House Contest

Buy a few Gingerbread House kits or get creative like these gingerbread connoisseurs, then have a friendly competition. The winner earns bragging rights until the next contest.

                                                    Image by RitaE from Pixabay

4. Holiday Baking & Snacks

Bake Cookies

There are countless recipes online. Here’s a link to a few.

Make Who Pudding and other Grinch-themed food

Drink hot chocolate with marshmallows or whipped cream

Make Sufganiyots (A round jelly donut eaten by Jewish families during Hanukkah.)

And Latkes (A potato pancake also eaten during Hanukkah.)

Here’s a link for Kwanzaa recipes.

5. Homemade Holiday Ornaments & Decorations

There are so many options for this one. You can order through Oriental Trading Company or Michael’s, use paper and glue, or make a salt dough.

Here’s a few suggestions:

Handprint Menorahs (The link has other Hanukkah crafts.)

Handprint Kinaras (The link has other Kwanzaa crafts.)

Handprint Reindeer (The link has other Christmas crafts.)

6. Write a Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa Story Together

As a teacher and writer, I’m partial to this one.

Here’s a few story starter ideas:

Describe the picture on a Christmas card

Pretend to interview Santa Claus (I did this one, and it was a lot of fun.)

All I want for Christmas is…

On the first day of Hanukkah…

My favorite Hanukkah tradition is…

On the first day of Kwanzaa…  

What Unity means to me.

                                                Image by Judith Crowell from Pixabay

7. Write A Letter To Santa

8. Write Christmas Cards

9. Make a December Alphabet Scrapbook

10. Rudolph Hide and Seek

You can play this with any stuffed animal or toy. Hide the toy while your child closes their eyes, then have them find it.

11. Watch Christmas movies

12. Read Holiday books

Here’s a list of a few of my favorites:

Snowflakes With Sugar By Amelia Griggs

Gingerbread Baby By Jan Brett

The Great Latke Cookoff By Lauren Ranalli

Hanukkah Bugs By David A. Carter

My First Kwanzaa By Karen Katz

13. Sing Christmas Songs

14. Turn Old Christmas Cards Or Gift Boxes Into Puzzles

Cut them into pieces and put them back together.

15. Have a Christmas Song Competition Or Christmas Karaoke

16. Sort Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa colors

                                     Image by Brandi Day from Pixabay

17. Have A Holiday Parade

Put on your merriest holiday attire, pump up the Christmas music, and march around your house. You can even pull stuffed animals along in wagons/carriages and pretend their floats.

18. Celebrate St. Nicholas Day

19. Play the Dreidel Game

20. Learn how families celebrate Christmas in other countries

In Syria they celebrate The Littlest Camel

In Sweden they celebrate St. Lucia Day

Spain and Latin America countries celebrate

Three King’s Day

For even more ideas please visit:

Do you have a holiday tradition you’d like to share?




Monday, October 26, 2020

4 Free Library Books About Elections


After months of waiting, my neighborhood library reopened, and I could borrow books again. Yahoo!!! I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating, it's one of the finest places on earth. This time I found books on elections.

With the 2020 Presidential election upon us, I thought it imperative to read and review picture books on the topic.

I've done a series of mini-reviews to aid you in quickly finding quality books to read to your children.

1. Vote For Our Future

Author: Margaret McNamara

Illustrator: Micah Player

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade Books (Division of Penguin Random House)

ISBN: 978-1-984892505

Rating: 5 Lemon Drops

Book Summary:

Elections may by for grown-ups, but when Stanton Elementary School transforms into a polling place, the students become a vital part of the election process.

In no uncertain terms, these civic minded kids prove that despite being unable to vote, there are other ways they can get involved. After reading voter guides and researching election history, the students help spread the word about the upcoming election and why it’s so important to vote.

They help their adult family members make plans to vote and encourage their neighbors to take advantage of this opportunity to make changes.

One of my favorite quotes from the book is, “I don’t like lines either,” answered Nadiya’s auntie, “but if we stand in line for coffee, or for a movie, or at a bank…”

The perfect rebuttal for anyone who doesn’t like standing in lines to vote (provided the polling station’s waiting times are reasonable).


A marvelous tribute to children and future voters of America!

I enjoyed everything about this book! Let’s start with the title, Vote For Our Future. As parents and teachers, we all want to make the world a better place for our kiddos’ future. This book reminds us that voting is one way to achieve this goal.

The cover sends a positive message to children and adults. From the hopeful expressions on the characters’ faces to the camaraderie as they march in civic-minded unison. Talk about a grassroots movement, these children are motivated, educated, and dedicated to their cause.

The illustrations are adorable and capture the excitement for learning students feel when given the freedom to pursue their interests. As soon as you crack the cover, a collage of colorful voting stickers, with voting puns and positive phrases, catches your eye. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants their children to learn about elections and how vital they are to our democracy.

2. Duck For President

Author: Doreen Cronin

Illustrator: Betsy Lewin

Publisher: Anthem Books For Young Readers (an imprint of Simon & Schuster’s Children’s Publishing Division)

ISBN: 978-0-689863776

Rating: 5 Lemon Drops

Book Summary:

It’s election season on the farm and Duck is the lead contender against the incumbent farmer, Farmer Brown. Upon winning the popular vote, Duck takes over as farmer and soon learns that running a farm is hard work. Overworked and unsatisfied, he searches for jobs in loftier places.

He becomes Governor and shortly after, accomplishes what no other duck has done before—he is elected President of the United States. Through all of this, Duck learns one important fact, no matter what your profession, you can’t escape hard work. In the end, Duck reconnects with his roots. He returns to the farm and begins writing his autobiography.


Duck For President is one of my all time favorite picture books. Whenever I taught about elections or President’s Day, I always included this book in my lesson plans. Lewin’s watercolors encapsulate the hilarity of Cronin’s text. Children and adults will chuckle their way through the pages all the while learning a little about the electoral process.

3. Amelia Bedelia’sFirst Vote

Author: Herman Parish

Illustrator: Lynne Avril

Publisher: Greenwillow Books (An Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers)

ISBN: 978-0-06209405

Rating: 4 Lemon Drops

Book Summary:

It’s election day at Amelia Bedelia’s school! Through a series of unlucky coincidences, Amelia helps her school pass new rules the students vote on. 


As with all of Amelia’s zany misadventures, she comes out on top. We can find a lot of great lessons between the pages of this charming book. I appreciated how effortlessly Parish wrote key vocabulary into the story (election related words like runoff, absentee ballot, swing vote, as well as words and phrases with double meanings like tie, hug the wall, and sleep on it).

4. Lambslide

Author: Ann Patchett

Illustrator: Robin Preiss Glasser

Publisher: Harper Collins Children’s Books

ISBN: 978-0-062883384

Rating: 4 Lemon Drops

Book Summary:

After misinterpreting lambslide for landslide, a flock of lambs campaign to have a giant slide built on the farm where they live.


A super cute story! I loved the play on words and the introduction to the democratic process. I also enjoyed how the characters cooperated to achieve their goal.

Glassers’ sweet illustrations perfectly capture the characters’ emotions.

What books are you and your children reading about the upcoming elections?


Thursday, October 8, 2020

I'm A Messterpiece Book Review


Author: Lauren Eresman

Illustrator: Asya Kaznacheeva

Publisher: Sweet B Press

Released: October 2, 2020

Format: Kindle, Paperback 

ISBN: 9781999199647

Reviewer: Ellwyn Autumn

Rating: 5 Lemon Drops

I’m A Messterpiece follows the ups and downs of one little girl as she works through a difficult week.


The story opens with the principal character writing in her diary as she asks the reader, “Have you ever had a really tough week?”

What a fantastic story opener! It’s also a brilliant question to engage children from the get-go, and it’s something we can all relate to. Who hasn’t had a bad day or a terrible week?

The principal character then takes us on a journey with her, where she recounts her triumphs and failures each day. From self-portraits to soccer games, our heroine learns a vital life lesson—how to persevere through her mistakes.

During each struggle, a grown-up redirects her negative self-talk by pointing out the positives of the experience. One of my favorite quotes is from the art teacher, Mr. Wilross, “Art isn’t about perfection. It’s about being brave enough to be creative and express yourself.”

I appreciated how Eresman worked journaling and the days of the week into the narrative. The story begins with the principal character reflecting about her week and writing about it in her diary.

This models mindful thinking and shows children how to process things on their own. Yes, the adults helped the little girl find the silver lining in each struggle, but taking the time to record your thoughts and feelings about events has intrinsic value.  

Kaznacheeva’s illustrations are lively and cute. They hold an undeniable charm that will delight readers. It’s obvious she persevered and listened to her art teacher when she was younger.  

I give it 5 Lemon Drops!

Classroom Connection:

I’m A Messterpiece is an excellent source for an All About Me theme or a lesson on positive self-esteem. It would make a fine addition to a classroom library or the book bin of a student who needs a little encouragement.

After a read aloud of the book, children can decorate their own diary and write or draw in it every morning upon arrival to school. Every so often, students should go back and reexamine their entries. This simple exercise will honor their feelings and show them how much they’ve grown.


About The Author:

Lauren Eresman is one of those crazy over-committed moms that rarely says "NO."

Following a journey to find herself and build boundaries, she recently fulfilled a lifelong dream of becoming a children's book author.

Her desire to encourage young girls to feel empowered in their own skin has ignited a fire.

Lauren is passionate about telling stories that encourage girls to shatter the glass slippers, choose their own footwear, AND pick the path their feet will take. Making mistakes, being imperfect, or stumbling while they chase their dream is perfectly fine too.

Giving up is the only thing that's not allowed.

You can find Lauren online at

Lauren's Books:
The Cherry on Top (2019)
The Treehouse Trio (2020)



Friday, September 25, 2020

The Dirt Girl Book Review


Author: Jodi Dee

Illustrator: Jodi Dee and Ed Espitia

Publisher: Jodi Dee

Released: February 14, 2019

Format: Kindle, paperback, hard cover

ISBN: 9780998527703

Reviewer: Ellwyn Autumn

Rating: 3 1/2 Lemon Drops


The Dirt Girl introduces us to a flower child named Zafera. Zafera has a profound attachment to nature. This connection suffuses Zafera’s everyday life, from the flowers and twigs that adorn her hair, to the homemade wicker basket where she keeps her school lunch along with a few ladybugs and butterflies.

The story follows Zafera as she navigates through her first school experience. Initially, the other children scorn Zafera’s bohemian garb. For weeks, they tease and exclude her. At first, Zafera is confused and saddened by this treatment, but quickly learns to accept it and smile through it.

Despite the repeated snubs, Zafera invites her classmates to her birthday party and introduces them to a nature-based lifestyle. The children are thunderstruck with her Hobbit-like house and the vivid beauty that flourishes in and around her home. It’s no surprise that once they understand Zafera and her way of life, they come to accept and emulate her.

I appreciated the book’s positive messages of self-love and environmental awareness. Zafera remained true to herself and her naturalistic ideals.

In an age of digital saturation and civil turmoil, children need exposure to stories that honor diversity and our relationship to the earth.

The illustrations are bright, colorful, and visually invite the reader to explore Zafera’s extraordinary world.

I liked the story, but I must address a few things that confused me. First, I was unable to discern Zafera’s age range. At the beginning of the story, I thought she was in Kindergarten or First Grade, but the dress styles and body language of the other characters suggest they’re older—more like middle-school age.

The fact that Zafera easily brushed off her schoolmates’ mistreatment seems impractical. Ostracization from peers takes a toll on children’s self-esteem. It affects them socially and emotionally.

I also wondered where the adults were during all of this. There’s little to no representation of adults in the text. We don’t even see them as a background character in an illustration. The only time grown-ups appear is after the story’s resolution. Where was Zafera’s mother or father when she started her first day of school or during the birthday party at Zafera’s house?  

A conversation with a grown-up addressing Zafera’s problem would have rounded out the story better. The birthday party idea could have resulted from this discussion.

I give it 3 1/2 Lemon Drops! 


Classroom Connection:

The Dirt Girl would work in conjunction with other stories that address accepting differences and the environment.

After a reading, students can arrange flowers in vases, go for a walk in the park, and discuss what makes each member of the class special. 

About The Author

Jodi Dee is a multi-award-winning Author, regular columnist for Bay State Parent Magazine, and an avid blogger. She is a mother of three with more than 20 years’ experience in early childhood and education.

Jodi has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology & History and a Master's in Education from Clark University. She is a passionate advocate and teacher of emotional maturity, early childhood education, and empowering children to learn through creativity, autonomy, self-exploration, and discovery.