Picture Book Writers: January Means Storystorm!

What’s the best thing about the New Year?

It is time for Storystorm at Tara Lazar’s blog!

Storystorm is one month of inspirational blog posts to help children’s book writers generate new story ideas. Although to register and win prizes you must sign up during January, the posts are available all year around. Hop on over any time you need a creativity boost. And be sure to check out posts from previous years as well.

Are you going to take part in 2023?

#Kidlit Rosa’s Animals: Biography of Rosa Bonheur

Today let’s highlight a middle grade marvel, Rosa’s Animals:  The Story of Rosa Bonheur and Her Painting Menagerie by Maryann Macdonald.

Rosa’s Animals by Maryann Macdonald

Have you ever heard of Rosa Bonheur? She was a Realist painter and sculptor from France in the mid 1800s known for her dynamic paintings of animals.  Trained by her father at a time when women were not encouraged to be painters, Rosa broke with convention to become a popular and revered artist.

The illustrations include paintings not only by Rosa Bonheur, but also some of her contemporaries to show context for her work. The backmatter is quite extensive, consisting of an author’s note and references.

I don’t know how I missed Rosa’s Animals because it got starred reviews in all the right places when it first came out. If you’ve overlooked it too, perhaps now is the time to seek out a copy.

Activity Suggestion:

Rosa is known for her amazing ability to paint realistic fur and also her use of light. She is a good artist to introduce to middle grade students. Find some images of Rosa Bonheur’s works on the internet to share and discuss. (WikiArt has a collection). Encourage students to try their hand at drawing and painting animals.


Public domain image of a Rosa Bonheur painting from Wikimedia.

Age Range: 8 – 12 years
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams (June 5, 2018)
ISBN-10: 1419728504
ISBN-13: 978-1419728501

Disclosure: The book was provided by our local library. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.


Looking for more children’s nonfiction books? Try the Nonfiction Monday blog.

Encouraging Kids to Read: Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett

Want to encourage children to enjoy reading and books? Try this two-pronged approach.

Prong 1:  Book Ownership

Buy books for kids. Give books as gifts. Why? Owning an age-appropriate book means the child will be able to return to it again and again, allowing him or her to become comfortable with it. Ownership allows children to make friends with books.

Books don’t have to be expensive. Plenty of used book stores, library sales, and discount chains offer inexpensive children’s books.

Prong 2:  Create Enjoyable Memories

Connect reading with some enjoyable and memorable activities. Look at the child’s passions and learning styles, and explore them using the book as an inspiration. There are many, many suggestions for activities to tie-in with books online, especially on Pinterest (Buggy and Buddy have over 500 pins).

Let’s use Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen as an example.

Extra Yarn is a picture book about a young girl who finds a box of yarn. It looks like an ordinary box, but when she begins to use the yarn, amazing things happen. It is a complex, layered story that will appeal to a wide range of readers.

It is also a Caldecott Honor Book, so expect imaginative, creative illustrations.

extra yarn book activities

Suggested Activities:

1. Explore the Story Using Different Formats

Some of us love paper books and others swear by our ebook readers. Still others enjoy listening to a book. Unsure which to choose? Encourage a child to explore all the different ways to enjoy a book.

Be sure to include audio options. In addition to reading the book aloud in person, look for videos of people reading children’s books like the one below.

It might be fun to compare how different people read. Does the reader pronounce any of the words differently? What about rhythm? Are some readers faster or slower? Which do you prefer?

Yarn Projects

The story begs to be accompanied with some colorful skeins of yarn to be used for projects.

2. Make a Yarn Doll

My grandmother taught me how to make these when I was a child.


  • Yarn (one or more colors)
  • Index card or a rectangle of similar size cut from card stock (or stiffer cardboard for younger kids)
  • Scissors (age appropriate)
  • Googly eye (optional)


If you are using an index card, line up the end of the yarn with edge of the card (middle of 3 inch side). This will be called the lower edge. Gently wrap the yarn around the center of the card the long way about 25 to 30 times. The yarn should be snug, but not so tight that it bends the card. Keep the tension as even as possible so all the wraps are the same length. When finished, cut the yarn at the lower edge.

Next, cut a piece of yarn about five inches long. It can be the same color yarn or a contrasting color.

Slide the cut piece between the yarn and the card on the upper edge until there is roughly the same amount of yarn piece on either side of the wrapped yarn. Tie the ends of the cut piece together snugly around the wrapped yarn with a square knot. This will be the top of the doll’s head. (Note:  I forgot this step in the next photo, but added it at the end. See the last photograph in the series, the one with two dolls.)

Slip the index card out of the yarn wrap, keeping the yarn as a bundle. Cut another piece of yarn about five inches long. Tie this piece around the bundle about an inch from the top knot. This forms the head.

Tie another cut piece of yard about 1 to 1 1/2 inches below the head. That will form the body.

Now you have some choices. You can cut through the yarn at the lower edge to form a skirt. (If you have ever made tassels, this is similar.) That can be the finished look.

You can also separate the lower edge yarn into two “legs” and tie the “feet” with two piece of yarn.

To make arms, wrap yarn as you did above, but this time wrap around in the short part of the card.

When you’ve wrapped 20-25 times, cut the yarn at the lower edge, as before. Slip the card out of the yarn, leaving it as a bundle. Using 2 pieces of yarn, tie off the bundle near the ends (creating “hands.”)

Now slip the arms through the body of the doll by poking your finger in to separate the yarn roughly in half and then feeding the arms into the hole. The arms should be perpendicular to the body.

Finish the dolls by tidying up the tie pieces (cut them close to the knots), adding hair, googly eyes, etc.

3. Lacing Craft for Preschoolers


  • Tag board, cardstock, manila folders or light cardboard
  • Hole punch
  • Yarn
  • Tape (optional)

Cut a frame out of the tag board, creating a size appropriate for the age of the children you are working with. Make holes in the frame with a hole punch. Now have the child weave and wrap by placing yarn through the holes. Note:  Rolling a small piece of tape around the yarn at the leading end will make it easier to slip through the holes (like the aglet of a shoelace).

For this one, we mimicked a spider web.

Can be extended by adding different yarn colors.

Kids also enjoy exploring yarn by wrapping it around kitchen chairs, trees, etc.

4. Teach older kids how to knit or crochet.

If you don’t know how to knit or crochet yourself, check some of the many how-to videos.

5. Research how yarn is made and where the raw materials come from.

One of our favorite picture books on this topic is Farmer Brown Shears His Sheep: A Yarn About Wool by Teri Sloat.

An older favorite is Charlie Needs a Cloak by Tomie dePaola

All this was inspired by Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen.

Age Range: 4 – 8 years
Grade Level: Preschool – 3
Publisher: Balzer + Bray; First Edition edition (January 17, 2012)
ISBN-10: 0061953385
ISBN-13: 978-0061953385


Have you ever shared Extra Yarn with a child? Do you have any activity suggestions to extend this book?


Fine Art Adventures #Kidlit from @ChiReviewPress

For Nonfiction Monday, we have a new title from Chicago Review Press, Fine Art Adventures: 36 Creative, Hands-On Projects Inspired by Classic Masterpieces by Maja Pitamic and Jill Laidlaw.

For years I volunteered for Art Masterpiece, which was a program started by the Phoenix Art Museum to help bring art to schools. For each classroom session we would bring a print of a famous painting, discuss it, and then have a hands-on art project related to the piece. The kids loved it and got so much out of it. You should have seen their eyes light up when they saw us come in the door.

Fine Art Adventures follows the same format and would be perfect for a similar offering. Featuring 18 well-known classic works of art, children learn about the background of the art and artist, and then have their choice of hands-on activities to explore related art concepts and techniques.

As Mike Norris, staff educator at the Metropolitan Museum for Art says:

…the genius of this book is that each activity — designed for the skills of children aged between six and eight — extends logically from the original artwork, no matter what its medium, providing refreshing insights about painters and painting.

The projects range from creating a Pointillist artwork using paints and a toothbrush, to making a shoebox diorama to accompany Henry Rousseau’s Surprised!

One question you might have is whether this book is for adults or children. The brilliance of Chicago Review Press books is that, with their easy-to-read and easy-to-use format, they work for both. The suggested age range is 6 and up.

Fine Art Adventures is a great resource for either school or home use. The best part is no experience is needed!

Art Activity Inspired by Fine Art Adventures

Patterns:  Lines, shapes, and colors

Henry Matisse’s The Snail is featured in Fine Art Adventures on page 10. Our Art Masterpiece collection used a print of Matisse’s Purple Robe and Anemones, which is a lovely painting full of vibrant colors and patterns. Although it seems like re-creating the look of the print for an art project might require multiple media and drying time between layers, the secret is to use color changing markers. The markers allow the young artist to fill an area with one color and then add lines/patterns by drawing over the filled area with the color changer pen. Fun and easy!

  1. Share image of Henry Matisse’s Purple Robe and Anemones
  2. Ask the students look for repeating lines or shapes that make patterns. Look at the robe, the wall, the floor, the vase. What about the designs on the tablecloth? Do any of the patterns repeat in other areas, perhaps in another color? Are there any places without lines? (the flowers, fruit, woman’s face)
  3. Gather:
  • Color Changing Markers
  • Paper
  • Other art supplies such as Sharpies, cray pas, etc. (optional)

Crayola Color Changing Markers

Let the children experiment with the markers and/or explain how to use the markers, if needed. For a project inspired by the painting, have them draw a simple vase on a table. Add flowers and fill in the background by adding repeating lines and shapes to different areas.

Once they’ve gotten the idea, let their imaginations soar.

Looking for a way to make this a STEAM project? Check out this video which explains a bit about how the color changing markers work and how to do an experiment to discover more.

Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions.

Age Range: 6 and up
Grade Level: 1 and up
Paperback: 144 pages
Publisher: Chicago Review Press (September 1, 2017)
ISBN-10: 0912777044
ISBN-13: 978-0912777047

Disclosure: This book was supplied by the publisher for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.


Looking for more children’s nonfiction books? Try the Nonfiction Monday blog.