Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature

Another nonfiction picture book review by Jean Matthew Hall.

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature is a handsome nonfiction picture book written by Caldecott Medal Winner Joyce Sidman. It is illustrated by Beth Krommes and was published in 2011 by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.

ISBN is 9-780547-315836.


The sparse text gives only the most basic information about what spirals are, and the part they play in nature. Just enough information to make preschoolers curious. It covers spirals in plants and garden insects and creatures; larger farm animals; creatures of the sea; jungle animals; the ocean itself; flowers; winds, clouds and storms; the stars; and circles back to the familiar back yard.

Sidman also includes back matter for teachers and parents to discuss with children.

The art work is bold and striking. The earth tones Krommes uses are deep and rich. They illustrations hold many spirals that stand out making it easy for young eyes to spot them.

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature is a stunning addition to your nonfiction library for young children.

Again, my only complaint about Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature is that it offers no mention of God as the great Designer.

Pointers: Talking to Children

When talking with your children follow these pointers from Jo Frost (Supernanny) in her book, Supernanny: How to Get the Best from Your Children. (Page 73)

• Don’t scream and shout. Use the Voice of Authority [*] for bad behavior
• Praise your child when he’s behaving well.
• Try to talk to your child in a positive way as much as possible. Instead of always telling him what you don’t want him to do, try putting it in a different way. Instead of saying, “Don’t put your dirty hands all over the sofa.” Sau, “Let’s wash your hands now. They’re dirty. Then you can sit on the sofa and I’ll read you a story.”
• Don’t be abrupt or bark out commands. You’ll get instant resistance.
• Never use hurtful words or label your child. Make it clear it’s the bad behavior you don’t like, not your child.
• Be courteous.
• If your child shouts back at you, don’t rise to the bait. A screaming match does no one any good. Tell your child not to speak to you in that manner.
• Don’t compare your child unfavorably with his brothers and sisters, and never, ever talk about him to a third party within earshot. He might not look like he’s listening, but he’ll have caught every word.
• Don’t offer too many choices to a small child.
• Don’t bargain with her when she’s having a tantrum.
• Go large. Let her read your body language. Be playful in the way you talk to your child.

[*] The Voice of Authority according to this book (page 68) is not threatening. It is a low, firm, authoritative tone. Not an angry tone, not a threatening tone, not a belittling tone or a bargaining tone.

It is a tone that leaves the child in no doubt that the parent means business. It communicates displeasure.

It speaks clearly, calmly and sternly.

Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature

Another nonfiction picture book review by Jean Matthew Hall.

Children are exposed to patterns in math, in reading, in science and history early in their formal educations. It develops good thinking skills and encourages visual intelligence.

Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature written and illustrated by Sarah C. Campbell introduces a not-so-typical search for patterns in nature. Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature was published by Boyds Mill Press in 2014.

The ISBN is 0-18351328-2.


This picture book  introduces children to fractals. I must admit that the term is new to me, also.

Fractals are found in man-made structures and in nature. According to the text “Every fractal shape has smaller parts that look like the whole shape.” The basic shape is repeated over and over again in smaller and smaller parts of the whole.

Trees are fractals. A head of broccoli is a fractal.

Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature points out numerous other examples of these patterns and shapes in the world around.

For me personally, the only thing that could have improved Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals in Nature would be giving God the credit for the amazing design of fractals.

So, if you read this with your children that will be YOUR job—pointing out that, as Psalm 148 says, our intelligent God designed these amazing patters in nature.

Psalm 148:5-6

Let them praise the name of the Lord, for at his command they were created,
and he established them for ever and ever—he issued a decree that will never pass away.

God of Refuge for Parents

When life gets tough,
   I am your hiding place.
I’m near when you call upon Me in truth.
   I’ll protect you from trouble,
Surrounding you with songs of deliverance.

Give Me all your worries
   And watch Me sustain you and your family.
No matter how bleak things may seem,
   I’ll never doubt that your earnest prayers
As a righteous mom are powerful and effective.


 blur-1867402_1920 crop                  Victoriously,
      Your Eternal God of Refuge


From Psalms 32:7; 145:18; 55:22; James 5:16
Hugs for New Moms by Stephanie Howard & LeAnn Weiss (Howard Publishing Company 2002)

A Nonfiction Picture Book-Otters Love to Play

Another nonfiction picture book review by Jean Matthew Hall

Otters Love to Play written by Jonathan London and illustrated by Meilo So is a picture book about—you guessed—those adorable little clowns of water ways, otters. It was published in 2016 by Candlewick Press.

The ISBN is 978-0-7636-6913-3.

OttersAt zoos, aquariums and nature centers otters are always a favorite. Their playfulness and skill as swimmers attract lots of attention from children and adults alike.
Otters Love to Play is filled with interesting information about otters and lovely, soft illustrations. The colors of nature’s seasons move the story through those seasons of the year complementing text like:

“The days grow shorter, the nights grow longer, and one day, winter blows in with a blast of white.”

Teacher Alert!

Waves of smaller text on each page add factual details related to the primary text and illustrations. The illustrations are double spreads and large enough to make this a great book for sharing with a group of children.

Also, Otters Love to Play, is one of the few recent picture books I’ve seen with an Index. A real plus for teaching elementary students about research.

A page of additional information about otter species and conservation efforts completes the text.

I highly recommend Otters Love to Play.

11 Quick & Easy Desserts

Pudding and fruit parfaits – use clear glasses or clear disposable cups for easy cleanup.

Pudding and cookie crumb parfaits – use up those broken cookie pieces.

Berries and whipped topping – serve in a bowl or an ice cream cone.

Refrigerated cookie dough cookies – bake while you’re eating dinner to encourage your kids to eat their meal.

Ice cream sundaes made with fruit toppings

Quick cobbler*

Apple Brown Betty**

Angel food cake slices topped with canned pie filling

Fluffy Crumb Pudding – stir together cookie crumbs, pudding and whipped topping

Fruit with sauce – serve fruit pieces with cocktail picks for kids to dip into store-bought caramel or chocolate sauce.

Fruit Sandwiches – combine chopped fruit and whipped cream cheese. Spread between graham crackers to make sandwiches.


*Quick Cobbler Recipe

Preheat oven (or toaster oven) to 400° F.
Pour a large can of peach or pear slices into a medium baking dish sprayed with cooking spray. Sprinkle cinnamon over the fruit. Put a few pats of butter or margarine on top of the fruit.
Mix together 1 c. biscuit or pancake mix, 1 T. sugar, ½ c. milk. Pour it over the fruit leaving patches of fruit exposed.
Bake 12 – 15  minutes. Test the doneness of the cake portion with a toothpick. When the pick comes out clean, the cobbler is done.

**Apple Brown Betty Recipe

Combine 1 1/2 c. rolled oats, ¼ c. brown sugar, a pinch of salt and 2 T. margarine or butter with a fork until the butter is blended and the mixture looks like cookie dough.
Pour 2 cans of apple pie filling into a round baking dish sprayed with cooking spray. Be sure the dish will fit into your microwave.
Spread the oats mixture over the top .
Bake in the microwave on #7 or #8 power until the fruit is hot and bubbly. The topping will be chewy.

Nonfiction Picture Book-Have You Heard the Nesting Bird?

Another nonfiction picture book review by Jean Matthew Hall.

Have You Heard the Nesting Bird? was written by Rita Gray and illustrated by Kenard Pak. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt published it in 2014.

The ISBN is 978-0-544-10580-5.

I don’t like writing reviews when a book is disappointing to me.

nesting birdBut Have You Heard the Nesting Bird? is not my favorite among the nonfiction books I’ve read recently.

The illustrations are lovely, soft and quiet using nature’s palette. I like them. And the backmatter is an interesting set of 11 questions and answers about nesting, eggs, and baby birds. I like that. But the main text of Have You Heard the Nesting Bird? disappointed me for two reasons.

The words that represent various birds’ songs fell flat for me much of the time. I write picture books about nature, too. When I’m reproducing the sounds animals and birds make I listen to recordings of the sounds over and over. Then I try dozens of written combinations to create that critter’s voice as closely as I can. I didn’t see that kind of accuracy in Have You Heard the Nesting Bird?

Do cardinals really sing, “cheer-cheer-cheer-purdy-purdy-purdy?”nesting bird
Does a wood thrush sing, “ee-oh-lay ee-oh-laaay?”

Perhaps I’m missing the reason the author and editor had for representing the songs this way. But it didn’t resonate with me.

Secondly, the ending was abrupt and didn’t feel complete or satisfying to me.

If you read to young children check this book out at your library and see what you think.

And please let me know if you think I’m really confused about it.

Sick Days Fun Box

Don’t you hate it when your little ones are sick? And don’t you hate it when they feel much better and want to be up & busy, but can’t? What do you do—read to them all day? Or let them have perpetual screen time?

Here’s another idea—create a “Sick Days Fun Box.”

Use a rectangular plastic container with a lid, or a plain old cardboard box. Fill it with small, quiet things your kids love.

Here are some suggestions, but use your imagination.

• Crayons
• Markers
• Pencils
• Colored pencilsorigami-free-images-on-pixabay-origami-pictures-1
• Tablets
• Printer paper
• “Neat” glue
• Yarn
• Scotch tape
• Age-appropriate scissors
• Coloring books
• Puzzle books
• Paper dolls (yes, they are trying to make a comeback)
• Stickers
• Small toy people, vehicles & animals
• Empty cardboard tubes from paper towels, etc.
• Googly eyes
• Scraps of colored paper or cloth
• Plastic disposable cups to stack
• Leftover inexpensive birthday party “prizes”
• Leftover prizes from fast food restaurants
• Thin paper plates to draw faces on, make masks, or make jack-o-lanterns or apples
• Wooden craft sticks to make puppets, then make up a story and put on a show for you
• Books—of course!
• Family photo albums
• Sugar free gum
• Colored paper clips to string together to make jewelry
• Colored ponytail keepers to string slipknot together to make jewelry
• “Lava lamps” made from plastic water bottles, oil & food coloring. BE SURE TO GLUE THE LIDS ON!
• Empty round boxes with plastic lids from the kitchen. They can put buttons, jacks, dried peas or marbles inside, tape the lids on and make music. OR, simple use them as drums.
• Dominoes
• Matching Game cards
• Legos
• Junk-mail catalogues for cutting and pasting

building-674828_1920 (1)I’m sure you can find other cool stuff to add to the box!


Don’t put ALL of this stuff in the box at once. Choose 10 or 12 things. After they become bored, or take a nap, or the next day you can switch out another 10 or 12 items.

Keep plenty of popsicles in the freezer. They cool fevers, sooth sore throats, rehydrate kiddos, and they are fun!

Use empty tissue boxes as “trash cans” for those yucky used tissues.

Invest in LOTS of disinfectant wipes for everything touchable.

Wash your own hands every time you make contact with your sick child or her things.


A Mammal Is an Animal-Nonfiction Picture Book

Another nonfiction picture book review by Jean Matthew Hall

Lizzie Rockwell did a rocking job with the picture book A Mammal Is an Animal in my opinion. Holiday House published this entertaining and informative picture book in 2018.

The ISBN is 978-0-8234-3670-5.

Mammal AnimalRockwell balances colorful illustration surrounded (most of the time) by lots of white space. This really drew my eyes to those illustrations. Concerning the animals in the illustrations they are accurate by simply drawn and painted.

But the text of A Mammal Is an Animal is what makes this book stand out. I love the pattern Rockwell uses for presenting the information about many mammals in an attention-grabbing and entertaining way.

I’ll try to explain her method.

A page introduces simple facts about an animal or a specific mammal as a question. Then comes a big NO! in answer to that question.
The next page explains that answer and gives another animal to illustrate the point. That page ends with a question that ends with a NO!
The next page explains that fact as related to mammals.
The next page gives examples of that fact AND introduces another fact about mammals.
The next page shows an animal that has that one trait, but isn’t a mammal. Then comes the question and the big NO!

It’s such an unusual presentation that it begs the reader to follow along and get to the final pages about the most familiar mammal to all children. Themselves!
Rockwell’s method of presentation is like following bread crumbs. And I think kids will love it as much as I do.

Teacher Alert!

A Mammal Is an Animal includes six pages of back matter with interesting trivia about specific mammals, a summary of facts about mammals in general, reference books, and a bold illustration of the taxonomy of Life On Earth (emphasizing the animal kingdom.)
I think anyone teaching life sciences to lower school students will love A Mammal Is an Animal.

Nonfiction for Kids is BIG!

Click here to read the first in my blog series on writing nonfiction for young readers. It’s posted at Almost An Author the blog with access to pretty much everything you ever need to know about writing for publication!



Today’s title isn’t for your kids–it’s for YOU, parents.

I am ashamed to admit I was a yelling parent. I hated myself for it each time I lost control and yelled at my kids.

My mother was a yeller. Her mother was a yeller. And I suppose her mother was, too.

I tried desperately to break the cycle. I had some success, but also my share of failures.

If you’re like me you’ll try most anything to help you gain control of yourself and the volume of your voice. Click on this link (What Do We Do All Day)  to find a couple of simple, free things to help you. I think they might just work!

WhatDoWeDoA few months ago I blogged about the website “What Do We Do All Day.” You’ll find that post here.

I HIGHLY recommend that website with multitudes of non-electronic ideas for things to do with and for your kids. Do yourself and your kids a favor and check it out!

A Chicken Followed Me Home!-Nonfiction Picture Book

Another Nonfiction Picture Book Review by Jean Matthew Hall

School has resumed or is about to resume for millions of American students. So, for a few weeks we’ll focus on nonfiction picture books. For a while the books we look at  will be about animals.

Chicken Followed Me HomeA Chicken Followed Me Home! Questions and Answers about a Familiar Fowl is about—of course—chickens. It was written and illustrated by Robin Page. Beach Lane Books published this clever little volume in 2015.

The ISBN is 978-1-4814-1028-1.

A Chicken Followed Me Home! Questions and Answers about a Familiar Fowl starts out predictably with a chicken following the narrator home. A series of questions and answers about chickens and taking care of chickens move the book forward.

Teacher Alert!

The big, bold, colorful illustrations are real attention grabbers. They make this a terrific book for sharing with a group of elementary-aged youngsters.

The questions include things like:
• What will my chicken eat?
• What kind of chicken is it?
• Will my chicken fly away?
• Is my chicken a hen or a rooster?
• How do I keep my chicken safe?
• Will my chicken lay eggs?

Plus more questions. Each leads to an answer of 40 words or less with factual information about that particular topic.

The ending is predictable, but cute.

Two pages of back matter add a brood of handy facts to A Chicken Followed Me Home! Questions and Answers about a Familiar Fowl.

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