Sticky Buns and “Owling”

Another Christmas, and another delivery of sticky buns.  Every year I feel like a child hoping that Santa Claus will come, except that Santa is actually “the sticky bun mom”.  This is perhaps the longest tradition in my family, and it started decades ago in my classroom.  Two young girls, Michelle and Nicole, adored being in my preschool class, especially listening to “Jennie Stories”.  They were sisters, and their mother made sticky buns.  But, that is only where the story begins.  It happened like this…


For each year as a treat, the sticky bun mom joined the class to make sticky buns with the children.  Cooking is one of the best activities with young children, as it is hands-on and full of science and math.  Oh, we cooked up a storm in the classroom.  And we painted, and we read stories.  Stories became popular, particularly fairy tales.  The more I read-aloud, the more the children wanted.  I knew I had to do something to address this drive, this passion, that children had for stories and reading.

I did my first play performance with children.  After reading Rapunzel by Paul O. Zelinsky, it was obvious that the children craved more.  Acting out the story was just the thing to do.  Michelle played the part of Rapunzel, using a loosely knitted long shawl as her hair.  The play was a huge success for many reasons; it gave children confidence and language skills, and it expanded upon a book they loved.

I realized books were far more important than just the story.  They opened a big door to so much more.


It was autumn that year.  We were learning about nocturnal animals.  I read Owl Moon by Jane Yolen.  Again, a book was incredibly beloved by the children.  This beautifully written story has illustrations done in pen and ink outlines, and watercolors.  We spent minutes, hours, talking about the illustrations; they became an important part of the story.  They brought the beautiful words to life.  I knew just what to do.

Yes!  The children could bring the book to life!  They can create a mural!

We decided to create an authentic Owl Moon mural, just like the book.  Oh, was it magnificent!  We drew the outlines of trees and people and owls with real pens, then water-colored the figures.  I remember the big sky was a blue wash.  But, the children weren’t quite satisfied with the owl.  They were right- it was missing something.  We scoured the playground for items to make the wings.  Nicole found pine cones, and we picked the ends off to create the owl wings.  Perfect!  The mural proudly hung in the hallway, but still it wasn’t enough, as Owl Moon had captured their hearts and was a powerful teaching tool. Each child made a paper bag owl to decorate the classroom.  Unlike many preschool projects, every owl was unique.  Children were proud.

I am so in-tune with young children; I can sense if they need more.

If Jane Yolen’s book Owl Moon started the interest in owls, then why not duplicate what happened in the story, “going owling”?  We did!  What an adventure on the playground at night, surrounded by dark and woods, calling for owls.  It was thrilling.  Parents and children gathered with spotlights to call into the woods.  Yes, an owl called back.

Fast forward to today.  When the sticky bun mom, and Michelle and Nicole, arrived at my house with the annual Christmas delivery of sticky buns, we talked about memories; “Jennie stories”, and also going owling.  Yes, owling.  They remembered!  They talked about the paper bag owls we had made that year.  Those hung as decorations in their home until this very year.  Michelle and Nicole described to me in detail each of their paper bag owls, with the same excitement as the day they made them, many decades ago.  Wow!


No, they did not remember the book, but they remembered the words and the story. They remembered how those words made them feel.  They certainly remembered going owling.

Isn’t that what a good book does?


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
This entry was posted in Early Education, picture books, reading aloud, Teaching young children, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

62 Responses to Sticky Buns and “Owling”

  1. Barbara says:

    What a wonderful time the children had owling and the book sounds just lovely. I really don’t remember having books read to me much past prep’s, so I envy your class for having you and your passion for the written word.

  2. Norah says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed your post, Jennie. I could feel your excitement. It got me excited too. This is just how early education should be. You are an inspiration. Your children, every one, were, are, and will be very fortunate to have you as their teacher; as will others whose lives they touch and share their love of learning. The ripples spread far and wide. The world is a much better place for your being in it. Now that is a contribution like no other!

    • Jennie says:

      Norah, that is so kind and profound. Thank you! I deeply appreciate your words. I had to read this twice! I do run into my former students, now grown, on holiday (stay tuned for my next post). Sometimes there is a great story to tell! But, you’re right; the bottom line is, this is how early education should be. If a teacher is inspiring, that is a golden key for children to feel loved and to want to learn. They may not remember the specifics, but they will remember how it made them feel, and they will move forward. Yes, ripples spread far and wide. I can’t imagine doing anything that is more important in this world. I know you feel the same way!

  3. frenchc1955 says:

    Jennie, this is another beautiful and profound post. Thank you for giving us this to read.

  4. reocochran says:

    I like when children take part in dramatic re-enactments of books, stories or poems. Jennie, cool idea of mural and we made owl puppets for this book out of simple paper bags. 🙂

  5. How wonderful that their memories of preschool are kept alive from year to year and that you get to enjoy repeated deliveries of sticky buns. Jane Yolen’s daughter Heidi (featured in Owl Moon) still goes out owling every year for the Audubon Christmas Bird Count—yay for lasting traditions!

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Marcia. Traditions certainly are wonderful, and I feel quite lucky. When I wrote this post, I thought about you and your writer’s retreat with Jane Yolen. Of course her book is the focal point of everything in my story. I would love for Jane to know the whole story. I think she would enjoy reading it and knowing that she made a big difference. Perhaps you can tell me how to get this to her. Best to you!

    • Jennie says:

      And, love the story that Heidi continues owling to this day!

  6. I’ll send Jane a link to your post. 🙂

    • Jennie says:

      Thanks, Marcia. Had I written a popular book that was still a classic nearly 30 years later, I would want to know. Happy New Year to you!

      • Jane’s response: “In the end, of course, fame and fortune don’t matter. It’s the child remembering your story with great fondness that is important. Only that.”

      • Jennie says:

        That is wonderful! And Jane is so right. No wonder she is a great writer. I will write down her words. I will read them often. I may tell the world what she said. It’s important. Thank you, Marcia. And, thank you, Jane.

  7. Chris White says:

    What a wonderfully heartwarming post.

  8. Jennie, All I can say is wow and fantastic and…I am going to buy the book and someday going owling! What a wonderful thing for kids to do to be close to nature and all its beauty – flora and fauna together! Karen 🙂

    • Jennie says:

      Karen, thank you. It’s the book. It won the Caldecott in 1988. The words are poetic, engaging. They are what you would write. You need to read this book for a hundred reasons. Then, going owning can follow. And your owling will bring it all together. It did for me.

  9. magarisa says:

    Wow, how amazing that Nicole and Michelle still had their paper bag owls on display until this very year! Such a heartwarming, inspirational story. 😊

  10. Good teachers are more rare than you may realize or maybe more prolific than I’m aware of but I didn’t think I ever encountered one such as yourself. Those were fortunate children indeed. I love hearing our owls out back. Seeing one is out of the question for me but hearing them is nice too. I’m still collecting children’s books to read myself. Then I pass them on.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you so much, Marlene. Your words mean a great deal. Who knew that decades later the book and owls would still have an impact. I feel lucky to make a difference with children, and have it stay with them. Best to you!

  11. sportsattitudes says:

    Owls are wise…so are you Jennie. You obviously didn’t just show up for work during your career but have worked to make a true, lasting impression on young people’s lives. Here’s to having a sticky bun or two…and then heading out for some owling!

  12. This is yet another incredibly beautifully written post with a theme that begs to be shouted from the rooftops over American Schools & families…
    But the photo of grown-up Michelle and Nicole with ‘teacher’ speaks more loudly as this theme clearly is part of their very being….

    • Jennie says:

      Wonderful, Laura. Thank you so much. I love that photo, too. Michelle pointed out that she wore a sweater with feathers. I never picked up on that at all. I need a new vocabulary for “Thank You”.

    • Jennie says:

      Somehow I was typing to you- I believe you commented on Owl ll – and I lost your comment. So, in response to WOW, I also need to find more words. That being said, you always write beautifully. Your words flow and paint a picture. I love reading your blog. Happy New Year, Laura!

  13. ~M says:

    Such a great memory! My 8 year old still insists that owls aren’t real because she’s never actually seen one. I’ve showed her countless YouTube videos of owls to try and convince her, and still she doesn’t believe in them. Maybe we need to go owling! Lol….

  14. This left me with a mushy feeling. 🙂 Great post.

  15. Pingback: Final Bloggers around the Christmas Tree for 2016 and Happy New Year | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  16. Mmm. Sticky buns are so delicious! How lovely that you bake with your class, too, and yes, math and science are part of cooking!! Another amazing and inspirational post.

  17. Tina Frisco says:

    Jennie, I’d have killed for a teacher like you! Owling? No wonder your students have never forgotten you, the stories you’ve told, and the experiences you afforded them. You love what you do and your light shines through. Children are attracted to light as bees are attracted to nectar. You will never be forgotten … 💖

  18. I always love to hear about inspirational teachers who have an impact on their learners lives. My boys had a teacher like that when they were in play group and we also still have all the amazing Christmas decorations they made with her.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you for your kind words! I can’t think of a better calling than making a difference with children- and writing about it. Happy New Year!

  19. Your students were as blessed by you as you are by them. Every child should be so fortunate to have a teacher like you, Jennie!

  20. God, Jennie, I love the creativity that you bring to the classroom. It is full of enthusiasm (a quality near and dear to my heart), and you inspire me … and countless others, it seems 🙂 🙂
    Sending you and all of your children many blessings (and wonderful sticky buns, books, and creative projects!)
    Love Love Love, Debbie

  21. First my appreation and then kudos to all or mostly all the teachers out there and to the nuns that taught me when I was a child. I didn’t study to be an educator. I don’t and never did have the patience for it., and you have to have plenty of patience. I worked for AT&T as a designer (designing circuts) and loved it. Married raised three children all graduated university. One as an artist, one as CPA and my youngest a Bachlor of Science Degree, she is head of a international sales unit for a large corp. They are all raising families of their own now.

    There are several teachers in my family and it is such an underpaid profession. Still they do a great job with your children. Be kind to them, work with them, they are not your babysitters they are educatiors and your childs job is to learn. So Kudos to you Jennie and to all the wonderful teachers.
    Loved the post. :o)

  22. You are a treasure. Thanks you for loving “our” creative children.

  23. srbottch says:

    A wonderful story, Jennie. And, once again, you hit a home run in the classroom. What wonderful memories you create. Keep up the great work.

  24. srbottch says:

    PS. The Red Sox really fell apart at the end of the season. 😟

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s