Halloween and a “Jennie Story”

Our ‘Day in the Dark’ and ‘Pajama Day’ at school was fun.  Glow sticks and black play dough were a big hit.  Wearing pajamas to school is cool.  Things are different this year, yet the constant is storytelling.

Storytelling is, and has always been, the foundation for language and learning.  I write about children, yet storytelling applies to all people.  Words and ideas are how we start to learn, and how we continue to learn.

Everybody loves a good, gripping story.  I am the storyteller at school, and all my stories are true- things that happened to me in my childhood.  A pretend story starts with Once Upon a Time.  A true story starts with It Happened Like This.

Whenever I say the words, “It happened like this”, children are captivated.  They know it is a ‘Jennie Story’ and a true story.  Best of all, they are getting far more words and language into their brains because storytelling has no pictures.

This is “The Halloween Story”.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  Children beg for this story even in the summer.  I told it today to a captive audience.  You could have heard a pin drop.

“It Happened Like This”… When I was eight years old I went trick-or-treating with my little sister, Sarah.  Back then children went trick-or-treating alone.  There were no Moms or Dads.  And, we never went out until it was really dark.  All the way dark.  I dressed up as Raggedy Ann and Sarah dressed up as a scarecrow (although she looked more like a hobo than a scarecrow).  We each had a pillow case to collect all the candy which we called our ‘loot’.  We were so excited!

Then my mother said, “Jennie, don’t forget to go trick-or-treating at Mrs.  Crotty’s house.”  Mrs. Crotty!  Oh, no!  She was really old.  She always looked mean and she never smiled.  Her house was dark brick with big bushes and trees everywhere.  Everything was always dark.  Her house was as old as she was.

I said nothing to my mother.

Sarah and I headed out trick-or-treating.  We had the best time!  We got tons of candy, too.  When we got back home we dumped our pillowcases out on the rug in the den and sorted through all the candy.  I gave Sarah all my Tootsie Roll Pops and she gave me all her Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.  Yum!

Then my mother said, “Did you go trick-or-treating at Mrs. Crotty’s?”  I had forgotten, of course.  When I heard her words I felt like a lightening bolt had hit me while I was falling off a roller coaster.  Again she said, “Well, did you go to Mrs. Crotty’s house?”  All I could do was look down and shake my head.  My mother was not happy!  She said, “Jennie, I told you to go.  So take your sister’s hand and go right now”.

I took Sarah’s hand and we went back outside together.  Now it was really dark and trick-or-treat was over.  Over!  There were no lights on at anyone’s house.  We slowly walked to Mrs. Crotty’s house.  As we turned the sidewalk and walked up her walkway I squeezed Sarah’s hand and she squeezed mine.  I was so scared.  We got to Mrs. Crotty’s porch which was pitch black and surrounded by weird branches.  As we approached the front door I said to my sister, “You knock.”  “Oh, no” she said, “Mother told you to do it.”  So, I took a deep breath and knocked on the door.

A moment later I heard the door slowly creak open.  Just as I was ready to run away, the lights came on and there stood Mrs. Crotty, smiling.  I’d never seen her smile before.  She said, “Hi Jennie.  Hi Sarah.  Come in.”  We stepped inside the door.  “Wait right there!”  We didn’t move.  She ran to the back of the house and returned with two gigantic popcorn balls, covered in melted butter and caramel.  They were still warm.  Yum!

And I was so afraid.  Silly me.


P.S.  This is a popular ‘Jennie story’ in my classroom.  Happy Halloween!

Posted in Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Halloween, Imagination, preschool, storytelling, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , | 71 Comments

Halloween, Then and Now at School

Our classroom family event, a few years ago.

Halloween is quite different this year.  There’s no trick-or-treating.  Children will be wearing pajamas to school today for ‘PJ Day’, and ‘A Day in the Dark’.  These are fun alternatives to costumes, as has become the norm for the past many years.

Sadly, our ever-popular family party at school could not happen this year.  For me, this was one of the hardest changes and biggest disappointments.  The evening of a pizza supper on the playground, followed by carving a pumpkin into a jack-o-lantern was magical – especially lighting the jack-o-lanterns as it became dark, and singing our favorite jack-o-lantern song.

Then today I received this email:

Dear Jennie,

The Bakers and Cusicks had a GCS/Aqua Room Pumpkin celebration last night. Like yours from years past, we had pizza and carved pumpkins. We just didn’t sing but decorated cookies instead.

Thanks for creating those great memories that we can continue! 🍁❤️🎃


L to R—Dillon, Isabel, Emmett, Owen, & Brennan

My goodness!  How wonderful, indeed.  Yes, this is an event that creates memories over many years.  They did not sing the song, so I thought you might like to hear it (children want to sing it all year long):

Gloria has been trick-or-treating with an Aqua Room friend every year since I can remember.  She has been Minnie Mouse, a dragon, a cow, a scarecrow, and wearing many other costumes for Halloween.  This year she is staying home in the classroom, with her mask, and taking care of the jack-0-lantern.

Children are resilient.  Gloria is resilient.  I know that.  I need to remember that.

Stayed tuned tomorrow for storytelling, and a Jennie Story – “The Halloween Story.”


Posted in Expressing words and feelings, Gloria, Halloween, Inspiration, jack-o-lanterns, preschool, Singing, Student alumni, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , , , , , | 67 Comments

Smorgasbord Children’s Cafe and Bookstore – Share your Children’s book reviews – #PictureBooks with Jennie Fitzkee Part Three – Upper grade books for older children.

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Welcome to the new series where you can share your reviews for any children’s books you have read recently and posted on your blog, Amazon, Goodreads or any other online bookstore. If you would like more details here is the post that explains how it works:Showcasing Children’s books

Recently Jennie Fitzkee shared part three of her recommended books from the summer and I am sharing some of the books that she featured along with her reviews.


 Part Three – Upper grade books for older children.

I had a double-dose of Patricia MacLachlan books. Lucky me! After reading Prairie DaysSee Part Two I read her chapter book, My Father’s Words.

44426A86-3712-4755-BCDA-191956A2B51BMy Father’s Words, by Patricia MacLachlan

I didn’t think there could be a book as wonderful as The Poet’s Dog. There is! Simple words can have a mightily powerful impact on the reader, if they are carefully crafted by…

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This autumn has been gorgeous.  The trees are brilliant in a variety of colors.  They make me look up.  They make me stop to really look.

Summer was dry, so it is surprising that our autumn is especially colorful.  I like to think that Mother Nature is giving us an art show during this pandemic year, to remind us that nature and trees are a beautiful thing, and to tell us to look.

Back to trees.

Trees represent the circle of life in ways that we can understand- children, too.  They are the visual to life and death, growing, survival, thriving, and new birth.  Trees are a home for animals.  They are a playground and shelter for everyone.  The list is a long one.  When I use the word ‘grounded’, trees are the benchmark.

Many children’s books have been written about trees.  One book that I read aloud every year is The Seasons of Arnold’s Apple Tree by Gail Gibbons.

After showing children the front cover, I start the book with the back cover:

I take a minute to let the four pictures sink in.  Then I ask questions. Did you know half of the pleasure – and learning – that happens when reading a book to children, is asking questions?

What do you see?
What makes the 
pictures different?
There’s a name for what they’re called.  Do you know what it is?

And so it goes.  We spend a long time on the four seasons, the order they happen, and how the tree is different in each one.  It sets the stage for the story of the tree over each season. Each season has many pages as to what the tree does.  Here are the lead-in pages for each season:





I read this book to children at the start of each season, and we take a “tree walk” to see what we can see.  This year’s tree walk was spectacular in beauty.  Of course there are many other wonderful books about trees that I read to children.  This coming week I will be reading Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall, and The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton.  Last week we read Fletcher and the Falling Leaves by Julia Rawlinson, and Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson.

Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.
Albert Einstein


Posted in Book Review, books, children's books, Early Education, Einstein, Imagination, Mother Nature, Nature, picture books, Quotes, reading aloud, reading aloud | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 65 Comments

Look for the Crack

Thank you Mitch Teemley for these enlightening words from some of my favorite authors.

Mitch Teemley

Hope is the Lens

“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.” ~Shel Silverstein

“Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.”
~Langston Hughes

“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.”
~Emily Dickinson

“There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.”
~Leonard Cohen

“Life damages us, everyone. We can’t escape that damage. But now, I am also learning this: We can be mended. We mend each other” ~Veronica Roth

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I didn't have my glasses on....

image credit: pictoral arts journal

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The Old Burying Ground

I love history.  It’s the stories, and understanding life way back when, that is deeply important – to me.  When those lives are on hallowed ground, in the beauty of fall, history comes alive.

Groton’s Old Burying Ground is simply wonderful.  My school had a fundraiser, a scavenger hunt throughout the town today.  I volunteered at the Old Burying Ground.  First, let me show you how beautiful it was today:

Groton’s first settlers chose the corner of Hollis and School Street for their second Meeting House in 1678.  While the location of the church was changed in 1714, the Old Burial Ground remained at the original site and was the sole public place of burial in the town until 1847.

The most important part, of course, are the headstones.  When we first moved to Massachusetts in 1984, I visited the old cemetery.  I was shocked at what I saw – the headstones had beautiful, intricate  carvings.  The words and carvings were not worn.  They were crystal clear, on the headstones that were made of slate.


They also told stories.  I had never seen anything but names and dates on headstones.  This was a whole new world, full of stories of real people and their lives.

Mrs Abigail Kendrick Widow of Capt Caleb Kendrick left her pleasant habitation in Newton & come to her Daughter Dana’s in Groton on account of ye civil War & Sept 5 1775  E 70 was removed by a dysentery, to that place where ye wicked cease to from troubling and ye weary are at rest.

Oh, my!  What a story.  Most of the headstones have a story, or a few words that give you a glimpse into the life of the person buried below.  A double head stone typically meant siblings who died on the same day.

I can’t gloss over this, because the people are right there.  Walking the paths, stopping to look at the headstones, I think of the stone carvers.  They carved beauty and sadness.  I stop at clusters of stones, because often they are a family with children who all died.  There is a family whose children died of throat distemper (my pediatrician told me that was diphtheria.)  The beautiful art and writing preserve these people and their families.

I am drawn to art, writing, history, and the beauty of nature.  This place has it all.

I told the many people who stopped by today to look for the stories.

Thank you, Groton, for preserving your founding fathers and their lives.  Thank you, Mother Nature, for making this special place of history beautiful and welcoming.

“Stories help us remember what we never want to forget.” –Emory R. Frie-


Posted in America, art, Death and dying, Expressing words and feelings, geography, history, Inspiration, Mother Nature, Nature, The Arts, wonder | Tagged , , , , | 96 Comments

Gloria’s First Day at School

It happens every year.  Gloria comes to school, and children are wide-eyed.  Silent.  Maybe scared.  And somehow, she becomes a friend.  Well, not exactly.  She becomes herself, and children want to be her friend.

It started with Eddie.  He was smiling and waved.  He wanted to shake Gloria’s hand.  James did not.  He watched, he listened to his classmates who had older siblings that knew Gloria.  Suddenly he burst out, “Gloria, I have a sister!”

Gloria told the children she was shy and scared.  She told them that she had been called unkind words, and that’s why she became an Aqua Roomer.  The children listened.  Children have big hearts.  Sometimes they just need a reason to share that heart.

The conversation and questions went something like this:

I like your mask.

Do you have ears?

Does Gloria like unicorns?

Has she been pumpkin picking?

Gloria, how did you get to school?

When Gloria’s ‘meet and greet’ was over, it was time for a story.  Nolan spoke up:

Can she sit with me?

She did.  Thank you for taking such good care of Gloria, Nolan.


Posted in Diversity, Expressing words and feelings, Gloria, Inspiration, Kindness, preschool, Teaching young children, wonder | Tagged , , , , , , , | 79 Comments


Gloria’s first day back-to-school is tomorrow.  She is excited!  She has a new face mask with dragonflies.  I can tell she’s nervous.  I have been reassuring her all day that everything will be fine, and I’ve also been listening to her worries.  Stay tuned for tomorrow.

For my new bloggers who are not familiar with Gloria, the is a hallmark in my classroom.  She brings to children diversity, understanding and acceptance.  She joined the classroom after she had been called a ‘witch’ by other children.

Yes, I know, that is shocking.  My preschoolers felt the same way.

Frankly, she is beloved.  She’s the kindest person I know.


Posted in Diversity, Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Gloria, Inspiration, Kindness, preschool, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , , , , | 78 Comments

October in My New England Town

The poetry of Robert Frost is a perfect accompaniment to October photos in my small town.  These images and scenes are much the same as what Robert Frost would have seen.  Surely he was inspired to write poetry in order to paint a picture, with words, of the beauty he saw.

by Robert Frost

Oh hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
To-morrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
To-morrow they may form and go.


Oh hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow,
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know;
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;

One from our trees, one far away;
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!


For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost-
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.


Reading poetry aloud to children is important.  I watched our son read poetry to his firstborn, long before she could walk.  He read to her “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost, and “O Captain! My Captain!” by Walt Whitman.  The results speak for themselves in academic success and humanity.


Posted in America, Expressing words and feelings, Inspiration, Mother Nature, Nature, Poetry, The Arts | Tagged , , , , | 63 Comments