Memories of Romana

This was my New Year’s gift from Romana, seven years ago.  She made this bracelet for me from paper, tape and jewels.  I was invited to her house, and I was thunderstruck by the gift.

It is a treasure, and I told her, “I will wear this on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday”.  Romana beamed.  What she didn’t know at that moment is that I did, indeed, do this.  The gift isn’t about my visit to her house.  It’s about all our moments together, ‘The Hundred Little Things’.  The littlest moments, those that make you feel good inside but otherwise may seem unimportant, are really big; they’re building blocks for life.  It takes a hundred little things to manifest itself as a big thing, or I should say an important thing. The bracelet is a ‘big thing’ because it was a labor of love, which could only have happened after a hundred little things.

So, where did those hundred little things with Romana begin?

When Romana started in my preschool class, she was barely three years old.  She didn’t speak English.  Her family was from Romania, and she spoke Romanian.  Young children are far better at adapting to a new school and a new language than adults are.  Romana was quiet and kind, and she easily made friends.  I remember playing a game of Musical Chairs.  In my version, every time the music stops I take away a chair.  Children have to find a lap of another child to sit on.  When we get down to two or three chairs, it is a scramble.  The squeals and laughing say it all.  Romana is on the far right.  See her big smile?  She was happy.  Everyone loved Romana.

Romana loved this game of Musical Chairs.  She also loved art.

As a three-year-old she helped illustrate our classroom God Bless America book.  She was proud to draw those purple mountains.  I will forever think of Romana when I see that page in the book.  Of course, that book inspired a quilt.  Children designed the quilt, and Milly the quilter sewed it.

Romana and Milly bonded like best buddies.  The God Bless America quilt now hangs at the Fisher House in Boston.

For Romana, the hundred little things exploded with Milly the quilter.  On Milly’s birthday, Romana delivered flowers.  Every time they were together, their eyes and smiles were locked on to each other.  They didn’t talk much.  Words weren’t necessary.

Milly was visiting to finalize helping children select fabrics for our quilt.  Romana wanted to tell Milly that she was going to Romania, so we opened our big book atlas and found Romania.  This was an in-depth discussion with everyone.  We looked at how far Romania is from France (we studied France last year).  We didn’t know that Romania is on the Black Sea (did you know that?)

I learned much about family traditions and culture in Romania.  When Romana was five or six, she went to Romania – alone – to spend much of the summer with her grandparents. They only spoke Romanian.  I taught Romana’s younger sister and brother in the following years.

And then the unthinkable happened.  

Their father became sick with cancer and died in a relatively short period of time.  His mother came to America from Romania to see her son before he died.  I went to their house to take care of the children so the adults could have some time together.  That was so sad.  We played.  I brought along my autoharp and a stack of picture books.

I will never forget the funeral.  I’d never been to a Greek Orthodox funeral.  It was formal, with an open casket.  Children were in a playroom downstairs, yet Romana came into the sanctuary, saw me, and climbed up onto my lap for much of the funeral.  My goodness!  She was fine.  I held it together.

Over the next few years I visited, always bringing my autoharp and a stack of books.  We played, sang, danced, and read stories.  It was delightful.

Time moves on and so do children and their families.  A few years ago the family stopped by school to say hello and goodbye, as they are moving out of town.  I wasn’t there!  So, they wrote messages to me on the chalkboard, and climbed up on the loft in my classroom to make me a video.

I have watched the video at least seven million times.  I love you, Romana. I love your family.  Thank you!


Posted in Death and dying, Family, Giving, Inspiration, preschool, Student alumni, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , , , , | 76 Comments

Memories of Mac

This Christmas card arrived from Mac and his family.  Oh, the memories and stories I have to tell.  He is quite ‘old’ in this photo, so I have to go back four years to tell you about Mac.

“Oh Jennie, how we miss you so!
We are forever grateful for the 2 years Mac had with you
that will serve him for a lifetime.

Lots of love.”

Mac wasn’t quite three years old when he started in my preschool class.  One of my first memories is when he discovered our Memory Garden at school.  He wanted to know about the stones and statues, and the departed classroom pets they represented.  He loved the planted American flags.  We had just had a Memorial Day remembrance at school.  It made an impression on him.  Mac often ‘visited’ the Memory Garden after that day.

November 9, 2017

Mac loved spending time looking at the picture books in the classroom.  His absolute favorite book was “Humphrey The Lost Whale.”  Every time I read this book to children, I think of Mac.  It’s a nice memory for me.

The book includes a map of the United States on the end papers.  This is where Mac started a lesson that exploded in the best of ways.

First we studied the map and traced Humphrey’s route from the ocean to the Sacramento River.  Next, we studied the small map, but it was too small to really see.  I got out our Big Book Atlas.  We found San Francisco and Humphrey’s locale.  We also found Massachusetts (we always relate geography to home), and then the questions started to flow.

“Why is Massachusetts so small?”  “How far away is Humphrey?”
Mac noticed Mount Rushmore on the Big Book Atlas.  “What’s that?”

I told them about carving the huge rock.  I told them about the four presidents.  I tried to explain how big Mount Rushmore really is.  “You would be much smaller than the nose.”

Blank stares.  I had to do more.  I grabbed the iPad and found a photo of a worker on the nose at Mount Rushmore.  That helped show Mac and the children about the size.  This was exciting!  Of course it had nothing to do with Humphrey, but that didn’t matter.  This is emergent curriculum, when a teachable moment presents itself, and that becomes the lesson.  This was a joyful one for everybody.  And yes, we finally read “Humphrey the Lost Whale.”  Mac took it home that weekend.

Mac loved Gloria

January 9, 2019

Mac’s dad was a high school English teacher, and was surprised that I read chapter books to the children at rest time.  We often had discussions about children and reading, even though the ages of the students we taught were far apart.  Interestingly, he reached out to me as to how to get his students to listen to books he read aloud, and of course to get them to read more.  Teacher to teacher.

“Turn out the lights.  Have them put their heads down on their desks and close their eyes”, I suggested.  “That’s what I do at chapter reading.”

He was stunned.  “Really?”

One of the first things children will often ask is, “Where are the pictures?”, and I tell them how to make the pictures in their head: the words go into your ears, then to your brain, and sometimes into your heart.  Then, you will see the pictures.”

We talked about this for a while.  He was excited, as if he had discovered something brand new.  Well, he had.  The following week he couldn’t wait to tell me how marvelous it now was to read aloud to his students.  I smiled.  He did, too.

Mac and his family moved away.  That summer Mac and his dad went camping up north.  They got supplies in a nearby town, including a trip to the local book store for Mac to pick out a book for his dad to read to him.  He selected “Charlotte’s Web”, which Mac loved and remembered from chapter reading in the classroom.  Dad was so happy, he sent me this photo:

July 24, 2019

A few years later – which is now – these memories are still with Mac and his family.  They’re still with me, too.  Thank you, Mac!


Posted in American flag, chapter reading, children's books, Early Education, geography, Gloria, Inspiration, literacy, picture books, preschool, reading, reading aloud, reading aloud | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 86 Comments

A New Year

As the sun sets on 2021,

May we have
Hope, Health, and Happiness
in the New Year

Happy New Year!


Posted in Expressing words and feelings, Inspiration, wonder | Tagged , , , , | 110 Comments


Frank at Frank @ Beach Walk Reflections recently wrote a post about Good.  You can read it here:  It’s important, and it made me think.  Frank’s posts always make me think.  I immediately replied, “Goodness is the root of humanity”, and this has been on my mind.

Goodness and good are slightly different.  Goodness is the ‘state of being good’.

Doing something good is where it starts, goodness is when it sticks.  Bingo!

Is goodness the root of humanity?  You bet!  It takes many good deeds to create goodness.  As a teacher, I do good things.  Every teacher does good things, yet s/he should aspire to make those good things stick – give children goodness.

I do that – especially by reading aloud.

When you read aloud to a child you are educating their heart, giving them the seeds of goodness.  After all, it takes far more than knowledge to become a good citizen.  The givers and the doers, the mothers and fathers, teachers and leaders and workers all have a commonality.  That begins with words, language, and stories.  Good books impart everything from discovering the world, to the subtleties of making choices and decisions, with words woven carefully through characters.  The point is, hearing a multitude of different stories is building one’s self.  Books and stories show you the way.

Perhaps John Phillips, founder and benefactor of the renowned school Phillips Exeter Academy, said it best of all more than two centuries ago:

“Goodness without knowledge is weak and feeble, yet knowledge without goodness is dangerous, and both united form the noblest character and lay the surest foundation of usefulness to mankind.”

Educate the mind and also the heart.  Read aloud.  Make a difference.  Grow a reader, and you grow goodness.


Posted in Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Inspiration, reading aloud, teaching | Tagged , , , , | 45 Comments

Fire and Ice

Ice storm on Christmas Day

It lasted…and lasted.

The only thing to do was start a fire.

Fire and Ice, Football, and Leftovers.
Life is Good.


Posted in Expressing words and feelings, Inspiration, Mother Nature, Nature, wonder | Tagged , , | 65 Comments

‘Tis the Season to Be Kind

This gallery contains 15 photos.

Originally posted on No Facilities:
My one-liner is inside the video below. That’s my favorite Christmas commercial, and has been on the air for the past 39 years in the Greater Pittsburgh area. Some people say it isn’t the Christmas…

More Galleries | 44 Comments

Giving – Dollar General, Kelly Clarkson, Dolly Parton, and Me

It is the season of giving.  I can’t tell you how much it meant for me to give to Read Aloud West Virginia.  This would not have happened if I hadn’t been a guest on the Kelly Clarkson Show.  Her mother was a teacher, and grew up in West Virginia.  We have a terrific connection.  Kelly is a genuine giver.

This newsletter from Read Aloud West Virginia tells the story of me, back home.  More importantly, it tells the story of Dollar General.  The co-founder was functionally illiterate.  It was his grandson who wanted to give to literacy in light of his grandfather, and founded the Dollar General Literacy Foundation.

This is just like Dolly Parton!  Her father could not read.  She has been instrumental in giving books to children and her Imagination Library.

Appalachian roots are strong, from West Virginia to Tennessee.  Giving is, too.  I’m glad I brought some of that along with me when I moved to New England.  Giving is everything.

Dollar General gives $50,000 in honor of longtime supporter Jennie Fitzkee

By Amanda Schwartz

Photo courtesy of The Kelly Clarkson Show, NBCUniversal Syndication Studios
Jennie Fitzkee, center, is surprised by the announcement of Dollar General’s generous donation on The Kelly Clarkson Show.

When The Kelly Clarkson Show chose to celebrate preschool teacher Jennie Fitzkee ­­— a West Virginia native and longtime Read Aloud WV supporter ­—Read Aloud’s Executive Director Dawn Miller was asked to video call in to the filming as a surprise.

“Anything for Jennie Fitzkee!” she replied.

Miller was excited to be part of recognizing a dedicated supporter and local literacy champion, but had no idea there was a surprise in store. Both Fitzkee and Miller were shocked and deeply touched by Dollar General’s announcement of a $50,000 gift to Read Aloud in honor of Fitzkee and World Teacher Day.

Fitzkee became involved with Read Aloud in 2012 after the passing of her childhood friend, Read Aloud champion Candy Galyean. Fitzkee (born Jennie Lively Lytton) grew up with Galyean in Huntington, but moved to Groton, Mass., where she has been a preschool teacher for almost 40 years. When her sister sent Galyeans’s obituary in 2012, Fitzkee saw it suggested donations to Read Aloud West Virginia.

“I thought, ‘This has got to be someplace else!’” Fitzkee recalled. “I just can’t believe this! I never knew about this wonderful place.”

Fitzkee called and spoke with Read Aloud founder and then Executive Director Mary Kay Bond. They had much in common, including an inspiration, Jim Trelease, author of The Read Aloud Handbook, first published in 1979.

Eager to give back to her home state and support her friend’s legacy, Fitzkee began collecting books. She and her students and community gathered so many she and husband Steve Fitzkee rented a truck and drove them all the way from Groton, Mass. to Charleston.

After that momentous donation, Fitzkee has continued to support Read Aloud, nurtures readers through her blog “A Teacher’s Reflections,” and has contributed to this newsletter.

“This gift means so much to us,” said Executive Director Dawn Miller. “It is an acknowledgment of the lifelong value of our work to help children develop an intrinsic motivation to read, and it will help Read Aloud to stay strong and flexible, of course.

“But with this gift the Dollar General Literacy Foundation also recognizes the efforts of every volunteer, every teacher, every school coordinator, every principal, every donor ­­— every friend of Read Aloud who has contributed to the effort to help children discover joy in reading,” she said.

“On top of all that, we are touched and honored to still be part of remembering Candy Galyean, who even now plays such an important role in bringing us together in this cause.”

Over the past 28 years, the Dollar General Literacy Foundation has donated more than $203 million to provide funding and resources to support literacy advancement and has helped more than 14.8 million individuals learn to read. In both 2020 and 2021, they granted funds to Read Aloud to support shipments of self-chosen books to low-income children across the Mountain state, keeping them reading through the pandemic and beyond.

Dollar General’s co-founder, J.L. Turner, was functionally illiterate and never completed a formal education. In 1993, J.L.’s grandson, Cal Turner, Jr., founded the Dollar General Literacy Foundation to honor him and support others’ educational journeys.

Dollar General and the Dollar General Literacy Foundation’s $4.5 million investment to help students, teachers, and nonprofit organizations working to support and improve youth literacy across the country includes more than $3 million in youth literacy grants from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation and a new $1.45 million partnership with education nonprofit Donors Choose.

To watch the announcement and Fitzkee’s heartwarming reaction, click here.

Posted in books, children's books, Early Education, Giving, Inspiration, Jim Trelease, literacy, reading, reading aloud, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 88 Comments

Best Children’s Christmas Books – and a New One

Red and Lulu, by Matt Tavares is the story of two cardinals who live in a mighty evergreen tree.  They love their home, their tree.  Best of all, they love it when winter arrives and Christmas carolers sing close by.  Red leaves to get food, and when he returns, the tree is being cut down and hauled away.  He tells Lulu to stay, and he desperately follows the truck as it drives the tree away – but he can’t fly fast enough.  The tree becomes the tree at Rockefeller Center, and the story behind finding Lulu and what happens is fascinating.  It’s Christmas, nature, love, adventure, and never giving up.

This is a repost of my favorite Christmas books.  Every year they grow stronger, because children love them.  These are the books children and adults want to read over and over again.  That’s why they’re the best.  Please, go to the library if it is open.  Get some of these books and read them aloud to your children.  You will be hooked, too.

I want to share with you my favorite Christmas books.  I love books, and I love reading to children.  After a gazillion years, these are the ‘tried and true’, stories that children love. Me, too!

Grab tissues, laughter, and wonder, and some history.  Some books you will recognize. Others might seem new, but they’re not— they’re just better.

The first time I read The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg was in 1985, when the book was published.  I was at a huge family Christmas gathering. Someone put the book in my hand and asked me to read it to the crowd.  This was a new book for me, and as I read the words I was on that train ride.  The ending was hard to read aloud with my heart in my throat. The movie is good, but the book is superior.

On Christmas Eve, by Peter Collington is a captivating wordless book, in the style of The Snowman by Raymond Briggs.  It is based in England, with fairies and Santa Claus traditions.  It is fascinating to follow the fairies helping Santa!

Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree, by Robert Barry is a delightfully predictable tale of a tree that is too tall.  Each time the top is snipped off, it goes to someone else who has the same problem, and so on.  The mouse gets the very last tree top.  The story is done in rhyme, always a delight to the ears of children.

Morris’s Disappearing Bag, by Rosemary Wells is the story of Morris, the youngest in the family, who is too little to play with his sibling’s gifts.  He discovers one last present under the tree, a disappearing bag.  I wonder if J.K. Rowling read this book- perhaps it was the inspiration to create Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak.

Carl’s Christmas, by Alexandra Day is one of the Carl book series.  It is beautifully done with full color illustrations.  Of course Carl is a dog who is often left to look after the baby.  That beginning alone is a story grabber.  Best of all, it is a wordless book, leaving much to speculate and talk about.

Santa Bruce, by Ryan T. Higgins is the newest book on this list.  Bruce is a grumpy old bear, and is again the victim of mistaken identity.  He is not the real Santa, yet all the animals are convinced that he is.  The book is absolutely hilarious.

If I had to pick only one out of the pile of books, it would be Apple Tree Christmas, by Trinka Hakes Noble.  The story takes place in New Hampshire in the 1800’s.  A blizzard, a farm, a tree, and a child who loves to draw.  It is thrilling from beginning to end… grab the tissues, it’s a true story.

My almost number one book is The Year of the Perfect Christmas Treeby Gloria Houston.  The story takes place in rural Appalachia, close to my roots.  It is a story of rural traditions, WWI, a train, and what a mother does on Christmas Eve.  And, it’s a true story. Recommended for kindergarten and above.

Merry Christmas, Strega Nona, by Tomie dePaola is a favorite. Everyone loves Strega Nona and Big Anthony.  This book incorporates the culture of Italy and Christmas, and the lessons of life.

Night Treeby Eve Bunting is a modern tale that tells the story of a family and their tree in the woods.  Every Christmas Eve the family bundles up and heads from their house to the woods.  They find “their tree”, the one they have decorated every year for the animals.  It is a well written story, weaving adventure and giving, and family being together.

Dr. Seuss has always been one of the best.  He outdid himself with How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  The message of the true meaning of Christmas shines through in this book.  Please skip the movie, it doesn’t hold a candle to the book.

Every adult should read these books.  Period.  They are that good.  Then, spread the joy and learning by reading aloud these books to children, young and old.  They will love the stories.  You will, too.

Merry Christmas!


Posted in Book Review, books, children's books, Giving thanks, Inspiration, literacy, Nature, picture books, preschool, reading, young children | Tagged , , | 64 Comments

An Arcing Contrail Against a Full Moon

At school, December has been a month of learning about the planets, stars, and light.  We have watched a video of the Atlantis Space Shuttle launch in 1985, and hoped to see the new James Webb telescope launch into space.  Unfortunately that has been delayed.

Just when we were filled with knowledge about the sky, we looked up last Friday evening on the playground to see a perfect arc.  Perfect.  It started against the full moon and ended on the opposite side of the sky.  It was a contrail, but unlike any I have seen.

Children were ‘star struck’.  Nothing is better than the real deal, looking up into the sky.  What a fitting finale to our December unit of study.  Eyes on STEM at its best.

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” 
– Carl Sagan-


Posted in Inspiration, Learning About the World, Nature, Quotes, Teaching young children, wonder | Tagged , , , | 48 Comments

Best Christmas Commercial – From Darlene Foster

Thank you to Darlene at Darlene Foster’s Blog  for sharing this wonderful Christmas Commercial!  Yes, I recommend having a tissue on hand.

Merry Christmas,


Posted in Expressing words and feelings, Family, Giving, Giving thanks, Inspiration | Tagged , , , | 39 Comments