Seasonal books for kids

by Felicia Sanzari Chernesky

The early morning air wafting through the open windows was softly crisp on the eve of the autumnal equinox. The front lawn, an aging green, was littered with large curled sepia sycamore leaves. The house sat blissfully quiet, everyone else having left for school and work, except for “Autumn Music” playing on Pandora.


For me, the first day of fall heralds the decorating cycle—Halloween, Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas, Winter (snowmen!), Valentine’s Day, Lent, St. Patrick’s Day (family birthdays/wedding anniversary), and Easter—that will culminate with growing season next spring. I’ll display my father’s collection of roosters in the bay window as it overlooks a young green yard carpeted with purple violets and welcomes a symphony of birdsong into the house.


As a child I learned about the changing year—bolstering what I learned in school—through the lens of what was happening in our yard. This became linked with the cultural holidays and religious feasts taking place in each season. For example, I remember crunching through crystalline snow in rubber boots to see if the fragile gold and amethyst crocus were blooming in the icy cold beneath the birdbath near the brook that divided our front lawn. No matter how miraculous this seemed, I learned it was a sign that spring and Easter were coming.


My parents and sisters populate these memories. My dad loved decorating the house for holidays and tended the yard with my grandfathers. In the kitchen, my mom turned garden peppers and eggplant into glorious feasts. Everyone wanted to eat at our house! Though my children find this bizarre, some of my happiest family memories involve raking leaves and shoveling snow together, talking and laughing while washing dinner dishes, and picking and canning endless pounds of plum tomatoes in late summer to jar for gravy (tomato sauce) for Sunday macaroni in the coming months.

In my developing mind, this exciting and inspiring cycle of seasons and holidays and feasts seemed to begin, not on January 1, but with the return to school and apple picking in September. It’s no wonder my first picture books are seasonal!


Today, while decorating the house for holidays, I display a variety of seasonal picture books. The most weathered copies are mine from childhood, some belong to my children, others I’ve collected since commencing my journey as a picture book author. I love them all, but the fall and Halloween picture books are especially dear. A favorite among favorites is Pumpkin Pumpkin, by Jeanne Titherington. The simple text and amazing textured illustrations distill the story of the seasonal year down to six amazing pumpkin seeds. It’s poetry.

pumpkin pumpkin

It also represents everything I aspire to in my own writing—capturing the essence of an unfolding story in vivid and efficient text, and delighting in the privilege of watching as illustrators such as Susan Swan and Julia Patton elaborate in color, texture, and image.

What are your favorite seasonal books for kids? 

Seasonal books for kids

Raising children: How to meditate

by author Whitney Stewart 

I began meditation and yoga in high school after a knee injury kept me from playing sports. At first I struggled with being still and watching my breath. Some days I felt grounded and calm. Other days I felt like a failure because my busy mind was so loud. After thirty years of practice, my mind is still busy, but I watch it as if it were a fountain of colored lights and let it be. Difficulty comes not from mental movement but from becoming lost in thought.

whitney blog post meditating 1

Meditation has taught me to experience an expanded sense of being that is not limited to body or mind. It’s as if my skin disappears and nothing separates me from anything or anyone. In this state, I lack nothing, and I’m inspired to project compassion to those who need it.

After Hurricane Katrina upended New Orleans where I live, I volunteered as a creative writing teacher in a public school. I realized quickly that my fifth-grade students were suffering from stress and family dysfunction and couldn’t easily focus on writing. They fought on the playground and acted out in class. Nobody had taught them skills to self-regulate or resolve conflict.

whitney meditation 2

I used simple meditation techniques with them — breathing and visualizations — and after some weeks, the children responded positively. “I feel like I’m floating on clouds,” one said. “It’s so peaceful,” said another. They began to concentrate more easily, to understand and follow my directions, and to write stories with more narrative depth. More importantly, they had a tool for responding to their own harmful emotions.

Meditation is an Open Sky

I wrote Meditation is an Open Sky so children can learn meditation on their own or in other classrooms or groups. I wish I’d written it sooner for my post-Katrina kids. Wherever they are now, perhaps they still remember how to focus their mind and heart and live with more ease and kindness.

What’s your favorite way to calm your mind?

Raising children: How to meditate

7 reasons I love Brazil

by author Ana Crespo

Considered by many to be the most beautiful word in the Portuguese language, Saudade has no literal translation to English. Saudade is what you feel when you miss someone or something. Saudade is what I feel for Brazil.

Rio, Brazil

(Photo: Rio seen from Corcovado by Ana Crespo)

I love the United States. Every year we travel to many U.S. states, having visited 34 of them by car, plus Hawaii. The United States is a beautiful country with wonderful people. However, there are certain aspects about the place you grew up that always bring you comfort.


Ipanema and Leblon Beach

(Photo: Leblon and Ipanema Beach seen from Mirante Dois Irmaos by Ana Crespo)

For me, it’s the cold waters of Ipanema beach. The refreshing breeze of the ocean as you walk on the calçadão. The coconut water. The Brazilian rodízio restaurant right after a morning under the hot sun. The bits of samba and bossa nova on the streets. The Feira Hippie. And, most of all, the family and friends.


Sock Thief

It’s Saudade, more than any educational reason, that encourages me to share the culture and traditions of the place I come from with my kids. That makes me search everywhere for the right ingredients to make pão de queijo. That makes me drive over an hour to eat coxinha. That makes me listen to Brazilian music in the car. That makes me read Brazilian children’s books. It was Saudade that motivated me to write The Sock Thief. Saudade is a big part of who I am.


Sugar Loaf seen from Corcovado

(Photo: Sugar Loaf seen from Corcovado by Ana Crespo)

September 7 is Brazil’s Independence Day. I imagine Saudade has a hand on the many Brazilian Day celebrations happening this month everywhere around the world.

Author Ana Crespo is originally from Brazil and has lived in the United States for 15 years. She lives in Colorado with her husband and two kids. Her two latest picture books, which are part of a new series, My Emotions and Me,  published on September 1: J.P. and the Giant Octopus and J.P. and the Polka-Dotted Aliens.

What is it about your hometown – in the US or not – that makes you feel Saudade?

7 reasons I love Brazil

Beach reads: 5 reasons to pick up The Opposite of Loneliness

by author Laura Hurwitz

I am writing this on the heels of a two-week beach vacation, during which I had the gift of time to read.

Beach reads are, by definition, light, easily digestible fare. And while attention spans tend to be shortened when the senses are constantly diverted by pounding surf and five o’clock cocktails, I prefer to read bite-sized quality as opposed to gorging on the literary equivalent of junk food. That’s why I’ve been loving short stories.

A writing teacher of mine once said novels are too large for perfection, but short stories are small enough that they can be polished to near-flawlessness. They can also be read in one sitting and reflected upon for hours, making them the perfect beach read.

oppositeofloneliness image

This summer, one collection of short stories stood out for me: The Opposite of Loneliness, by a young writer named Marina Keegan. Keegan was twenty-two years old when, five days after graduating magna cum laude from Yale and poised to embark on an already- promising literary career, she was killed in a car accident.

  • The stories in The Opposite of Loneliness have no common theme. Keegan explores a variety of relationships, romantic and familial, and every plot is distinctive. One story, “Cold Pastoral”, explores a young woman’s reaction to the sudden death of a quasi-boyfriend; another, the terrifying “Challenger Deep,” is about a submarine that catastrophically loses power, trapping its crew in darkness at the bottom of an unfathomable ocean trench.
  • Keegan writes headlong, her youthful zest shaded by an oddly prescient wisdom. She has a natural ability to pace her stories, and her dialogue is effortlessly uncontrived.
  • One of the reviews of her work claims Keegan is “not merely a gifted college writer, but a gifted writer.”
    • This is intended as an accolade, I’m sure, but I disagree. The fact that Keegan is a college writer is precisely why she is so remarkable. She wrote from the perspective that her entire life, with its plans, dreams, and endless possibilities, stretched out before her. She wrote from the carpe diem edge, embodying the unshakeable conviction that her words would someday make a difference to the world. She was, in her own words, the “Yes to everything!”
  • The Opposite of Loneliness is the enduring record of a gifted college writer’s urgent voice, cut short. That it is published posthumously adds a layer of poignancy to Keegan’s words, but even cut loose from the tragic backstory, the narratives shine. They are immediately engaging, which is the single most important attribute of any successful short story.

Tell Me A Riddlethe lottery

After summer is over and the beach is but a distant memory, short stories make for great year-round reading. One of my all-time favorites is Shirley Jackson’s grim, iconic “The Lottery,” which definitely inspired The Hunger Games. I also recommend these collections: Kurt Vonnegut’s Welcome to the Monkey House, Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find, and Tillie Olsen’s Tell Me a Riddle.

Laura Hurwitz is a graduate of Yale University. She is the author of six travel-essay books, maintains a popular blog, and recently began a podcast (parents, please note the content and language). Laura lives with her husband, Sam, and, on occasion, some number of her six adult children in Connecticut.  

What’s one of your favorite beach reads?

Beach reads: 5 reasons to pick up The Opposite of Loneliness

5 ways to head back to school

Our authors take us on a stroll through memory lane as they give us a glimpse into their lives as students.

Sherry Shahan back to school graduation 2From Vietnam

Being in high school during the tumultuous 1960s was insane. That was the time of the first Watts Riots and seemingly endless Vietnam War. We didn’t have cell phones, let alone text. My family only had one landline. No call-waiting or answering machine. I exchanged lengthy hand-written letters with my friends at school. (Usually composed during math.) When a guy in our crowd was drafted it seemed logical that I send juicy tidbits of our crowd’s shenanigans. (His letters have been in a tattered shoebox for nearly 50 years.) I believe those years of intense correspondence shaped me into the writer I am today. –Author Sherry Shahan

LauraHurwitzandbrother1950s or so back to school

Pictured: Author Laura Hurwitz with her brother in the 1950s

The summer between 5th and 6th grade my family moved to a different part of town, which meant going to a new school. While my reputation for being a shy nerd had been etched in stone at my old school, I had a shot at a clean slate. When I showed up at the bus stop wearing the back-to-school outfit my mother picked out, which included white socks and saddle shoes like Blanche DuBois, I found myself dependent upon the kindness of a stranger, Diana, who was a year older than me and exponentially cooler. She told me it would be a mistake to wear this outfit to school, as I would get made fun of. She suggested I take the socks off and hide them in a nearby hedge. Then, the second I got home from school, I should make my mother buy a pair of penny loafers for me. I followed her instructions, thereby surviving sixth grade. To this day I don’t know why she went out of her way to be kind to me, but I do know this: I was not an outcast because pretty, popular Diana was not a stereotype. –Laura Hurwitz


Pictured: Author Jolene Perry in high school

When I was in high school, we had open campus for lunch. But the ability to leave during lunch didn’t do us much good because my high school was a small school out in the sticks. We’d attempted to make a Taco Bell run during lunch, but always missed the first ten minutes of fifth period because it was about fifteen miles away. The consolation? Near the end of the long road that our school sat on the end of was a fireworks stand with a gigantic gorilla out front. Lunch consisted of speeding down Hawk Lane, driving under the large gorilla while honking obnoxiously and then off-roading down the four-wheeler trailer, and into the middle of the creek at the bottom of the hill. We’d crawl out the windows of my truck into the bed and eat lunch with the creek water running around us. One of those very unique experiences that doesn’t feel unique until much later. And every time I drive by that fireworks stand, I remember high school lunch. –Jolene Perry

Felicia Chernesky first day of school 1969 smaller

Pictured: Author Felicia Sanzari Chernesky on the first day of school in 1969

Like most parents, this time each August I’m eager for the school year to arrive (cue that popular Staples commercial). Even as a young child I’d get butterflies anticipating those first September school days. I soon associated school bus rides with falling leaves and apple picking, and the harvest season came to signify bounty and new adventures in learning and independence. I remember the thrill of poring over a Scholastic book flyer and getting to choose one book myself! My first treasured selections: Happiness Is a Warm Puppy, by Charles Schulz, and the wonderfully silly Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing, by Judi and Ron Barrett. The well-worn copies still populate our family bookshelves. Something resonated within my school and autumn-loving spirit when From Apple Trees to Cider, Please! came to fruition. I’m delighted to discover that the kinds of storytelling and artwork that nourished my love of reading and learning is growing within my own books! To all things there is a season—and I’m grateful to be finding my purpose and place. –Felicia Sanzari Chernesky


Pictured: Author Jacqueline Jules

In fourth grade, our teacher—a slim brunette in her early twenties—read aloud Robert Lawson’s Ben and Me: An Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin by His Good Mouse Amos. I remember the delight on my teacher’s face as she read Amos’s account of Benjamin Franklin’s illustrious career. Amos, the mouse, has such a strong personality in the book. I almost felt like I was in that fur hat whispering in Franklin’s ear and watching him attend political gatherings in France. Of course I knew that a mouse didn’t really provide the creative ideas for Franklin’s amazing success, but the mouse-size view of history was highly amusing. I loved sitting in my desk listening to the story come alive in my teacher’s lilting voice. She was always smiling when she read aloud. Enjoying Ben and Me as a group experience has stayed with me through the years. I can still see the image of my teacher, chuckling while she read in front of the class. In today’s world, there isn’t always time to read books aloud in the classroom. I am grateful that I grew up in a more relaxed educational era and could enjoy many classroom read alouds. It helped make me the reader (and writer) I am today. –Jacqueline Jules

What’s your favorite back-to-school memory?

5 ways to head back to school

5 ways to experience back to school

Our authors dive into their childhoods to describe a memorable school experience as you go back to school this fall.

Linda Joy with best friend Lori bus stop first day jr high

                                   Pictured: Author Linda Joy Singleton with best friend Lori                                       at the bus stop on the first day of junior high school.

While starting a new school year could sometimes cause anxiety, especially when my best friend was going to a different school, the one thing that made returning to school fun was my back-to-school shopping day with Mom. I have three siblings so going out with Mom alone was rare. Before school started every year, each of us kids went out individually to buy school supplies and have lunch with Mom. After buying paper, pencils, binders and a new outfit to wear on the first day of school, we’d climb up to the lunch counter at Woolworths and order burgers and fries. I think I enjoyed this special lunch more than getting new clothes. And I’d always end this fun outing with a milk shake for dessert. –Linda Joy Singleton

WhitneyStewart back to school

Pictured: Author Whitney Stewart as a young child

Back to school was always hard for me. I LOVED summer swimming and bike riding. And trips to the penny-candy store. But one thing made back to school fun—BOOK FAIRS! My mom is a big reader too, and she’d let me buy an armload of books at the fair. I could trade them for my allowance. I’d stack my new books on my desk and stare at them, dreaming of the stories I’d discover. I’d smell my books and run my hands over the clean pages. I’ve never lost that love of books—new or old. As long as the teachers let me read, I was a happy girl. –Whitney Stewart 

Nancy Viau ponytail school pic

Pictured: Author Nancy Viau as a child

I couldn’t wait to go back to school every September! I had my pencils sharpened, notebooks labeled, and my Scotch-plaid school bag packed and sitting at the front door by August 1st. I have very fond memories of my metal lunchbox, a favorite back-to-school item. After all, it was also Scotch-plaid like my school bag, and it came with a matching Thermos, which meant my mom trusted me with something that could shatter in an instant if dropped. I carried it like it was a glass goblet. When the first day came, I jumped out of bed the second I was called. I dove into my outfit (skirt, cardigan, knee socks, black and white saddle shoes), and skipped to the bus stop. No one was there, of course. I was always an hour early. That back-to-school enthusiasm never faded in high school or college. Always first in class and last to leave; I never wanted to miss a thing. –Nancy Viau

sarah lynn scheerger in 7th grade

Pictured: Author Sarah Lynn Scheerger in seventh grade

Middle school is a time of change. Changing classes, changing friends, changing bodies, changing “out” for P.E. (ugh.) One special part of my routine did not change. Our English teacher, Mrs. Moore, read out loud to us for the first fifteen minutes of every class period. I had English right after lunch, and I remember sitting in my seat, listening to the shushing sound of the air conditioner, and drinking in the story. It was one of my favorite parts of each day. I particularly remember her reading the book Tuck Everlasting out loud. After she read, she’d pause and ask us what we thought of the story. Good times. –Sarah Lynn Scheerger

Alison Ashley Formento back to school

Pictured: Author Alison Formento in first grade

When I do author visits, one of the throwback photos I share is my first grade school picture. The dress I’m wearing is made from a fabric with an autumn leaf print. I loved this dress because I felt like I was wearing a tree. I loved and still love climbing trees, hiking through a thick forest, and sitting under the shade of a tree to read a book. I was a daydreamer (I still am!) in school, often looking out of the classroom windows. It helped me focus to see the trees behind our school, especially when writing or tackling math problems. It’s no different now. If I gaze at the trees in my yard, or take a nice walk in my local park, I’m always more focused when I sit down to write.  –Alison Formento

What’s your favorite back-to-school memory?

5 ways to experience back to school

5 reasons to read Lilliput on your vacation

by author Suzanne Slade

I’m obsessed with nonfiction books. I like to read thick, technical science books for fun. I read piles of children’s nonfiction picture books to keep abreast of what’s on the market (and because I love them!) On the rare occasion when I do read fiction, it’s a refreshing treat, and I’m pleased to share a new fiction gem I enjoyed while on vacation this summer—Lilliput.

Lilliput cover

To become my official vacation read, Lilliput first had to earn a place in my suitcase. (Sidenote: After years of intensive training, my husband has converted me to a “ultra-light” packer, so this means there was room for only one book in my small bag.) The night before I was to leave on my trip I hadn’t selected a book yet; there were several on my nightstand I’d been wanting to read. I made the executive decision to read the first chapter of each to determine which one was worthy of the trip. Well, the first chapter of Lilliput (only seven pages) hooked me immediately, and it won the spot in my bag.


  1. The book was so compelling I finished it long before I returned home from vacation. I love how the main character, Lily, is a great role model for young readers with her unwavering determination and kind nature, despite the constant challenges she faces while trying to make her way back home to Lilliput.
  2. Lilly2The giant villain, Lemuel Gulliver, who kidnapped Lily and held her hostage for proof of his discoveries, supplied wonderful humor—with just the right amount of evil. I enjoyed how the author developed this character, and found myself feeling a tad empathetic toward the giant as I learned of his hopes and disappointments.
  3. Then there’s Finn, the hero, who was trapped by a unique prison of his own, yet he looked beyond his dire circumstances and bravely helped Lily escape.
  4. lily3To top it all off, the illustrations by Alice Ratterree are outstanding! The details she included are incredible, and her lovely action-filled pictures have heart.
  5. In the book’s Afterword, the author, Sam Gayton, shares his initial hesitation to write a story based on characters from Jonathan Swift’s classic tale, Gulliver’s Travels, due to concerns about copyright infringement. He relates a charming family anecdote about how his mom allayed his copyright fears when she declared (with a mouth full of dry scone crumbs), “Miffs fin rer fubric fromay.” Translation—“Gulliver’s Travels is in the public domain.”

If you’re looking for a great read to finish off your summer vacation, especially before heading back to school, Lilliput is the perfect choice. This fresh, daring story about a small girl’s quest for big things—freedom, friendship, and family—is truly magical.

Suzanne Slade is the award-winning author of 100 children’s books. Most days you’ll find her researching new book ideas, reading, writing children’s books, or visiting a school near you!

5 reasons to read Lilliput on your vacation