Donna O'Donnell Figurski's Blog

It's All About Me!

Anything Writing #3 I Write — Sometimes, I Read

I Write — Sometimes, I Read
              (reposted and revised from my website, November 2009)



My writing group, the Write Group of Montclair sponsors Open Mics every month. Twice a year we meet at Barnes and Noble book store to read to the public. I am reading a chapter from my book in progress. It is about my husband, David, and the traumatic brain injury he suffered and survived in January 2005. The picture I am holding is David on Christmas morning just three weeks before his trauma.

Reading to strangers gives me a sense of well-being. They encourage me with their intent interest in the story and their  amazement at David’s survival.

donna-david-pict-2-b&nDavid comes with me to the readings. He is living proof and testament to my words.

The first draft of the book is completed. I am  working on revisions and will send it to a publisher when done.


Update: My book, Prisoner Without Bars: Conquering Traumatic Brain Injury is completed and is now searching for an agent.

(Photos compliments of ME.)

Please check out my Surviving Traumatic Brain Injury blog to learn more about my book and read interviews from Traumatic Brain Injury Survivors and Caregivers.

June 14, 2014 Posted by | Anything Writing | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Anything Writing #2 So You Want to be a Writer

So You Want to be a Writer
(Reposted and revised from my website, February 2010)

Many hopeful children’s book writers believe that after they finish the text of their story, they need to find an illustrator. That is a myth and probably the biggest misconception of beginning writers.

Female student writing at deskBelow I offer insight that I found along the way. I hope that these suggestions will be helpful to new writers for children. And … yes, I was one of those beginner writers (many years ago) who thought I had to find an illustrator.

You do NOT need to find an illustrator.

Once you have completed the book in its most finished form, you may begin the search for a publisher or an agent. This is a daunting experience because publishers and agents receive hundreds, sometimes thousands of manuscripts daily, depending on the company and their size and popularity. Unfortunately they only publish a very few of those. The larger, more popular companies, may publish about thirty titles a year; while the smaller companies may publish between two and three titles. This is where your hardest work begins.

Here are several suggestions below:

You need to do your research to find out which company would be the best fit for your story. To do that, you should go to the library or bookstore to find other books that are similar to yours. Then target those companies. Since you can only send your manuscript to one company at a time, and they usually take between three to six months to respond, if they respond at all, be sure to make good choices.

Since the business of publishing a children’s book has so many facets, you really need to do your homework. One of the best resources is the Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market – the current version. Sometimes you can find this in the library, but I recommend purchasing your own copy so you can mark it up.

There are two comprehensive books on the market to help you find the perfect agent. Guide to Literary Agents  by Chuck Sambuchino and Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents: Who They Are, What They Want, How to Win Them Over. Chuck also has a great blog online with the latest on agents’ wishes. Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents Blog. Unfortunately, finding an agent can be just as daunting as finding a publisher, so you have to decide which route to take. An agent usually requires between 10% to 15% of your book earnings. A good agent is worth every penny.

This is probably the best suggestion of all. Go to writer’s conferences and join the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators. (SCBWI)  You can join for about $70.00 a year and they provide an immense amount of information. There are also local chapters. For example: scbwi – Arizona or New Jersey SCBWI, I think all of the states have a chapter. There are even international chapters in Australia East/New ZealandIndonesiaMongolia, and Japan to name a few.

Joining a local children’s book writer’s group can also be helpful to get feedback on your writing.

You can check out my website for a list of very helpful books about how to publish your children’s book. My Writing Life This is actually the page you are on. Just scroll down.

Probably the best advice I can give to you is – if you believe in your book and this a dream you really want to happen, then be PERSISTENT and be PATIENT. It is just about the hardest field to break into. It can be done. Many have done it.

I hope that this information will help you.

Wishing you the best of luck.


(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)


If you have some time, check out my Surviving Traumatic Brain Injury blog.

June 14, 2014 Posted by | Anything Writing | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Musings by Donna #67 I Lost My Best Friend


(1951 – 2014)


This is my friend, Patty Williams Streips. I call her Trish. No one else does. Only ME!

I met Trish many years ago when she worked in the Microbiology Department at the University of Rochester in Rochester, NY. in the same department as my husband, David. Trish and I have been best friends ever since. donna-&-trsih-estes-park-1We even lived in San Diego at the same time . . . before she moved to Louisville to marry Uldis. Although Trish lived in Louisville and we didn’t see each other often, our hearts were always linked.

Below is a poem I wrote for my . . .


Though we don’t talk on the telephone,
Or see each other every day.
Our hearts, our minds, our souls,
Are not so far away.

You know I’ll be here for you.
And I know you’re there for me.
A friendship likes yours and mine,
Is treasured eternally.

You are my friend; and I am yours.
Oh . . . the secrets and joys we share!
I send my love, girlfriend,
To remind you that I care.

With love and wishes
for a happy birthday!



When Trish and I were together, we never stopped laughing. That’s what we did best together.

The cross-country miles never broke our bond. I’ve visited Trish and her family in Louisville many times through the years. One summer Trish and I even met at Lake Erie to camp for a week–a girl’s week out. We “pounded” our stakes into the sand of the beach, just a few hundred yards from Sara’s at the edge of Presque Isle. We arranged our door flaps only feet from each other so we could lean out and talk late into the night, and giggle too, of course. We spent all of our time together … talking and giggling.

Trish recently sent me a picture of herself at a baby shower with her friends. I smiled when I looked at it. She was laughing hysterically. I sent her this email:

Hey Trish,
Cool pict. Thanks for sending it.

You were doing what you do best … laughing!!!!

It made me laugh just to see you laugh. It’s contagious, Friend.

Love you.


She replied:

I laugh best when I am with you.



Oh so true! So do I when I’m with her!

I will miss you, Girlfriend. And, as we ended every phone call or visit …

Love You!



May 6, 2014 Posted by | Musings by Donna | , , | 11 Comments

Musings by Donna #66 Paradise Went Gray

Gray rainy sky th



Paradise went gray. It looks like a New Jersey day. The sky is thick with clouds – dark ones. Instead of oaks, maples, and evergreens, palm trees enthusiastically wave as though greeting long lost friends. The yellow flower-clad branches of the palo verdePalm Trees Blowing th trees sweep the sky trying to rid it of those pesky clouds. It’s working. Patches of blue peak through, making way for the sun to follow.

For now, the grayness is welcome – if only for an hour, maybe a day. The newness, the respite from the constant blue sky is refreshing. Tomorrow though I want the sun back. But for today, I’ll enjoy the grayness through my wall-to-wall window with streaming hot coffee in my favorite blue cup. Ich liebe es!

Ich Liebe Dich Cup

As I say after each post:

Please leave a Comment by simply clicking the blue words “Leave a Comment” below this post.

Feel free to Like my post.

You can also Vote for my post by clicking on a star. (David needs company.)

If you enjoy my blog, please pass it on to all your friends and they to theirs. (I’d like to drive up the readership. Sometimes it feels like I am wrting in a vacuum. So go ahead. Send it to 10 of your friends.)

If you hate my blog, go ahead and send it to your enemies. (10 enemies would be good.) I won’t mind.

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

(Photo compliments of ME.)

April 26, 2014 Posted by | Musings by Donna | , , , | 2 Comments

Teacher’s Pets #18 Capstone Press – Pebble Books



(This set of books is shown as an example of the sets of book, which are offered by Capstone Press. PENGUINS is reviewed below.)

Capstone Press produces a vast range of non-fiction titles for Pre-K through 12th grade. These easy to read fact-filled, photo-illustrated books are a great addition to your personal library, but they are also especially valuable for teachers and students as a resource tool in any classroom. High interest topics combined with reading ease make these books fun to read. Pebble Books are written for beginning readers in grades Pre-K to 2nd grade.


FROM the MOUTHS of KIDDLE CRITers: a critique group

“All of the PEBBLE animal books have chapters,” said Annie.

“They also have the same beginning chapter,” said Pritka.

“For example,” said Keisha, “ Woodpeckers is the name of the first chapter in the Woodpecker book.”

“And, the title of the first chapter of Coyote is coyotes,” said Philippe.

“Each animal book also tells about where the animals live,” said Pritka.

“The books also tell what the animals do,” said Juan, “Beavers use sticks and mud to build their homes, which are called dams.”

“All the books are non-fiction,” said Lucy.

“And there are maps in the books, too,” said Juan.

“And timelines,” said Jake. “And some of the books have real photographs.”

“Yeah!” said Annie, “They show where the animals homes are . . . like penguins live in the Antarctic.”

“And woodpeckers live in the woodlands,” said Keisha.

“There are many weather books in this series, too,” said Lucy. “Some of them are Clouds, Ice, Snow, and Lightning.”

“When I read the Fog book,” said Pritka, “I noticed there were no maps to show where fog goes.” She laughed and continued. “Because fog can be anywhere!”

“I like these books because they have lots of information,” said Philippe.

“I would recommend these books to young readers,” said Pritka, “because the text is big.”

“I agree,” said Keisha, “because these books are short and easy for little kids to read.”


by Margaret Hall
Capstone Press Pebble Books
ISBN: 0-7368-2063-9W
Grades PreK-2


“Beavers are rodents,” said Jake.

“And they are nocturnal rodents,” said Pritka.

“Beavers use their tails for warning animals and people,” said Miguel.

“Beavers rule the wetlands,” said Pritka. “ because they can squash animals with their flat tails.”

“If I were a beaver, I would be wet and cool in the water,” said Philippe. He thought for a moment. “I would recommend this book to my dad. He would be interested because he likes to swim in the water, too.”


by Patricia J. Murphy
Capstone Press Pebble Books
ISBN: 0-7368-2072-8W
Grades PreK-2

“Coyotes are in the dog family,” said Steven.
“They look like puppies when they are young,” said Raymond.

“Coyotes aren’t fed, (like dogs) you know?” said Lucas. “They have to catch their own food.”

“If I were a coyote, I would eat meat,” said Steven, “ . . . like rabbits.”

“I enjoyed this book,” said Lucas, “because it gives you information about an animal that lives on the grasslands.”


by Helen Frost
Capstone Press Pebble Books
ISBN: 0-7368-2093-0W
Grades PreK-2


“Fog forms from air and water,” said Pritka.

“It’s called water vapor,” said Jake.

“Fog is a cloud,” said Pritka.

“Fog can be near water or ground,” said Philippe.

“When it gets foggy, you can’t see,” said Kiley.

“Yeah, it can be dangerous,” said Barry.

“No one can see through thick fog,” said Lucy. “It looks like dusty air.”

“When it gets foggy, people in cars can’t see, so they have to put on their lights,” said Kiley.

“And, planes can’t land in thick fog,” said Philippe.

“There are all kinds of fog,” said Juan, “Like advection fog, and ice fog.”

“I’d like to live in the ice/snow type of fog because I just LOVE SNOW!” said Annie. “But, if I stay in it for a long time, I might become frozen.”


Emily Rose Townsend
Capstone Press Pebble Books
ISBN: 0-7368-2357-3W
Grades PreK-2


“Penguins are a type of bird,” said Alexa.

“Penguins are a type of bird,” said Annie.

“They can swim,” said Jake.

“But they can’t fly,” said Kiley.

“They are the only birds that can’t fly,” said Pritka.

“They love coldness,” said Lucy. “so they live in Antarctica.”

“South of the equator,” said Juan.

“Penguins have black and white feathers,” said Annie.

“And they are fat to keep warm,” said Kiley.

“Well, if I were a penguin, I would be cold, too,” said Philippe with a laugh.

“I think penguins look like toys,” said Keisha.

“If you read this animal book, you will be an animal wizard,” said Pritka. “. . . and that’s a fact.”


by Lisa Trumbauer
Capstone Press Pebble Books
ISBN: 0-7368-2371-9W
Grades PreK-2


“Sitting Bull was a Lakota Indian,” said Annie.

“He was born in the 1830s,” said Philippe.

“Sitting Bull is remembered for defending the American Indians’ way of life,” said Juan.

“His army won the battle,” said Keisha, “but it was pretty sad how they had to move away after the war.”

“If I were Sitting Bull and I fought in the war,” said Lucy, “I would go straight home and never go back again.”

“I wish I could rule the land,” said Keisha, “because there are bad things going on in this land and I think I can change them.”


by Emily Rose Townsend
Capstone Press Pebble Books
ISBN: 0-7368-2070-1W
Grades PreK-2


“Woodpeckers live in the woodlands,” said Pritka.

“They are red-headed birds,” said Annie.

“Woodpeckers have sharp tongues,” said Lucy, “Their tongues look like worms.”

“So that they can grab bugs,” said Keisha.

“They eat nuts, seeds, and fruits, too,” said Kiley.

“And they have long beaks,” said Barry.

“Woodpeckers like to drill holes in trees,” said Philippe.

“Yeah,” agreed Annie. “They make a drumming sound.”

“I’d recommend this book to a kid who would like to learn about the creatures of the woods,” said Juan.

“Yep,” said Jake, “And I like this book because it tells you facts.”




Have children work in small groups to make a list of as many animals that they can think of.

Dog, Cow, Dolphin, Deer, Bear, Duck, Cat, Shark, Pig

Then, have them categorize the animals into the habitats or environments in which they live. Add as many different environments as there are animals to fill each category.

FARM ANIMALS:     Cow, Pig


OCEAN ANIMALS:  Dolphin, Shark


Have the children bring their lists to a whole group meeting. On the board or on chart paper write headings for several environment/habitat areas.

To get more mileage from this lesson, write each animal name on 2” x 4” flashcards. Then make another set of cards with a variety of environments written on them. Laminate cards for durability. Store cards in a 6” x 9” envelope and place in a Language Arts/Science center. Children can match the animal cards to the habitat/environment cards. Some animal cards may fit into more than one category.



Choose five to ten animal names from the list that the children generated in the above lesson or you can use this as a stand-alone lesson by making up your own set of animal words. Then jumble the letters and make a worksheet like the one below. There is a great website that will scramble the letters of words for you instantly. See SUGGESTED WEBSITES below. Children can work in small groups or individually to unscramble the letters to make words.


1. act          ________________             2. dgo        ________________

3. srhka      ________________             4. nphoidl   ________________

5. ebar       ________________             6. eerd       ________________

7. woc        ________________             8. gip________________



Use the same five to ten animal names from ANIMAL SPELL and SCRAMBLE (above) and prepare 2” x 4” flash cards. Write one set of cards with the scrambled words on them and one set of cards with the real words on them. Then pass out the cards to the children. Have a child with the jumbled letters hold a card up. The child with the “real word” holds up the matching card.


ebar   bear

For spelling practice have the whole class say the word, spell it, and say it again. Then place the game in a Language Arts/Science center and have children match the cards and spell the words.



(Although I examined this website and found it to be helpful, please use it at your own discretion.)’s Word Scramble Generator


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If you enjoy my blog, please pass it on to all your friends and they to theirs.

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Reposted from my Website (



April 11, 2014 Posted by | Teacher's Pets: Book Reviews | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Traumatic Brain Injury – TBI – PRISONER WITHOUT BARS

TBI Touched Life th-5 

As a writer for children, I never intended to write a book for adult readers – other than those adults who read picture books to their children as the stars fill the night sky. But, circumstances changed in an instant when my husband, David, suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury in 2005. I didn’t know what a “TBI” was. I had never heard or seen those letters together before. But, they would soon become a permanent thought in my head.

As David stumbled into our bedroom, his hand covering his right eye, I knew something was drastically wrong. As his pain intensified and the paramedics transported him to the emergency room, I didn’t know how seriously our lives were about to change. The man, my lover, and my best friend, disappeared.

After three brain surgeries, a new man emerged. He looked different. He sounded different. He was severely disabled. He couldn’t speak beyond guttural sounds. He couldn’t walk, dress, brush his teeth, feed himself, or take care of personal hygiene without assistance. At first it seemed that he didn’t even know me, which nearly broke my heart.

David’s TBI has caused us to travel many long and bumpy roads.

David trying out his new running outfit just three weeks before his TBI. December 2004

David trying out his new running outfit just three weeks before his TBI. December 2004

We still do nine years post-TBI, but it is a journey we take together. I met David when I was 16 years old. I knew in an instant that he would be my life-partner – for better or for worse. We’ve had the better. We’ve had the worse. We are striving for the better once again.

Donna & David 15 months AT (After Trauma) April 2006

Donna & David
15 months AT
(After Trauma)
April 2006

Though I lost the “boy/man” I fell in love with, I have fallen in love all over again with this new version of David. Though he may look and act differently, he is still the most caring, gentle, intelligent man I know. His physical disabilities did not deter him from returning to his laboratory at Columbia University a year later to oversee his and his students’ research, to write scientific papers, to become the editor of a book of research articles from scientists from around the world, and to be awarded a grant for his research.

Our journey is not over.

I’ve written David’s story, PRISONER WITHOUT BARS: Conquering Traumatic Brain Injury, to share our anim0014-1_e0journey with you, my readers. It is a story of tears and angst, of stress and confusion. The story will make you cry. It will make you laugh. It will make you wonder in disbelief just how this man is able to accomplish so much with so little. The story chronicles David’s strength and persistence, his tenacity to build a new life, and to get better against all odds. David’s story is a story of hope and inspiration.

I wrote the book between my caretaking duties of David, my teaching first and third graders, and when I was not sleeping. It is currently being considered by a literary agent, and I hope that it will be published soon so you can read the inside story of how David fought and is conquering Traumatic Brain Injury one unbalanced step at a time.

As I say after each post:

Please leave a Comment by simply clicking the blue words “Leave a Comment” below this post.

Feel free to Like my post.

You can also Vote for my post by clicking on a star. (David needs company.)

If you enjoy my blog, please pass it on to all your friends and they to theirs. (I’d like to drive up the readership. Sometimes it feels like I am wrting in a vacuum. So go ahead. Send it to 10 of your friends.)

If you hate my blog, go ahead and send it to your enemies. (10 enemies would be good.) I won’t mind.

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

March 21, 2014 Posted by | Traumatic Brain Injury - TBI | , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Musings by Donna #65 Missing the Parentals

I’ve always lived away from family – well, ever since I grew up and left my parents behind. At seventeen I headed south from Erie, Pennsylvania, to Pittsburgh – about two and a half hours away – to go to college. Then I moved with my husband, David, to Rochester, New York, where he attended graduate school. There I worked at the University of Rochester and attended cosmetology school at night. After four years, with David’s Ph.D. traveling th-3degree in his hand, a cosmetology license clutched in mine, and with one kid tucked in the back seat of a van and one in utero, we drove into the sun to San Diego, California. There, David did his postdoctoral work. I volunteered in an elementary school and fell in love with teaching, while my forgotten cosmetology license gathered dust in a file. Next we headed to New Jersey/New York, where we spent the largest portion of our lives, raising our children while David and I each followed our passions – David, science and research, and me, teaching. After thirty-five years, it was time to make another move. We could go anywhere!

We thought of New Mexico and California. We looked in North Carolina. We even wondered about New Zealand, a place of pure beauty that we had visited many years ago. But the draw was not strong enough – not for any of them. Too cold! Too shaky! No family! Too far!

Arizona, we thought! It’s not cold or shaky. It’s not too far from family because many of our extended family Arizona th-3members live there – aunts and cousins, nieces and a nephew, and a brother and a sister-in-law. Arizona looked good. It would be fun to finally live near family. We decided that Arizona would be the next stop on our journey of life.

Unfortunately we came too late to spend time with my mother or father. They both lived in Arizona, but their journey had ended. Though they each passed on before we arrived, tth-4hey are here!

My mother is in Dillard’s, World Market, Sprouts, and Bashas’. She is at 16th Street, and she is at Bethany Home and Camelback and Indian School. She is in Paradise Valley and in the Teepee Mexican restaurant – my favorite. Chimichangas and Cheese Crisps – she always ordered them.

My father is in Pinnacle Peak and Cave Creek. He’s on Tatum Road. But mostly he is at Cold Stone, his, and now my, favorite ice creamery. He loved ice cream, and I inherited that th-3delicious-calorie-craving gene from him. He introduced me to Cold Stone when he first moved here, and I can’t pass it without thinking of him. Sometimes I can’t pass it without indulging in an Irish Cream, Cinnamon Bun, French Toast, Cotton Candy, or Coconut ice cream cone with brownie or caramel or apple-pie filling mixed in. I do it for him. 😉 That ice cream exerts an unexplainable magnetic draw.

Arizona is alive with the spirit of my parents. They are around every corner and are never far from my mind. Every day I wake up and think I am … home!Cactus th-3

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

As I say after each post:

Please leave a Comment by simply clicking the blue words “Leave a Comment” below this post.

Feel free to Like my post.

You can also Vote for my post by clicking on a star. (David needs company.)

If you enjoy my blog, please pass it on to all your friends and they to theirs. (I’d like to drive up the readership. Sometimes it feels like I am writing in a vacuum. So go ahead. Send it to 10 of your friends.)

If you hate my blog, go ahead and send it to your enemies. (10 enemies would be good.) I won’t mind.

January 30, 2014 Posted by | Musings by Donna | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Musings by Donna #64 My Meteor & Writing Conference

MY METEOR! I saw it for three seconds – one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi – on my way to a writers’ conference in Avondale, Arizona on a Saturday morning in early November 2013. Amazing! Meteor over Phoenix (Sorry about the commercial, but the meteor is worth it.)

It was bright, fluorescent, and green; and it trailed across the sky in front of me. It looked like a line of lime Meteor th-2slime blazing across the sky. Fortunately I was stopped at a red light and could experience the entire three seconds without fear of running off the road. Meteors in the bright, blue sky are just not something you might expect to see every day. Heck, you may not even see one in a lifetime. I know it’s taken me decades to see my first. When I finally believed my eyes, I speed-dialed David on my car phone to tell him of my amazing siting.

Then it dawned on me that early morn, as I was driving to my writing conference, that maybe My Meteor was a good omen. Maybe this conference will be the one to change my writing life. I was hoping to glean some words of wisdom. I was hoping to make a connection to set me on the right path to publishing my book, Prisoner Without Bars: Conquering Traumatic Brain Injury. I was hoping to meet other writers.

The Southwest Valley Writer’s Conference was a valuable, meaningful, and productive conference. Though I’ve attended countless workshops, conferences, and retreats in the children’s publishing world, this was my first encounter with writers for the adult audience. I was pleasantly surprised.Write th-3

The presenters were knowledgeable and the panels offered lively discussions of the process – from writing a book, to finding an agent/publisher, to marketing a book. I met an agent who seemed interested in my book. Either that or she was being kind. In any event she agreed to read the first 50 pages of Prisoner Without Bars. I’ll send that to her soon. And lastly, I made valuable writer contacts. I met Carmen at the first session. She told me of the contest she recently won at Poisoned Pen Press. Diane and I shared lunch together. Then I met Xenia (Xeni) Schiller, who I learned lived in the same town as I do. What a gem! She is a serious and accomplished writer and we began a writing group of two. We also became friends. We meet twice a week for four hours each time. Of course, we spend the first half hour talking, then it’s down to serious business. Unfortunately for me, Xeni recently got a job; and I am writing on my own again.

Was My Meteor a good omen? I think so! And … I can’t wait to see another one. Maybe in this lifetime!

As I say after each post:

Please leave a Comment by simply clicking the blue words “Leave a Comment” below this post.

Feel free to Like my post.

You can also Vote for my post by clicking on a star. (David needs company.)

If you enjoy my blog, please pass it on to all your friends and they to theirs. (I’d like to drive up the readership. Sometimes it feels like I am wrting in a vacuum. So go ahead. Send it to 10 of your friends.)

If you hate my blog, go ahead and send it to your enemies. (10 enemies would be good.) I won’t mind.

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

January 29, 2014 Posted by | Musings by Donna | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

TidBits About Donna #70 Blog in Review 2013

Thank you to all who visited my site this year. A bigger thanks for those of you have subscribed and who are following me. A personal shout out to Colleen G. who made the most comments. And a hug to my biggest and “bestest” fan, David, who reads every post. Even better, he ALWAYS votes.

This will be my 197th post since I began my blog in December of 2010 and I’ve had more than 15,000 views.  My goal is to make my readers laugh, to make them cry, to make them look deeper.

Say It Ain’t So looks more carefully at controversial issues – something on which to take a stand.

Anything Writing and Writing Craft has to do with … well that’s obvious.

TidBits About Donna is where you would look if you really want to know more about me and Musings by Donna is if you want to know what is knocking around inside my head. Both TidBits and Musings also offer insight into life in the disability lane as David and I make our way through the maze of Traumatic Brain Injury.

If you’re looking for a great picture book for the child in your life, then check out Teacher’s Pets: Book Reviews. Be prepared to laugh as you read, not only my reviews, but the reviews of the thKIDDLE CRITers, a group of six- to eleven-years-olds, as they discuss the books with me. Lesson plans for teachers are included to be used with the reviewed books.

There are two posts Living in 3rd Grade and On School that provide glimpses into the world of teaching. Some of them are great for new teachers. Some posts are just silly, poignant stories that happened in my classroom – names changed to protect the infamous. Some include fully prepared lesson plans, guidance, and quick tips.

I hope you will visit often. There’s something here for every reader. Below you can find out the statistics of my Blog in Review for the year 2013. Enjoy. And Don’t forget to subscribe.

As I say after each post:

Please leave a Comment by simply clicking the blue words “Leave a Comment” below this post.

Feel free to Like my post.

You can also Vote for my post by clicking on a star. (David needs company.)

If you enjoy my blog, please pass it on to all your friends and they to theirs. (I’d like to drive up the readership. Sometimes it feels like I am wrting in a vacuum. So go ahead. Send it to 10 of your friends.)

If you hate my blog, go ahead and send it to your enemies. (10 enemies would be good.) I won’t mind.

(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

Year in Review 2013

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,100 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

December 31, 2013 Posted by | TidBits About Donna | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Teacher’s Pets #17 The Dirty Cowboy



written by Amy Timberlake
illustrated by Adam Rex

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 0-374-31791-7
Ages 4—8

You know, there’s something to be said about loyalty and obedience, but Eustace Shackleford Montana may have gone too far the day his cowboy took a bath. When the Cowboy said, “Dawg! No one touches these clothes but me. Hear?”, Eustace took the Cowboy at his word. What good dog wouldn’t? On that fateful day under the New Mexico sky, Eustace demonstrated his dedication to his Cowboy . . . to the limit. That’s definitely an A+ dog and THE DIRTY COWBOY written by Amy Timberlake and illustrated by Adam Rex is an A+ book.

Ms. Timberlake writes a very funny and engaging tale of a cowboy who takes a bath only once a year. Bet kids would love that! She tells a story of a cowboy who sings of rivers flowin’, cattle lowin’, and cowboys crowin’ a combination that will surely have KIDDLES howlin’. (Okay so it doesn’t rhyme, but you get the gist.)

Then illustrator, Adam Rex, steps in to complete the package — and he does it in such a clever way. The hilarious images he paints of the cowboy cavorting “nearly nekkid” across the pages present a very funny picture — one that will capture readers, both young and old, city-slickers and prairie-dwellers, and maybe even a doodlebug or two.

This review, unlike my regular reviews written from my home in the New York City metropolitan area, was written under the clear New Mexico sky with no dust devil or smudgy rainbow in sight, but I did see a small gray spider scurry by a few moments ago.

FROM the MOUTHS of KIDDLE CRITers: a critique group

“The dirty cowboy was funny,” said Kaya.

“He was very dirty,” said Jake.

Tina nodded. “That cowboy definitely needed a bath,” she said.

“Yeah,” said Jaina, “He was strange smelling,”

“It’s gross to have ticks in your hair,” said Treska, “ and fleas!” She scrunched up her nose.

“I don’t think that cowboy ever took a bath,” said Emma, “ . . . in his whole life!”

“That cowboy was crazy,” said Jaina, “and crazy cowboys never bathe!”

“I take a bath . . . like every Sunday or something,” said Kaya.Bath th-2

“Well, if I didn’t take a bath for a whole year, I would be all smelly,” said Annie.

“I wouldn’t have any friends,” said Tina.

“ And no one would want to play with me,” said Roberto.

Tina giggled. “I’d just stay in my house and never come out,” she said.

“Yeah, but how many parents would let you get away with it?” asked Jake.

“Well, if you were a cowboy living in the west, you could take a bath in the river,” said Kiley.

“Or in the bathtub or the shower?” said Barry.

“It’s better to go in the bathtub,” said Jake, “but sometimes people flush the toilet and it gets really cold.”

“I take a bath in the bathtub because you get to use fresh water and soap,” said Philippe.

“Yeah!” agreed Ethan, “And you have toys to play with.”

“But, cowboys lived long ago” said Jaina, “They didn’t have bathtubs.”

“There’s one thing I don’t get though,” said Ethan, “Wouldn’t it have made sense if he had taken a bath sooner?

Tina shook her head. “I think the cowboy should have just stayed stinky,” she said, “There was nobody to smell him . . . only the dog and the horse. So it was worth it to stay stinky.”

Treska giggled. “It was funny when the dog thought the cowboy was somebody else,” she said, “He wouldn’t let the cowboy have his clothes.”

“The cowboy should NOT have let the dog look after his clothes in the first place,” said Tina, “What was the cowboy thinking?”

“I think the dog did the right thing,” said Emma, “because he listened to what the cowboy said.”

“Well, the dog was very honest,” said Treska, “He thought that that was not his cowboy. And . . . he kept his promise to not give the cowboy’s clothes to anybody.”

Kaya giggled. “I always keep my promises,” she said.



No one can deny the dirty cowboy had poor hygiene. I mean thirty-two lice and a doodlebug should be proof enough – don’t you think? Well, anyhow, that doodlebug drove the cowboy to take his once-a-year-bath down in the old river. I know the KIDDLES have better sense than that cowboy, and here’s a game to prove it.

Have the children sit in a circle. Each child takes a turn calling on another and asking one of the questions below. Spend as much time on each question as you feel comfortable.

When a child addresses a female child, he or she will say, “Hi, Jean . . .”
When a child addresses a male child, he or she will say, “Hi, Gene . . .”
Okay time to get down to the dirty nitty gritty.

Hi Jean/Gene, when (or how often) do you take a bath?

Possible answers:
. . . every night
. . . when I slip in a mud puddle.

Hi Jean/Gene, when do you wash your hands?Cowboy th

Possible answers:
. . . before eating
. . . when I sneeze

Hi Jean/Gene, when do you brush your teeth?

Possible answers:
. . . after eating
. . . before bed

Hi Jean/Gene, how many hours of sleep do you get?

Possible answers:
. . . eight
. . . not enough

Hi Jean/Gene, what is your favorite healthy food?

Possible answers:
. . . apples
. . . carrots

Hi Jean/Gene, what do you like to do for exercise?

Possible answers:
. . . climb a mountain
. . . play soccer


Prepare the following checklist. Have the children place a checkmark next to each hygiene activity that they take part in each day.

M_ _T_ _W_ _Th_ _F

___ ___ ___ ___ ___ wash hands before eating
___ ___ ___ ___ ___ wash hands after using the bathroom
___ ___ ___ ___ ___ wash hands after sneezing
___ ___ ___ ___ ___ brush teeth before coming to school
___ ___ ___ ___ ___ brush teeth after meals (when possible)
___ ___ ___ ___ ___ brush teeth before going to bed
___ ___ ___ ___ ___ take a bath before going to bed or in morning before school
___ ___ ___ ___ ___ wash hair
___ ___ ___ ___ ___ brush or comb hair
___ ___ ___ ___ ___ put on clean clothes (all the way down to the underwear)


dictionary-coordinateIt took the dirty cowboy nearly the whole day to get to the river. Do you think if he had a map he could have found a more direct route? I mean following fence lines . . . come on . . . there must be an easier way. Try playing GRAPH IT! MAP IT! – and I promise it won’t take you all day.

Draw a 10 x 10 grid on the chalkboard.
Number the Horizontal coordinates A, B, C ->
Number the Vertical coordinates 1, 2, 3 ->
Label several coordinates with a location in your school.

Ex. Library = 3-B; Principal’s Office 6-J; Lunchroom 4-A

Have children locate each place on the map.

Give each child a blank grid. Have them plot their own coordinates and ask a friend to locate them.

(Although I examined these websites and found them to be very helpful, please use them at your own discretion.)

KidsHealth – Kids
The ChildFun Family Website Health & Hygiene


Phoebe Clapsaddle and the Tumbleweed Gang by Melanie Chrismer, illustrated by Virginia Marsh Roeder
No More Baths by Brock Cole

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December 24, 2013 Posted by | Teacher's Pets: Book Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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