Donna O'Donnell Figurski's Blog

It's All About Me!

Teacher’s Pets #22 Whose House

Whose House?
Whose House?

Written by Barbara Seuling
Illustrated by Kay Chorao
Gulliver Books Harcourt Children’s Books
ISBN: 0-15-216347-6
Ages: 3-7

Houses come in so many colors and sizes and shapes. Some are tall and skinny and rise high into the sky. Some are kind of fat and have acres of land around them. That’s called s-p-r-a-w-l-i-n-g. Some are in big buildings called apartments and some are tiny, little cottages or bungalows. Houses are made of wood, brick, stone, or mud, and some are even made of ice. There are castles and palaces and mansions. There are igloos, and houses made of grass, which have thatched roofs. I’ve seen purple houses and bright yellow and green houses. Once, I even saw a pink house with blue shutters. That was pretty scary unless, of course, pink and blue are your favorite colors. So, with so many different kinds of houses, how can you ever choose which house is exactly right for you?

Well, you could try them out just like the young boy in WHOSE HOUSE did. On his journey to find just the right house, he visited a beaver’s lodge and a bee’s hive. They weren’t right for him. He tried out a hollow log, too, but he learned that that was better for a frog. This rhyming picture book written by Barbara Seuling and illustrated by Kay Chorao will have young readers testing out all kinds of houses . . . until they find the one just right for them. And . . . maybe . . . just maybe, it’s the one they are already living in.

This review can also be seen on: SmartWriters

FROM the MOUTHS of KIDDLE CRITers: a critique group

“This is a book about houses for animals and humans,” said Philippe.

“Every animal keeps safe in their homes just like in our homes,” said Jake.

“I think this book is about the perfect house,” said Marta.

“I like the way that Barbara made the kid in the story always want to live in a different home,” said Kurtis. “I think that the boy was trying to look for something more than just his ordinary house.”

“It’s weird,” said Jake. “He had a house.”

“He had his own bed, too,” said Kurtis. “So, why was he looking for another house?”

“He wanted to see other houses,” said Anya.

“Maybe he was trying to find a better home,” said Juan. “A better place than where he lived.”

“He might try living in a squirrel’s home or a mole’s home,” said Kurtis.

“Or maybe he just wanted to see where other animals’ houses were,” said Hannah.

“Everybody has their own way of homes,” said Juan. “Beavers live in lodges made of mud and sticks and birds live in nests.”

“I would not like to be a bird,” said Katie-Erin.

“And he couldn’t live with the bats,” said Greg, “because he couldn’t sleep upside down.”

“Actually, some kids can hang on monkey bars like that,” said Olivia and she laughed.

“He couldn’t fit in a beehive either,” said Sarit.

“Yep! He would get stung,” said Philippe.

“Well, maybe he was just looking for facts about other homes,” said Jake.

“I relax, eat, and sleep in my home,” said Pritka. “But, it would be fun to live in a different home,” she said.

“A house for me is a place where I study,” said Philippe.

“A good house for me,” said Keisha, “is a little brick house with a little, cozy bed.”

“Well, I would like to live in a mansion because it’s humongous,” said Lucy.

“I’d like to live in the White House because there are probably a lot of bathrooms in there,” said Juan.

“I’d like to live in a future house like space people,” said Philippe, “because their houses have monorails.”

“Almost everyone has a home,” said Juan. “Even if it’s a tree, hole, or pond . . . it’s a home.”

“Well, I think my home is just right for me,” said Becky. “But, I would never leave my house without telling my mom or dad.”

“I think the boy was thinking about what it would be like in other homes,” said Juan. “But in the end, he realized that one house was right for him . . . and that was his own.”



What do a pumpkin, a shoe, and gingerbread all have in common? Why, they are all houses, of course. Peter put his wife in a pumpkin. Silly man! The old woman lived in a shoe with so many children . . . well, you know the rest. And a gingerbread house is good enough to eat. Houses come in many different shapes and sizes and children can discover the many shapes in their own houses.

Introduce and discuss the following geometrical shapes. (square, rectangle, circle, triangle) Have children locate and name shapes in their classroom.

Triangle……….letter “A”
Square……….bulletin board

For HOMEFUN, ask them to search their homes and make a list of geometrical shapes they find.


Then have the children draw a picture of their house. Encourage them to use as many geometrical shapes as they can.

MY HOUSE is RIGHT FOR ME! Social Studies

Have children bring in a picture of their home. Let each child describe their house and tell why it is a good house for them.

My house is the right house for me because …….I have my own bedroom.

My house is the right house for me because…….my mommy lives there and she loves me.

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

Jan Brett Gingerbread Baby House:
Miniature Gingerbread House (recipe)


THIS IS MY HOUSE by Arthur Dorros

January 2, 2015 Posted by | Teacher's Pets: Book Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Musings by Donna #57 Love it – BUT …

Know the market, they say. Have patience. Be persistent. Never stop sending in your manuscripts. When your manuscript is rejected (the darn little homing pigeon) Flying Pigeon-delivering-a-message-hidon’t wait. Send it back out to the next agent or editor on your list – the list you so diligently compiled after searching books like the current edition of Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market (fondly called CWIM by children’s writers), or the Guide to Literary Agents, or the Writer’s Market. Be dedicated to your writing. Believe in it. Don’t let the bogged down system get you bogged down or overwhelmed. All good advice!

In the children’s market, there was a time when I could tell you which editor moved where and when and what they were looking for. That was the time when I was actively sending in my children’s picture book stories. In the early 1990s right through to about 2005, I’ve sent about twenty different children’s stories to thirty-one different editors or agents. That was also the time I regularly attended children’s writer’s conferences and workshops in New York, New Jersey, California, and Vermont. SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), both national and regional conferences, and The Vermont Workshop, presented by my friend, Barbara Seuling, remain my favorites. At each of these conferences I met editors and agents and had manuscripts critiqued; and I received coveted invitations to send my work to them for further consideration.

I’ve been patient. Look at the span of years in the paragraph above. That’s a true sign of patience and persistence, and dedication too. I admit – I had help staying focused. thTiny “carrots,” just out of reach, were offered by editors and agents alike. Their words encouraged me to continue to affix stamps on the envelopes and send my work into the world – with hope. Their complimentary comments convinced me that my writing was good and that it had merit, and so I trudged on always believing that the manuscript that I had just dropped into the mailbox would be the one that would not return. But, as each rejection, positive as it may be, arrived in my mailbox, it whittled away my confidence. I began to doubt myself … and my writing too.

Many writers jest about how they could wallpaper their bathroom with their rejections. I believe I’ve surpassed their possibilities. I’m certain I Rejection Lettercould wallpaper my entire office. Pathetic! But, did you know that Dr. Seuss received 27 rejections for his first book, And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street. Ellen Jackson, author of Cinder Edna, received more than 40 letters of rejection for her book, which went on to sell more than 150,000 copies. I’m so glad they didn’t give up. I suppose I am in good company.

I’ve received my share of “Dear Author/Sincerely, The Editor” letters – the ones that say nothing – the ones where you know that probably no one read your manuscript. Here’s a scenario that rolls through my mind. Editor sitting at desk. Inbox with stack of unopened manuscript envelopes. Coffee steaming on right side of desk. (Left if the editor is left-handed.) Editor sighs as he or she stares at the impossibly large pile. Editor pulls envelope from pile and slits open envelope. Glances at first page. Then absentmindedly places a Dear Author/Sincerely form letter on top of manuscript and stuffs both into the SASE (self addressed stamped envelope) that the author provided. Tosses the envelope into the outbox. Sighs with relief – the pile has one less manuscript. Can’t really blame them. Their work is endless and only satisfying when they find the golden nugget.

It’s the many personal rejections that kept me going and I’ve received tons of them. That sounds worse, but it’s not. Those are the carrot letters. (The ones I mentioned above.) Those are the letters that make you print out a new manuscript and immediately pop it back into the mail to a new editor or agent with renewed hope. They are what I call the “Proverbial BUT” letters. They are the letters in which the editor or agent says he or she likes your work, BUT can’t buy it for any number of reasons. I’m posting many of my BUTs below. For the sake of privacy, I didn’t include the name of the editor or agent to the actual quote, nor did I include any other identifying element. I did, however, include a list of the publishing companies at the end of this post. They are not in order. These rejections were for about seven different children’s picture book manuscripts. My combined rejections number near a hundred.

1.    “I like your use of rhyme, repetition, and predictability, but …

2.    Your writing is excellent, but …

3.    Teddy in the Backpack is a very sweet story and I think that Zoe is a great character, but …

4.    I really like the concept of this story, but …

5.    I thought it to be well-written, but …

6.    You write well, no question there, but …

7.    I think you have a nice sense of humor, but …

8.    It is clear you can write, but …

9.    It is well written, but …

10.   This is certainly a fresh story, but …

11.   I think this is the strongest piece you have sent me – it’s funny and charming, and a story young children will relate to well, but …

12.   Molly and Oliver are endearing characters and you have a nice sense of their age group, but …

13.   It’s a funny, charming story, but …

14.   Your writing is “on the cusp,” but …

15.   This is one of the best LAST lines I’ve ever read.  It was great joke, but …

16.   It’s a good story with realistic characters and dialogue, but …

17.   There are many fun elements here and I enjoyed this story’s humor, but …

18.   Your characters are realistic and sympathetically drawn, but …

19.   I enjoyed the rhythm of your writing, as well as the amusing images evoked, but …

20.   I like the gentle sense of humor and think children will enjoy the verbal and visual jokes, but …

21.   The story has nice humor and rhythm to it, but …

22.   I do like the idea quite a bit, but …

23.   Your sense of humor shines through in this piece, and you have a wonderful sense of rhythm, but …

24.   The best aspect of the story is its humor. That means it’s got lots of kid appeal. It’s got rhythm and meter and a fine use of language. You know kids, but …

25.   I would be happy to consider anything else you may write for a young audience.

(I sent many additional stories to editor 25, BUT, alas, they turned out to be more buts …)

The next two rejections are almost in their entirety to show more details of what an editor considers and what our manuscripts are up against. When we send our babies out into the world, we are asking a LOT from them.


Dear Donna,

Thank you for your submission. We enjoyed your story; however, we decided it wasn’t the best fit for our limited list. Please do not be discouraged. We receive approximately two thousand submissions, but we only publish a handful of books per year. Decisions were difficult, and we’ve had to let a lot of good stories go. What doesn’t fit for us may be the perfect match for another publisher.

We really, really liked this story. There are at least two others with very similar plots.

Again, please understand this was a very difficult decision as we take so few picture books. We wish you the best in your writing endeavors.

Please note that this letter is in consideration of this work alone. If you have submitted other work and have not yet received word on it, it is still under consideration.

27.  This was very, very tough, and I rooted for your story to the end. We had two others in the final 25 with very similar plot … a character in school who didn’t belong. And we had a few others with that plot that didn’t make it to the top 50.

I think it’s a great story, and I hope you can place it elsewhere. It was really, really hard to let this one go.

28.   Donna:

You have a strong voice and a terrific sense of kids’ emotions. Your dialogue shows that you know how dialogue works in a story and that you know how kids communicate sometimes by saying what they mean and sometimes by being unable to say what they mean. You could develop the humor in these stories more. You introduce humor, but you need to coax it along. Very young kids respond to slapstick humor, and you are a little reluctant to brig that into your stories. Also, you could work on intensifying the climactic moments of these stories, Sometimes the ideas in the stories are more sophisticated than is usually in picture books. I can see your voice coming forward; you’ve worked hard on that. You are on the brink of having several salable manuscripts.


29.   This letter was from an editor who my agent submitted my manuscript to.)

Thank you for your patience while I have been considering Donna O’Donnell Figurski’s Teacher’s Pet. I apologize for the delay in responding to you.

I feel Ms. Figurski has developed a humorous voice that flows and reads smoothly. She has a knack for lacing quirky details throughout her prose—many of which would make for adorable illustrations. I also enjoyed the fact that Mrs. Grickle’s students are “in-the-know”, while she is oblivious to the fact that her new star student is a frog–very funny!

BUT …I’m sorry to say, however, that I don’t’ feel this piece would make a strong addition to the generic company …

I’m really sorry to have this disappointing news for you but thank you for thinking of me for this and wish you the best of luck in finding the right publisher for this project. I do enjoy Ms. Figurski’s easy storytelling voice, and would like to invite you to submit any other manuscripts she may have in the pipeline.

All best wishes for a safe and happy holiday!


HarperCollins, Pippin Press, Golden Books, Boyds Mills Press, Henry Holt and Company, Inc., Orchard Books, Simon & Schuster, Holiday House, Harcourt Brace, Charlesbridge, Silver Whistle Books, Winslow Press, Scholastic Press, The Wright Group, Alfred A. Knopf, and Crown Books for Young Readers

keyboard th

So you see, it is the carrots both big and small that keep us writers trailing ink across blank, white pages or keeps our fingertips dancing across the keyboard, searching for that miracle story that an editor or agent will love. J. K. Rowling did it. She didn’t give up on Harry Potter. harry+potter+booksTwelve rejections did not thwart her belief that she had a great story – seven volumes of magical storytelling. Other great rejections include William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Watership Down by Richard Adams, (a favorite of mine) and J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Even Stephen King’s book, Carrie, was rejected.

So what good advice can I offer you? Write! Send out your work! And, keep on writing! I will!

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(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)

April 26, 2013 Posted by | Musings by Donna | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

TidBits About Donna #42 Wee Bit More About Me

DONNA O’DONNELL FIGURSKI, among many other things, is a children’s book writer.

I discovered writing for children during a writer’s course at Teacher’s College of Columbia University in New York City, where my instructors strongly encouraged me to develop my writing skills. Ever since, I have been writing in one form or another.

Since 2002 I have worked as a children’s book reviewer. My reviews can be viewed in my column called TEACHER’S PETS at These reviews take an interesting twist. I not only review the book, but a team of children ages six-years-old to twelve-years-old review them with me. I also write two lesson plans that teachers may use with the featured book, as well as provide suggestions for additional books and websites to complement the book.

As a member of SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Host for the Children’s Writers Workshop at the Careers and Workplace on America Online, and the registrar for KINDLING WORDS: the RETREAT, I have met many wonderfully supportive and helpful writer friends.

A warm and funny friend, Paula Danziger, (now deceased and very missed) was the author of more than thirty books for children. The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, published in 1974 was her debut book. Her Amber Brown books were probably her most favorite and loved books by children all over the world. Paula was kind enough to critique my picture book manuscript, A School is NO Place for a Frog, over much laughter and sushi one afternoon in New York City.

The first time Paula called my house she received the following voicemail message. “I’m sorry, we don’t answer our phone, please leave a message and we’ll call you back.” She left the following message amid hysterical laughter. “Donna, if you don’t use that in a book, I will.” I wish she had lived long enough to use it.

Another long-time friend, Marilyn Singer, author of Tallulah’s Tutu and Mirror Mirror, and more than ninety other titles spread over the genres of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry added her expertise to some of my stories, too.

I am always grateful to another dear friend, Barbara Seuling, whose qualifications are many. Barbara wears the hats of editor, picture book and middle-grade novel writer, and she sits on the SCBWI advisory board. Barbara has written more than fifty books for young children, including Oh No, Its Robert, as well as a reference book for children’s writers titled, How to Write a Children’s Book and Get It Published. Barbara has had direct input on several of my picture book manuscripts through her many online courses, which I have taken with her; and through her Vermont Writing workshop, which she offers in both New York City and Vermont. I took it in Vermont – a most beautiful, quiet, and quaint countryside. Barbara has been an invaluable influence on my writing.

I have published four stories in the Scholastic Press Literacy Place 2000 anthology. These books are found in classrooms all over the United States as supplementary materials which compliment the reading programs. The third grade titles are A Star Wish, and Miss Emma Gets Her Way. The story in the fourth grade book is called The Legend of the Silver Birch, and Never Going to Grow Up can be read in the book for fifth graders. I have also published an activity called Snowflake Snippets in MAILBOX magazine, which focuses on teacher classroom interests. As a 1st and 3rd grade teacher for nearly thirty years, I have had an enthusiastic audience for my stories, and I draw many story ideas from my students. My passion for writing parallels my enthusiasm for teaching and I feel very fortunate that each complements the other.

I am very proud to note that I was nominated for and included in the 2000 edition of Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers. This was a great honor since the nomination was from a former 1st grade student of mine who was a high school senior at the time of the nomination. Since this first honor, I have also been nominated and included in both the 2004 and the 2006 editions of Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers.

Currently, I am under contract with Salina Bookshelf INC Multicultural Publishing for two chapters, which will be included in two books about Native Americans. One chapter is the biography of Buffy Sainte-Marie, singer, songwriter, and political activist. The other chapter is about poet and professor, Luci Tapahonso. Writing Buffy’s biography was enlightening and such fun. A thirty minute phone interview with her from her home in Hawaii proved what a warm, caring, and totally dedicated person she is. Countless emails flew between our computers as I gathered information for the chapter. When I finally met Buffy for a few moments after her concert in Santa Fe some years ago, I was convinced she is a very special woman. I am proud to have been selected to write her biography.

I am currently looking for publishing homes for a number of my picture book manuscripts including, A School is NO Place for a Frog, Kanona Prattsby, and “Tie Your Shoes, Miss Tress.” I have also finished the second draft of a memoir about my husband, David, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2005. I hope to shop around that amazing survival story soon.

I happily live with my husband and best friend, David. We have two children, Kiersten and Jared, one son-in-law, Falko, and two grandchildren, Treska and Kaya.

(Clip Art compliments of

Paula Danziger

Barbara Seuling

Marilyn Singer

Buffy Sainte-Marie

Columbia University Teachers College

October 14, 2011 Posted by | TidBits About Donna | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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