Archives for August 2014


Author and Illustrator:  Leo Lionni

frederickWe tell our children that they are all created uniquely and that each one of them is special.  Then why do we often become frustrated when those “unique” qualities tend to drive us a little crazy?

Frederick could certainly be one of those frustratingly unique little beings.  All of the field mice are busily preparing for winter.  They are working day and night, gathering corn, nuts, wheat, and straw from an abandoned barn.  These loads must be carried all the way to the old stone wall where they live.  But Frederick just sits quietly.

“Frederick, why don’t you work?” they asked.

“I do work,” said Frederick.

“I gather sun rays for the old dark winter days.”

Later, when asked if he is dreaming, he replies that he is gathering words for the long winter days when they will run out of things to say.

Soon the cold winter days are upon them, and it isn’t long until most of the nuts and berries have been nibbled up.  The chill of the stone wall is miserable and the mice turn to Frederick.

“Now I send you the rays of the golden sun. Do you feel how their golden glow. . .”

As Frederick began to speak of the sun his little mice friends began to warm up. Could it be that there truly was magic in Frederick’s voice?  They close their eyes as Frederick fills their minds with lovely painted fields, and clap as he closes with a sweet poem of seasons with the words he had gathered during the fall.



Perhaps this little fable of Frederick, the dreamer, teaches us that it may be our dreams of more pleasant times will help to carry us through times of difficulty.

Download a Frederick maze

Make a mouse puppet

Mary Byrne Kline

1.  Why did Frederick choose to gather sun rays, colors, and words for winter?
2.  What would have resulted if the other mice had not gathered berries, nuts, and corn?
3.  Suppose you could tell someone something that “paints a picture” in their mind. What would it be?

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White, Whipped, and Wintry Words

Ivory-SoapI’ve wanted to try this for some time now.  Try what?  I wanted to blow up soap in the microwave.

Since we are collecting WORDS this month on Fireflies, I decided to turn this experiment into a language arts experience  Specifically, I wanted to see if I could introduce adjectives to young children…by blowing up soap.


Hummm I wonder how this is going to turn out?



The fact that I said we were going to “blow up” soap seemed to create some interest….

We started out with a whole bar of soap, but it got a bit out of hand.  The second time around I broke the bar of soap in half and the end result was much more manageable while still exciting to watch.

I placed 1/2 of the Ivory bar on a paper towel (you can also use  wax paper) and “cooked” it on high for 60 – 90 seconds.   Watch it billow and grow!

My Conversation

“What does the soap [look-feel-smell] like:

before putting it in the microwave
while it is growing
after it has cooled?”

Did you know that the words you used to describe the bar of Ivory soap are – adjectives?”  

The wintry-white, whipped, wonderful soap continued as a participant as an imagination adventure in the bathtub.


My 6 and 4-year-old grandsons came up with the following adjectives:

  1. big
  2. snowy
  3. huge
  4. soft
  5. white
  6. smooth
  7. smelly
  8. bumpy (the letters on the soap before putting it into the microwave.)
  9. squishy
  10. fluffy
  11. snowy

Why not get your own bar of Ivory soap and see what adjectives it will inspire?

Use this activity to encourage children to insert stellar descriptive words into their personal narrative and descriptive writings.

Note to mom and dad:  
The clean up was super easy.  Any soap that go on the sides of the microwave easily wiped up.  The only problem I experienced was giving the blown-up soap to the kids too soon.  They wanted to touch, feel, and squeeze it so fast that it quickly crumbled all over the place.   Even though it was easy to vacuum up, I was smarter the next time and gave the soap to the kids to explore while they were in the bathtub.

Deni Corbett

The ‘Art’ of Family

The Boating Party by Mary Cassatt

Have you ever wished you could capture flashing moments with your family, like the fireflies in a bottle, and preserve them forever? A picture speaks a thousand words, and with the click of a button on our smart-phone cameras, we have the moment captured.

Just as we capture moments with our cameras, an artist captures moments with a paintbrush.

What is the difference between capturing a moment with a camera and capturing it with a paintbrush?

With our paintbrushes, we can express tiny brushstrokes of texture, color, value, line that cannot be expressed with a camera.  The heart of the artist pours out onto the canvas in a way no camera can capture.  True, moments are preserved in both cases, but the heart is expressed with the brush.  

Take a look at this painting by  Mary Cassatt, a female master artist from Pennsylvania, who spent most of her adult life in Paris, France, entitled “The Boating Party.” Mary Cassatt is famous for her mother and child paintings.  I had the privilege of basking my eyes upon the real painting this summer at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.  I gasped as I studied her brushstrokes, one by one, and gazed upon the richness of her color. I saw her heartbeat on canvas, stroke by stroke.

  • Where do you focus your attention when you look at this painting?  The’ focal point’ seems to be the baby.  
  • Where does the baby seem to be looking?  The baby seems to be looking at the man, possibly her father.
  •  Assuming the woman holding the baby is her mother, where is the mother looking? At the man.
  • Once our eyes go from the mother/child to the man, what leads our eyes back to the mother/child again?  The man’s outstretched arm and the oar lead our eyes away from the man, down the oar, to the sail and back to the mother/child again.
This composition ‘trail’ that Mary Cassatt leads us on, keeps us focused on the mother and child, and tenders our hearts to them.  The man is a symbol of strength, the oarsman, who steers the boat.  The mother and child look to him with fondness and trust.  The Art of the Family is born with brushstrokes of love.
Children learn much by being exposed to the great masters in art.  You don’t have to understand everything there is to know about the elements or art or principles of design in order to instill great design into your child.  Trust the art of good artists already speaks for itself and your child will learn by “seeing” as much as telling.  It’s poetry for their eyes and nourishment for their souls.
Join us at Coffee and Canvas Wednesday August 27, 2014, for our Fireflies Blog Art and Literature Workshop at 10:00 am where we will explore more “good” art and read “Rocket Writes a Story.”  We will paint a canvas that will remind your child of this wonderful book and enjoy time creating our own unique brushstrokes from the heart!  Reservations required. $19.95 each plus tax.
See you in the studio!
Laura Bird Miller | Owner, Artist

Max’s Words

Author:  Kate Banks
Illustrator:  Boris Kulikov

9780374399498On the top shelf of my closet, in a box, is my Uncle John’s stamp collection. It was handed down to me. I’m at a loss as to what to do with it.  In my dining room, filling two china cabinets, is my grandmother’s collection of  fine china – also handed down to me.  I delight in that collection.  And yet there is still another; for overflowing three large shelving units in our back hallway is my collection . . . books.

Perhaps that is why I fell in love with this unusual and delightful story.   For not only is Max a collector, as I would assume all of us tend to be, but Max collects something quite special.   When he realizes his brothers are collecting stamps and coins – “He gave it some thought.  Finally he said, “I’m going to collect words.'” 

Max collected words that made him feel good: PARK, BASEBALL, DOGS, and HUGS.


Max collected words of things he liked to eat: BANANAS, PANCAKES, ICE CREAM.  But that isn’t all!

As Max’s word collection grew, some very unusual and interesting things began to happen. Piles of words spread everywhere, and soon one word lead to another and Max had created something pretty exciting! The entire family had gotten involved with Max’s words!

The  illustrations in this story will most likely have even your youngest readers soon collecting words of their own!

Mary Byrne Kline

1.  Name a category of words you would choose to collect.

2.  Why do you think Max was wise to share his with his brothers?

3.  What happened when Max put his words together?