Why Christmas Trees Aren’t Perfect

Long, long ago, in a land far away, lived a perfect little tree named Small Pine. Small Pine hoped to maintain its perfect form and be selected by the Queen as her Christmas tree. But as the warm-hearted little tree gave shelter to birds, rabbits, and deer in the forest, its branches became damaged. Fortunately, the Queen had a different idea of perfection..

From Mary

Why Christmas Trees Aren’t Perfect by Richard H. Schneider is the perfect story for anyone who has ever striven towards a goal, only to find it unattainable due to unforeseen circumstances.  As I shared this story with my first graders, we discussed Small Pine’s selflessness in providing shelter for the forest animals – even at the expense of the damage it caused its branches. Knowing the perfection of its shape was diminishing did not cause it to quit giving aid when the animals were in danger.  To make the story more meaningful, we actually bent and broke branches on our classroom Christmas tree while reading the book.  As gaping holes began to appear the class could understand as we read, “Small Pine wilted in sorrow. It could hear what the larger, still-perfect trees were saying about how bad it looked. A tear of pine gum oozed from the tip of a branch.  Small Pine knew it could never hope for the honor of being the Queen’s Christmas tree.”  But oh!! The joy and excitement by the class when Small Pine was chosen by the Queen! For she had indeed looked past the drooping, nibbled branches and understood the sacrifice that had been made.

As we drew and colored our own personal Christmas trees, perfection didn’t seem to matter. Each child created their own “perfect” tree and we celebrated the beauty of them all! After all, Small Pine had taught us that “living for the sake of others makes us most beautiful in the eyes of God.”

Mary Kline








Meet A Cat Who is Helping Children Read!


Do you have a pet? I do! 5 years ago I adopted my fluffy, friendly cat named Mush Mush from a local pet store. Not only is he the best lap cat around, he is helping beginner readers learn to read all across America!


I am excited to share how my published, early sight word books called, “Mush Mush Readers,” came to fruition and how they can help your beginning reader!


DID YOU KNOW that in the beginning of Kindergarten, the teacher assesses each child’s reading ability? As a former Kinder teacher I assure you it’s true! After I assessed each child, I placed them into one of three ‘Reading Groups:’ BEGINNING/LOW, AVERAGE/ON, or ABOVE. Over time, I noticed that the children who were in my ‘Beginning/Low’ & ‘Average/On’ groups all had something in common= they lacked a knowledge of sight words*(What is a sight word? See explanation below). Yes, they knew letters and how to blend sounds together to make words, but when it came to reading sentences – they fell short because they could not read sight words!

When I went to look for books to match their developmental needs- I found nothing appropriate! The books were too advanced, contained too many reading concepts, and had too many words per page. These books left the children feeling frustrated and defeated. So, I decided to write 10 early sight word readers to fill in this beginning reader resource gap. It is VITAL to have developmentally appropriate books in the hands of  our most vulnerable readers; therefore Mush Mush Readers was born!

How can Mush Mush Readers help your beginning reader? Below I outline 6 reading areas my books focus on that are sure to help!

  • Reading Confidence- Each book contains 5 pages and a repetitive sentence structure. The sentences are made up of sight words  and picture words. The reader only learns one sight word per book so they are able to master it. Also, each word has a paw print under it to help guide the reader through the sentence. All of these components help ease reading anxiety and boost reading confidence!

  • Sight Word Fluency- Each reader has the sight word and ‘review’ sight words printed on the back for easy practice. Seeing it repetitively as they read and hearing how the word is used in context, both help the reader master the sight word with ease. 
  • Vocabulary- Each book has a theme, such as, animals, fruits, or shapes. I used themes that children are familiar with so they can make connections from the book to their real life! The picture-words within the sentences and child-friendly illustrations help build conversation and expand vocabulary.  
  • 1-1 Correspondence- This simply means one spoken word means one written word. I put Mush Mush’s paw print under each word so the reader knows only to say one word for each word they read (This is a hard concept for beginning readers! They want to add words on to the sentences they read). The paws help lessen anxiety because they help guide the reader through the sentences.  
  • Concepts of Print- The pages are thick and are great for learning how to turn book pages! The pictures of a pencil and paintbrush on the front cover serve as a great visual clue for discussing the role of the author & illustrator. Also, the few words per page help the reader distinguish between words and pictures.
  • Comprehension- At the end of each book, there are 2 ‘higher-order thinking’ questions to help the reader think about what they just read and connect more to the book.

Mush Mush would love to join your library and beginning reader’s reading journey! My fluffy, friendly kitty is more than just a pet… he is a reading advocate and partner. I invite you to visit my website & Instagram to learn more about us!  www.mushmushreaders.com   @mushmushreaders

Here is to helping all beginning readers feel confident and successful!

Joanna & Mush Mush

*What are sight words? Sight words are a group of 220 words that are taught to children between Pre-Kindergarten and 3rd grade. Sight words are difficult to sound out and decode, therefore, they must be memorized in order to achieve reading fluency. Click HERE to review the list of words! They make up 60-85% of words in early readers. It is near impossible to read sentences and children’s books with fluency and accuracy without mastering sight words.

Beginning Sounds with “Snowballs”

Winter!   What a beautiful season! Unfortunately, I don’t get to experience nature’s true winter here in Florida. Oh how I would love to run out in the snow and make a snow angel or roll a big snowman… but for now, I only get to experience it through books like, “Snowballs.”

Snowballs by Lois Ehlert is a true classic. It’s simple sentence structure, unique pictures, and clever humor (I mean fish for the snow cat’s eyebrows… that’s funny!) captures children’s attention and heart.

In Snowballs, each “snowman” created is part of a snow family. Teaching Kindergarten, I used this book to nonchalantly reinforce beginning sounds. I focused on the words and names that make up a family: dad, mom, boy, girl, baby, dog, and cat. (Yes, pets are family!!)

 While you read, reinforce the beginning sounds of these words:

  • /d/ /d/   dad
  • /m/ /m/  mom
  • /b/ /b/  boy  (discuss that a boy in the family can be a /b/  /b/  brother)
  • /g/ /g/  girl  (discuss that a girl in the family can be a  /s/  /s/   sister)
  • /b/ /b/  baby
  • /d/ /d/  dog
  • /c/ /c/   cat

Ask what TWO family names begin with the same sound?

  • Dad & Dog
  • Boy & Baby

Discuss where they feel movement in their mouth when they make these sounds. For example, the /d/ sound sure feels different than the /b/ sound! Go ahead… say these two sounds and feel for yourself!

The family words used in “Snowballs” are in your child’s daily vocabulary, therefore are great to use when discussing beginning sounds because they are familiar. Using words your little learner uses daily or are able to see and touch are the best words to use when you start teaching beginning sounds because they are able to make personal connections to the words.


Click HERE to visit my TeachersPayTeachers store to download and print my *mini snowfamily interactive reader* called, “My Snow Family.”   (pictured above) Practice reading the sentences with your little learner. Encourage them to put their finger on the paw prints as they read each word and say the sounds. Then they can illustrate each snow family member!  1= READ  2= ILLUSTRATE  3= CUT  4= READ 🙂  It is FREE to download for the next few days.

I hope you enjoy talking about your family with your little learner and illustrating what you all would look like as snow people! Please tag me on Instagram if you use my snowfamily interactive reader! I would love to see it in action.

Joanna and Mush Mush


I invite you to visit my website and read up on my newly published,
early sight word books called,
“Mush Mush Readers.”

“What’s An Apple?”


Once Upon A Story name

img_3195Once Upon A Story, invites you to explore apples with a new, ‘ripe off the shelf’ book called, What’s An Apple?, by Marilyn Singer.

Think of all the ways your little one has interacted with an apple.  Is it primarily related to eating?  All I remember about apples from when I was a little girl was making applesauce and apple pie at school (although, I may only remember the apple-eating activities because I love food – haha)! image1What’s An Apple? presses into imagination and enables your little one to explore all the different things you can do with apples – eat, toss, stack, peel, wash, roll, & much more!  By reading this story with your little ones, you give them opportunities to activate prior apple knowledge.

What’s An Apple? gives your little ones a chance to truly explore and interact with apples using all of their 5 senses…kinesthetically!

Before the story:    

  • Ask what he has done with apples before
  • Show her an apple and have her describe it using her 5 senses


During the story:

  • Discuss if he has ever used an apple in the same ways the boy and girl are using the apple
  • Discuss rhyming words (i.e. snuggle and juggle)


After the story:

  • Have your little one mimic one way the boy and girl used apples in the story
  • Have her think of another way she can use an apple that wasn’t described in the story.  I built a tower for my apple:
  • Or how do you like my APPLE SELFIE?! hehehe


What’s An Apple? will help your little one think outside the ‘crate’ when it comes to apples and build upon his prior knowledge by engaging in real-life experiences with apples!

*WANT MORE FUN?! Add some PHONICS to this apple story time! Each time your little one explores a new way with an apple, have them say the beginning letter sound for apple! ” /a/ /a/ /a/ APPLE!”

img_3236Also, discuss the formation of their face, mouth, and tongue when they say
A‘s letter sound /a/. Their cheeks stretch down, their mouth opens wide, their lips squeeze a little bit, and their tongue tightens up and stays inside their mouth ( sooo… did you you just make the /a/ sound and think about all of these motions? hehe)  You can even have them put their hands on their face to feel their cheeks move down as they say the /a/ sound or use a mirror for building more phonic understanding. I found lots of my kindergartener’s who were learning their sounds would confuse the vowel letter sounds A, E, and I… let’s help our little learners master their sounds confidently!

Click HERE to download an interactive “apple check list” your little one can use while she explores apples!

I would love to see what your little ones can do with an apple! Take a picture and tag #firefliesblog AND #mushmushreaders… can’t wait to see how imaginative they can be!



Joanna Merideth
Children’s Book Author