Staff Picks: Favorite Books


How I love Winter Break!! We moved around a lot when I was growing up… and no matter where we ended up, I always pulled out some of my favorite books that took me to places that I felt right at home. One of the first books that I will share is:

Alexander and the Magical Mouse by Martha Sanders.                                   In this wonderful tale:

1700210“The Old Lady, her Magical Mouse, a Brindle London Squatting Cat, a Yak, and Alexander, the smiling alligator, lived together on a hill without any friends until the thirty-day rain endangered the town below them.”

You will have to read it to find out what happens! The illustrations by Philippe Fix are beautiful as are all of the unlikely animal friends. I still read that one to this day, especially when it’s cold and rainy!

Another one of my all-time favorites is The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster and illustrations by Jules Feiffer. It just really doesn’t get much better than this splendid story:

For Milo, everything’s a 51gbhsui1jl-_sx334_bo1204203200_bore. When a tollbooth mysteriously appears in his room, he drives through only because he’s got nothing better to do. But on the other side, things seem different. Milo visits the Island of Conclusions (you get there by jumping), learns about time from a ticking watchdog named Tock, and even embarks on a quest to rescue Rhyme and Reason! Somewhere along the way, Milo realizes something astonishing. Life is far from dull. In fact, it’s exciting beyond his wildest dreams. . . .

This book is so clever, fabulous and inspiring – I hope you will all run to library to check it out!

I could go on and on about favorite books… but will just share one more for this last 2016 blog post! I would be absolutely remiss to not tell you about Tasha Tudor. She is, actually, my name mother (I had the absolute delight of meeting her on two occasions and she told me herself that she was my “name mother”! Love!) Tasha Tudor was an extraordinary artist illustrator, and her life itself took on a magical quality as she aged. Her book: Take Joy! The Tasha Tudor Christmas Book is an annual must for me to pull out and immerse myself in her drawings and lifestyle. She has oodles of special books, and some specifically about Christmas time, but no matter what holiday celebration you choose the idea of taking joy is what it is all about!


The Lottery Rose by Irene Hunt was always my favorite book to read if I was feeling blue or needed a good cry. I recently got my childhood copy back in a big box of books from my mom. Here is the synopsis:


“Abused by his mother and her boyfriend, Georgie Burgess learns to hide his hurt. Hewithdraws into a safe and secret world of beautiful gardens filled with roses—just li ke those in the library book he treasures. When Georgie wins a small rosebush in a grocery store lottery he gives it all the love and caring he’s never had. Georgie’s life begins to open up for him when the courts send him to a home for boys where he will be safe. Slowly, and not without pain, Georgie learns to give—and to receive—love…”

I will probably read it over the holidays now that I have been talking about it.

61sjhumx6-l-_sx258_bo1204203200_Crazy Hair by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean, was introduced to me by my husband. He is a huge Gaiman fan and I was fascinated to learn of all the great children’s books he’s authored (another excellent one is called Blueberry Girl, which I can only assume is even better if you are the mom to a daughter)!

“Bonnie tries to tame her father’s hair, but to no avail, as birds and beasts of every type jostle for space amongst the curls and tresses of this hirsute book. A warm and funny conversational text combine beautifully with Dave McKean’s edgy and dramatic illustrations to make this another perfect picture book by Gaiman and McKean.”

This book is SO FUN!! I pluck it from the bookshelf and spend 15 minutes looking at the amazing illustrations ALL the time!


a2a7611503fa3c388a97eebedb2dc07e2Every year since before I can remember my ma and sister and I read e. e. cumming’s little tree in our living room by our tinsel-covered tree on Christmas Eve, or after we finish hanging our ornaments. It’s the sweetest poem written to a Christmas tree, about how much it is loved and how beautiful it will be with a ring on every finger, and how proud it will feel sitting in the window! cummings is a favorite poet of mine thanks in part to his important contribution to my family’s holiday tradition.

51pbl1rjdkl-_sx258_bo1204203200_Tales from Old Ireland is a beautifully illustrated collection of Irish folklore, which is also close to my heart, being first generation Irish-American! The stories include The Children of Lir,  Fair, Brown and Trembling, The Twelve Wild Geese, Lusmore and the Fairies, Son of an Otter, Son of a Wolf, The Soul Cages, and Oisin in Tir na nOg. Some of these are traditional tales passed down thanks to the country’s centuries-old oral tradition, and some are a bit more original, but all are enjoyable for all ages and magical and whimsical and take place in one of my favorite places – the Emerald Isle.


From all of us at your WFSU Public Media, PBS Kids station, we wish you and yours much joy, happiness, and warmth this holiday season!

Howling Wind…

Rain hurtling sideways. Crashing tree limbs. Rising water.
And, of course, the dreaded power outage. Hurricane Hermine brought damage and inconvenience for those of us accustomed to climate-controlled homes, hot coffee, running water and cable TV. Even worse, some folks are dealing with the aftermath of flooding and major damage to their homes or businesses.

But, what about the upside of the storm? Did any good come out of such a ferocious visitor to the Big Bend? There are certainly plenty of heart-warming stories, and hopefully, we’ll be hearing lots of them as we recover from Hermine’s rude visit. Here are just a few positives from the top of our heads:

  • An occasion to help neighbors we hardly ever see.
  • Due to no cable TV service, my 84-year old mother has rediscovered the treasure of Public Radio.
  • Opportunities for extended conversation with loved ones instead of the typical messages truncated to fit into TV commercial breaks.
  • A chance for much-needed exercise as a by-product of picking up storm debris
  • More wood is now available for the fire pit

And, finally, we think it’s safe to say we all have a spirit of thankfulness that the damage and our inconvenience could have been much, much worse!

~ Diane Kroeger, Curriculum Specialist

Article Feature: “3 Knows for Pokémon Go”

“Tech Ethicist” David Polgar wrote a recent article for the Family Online Safety Institute about the phenomenon that has been sweeping the globe and resulting in crazy data usage bills for citizens of all walks of life, including Olympic athletes. As someone who devotes much of his work to finding  ways to “humanize the web and improve online culture”, he talks here about some key points for parents to be aware of when deciding, as he phrases it, “Should I stay or should I Pokémon Go now?”:

3 Knows for Pokémon Go

You have most likely read and heard a lot in recent weeks about Pokémon Go. Millions of people across the United States, and now globe, have become part of the Pokémon Go phenomenon traipsing through the streets and parks to capture Pokémon characters that magically appear superimposed on one’s real surroundings as seen through a smartphone camera.

Pokémon Go is a mobile game that can be downloading for free, and utilizes what is referred to as augmented reality--where digital images and features can augment one’s reality. The game works by utilizing your map feature, GPS, internal gyroscope, and camera to have Pokémon characters “appear” in the real world. Players capture the characters by throwing Pokéballs at them; there are also visits to Pokémon Gyms and Poké Stops.

Sounds like fun, right? Millions of people of all ages have agreed, and have downloaded the Pokémon Go app and started playing. At the same time, there have been ample “Pokémon Go gone bad” stories in the media where players have been injured with distracted playing or potentially directed towards unsavory locations. There has also been a minor uproar over privacy concerns. So what do you, as a parent, need to know when deciding if and how to use Pokémon Go?

Here are the 3 Knows of Pokémon Go:

1. Know what information you are giving away

It should come as no surprise to say that most people do not thoroughly read contractual language. It is very easy to just click your way through the download process and agree to terms that you, later on, are uncomfortable with. Every app will walk you through a set of permission requests by the app company, and then have you agree to its Terms of Service. There is often a wide disparity in how easy the language is to understand (legalese versus plain English), the depth of information you are allowing access to, and the limitations of any possible recourse. (The website Terms of Service: Didn’t Read does a nice job of clearly explaining the legal language behind some of most popular apps and social networks.)


Pokémon Go is geared towards all ages (rated for Everyone); the app will collect a player’s age, locations, websites visited, and email address. Of particular interest for parents is when your child is under the age of 13. In the United States, apps and social networks that allow users under the age of 13 are bound to the Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), that tries to ensure adequate parental consent has been given and has certain restrictions in regards to advertising. Because of this, many popular apps and social networks adhere to a 13+ age requirement (Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook).

Pokémon Go popularity is based on its unique blending of real world with virtual characters; in order to make this possible, the game utilizes location features on smartphone. Families should discuss their comfort level with giving out this information. The game allow requires access to a smartphone’s camera in order to overlay the virtual characters on top of the real world.


Pokemon 1 of 4.jpgPokemon 3 of 4.jpgPokemon 2 of 4.jpgPokemon 4 of 4.jpg

2. Know that free apps are not free

There is no such thing as a free lunch. Likewise, there is no such thing as a free app (or social network). In recent years a popular business model for tech companies entails the monetization of data collection and/or offering premium services (think of your LinkedIn) for heavy and dedicated users.

Pokémon Go is based on the freemium model where access is free, but there are advantages gained in the game by making in-app purchases. These in-app purchases utilize app-specific currency (Pokécoins), which cost the player (or their parent) real money. This is a major change from parents who grew up playing video games where every player paid the same price to buy the game, and game play could not be influenced by paying more money. What this means is that playing Pokémon Go may cost you nothing, or it could cost you hundreds of dollars if a player makes frequent in-app purchases.



In Pokémon Go, players will often purchase additional Poké Balls that are used to hurl at characters. While a player doesn’t technically have to purchase Poké Balls (they can gather them throughout their travels), buying them offers a large advantage to move through the game quickly.

We should understand that Pokémon Go, like most mobile games today, is not free–it just monetizing players differently from traditional video games. Given that the cost of play can completely run the gamut, it behooves parents to be engaged with their children on in-app purchases.

3. Know your surroundings

Pokémon Go is unique in that playing the game entails walking throughout your neighborhood, down streets, and through parks.  Players visit Pokémon Gyms and Pokéstops that are usually set up in popular locations in the community (there is also the potential for growing commercialization where popular locations have brand tie-ins, such as McDonald’s).

So before you (or your family members) Pokémon Go, stop and look around. While this advice seems painfully obvious, the fact that playing the game entails walking while looking at a screen creates a particular concern for distracted walking (and, unfortunately, driving while playing).


Pokémon Go is unique and that it is taking the typically sedentary activity of mobile game playing and taking it outside. There are some incredible upsides to this trend, as it may be a way to get kids, teens, and adults to get up off the coach and outside. There is also a pretty remarkable learning component to Pokémon Go as players discover (or rediscover) their surroundings and some of the rich and forgotten history that was right in front of them all of this time. The digital world can complement the physical world, adding an additional layer of information and intrigue.

Walking while distracted, however, is dangerous. Here is what can be emphasized for players: you may be mentally inside the world of Pokémon Go, but you are still physically in the real world. It is augmented reality, not virtual reality. Players should be mindful of their surrounding when playing to avoid injury, and not travel to locations and at times that would be deemed inappropriate given one’s age and background.

If you are now deciding, “Should I stay or should I Pokémon Go now?” the choice is up to you. The remarkable success of Pokémon Go will likely trigger a glut of augmented reality games, so it is good to be aware of what this means for you and your family.

Deciding on your family tech use shouldn’t about the No’s, but instead the Knows. Now you know.


Photos and article by David Ryan Polgar for the Family Online Safety Institute

Thoughts on Books

There are few things in life that allow us the chance to reconnect with our childhood in an organic and meaningful way. Books are one of such things.

Earlier this summer, our lovely little Education Department, located in the depths of the WFSU Station, was re-organized to make room for summer camp materials. During the tedious process of moving materials into one room, building shelving to install in the other, and then planning our strategy for configuring our new and improved abyss of stickers, conductor hats, puzzles, workbooks, and pool noodles, I made a discovery…

I found my mom’s favorite book.
Okay, so it may not still be her favorite book.
In fact, I realized, it may not have ever really been her favorite book, but I know she loved it a whole lot.
I’ll give you a hint.

When I saw the cover of this book peeking out at me from beneath a pile of other books, I remembered for the first time in years that this was my mother’s favorite. I remembered reading it with her before bed and after uprooting our lives to replace the Snowy Day climate of Philadelphia with the beach days of Pensacola. I thought about how difficult that transition must have been for her, and how young I was to understand. I thought about how few books I remember from my early childhood that featured African American children without addressing the fact that they were African American kids rather than just kids. I thought about how something so simple as a story about the wonder of winter in a child’s mind can take us back to times when things felt easier and a quiet moment in the bathtub was all we needed to re-center ourselves after a day of excitement.

If my “hints” haven’t given you the name of the book yet, that’s okay, because the title of the book isn’t the point, nor is the fact that it’s somewhat seasonally irrelevant for a blog post in the dredges of a hot Tallahassee summer. The point is that the books that stick with us will always be relevant. The point is that the imagery and language and themes that we find within our favorite books and our mother’s favorite books will always remain a constant in our lives, and can and will continue to move us in ways that we never expected.

What books have you used to create memories and moments of reflection with your kids, grandkids, or students?

My Experience: Ramadan

Ammar Abdullah is WFSU’s junior intern this summer, through the Tallahassee Future Leaders Academy. He is a rising junior in the IB Program at Rickards High School and WFSU Education Department is keeping him very busy assisting the Education Department at camps and in the office. We are so pleased that Ammar was willing to write a blog post sharing about his experience during the month of Ramadan! By the way… if you haven’t seen it already, there is a new Curious George Book available that is a great way to share the highlights of this special month with young children.

Ammar Abdullah

My name is Ammar Abdullah, I attend Rickards High School and I am a Muslim currently going through the religious month of Ramadan.

When most people think of Ramadan they probably picture Muslims just laying around not eating anything. This is a fair and semi-correct assumption, but that is not all that goes on during this month. For example, during the evening when it is time to break one’s fast, gatherings take place at the local mosques. There you can find food from different cultures (Indian, Bengali, Arabic, Etc.), bottled water, and children playing in the warm summer field. People socialize amongst each other, play games and become one large, friendly community.

Ramadan is a special designated month – it is the month when Mohammad revealed our holy book the Quran. When the sun goes down and the sky becomes dark, some Muslims gather in the mosque and read one chapter of the Quran. By the end of the month, the entirety of the Quran has been read. By the end of Ramadan, not only have you have bonded with your fellow Muslims, but you will learn lessons about working with others and being a good person.

Ammar will be featured on our ongoing American Graduate Radio Series Voices from the Classroom on July 7th. 

A Pollen-y Plan for Busy Bees (& Butterflies…& Wasps…& Hummingbirds…)


With evidence of Spring surrounding us North Floridians this time of year and PBS Kids’ Explore the Outdoors this month, we’ve had the cycles we see in nature on our brains. We had a garden craft activity in mind when we stumbled across a Wild Kratts episode that explores the various jobs of pollinators, so pairing the two seemed like a match made in early childhood educator heaven! We set out to test drive the activity with Apalachee Elementary School’s after school students, who range between Pre-K and First Grade. What follows are instructions for replicating what was an exciting Friday afternoon of learning about that sticky yellow stuff that is oh so effective at coating the windows of our cars!


  • Wild Kratts “Flight of the Pollinators” episode (can be found on PBS Learning Media, Netflix, and YouTube)
  • full sheets of construction paper
  • paper scraps (any kind – the more colors the better!)
  • glue sticks
  • scissors
  • yellow sand (pollen)
  • optional: fresh flowers (with visible stamens & pollen)

Key Words:

  • pollinator
  • pollen
  • stamen

Before playing the episode of Wild Kratts, ask your kids to share something they know about pollinators and their jobs. What are some examples of pollinators? Who knows what role that pollinator plays in our ecosystem? Why is that role important? If you have fresh flowers at your disposal, encourage participants to take a close look at them and try to guess what happens when a bee, hummingbird, or other pollinator comes along.

After the conclusion of the episode, discuss the key vocabulary. Ask your kids to share what they learned from the Kratt brothers! So, how do fig wasps spread pollen? What is a hummingbird’s favorite color? Why are bees so important? 

Now that we’ve reinforced the learning part, it’s time to craft! This activity is great because it’s entirely open-ended and really allows a wide range of age groups to get creative. Using a whole sheet of colored paper as a base, ask your gardeners to design a flower using scraps of paper. We pre-cut a ton of geometric shapes for our after school group, but feel free to make your kids do that work depending on their scissor skills! This is also an opportunity to reinforce new shapes you may have recently learned.

The bigger the group, the more diverse the garden! Depending on the age group you’re working with, you can direct them to clearly place and identify stems, petals, and stamens, or just let them go crazy and reinforce that vocabulary later.

Once your busy bees have finished gluing down their shapes, ask them to identify the logical location for the pollen. Apply glue using a glue stick to the area they pointed out and then add “pollen” by  sprinkling yellow sand over it.

Arrange the flowers to create a garden on your wall, step back, and admire the flora!

Spring Break in the Kingdom of Karts!

Are you a PBS Kids lover? Do you also love…fun? Do you love… learning stuff too?

Good news – we have an exciting game for you and your Spring Break-ers: Kart Kingdom! This educational, free, and addictive game has been hooking kids on systems thinking all over the US since its launch in March 2015.

Systems thinking is the basic building block of science, engineering, and essentially any task that requires design as a solution to a problem. Fundamentally, it is the ability to recognize an issue and alter a system or process to effect the outcome of a function or task.

Kart Kingdom does just that! It exercises the part of the brain responsible for developing these skills while under the guise of a colorful, highly customizable and easy-to-control go-kart. Children create their carts and then zoom across all kinds of whimsical terrain all the while collecting components for creating gadgets to increase their karts functionality!

There are loads of different “quests” to complete, taking your adventurous little monster / character / PBS persona to the tip tops of mountains to the depths of the sea in the pursuit of new ways to travel and spiffy upgrades for your cart (Kart Parts). As you successfully finish your missions, you unlock new items and gradually add more options of widgets to choose from. The further you get, the more critical thinking is required. Is the Bunny gadget more effective than the Balloons for reaching the Sea Otter at the top of that tree? Do I need to go back to a previous area to get supplies I may have missed to make a Hot Air Balloon? or even… Do Sea Otters even hang out in trees?

As if all of that isn’t enough, the Kart Kingdom universe isn’t limited to an action-packed game with wonderfully jazzy background music! There is a blog feature as well that includes updates on kart costume competitions and server hangouts like a Ready Jet Go! themed Moon Party. Players can add friends and team up to help complete gadgets that others may not have all of the components for yet.


If you’re worried because you don’t have any exciting plans for Spring Break this year, never fear – WFSU/PBS Kids is here with a whole new world of adventure and learning to be had right in your own home. Visit Kart Kingdom today!

Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. is such an important part of our country’s history, and he made a huge impact in American culture. He was not only a civil rights activist, but he was also brave enough to stand up for equality for all races. America has come a long way since MLK Jr., but we still have incidents in the U.S. where equality for all races are lacking. Therefore, it is so important to discuss the great things MLK did to children, that way we can raise a generation of Americans who believe in equality just like MLK. I remember growing up, having conversations and activities with my teachers at school and parents, about this holiday and its’ significance.

PBS has so many amazing resources for MLK Jr. Day and the month of January. On this link below, there are a list of books for parents to rent from the library to teach children about the holiday and the importance of learning about our history and past.

On the next link below, there is an article for our parents can talk to their children about race and what it has to do with MLK Jr. day. It is so important to have this discussion since schools and media will be discussing this holiday. This article is an amazing resource and was written for PBS.

This last link is in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King’s origins in the south and the changes he affected there. This is a recipe for Sweet Whole Wheat Cornbread. It’s a modern and healthier take on the satisfying and delicious side dish that is a perfect accompaniment to chili. It’s a great way to get the conversation going with your children while making memories in the kitchen.

This holiday is a very significant part of American history. Martin Luther King Jr. should be remembered, honored, and celebrated for all he did for the civil rights movement and for leading America to being the beautiful melting pot of people that we are, and were meant to be. These online PBS resources are a great way to get that conversation and important lessons to your children.

The Holidays and Christmastime are here!

December is my favorite month of the year! There is something about the holidays and Christmastime that makes everything seem so much better. Decorations can be found almost everywhere you look, people are kinder, and the weather is cooling down. When December 1st rolls around, I pull out the Christmas music and get into the Holiday spirit!

One of the best parts of the holidays is that it brings so many families together. For myself, I never truly understood how important that was until I went to college almost 8 hours away from home. It is not easy to see my family often, so the holidays are often the only time we can spend time together.

Another thing I love about the hoildays is all the traditions! Every year, I get into the Christmas spirit by crafting. There are crafts online for any age!

For younger children, I found an adorable reindeer antler craftColoured-Reindeer-Antlers online. WFSU used it at their Early Childcare Educator December workshop and the teachers LOVED it.  This craft involves printing the template, coloring, cutting, and easy assembly. After it is complete, the reindeer antlers are wearable! Visit this link to find the template and instructions.


Another tradition I love is participating in all of the holiday events my town has to offer! Holiday parades, light displays, and many more exciting things are happening minutes from your own home. In Tallahassee, there are so many events to attend – check out the WFSU Events Calendar to see what is happening this month!

The holidays are a special time of the year and I look forward to it. I love to bust out an old crazy Christmas sweater, dress my dog in Santa outfits, decorate my apartment, and more. But truly, no matter how you spend it, the best part of the holidays is being with your family and friends and making the most out of the holiday.


WFSU Intern, Kassie with her dog on Christmas Day last year!


Hannukka Reflections…

GJacob and familyrowing up and still today, I believe that celebrating Hannukka and being Jewish is special! (By the way… there is not an “official” way to spell Hannukka – the main thing is spell it as it sounds but make sure it has 8 letters, one for each night of the celebration.) Throughout my childhood, when my friends would talk to me about getting gifts from Santa, I would sit back, listen quietly and gladly play with all the new toys my friends would receive, for me, it was a win-win!
Hannukka, the Festival of Lights, was my favorite holiday growing up, and it wasn’t because of the eight nights of gifts. Gifts were never very big in my family, my mom focused – and still does, more on the traditions of the holiday and how it brings my family and friends together. While most of my friends were opening their gifts under their Christmas tree, I was eating Latkes (potato pancakes), playing dreidel, and singing and dancing to the holiday songs. I can still remember sitting on the kitchen floor with my friends, both Jewish and Christian, spinning the dreidel and trying not to eat all of my gelt (chocolate coins). We would always host a Hannukka party with whoever wanted to come over. This is one of the reasons I really appreciate about being Jewish, it doesn’t matter what religion you practice because everyone is welcome, it is all about being together and having fun. One thing we would always do is make edible dreidels. There are lots of recipes, but this one is my favorite and is easy to make: a marshmallow for the body, a Hershey kiss for the bottom, a pretzel stick for the top and some peanut butter to stick it all together. The toughest part is not eating it all before you had the chance to see if it could actually spin. A special treat for your ears on this year’s 1st night of Hannuka will happen December 6th, 91.5 FM Showcase will be broadcasting a block party celebrating the miracle of Hannukka. Enjoy the joyous music celebrating the brave Maccabees, the war they fought that they weren’t supposed to win and how the small bit of oil scraped together thousands of years ago to re-consecrate the ransacked temple’s eternal flame, lasted a miraculous eight days and eight nights.
– Jacob Suberman

Special Thanks to Jacob for writing this blog post for us! We are also very thankful for Jacob and will miss him much as he leaves for adventures in banking with a position in Wells Fargo offices located in Orlando. He has contributed so much in the two years that he has been with WFSU Education any many children will miss his monthly visits, storytelling and assistance! Come and visit us anytime Jacob – and Happy Chanukah!