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Wednesday, February 29, 2012



I'm sure that I've heard people use the word kerfuffle [ker-fuh-fuhl] before, but the first time it really stuck out for me was when I was reading the book Ptolemy's Gate (mentioned in a previous post here) last week.  I read the following sentence:

Then, with a single word,
 he dismissed the Bulb of Silence
and was received eagerly by an ocean
of noise, kerfuffle, and excited speculation.
~ Ptolemy's Gate by Jonathan Stroud

and I felt compelled to say the word out loud.  Kerfuffle.  What a silly sounding word! :)  Then today I was reading an online article and kerfuffle jumped out at me again.  I guess now I'll be seeing it everywhere!  This fun word is a noun meaning "disturbance or fuss".

The Kindergarten teacher sighed in exasperation;
she didn't know how to curb all the chaos and kerfuffle
in the classroom.

The escaped pig caused quite the kerfuffle when it ran
through the outdoor wedding ceremony!

What sentences can you create, using the word "kerfuffle"?

*Just a side note: You wouldn't really be able to play the word "kerfuffle" in Scrabble ~ the game only contains two F tiles.  I had to photoshop a third F onto my picture!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

When I Am Full of Silence

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When I Am Full of Silence

When I am full of silence,
and no one else is near,
the voice I keep inside of me
is all I want to hear.
I settle in my secret place,
contented and alone,
and I think no other thoughts except
the thoughts that are my own.

When I am full of silence,
I do not care to play,
to run and jump and fuss about,
the way I do all day.
The pictures painted in my mind
are all I need to see
when I am full of silence...
when I am truly me.

~Jack Prelutsky

Monday, February 27, 2012

Gathering words...

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

An excerpt:

And once Frederick seemed half asleep. 
"Are you dreaming, Frederick?" they asked reproachfully.

But Frederick said, "Oh no, I am gathering words.  For the winter days are long and many, and we'll run out of things to say."

~ from Frederick,
written by Leo Leonni

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Show me...

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"Don't tell me the moon is shining;
show me the glint of light
on broken glass."

~ Anton Chekhov

Saturday, February 25, 2012

I Friz, I Froze

I Friz, I Froze

It waz so cold
I friz, I froze
My earz, my ize,
My noze, my toze.
My kneez did freeze
Az hard az stone.
My head'z a frozen
Ize cream cone.

~ Douglas Florian,
Bing, Bang, Boing

Friday, February 24, 2012

One Story's Journey: From Idea to Manuscript to Query Letter

My first query, ready to fold up and mail.

It all began 17 years ago when a vivid dream I'd had gave me an idea for a story.  It seemed to me that it could be a really good story.  It was different from other ideas I'd had in the past -- if I ever wrote the story, it would not be a picture book or a short story for a magazine, but a fantasy novel for middle grade readers.  After a few days of mulling over my idea, I wrote a few sentences about it in one of my notebooks.  I also jotted down some character names that kept jumping into my mind whenever I thought about the story.  Brule.  Sasha.  Nodin.  Aric.  Lilia.   And then I stopped.  I set my notebook aside, and went on with my busy life.

I never forgot about my story idea.  It always seemed to be lurking there, in the back of my brain.  Every so often, it would leap to the forefront of my thoughts, but each time, I pushed it back into the shadows with a stern Not yet -- I don't have the time right now.  Maybe next week. Or next month.

"Next month" turned into almost twenty-four months.  Then, while typing up an assignment for my correspondence course on writing, I felt the overwhelming urge to write about my story idea.  My brain seemed to be insisting on a back-up, fervently whispering, If you don't write it all down, you might forget it!  Even though I'd told myself over and over again that I would work on the story soon, some part of me knew that it would not be soon.  If I didn't store my ideas somewhere other than my head, I might lose it all.

When I'd finished my assignment, I searched until I found that old notebook.  I copied my notes onto the computer, then listed every detail that I wanted to remember about my idea.  I wrote a basic outline of the plot, then saved it all to a file on the desktop.  I could almost hear my brain sigh with relief.

For the next twelve years, I worked on raising my kids, and did very little writing.  Meanwhile, my story idea waited patiently in that computer file.  My husband even had to transfer it over to a new computer when the old one was dying, and my idea continued to wait. Every once in awhile, I would catch sight of the file on the desktop and feel guilty for abandoning my story for so long.  Not yet, I'd tell myself again.  I don't have time to write it yet.

Finally, in 2009, I found myself with some time to write.  (To be honest, I'd had the time before then, but had filled it with activities other than writing -- mostly with scrapbooking.)  I think part of the reason I'd kept putting it off was simply that I was scared.  I'd never written a story longer than ten pages before; I couldn't imagine writing a novel.  But I finally had a few hours to myself every week, and the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to accomplish something big with my writing.  I had to try.

Obviously, getting started was the hard part -- it took me fourteen long years to start!  Once I finally began writing, however, the words seemed to just flow out of my head and onto the computer screen.  In two and a half months, I'd written 175 pages -- and my story still wasn't done!  I took a break from writing for the busy Christmas season, fully intending to finish my story the following month.

I wrote absolutely nothing for all of 2010.  I'm still disappointed in myself for wasting that whole year!  The important thing, though, is that in January of 2011 I began writing once again.  By the end of that month, I finally finished my first draft of the manuscript, almost 300 pages.  I finally had a name for my story, as well: Kyra's Secret. (I normally come up with titles for my stories early in the writing process -- sometimes even before the story itself!  This one didn't have a title until I'd finished writing, and even then it took awhile to come up with one that fit the story just right.)

Since that time, I've been proofreading and revising Kyra's Secret.  Several people have helped me out, and I'm very grateful to them all! My sister Christine and friend Mimi bravely trudged through that first draft, pointing out many of its weaknesses, asking questions, and offering suggestions.  Everything they said made sense to me, and I agreed with their criticisms. I rewrote many of the chapters, then gave the story to my husband and daughter to read.  (I also read it out loud to my boys.)  After hearing their feedback, I revised again.  My friend Katy read that version of my story twice -- once to herself and then out loud to her parents.  Her many insights led to version 4 of my manuscript.

My friend Tara read that version, and offered encouragement of her own.  I read through it again (I couldn't even tell you how many times I've read through the whole thing), and realized that the beginning of my story still wasn't strong enough.  I'd re-written the beginning with every new version, but it still needed work.  After chopping the first couple of (short) chapters out last month, I decided that Kyra's Secret was finally ready for a professional in the business to read.

In the past, I've always sent my picture book manuscripts directly to publishers.  I've had no luck whatsoever going that route.  As I mentioned in a post last month, more and more publishers are only looking at agented material these days. I've decided, then, to try finding an agent to represent me.

I started by reading a few books about literary agents and how to go about acquiring one.  I made a list of the agents who represent new authors of middle grade fantasy.  I learned what I could about those agents, and chose a few to start with, agents who seemed to be the best "fit" for me.  I also learned about writing queries, finding a lot of useful information on two websites in particular, AgentQuery and Query Shark. Then I tried writing my own.

After spending a couple of weeks working on a query for my manuscript, I've come to the conclusion that it's easier to write an entire novel than a one-page query!  Trying to describe my story in two short paragraphs -- making it interesting without giving too much away, so that an agent will WANT to read Kyra's Secret -- is agonizingly difficult.

At least twenty drafts later, I was finally satisfied with my query.  I printed it out, signed it, and stuck in in an envelope along with another envelope, self-addressed and stamped, for the reply.  Then, fingers crossed, I sent it off to the first agent on my list.  That was on Tuesday.  Now I wait.  And hope.

I know that the chances of finding an agent willing to represent me on my very first try are quite low.  Of course, the chances that a magazine would publish the very first thing I ever submitted were also quite low, and I managed to beat those odds.  It could happen again.  And, if it doesn't, I still have a long list of other agents to try....

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

"Libraries are reservoirs
of strength, grace and wit,
reminders of order,
calm and continuity,
lakes of mental energy,
neither warm nor cold,
light nor dark....
In any library in the world,
I am at home,
still and absorbed."

~ Germaine Greer

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


The word query [kweer-ee], used as a noun, has two main definitions.  It can mean "a question" or -- in the world of writing -- it can indicate "an inquiry from a writer to a publisher or agent, regarding the interest in an idea for a story, article, book, etc."  Query can also be used as a verb meaning "to ask about".

Did my query about your background
make you uncomfortable?

I am excited and nervous at the same time. 
I sent my first query to an agent today;
I hope she will request a copy of my manuscript!

Did the teacher query why the student
brought that humongous bag to class?

What ways can you think of to use the word query in a sentence?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net


In February there are days,
Blue, and nearly warm,
When horses switch their tails and ducks
Go quacking through the farm.
When everything turns round to feel
The sun upon its back --
When winter lifts a little bit
And spring peeks through the crack.

~ Dorothy Aldis

Monday, February 20, 2012

Here is my secret...

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An excerpt:

And now here is my secret, a very simple secret; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.

~ from The Little Prince,
written by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Go confidently...

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"Go confidently
in the direction of your dreams.
Live the life you have imagined."

~ Henry David Thoreau

Saturday, February 18, 2012

February Twilight

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February Twilight

I stood beside a hill
Smooth with new-laid snow,
A single star looked out
From the cold evening glow.

There was no other creature
That saw what I could see --
I stood and watched the evening star
As long as it watched me.

~ Sara Teasdale

Friday, February 17, 2012

Adventures Through the Land of Fantasy

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Do you ever feel like getting away from it all, even just for a little while?  Do you daydream about setting sail for new lands?  Does the thought of jumping into the middle of an adventure thrill you?  When I'm in the mood for something new, something completely unlike the routines of my life, chances are I'll reach for a book. (I know you're not surprised by this, LOL.)

A book can whisk me away to brand new worlds -- no visa required.  It doesn't even have to cost a thing.  I can immerse myself in it, experience the suspense, battle the villains, rely on my wits for survival -- and then simply close the book when it's time to go back to reality for awhile.

I've traveled to several different fantasy lands over the past few months.  I enjoyed my voyages through these strange worlds and recommend the following books to any adventure-seeking BookWyrms out there:

Peter and the Starcatchers,
written by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, 2004...

My daughter Emmalie received this book for Christmas one year, and after reading it, she told me she thought I'd like it.  She was right!

This fantasy for middle-grade readers is a sort of prequel to J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan.  Peter and some of his friends, all orphans, are sent on the ship Never Land, to become slaves of the evil King Zarboff.  While on board, they meet up with young Molly.  She is an apprentice Starcatcher, learning how to keep "starstuff" (magic material that falls to earth) out of the hands of those who would abuse it.  Throw in some pirates, a shipwreck, and other familiar Peter Pan characters, and you have an captivating tale about how Peter came to be much more than just an ordinary boy.

This book is the first in The Starcatchers Series, which also includes Peter and the Shadow Thieves (2006), Peter and the Secret of Rundoon (2007), Peter and the Sword of Mercy (2009), and The Bridge to Neverland (2011).  I have not read the rest of the books in the series yet, but I plan to!


written by Kenneth Oppel, 2004...

This book caught my eye at the library.  Later, when Emmalie saw it in my stack of materials to check out, she said, "Oh, that's a good one!"  Once again, she was right.

Recommended for 6th grade and up, this is the story of Matt Cruse, a cabin boy aboard the luxury passenger airship Aurora in a strange Victorian-era world.  Pirates and a shipwreck loom in this story as well, in addition to a determined young woman named Kate and mysterious flying creatures called "cloud cats".


The Bartimaeus Trilogy...
The Amulet of Samarkand (2003),
The Golem's Eye (2004), and Ptolemy's Gate (2005),
written by Jonathan Stroud ...

Recently Emmalie told me she had some books that I should read, and she handed me The Amulet of Samarkand.  She had read -- and reread -- the series, and knew that I would enjoy it, too.  Since then, I've finished the first two books and am now about 1/3 of the way through the third.  I'm very anxious to see how it all ends!

Set in colonial-era London, in an alternate history to our own, the series follows the life of the young magician Nathaniel (later known as John Mandrake), through the eyes of the djinni Bartimaeus (a powerful spirit who's been around for five thousand years).  Filled with mysteries, magical creatures, murder, mayhem, and a healthy dose of wry humor, this is a thoroughly entertaining trilogy.  These books are considered to be middle grade fiction; however, in my opinion, some kids may find them more difficult to read than other middle grade novels.  (They may, at least, want to keep a dictionary handy!)


The Hunger Games Trilogy...
The Hunger Games (2008), Catching Fire (2009),
and Mockingjay (2010),
written by Suzanne Collins ...
I don't own the second two books (yet),
and, not surprisingly, they were all
checked out of the library, so I only
 have a picture of this one.
One day when she was in middle school, Emm came home and said, "Mom!  You HAVE to read this book!"  Her Reading teacher had assigned The Hunger Games to the class, and Emm hadn't been able to put it down.  I had the same experience.  I pretty much finished it in one sitting and then rushed to the library to get a copy of the second book!  (Much to my dismay, I wasn't able to check it out that day -- I had to put my name on a long waiting list.)  Since that time, I've read all three books, have reread the first, put my name on another waiting list so I can reread the second and third books, and am anxiously awaiting "The Hunger Games" movie coming out next month!  In case you can't tell, this trilogy is one of my all-time favorite series. :)

This young adult trilogy takes place in a bleak post- apocalyptic world where the Capitol holds absolute power over the 12 districts of the Panem nation. Every year, the Capitol hosts The Hunger Games, a required and televised battle of survival between twenty-four adolescents, a boy and a girl chosen by lottery from each of Panem's districts.  Only one can win; the rest will perish.  

The story follows 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers to be the female tribute for District 12 when her younger sister's name is unexpectedly chosen.  Katniss and Peeta, the male tribute from District 12, are taken to the Capitol with the rest of the tributes.  Together, they must find a way to survive The Hunger Games.  Suspense, grief, triumph, and more -- this is a series that will stick with you long after you've read it.


Have you read any of these novels?  If so, what did you think of them?  What other fantasy books do you enjoy?  I am always happy to hear recommendations!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Find it in your heart...

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"If you find it in your heart
to care for somebody else
you will have succeeded."

~Maya Angelou

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


When someone is kind, friendly, or good-natured, that person is also being amiable [ey-mee-uh-buhl].  (Other good synonyms include affable, genial, and cordial.)  It is a trait that I admire in others and one that I aspire towards, though I don't always succeed. 

She greeted the new student with an amiable smile.

While his mother pushed him along in the shopping cart,
the amiable young boy waved at everyone he passed.

I closed my eyes and lifted my face towards the sun,
relishing the amiable spring day.

How would you use the word amiable?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day

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Valentine's Day

If I could be the postman
For just one single time,
I'd choose to carry Valentines
So lovely and so fine.
I would not mind the heavy load,
Or mind my tired feet.
If I could scatter happiness
All up and down the street.

~Author Unknown

Wishing you all a sweet and happy Valentine's Day! :)

Monday, February 13, 2012

I wonder if it works?

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An excerpt:

"Why are you banging your head against the wall?" asked Frog.

"I hope that if I bang my head against the wall hard enough, it will help me to think of a story," said Toad.

~ From Frog and Toad Are Friends,
written by Arnold Lobel

Maybe I should try this next time I have writer's block... ;)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The possibilities...

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"You begin with
the possibilities of the material."

~ Robert Rauschenberg

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Conversation Hearts

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Conversation Hearts

Such meek
Little tokens
Sugary white,
Shy green, prom
Yellow and pink.
But spiced with
Mottos: SURE
Each one like
A reckless wink.

~ Valerie Worth

Friday, February 10, 2012

A Hearty Helping of Valentine Books

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It's almost Valentine's Day -- time for hearts and flowers and chocolate.  And books.  (It's always time for books.)  Here are a few picture books I found at the library that are fun reads for the month of February:

Happy Valentine's Day, Dolores, written and illustrated by Barbara Samuels, 2006...  Dolores is not supposed to touch her big sister Faye's things, but when she finds a heart-shaped box with a froggy necklace inside, she can't resist!  She decides to "borrow" it for a day, and then the trouble begins....

My boys and I got a kick out of this story and the illustrations ~ especially all the amusing expressions on the cat's face! 

If You'll Be My Valentine, written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Fumi Kosaka, 2005...  A little boy thinks up ways to show his family how much he loves them.  With short valentine poems and charming illustrations, this is a heart-warming book for little ones and their parents.

Will You Be My Valenswine?, written by Teresa Bateman and illustrated by Kristina Stephenson, 2005...  Polly the piglet searches for the perfect valenswine.  She tries asking the roses on the fence, a bird -- even the slop in her trough -- before she finally realizes that a special someone has loved her all along.

My son Ben and I giggled and giggled as we read this funny book the other night!

The Ballad of Valentine, written by Alison Jackson and illustrated by Tricia Tusa, 2002...  The narrator sends note after note to his love, Valentine, but silly, unexpected things keep happening, preventing them from being delivered.

This hilarious story is told in the rhythm of the folk song "My Darling, Clementine".  At first I tried to read it to Ben, like any other story, but I ended up singing it instead! 

My Heart is Like a Zoo, written and illustrated by Michael Hall, 2010...  Hearts can be happy or lonely, brave or peaceful.  Using simple rhymes and bright illustrations created out of hearts, this book teaches young children about various emotions.

This isn't a valentine book per se, but with all the hearts, I thought it was appropriate.  Not only is the artwork delightful to look at (kids will enjoy counting all of the hearts in each picture!), but they also could be used as blueprints for making your own "wild" valentines.  My kids have made valentines for their classmates every February, and we've occasionally used hearts to create animals -- after reading this, Ben and I have all sorts of ideas for next year's valentines!

Guess How Much I Love You?, written by Sam McBratney and illustrated by Anita Jeram, 1994...  I mentioned this book here last year, recommending it for Father's Day.  I also highly recommend it for Valentine's Day!  A sweet story about the love between a parent and a child, it makes my heart feel all warm and fuzzy every time I read it. :)

For the non-fiction fans out there:

Hearts, Cupids, and Red Roses: The Story of the Valentine Symbols, written by Edna Barth and illustrated by Ursula Arndt, 1974...  Filled with fun facts about St. Valentine, the typical symbols of the holiday, and the history of valentine cards, this book is much more interesting than I expected it to be when I first picked it up.  Even just flipping through it at the library, I learned several things about Valentine's Day that I'd never known before!

Crafts for Valentine's Day, written by Kathy Ross and illustrated by Sharon Lane Holm, 1995...  This book is filled with easy-to-make crafty ideas for homemade valentines, as well as valentine decorations for the home.

What are your favorite stories for Valentine's Day?  I'd love to hear about them!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A roof and four walls...

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“When we read a story,
we inhabit it.
The covers of the book
are like a roof and four walls.
What is to happen next
will take place within
the four walls of the story.
And this is possible because
the story's voice
makes everything its own.”

~ John Berger

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


I noticed the word caboodle [kuh-bood-l] in a book recently, and thought it would make a good "word of the week".  It's a fun word to say! 

Caboodle.  Caboodle.  Caboodle. :)  

An informal noun, caboodle means "lot, pack, group, or crowd", and it is often seen in phrases like "the whole caboodle" or "the whole kit and caboodle".

Eager to begin their road trip,
the three friends carried all of their luggage outside,
then squeezed the whole kit and caboodle --
and themselves -- into the tiny car.

What sentences can you make up, using the word caboodle?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

My Robot

Photo courtesy of  PublicDomainPictures.net

My Robot

I have a robot
Do the dishes,
Phone my friends,
Bone the fishes.
Rub my back,
Scrub the floors;
Mop the kitchen,
Open doors.
Do my homework,
Make my bed;
Catch my colds,
Scratch my head.
Walk the dog,
Feed the cats;
Hit my sister,
Knit me hats.
Do my laundry,
Clean my room;
(Boy, he's handy
With a broom.)
Comb my hair,
Darn my socks;
Find my lost toys,
Wind my clocks.
Mix me milk shakes,
Fix my bike;
Buy me all
The things I like.
Grill me hot dogs,
Guard my home --
Who do you think
Wrote this poem?

~ Douglas Florian,
from Bing, Bang, Boing


Monday, February 6, 2012

The deep, deep snow...

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

An excerpt:

But when he woke up his dream was gone.  The snow was still everywhere.  New snow was falling!

After breakfast he called to his friend from across the hall, and they went out together into the deep, deep snow.

~ from The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats

Sunday, February 5, 2012

An impulse to soar...

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One can never consent to creep
when one feels an impulse to soar.
~Helen Keller

Saturday, February 4, 2012


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When skies are low
and days are dark,
and frost bites
like a hungry shark,
when mufflers muffle
ears and nose,
and puffy sparrows
huddle close--
how nice to know
that February
is something purely

~ N. M. Bodecker

Friday, February 3, 2012

Bread, sweet as honey...

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Bread of flour is good;
but there is bread,
sweet as honey,
if we would eat it,
in a good book. 

~ John Ruskin

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Groundhogs for BookWyrms...

Photo courtesy of wpclipart.com

Happy Groundhog Day! :)  Whether you're hoping for an early spring or you'd like some more wintery weather, here are a few fun picture books to read in celebration of this quirky holiday:

Gregory's Shadow, written and illustrated by Don Freeman, 2000... Gregory the groundhog wakes up on February 1st and heads outside with his friend, Shadow.  Something scares them both, so Gregory races back home and slams the door, accidentally leaving Shadow behind.  When the friends finally find each other once more, they vow to stick close together and never be separated again.

Go to Sleep, Groundhog!, written by Judy Cox and illustrated by Paul Meisel, 2004... Groundhog knows he's supposed to hibernate until February 2nd, but he just can't fall asleep!  He decides to go for a walk and soon discovers a whole world of things he's never seen before.  A note at the end of the book provides information about groundhogs and Groundhog Day.  This book, with all of its humorous scenes, makes me laugh!

Wake Up, Groundhog! (also published as Punxsutawney Phyllis), written by Susanna Leonard Hill and illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler, 2005...  Phyllis is an unusual groundhog.  She loves to be outside, no matter what the weather.  She also dreams of taking over her uncle's role as Punxsutawney Phil when she grows up, even though everyone tells her she can't because she's a girl.  When Groundhog Day comes around, Uncle Phil wants to stay in bed.  The family finally rouses him, and when he invites Phyllis to go outside with him, she demonstrates just how suited she is for the role.  This book also contains fun facts about Groundhog Day and the real Punxsutawney Phil.  I love the cute illustrations and Phyllis's determination!

Brownie Groundhog and the February Fox, written by Susan Blackaby and illustrated by Carmen Segovia, 2011... Brownie wakes up on Groundhog Day and is irritated to see her shadow, knowing she will have to wait even longer for spring to arrive.  Just then, a hungry fox spies the plump groundhog.  Brownie cleverly outwits the fox, and in the end, their encounter turns into an unlikely friendship.  I especially enjoy the endearing paintings!

Do you have any favorite books about Groundhog Day?  I'd love to hear about them!