A Pinch of Magic and Seven Servings of Imagination

sam 2018

Meet nine-year-old Samuel Rietzke,  a confirmed reader who’s in Grade 4. His mom, Autumn Knisely, writes:

Sam loved to be read to as an infant/ toddler and learned to read at an early age. He would pretend to read well before he could actually read. He has a wonderful imagination telling the story based on the photos in the book. He’s loved getting into book series such as Harry Potter and House of Robots. Some of his other favorites have been Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, Charlotte’s Web, and A Cricket in Times Square.

Once he starts a book, he has a hard time putting it away. You’ll see him reading in the car wherever we go, carrying his book through the grocery store; he pulls it out in class after he finishes assignments and is waiting for others to get done. He also loves to write short stories in his spare time. His second-grade teacher, Mrs. Lisa Davoli, would let him create books in his free time, and he created an entire little series over his second-grade year. He says he hopes to publish a book or two eventually!

Read on to find out about the books that really ignited Samuel’s imagination.



What book is your homerun book? Why does this book mean so much to you?

I don’t have a homerun book, more a series…Harry Potter. After our class read the first book, I’ve been reading the entire series. The book means so much to me because it opened up my imagination.


Image from huffingtonpost.com

Tell us how you came to be a lifelong reader. Was there a person who influenced you? Did you have a teacher or a librarian who encouraged you?

I’ve had a bit of influence with Harry Potter and other books through Mrs. Ross, my third-grade teacher, and that made me read more and more.

What is your favorite place to read and when do you make the time for reading?

My favorite place to read is in bed. I make time for reading at bedtime on road trips.

If you could pick five books that should be on every child’s bookshelf, what would those books be? And, why?

  • Dr. Seuss’s ABC’s, for the younger kids to learn their alphabet
  • At least one JK Rowling book; they really open up the imagination
  • Chicka Chicka Boom Boom: ABC’s in a funny way
  • Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See? For colors
  • What Do You Do With A Tail Like This? For adapting

What’s your favorite read-aloud book?

I don’t ever really read aloud, but Mom is my favorite reader. 

Do you have a favorite library?

It’s Kaubisch Memorial Library. They always have a summer reading program.

What else would you like to add on the topic of books and reading?

Books allow you to know interesting facts and other things. I didn’t know about a home-run book until I learned about it here.



A Quiet Spot and a Stack of Books

Meet lifelong reader, Kelly Sterling, who writes…

I’ve been married to Tim for 13 years, and I have four step children. And we just welcomed our first grandson.

I have been the pastor at Van Buren United Methodist Church for two years. Prior to that I was the associate pastor for eight years at St. Mark’s in Findlay.

I’ve loved reading since I could read! Books now play a part in my Sabbath time, when I read not only the Bible but other spiritual books. Reading fiction is my relaxation time, and my ideal vacation includes a fireplace and or pool and a book or two!

If I was not working as a pastor, I would probably be working as a librarian somewhere, preferably at an elementary school watching kids light up by the magic of books!

Kelly and wee one

Pastor Kelly Sterling and her new grandson

My home run book is On The Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

My favorite teacher, Miss Boucher, introduced the entire Little House series to my third grade class, reading to us from On the Banks of Plum Creek. She told us a television show was coming out based on the book! I fell in love with the books and the show. Christmas of my third grade year I received the entire Little House series. I had that collection up until recently when it was destroyed in a flood we had in our basement.


Image from singlebookswithemily.com

Since the time I learned how, I have loved reading. I loved going to the library as a kid, and practiced signing my name in cursive over and over. Once I mastered it, my mom said I could get my own library card; that was a proud day!

I would say my third grade teacher, Miss Boucher, encouraged reading. But I do also recall in junior high school having a mandatory 15 or 20-minute time where we had to read. No sleeping, no homework: you had to read a book or magazine.

Many of my friends hated this time, but I loved it. I can remember sitting in Miss Demerit’s English room. I was in the last row second to last seat, next to the windows. (When your last name is Sterling, usually you are in the back row.)

It was a wonderful part of the day for me. I don’t think this required reading time has been part of the school curriculum for a long time, but I think it should be. Not only does it encourage better reading skills, but it’s a nice break to relax and just let your brain go elsewhere for a little while.

Now, I mostly read in bed just before sleep. But, I love going on vacation because, to me, vacation includes reading…on the plane, at the hotel, or wherever lodging may be. My perfect vacation is a quiet spot and a stack of books.

I like to read at the library; something about being surrounded by all the books and other people who love words makes it even more enjoyable.

As a kid, I liked to read on the front porch. My house could be rather hectic at times and noisy, so that was a spot I could find quiet and peace.

Here are the books I’d recommend to every child:

The Monster at the End of this Book, by Jon Stone: so fun to read and hear.

Curious George, by H.A. Rey and Margaret Rey: monkeys and mischief…what is there not to love?

Something by Laura Ingalls : history, faith and family wrapped up in a series

The Bible: Everyone needs a Bible; even if you are not a believer, the Bible is great reading!

The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats: the illustrations are incredible and the story sticks with you.

And…I  need to add one more: Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls. Here, young readers will find unconditional love, responsibility, and grief.

My favorite book to read aloud is one of the above: The Monster at the End of this Book.I loved it as a kid; I own it still; and I will read it to my grandkids some day.

My favorite library is the Wood County library; there are several little nooks and crannies to hide and read. And there’s no such thing as a bad book store…but one of my favorite is a used book store attached to the library in Fountain Hills, Arizona. It is a well-to-do retirement community, and books are donated to this tiny bookstore, but they are current, barely-used, beautiful hard back books I get for a great price,…plus the money goes back to the library.

Reading, to me, is an escape. It is a way to shut off the “to do list” in my mind and go to another time, place, or even, sometimes, world. Words to me are art; how writers tie those words together and create images and emotions is as beautiful to me as a painting or sculpture.


To find out more about First Step’s initiative to help every kid find her or his own home-run book, or for information on any of First Step’s programs, please contact us:

Address: P.O. Box 1103 Fostoria, OH 44830

Office Phone: 419.435.7300

Email: info@firststepweb.org

Website: http://firststepweb.org

A Spider for a Hero, and a Pig for a Friend

Anyway, the theme of ‘Charlotte’s Web’ is that a pig shall be saved, and I have an idea that somewhere deep inside me there was a wish to that effect.

—EB White


First Step’s Home Run Bloggers love Charlotte’s Web.

Ann Boyd fell in love with the gracious, pugnacious arachnid when she was a fifth grader, and her teacher, Miss Kennedy, read the book to her class.

Third grade teacher and mom Amanda Ross says, “Charlotte’s Web is the perfect book for young readers.”

Claudia Benjamin, who teaches in Hancock County and Findlay, says the books is a must read to, and for, kids.

Librarian Tara Bahnsen agrees.

The list goes on and on: Charlotte’s Web is a much-loved classic. Some of us have been known to get red-eyed, to have to enunciate around swollen, chokey throat-lumps, as we try to read the end of the story aloud.

And when you think about it,–well, we’re getting very emotional about the death of a SPIDER.

A spider who was best buds with a pig.

And let’s face it, spiders and pigs,–well, they don’t win popularity contests in our society.

How did EB White come to write a book with such unlikely heroes, a book that would turn out to be a classic, savored and shared for generations to come?

Brainpickings.org did some research. They share a letter from EB White, who, when asked, “Why a book about a spider?” had a whole lot to say.

Read his words, taken from https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/10/15/e-b-white-on-charlottes-web/, below.


White made notes on web-spinning while he was writing about Charlotte and Wilbur.

(Image, featured in 1994’s The Annotated Charlotte’s Web, taken from https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/10/15/e-b-white-on-charlottes-web/)

“I have been asked to tell how I came to write ‘Charlotte’s Web’ [writes White]. Well, I like animals, and it would be odd if I failed to write about them. Animals are a weakness with me, and when I got a place in the country I was quite sure animals would appear, and they did.

“A farm is a peculiar problem for a man who likes animals, because the fate of most livestock is that they are murdered by their benefactors. The creatures may live serenely but they end violently, and the odor of doom hangs about them always. I have kept several pigs, starting them in spring as weanlings and carrying trays to them all through summer and fall. The relationship bothered me. Day by day I became better acquainted with my pig, and he with me, and the fact that the whole adventure pointed toward an eventual piece of double-dealing on my part lent an eerie quality to the thing. I do not like to betray a person or a creature, and I tend to agree with Mr. E.M. Forster that in these times the duty of a man, above all else, is to be reliable. It used to be clear to me, slopping a pig, that as far as the pig was concerned I could not be counted on, and this, as I say, troubled me. Anyway, the theme of ‘Charlotte’s Web’ is that a pig shall be saved, and I have an idea that somewhere deep inside me there was a wish to that effect.

“As for Charlotte herself, I had never paid much attention to spiders until a few years ago. Once you begin watching spiders, you haven’t time for much else — the world is really loaded with them. I do not find them repulsive or revolting, any more than I find anything in nature repulsive or revolting, and I think it is too bad that children are often corrupted by their elders in this hate campaign. Spiders are skilful, amusing and useful, and only in rare instances has anybody ever come to grief because of a spider.

“One cold October evening I was lucky enough to see Aranea Cavatica spin her egg sac and deposit her eggs. (I did not know her name at the time, but I admired her, and later Mr. Willis J. Gertsch of the American Museum of Natural History told me her name.) When I saw that she was fixing to become a mother, I got a stepladder and an extension light and had an excellent view of the whole business. A few days later, when it was time to return to New York, not wishing to part with my spider, I took a razor blade, cut the sac adrift from the underside of the shed roof, put spider and sac in a candy box, and carried them to town. I tossed the box on my dresser. Some weeks later I was surprised and pleased to find my dresser. Some weeks later I was surprised and pleased to find that Charlotte’s daughters were emerging from the air holes in the cover of the box. They strung tiny lines from my comb to my brush, from my brush to my mirror, and from my mirror to my nail scissors. They were very busy and almost invisible, they were so small. We all lived together happily for a couple of weeks, and then somebody whose duty it was to dust my dresser balked, and I broke up the show.

“At the present time, three of Charlotte’s granddaughters are trapping at the foot of the stairs in my barn cellar, where the morning light, coming through the east window, illuminates their embroidery and makes it seem even more wonderful than it is.

“I haven’t told why I wrote the book, but I haven’t told you why I sneeze, either. A book is a sneeze.”


To find out more about First Step’s initiative to help every kid find her or his own home-run book, or for information on any of First Step’s programs, please contact us:

Address: P.O. Box 1103 Fostoria, OH 44830

Office Phone: 419.435.7300

Email: info@firststepweb.org

Website: http://firststepweb.org


A Joy Passed Down: Reading and the Griffins

Meet mom and daughter, Lindsey and Peyton Griffin. Lindsey, who works as an insurance agent at the Roger Smith Insurance Agency, serves as a director on First Step’s board, and her talented daughter, 11 year-old Peyton, taught a Slimeology class for the organization’s Enrichment series last June.

Peyton’s dad, Ryan Griffin,  works at Charter Steel.  Her brother Zendon  recently graduated with a Bachelors degree in accounting from BGSU and is working on his masters. The Griffin family loves to travel and camp; they combine that with their commitment to helping others. (On a recent trip to the Dominican Republic, the Griffins toted along three extra suitcases. That extra luggage was full of school supplies, which they hand-delivered to kids who needed them.)

The Griffins in NV

The traveling Griffins in Nova Scotia: Zendon, Lindsey, Peyton, and Ryan.

Lindsey and Peyton have many other interests, and a powerful one they share is the love of a wonderful book. Read on to learn about their home run books and the people and places who’ve helped to weave a love of literature into their lives.

What book is your homerun book? Why does this book mean so much to you?

Peyton: I love the Haunted Museum series by Suzanne Weyn; it’s very realistic and also has a bunch of cool, fun facts.

Image result for haunted museum suzanne weyn

Image from thriftbooks.com

Lindsey: Most recently, my home run book is Refugee By Alan Gratz. Although this is a children’s book, there is a lot to be learned from it. It tells the story of three refugee children and their struggles to find safety. The three children are fictional, but their stories are based on real events.

          I think it’s easy for people to distance themselves from world issues like the refugee problem. Only when we begin to educate ourselves on others’ struggles are we able to put ourselves in others’ shoes. This book dos just that. It helps you to believe that we are all just people. More bridges, fewer walls!

Image from https://www.alangratz.com/writing/refugee/

Tell us how you came to be a lifelong reader. Was there a person who influenced you as a child? Did you have a teacher or a librarian who encouraged you?

 Peyton: My whole family reads, especially my mom and brother. My mom encouraged me to read, and now I love to read.

Lindsey: My dad influenced me to read. He is a reader and I imagine I picked up this habit from him.

 What is your favorite place to read and when do you make the time for reading?

Peyton: It doesn’t matter where I read, especially if I have a good book, as long as it’s quiet. I mostly read at home in my bedroom.

Lindsey: I have always read before bedtime. I find it a good way to unwind from the day.

If you could pick five books that should be on every child’s bookshelf, what would those books be? And, why?


  • The Haunted Museum series by Suzanne Weyn: I love scary books, and these are very intense.
  • Smile & Ghost, by Raina Telgemeier: I like Smile & Ghost because they have the same characters. I felt like I knew the characters in each of the books.
  • Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein: I love these poems! The poems are super funny. My mom introduced me to this book before I could read.
  • Fuzzy Mud, by Louis Sachar: This book has a lot of mystery to it and was very interesting.
  • A Dog’s Purpose, by W. Bruce Cameron: This book reminded me of my dog, Mercedes. I liked the happy ending. It was fun to watch the movie and then read the book.

Lindsey: Besides Refugee by Alan Gratz, I agree with Peyton. I strongly recommend Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein!

What’s your favorite read-aloud book?

Peyton: My favorite read-aloud is kid Bible stories. Me, my mom, and my dad take turns reading aloud before we go to bed sometimes.

Lindsey: I love reading Where the Sidewalk Ends with Peyton and short children’s Bible stories.

Do you have a favorite library?

Peyton: I love going to Kaubisch Library with my mom. I really like the summer reading program that they have for kids. I started going to the library with my mom before I could read.

Lindsey: Peyton and I have always taken trips to Kaubisch. I used to push her stroller there before she could walk.

What else would you like to add on the topic of books and reading?

Peyton: I want to add that my favorite reading partner is Mercedes, my dog. I read with her a lot when I’m in bed.


Sharing the Love of a Good Story

Meet Amanda Ross, who writes…

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a teacher. When it was time to decide what I wanted to do after high school, I knew I wanted to attend college to study education. I attended BGSU where I met my husband.

After college, we got married and moved to the Toledo area. I worked at WSOS Community Action Commission as a Preschool Supervisor, then as a Substitute Teacher, and then I took my current position as a third grade teacher. Since then, I’ve become a Mom and I have been diagnosed with Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer.

This will be my seventh year teaching third grade, and I have loved every minute of it. My absolute favorite part of teaching third grade has been introducing new books and book series to students and having them fall in love with reading.

Read on to find out about Amanda’s home run book and her history as a reader.

Amanda and Family.jpg

Amanda Ross and her family

My homerun book is The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner. This book was given to me by my mom when I was 6, and I remember reading it with her before bedtime and just falling in love with all the characters in the story.

My mom encouraged me to read at an early age. She was a single mom, but every night she made time to read with me for at least 30 minutes before I went to bed.

I love to read outside. A hammock is my favorite, but I will settle for anywhere outdoors. I love to have an iced coffee and just get lost in a good book. When I was a kid, I would just curl up anywhere as long as I had a warm blanket to snuggle with!

You want me to choose only FIVE books to recommend that kids read? That is hard! It really depends on ages of kids.

I think I would start with Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. It is a staple- every child needs to read this fun book as a kid!

JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is just such a magical book that every kid needs to be introduced to at some point. I have seen kids who hate reading fall in love with this series so many times.

Charlotte’s Web, by EB White, is the perfect book for young kids and covers so many topics! I love the great discussions you can have along with this book.

Wonder, by RJ Palacio, has become one of my FAVORITE stories and is a must read for every kid. It teaches such great lessons and the kids really have enjoyed it.

Karen Beaumont’s I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More is such a fun, silly book. Children love reading it again and again.

My favorite read aloud in my third grade classroom is Roald Dahl’s The BFG . I love that the character makes the kids think and really decipher what he is talking about using context clues in the story. At home, I love to read to my son. We love silly books like Pete the Cat (Eric Litwin) and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus (Mo Willems). I love to get into character and have different voices for the characters so they really come alive!

I live in Tiffin, so I love the Seneca County Library and take my son there often! They have awesome programming and just got a beautiful facelift. They have games, toys, and lots of other interesting things to keep kids engaged for hours!

Reading is so important and so fun! I encourage all kids to read for at least 20 minutes a day to keep their minds moving and working!

Caught in Charlotte’s Sticky Web

ann boyd

Meet Ann Boyd, who writes… I’ve been studying and growing herbs for 35 years. My husband Dan designed and we built a passive solar greenhouse in 2006. I presently sell herbs and my own herb products at three farmers markets. I’m also a volunteer manager for the Hancock County Farmers Market since 2015. In the winter I go dormant, read by the fire, and enjoy the ruse of getting my whole house clean and somewhat de-cluttered. Northwest Ohio seasons still keep me in wonder. 

Read on to discover how Ann’s deep love of reading developed, and how Charlotte caught this avid reader in her sticky web…


Image from uptownsj.com

She would begin at 2:45 every afternoon. Monday through Friday, and end at 3:10. Miss Kennedy’s fifth grade class would sit very still and listen to her read the next part of the book she had selected. I sat in the center of the class at my desk, in anticipation, waiting to find out more. This is where I met my Home Run Book—Charlotte’s Web, by E. B. White.

This was the story that opened up the idea of using your imagination to solve problems. And it involved a three-dimensional design that made it even more fascinating to me. I fell in love with the clever spider and all the characters, animal and human. Even the death of a beloved character is so thoughtfully crafted that it highlights a safe grace in its inevitability.

Miss Kennedy’s story time also opened up worlds of understanding in Stone Soup, by Marcia Brown, and The Pushcart Wars by Jean Merrill. A place where it made better sense to look out for each other, sharing your gifts, to make the world a nicer place to be.

I don’t remember my parents reading to my sisters or me. Except for a big book of illustrated Bible stories. (I was six.) I loved sitting next to my Dad in his scratchy wool shirt, but one look at the group of angry Roman soldiers looking for a baby to kill had me sliding away, excusing myself to go to the bathroom. I never went back.

My parents provided a library shelf in the room I shared with my sister Martha that held the Bobbsey Twin adventures, Nancy Drew mysteries, and Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories. Those books shared a lot of moral truths my parents surely hoped we’d pick up on. There were also different encyclopedia sets that we’d use for school reports. My sister, to this day, loves to read, even more than I.

If another book from my childhood had to tie with Home Run Book Charlotte’s Web, it would be the pale pink Golden Almanac by Dorothy Bennett, published in 1944 with illustrations by an artist named Masha. I dragged this book off the shelf and put it back so many times, reading about how the months got their names, what lightning and thunder are, the history of holidays, stories of the different seasons, stories of different wild animals like squirrels and hedgehogs, and poems about rain and snow. I recently saw a Golden Almanac, helping a friend sort out boxes in her basement, when this beloved book showed up in a pile of ‘stuff.’ I went straight home and ordered a copy on Amazon’s used book website. I really believe this book enchanted my quest to understand the natural world, so many years ago.

Pale Pink Alamanc

Image from etsy.com

Today, I have a BFA in Graphic Design and Communication (thank you, Charlotte!) and grow and sell many herbs and flowers, sharing information and love for our botanical friends.

And I must admit I love to be told a story almost more than reading a book, so I listen to books on CD endlessly, working in the greenhouse or driving to out-of-the-way places. Skill and grace replace monotony when you can listen to a wonderful tale while you work.

Thank you parents, Millen and Odena Luhrs, and thank you, Miss Kennedy.


Snuggled in a Closet? Where in the World Do YOU Read?

I did a lot of reading in a closet. My children kid me about that. It was like a little club house, and no one would bother me there.—Phyllis Mercer, Reading: A Celebration Across Generations


 As a child, I remember my books were kept in a closet. They were not kept nicely or neatly on a bookshelf or in a library. They were piled high in a closet. When I would read, it was like finding a discovery. I didn’t even pull them out to read. I just stayed in the closet, sitting on the floor, reading book after book. Brooke Rodriguez, Never Too Busy For Books!



(Links to all the Internet sources mentioned are at the end of the post!)

One of the questions we ask Home Run bloggers is this: Where did you read as a child? Both Phyllis Mercer and Brooke Rodriguez wrote that they snuggled up in their closets and read…those were nice quiet spaces where no one bothered them.

We were a little surprised at that. They read in their CLOSETS?

But when we went looking, we found out that Phyllis and Brooke were on to something: closet reading nooks are a THING.

For instance:

Jackie, teacher, mom, and creator of the “My Little Bookcase” blog, writes, “I’ve caught children (my daughter included) hiding away in the smallest of nooks with a book. Sometimes they like to get away from the hustle and bustle of family life and escape to a private space where they can get lost in a book without being bothered or distracted. This could be something to consider when setting up your reading space.”

Jackie shares twelve tips for creating a special, cozy reading space for kids, and stresses privacy and quiet. And she shares pictures—several of them showing kids’ closets converted to kids’ reading nooks.


And Today’s Parent, an online magazine, reiterated the idea of closet reading. (Here is a photo they shared of one reader’s closet reading nook creation:

Parent Online closet

Image taken from Today’s Parent online

We have to admit: that looks mighty cozy.

And a Yahoo search yielded, literally, hundreds and hundreds of photos of closet reading nooks.

Pinterest will also show you photos of reading nooks for grownups and kids and anybody in-between. And–they will tell you where to find a space and how to do-it-yourself.

Pinterest Closet

Image from pinterest.com

Phyllis and Brooke knew all about it, long before we did: snuggling up in a small, quiet, cozy place is a great way to read.

And now, let us ask you: would you hide away to read in a closet? What’s YOUR favorite place to read?


Check out these closet reading nook links:



My Little Bookcase:


Today’s Parent: