Posts Tagged ‘Africa’

Meet Author Michael Samulak

Posted on September 29th, 2016 by Carolyn Hart

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Michael SamulakMichael Samulak has almost twenty years of experience teaching, mentoring, and engaging youth both in and outside of the classroom. Mr. Samulak visits schools, learning centers, and daycares to read and present his stories and world adventures. His goal is to inspire youth to dream big. Michael’s teaching and classroom experience help him to fill his award-winning picture books with fun opportunities for learning.

Michael resides in the City of Cleveland, Ohio with his wife and four children.

He earned his Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Michigan State University (’96) and finished his Master’s in Education at Cleveland State University (’12). He has been working as a full-time youth minister and educator for close to 20 years.

Author Facebook Page

Author website

Tell us about your latest published children’s book. Who do you think should read it? What are you most proud of?

A Wonderful Day! is my latest picture book about going to the zoo. This is actually my first traditionally published title and I am so excited to be able to share it with everyone! It is an early reader, great for emerging readers, or those who are working toward fluency and need that extra support from a fun book that can reinforce those early sight words and phonics skills that they have been working on.A Wonderful Day! by Michael Samulak

I generally recommend a target audience to be 3-6 years old, but as many of the educators and parents will tell you, this totally depends on your reader. My nephew is 2 and he loves to make all the animal sounds as he flips excitedly through the pages. My brother sent me a picture of him sneaking a read after he had “thought” he put him to bed. He was “reading” under the covers, flashlight and all. I couldn’t have been more happy to see someone getting that kind of joy from one of my books.

I am probably most proud of the way the book has been put together with little learning moments laced throughout the manuscript. Besides being written with a gender-neutral text, you also have a good amount of questions and statements that can be thought-provoking and interactive. This kind of anticipatory exercise is very important for young readers as they are learning and beginning to understand that text has meaning. I love that the book helps young readers make text-to-self-reflections; putting their own experiences and prior knowledge front and center while reading in order to develop and expand the whole experience of reading. We all do this as accomplished readers, and generally forget that somewhere along the line we were helped to understand and realize that reading is so much more than decoding and applying the known rules of phonics.

A Wonderful Day! was recently Awarded the Gold Medal for Children’s Picture Books (Animals) by the Mom’s Choice Awards.

A Wonderful Day! at Amazon.com

A Wonderful Day! at Amazon.ca

When did you realize that you would be a writer? Is there a particular person who has inspired and/or supported your work along the way?

This would have to be when I would ask my mom if I could stay home from Jr. High school, maybe about 6th or 7th grade so I could keep working on my first chapter book.

I think that it is safe to say that I still consider myself to be a work-in-progress, and so it is crazy to think that my books can now be found in libraries, schools, and peoples’ homes.

For those still-aspiring writers I always have the same words, “Don’t ever give up!” That choice has a guaranteed outcome. Don’t stop. Keep going, keep writing, keep up the inquiring: There is story that you have that the world needs to read. Keep putting yourself and your work out there and it will happen, even if it seems that things are tough or impossible, as long as you are moving and working on your dream, something can happen.

A is for Africa by Michael Samulak

If we were watching over your shoulder as you work on a book, what would we see? Where do you work? What does your writing process look like?

Generally speaking, one of my five children climbing on my back or sitting in my lap. Don’t get me wrong; I love all of the kids. They are a big source of inspirations for many of my books, so I can’t complain, but finding that quality, uninterrupted time is tough.

I am always writing, or at least thinking about writing. My note app on my phone is filled with bits and pieces, lines, thoughts: unpublished titles, I’m always trying to think of what may be a good title for a book. I think that has replaced a lot of my early days of notebooks, scrap paper, napkins from a dinner table, whatever was there really: Crayon, pencil, that piece of fruit my daughter had finished with…whatever worked to get that word down before it was gone. I’m sure some out there can relate.

I suppose once it is time put all of those bits and pieces into something “final” that I then print out or send to an actual human being, my laptop and a local coffee shop are where I land. But, the process, yeah, that’s a lot messy for me.

Tell us about your experiences sharing your book with children. Has anything unusual / endearing / funny / unexpected happened?

What hasn’t happened? Tears, fears, in appropriate laughing; farting, burping, teasing, and a lot of smiles and wide-eye stares that keep me coming back for more.

I love reading my work and interacting with the children at schools and learning centers the most. I think it is the father and educator parts of me. I have come to expect the unexpected and it is this color and variety of the trip that make it so worthwhile.

If I had to pick one particular event I am particularly found of, it would be that one I often remember this one time when I visited one schools and one of the students in the sea of faces piped up matter-of-factly after I held up my book, “Hey! I have that book at home! I love that book! Oh Boy!, this is gonna be awesome.” I had to take a moment to hold back the tears on that one. It was one of the first times that I really felt accomplished as an author: Like my dreams of being able to write for children were coming true.

How do you stay connected with your readers? Have you gone on book tours? Do you engage on social media or through a website? Do you visit classrooms, libraries or bookstores?

Everything goes when it comes to connecting, networking, and staying engaged with readers. So, yes to all!

I love to network and feel that it is so important to staying relevant to my audience. I often will bring “finished” works to the schools and classrooms that I visit to get fresh feed back from the audience that I feel matters most – the one that I am writing for. I try to stay active on social media platforms, but since I write for a younger audience, like, they aren’t quite there yet when it comes to literacy fluency, let alone responding to a FaceBook post; I generally am reaching out and interacting with parents, other writers, educators, etc. on those platforms. With that in mind, I am generally looking for opportunities related to a visit or to network, or generally showing off my beautiful family and our recent life adventures together.

What are the biggest challenges of being an author?

Juggling work, family, wife, kids — oh yeah, and then there is writing. I would have to say time – quality time to get to the end part of that process of writing in order to cross that finished line where an actual tangible piece is produced that then can be reworked, critiqued, rejected, reworked again…really, do I need to go on.

I know others may have other struggles, and I’m not at all saying that those aren’t real or deep, but for myself it would have to be finding the time to “gett’er done”.

“Just keep swimming” often does become my own encouraging theme song on those days when I feel like throwing in the towel. And so I try to just keep moving, even if it is just one sentence or phrase that I can work on; not even finish per say, but to mark progress. Yes, seeing progress helps to keep me going and eventually cross that finish line.

When I go to schools or libraries I love to read my picture books and share my inspirations and experiences that they are based on. Generally speaking, this makes for great laughs as I share my adventures with my children. I also have brought back some native items from Africa and do a sort of “Show and Tell”. The kids love to see and feel these native artifacts. The African Drum is usually the biggest “hit”.

Discovering Diversity – Princesses in Picture Books

Posted on October 21st, 2013 by Carolyn Hart

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Discovering Diversity and Examining Stereotypes - a Look at Princesses in Picture BooksIf you asked children in a preschool or kindergarten, ‘How does a princess behave?’ or ‘What does a princess look like?’ what sort of answers would you get? Would perceptions extend beyond Disney’s version of Cinderella, Ariel and Rapunzel?


How might children describe or draw a princess?

Is she helpless or is she capable?
Is she in danger and waiting for a brave prince to rescue her or is she resourceful and able to take care of herself?
Is she always physically beautiful? What is her hair color?
What sort of clothing does she wear?
Is she intelligent, quick-witted, wise, bold, courageous?
Is she kind to others?

Thoughts of a grade five student ~

A princess is a girl who has a dress and she’s very pretty. She’s the king’s daughter and he can choose someone to be the prince to marry her. Some books have princesses and some don’t have princesses. You might have seen movies about one or maybe you haven’t. Princesses often appear in fairy tales.

Here are some terrific picture books that depict princesses in unconventional ways

Discovering Diversity through Picture Books An African Princess An African Princess written by Lyra Edmonds and illustrated by Anne Wilson
Picture book about heritage and identity published by Random House Children’s House

Lyra’s mama tells her that she is an African Princess but she is not convinced. She and her family in a big city and she has freckles. Her schoolmates tease her and prompt her to question the story she has been told by her mama. One wintry day she learns that she and her family are going to travel to meet Taunte May, an African Princess. Lyra counts the days until the family boards a plane to the Caribbean. Once there, Lyra discovers and embraces her very rich heritage.

An African Princess at Amazon.com

An African Princess at Amazon.ca

Discovering Diversity Picture Books Not All Princesses Dress in PinkNot All Princesses Dress in Pink written by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple, illustrated by Anne-Sophie Lanquetin
Rhyming picture book about individuality, stereotyping, gender roles published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Vivid illustrations and cheerful text highlight Not All Princesses Dress in Pink, a look at the many ways young princesses express themselves. Perhaps they play baseball or soccer or they roll on the ground. Whether working on a construction site, riding a bike or planting a large garden, these princesses challenge stereotypes and wear sparkly crowns.

Not All Princesses Dress in Pink at Amazon.com

Not All Princesses Dress in Pink at Amazon.ca

Discovering Diversity through Picture Books The Paper Bag PrincessThe Paper Bag Princess written by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Michael Martchenko
Picture book about problem solving, courage, self esteem, and gratitude published by Annick Press

When a nasty dragon smashes her castle, burns her clothes and carries away her betrothed, Princess Elizabeth decides she must rescue him. Elizabeth’s wardrobe is in ruins so wears a paper bag as she follows the path of destruction to the dragon’s cave. Once there, Elizabeth uses a series of clever tricks to rescue Ronald. He is not at all grateful for her efforts on his behalf and gets exactly what he deserves.

- Read America! Classic
- NEA’s Cat-a-List for Reading
- Greatest Canadian Books of the Century List, Vancouver Public Library
- 100 Best Books List, Toronto Public Library

The Paper Bag Princess at Amazon.com

The Paper Bag Princess at Amazon.ca

Discovering Diversity through Picture Books The Princess and the Pea The Princess and the Pea written and illustrated by Rachel Isadora
Traditional story set in Africa published by Puffin Books

The Princess and the Pea was originally published by Hans Christian Andersen in the nineteenth century. Rachel Isadora sets this version of the traditional story in Africa. A prince wants to meet and marry a ‘real’ princess. His travels take him all over the world but he fails to meet ‘the one.’

One evening there was a terrible storm. Suddenly a knocking was heard at the gate, and the old king went to open it. Sure enough, there is a sodden young woman outside the gate. She claims to be a princess but her appearance suggests otherwise. The queen decides to test her by putting a pea into her bed.

Beautiful collage illustrations nicely match the exotic African setting and costumes.

The Princess and the Pea at Amazon.com

The Princess and the Pea at Amazon.ca

Discovering Diversity The Silk PrincessThe Silk Princess written and illustrated by Charles Santore
The legend of the discovery of silk in ancient China published by Random House

Emperor Huang-Ti is very fond of his two sons but never speaks with his daughter, Princess Hsi-Ling Chi. One afternoon, she and her mother visit the royal gardens. When a cocoon falls from a tree and lands in her mother’s teacup, Hsi-Ling Chi notices the cocoon unraveling in the hot liquid and soon sees a long strand of thread. Not realizing the length of the thread, her mother agrees to let her attach one end of the thread to her waist and walk away. Hsi-Ling Chi is astonished as the long, silky thread permits her to travel through the royal gardens, leave the grounds of the royal palace and explore the world beyond its gates. She travels into the mountains, knowing that she must be cautious because there is a dangerous dragon lurking nearby. Despite being careful to cross a bridge quietly, the dragon awakens and frightens Hsi-Ling Chi. The thread is broken and Hsi-Ling Chi is lost. While searching for the thread, she meets an old man. He is weaving thread from silkworm cocoons into beautiful, shimmering fabric. Hsi-Ling Chi learns from him and eventually returns home to share her discovery with her mother. Her mother instructs the royal weavers to create a new robe using the new material. The Emperor is captivated by Hsi-Ling Chi’s discovery and she becomes known as the Silk Princess.

Painterly illustrations are a wonderful match for this story of adventure and discovery. Best suited to kindergarten age (and older) children, there is considerable text – some in white and some in black. The font choice may make this a difficult read-aloud in a large group setting.

The Silk Princess at Amazon.com

The Silk Princess at Amazon.ca

Free Printables – Crown Writing Paper and Royalty Picture Dictionary

image of PDF icon  Royalty / Fairy Tale Picture Dictionary

Free printable fairy tale picture dictionary for readers and writers in kindergarten and grade one.

image of PDF icon  Crown interlined paper

picture books about grandparents and family diversityYou will also be interested in our post about grandparents and family diversity.




The Lion and the Mouse, An Award Winning Almost Wordless Picturebook

Posted on July 9th, 2012 by Carolyn Hart

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Storytime Standouts looks at an award-winning almost wordless picturebook, The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney

Storytime Standouts looks at award winning almost wordless picturebook, The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney
The Lion and the Mouse created by Jerry Pinkney
Almost wordless picturebook published by Little, Brown Kids



Be sure to check out our page devoted to wordless picture books. As well, you will be interested in our page about anti-bullying picture books for children.

The story of the lion and the mouse is an Aesop’s fable that every child ought to know well. The lion, powerful and dangerous resists an opportunity for bullying and, instead, is kind to a small mouse. Later, when the lion is trapped in a hunter’s net, the grateful mouse has an opportunity to return the favour. He chews the rope net and eventually manages to free the lion.

Jerry Pinkney has created a masterful, almost wordless picturebook version of The Lion and the Mouse. From cover to cover, beautiful illustrations depict the African Savanna and the animals found there while telling the story of a compassionate lion and his small friend. Winner of the 2010 Randolph Caldecott Medal and also a New York Times 2010 Best Illustrated Book and a 2010 Horn Book Awards Honor Book, The Lion and the Mouse relies upon the illustrations to tell the story. Pinkney only uses words to describe animal sounds.

Highly recommended for both classroom and home libraries, The Lion and the Mouse could be used to explore many themes including anti-bullying, friendship and stereotying.

Educator’s Guide in PDF format

The Lion & the Mouse at Amazon.com

The Lion & the Mouse at Amazon.ca


Storytelling Around the World

Posted on November 2nd, 2011 by Carolyn Hart

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This five-book series is written is written by Veronika Martenova Charles‘ and illustrated by David Parkins. Generously illustrated, each book includes three versions of a familiar story and was written with newly independent readers in mind. The books are each 56 pages and contain five chapters. Suited to readers aged five to eight, the series could be used effectively in a classroom with children exploring similarities and differences the ways Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, Red Riding Hood and other stories are told.

It’s Not about the Apple!: Easy-to-Read Wonder Tales at Amazon.com

It’s Not about the Apple!: Easy-to-Read Wonder Tales at Amazon.ca

It’s Not about the Crumbs!: Easy-to-Read Wonder Tales at Amazon.com

It’s Not about the Crumbs!: Easy-to-Read Wonder Tales at Amazon.ca

It’s Not about the Hunter!: Easy-to-Read Wonder Tales at Amazon.com

It’s Not about the Hunter!: Easy-to-Read Wonder Tales at Amazon.ca


There’s an Alphabet Book for Every Child

Posted on May 28th, 2007 by Carolyn Hart

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Storytime Standouts Suggests Alphabet Books for Preschool

Having an alphabet book (or two, three or four!), is one way to make your home literacy-friendly. Today I will look at five diverse alphabet books… Just looking at the titles and cover art gives us a hint of the broad range of style and content that alphabet books can encompass.








Storytime Standouts writes about alphabet book, Do Your ABCs Little Brown BearDo Your ABC’s, Little Brown Bear written by Jonathan London and illustrated by Margie Moore
Alphabet Book published by Puffin; Reprint edition

Beginning with Do Your ABC’s, Little Brown Bear we discover a way to help a child learn her alphabet. On a walk with Papa, Little Brown Bear looks for things that begin with each letter of the alphabet. I enjoyed the sweet interaction between Papa and Little Brown Bear. It is hard to imagine any family sharing the book without embarking on their own alphabet exploration. Appropriate for children aged three and up.

Do Your ABC’s, Little Brown Bear at Amazon.com

Do Your ABC’s Little Brown Bear at Amazon.ca

Storytime Standouts writes about alphabet book, Northern Lights A to ZNorthern Lights A to Z written and illustrated by Mindy Dwyer
Alphabet Book published by Sasquatch Books

Northern Lights A to Z will appeal mainly to older children (aged five and up) particularly those who have a special interest in the night sky or legends. Beautifully illustrated, the author seamlessly mixes science and myths and shares her knowledge in an engaging, accessible format. I can still remember the emotions I felt when I saw the aurora borealis. This special alphabet book captures the extraordinary experience beautifully.


Northern Lights A to Z at Amazon.com

Northern Lights A to Z at Amazon.ca

Storytime Standouts writes about alphabet book, A is for AfricaA Is for Africa written by Ifeoma Onyefulu
Alphabet Book published by Puffin; Reprint edition

A Is for Africa features gorgeous photographs of people and things found in south-eastern Nigeria. Best for children aged five and up, I was struck by the author’s respectful tone and the way her photographs draw us into the atmosphere in the community. Although written in an alphabet book format, one can easily imagine an older child using this book to learn about life in an African village.


A Is for Africa at Amazon.com

A is for Africa at Amazon.ca

Storytime Standouts writes about alphabet book, C is for CabooseC is for Caboose written and illustrated by Traci N. Todd
Alphabet Book published by Chronicle Books

When my boys were young, books about trucks and trains were very much “top of the charts” as far as they were concerned. C Is for Caboose features a mix of bright, bold illustrations and archival photographs. This will appeal most to children who are already fascinated by rail travel and enjoy historical photographs.


C Is for Caboose: Riding the Rails from A to Z at Amazon.com

C is for Caboose at Amazon.ca

Storytime Standouts writes about alphabet book, Stargazer's AlphabetStargazer’s Alphabet Night-Sky Wonders from A to Z written by John Farrell
Alphabet Book published by Boyds Mills Press

For older children (aged six and up), Stargazer’s Alphabet is “out of this world.” Featuring fabulous photographs of the Milky Way, Jupiter, Mars and more, this book uses a terrific format to its best advantage. Large pages each feature a rhyme: “V is for Venus, a lovely dazzling disk“, a factual paragraph plus photos, maps and diagrams. Great for families where the youngest child can enjoy the rhyming text and older children (and adults) can read detailed explanations. Featuring a glassary and the author’s thoughts on space, the breadth of the material covered will make this a valuable family resource for many years.


Stargazers Alphabet at Amazon.com

Stargazer’s Alphabet at Amazon.ca

Some more information about learning the alphabet and alphabet books

Special Alphabet BooksLearning letter activities, games, printables, and alphabet picture booksClothespin Letter Match is an easy-to-make alphabet matching activity from Storytime Standouts















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