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Saddle Up Saloon; Story Time!

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“A preschool teacher walks into a saloon—”

“Oh, I think I know this one Pal. Eats shoots and leaves?”

“What? No, Kid! Look, here comes Jennie Fitzkee, a preschool teacher. Howdy Jennie!”

“Hello Pal, hello Kid.”

“Preschool? School prior to school? What age are your students?”

“My students are three and four years old Kid.”

“How’d ya git inta the pre-school teacher gig?”

“Back in the day, most women had three career choices— teacher, secretary, or nurse.  I always enjoyed babysitting and playing with my younger sisters, so teaching was a natural choice for me. I have been teaching for thirty-seven years!”

“Must be ya love what ya do, Jennie.”

“I sure do, Pal. I have always taught preschool, no other grade.  Lucky me! The best thing about being a preschool teacher is making a real difference.  And that happens in small and unexpected moments.  The little things are really the big things.  Finding a salamander on the playground, reading aloud a book that makes children belly laugh or cry, cheering when a child writes his/her name, introducing children to art like Starry Night, and to music from Vivaldi to the Beatles, and knowing when a big hug is the best medicine of all.”

“Aw, you soun’ like a great teacher. But we know ya as a blogger.  ‘Member how ya connected ta our Charli Mills over thet book, The Poet’s Dog, by Patricia MacLachlan.”

“Oh, I remember that! Charli read that book to her dog, Bobo. You know, C.S. Lewis said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” He was right!”  

“Yeah but, how’d a nice preschool teacher like you come ta be bloggin’?”

“I started my blog in March of 2014. For decades at school I wrote newsletters to parents. I had so many things to tell them, because I just ‘knew’. The newsletters were becoming lengthy. I was not only telling parents about what we were doing in the classroom, I was telling them why we do what we do. Educating parents is as important as educating children. I wanted to share my stories with fellow teachers, too. So, I decided to tell my stories and write about children and education on my blog. I’m glad I did! Every thread of what I do in teaching is on my blog— from thoughtful posts to videos, stories and music and art, philosophy and history and geography. Teaching is a wonderful journey. Writing about it is even better.”

“We git a whole bunch a writers an’ readers through here, what with bein’ fillyated with Carrot Ranch Literary Community. We’re all ‘bout stories. Heard you are too.”

“I sure am Kid. On ‘day one’ of teaching, my lead teacher asked me if I would be the one to read books to the children. I will never forget that day, reading “Swimmy” by Leo Lionni and watching fifteen eyes take it all in.  It was a lightbulb moment of knowing. I readily built upon it and quickly learned as I went along. Of course this grew in leaps and bounds.”

“Yep, we heard tell yer highlighted in Jim Trelease’s bestselling book, “The Read-Aloud Handbook.”

“I am. I read to my children a lot. Covid shut down school in March and I immediately set up a YouTube channel to read aloud, so children could see and hear me read picture books, and keep a sense of normalcy. I picked good stories to read, ones I knew they would love.  Gugi Gugi, Harry the Dirty Dog and The Seven Chinese Sisters were the first. If you go to YouTube, select channels, and type Aqua Room, all those stories from March through June are there. And what happened after I read these stories on YouTube? Parents were over the moon. Children could watch Jennie read anytime.”

“I ‘member picture books an’ stories from when I was a young’un. Even now I say ‘Good night, moon’ ta the moon.”

“I’ll bet you’re not the only one Kid. Good Night Moon is a classic that children know and love by the words alone. I recite Good Night Moon every day at school, just before chapter reading. They have memorized the words. I often add children’s names, “In the great green room, there was a telephone and Hannah’s red balloon, and a picture of Emmett jumping over the moon” and so on. When Covid hit, I did a Good Night Moon rap for children on our Aqua Room YouTube channel in April.  It helped keep the normalcy of what they were used to at school, and it added great fun.”

“Thet was fun! Never dreamed I’d hear thet story like thet.”

“It was fun for me and for the children. It worked because it’s a good story. The story, the words, and the illustrations all together make for a good story.  I often talk about the ‘indirect method’, the power of using animals and also words in a story that hint at a bigger message. Children need to be pulled in, not told directly. Every word matters.”

“Words an’ images kin send a wrong message, I reckon.”

“Yes. That’s why a well-known children’s story was banned. But there’s a happy ending. The story has been restored with names and images more appropriate and authentic to the story’s origins; now titled The Story of Little Babaji, it has been revived with illustrations by Fred Marcellino that match Helen Bannerman’s story— more clearly set in India, of course.  Every year it is the favorite book. Children love chiming in to say the words along with the tigers, ‘Little Babaji, I’m going to eat you up.’ We have done play performances based on this book. It’s that good and that popular.”

“I kin see why yer students injoy this tale with the predictable narrative an’ repetitions. They must iden’ify with the clever child overcoming adversity and danger represen’ed by the tigers.”

“Reckon, Pal, they ‘den’ify with the pancake eatin’! Though I cain’t wrap my head aroun’ butter bein’ made thataway.”

“Jist suspend yer disbelief an’ shush, Kid. Jennie, how d’ya use children’s lit in yer preschool classroom?”

“I have a front-facing bookshelf where books are displayed with the cover page out.”

“Like Ernie done with the shelves behin’ the bar!”  

“Yes, I noticed that. This is quite a saloon!”

“It’s fer our literary artist community.”

“Awesome. In my classroom books are not in a basket. Books are there for children to access all the time. All the time! I have two planned times to read picture books every day, plus spontaneous reading, and one-on-one reading with a child. I chapter read every day as we go down for rest. So far this year we have read Charlotte’s Web, My Father’s Dragon, and we’re into The Story of Dr. Dolittle.”

“Wunner if Shorty’s payin’ attenshun. She might wanna read Charlotte’s Web, mebbe gain a little compassion fer poor ol’ Wolferick. An’ thinkin mebbe Dr. Doolittle kin be the ranch vet.”

“Shush yer wunnerin’ an’ thinkin’ Kid, or I’ll be dragon ya behin’ my father’s woodshed. Stop inneruptin’ our guest… sorry Jennie. So, how else d’ya use stories in yer classroom?”

“Books also inspire acting out the stories, art projects, and writing our own stories.  We do play performances for other classrooms and for our families.  We did a performance of The Three Billy Goats Gruff in Spanish.  ‘Who is that boom-boom-booming over my Puente?’”

“Billy goats?!”

“Shush it Kid. Jennie, ya sure are inta stories an’ picture books. Reckon folks thet ain’t even preschoolers or preschool parents or teachers could git educated and ennertained at yer blog. Think you’ll ever write a picture book?”

“Thank you Pal. I have written two picture books. They are based on true events and have a very different twist in the middle of the book. Children’s books are the hardest writing of all, paring down every single word and making sure the few words you write are strong. I’m working on my query letter.”

“Well we wish ya the best a luck with all thet. An’ thank ya so much fer comin’ by fer a chat.”

“My pleasure! Read on!”

Jennie is a New England preschool teacher who has maintained her sense of wonder as she helps her young students find their voice and their way. She shares the journey at her blog, A Teacher’s Reflections.

Free ranging characters who live and work at Carrot Ranch, Pal & Kid now serve up something more or less fresh every Monday at the Saddle Up Saloon . Got something to share? Take the stage! If you or your characters are interested in saddling up for a wild ride as a saloon guest, contact Pal & Kid via  shiftnshake@dslayton.com.


59 Comments

  1. Chel Owens says:

    Howdy, Jennie! You’re a fantastic teacher; I remember reading some of your exploits with a remembrance quilt a year or so ago.

    Do the parents ever mind that you talk so much about your work on a public blog? I’ve often wondered.

    Besides that, what are your picture books about? You sound like you (and Pal and Kid) share my love for children’s stories.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Jennie says:

      Hi Chel! Thanks so much for your kind words. Yes, the quilt exploits were so much fun. Who knew each one would be a journey? I always ask the parent if I can include their child’s photo or tell their story. In 100% of the cases, the parent is thrilled to have me include their child. My picture books are about 1) a true story when our daughter’s bird was trapped under the floor in our old farmhouse, and 2) a boy, his dog, and a train. Yes, Pal and Kid and I definitely share a love for children’s books!

      Liked by 5 people

      • Chel Owens says:

        Thanks for answering my questions! 🙂 Your books sound lovely.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Jennie says:

        Glad to answer. Thanks so much, Chel. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m so glad to hear that you’ve written two picture books and have begun working on your query! Given your experience, reputation and following, I wouldn’t expect you to have any trouble finding a publisher.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Jennie says:

        Thank you, Liz. Fingers crossed. Children’s books are the toughest literary market. I’m sorry to say that most are not very good (I know that sounds terrible), so agents have a lot to sort through. My hero in publishing is Kate DiCamillo. I’ve heard her speak twice. And of course I love every book she has written. She had over 470 rejections, was ready to give up the ghost, and the next query was accepted – it became a Newbery winner! Isn’t that great?

        Liked by 3 people

      • You’re welcome, Jennie. 470 rejections before acceptance and a Newbery?!?!? No wonder she’s your publishing hero!

        Liked by 2 people

      • Jennie says:

        Yup! She is one of the best children’s writers (I’m really picky), sticks her neck out and is a great presenter for all writers. It also puts into perspective that the industry is a business, and great books are often rejected. JK Rowling is a case in point. Can you imagine being the secretary of the agent who retrieves the ms from the trash can and urges the agent to read it? Never give up.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Chel, those are good questions!
      I bet there are some well worn, well loved children’s books around your house.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Ritu says:

    Fabulous! I love how Jennie has created wonder among children regarding books!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. beth says:

    Jennie is great

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Jennie says:

    Thanks so much for having me on your blog!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jennie says:

    Reblogged this on A Teacher's Reflections and commented:
    I am thrilled to be featured on Saddle Up Saloon over at the Carrot Ranch. Pal and Kid had a rootin’ tootin’ time interviewing me. Boy, did we ever have fun talking about children’s books, reading, teaching, and much more.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. beetleypete says:

    Always a joy to see Jennie fratured. Every school in the world should have a ‘Jennie’.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Darlene says:

    Jennie is such an amazing teacher. So nice to see her featured here. I love that version of Goodnight Moon and sent it to moms who were homeschooling at the time. Everyone loved it!! xo

    Liked by 2 people

  8. It great to see Jennie featured here, Pal and Kid. I have listened to a few of Jennie’s reading sessions and really enjoyed them. She read to lovely Christmas books recently. Best of luck with your query letters, Jennie.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Reblogged this on ShiftnShake and commented:

    Good Night Moon at the Saddle Up Saloon? Yep! Come meet Jennie Fitzkee from A Teacher’s Reflections.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Just fabulous, and Jennie is just so inspirational… Makes me wish I was a kid in her class… Yee Ha… giddy up!….. as I ride my imaginary horse off into the sunset.. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Don Ostertag says:

    My hat’s off to all the great teachers like Jennie who instill the love of reading in the little ones.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. I greatly enjoyed with interview with Jennie to learn a little more about her and how she began blogging. Well done!

    Liked by 3 people

  13. dgkaye says:

    Fantastic interview! Wishing Jennie the best with her 2 books! ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  14. I bet the pandemic’s hard on the preschoolers – and their parents! Good luck keeping it cool in the Aqua Room!

    Liked by 2 people

    • The pandemic is hard on all involved for sure, students, parents, teachers. This is not what school is supposed to be. And teachers like Jennie are being resourceful and learning new tricks, doing their best to do the best they can for students. It seems like a good time to re-imagine schools/education for the future.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. petespringerauthor says:

    You don’t have to be an educator to appreciate what someone does. On the other hand, we educators thrive on finding others who remind us why we do this. Even though I’m retired, I know Jennie is one of those people who touches children, their parents, and her fellow educators. She makes me proud to have been a teacher.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. suespitulnik says:

    Hi Jennie, Nice to meet you. It takes a special person to instill the love of books and reading in a child. Thank you for doing it well. I had never thought of children’s books as hard to write, but now I understand with your description of every word must be the right word, how they would be. Good luck finding a publisher.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Jules says:

    Dear Jennie,

    I also taught young children before having my own. I loved to read to my own children and my grands!!

    While caring for my grands I often let them draw pictures and then tell me a story about what they drew. And I made booklets for them to take home!!

    One of our favorite books was ‘Tuna Fish Sandwiches’ – I think it had a total of ten or twenty different words. And because it was one of the first books my eldest read, I had it around to be one of the first books my grands were able to read by themselves!

    Continued success in the New Year. Cheers Jules

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a good testament that a book is loved across generations. Ya done good by your kids and grands and more! Sounds like a lot of literacy building fun, Jules.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jules says:

        I also like some of the books that have wonderful illustrations and no words. Then children can build their own stories.

        One book like that is called “Tuesday” by David Wiesner. Less than 10 words. About four on the first page and a few on the third to the last. There is a video there the book is read aloud… of course the narrator ends up describing what is happening with words that aren’t in the book. Still it is a fun book. I don’t remember where I got my copy. Maybe our library book store? A signed copy!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh yeah! David Wiesner has some wonderful wordless books, as does Peter Spier. It’s a great way for the reader to engage and interact with the medium, to explore storymaking.

        Like

  18. Thank you for this wonderful interview, and the terrilbe vidcap.Happy New Year to you, yours and all blog visitors/ commentors!!!!
    Jennie is a wonderful teacher with great ideas introducing her pupils to great members of of free and responsible community! Michael

    Liked by 1 person

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