Guest Post: Run with It!

by Erin Frankel, author of the Weird series

FSP Author Erin FrankelNext week is National Youth Violence Prevention Week. Participating schools will provide students with the opportunity to engage in activities aimed at preventing violence in schools. Students shouldn’t have to go to school feeling fearful or stay home from school because they are afraid—which is why initiatives designed to prevent violence from happening in the first place are so important. We must work together to ensure that physical and emotional safety define school climates everywhere. In preparation for National Youth Violence Prevention Week, what can we do to help students feel supported as they work toward creating safer schools?

Natl Youth VIolence Prev Week 2014Empower students to take ownership of their school climate. Encourage students to understand that our actions and words do not stand alone. Everything we do and say affects others, and in turn, affects us. One hurtful comment or action can bring someone down, just as one act of kindness can lift someone up. Added together, actions and words create a school environment in which students feel either safe or afraid. Help students envision what a positive, violence-free school environment looks like. When we make positive choices, we form a safety barrier that keeps fear and violence out. Remind students that we don’t have to sit back and wait for something to happen, but rather we can stand up and make a difference. Now that is power!

Send a Message: This Matters . . . You Matter!
Think of violence prevention activities as one of your most important lesson plans, and commit to allowing time for students to engage in the activities. Prioritizing activities that promote tolerance, respect, and safety sends an important message to students: This matters . . . you matter. Remember that academic demands will always be far less challenging than demands brought on as a result of violent behavior.worried boy  ©  Canettistock  | Think about the time you spend in different terms. How much time do your students spend worrying about violence at school? How much time do you spend on issues that involve the physical and emotional safety of your students? If we want students to feel safe at school, and subsequently increase their chances of learning, then we must take time to work on activities that lay a foundation for kindness and connectedness.

The Good News Is . . .
As you enter a week full of violence prevention activities, remember to balance discussions on youth violence with an awareness of the positive change that is taking place as well. News and statistics on violence can be frightening for students. Be mindful of this. Your objective is to reduce fear rather than create more of it. Remember, not only do students have the right to be safe at school, they have the right to feel safe as well. Students will be inspired to hear how other schools are approaching violence prevention and the positive impact these efforts have on school climate.

Be the Adult You Wished to See
The connection that students feel with caring adults in their lives is an important aspect of violence prevention. In preparation for National Youth Violence Prevention Week, think back to your own childhood and try to remember a time when you felt fearful at school. Did you witness a violent act? Were you the target of violent behavior? Perhaps you acted violently.Teacher_and_student wikimedia commons by JinKai97 If you had a caring adult to help you through that difficult time, consider how fortunate you were. How did that adult help you feel safe and make better choices?

If you didn’t have someone to guide you, take a moment to think about the difference that a caring adult might have made. You have an opportunity every day to be the adult you wished to see in the world when you were struggling as a child. Helping students resolve conflicts peacefully, manage their anger, treat others with respect, and support safety shows that you are a caring adult who stands for peace and against violence.

Run with It!
When National Youth Violence Prevention Week ends, it is important to remember that change is just beginning. Think of the week as a launch pad. Just as academic curricular components are built upon one another, picture the scaffolding that can take place now that you have set the groundwork for violence prevention. You’ve worked hard to introduce activities and discussions to help students feel safe and connected. You’ve empowered students to create a school climate that they can feel proud of. But most importantly, you’ve helped students understand that they do not stand alone, and violence prevention is not a stand-alone initiative. You’ve got the ball. Your students have the ball. Now—run with it!

What will you do to help students take ownership of their school climate during National Youth Violence Prevention Week?

Weird_from FSP author FrankelErin Frankel has an M.A. in English education and is passionate about teaching and writing. She taught ESL in Alabama before moving to Pittsburgh with her husband and three daughters. Erin knows firsthand what it feels like to be bullied, and she hopes her stories will help bring smiles back to children who have been involved in bullying.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2014 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

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Words Wound Video Contest (For Teens) — Deadline Extended!

Across the country, schools are looking for solutions to curb the rising problem of online bullying. Justin Patchin, Ph.D., and Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D., the authors of the new cyberbullying prevention resource, Words Wound, think the answer lies in teens themselves. Full of strategies for dealing with online bullying, their book also shares stories from teens who are working to make their schools and communities kinder places.
We believe that teens are uniquely positioned to put an end to cyberbullying. More than parents, teachers, counselors, coaches, and law enforcement—teens have the power and ability to make it cool to respect and care about others. This is where the Words Wound Video Contest comes in: We want to hear your ideas about how teens can use technology and the Internet to make schools better, safer places for other teens. How can we delete cyberbullying and make kindness go viral?

Create a short video (three minutes or less) responding to this question, “How can teens use technology and the Internet to make schools better, safer places for other teens?” Share efforts that are successful at your school or dream up completely new solutions. Get creative! Perform a slam poem, make a mini-documentary about your school, or act out a scenario using stop motion animation. Your imagination (well, that and your video editing skills. . .) is the only limit.

All entries must be posted on YouTube. Do not send your video to Free Spirit. After posting your video, email the link and following information to Submitted videos will be accessible to the public via the Free Spirit YouTube channel. All entries made by students under age 18 must be submitted by a teacher, parent, or guardian.

Contact information should include the following:

  1. The name and email address of the teacher, parent, or guardian submitting the entry.
  2. The name(s) of the student or students that produced the entry.
  3. The name of the school or K–12 academic institution that the student(s) attend.
  4. The link (URL address) to the YouTube video.

The winning entry will receive a $250 cash prize along with a $250 Free Spirit gift certificate for their teacher or school library.

(As an added incentive, our friends at the Peace In the Streets Global Film Festival have agreed to allow entrants of the Words Wound Video Contest for Teens to submit the same video to their student film festival. The Peace In the Streets Global Film Festival winners will have their short films shown at the United Nations in New York City during the Culture of Peace Conference in September 2014.)

The winning entry will be selected by Free Spirit’s Teen Advisory Council. Entries will be judged based on:

  • Creativity of the solution
  • Perceived effectiveness
  • Quality of the submission—Is it both informative and entertaining?

May 9, 2014: Last day to submit an entry. Submissions close at midnight.
May 16, 2014: A winner will be notified via email and announced on the Free Spirit blog.

Participation in the Contest is subject to the Official Rules, which are available here.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2014 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

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International Children’s Book Day Round-Up

International Childrens Book day from IBBY_orgEvery year since 1967, on or around April 2, lovers of children’s books—authors, readers, librarians, teachers—all over the world observe International Children’s Book Day. This day, according to the International Board on Books for Young People, “is celebrated to inspire a love of reading and to call attention to children’s books.”

This year, Ireland is the international sponsor of International Book Day. Irish children’s author Siobhán Parkinson wrote the annual message to the children of the world, which you can read here. Her take-home message inspired us. “Every reader of a story has something in common with every other reader of that story,” she writes. “Separately, and yet in a way also together, they have re-created the writer’s story in their own imagination: an act that is both private and public, individual and communal, intimate and international. It may well be what humans do best.”

In recognition of International Children’s Book Day, we asked Free Spirit authors to tell us what their favorite children’s book is. If you think grown-ups grow out of loving children’s books, this post will prove otherwise!

Dr. Thomas Armstrong, author of You’re Smarter Than You Think: A Kids’ Guide to Multiple Intelligences
A Child's Garden of Verses book coverI think one of my favorite children’s books as a child was Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. My mother read to me from some of these poems, and I especially remember the one about the swing (‘‘up in the air so blue’’) and about ‘‘My Shadow’’ following me around wherever I went. Stevenson took everyday events that children could readily understand and injected lyrical vitality into them, which stirred up my own poetic feelings.

grandfather-gandhi1Janet Fox, author of Get Organized Without Losing It
I’d like to recommend a brand-new picture book, Grandfather Gandhi, by Arun Gandhi (Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson), with Bethany Hegedus as coauthor and Evan Turk as illustrator. Gorgeous and personal, the story is an intimate portrait of Mahatma Gandhi through the eyes of an adoring child.

Nate the GreatLisa Cohn, coauthor of The Step-Tween Survival Guide
We love the Nate the Great series by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat. Kids love the boy-and-dog detectives, the well-drawn characters, and the humor in this series.

Matlin-Nobodys-PerfectMiriam Adderholdt, coauthor of Perfectionism: What’s Bad About Being Too Good
My favorite is Nobody’s Perfect by Marlee Matlin, a hearing impaired author who starred in the 1986 movie Children of a Lesser God, and Doug Cooney. This particular book is based on experiences from Matlin’s own childhood. “Megan, a popular and outgoing fourth grader, is sure that the ‘perfect’ new girl dislikes her because she is hearing impaired, but persistence and a joint science fair project help Megan see that the two girls have something in common after all.”

Something from Nothing book coverGoldie Millar, coauthor of the upcoming F Is for Feelings (available August 2014)
One of my favorite children’s books is Phoebe Gilman’s beautifully illustrated and inviting book entitled Something from Nothing. This book was recommended to me by a close friend. My children and I fell in love with this heartwarming story of family, tradition, and how to keep love with you always. As an adult I love the eloquent text, and my children adore the fun and interactive illustrations.

Strega Nona's Magic Lessons book coverAnother book that has earned a permanent spot in my children’s library is Tomie dePaola’s playful book Strega Nona’s Magic Lessons. This book was given to me as a gift by a family member. My whole family has come to adore the series of adventures Strega Nona and her friends find themselves in. This book is full of laughter and learning, and the illustrations transport you to the little town where the universal message of love and life prevails.

Goodnight Gorilla book coverMy final suggestion is Peggy Rathmann’s sweet board book Good Night, Gorilla This book was given to my daughter as a gift, and the tattered pages signal its well-loved status. The simple yet reassuring message of being closest to the ones you love as you drift off to sleep is full of warmth and comfort. The illustrations are inviting and offer lots to smile about.

Pink-and-Say book coverPhil Schlemmer, coauthor of Teaching Kids to Be Confident, Effective Communicators
Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco is the story of two boys during the Civil War—one black, the other white. It is compelling in the simple way it addresses difficult issues like race relations, human interactions, the realities of war, growing up, conquering fear, and much more. It’s a true story passed down from Polacco’s great-great-grandfather.

Samurai Shortstop book coverRon Shumsky, coauthor of the upcoming The Survival Guide for School Success (available September 2014)
Samurai Shortstop by Alan Gratz is a story about a high school baseball player in Japan in the 1890s, when Japan was starting to modernize and take on Western ways. The story has appeal on multiple levels: culture, history, sports, and the universality of baseball alongside its uniquely Japanese interpretation.

Hachiko-Waits book coverHachiko Waits by Lesléa Newman is a classic Japanese story (actually true) about a dog who sees his owner off at the train station each morning, meets him there each afternoon when his owner returns from work, and continues waiting every day even after his owner dies. Really speaks to the bonds of loyalty, also in a particularly Japanese way.

Harold and the Purple Crayon and The Dot book coveraHope Sara Blecher-Sass, coauthor of See It, Be It, Write It
I love Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson for its simplicity and possibilities. As a child, with one swish of a purple crayon I could go anywhere. Like the story The Dot by Peter Reynolds, one mark on a paper is the beginning of endless adventures and dreams for readers of all ages.

Jenny Friedman, coauthor of Doing Good Together
As executive director of Doing Good Together, I work hard to connect parents with beautiful stories that inspire acts of kindness. Here are two of my favorite books with a multicultural perspective and a clear next step.

Beatrice's Goat book coverIn Beatrice’s Goat by Page McBrier, an impoverished family flourishes after receiving a special four-legged gift in this uplifting picture book set in western Uganda. Beatrice and her family help us see that families all over the world share some of the same hopes for their future. Brought to you by Heifer International, this book offers a clear call to action that will inspire readers to get involved.

Everybody Cooks Rice book coverIn Everybody Cooks Rice by Norah Dooley, a child is sent to find a younger brother at dinnertime and is introduced to a variety of cultures while encountering the many different ways rice is prepared. This is a great way to illuminate cultural differences while showcasing a common thread. In a culture overly abundant with macaroni and cheese and pizza, this book offers wonderful fresh perspective—and the recipes inside will inspire little ones to try a new dish!

Raf book coverJolene Roehlkepartain, coauthor of Doing Good Together
One of my favorites is Raf by Anke de Vries. When Ben’s favorite stuffed animal, Raf, disappears, Ben doesn’t know what to do. Then he receives a postcard from Raf. Raf writes about getting lost and finding people who took him on a trip to Africa. Raf continues sending Ben postcards about his adventures in Africa. The biggest question, however, is: Will Raf make it home in time for Ben’s birthday?

More More More Said the Baby book coverAnother favorite of mine is More, More, More, Said the Baby by Vera B. Williams. This Caldecott Honor Book tells the stories of three babies of three different ethnicities and how they want “more, more, more” attention from their mom, their dad, and their grandma. This delightful book makes you giggle and want more, more, more!

Koala Lou book coverAlison Feigh, author of On Those Runaway Days
My mother was born and raised in Australia, where she worked as an early elementary teacher. That’s one reason why Koala Lou by Mem Fox, a story of parental unconditional love, is my favorite story to hear my mother read. I can ALMOST replicate her accent in the phrases of koala mother to child. It’s a story that reminds us all that we are enough and we are worthy of love just as we are today.

Ten Little Fingers and ten little toes book coverDr. Kelli Esteves, coauthor of RTI Success
Here are three of my favorites. Mem Fox, world-renowned Australian author, once compared writing a picture book to writing War and Peace in haiku. Fox accomplishes a similar feat in Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, a lyrical work that celebrates the similarities and differences of children from around the globe, right down to their itty-bitty fingers and chubby little toes.

Wonder book cover“Shall we make a new rule of life . . . always try to be a little kinder than is necessary?” This frequently paraphrased J.M. Barrie quote from R.J. Palacio’s masterpiece Wonder helped launch the national Choose Kind movement in 2013. Over 30,000 readers have since signed the pledge. The book tells the fictional story of August Pullman, who was born with facial abnormalities that keep most people from appreciating the person he is on the inside. This soul-stirring book tackles serious themes in a way that speaks to children and adults.

Coretta Scott book coverThe extraordinarily talented illustrator Kadir Nelson focuses his work on African-American culture and history. All of his books are breathtaking, but my personal favorite is Coretta Scott, written by Ntozake Shange. Nelson captures Coretta King’s grace, elegance, and determination in this biographical history of the civil rights movement.

What children’s books do you still love as an adult? What are your children’s favorites?

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2014 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

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Cash in on Learning: Engaging in Tasks: Part Two

Click here to read Part 1 of this post.

Richard Cash EdD, FSP AuthorLast month, I shared the idea of how students get engaged in learning through a process that was theorized by Dr. Barry Zimmerman and his colleagues. In that post I gave ideas for how to begin the process by building the learner’s confidence through improving their emotional state; building their self-beliefs; offering environments that are supportive and nurturing; developing thinking skills; and improving academic strategies. This blog post will share the remaining three phases and steps to keep students engaged in the learning.

Once students feel confident that they can forecast their level of success in a learning task, we then need to help them set and manage goals toward that success. Phase two involves the student deciding what he or she will do in order to do well in the learning task. One of the best ways to assist students in this process is through having them set SMART goals. SMART goals are:

  • Smart Goals Blackboard SignSpecific: focusing the target on something you want to improve upon
  • Measurable: being able to measure your success
  • Assignable: listing the steps, materials, and resources you will need to reach your goal
  • Relevant: making sure that the goal is within your reach with the resources you have
  • Time-bound: setting a timeline for reaching your goal

(For more details about SMART goal setting, see pages (97–98) in my book Advancing Differentiation: Thinking and Learning for the 21st Century)

Once the goal has been SMARTed, teachers should teach students how to manage and achieve the goal. I suggest that at this point you teach students how to avoid distraction. Twenty-first-century kids have more than their share of distractors, from cell phones to websites to Tweets to Instagram (and the list goes on). So we need to teach them specific tips for how to do homework by avoiding the perils of distractors.

Here are seven tips for avoiding distraction that I give to students:

  1. Set time limits for work. Don’t work for longer than 15–20 minutes continuously without a break.
  2. (c) by -gbh007-_dreamstime_comTake breaks that are physical in nature. Make sure they are no more than two minutes long and that you are doing something physical—jumping jacks, push-ups, dancing. NO texting, Tweeting, Instagramming . . . or anything to do with a computer or electronics.
  3. If you play music, make sure that it is peaceful and without words. Our brains have a difficult time processing multiple bits of information. Music with words forces our brain to multitask, which is very inefficient for learning.
  4. Ensure that you have appropriate lighting for the work you are doing. If you are asked to read for homework, the more direct the lighting the better. Sunlight is the best!
  5. Study in a cleared space. Get rid of clutter and disorganization—move it off to the side so that your brain can focus on the task at hand rather than the mess around your feet.
  6. Plan to reward yourself for the work you do. Whether it is spending an additional five minutes on the computer or eating your favorite snack, we need to praise ourselves for putting effort forward. Even if you didn’t complete the work, you stuck to the study period.
  7. Reflect on what worked and what didn’t work while you were working. Write down what you will do again or not do again next time. Post those ideas in your work space as reminders.

Phase 3 of engaging in tasks requires students to monitor their progress toward achievement. The use of formative assessments is an excellent way to move students from the desire for extrinsic rewards (like grades, certificates, trophies, pizza parties, etc.) toward an intrinsic desire to achieve. As you are aware, formative feedback is the feedback provided to the learner throughout the learning process. The most beneficial type of formative feedback is descriptive feedback. This type of feedback goes beyond saying “good job” or ”work harder!”

Descriptive feedback is:

  • Ongoing throughout the learning process
  • Provided to the learner in a timely manner
  • Explicitly focused on skill development and understanding
  • Articulated to the progress toward the goal
  • Specific to the task or performance
  • Incremental (never giving too much at once or too little to make sense)
  • Praising the effort over the achievement to develop a growth mindset

The final phase of this model is the reflective stage (“How well did I do at doing well?”). This is when the summative assessment (the final product or end point in the learning) is used to help students contemplate the effectiveness of their learning strategies and behaviors as well as define their feelings of success.

Reflection can also be accomplished through questions that stimulate meta-cognition, such as:

  • Tapping_pencil while thinking wikimedia commons bot ManskeWhat was I thinking throughout the learning process?
  • How clearly did I understand what was expected of me during the lessons?
  • In what ways did I use self-talk positively or negatively?
  • Why would my teacher ask me to consider different points of view?

Other methods for reflection can be through:

  • Logs or journals
  • Portfolios of work (both good and poor quality)
  • Group conversations (from large to small groups)
  • Coaching sessions with the teacher (the teacher sits with two to three students and allows the students to talk about their learning process, and the teacher offers advice toward improvement)

Finally, consider using prompts to get students to reflect more in the growth mindset, such as:

  • Write about one thing you learned today.
  • Tell a partner about a mistake you made today that taught you something about yourself or made you laugh.
  • Sketch something you worked hard at today.
  • Share with your tablemates one thing that you were proud of in your learning today.
  • Blog about something you would change about your learning today.
  • Tweet me one specific goal you will set for yourself tomorrow.

When students are able to focus themselves on believing in themselves to do well; can identify what strategies, skills, and resources they will need to be successful; are able to monitor their progress toward the goal; and can reflect on what they did cognitively, behaviorally, and affectively post-production, they are more likely to be successful in future learning endeavors.

I would love to hear your success stories (or challenges!) with teaching self-regulation in the classroom. Please post a comment below.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2014 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

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Free Spirit Author Spotlight: Brad Herzog

The staff at Free Spirit is privileged to work with many amazing authors. We will be sharing more author spotlights with you, and hope you enjoy learning about these writers who are dedicated to helping kids succeed. The following interview was recently published in our newsletter, Upbeat News.

BradHerzog FSP AuthorAn acclaimed journalist and the author of 30 books for children, including more than two dozen sports books, Brad Herzog is no stranger to the book community. Famous for his heartening tales of off-the-beaten-track journeys and unsung heroes, Brad has a knack for sharing morale-boosting stories that exemplify good character in action. Read on to learn about his latest collaboration with Free Spirit Publishing, the highly anticipated Count on Me: Sports series.

Q: You’ve had quite a prolific career as a writer. Tell us a little about your journey to becoming an author.

Brad: Two teachers played vital roles in my journey. A fourth-grade teacher introduced me to truly creative writing (I later dedicated a book to him). And an eleventh-grade English teacher nominated me for an NCTE award, which worked out well, giving me confidence in my abilities—a writer’s most important attribute. I started as a sportswriter, then soon became a freelance writer because it gave me greater freedom to cultivate ideas and turn them into compelling stories. This has translated into dozens of books, scores of magazine articles, blogs, even a couple of screenplays. And it’s only the tip of the imagination iceberg.

Q: What prompted you to write your new Count on Me: Sports series?

CountOnMeSportsLogo_RGBBrad: I’ve always been a sports fan, but I’ve mostly been drawn to the moments and stories that reaffirm humanity. Give me the touching tales, not the tabloid ones. And I often give a speech to educators in which I suggest that they utilize kids’ passion for sports and turn it into a passion for reading and writing. Sports can offer life lessons and can be a launching pad toward other interests. The Count on Me: Sports series is essentially character education disguised as entertainment.

Q: What was the best part of developing these books?

Brad: I have always gravitated toward writing about the overlooked rather than the overrated. So I’ve written three American travel memoirs about my excursions through some of the tiniest dots on the map, and I wrote stories for Sports Illustrated (as well as my latest picture book, Francis and Eddie) about relative unknowns who achieved remarkable feats. With these Count on Me books, I love the fact that I’ve been able to celebrate people who deserve accolades and stories that inspire.

Q: Was there a book that inspired you the most as a child? What about an athlete?

BH inspirations Tolkien and PaytonBrad: I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and was blown away. J.R.R. Tolkien started with a blank piece of paper and created a whole world—quite literally, Middle-Earth—out of his own imagination. I dreamed of doing the same someday. My first sports hero, Walter Payton of the Chicago Bears, wasn’t bigger than everyone else, but he was more determined. Kind of like a hobbit.

Q: Have there been any standout moments involving sportsmanship or perseverance in sports that played out in your own life and helped you build character?

Brad: I had an interesting moment at summer camp when I was 14 and chosen as one of the four team captains for an all-camp competition featuring many events. Our team started 0-and-13. We couldn’t win a thing. But then I led 50 or so kids around camp shouting, “It just doesn’t matter! It just doesn’t matter!” It was an homage to the Bill Murray camp movie Meatballs—and an homage to perspective. And perspective is what matters most.

Q: What was your favorite thing about school as a kid?

Brad: Well, I did love creative writing. And social studies always intrigued me. I’m still a history buff. But my favorite class was a high school class called Literature of Persuasion. We read materials like Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” It was a revelation about the power of words.

Q: What was your least favorite thing about school?

Brad: Science labs didn’t often work out well for me.

Q: And finally, our favorite question for authors! What makes you a “Free Spirit,” Brad?

Brad: If most people are zigging, I’ll zag. I’ve carved out a life and career predicated on not compromising and on taking the less-traveled path. In my mid-twenties, that meant a life-changing, 48-state RV excursion with my wife. We set out to sample life’s options and define our own perfection. And you’ll still find us exploring the open road every summer—as Walt Whitman put it, “healthy, free, the world before me . . .”

You can find more information about Brad on his website at Visit our catalog to learn more about the Count on Me: Sports series.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2014 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

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