Meet the author: AnnieMarie Chiaverilla

anniemarie ciaverilla

Like many families across America, my family enjoys special days trips that we try to do at least once a year, including an annual adventure in Frankenmuth. Yes, in a little over an hour away, we savor the world-famous chicken dinner, wine tasting and cruising the Cass River on the riverboat. However, this trip was a little different as I discovered a different little part of Michigan.

During our stroll through the stores, something magical happened in the Michigan Shoppe. There in front of me was an amazing display of children’s books, all written by Michigan authors.

close up of The Twelve Months of Michigan bookAmong all of the books on the table, a particular one caught my eye with its characters and watercolor illustrations: “The Twelve Months of Michigan.” I knew immediately that this book could be sung to the holiday song with almost the same name and I was so captivated that I couldn’t put it down until I had read it through. The story is about a family of mice, including Pirate Paul and Ana Mae, and their adventures across Michigan.

After I read the story, I wanted to meet this author and share all I could about her and her writing. I came home, called her and she graciously accepted to meet with me.

Let me introduce AnnieMarie Chiaverilla, an author, illustrator, publicist, marketer and songwriter. Growing up in West Bloomfield (when it was a blooming field), she and her siblings had lots of room to run, play and experience the outdoors. Her parents taught their children about our great state by exploring fun and unique places, especially in upper Michigan (in particular Mackinac Island and Drummond Island).

As a right-brained learner, AnnieMarie’s interest lay in the creative parts of the school day. Believe it or not, this now-writer received additional support in reading to keep up with her peers. But it was a life-changing 11th grade teacher who took the time to teach AnnieMarie strategies to become an independent and successful student.

AnnieMarie went to nursing school, and after a few years, she realized that her heart wasn’t in it, but rather in art.

She shares, “I was studying for a pathology exam early on a Saturday (about 5:30 a.m.) when an animation, The Selfish Giant, was playing. It was so beautiful and moving. The animation was stunning and the story so lovely. I was pouring myself into my studies to be a nurse but, in reality, I always wanted to be an artist.” She ran upstairs and announced to her parents, “I don’t want to be a nurse, I want to be an artist.” Her dad, still half asleep, replied, “It’s about time,” and went back to bed.

With her parents’ support, AnnieMarie finished an associates degree in respiratory therapy so she could work as a therapist while going back to school for art. She eventually entered Michigan State University’s art school, gaining access to computers and state-of-the-art programs. She later worked at a local television station, where technology and art programs were her playground. Each of these laid the foundation and lead her to the place she is today.

Inspired by “The Nutcracker,” AnnieMarie uses mice as her characters in her book. In fact, the characters and illustrations are ones she began drawing many years ago at 7 years old. In addition to Pirate Paul and Ana Mae, you’ll find the author throughout the book. Since “The Twelve Months of Michigan” is set in Michigan, there are a multitude of fun Michigan symbols throughout the book and I guarantee that, even as an adult, you’ll learn a few things. The book won the Children’s Picture Book: All Ages category for the 2015 USA Regional Excellence Awards and was nominated for “Children’s Book of the Year” in Creative Child Magazine.

I asked AnnieMarie for advice she would give to young writers. She offered these tips whether your child is a reluctant writer a typical writer for their age or an aspiring writer:

  • Start your writing on paper not the computer.
  • Keep a journal.
  • Write every day, even if it’s only a sentence or two.
  • Learn to be an effective communicator and speaker.
  • Color outside the lines.
  • Free yourself from being perfect.
  • Keep stumbling.

AnneMarie’s books are sold at over 80 stores across Michigan. She is currently working on a new book, “The Twelve Months of America” and a CD to go along with it. As you search for books to read with your children or purchase for special occasions, remember that our Michigan authors have unparalleled talent.

– Lori Irwin, M.Ed., is a Parenting Program volunteer. She’s a former teacher of children with severe disabilities in reading, a consultant with a leading educational book publisher, and a mother of two adult children.

Children and racism

group of diverse kids

Cropped image. Hepingting, Flickr. CC license.

The Oxford dictionary defines racism as “prejudice, discrimination or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.”

Racism today seems to be as prevalent as it was 60 years ago during Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement. Just a few months ago, a high school student in my hometown was shot at for merely knocking on a door and asking directions to his school. As a society we acknowledge racism, witness it, and many of us have been targets. So why hasn’t it changed in that 60 years?

Recently I was asked to lead a six-week community series on racism. With a topic so broad and timely, I hardly knew where to begin but I knew I had to do research. As an avid reader, I jumped into the latest literature, read Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and read “America’s Original Sin” by Jim Wallis. I watched podcasts, videos, and spoke to as many people as I could.

At the group’s first meeting, I wanted to hear stories from the participants around the topic; most of the stories shared revolved around their childhoods, how they were treated, or biases in the home. During our six weeks together, we visited a predominantly African-American church, after which we had honest and sometimes difficult discussions about racism. Our trip to a mosque was enlightening as we learned how our Muslim neighbors helped shape the history of early America. Our six-week series was so successful that it will continue in the fall as we delve deeper into this topic.

Since most of our group’s stories revolved around childhood experiences, I felt compelled to explore the topic more, hence, I wrote this blog article. As parents, we should acknowledge racism and its implications. We need to do what we can to raise children to be accepting of others as equal members of our society.

One of my go-to references is “Parenting” magazine. From that, I was surprised to learn that children as young as 2 years old recognize differences among people; they notice skin color, hair differences, and the way people dress. At this point in their lives, there are no feelings regarding the differences, only that they exist. However, by the time a child is 5 years old, if the child is raised in a home that displays intolerance of others, he or she will start to feel superior and treat others differently. Fortunately, there are several strategies available to help raise children to be accepting and kind to all people.

  • One of the most effective strategies to stifle racial bias is when parents and role models have friends of different races. When parents have friends that cross racial lines, children learn acceptance and grow to see this as normal.
  • Allow friendships across racial lines to develop. Having deep and lasting friendships across racial lines helps decrease stereotyping and prejudices. In neighborhoods across America, people from different races and ethnicities are living and raising their families. The more opportunities for children to interact with other races, the less likely they are to treat others differently.
  • Simply talking to our children is another way to eliminate racial bias. Since 2014, statistics show that hate crimes have risen by 20 percent. As parents, we have the ability to foster acceptance of all people with our children. However, racism is a broad topic and parents often feel inadequate or uncomfortable talking about it. I recently read that parents are more comfortable talking about “the birds and the bees” than they are about this important topic. Believe it or not, I’ve read that not talking about it sends a stronger message to our children. When we neglect to have frank and open discussions, our children may feel that the topic is taboo. My research highlighted that white parents tend to talk less about racism, while black parents talk about it on a more consistent basis with their children.

Tips for talking about racism with your children

  • When talking with your children, talk about racism at their developmental levels.
  • Keep the conversations simple and be mindful and not tell stories that may be frightening. For example, a young child may only need to know that Rosa Parks had to sit at the back of the bus or stand up to ride if a white person needed a seat.
  • Conversations need to be ongoing, not only occurring when an incident happens and we hear about something in the media.
  • During these conversations, your child may bring up something embarrassing or make comments that appear insensitive to others. It is imperative that we take the time to listen to our children, ask them what they are thinking, and guide them into acceptance and understanding.
  • Three good resources for parents are:

Using books

As always, books can be an effective tool to start conversations or to end an important discussion. Here are a handful of books you may find helpful although there are numerous other books available.

Grades Pre-K through 2

Grades 1 through 4

Grades 4 through 6

Middle School

As you can see, there are many books available to read with your child on this topic. Check out your local or school library to find specific books; bookstores also have large selections. Remember that reading books with your older child encourages dialogue, so regardless of your child’s age, tackle this topic together. You’ll help raise happy children who are accepting and kind to all people.

Happy reading!

– Lori Irwin, M.Ed., is a Parenting Program volunteer. She’s a former teacher of children with severe disabilities in reading, a consultant with a leading educational book publisher, and a mother of two adult children.

Always read together

grandma reading to two young boys

Yesterday, knee-deep in boxes in my basement and feeling like a mole underground while the beautiful summer sunshine was calling to me, I happened upon old reading/reflection and gratitude journals that I had completely forgotten about. As an avid reader, I make notes about my reading; I jot down titles, feelings, thoughts and questions that I have while reading. To my surprise, I also made notes of books that my children loved. There were many titles that I read to them, they read to me or that we read together. I had written notes about their thoughts and feelings. Did the book make them laugh or cry? There were notes and tally marks on how often I read the same book to them in a day or week. To me, nothing in the world could be more precious and satisfying than to find that after 30 years.

It’s that discovery that inspired me to write this blog post — notes from the past and what I read to my children. Those journals and my log that I keep today are quite similar, yet quite different.

Reading to and with my children was truly one of the most satisfying experiences as a mom. However, reading with them didn’t stop once they were able to read the words on the page or an entire book. Fast forward 30 years and imagine reading to and with your child. No, we don’t cuddle together as we once did (my children live about 1,000 miles away in opposite directions). Instead we all keep our own reading reflection journals and sometimes we’ll share what we’ve written. Reading together now is definitely not the same as in the past, but nonetheless, it is just as satisfying.

In the beginning

As a young mom, I worked hard to create a culture of reading in our home. Books were everywhere! There was a basket in the bathroom, a shelf in their bedrooms, a pile on the mantle, and frequently scattered wherever a child dropped a book, ready to be picked up again soon. We created journals together where my kids often drew their favorite characters or parts of the book. Until they could read, I read everything to them: cereal boxes, financial reports, store names as we drove by and of course, the newspaper.

In looking back, I can’t believe how quickly my kids grew and were able to read on their own. But that didn’t stop us from reading together. Class books that were taken home to read became our precious time together after a busy day at work and then running them to sports. Why not share that time doing what we all enjoyed best in the evening? Together, we took on the dialog of a specific character, practiced reading with expression, and created mental pictures of scenes from the book. But most importantly, it gave us a time to talk deeply with each other about the books. We asked each other questions such as, “Why do you think he did that?” Or, “How would the story be different if this or that happened?” We talked about what the characters were thinking and feeling. We made quick notes or pictures in the journals.

Reading together as adults

The more you read with your child, you learn to know what genres of books they love and gravitate toward. As an adult, you also know what you love. But something magical happens when your children grow and you enjoy the same types of books as they do. My daughter loves to read and we often read the same book together. Last fall, we both read “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho. When we shared our journals, it was a pleasant surprise to discover that our thoughts and feelings were similar. The questions that we both wondered about mirrored each other. How fun was that!

My son and I discovered Dan Brown when he wrote “The Da Vinci Code” in 2003. At that time, my son lived in a small, one-room apartment in Miami’s South Beach and was starting his adult life as a photographer. Within the first few minutes my visit, he shared his new book with anticipation. He read his favorite parts of the first chapter and had the excitement in his eyes that a new book can bring. After he left for work the following morning, I did what any avid reader (and mom who still loves to read to and with their child) would do: I went to the local bookstore and purchased the book. That night we read, talked about the book and jotted in our journals until our red eyes could no longer stay open. I believe that for the entire time I was there, we looked forward to reading, questioning and sharing our favorite parts of the book. Together, yet far away, we have read each of the Dan Brown books. There is nothing that makes my heart happier than to share the adventures that we have discovered in a book.

Don’t stop reading together

So parents, please don’t let your child’s age stop that precious time reading together. Whether it’s Esphyr Slobodkina’s “Caps for Sale” in first grade, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s “Shiloh” in fourth grade or “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee in high school, read together. Talk about the books. But most importantly, enjoy every moment with your child, no matter their age. The days go by slowly, but the years go by quickly.

Happy reading!

– Lori Irwin, M.Ed., is a Parenting Program volunteer. She’s a former teacher of children with severe disabilities in reading, a consultant with a leading educational book publisher, and a mother of two adult children.

Perspective in reading

bookstore window "The Day the Crayons Quit"

Cropped image. Walter Baxter, CC license.

Close your eyes and imagine a world in which your child can look at the world and problems in multiple ways. One where your child considers other peoples’ perspectives and sees things from a point of view besides their own. Your child would act on the best interest of all and not strictly on their own. Now open your eyes and see the world in reality; a world where many people are inconsiderate, rude or self-centered. But parents can help children understand perspective before they enter school through reading together and developing a child’s language skills.

Teaching children about perspective

Toddler-age children

Research shows that children as young as two or three years old can be taught perspective. At this age, a child might help another child who is upset or crying, by offering a hug or a toy as comfort.

Young children may still confuse their perspective with others’ perspectives. They may believe that how they see things in the world is the way that others do, too. For example, if a child really dislikes something like a chocolate chip cookie, he feels that other people do as well.

Preschool-age children

Each day, a parent deals with many emotions. Maybe you had a disagreement with a friend or family member. Perhaps a family member is old, sick and having difficulty. Or you’re very excited because you won a trip. Good or bad, emotions are part of our daily life.

It is important to talk about the feelings and emotions that you are experiencing.

  • Label the emotion or feeling and talk to your child about it. If it is a negative emotion, talk about what helps you feel better.
  • When you see someone upset, talk with your child about it and problem solve what could help the upset person feel better. If possible, do what you can to help. Label the emotion again.

Lower elementary-age children

Continue to talk about perspective as it aids significantly in reading comprehension and success in school.

Reading as a tool for teaching perspective says, “While reading a fiction or non-fiction book, readers see and experience the events and feelings about the characters through a certain point of view, which is called ‘perspective’. A perspective is a literary tool, which serves as a lens through which readers observe the characters, events and happenings.” In other words, point of view (or perspective) shows the opinions and feelings of those involved in the story. If a parent and child talk about this as part of their reading time together, the child will grasp the concept much more easily in the classroom.

In fiction books, we see four points of view.

  1. First person. The work uses “I” or “we” throughout. For example, “I love it when you cuddle up and read me a book.”
  2. Second person. The work uses the pronoun “you.” An example of this is, “Often you feel angry when the dog won’t stop barking.”
  3. Third person. Authors use pronouns like “he,” “she,” “it,” “they,” or someone’s name. For example, “Miss Linda is a disciplined woman. She always eats her vegetables like her mother told her to do.”
  4. The author uses “he” and “she” but the narrator has full access to the thoughts and feelings of all of the characters in the story. Shel Silverstein used in the book “The Giving Tree” that I wrote about in May.

Putting this into action

When reading with a preschool-age child, talk about the story then discuss the characters in the book and how they feel. Give the feelings a label. This process helps children understand not only the stories read to them, but also their feelings and how a character’s feelings may be different than their own.

With older children (lower-elementary age), read together then stop and talk about the reaction to situations that may be happy or sad. Discuss why the character is feeling that way.

Book recommendations

There are several picture books that consider multiple perspectives. I read most of these books with children of different ages. While reading these books with your child, it’s fun to consider perspective from another character.

Other good books that help children understand perspective are:

Upper elementary-age children can enjoy exploring perspective with these books:

So get a book with multiple points of view (picture book or not) and read it with your child. Talk with your child at their level and consider multiple perspectives of the characters. Over the years, watch your child’s language and reading skills grow. However, I feel the best gift from your reading together is a well-rounded child who can look at the world and view the things that happen in many ways. Happy reading!

– Lori Irwin, M.Ed., is a Parenting Program volunteer. She’s a former teacher of children with severe disabilities in reading, a consultant with a leading educational book publisher, and a mother of two adult children.

Time to celebrate reading

Boy reading to his stuffed animals

Modified image. John Morgan, Flickr. CC license.

March is National Reading Month, a time when schools across the country celebrate and promote reading. However, reading and literacy can start as early as birth. In fact, researchers state that promoting early literacy is in direct correlation with reading success when children enter school. That means it is never too early (or late) to encourage reading.

This month, find time to read and have fun with your children. Here are some reading activities you might like to try together. To make this extra special, make a tic-tac-toe board and have your child choose nine activities from this list. Put them in the squares and mark them off as you complete the activity. When they get a tic-tac-toe, create another game.

  • Read books from your child’s favorite author.
  • Celebrate Dr. Seuss’s birthday (March 2) by reading a book of his every day this month.
  • Record number of books or pages read for the month.
  • Visit your local library.
    • Introduce your child to the children’s librarian.
    • Get a library card in your child’s name. Check with your library to see when a child can get his own card. Some libraries have a guideline that a child must be able to write his first and last names legibly.
    • Spend extra time there and really look around to see what is offered.
  • Make a “reading place.”
    • Get a large appliance box and decorate it as a special area for reading.
    • Read under the covers with a flashlight or headlamp.
    • Make a tent with blankets over chairs as a special reading place. Use flashlights or headlamps to see.
    • If you have the space, decorate a special corner or area in your home for a reading space.
  • Bring reading to life.
    • Change your voice for the different characters in the book.
    • Dress up like the characters when you read your child’s favorite book.
  • Read as many different genres as you can.
  • Read and make a recipe from a child’s cookbook.
  • Get a book on drawing and learn to draw something new.
  • Read about things they are interested in. If they are interested in animals, visit a zoo.
  • Have your child read a familiar book to a pet or favorite stuffed animal. Reading aloud to a non-judgmental furry friend can improve reading skills and confidence.
  • Meet an author.
    • Some bookstores and libraries invite authors to speak and read aloud to children.
    • Get a book signed especially for your child by the author.
  • Read something other than a traditional book.
    • Listen to an audiobook. You can even follow along in a printed copy if you’d like.
    • Order a magazine for your child to come in the mail.
    • Comic books and graphic novels are unique options.
  • Read together at bedtime.
    • Take time to snuggle and read to your child, even after your child can read.
    • Start bedtime early or extend it by 5 to 10 minutes for extra reading time.
    • Read a chapter a night from a favorite author.
    • If your child can read, take turns reading a page.
  • Other literary-supporting ideas
    • Play with magnetic letters on the refrigerator.
    • Play rhyming games.
    • Let your child make up a story and tell it to you.
    • Plan a scavenger hunt in your home, with a book being the prize at the end.
    • As a parent, model reading for your child.  Let them see you read everyday.

– Lori Irwin, M.Ed., is a Parenting Program volunteer. She’s a former teacher of children with severe disabilities in reading, a consultant with a leading educational book publisher, and a mother of two adult children.

Helping your child through difficult times

sad girl holding teddy bear

Life happens!

Life events (whether good, bad, or ugly) are sometimes difficult to deal with and often stressful to children. Why? Our children try to make sense of what is happening to them or around them and can have difficulty understanding and adapting.

Stressful times

Even as adults, there are times when we seek understanding and reassurance that what has happened to us is something that others have also experienced. However, children may not have the life experiences and knowledge of events such as death, or divorce. They may be unaware that other children their age have experience with these events.

Other times, people in our lives who we consider friends may be mean to us and cause us to be anxious or afraid. Being the target of a bully or watching a bully incite fear in another is not a pleasant thing to see and can be confusing to a child.

Then there are also the occasions that children need to learn from their mistakes. Learning to share, be a friend, and self-awareness are also characteristics that we hope to instill in our children.

Helping make sense of difficult situations

As parents we take pride in taking care of our children. We often think we are helping them with their problems by our daily talks at the dinner table or at bedtime just before tucking them in with that last good night kiss.

We try to explain things to our children. We talk to their teachers or care givers and do what we can to make the situation better for them. Innately, we don’t like to see our children struggle with things that we may perceive as a natural part of growing up.

A child’s behavior speaks volumes. When a child struggles with something, we often see acting out, crying more often, or even withdrawal. To a child, his problem is very real and he is seeking ways to deal with his feelings. Oftentimes, a child will feel alone or like he is the only one who has had these experiences. But knowing that others their age have experienced the same issues can help a child get through these difficult events in their life. Like adults, children need tools to help them understand what is happening in their world.

Books as tools

As adults, we seek out books and resources to help us when we need a better understanding of what we’re facing. We need to remember that books are valuable tools for people of all ages.

Books can be a key to unlock those feelings of fear, isolation or sadness to a child. They can validate a child’s feelings and empower him to handle issues that come his way.

There are many developmentally appropriate books to help our children over the hurdles to gain insight and understanding. The spectrum of books ranges from simple picture books to chapter books with characters solving their problem.

Below is a list of challenges that occur in all of our lives, along with selected books that may be helpful to your child.

Death of a loved one

Death of a pet






Individual uniqueness


 Overcoming Challenges



Coping with a disability 

– Lori Irwin, M.Ed., is a Parenting Program volunteer. She’s a former teacher of children with severe disabilities in reading, a consultant with a leading educational book publisher, and a mother of two adult children.


Selecting age-appropriate books for your newborn to 18-month old

toddler looking at book

Reading is something that always came naturally to my family. When my children were in the womb, I read and sang to them. Books were in every room in our home —whether in a bin, on a shelf, on the coffee table, or in the bookcase.

I truly believe that in order to raise your child to be a reader, reading to them is essential. However, I take it one step further. Children model what they see. Making time for you to read daily is another key in developing our children as readers.

As my children grew up, they discovered that my favorite book is “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein. We read that book until the pages were taped, smudged and missing. When I retired from teaching, they gave me the most precious gifts that I have ever received: My son hand-painted a scene from the book and the kids wrote a most touching message. They also had someone craft a necklace of the tree; the tree was made of wire and the apple was a beautiful, shiny red bead. How touched I was that my gift incorporated our love of books and reading! I will forever treasure those gifts.

Many parents stop reading to their children once they know how to read themselves. However, something magical happens when you continue to share that bond. Through the years, my son and I found authors that we both enjoy. Even now, across the miles and states, we still decide to start a book together and read our favorite parts to each other. This leads to rich discussions on books that we share.

Here are some suggestions for selecting age-appropriate books for your child.

0 to 6 months

Babies enjoy books to relax. Snuggling with you and hearing your voice is calming to your child.


  • Baby’s vision isn’t fully developed, so choose books with larger pictures and contrasting, bold colors, with little or no text.
  • Older babies in this age range enjoy interactive books that use mirrors and puppets.
  • The sound and rhythm of speech is crucial for developing baby’s oral language skills.
  • Most importantly, uninterrupted time with your baby is what’s most important. Turn off the tv and phone.

Book Suggestions

7 to 12 months

Babies are beginning to understand vocabulary and illustrations from everyday life and will put together the word “dog” with a picture they see in a book.


  • Choose books to stimulate baby’s senses. Books with varying textures, scents, or sounds are perfect for this stage of development.
  • Oral language is emerging and baby may babble back to you. Books with a single word and picture help develop language skills.
  • Read books with sound patterns to further develop language.
  • Nursery rhymes and books with simple sentences are great choices.
  • A book’s durability is important at this stage!
    • Look for books that are waterproof, resistant to drops and throws, tear-resistant, and chew-proof.
    • Fabric books are always good as they can be thrown into the washing machine and dryer.

Book Suggestions

13 to 18 months

Have fun and be silly with books!


  • Early toddlers love looking at pictures of animals and making the animal noise with you.
  • Books with a few sentences on a page is appropriate.
  • Interact with rhyme and rhythm of words and sounds.
  • A 15- or 16-month-old child is beginning to use speech. Books can be used to help develop and expand expressive language skills.
    • Point to a picture and ask your child what the picture is of.
    • For example, let’s say the picture is of a cat, and your child replies, “Cat.” You can tell them, “That’s a big, fat cat.”
    • Offer many opportunities to practice this while reading.

Book Suggestions

– Lori Irwin, M.Ed., is a Parenting Program volunteer. She’s a former teacher of children with severe disabilities in reading, a consultant with a leading educational book publisher, and a mother of two adult children.