Fan Mail of the Month: Thanks, Eliza!

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We love getting fan mail from young readers here at Pioneer Valley Books! Students write letters to all our characters, but Bella and Rosie are definitely fan favorites around here!

I especially loved this recent letter from Eliza to Bella and Rosie!

An adorable letter from Eliza to Bella and Rosie
An adorable letter from Eliza to Bella and Rosie

In the letter, Eliza writes:

Dear Bella and Rosie,

I love you, Bella and Rosie! What kind of dog are you? When I read your books they make a smile on my face. Everyday you sit next to me and help me learn. I want to meet you in person. How old are you? I hope you like my letter!

Love, Eliza

(P.S. I looooooooooooooooove you!) 


Thank you so much for this letter, Eliza! To answer your questions, Bella and Rosie are Bichon Frises! We actually have a book all about this breed of dog. It’s called “All About Bichons.” (Level F/10) Bichon dogs are small, white, fluffy, and very friendly! Bella and Rosie are very friendly and funny dogs! They are 16 years old, which is quite old for a dog!

"All About Bichons" (F/10) by Michele Dufresne
“All About Bichons” (F/10) by Michele Dufresne

We hope you’ll write us again, Eliza!

For any young readers who’d like to ask Bella and Rosie, or any of our other over forty characters, any questions, please write us! All information on reaching us can be found on the Contact Us page of our website!

Have a great week!

-Michele Dufresne

Get back into the school spirit with BookBuilder Online!

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It’s September, which in our world only means one thing: back to school!

Our BookBuilder™ Online tool is such a great resource for getting kids excited to be back in school. BookBuilder™ Online is a fun, easy way to personalize stories for young readers. Just insert the student’s name and the names of important people in the student’s life and print out an adorable new story! The printed pages are easily assembled into a small book.

Kids love reading their own name in stories! Personalized stories are a great way to get reluctant readers engaged. BookBuilder™ books can be printed off anytime, these books are easy to send home with kids so they can continue reading at home with parents or siblings.

We have two new cute stories for the early readers you’re working with this month!

“Busy” is a level A/1.


“Helping Out” is a level B/2.



This month, we’re offering a special 20% off subscriptions to BookBuilder™ Online! Through September 30, 2016, get 20% off your subscription with the code BUILDER16.

You can subscribe to BookBuilder™ Online here! 

Happy reading!

Michele Dufresne 

Our August BookBuilders!

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Every month, we create two free, printable books and make them downloadable via our BookBuilder Online. For August, we’ve got two awesome new stories for you!

Because August means back to school season, our first story is called “Back to School.” (Level 2/B)


Our second story this month is perfect for fall weather. It’s called “Delicious Stone Soup.” (Level 16/I)

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You can download these free books, and many more, here!


Our July BookBuilder Books for You!

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Every month, we create two free, printable books and make them downloadable via our BookBuilder Online. For July,  both of our stories are about summer vacation!

Our first story is “The Summer Book Report.” (Level 18/J) Kids can insert their own names into these stories to personalize them. Fans of Bella & Rosie will especially love this story!


Our next story is “The Surfing Lesson.” (Level 14/H) Kids will love this funny little story about learning to surf the waves like a pro.


You can download these free books, and many more, at BookBuilder Online.

June Teaching Tip: Forget the 100-Word Rule!

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Last week, the principal of our local school asked me what I thought about the district’s mandate that kindergartners learn a list of 100 words. Did I think it was appropriate? The short answer? No!

I see how confused educators are about how to reach that goal. Many teachers try to divide the word list over the course of the school year. Each week, students go home with a section of the list and practice the words diligently with their families. Would you be surprised to discover that students forget the words from the previous week as they try to learn a new set?

So what is appropriate to teach kindergartners? Young children need to learn that reading is fun, engaging, and something they are successful at. Nothing is worse than discouraging children and making them feel like they are failing. We cannot have a one-size-fits-all curriculum. Literacy learning needs to be meaningful and appropriate. Children who have a limited background with texts need to experience the power and joy of real books.


Learning a core of sight words is important, but the words need to be selected carefully and taught responsively. Marie Clay tells us that “New words will be acquired through reading books and others will come from daily writing” (Literacy Lessons: Part 2, page 40). The words you teach should be ones kindergartners see frequently in books and want to use in their writing. For some students, learning the first few words may come quite slowly. They need to develop a system for remembering. If you try to teach too many words at once, you will just create a huge muddle.

How about this? Instead of a kindergarten goal of learning 100 specific words, give them a goal of reading 100 books? Maybe even 180 books? One for each day! That’s a goal that all kindergartners can achieve, whether they’re at the beginning of their journey as readers or well on their way to proficiency.

For more teaching tips delivered right to your inbox each month, sign up for our Pioneer Valley Books newsletter!

Michele Dufresne

A Free Calendar for You!

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Wow, June is already breezing past us! It seems like it just began. How is it already the 13th? If you’re as shocked to hear about today’s date as I am, then maybe you need this free calendar we’ve made for you!


Every month, our talented production team creates free, downloadable Bella & Rosie calendars. They’re always available on our Teachers Pay Teachers store!

You can download this calendar, and more fun stuff on our Teachers Pay Teachers store today!

Pre-K, Kindergarten, First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Not Grade Specific -

It’s Summer, and We’ve Got Free Books for You!

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Every month, we create two free, printable books and make them downloadable via our BookBuilder Online. For June,  both of our stories are about summer fun!

Our first story is “I Love the Beach.” (Level 5/D) Kids can insert their own names into these stories to personalize them. In this story, a boy and a girl go to the beach for a day of adventures!

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The second free story is, “In the Summer.” (Level 2/B) In this story, two boys and two girls talk about the things they love to do in the summer, like hiking or jumping on a trampoline.

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Kids love seeing their own names in stories, and parents and teachers alike love how easy these books are to print out and assemble!

You can download these free books, and more, at BookBuilder Online.

The Thirty Million Word Gap

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I recently read this interesting study, and thought I’d share my thoughts here. In the study, University of Kansas researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risley got to know 42 families from various socio-economic backgrounds. After four years, Hart and Risley were able to assess the ways in which daily exchanges and conversations between parents and children shape a child’s language and vocabulary development.

From the study:

The results of the study were more severe than the researchers anticipated. Observers found that 86 percent to 98 percent of the words used by each child by the age of three were derived from their parents’ vocabularies. Furthermore, not only were the words they used nearly identical, but also the average number of words utilized, the duration of their conversations, and the speech patterns were all strikingly similar to those of their caregivers.

After establishing these patterns of learning through imitation, the researchers next analyzed the content of each conversation to garner a better understanding of each child’s experience. They found that the sheer number of words heard varied greatly along socio-economic lines. On average, children from families on welfare were provided half as much experience as children from working class families, and less than a third of the experience given to children from high-income families. In other words, children from families on welfare heard about 616 words per hour, while those from working class families heard around 1,251 words per hour, and those from professional families heard roughly 2,153 words per hour. Thus, children being raised in middle to high income class homes had far more language exposure to draw from.

This study highlights an enormous challenge we face as educators. Children enter our classrooms with significant discrepancies in not only knowledge, but also their skills and experience.

Follow-up studies showed that these differences in language and interaction experience can have lasting effects on a child’s performance later in life, as well. If children from high-income families are being exposed to 30 million more words than children from families on welfare, educators must adapt and find a way to best serve each individual child.

You can read the entire study here.


Fan Mail of the Month: Thanks, Milo!

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One of the best parts of my job is hearing from the children who read and love the books we make. Knowing teachers all over the world are using our books to improve literacy in their classrooms is a great feeling, and one that continually motivates our whole team here at Pioneer Valley Books.

Every day, kids send letters to us here at PVB HQ. We get letters for Bella, Rosie, Jack, Daisy and all our other beloved characters, and of course, those animals respond personally when they can!

Sometimes, kids write letters just to me, and it always brings a smile to my face. One of my favorite letters I’ve received recently was from a first grader named Milo. Here’s what Milo had to say:

MayFanLetters - 1

Dear Michele Dufresne and Pioneer Valley Books, 

I loved your books. They were the best books I ever read. I loved the ones that were about animals. 

  1. I like that they are nonfiction. They really pull me in the book. 
  2. You stick with four specific topics. 
  3. There is a lot of awesome titles. 
  4. You have specific science words in your books. 

So please make more. I am a big fan of your books. You inspired me to like reading workshop. You are the best book creator in the world!

From, Milo

Well, thank YOU Milo! I am so glad to hear Milo loves our nonfiction books. We take a lot of pride in our nonfiction collections here at Pioneer Valley Books. Our Explore the World nonfiction collection actually just took home first prize in its category at the New England Book Show Awards!

Milo’s teacher wrote the following note to accompany his letter:

MayFanLetters - 2

Milo approached me during our writing workshop to tell me he couldn’t stop thinking about the books he read during our reading workshop. He wanted to let you know that your books transformed his reading experience. He no longer struggles to stay engaged in reading. He is devouring the Explore the World series! My first graders are trading them back and forth with enthusiastic recommendations! I am so appreciative of the rich language opportunities and authentic content. They are a fantastic addition to our classroom library. 


We love hearing from students and teachers alike. We’re so glad to bring these books to schools, and glad to hear when readers are enjoying them!