Author Archives: Donna

About Donna

Donna Gielow McFarland holds a bachelor’s degree in piano performance from Wheaton College in Illinois and a master’s degree in piano pedagogy from the University of Oregon. She has been on the faculty of New Hope Christian College (formerly Eugene Bible College) since 1997. She also teaches music theory at Northwest Christian University and previously taught class piano at the University of Oregon where she served as the class piano program coordinator. Donna Gielow McFarland has also published original piano compositions, arrangements and stories for children. She lives in Eugene, Oregon with her husband and son.

Mars stuff for Kids!

Mars is the setting for my newest book, Sam and the Dragon, a chapter book for kids ages 9-12!  I will announce the release date very soon.  Today I came across a really fun site all about Mars with activities for kids.  NASA is sending a spacecraft called Orion to Mars in December.  Orion will carry a microchip with people’s names on it, just for fun.  If you’d like to send your name or a “postcard” to Mars, you can follow the links on this site.  There are lots more free activities, too!  Have fun!

Here’s the link:

Categories: Children's Books, Mars | 4 Comments

Purple Elephant promotion!

I’m doing a promotion on Amazon this week — The Purple Elephant ebook is free 9/7-9/11 and The Purple Elephant: The Journey Home is on sale for 99 cents 9/7-9/12.  Check it out!

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Calling all piano teachers!

Follow the Star 2 and 3 thumbnail

I am excited to announce my new releases: Follow the Star: Christmas Songs for Piano (Primer & Level 1) and (Levels 2 & 3)!  These books are designed for beginning, first or second year piano students who wish to play music for Christmas.  They contain the favorites: We Three Kings, Jingle Bells, Up on the Housetop, Carol of the Bells and many well-known Christmas carols.  Check out the full table of contents for each volume with the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon. Available in paperback and kindle.

Categories: Children's Books, Follow the Star, Piano Music | Leave a comment — My new favorite website

So I’m probably the last person on the planet to figure this out, but there’s a really cool website called where people post what they will do for $5.  It is used by professionals from many fields, but the majority are those who can perform and deliver their work online.  The sellers are from all over the world, including places where $5 goes a pretty long ways.  Of course there are many sellers who want to give you just a sample of their work and persuade you to purchase the upgrades for more money.  My favorite are those who will draw you a picture for $5 and then for $5 more they will remove their signature so you can use it.

No matter, there are some really great deals.  Right now I’m working with a guy from Croatia who is converting my new piano books to kindle and saving me literally hundreds of dollars.  I suppose I should feel guilty about outsourcing overseas for a better rate, but somehow, I don’t. 🙂

So take a look and browse.  Just don’t get sucked into the “Oh!  It’s only $5!” and go crazy ordering things like: “Read anything you want in an Irish accent on film” or “Perform a creative beatbox for you or your friends and upload it to Youtube” or even “Draw you as a cartoon.”  It’s crazy, it’s fun, and a lot of the postings are real services somebody might actually want.

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A Fun New Project: Mars!

In the midst of writing several new Duck and Friends stories and producing two new Follow the Star Christmas piano books, I picked up another little project.  A fellow author has created a magnificent concept for a world which exists on Mars about 1000 years in the future.  He has invited other authors to submit stories about this world and he plans to publish them in an anthology.  I have been working on a story for kids ages 9-12 that takes place in this world and I am having a blast!  I’m not ready to share details, yet, but if you want to know more about Mars, check out this link to a larger version of the google map below. map

Pretty cool, huh!Mars map

Categories: Children's Books, Mars | Leave a comment

A Few of our Favorite Picture Books

Picture books. The delight of children everywhere. Some books are simple, some are memorable, some have illustrations that deserve viewing in a museum. There are museums devoted to artwork from children’s literature, and someday I’d like to visit one.

In our house we went through picture books by the dozen. We owned a handful of favorites, but mostly we checked them out from the library. Picture books are the natural bridge between little board books and books for early readers. They are for snuggling, reading aloud, pointing out things in the story and talking about. A young child who experiences lots of picture books is well prepared for the next steps of learning to read.

Our library has a whole room-size section devoted just to picture books. We read every book we could find that had a fireman or construction equipment on the cover. We read plenty of others, too. Don’t neglect the children’s non-fiction section.  There are plenty more picture books in that section that may interest your child. Here is a list of just a few of our favorites.

Fix it Duck1. Fix-It Duck by Jez Alborough – We loved this book! “Plop! goes the drip that drops in the cup. Duck looks down and Duck looks up. ‘A leak in the roof, Oh, what bad luck! This is a job for… FIX-IT DUCK!” Duck has plenty of confidence, but the more he fixes, the worse it gets. The illustrations are marvelous and the story is perfectly written, including the surprise ending. Alborough has written and illustrated many other picture books and they’re good, too, but I think this one is his masterpiece.

If you give a mouse a cookie2. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff – If You Give a Mouse a Cookie is perfection in a picture book. A little boy gives a mouse a cookie so the mouse asks for a glass of milk, so then he wants to look in a mirror to make sure he doesn’t have a milk mustache, and then he asks for a pair of scissors to give himself a trim… It keeps going until the mouse runs his little host ragged. (The mouse may remind you of a preschooler in your life.) Felicia Bond’s illustrations are delightful. There are a number of other “If You Give a” books in this series, although none of them quite measure up to this one. My favorite of the others is If You Give a Moose a Muffin.

Jamberry3. Jamberry by Bruce Degen – Jamberry is just bursting with fun. As a boy and bear float down a river picking berries, the nonsensical rhymes are memorable and the illustrations leap off the page. Caution: the rhymes will stick!  “One berry, two berry, pick me a blueberry!”

Pancakes for breakfast4. Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie dePaola – We loved this little picture book, and it is truly a picture book because there are no words.  Tomie dePaola illustrates the story of a lady who wants pancakes for breakfast, but everything seems to go wrong. A nice story for children to “read” to themselves, although mine always wanted me to “read” it to him anyway. We still use the pancake recipe included in the book.

Fireman Small5. Fireman Small by Wong Herbert Yee – Of all the fireman books we read, this series was the standout. “In the middle of town where buildings stand tall, there lives a little man called Fireman Small.” Kids can relate to little Fireman Small who single handedly saves the day. The text flows very well as a read-aloud.

Little bear6. Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik – The Little Bear series is intended for early readers, but I am including it in picture books as an example of the type of early ready you can read to your children before they are able to read to themselves. My son first heard the story of Little Bear when he was only two, and what followed is detailed in Duck’s Story. The original is a sweet story of Little Bear’s adventures as he makes Birthday Soup and flies to the moon. We were delighted to find additional Little Bear books that introduce more characters and are just as sweet and playful.

I'll follow the moon7. I’ll Follow the Moon by Stephanie Lisa Tara – We didn’t know about this exquisite book soon enough to use it as a bedtime story, but I’m listing it anyway because if I’d known, it would have been one of our favorites. A beautiful story of baby turtles hatching and following the moon to find their mother.

Little house8. 9. 10. Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel, Katy and the Big Snow and The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton – These classics are some of our other favorites. I was going to write about just one so I asked my son to pick which he liked the best, but he said they were all even.

What’s the favorite picture book in your house?

Categories: Children's Books, Picture Books, Reading, Reading to children | Leave a comment

A Few of our Favorite Little Board Books

Toddler and baby board books are a great invention. They are sturdy, somewhat chewable and a great introduction to reading for young children. They can tell stories or teach colors, numbers, letters and anything else in life that is relevant to their target audience. When your child outgrows these books you may decide to put them away, but don’t get rid of them quite yet. See Sit – Stand – Walk: The Process of Learning to Read (Part II) to find out why. (Note: That post hasn’t been written yet, but I’ll include the link here as soon as it is ready.)

We went through many board books when our son was little. Some were so dull that I’ve blissfully forgotten them, but others were real standouts. In no particular order, here are the ones we loved so much that they made the cut and didn’t get sent to Goodwill.

goodnight gorilla1. Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann – A fresh take on Goodnight, Moon, the beloved classic which we never really enjoyed. In Good Night, Gorilla, a zookeeper says goodnight to all the animals as the gorilla tiptoes behind him and unlocks the cages. The animals follow the zookeeper home, where they try to crawl into his bed for the night. Toddlers who are old enough to understand the story think it’s hilarious.

2. What Shall We Do with the Boo Hoo Baby? by Cressida Cowell – A set of animals tries to figure out how to get a baby to stop crying. This was a surprise favorite.

Very Hungry Caterpillar3. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle – This classic story teaches counting and days of the week as a very hungry caterpillar eats and eats and eats… Definitely a keeper.

4. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. – This book is also illustrated by Eric Carle and it teaches colors. I didn’t think it was as good as The Very Hungry Caterpillar, but it proved to be useful for reading practice later.

5. One Hungry Monster by Susan Heyboer O’Keefe – A very funny counting book in rhyme. Maybe after reading this book, your toddler won’t be quite so scared of the one hungry monster underneath his bed.

10 little dinos6. Ten Little Dinosaurs by Pattie Schnetzler – “Ten little dinosaurs bouncing on the bed. Pachycephalosaurus fell off and broke his head!” This is another very clever counting book. My husband found a website with audio clips on how to correctly pronounce dinosaur names. This book was not a favorite of our son until he started kindergarten, at which point he asked us to read it so many times we could all quote it from memory.

7. Dr Seuss’s ABC’s – This little alphabet book is a hoot! The board book is a condensed version of the longer book originally written by Dr. Seuss. The shorter (board book) version is better because they fixed some metrical problems. Heads up: If you did not learn phonics as a child, you may find words like “Fiffer-feffer-feff” a little frustrating, but your kids will love it!

Little Fur Family8. The Little Fur Family by Margaret Wise Brown – This read aloud is calm, soothing and just right for bedtime. This was one of our son’s favorites and mine, too. I still remember how it began:

“There was a little fur family
warm as toast
smaller than most
in little fur coats
and they lived in an old wooden tree.”

Are you sleepy, yet?

If I missed your family’s favorite, please put it in the comments.  Coming up next: A Few of our Favorite Picture Books!

Categories: Board Books, Board Books, Children's Books, Reading | Leave a comment

New Release! Follow the Star: Christmas Songs for Piano

Follow the Star smaller thumbnailI am excited to announce the release of my new piano book! Follow the Star: Christmas Songs for Piano (Primer & Level 1) is now available on Amazon!  This book contains one-handed and two-handed arrangements that are perfect for beginning piano students who want to play music for Christmas and it turned out really cute with Sandy Silverthorne‘s illustrations.  It sells for $5.95 on Amazon.  Teachers’ discounts are available if you order directly from me.  For more information, email me at:


Categories: Follow the Star, New Book Release, Piano Music | Leave a comment

Sit – Stand – Walk: How Children Learn to Read (Part 1: Sit)

This is the first of a three-part series on the process of learning to read.

As different as children are, they still go through the same basic steps to learn their first skills.  Think of a child who learns to walk.  First, they have to learn to sit.  No one jumps out of their bassinet and walks without first learning how to sit.  Then they become mobile, in whatever form that takes. The next step is to stand.  Somehow, they figure out how to stand on their feet.  Finally, they start taking steps and toddle before they become proficient walkers.

I think reading has similar steps to it. This series of posts is abouat the steps I’ve observed kids go through as they learn to read.  I’m not an expert – this is simply based on the observations of a mom who also happens to be a children’s book author, so I pay attention to this stuff.

Part I: Sit

The common advice is that to prepare a child for reading, you should read to the child.  Among other things, this communicates to the child that books are fun, those little squiggles on the page represent words and it increases the vocabulary the child is exposed to.  Some say you should start reading to your child during infancy.  Some say you should read 15, 20, or 30 minutes a day to your child.  We weren’t very regimented about it, and the main reason I read to my son was not to create a great reader but just because it was fun!  That, and he was always on the go so it was often the only time I could get him to sit next to me and snuggle.  We didn’t really do the bedtime story thing – we read when it was convenient or when I needed something for us to do.

I never gave much credence to the advice that you should introduce books at infancy, but we were given a couple chewable books as baby shower gifts and I let my son have them when he was still in the bassinet.  The books included a little board book with black and white pictures in the style that babies are supposed to be able to see.  One day I set the book in front of him upside down.  My husband noticed, and so I said, “What difference does it make?  He’ll think it’s something new.”  In response, our infant bawled his cute little head off until I turned the book right side up.  Hmmm.

From books-to-chew-on we progressed to little board books.  These are great because they are mostly indestructible and are small enough for little hands to hold and turn pages.  Some board books teach colors, some teach numbers, some are good for bedtime, vocabulary or just plain fun.  The library has them by the hundreds, but you’ll probably want to buy your own because the ones from the library often come pre-chewed.  When you feel your child has outgrown this stage, put the books away, but don’t get rid of them, yet.  You’ll find out why in Part 2: Stand.  I’m going to write a separate post about some of our favorite board books soon.

At the board book stage, I also introduced reading newspaper inserts, specifically the fliers from large hardware stores.  My son would point to the pictures of various tools and want to know the names of each one.  One day I got tired of saying, “Saw.  Saw.  Saw,” and I told him the full names.  “Reciprocating saw.  Table saw. Compound miter saw.” (I knew what they were because I read the description in the flyer.) After that, he really impressed people with his vocabulary.

From the little board book stage, children move on to picture books.  These stages overlap a lot.  Picture books have thinner pages which are hard for little hands to turn, and they have more text.  Now there is time for a longer story to develop.  These are the books that children want to hear over and over and over and over and…  If this drives you crazy, check out picture books from the library and return them when you’re done.

We found some absolutely delightful picture books and I’m going to write a separate post about those, too.  Besides traditional picture books, we read some early readers and chapter books.  My preschooler was happy to play with his toys while I read and so I even read chapter books with few pictures.  We read both volumes of the original Winnie-the-Pooh.  Each chapter in these books stands alone and I was frequently begged to read his favorite chapters.  We read children’s story Bibles from cover to cover (not all at once) multiple times.  We read early readers (1st-2nd grade reading level) and these were often his favorites.  We also read numerous alphabet books and these reinforced the concept of the names of the letters and the sounds they make.  Find alphabet books with good rhyme and meter that include your child’s interests and they will want to hear them over and over until they are memorized.

I’m calling exposure to books, vocabulary and the alphabet, SIT.  All this experience sets the stage for the next step: STAND!

Categories: Board Books, Children's Books, Picture Books, Reading, Reading to children, Sit Stand Walk | Leave a comment

Welcome to my Book Blog!

Welcome!  Here is the blog page for my brand new website!  In this blog I plan to post news about upcoming book releases and events, but I will also post reviews of other children’s books, occasional author interviews and other interesting tidbits relating to children’s literacy or whatever I want to write about.

In today’s news, I am excited to announce that my newest music book: Follow the Star: Christmas Songs for Piano (Primer & Level 1) is going to be released very soon!Image  I am expecting to receive the proof in the next couple weeks.  This book is designed for new piano students who are still at the primer level or maybe beginning a level one method book.  It begins with a very simple, middle C position “O Come Let Us Adore Him.”  There is a one-handed “Jingle Bells” with optional teacher accompaniment, “Silent Night,” “We Three Kings,” and lots more.  In the Level 1 section the arrangements contain more hands-together playing on songs like “Joy to the World,” “Pat-a-Pan” and “O Come Little Children.”  The book is illustrated with cute drawings by artist Sandy Silverthorne.

Categories: Follow the Star, New Book Release, Welcome | 1 Comment

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