Classroom connection: Local educators publish children’s book, “Making Friends at Puddle Pond”


Pam Brettenacher of Zionsville and Jillinda Stella of Carmel have spent a lot of time teaching vocabulary words to their students at West Clay Elementary School in Carmel. But the one word that best fits the two educators is kismet.

Brettenacher became the instructional assistant in Stella’s kindergarten classroom in 2020, and the pair had an instant connection.

“We did as much as we could to brighten it up and do a fun day of learning,” Stella said. “I think our biggest thing is, when we got together, our creativity just started sparking. What I lacked, she made up for, and we just went from there. Making the learning come alive was the biggest thing for us.”

The pair said that while it might sound cheesy, they complete each other when it comes to creating meaningful, engaging instruction for their students.

“We just have a lot of fun together, it just seemed cosmic when we met,” Brettnacher said. “She had all these bubbly ideas, and that just sparked all these images in my mind.”

puddle pond cutouts
The characters of Fritz the Frog and Birdie the Bee are loosely based on educators and authors Jillinda Stella of Carmel, left, and Pam Brettnacher of Zionsville. (Photos by Marney Simon)

Stella said frogs were always her critter of choice when it came to classroom decorations that assist in her teaching and learning process at West Clay. With Brettenacher’s background in graphic design and illustration adding personality to those decorations, the story of “Fritz the Frog,” “Birdie the Bee” and all their friends at “Puddle Pond” was born.

“I can say what I want, and she can put it onto paper (artistically),” Stella said.

The pair opened a shop on the website Teachers Pay Teachers, a resource where educators can share and sell materials such as worksheets, classroom decor and educational planners. They generated classroom papers such as worksheets and coloring pages featuring the animals of “Puddle Pond.”

“As we started going along, we realized there is something more here,” Stella said.

The result was the pair’s first book, “Making Friends at Puddle Pond.”

The book follows the story of “Birdie the Bee” as she struggles with being different because she has no stinger. The book explores themes of friendship and overcoming obstacles as Birdie and Fritz get to know each other.

It was a labor of love for both educators, who said the process took about two years of their time and effort including multiple drafts, creating an LLC and contacting publishers. The pair eventually opted to publish on Kindle Direct Publishing, the self-publishing platform for Amazon, which included several redesigns of the book before it was finally ready to be released this past January.

“It was a little intimidating to (self-publish) for the first time,” Brettnacher said. “I’ve done graphic design for years, so I thought if I’ve prepared files for printing before, surely we can figure this out. It was a little different to learn all their requirements and guidelines.”

Stella and Brettnacher said the book provides an avenue for learning that is also fun, and said they worked to craft a story that was different from the other story books children may have already read while reinforcing lessons taught every week in the classroom.

The pair were also able to turn their journey into self-publishing into a classroom exercise, bouncing ideas off of the students to make sure they were appealing to what the children find interesting, creative and fun while teaching them concepts of storytelling and sequencing.

The children also serve as an inspiration for the storylines for the characters of Puddle Pond.

“You’re in the thick of it every day with these kids, you get to see firsthand the struggles they have,” Stella said. “So you think, I need to put this into a book and give this to Fritz the Frog… Some of the things that he struggles with are literally things that we have happen in the classroom. It’s real, and we make a funny twist and we add in some social-emotional learning and learning and growing as well.”

Stella and Brettnacher are already working on a second book and hope to create an entire series. But while there’s an obvious educational aspect to the adventure, it’s also just fun.

“We do as much laughing as we do writing,” Brettnacher said. “When we got together to work on this book, we talked about ideas and bounced things off of each other and we’d just laugh and have such a good time.”

puddle pond worksheets horizontal
In addition to the book, the characters of Puddle Pond are also featured on classroom pages and worksheets that Jillinda Stella and Pam Brettnacher sell on the website Teachers Pay Teachers.

‘Making Friends at Puddle Pond’

West Clay Elementary kindergarten teacher Jillinada Stella and instructional assistant Pam Brettnacher created the characters of Puddle Pond, including Fritz the Frog, Birdie the Bee and all their friends.

The two main characters in the first book are loosely based off of Stella and Brettnacher, with Fritz having several of what Stella playfully describes as her own “crazier” personality traits while Birdie has Brettnacher’s more calming attributes.

The story follows the themes of making friends, building confidence and overcoming adversity and is written for children ages 2-10.

Stella and Brettnacher will appear at Stories in the Park from 10 a.m. until noon June 7 at Zionsville Lions Park to read the book for elementary students.

“Making Friends at Puddle Pond” is available in paperback on Amazon for $10.50. The book is also available in the libraries at Zionsville and Carmel Clay elementary schools.

Learn more about the authors and the book at