Monday, March 25, 2013

Dee, Dee Dee Dee...Havin' Fun!

If you grew up on Sesame Street like I did, then Ernie's voice singing that song is now stuck in your head. Just in case it isn't:
You're welcome.
S. is working on the letter "D". It has been going a bit slowly, because I only do 'school' when she asks for it. I am not about to interrupt independent play to force a learning activity she isn't interested in! We have had some fun with the letter this weekend, though. We had donuts for breakfast (after which L. ran around the house wearing donut crumbs and little else, yelling "Crazy! Crazy!"), and made a couple different desserts.
S. chose "dinosars" from the word list we have been making, and dictated a 'story', then illustrated it with paint pens.
"You know what I call dinosaurs? Cookies!"
Three-year-old humor. I don't get it, but that's okay.
Of course, if S. painted, everyone else had to.

C. is painting the birdhouse he made after reading these books. L. is painting with water, whch is only going to work for a short time longer I'm afraid.
S. also made decorations for Daddy.

L. decided to teach himself the whole alphabet at once.
We played with dress-ups.
Okay, that's a constant here, but it played in nicely.

We dug in the dirt.
This is S. and L.'s garden. She says she is going to plant flowers and horsey food.
We also colored our hair. For absolutely no reason other than someone noticed the hair colors and said, "hey, let's do that."
C.'s didn't show up well in that picture, so here's a close-up:
Meh, tonight is bath night, anyway.
S. has taken to shoving dolls and stuffed animals up her shirts and telling everyone she has a baby in her belly. Just to clarify, that is not anything she has heard at home recently.
We read books about dolphins, drums, dancing, and dentists. We went to see the doctor, but that was with a case of pink-eye, which does NOT start with "D".
We played with the dogs.
And the dog food.
We talked a bit about what is in a desert, and I had a cut-and-paste paper to go with it.
We got a little carried away with the "cut" part.
We made a dazzle jar.
Or a dream jar. We haven't quite decided. Basically; clear glue, glitter glue, glitter, and water. And a toy your brother threw in before you could stop him. Seal the jar, shake it up, and watch it settle.
L. was especially fascinated, and just sat and stared forever.
We watched "How to Train Your Dragon, and made dragon crafts.
Lastly, we popped in a season of The Muppet Show and danced along with the songs...
...and now, we're Dee Dee Dee Done! 


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Review: The T-Rex and Me

This story, by the up-and-coming author C., is brilliant. Except for the part where I get eaten. I give it to you in its entirity:
One day there was a t-rex hiding in a bush. I came out of my door and I was wondering what was going on. I looked behind the bush and saw the t-rex.
The t-rex started chasing me then I hollered, "Stop!"
The t-rex stopped and I started talking to him in a soft voice so he would know I was trying to be his friend. I asked him, "Would you like to play with me?"
The t-rex said, "Yes."
So I ran inside my house and I found a big giant light-saber for the t-rex and a small light-saber for me. We played Star Wars together until it was dark.
I found a big blanket for my new friend and he went to sleep in my yard. I went inside and I went to sleep in my bedroom.
In the morning when I woke up, I found a big hot dog and I baked it for him. I took it to him. I ate hot dogs with him outside. After we ate breakfast, we played Ghost Busters together and pretended we were fighting ghosts.
A real ghost came and the t-rex hid back in the bushes. I just stood there and looked at the ghost. The t-rex came out from behind the bushes and ate the ghost. I thanked him and we kept playing Ghost Busters.
My Mom came out of the house. She was mad because she saw me playing with a t-rex. My mom told me to go inside. The t-rex ate my mom!
I came out of the house and asked the t-rex, "Can you please spit out my mom? Please!"
The t-rex spit out my mom. She was okay and she went inside because she was very mad at the t-rex. I stayed outside and thanked the t-rex.
We started playing Ghost Busters again until it was dark. Then I told the t-rex it was time for him to go home. He went home. I never saw him again.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Yes, the popularly cool and collected Pete the Cat now has books in the "I Can Read" series, for beginer readers. Excited shouting done with, the question is: are these just as much fun as the picture books, or do they suffer from riding-on-popularity-no-need-to-retain-quality syndrome?
In this one, Pete gets hungry, and starts building a sandwich - Dagwood Bumstead style. When he is finally finished, it is too big to eat, so he invites his friends over to share it.
The short sentences of the typical junior reader work for Pete the Cat - he is, after all, a cat of few words. I missed the usual "It's all good" tagline, but the nonplussed expressions on all the characters' faces tickled me.
Pete and his friends play a game of baseball. Pete doesn't do as well as he would like, but he doesn't feel bad, because he knows he did his best. Methinks Pete is getting a bit preachy. I didn't enjoy this one quite as much. Moral lessons are fine, but let's keep the sly humor, please.
So, my initial judgement is, 1 for 2. I'll look forward to seeing the next in the series (because this will obviously be a series), and hope this was his one and only error!
Thank-you, HarperCollins, for the review copies!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Easter Read-Alouds

"The day of the annual town Easter Egg Hunt has arrived, and Marley and his family are ready to find the biggest, most eggstravagant egg! Marley is great at spotting the eggs in trees and behind plants, but he just can't seem to get the eggs to Cassie or Baby Louie before someone else snatches them up. So, in true Marley fashion, Marley decides to forge his own path . . . right through the doors of the town shops. Stopping into the grocery, the bakery, and the party store, Marley creates calamity wherever his paws touch. But will his wild egg chase end up with Marley finding the big, glorious egg before the hunt is over?"
Millions of dog owners recognized their own misbehaving pets in Grogan's novel, Marley. In this, one of the many picture books that have resulted from that novel's success, children are bound to identify with the messes their pets (or they themselves) can cause when on a single-minded quest. I look forward to reading this one in story time in a couple weeks, and anticipate many gleeful groans! We may even forego the usual egg decorating activity, and try decorating a puppy outline instead. The brightly-colored illustrations just scream Easter, and will no doubt make it one of the first picked off the shelf.
Any children's librarian who has been on the job for more than a week can point you towards the seek-and-find-type books without looking up from her desk. This series from HarperCollinsChildrens is just tricky enough for young children to be challenged and not frustrated (this old lady, however, would find it helpful if the back included a cheat sheet!) In the above example, readers must help the Easter Bunny solve a mystery. When they find him in each scene, they find the next clue. The final pages include other items to go back and look for, and of course, parents can make up their own challenges for each page, keeping repeated readings fresh and fun. Obviously, the format would make this a difficult read for a group story time, but just right for a little pre-bedtime snuggling.
Thank-you to HarperCollins for the review copies!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: Tools at Work Series

Tools are BIG at my house right now. C. has his own toolbox with real carpentry tools - which he mostly uses on rocks and dirt - and S. has a gardening bag with all sorts of tools, real and play. Even L. likes to use the plastic tool set - mostly to hit things (or siblings) with. I knew I had to bring these home as soon as I got them:
What Does a Level Do?
What Does a Hammer Do?
Other titles in the series cover saws, screwdrivers, wrenches, and pliers. These two were an instant hit.
Close-up photographs match the text perfectly, giving readers a very clear understanding of what is meant. Parts of the tool are identified, uses explained, and basic safety is covered. The first part of the book is designed for a beginner to read alone. The last few pages explain the mechanical principals involved - fulcrums for the hammer, why levels are needed - and include more safety tips, a glossary, and a basic index. C. enjoyed reading them out loud to me, and immediately wanted to put his tools to use again:

He was especially excited when one nail went wonky, and he had to pull it out using the claw, just like they showed in the book (I won't accuse him of doing that on purpose, of course.)
A great set for any preschool library, or bundled as a gift for your favorite toolman/tool woman, tucked into their very first toolbox.
Check out more great nonfiction books at Perogies and Gyoza!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Two New Picture Books

Perfectly Percy
It's cliche, but I just have to say it: Perfectly Percy is perfectly adorable. I read it at work, and immediately added Paul Schmid to my "authors to watch" list. (It should have already been on it for the "Petunia" books, but sometimes I'm asleep at the wheel.) Nothing grand or complicated, just a simple story of a little guy with a perplexing problem (for some reason I am stuck in alliteration mode), who comes up with a solution all on his own. Both story and illustrations should please the pickiest preschooler - they definitely pleased me!
Monsters Love Colors
"Monsters love to scribble, scribble, mix, dance, and wiggle!"
Well, what a coincidence, so do my little monsters - and just about every other preschooler out there. Smiling monsters shout out their favorite colors, splashing them across the page, then help some little greyish monsters find their own shades. A very high-energy way to explore primary and secondary colors. Now that it is getting warmer outside, this would be a great book to share before going out and trying some messy paint projects of your own. Put watered-down paint in squirt bottles, or fling paint onto canvas a la Jackson Pollock. Color vanilla pudding instead, and do some finger-painting indoors. Tons of possibilities! I think I'll be checking out Austin's other books, as well!
Thank-you to HarperCollins for both review copies!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Show and Tell

It's not always bad when your husband brings his work home with him. Especially when his work is so darn cute:
This is a spotted skunk, which really does not belong at our altitude. She is about the size of  an 8-week-old kitten, and managed to get caught in a live trap that was SUPPOSED to catch a fox who is being a nuisance. Daddy relocates the animals he traps, and sometimes we get to see them first.
Yes, my 3yo is petting a skunk. I thnk I first fell in love with Daddy when he e-mailed me pictures of himself petting skunks as they meandered away. You can get a better idea of the size here - about as big as his hand, and she is full-grown! Very docile, too - never sprayed, even when he had to pokeher with a stick to get her to walk out of the trap later. Not sure how she ended up this high, but she'll be much safer now, away from houses.
The tank on the step is housing a mouse I caught, until I can take it somewhere tomorrow. I'm not as cool as Daddy yet, but I have to start somewhere!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Yard Sale Score, Hoarding, and Odor Removal!

My mother, the littles and I all went yard saleing this past weekend (oh, be quiet spellcheck, that is too a word!) Daddy doesn't do yard sales. If he has to shop, he wants to get in, go straight to what he needs, and get back out before he has to actually interact with any people. (Yet, he will spend hours at an auction where he has no intention of buying anything - that one, I do not get at all.)
At yard sales, there is no quick getting in and out - there is browsing, rummaging, and staring hard at various items, trying to decide whether or not they are something you always wanted/needed, you just didn't know it until this very instant. As someone whose Pinterest boards are full of creative uses for old shutters (which I have yet to find at a yard sale), this is the part of yard sales that appeals to me most.
That, and, I'm very, very cheap.
So, at the second yard sale we hit, when I saw three new-looking, largish CD/DVD racks priced very reasonably, I had to stop and stare hard. My first thought was, "pantry!" But, I knew they wouldn't fit in my pantry. I stared more. I thought more. They were really very cheap. They would probably fit in the van. Obviously, what I needed to do, was get another pantry to put them in. So I bought all three of them (much to the dismay of two older ladies who came in right after me).
They did fit (barely), and as we drove slowly around to the rest of the sales on our list, I plotted where I could possibly put them. We picked up some kids' clothes, a kindling bucket for the wood stove, and a neat little cast iron grill. Then Mom and I both started to sniff suspiciously...
Cigarette smoke. Which we are both allergic to. The clothes, maybe? No matter, I always wash clothing as soon as I get home. know what it was, don't you? The shelves. The particle board shelves. Shelves made of porous material that soak in everything, and which would get completely ruined if soaked in anything liquid.
By this time, however, I had figured out where I was going to put them - the closet in the boys' room, which is just used for storage anyway - and I did not want to give up my new imaginary pantry. I brought them inside and wiped them down with a dish soap and Borax solution, then a vinegar and water solution. Nothing. Having a husband who traps skunks, I know the wonders of Woolite (forget tomato soup or the hydrogen peroxide recipe, trust me: Woolite takes out all trace of skunk odor!) I aprayed on a watered-down Woolite solution, leaving it as damp as I dared: no luck.
Fortunately, Daddy recently started using a new (to us) cleaner in places like the underneath of houses, where you can't just suds up with Woolite:
Hillyard, Take Down Enzyme Cleaner, Concentrate, fresh & clean scent, HIL0046804, 12 quarts per case, sold as 1 quart
As Woolite's biggest fan, I had a hard time believing anything commercial would work better, but I tried it. I sprayed it on, wiped it around - smells like soap and cigarettes. I resigned myself to months of baking soda boxes, and started moving the shelves into the closet. As I began piling cans on, I suddenly realized...
...all I smelled was soap. It took maybe half an hour, but it worked perfectly, and I have a new favorite cleaning product! (Don't worry, Woolite, I still love you for all my skunky laundry and canine needs!) It says it can be used on carpet, so I sprayed it on "that" spot in ours, and we seem to have a success there, too! (I am reserving judgement for a while - carpet odors are notorious for returning, especially when your house is as old as ours).
And my new pantry? Le sigh...
I really like this setup, because I can see very quickly what I need more of (mushrooms!) and what I am completely out of (beef broth! How did that happen?!)

The shelves are easy to move around to fit the containers. I did put shims under each set, to make it lean a little more towards the back wall - if I decide for sure I like this arrangement, I will attach them to the wall more securely.
The area to the left still had some free space (this is a very long, shallow closet), where I hung C.'s 4 solitary button-down shirts, and covered the floor with bottled juice. No wasted space!
I still have dry goods in the pantry just outside my kitchen, but they aren't likely to explode in extreme heat or cold. My plan is to move things like canning jars from the garage - which is on the other side of our property - to the 'old' pantry, so I don't have to trek over and search the garage for them. Hopefully, that, in turn, will give me enough space to organize old clothes and toys out there. Since the garage is not as well-heated as C.'s closet, however, that will have to be a project for another day!
So, what have you repurposed for storage in your home?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Picture Book Reviews

In the Land of Milk and Honey
In vibrant language and a rhythm that moves with the rhythm of the train, Thomas describes her family's voyage in the late 1940's to California, the Land of Milk and Honey, as well as their early days there. The images are all positive, with no mention of the struggles many families faced as they made a place for themselves. This would be a good introduction to a unit on that time period, area, emigration, urbanization, or migrant workers.
Brick by Brick
By contrast in Brick by Brick, by Charles R. Smith, Jr., there is no denying the countless hours of heavy work slaves put into building the original White House, while "slave owners take slave hands' pay." Even the pictures show bloated politicians handing bills to weasily slave owners, while toiling slave children are barely able to keep their eyes open. It's hard to find fault with a largely negative representation of what was, really, a largely negative aspect of American history. Smith still manages to impatr a sense of pride and hope - "Slave hands count shillings/ with worn fingertips/and purchase freedom/earned brick by brick."
Both of these books were illustrated by Floyd Cooper. This third features the artwork of Kadir Nelson.
Nelson Mandela
Oh, yes, please!
What's that? I'm supposed to be objective? I have to at least open the book before I decide I love it? Well, if you insist.
Oh, happy sigh. I'm sorry, I can't be objective, I just adore anything this Nelson puts to paper. I did learn a multitude of things I didn't know about the other Nelson - Nelson Mandela, however. Or I should say, Rolihlahla (I wonder if he ever considered going back to his given name when he got older? Read the book to find out what that translates to - quite apt, I think!) I had no idea he had to leave home at such a young age. I had forgotten how long he was in prison (over 27 years!) And, I was newly inspired by the determination and positive outlook he still has.

And did I mention the illustrations are amazing?
Thank-you to HarperCollinsChildrens for all three review copies! For more great nonfiction books, jump over to Nonfiction Monday at Sally's Bookshelf!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Review: Destiny, Rewritten, by Kathryn Fitzmaurice

Destiny, Rewritten
Eleven-year-old Emily Elizabeth Davis has been told for her entire life that her destiny is to become a poet, just like her famous namesake, Emily Dickinson. But Emily doesn't even really like poetry, and she has a secret career ambition that she suspects her English-professor mother will frown on. Then, just after discovering that it contains an important family secret, she loses the special volume of Emily Dickinson's poetry that was given to her at birth. As Emily and her friends search for the lost book in used bookstores and thrift shops all across town, Emily's understanding of destiny begins to unravel and then rewrite itself in a marvelous new way.
While there are side issues of young romance, the grieving process, friendship, and social activism, the main focus is on Emily's coming-of-age and our role in determining our own fate. Important topics are exlpored without becoming too heavy-handed, and even side characters are quirky enough to be memorable. Even at the very satisfying conclusion, readers will be unsure of whether to give the credit to twists of fate, or to Emily's determination. They may feel inspired, however, to take a greater hand in making good things come to themselves and those around them.
This is a solid upper-elementary, middle-grade choice. Thank-you to HarperCollins for the review copy!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Review: Four Secrets by Margaret Willey

Four Secrets
Well, now, that looks interesting on a white background. I like it.
And, I liked the book.
"To you the idea to kidnap Chase Dobson might seem like a mistake. But to us... we were just trying to stop him from being so...evil. We just...we had to stop him. No one helps kids like us. Not at my school. We aren't the important kids. We knew it wouldn't stop unless we stopped it ourselves."

Katie, Nate, and Renata had no farther to fall down the social ladder. But when they hit bottom, they found each other. Together, they wanted to change things. To stop the torment.

So they made a plan. One person seemed to have everyone's secrets—and all the power. If they could stop him...

But secrets are complicated, powerful things. They are hard to keep. And even a noble plan to stop a bully can go horribly wrong.
That suspenseful set-up does not disappoint. What happened - the torment of the bully, the plot to do something about it, and what went wrong from there - is told in not just the voices of the three students involved, but from the perspective of the social worker trying to make sense of it all. Stories written this way, in alternating chapters, are not at all new, but some authors do it better than others. Willey has no difficulty giving each character his or her own voice and personality, and manages the disparity between what the omniscient reader knows, and what the social worker has not been privy to.
The characters are quirky, and may not appeal to every reader, but I think those who do connect with them will do so with a passion. Several secrets are revealed throughout the book, many not until the final chapter. That makes the ending more of an information dump than a conclusion, but young readers will be happy to have all the juicy details at last.

This is billed as a younger YA book, but it has more of a middle grade feel to me. I would recommend it for both middle and high school libraries. Thank-you to Carolrhoda (Lerner) for the review copy.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Seussical Celebrations!

If you have anything at all to do with the world of children's literature, you would pretty much have to have been in a coma to not know that Dr. Seuss's birthday was this past Saturday. As luck would have it, Saturday was also our library's birthday (113th - no wonder we are so tired!), so we decided to celebrate in Seuss style.
Sky Yates makes our cakes every year, and she always refuses to tell us what it is going to look like beforehand.
But, it's always awesome! I tried to get the Mayor to stop them from cutting into it, but to no avail. There were smaller goodies as well, made by Sky and our FOL President, Nadia Sikes.

Many guests came dressed for the occasion.
Or, tried to dress their parents:
And when I say "many guests", I mean standing-room only!
I tried to get a close-up of this very sweet young lady holding Grandpa's hand, but I got called out of the room.
Staff members who were smarter than I, stationed outside the packed room.
Nadia began the party with a Seuss-style welcome.
Then, Mayor Susie Galea read a special proclamation.
The next hour was interspersed with songs from the musical "Seussical", performed and sung by Earl's Trio.
drawings for door prizes,
awarding of the Adult Reading Challenge prizes,
and, the main attraction, readings of Seuss books by local celebrities:
Hooray for Diffendoofer Day, read by a local college professor.
One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, from our Library Board President.


I am Not Going to Get Up Today, read by a local judge.


That's my Daddy!
A drama professor reading Green Eggs and Ham

And, last but not least, reading the most difficult Dr. Seuss book ever, WITH NO TIME TO PRACTICE, our new police chief.
He rocked it! At the end of the party, he was overwhelmingly voted best reader.
I still think my Daddy was best.
There were a few other readers I didn't get pictures of, and all were great! The entire event was covered live on radio station KUPR

For those who couldn't make the party Saturday, we had a couple other opportunities this week to celebrate all things Seuss. Monday and Wednesday are our usual preschool story times. Normally we read a few books, then do a craft. This week, I set out a few different centers, instead:
To go with Ten Apples Up on Top (a favorite at home), we tried to walk a line while balancing an apple on our head.
This young lady kept practicing, and got REALLY good at it! On a completely unrelated note, I want that cape.
For One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, we graphed colored goldfish crackers.
I got the printable graph from Oopsey Daisy (please read her terms of use if you want to use it, too.)
Kids could either glue their goldfish down, or color the graph and eat the fish. Or, do as L. did: glue the fish down, then lick all the glue off and eat the fish. Grandma was helping him, and when she asked him, "Where does the green one go?" he looked at her like she was mental and put it in his mouth.
Finally, for Fox in Socks, we decorated socks.

Everything is better with sequins!
Tuesday, we held our first ever home school theme day. I have been wanting to do something specifically for our home schoolers ever since I started working here, and when a parent approached me about a Dr. seuss program I decided this was the perfect opportunity to dive in. I tried to come up with activities that different age groups could enjoy, and which would cover different areas of a 'curriculum'. For PE, we had the apple activity:

Why, yes, that IS a walking truffula tree!
And this is just the cutest little Who ever!

For math, we had the fish graphing. To make it more difficult (and more fun) for older kids, rather than sort by hand, they had to flip their fish into labeled cups using plastic spoons. That was a mess, and more fun than practical, but that's just fine!

For language arts I had some writing prompts on the wall, and booklets in Cat-hat shapes.

Before we ever started, I knew who I would see spending the most time here:)
For dramatic play, we had "Green Eggs and Be a Ham" - green plastic Easter eggs, each with a charade clue inside. Kids would pick one and act it out for the rest of their group members to guess.

Crying? Home Alone? Zombie? We need to work on this skill a bit.

Finally, for science: the old stand-by Oobleck, of course! Scientific American has a great step-by-step that guides kids to explore the process, rather than just pouring and mixing. I printed the whole thing out and put it up as my instructions! I'll be visiting them again for future projects.



Oh, dear:
A huge thanks to the mommies who helped clean up the chairs...and table...and floor...and doors...and walls...


This is where home schooling (or any schooling) success shows up: no, not the blue hand. M. made his own Chinese finger trap with the Oobleck - he was carrying this cup around, asking people to put their finger in slowly (which worked just fine), then try to pull it out (stuck!) He took what he had learned, connected it to a time when his mother got stuck in some mud, and then developed something entirely on his own. Well done, M's Mom - as it says it Hooray for Diffendoofer Day, you have taught him how to think!