Thursday, September 29, 2011

Story Time: A is for Alligator

Breaks between programs are nice sometimes, and I usually enjoy the month I take 'off' between Summer Reading and the start of our regular weekly story times. This year, however, the break was more like two months - I had my baby in July, then we transferred to a new automation system in September, and had to close for a couple days, so I waited until that was over to start up again. That was a long time! I was happy to see some of my 'old' little friends this week, and plenty of new shining faces. So happy, I forgot to take pictures!

This year I decided to follow the alphabet again, to give our story times a loose structure. And yes, we go by letters, not phonemes - I understand the logic of doing the latter, but this works best for us. I start off each session with our storytime box (I keep wanting to call it a magic box, but I know some parents might not like that, and I don't want to offend people right off the bat - we can do that later, when we read stories like Good Families Don't!). I explain to the children that the things in the box (plain old cardboard box covered in contac paper) will tell us what we will be reading about today.

First, I pull out a big paper letter. The children tell me what the letter is, we talk about what sound(s) it makes, and I ask if anyone has a name starting with it. Then I pull out 4-6 items starting with that letter, emphasize the sound, maybe tell an anecdote or two about it: "Apple! Apple has the 'a' sound. My family and I picked over a HUNDRED POUNDS of apples this weekend! Has anyone here gone to pick apples yet?" Modeling how to tell stories and letting them tell theirs is just as important as reading from books!

 The last item is usually the subject of our stories. This week it was "alligators", and since I couldn't locate a toy one, and the zoo wouldn't let me borrow theirs, I included a nonfiction book with a good cover picture.

Here is where we usually include sign language - sometimes I do it before we look in the box. We learned the sign for "alligator", then the letter "a" and the sign for "apple". As the weeks go on, we will review the letters previously learned, and sometimes some of the word signs, especially if I can put them together with the new ones.

Now for the meat of the program, the stories. I usually have at least five picked out, but just read 3, depending on the mood/squirminess of the group. This week we read these three, in this order:

Flap Your WingsAlligator Boy       Five Little Monkeys Sitting in a Tree

Before each book of course we discuss the cover and what it tells us (or doesn't - "But this has birds on it! I thought I said we were reading about alligators! Is Miss Ami getting confused? Let's see what's going on here...") Before the Five Little Monkeys book, we recited "Five Little Monkeys Jumping On the Bed", with hand motions.

After the stories, we do a craft. I start off simple at the beginning of the 'year', with pre-cut pieces to assemble:

We actually used googly eyes - you can see the dried glue where these were pulled off. Everyone finishes the craft at his or her own speed, then trickles out to look at books. Except for my child, who tore around the meeting room screaming at the top of her lungs, along with her buddy "X", while his Mommy and I yacked and closed up glue bottles. Hey, even children's librarians need occasional grown-up conversation!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Book Reviews, Divorce, and Wishes - Bigger Than a Breadbox, by Laurel Snyder

Just finished reading this wonderful new offering from Laurel Snyder:

Snyder is the author of Up and Down the Scratchy Mountains, which I loved, Any Which Wall, which I have yet to read, and Penny Dreadful, which I reviewed here. I have been dying to read this one, but we were in an ordering freeze here. Fortunately - and I have a sneaking suspicion Snyder had something to do with this - a copy from the publisher appeared in my box last week. Of course, other things got in the way, and it wasn't until today that I was able to give it a decent amount of time?

Did I say time? I finished it on my lunch break. In my car. With the motor running, knowing my lunch hour was actually over, and I was late, but unable to close up the book, turn off the engine, and get out of the car.

So, we can start by assuming I liked it. Let's go on by looking at why I liked it:

The premise is interesting enough to grab readers right off. Rebecca knows things have been tense between her parents, but she does not expect her mother to suddenly whisk her and her little brother off to another state, to live with their grandmother for an indefinite period of time while Mom "figures things out". In Grandmother's attic, Rebecca finds an old breadbox that has the power to grant wishes - as long as the thing you are wishing for appears in the breadbox.

Rebecca, of course, has read enough books to know that you have to be careful with wishes, and she thinks she is. My younger self would have appreciated this immensely - I hated it when main characters made foolish, obvious mistakes - everybody knows you have to plan your wishes! (Be honest, now, did you start making a careful list in your head when you read the previous paragraph?) Unfortunately, no matter how well thought out things like this appear at first, they have a way of falling apart. Rebecca is appalled when she discovers what she has done (and no, I'm not going to give you any hints as to what that is), and tries to make amends.

Which brings us to the character of Rebecca. Snyder has always been very good at building characters we can relate to, and she only gets better with each book. Rebecca is spot-on real for her age and situation. She isn't perfect, sometimes reacts out of anger and typical twelve-year-old self-absorbtion, but is basically a kind and caring person. This would be enough to make readers care about what happens to her, but somehow Snyder manages to take us from caring about her to feeling like we ARE her - like what is happening to her is hapening to us at the same time. That is a rare gift, and a little bit of magic in itself.

While in Penny Dreadful some of the secondary characters weren't as fleshed out, we quickly get a strong sense of Rebecca's parents, brother and grandmother (and that awful school secretary - ugh!). Part of this, I think, is that we are privy to some scenes with her parents that involve some very strong emotions. Which brings us around again to the plot.

Besides being a book about magic, this is a book about divorce, and the many ways it can affect a child. As Snyder says on her blog, "’s like there’s this acceptable range of emotion–sad but not too sad.  Weird, right?" That's a good description of the book as a whole - sad (yes, you made me cry again Ms. Snyder), but not too sad. A difficult balance to achieve with the subject matter, but when that balance is there, we librarians can hand the book off to a wide variety of patrons with no reservations.

Every divorce is different. Every child is different. Sometimes - often, really - good things can come out of a bad situation if we let them. Of course, we (both kids and adults) then feel guilty about enjoying the good things. There are certain ways you are SUPPOSED to feel, and if you don't feel that way, then, well, theree is something wrong with you.

I remember when I was very young - 3rd grade, I believe - and my parents sat my brother and I down to tell us they were getting a divorce. They assured us that it had nothing to do with us, that they both still loved us, etc., etc., and asked if we had any questions. My brother asked if we would have to move, I asked if we could still keep the dogs (because, in the books I read, if you moved you inevitably had to leave a beloved pet behind). They answered, er, no...and no. Then we asked if we could go play.

That was it, I'm afraid. No sobbing in our rooms, no feeling of impending doom. Our immediate fears were quickly relieved, so we were good to go. I remember going to school the next day and sharing the news, happy to have something that made me special for the day. My parents did something very unusual for the first few months: instead of my brother and I getting shuttled back and forth, they rented an apartment 'in town', and they took turns living with us. Our rooms, school, etc. stayed the same, and it was always a little bit exciting to 'visit' the other parent at the apartment, although I don't ever remember spending the night there.

Throughout the years, people would occasionally try to make out that we must have been traumatized by the divorce in some way, which would always, pardon my French, p*** me off. Nobody, especially an adolescent girl, likes to be told how they are feeling! I certainly think the divorce and eventual remarriages must have shaped my life in different ways, just as any family changes will. Whether it was all a good or bad shaping would be impossible to say. It is rare that we can point to one part of our personality and trace it to a specific event or person in our lives.

Snyder is quick to point out that, while parts of this book were built out of her own experiences, it's not an exact match. On her blog, she asks if others would be interested in sharing their own memories of their parents' divorce. Or their friends' parents' divorce. Or their wish that their parents would divorce. (A recent discussion among bloggers dissolved from wishing for a divorce into confessions of wishing for glasses or braces or broken bones, either because everyone else had them or because they would set you apart!) You can read some of the responses and perhaps add your own right here. I just did!

Friday, September 16, 2011

This is what happens...

...when you give the child fudge just before bedtime.

Chocolate makes her growl. Every time. Great news, as I hear there is going to be a chocolate fountain at the birthday party we are attending Saturday. If you hear of a mountain lion roaming a Las Cruces neighborhood later, don't worry, it was probably just S.

For her birthday party this January, btw, we are requesting empty boxes. Or metal pots. Or plastic funnels. Those make the best toys.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Up Close and Gross Series Review - written by Ruth Owen, Published by Bearport.

Excuse me while I scratch. I suddenly itch. Everywhere. I don't have lice. Or bedbugs. Or eyelash mites. But I itch.

Actually, according to these books, I wouldn't know it if I had eyelash mites, but I'm pretending I didn't read that part, because it just makes me itch more. And, if you can get past the psychosomatic physical reaction to these cover photos, these are really entertaining books. Huge, colorful, many-times-magnified photos of hookworms and dust mites will grab the attention of any reluctant reader, and the text is just the right amount of information to keep that attention while imparting some useful information. A good addition to any elementary library or classroom, or a great gift for any youngster whose mother isn't squeamish. Or itchy.

This series also includes the titles "Creepy Backyard Invaders" and "Disgusting Food Invaders", but I am not reviewing those, because I am on my way to go pick up a pizza, and I don't want to know what could be anywhere near it.

Friday, September 9, 2011


Okay, we have all had bad experiences at Walmart, and you can find a million posts on the internet about issues with the corporation - but you gotta love the associates. 99% are polite and helpful (and it's not their fault if there aren't enough of them scheduled that we can actually find them when we need them). They remember my kids and ask about them if I dare to go in alone. I've even had some help me when they were supposed to be on break.

Today I went in with a PO to get some craft supplies for the Library. Things like craft materials and prizes have to be paid for with donated funds, not city tax money, because they are given away. That makes me even more of a cheapskate than I normally am, because I'm the one who has to go begging for those donations all year.

As I scooped up some glue and washable (always washable!) markers, I noticed three associates stocking the shelves with clearance school supplies. The pocket folders we use for SRP - 2 cents each! Score! Red and blue plastic pencil boxes, which little kids especially seem to love, 5 cents each. Double score! Don't run out to get yours, though - I immediately bought them all. As I was filling my cart, someone asked if I was opening a school, and I explained about summer reading, blah, blah. One of the associates walked away.

And came back with $50 cash. Her own money. She gave it to me, over my protests, and told me to buy more prizes for the kids with it.

Now, how many Walmart associates do you know who make enough to give away $50 on a regular basis? I'm going to say none. You can bet I let a manager know - and everyone else I have seen since then! Her $50 paid for the boxes, folders, markers and glue. I am tossing around different ideas for the 200 or so pencil boxes - they may just go into the prize bin, but I have some other ideas too. Now I just have to figure out where to store them all...

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Mini Reviews - Children's Books from Lerner Publishing

The History Speaks series from Lerner is an interesting concept:

Enrique Esparza and the Battle of the Alamo
Ellen Craft's Escape from Slavery
    Each starts out with a picture book story based on an actual event in history, but then the story is broken down into a reader's theatre script. Along with author's notes, glossary, pronunciation guide, realted web sites, etc., these would be a great addition to a classroom, IF - and there's just no nice way to say this - they were written well. The stories in the two I read were stilted and dull. They put me in mind of very old school readers with moralistic stories. A shame, because the topics themselves are interesting - I had never heard of the Crafts, and another one in the series (President Lincoln, Willie Kettles, and the Telegraph Machine) has me googling to see what that's all about. I expect more from Lerner.

A much better offering is Sarah Emma Edmonds was a Great Pretender, by Carrie Jones.

The illustrations by Mark Oldroyd are interesting - if I hadn't read Why Gender Matters recently, I might not have noticed it, but they are mostly done in colors that attract boys' attention. The main character, of course, is a female, but she is at times disguised as a boy...or as a boy disguised as a girl...or as a white man disguised as a black woman disguised as...wait, I got lost. Jones, however, manages to relate all Edmonds' twists and turns in a manner that young readers can follow. I think this one will appeal to both boys and girls in the elementary grades.

A note on the cover, since I only have a picture of the front (doesn't the face make you think of a Steven Kellogg illustration?): the back cover shows the back view of Edmonds, dressed in a skirt under the military jacket, with parasol in one hand as her fingers are crossed in the other. Cute, very fitting idea for this book.

And, back to one I didn't like:

In this largely worldess picture book, a young girl goes out to play in the mud after a rain. A strange blobby creature emerges and invites her to become the queen of people. Whether he calls his fellow blobs the mud people or something completely different is unknown, because he speaks entirely in mud splotches, and we have to extrapolate what is said.

This is one of those stories adults look at and pronounce adorable and clever and brilliant, while kids...lose interest five pages in. My 5yo hated it. He's a picture kind of guy, but he did not like having to figure the story out through the wordless middle, and as a beginning reader was beyond annoyed with the mud splotches. Here at the library I've had similar reactions - one little girl did like talking about the pictures and making up the story, but didn't like the pictures themselves very much - knowing her, I'd say it was the lack of color. Of course, mud is brown, and I wouldn't suggest changing that, I'm just saying it doesn't seem to attract kids the way some of Gammell's other books (Monster Mama, Timothy Cox Will Not Change His Socks) have.

Finally, swinging back the other way, we have a book with great illustrations:

Definitely a girlie book (yes, I'm stereotyping today), with beautiful pictures by Holly Clifton-Brown (think Annie Hoot and the Knitting Extravaganza). Young ladies will enjoy just looking at the pictures, picking out all the details - and spotting the young man who is never mentioned, but obviously quite smitten with our heroine. Not as funny as Stephanie's Ponytail by Robert Munsch, which follows the same theme of originality, but a fun read-aloud - just practice beforehand to get the rhythm down.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Weekend in Review

Three day weekends always seem to start off with such great plans, don't they? We did accomplish a few things. I got to cook a few meals and eat them that same day (as opposed to spending one day cooking and freezing and then heating things up for the rest of the month. Or, as happens more often, forgetting to get the meals I made out of the freezer in time to heat them up, and having sandwiches or picking up a pizza instead.)

We even had one meal harvested from the garden. That pretty much took all day. First I dumped the big tubs I have been growing potatoes in, and S. and C. helped me sift through the dirt. In retrospect, I probably should have done that BEFORE I gave C. a bath. Oh, well.

While we had fun, the results were a little disappointing:

This is all we got from two big plastic tubs. I planted them months ago, faithfully added dirt as they grew, and watered them regularly. I waited patiently as the greens bushed out and then died off, and I got...enough for a couple french fries. Next year I'll try the straw method, so I can at least SEE if I am wasting my time.

On to the garden, to sift through the dirt where I had planted onions - and got, if you will recall, a potato plant and some sort of squash. This is what I got from the potato plant that I did not actually plant, and gave absolutley no attention or care to all summer:

Is anyone surprised?

We did find lots of onions - small, but potent. I rinsed and chopped them under running water, but my eyes still stung so badly I ended up with a piercing headache by the time I was done! I sliced up the potatoes and fried them in butter with some of the onions and some lemon pepper sauce. Yum! Paired with sauteed strips of leftover round steak. S. ate all of hers, as well as part of mine, Daddy's, and M.'s. That's my little carnivore! I go through spurts of wanting to stock up the pantry and freezer, and wanting to use only what we already have so nothing gets old. Last month I stocked up, this month I'm being miserly. That can make for some interesting meals towards the end of the month, so stay tuned.

M. made fudge, so...we've also been eating a lot of fudge.

It's really good fudge. You can never have too much of a really good fudge.

Okay, maybe it is possible to have too much.

I didn't want to spend the whole weekend doing chores, so I tried to alternate a house thing (sorting out the closet) with  a kid thing - going for a walk, or just hanging out and playing.

Way better than laundry.

We are continuing C.'s letter books, although we got a little behind due to illness. This afternoon we looked for "F" words while S. took a nap.

Big thanks to the neighbors for decorating their yards accordingly! Actually, these neighbors just sold their house...I wonder if this is mentioned in the sales contract, or if we could talk it into our yard...

It was M's turn to pick a movie this weekend, and she chose "Stick It".

Stick It

Cute movie, PG-13 - not sure why, there isn't anything sexual, and I can't recall any swearing*. That's not to say there wasn't any, but if there was it didn't stand out or make me cringe. Believable? No, but who cares - it was funny, the good guys won (sort of), and we all enjoyed it. Lots of good one-liners. If you are expecting 90 minutes of great gymnastics feats, you will be disappointed, although there were enough that we kept trying to cover S.'s eyes. She is now eyeing L.'s bouncy seat like it would make an excellent springboard. For dinner we had spaghetti  because...gymnasts are spaghetti...and because that's all I could think of. (Next week I'm picking "Parenthood" - what do we eat for that???)

*Okay, M. googled and found it was PG-13 because of "crude remarks". Hmmm-kay. Oh, and this isn't that old, but I had to get a copy off Ebay, because Hastings couldn't even order it.

So, back to work tomorrow. Hopefully, the raw sewage smell has dissipated by now. But, that's another story.