Thursday, September 29, 2016

I Don't Wanna Story Time

We have done bedtime and bath time and sharing story times, and the attraction to those stories always seems to be the universal theme of kids not wanting to do what parents want them to. We decided to put them all together and title our story time, "I Don't Wanna!"

Our pre-reading focus of the week was Narrative Skills, so I started off talking about how we always start off talking about things! I tell he kids about my weekend, and they tell me things. Yes, it gets us focused while people are trickling in, but there is another purpose to it - getting that beginning/middle/end order straight. I told them about our family picture attempts this weekend, when my 2yo absolutely REFUSED to be anywhere but in my arms, with his head buried in my shoulder. I can't wait to see all the fabulous pictures of...the back of his head. None of my story time listeners are ever stubborn like that, are they? Refusing to do what Mommy needs them to do? Of COURSE not!

Well then, who better than our old friend Pigeon to illustrate stubbornness?

Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!

Monday I had a set of siblings sitting down front, and big sister was adamant that Pigeon was NOT getting any extra time - she's tough!

Next up - a favorite in my house:

Boy Who Wouldn't Share

Finally, one off the New Books shelf:

Dragon Was Terrible

This dragon is AWFUL! He belches in church, he steals candy from baby unicorns...several groups, promised a wonderful gift from the king as a reward, try to conquer him, with humorous results. Finally a clever boy (because there is always a clever boy or girl) lures dragon in and calms him with a story - of course! His reward? A dragon friend, naturally (the king is very thrifty, but he is a man of his word.)

Everybody needs their own dragon friend, right? For our craft, we made one to take home:

I used this paper bag puppet template from Create in the Chaos. Some kids (and moms) cut out scraps to make lower jaws, fangs, etc., all on their own. I LOVE when they think outside the box!

Some alternate titles I had on hand, but did not end up reading this time:

Waiting Is Not Easy! (An Elephant and Piggie Book)


The Mine-O-Saur
currently out of print

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Review: Don't Call Me Grandma, by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, Illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

I met Nelson many years ago, when she was a children's librarian up north of us, about to publish Almost to Freedom. Librarians/teachers/bloggers, you know how it is - you meet someone at a conference, Walmart, wherever, and someone tells you, "you know, she just wrote a children's book!" and you smile politely and try to extricate yourself from the conversation, because you have already suffered through so many horrible self-published works.

Well. I don't think I have to tell you that there is nothing remotely horrible about Nelson's books (Bad News for Outlaws is my personal favorite). I will always wish I had extended that particular conversation, but it serves me right.

Nelson has since penned everything from picture books to junior readers to chapter books to young adult, and now back to picture books:

Don't Call Me Grandma

Nell isn't your typical great-grandmother. But in the course of this picture book from Coretta Scott King Award-winning author Vaunda Michaux Nelson, a young girl finds a way to express her affection for this prickly, independent woman.

I had to look Zunon, the illustrator, up right away because I liked the pictures so much. The title page spread is a dresser covered with fancy perfume and powder boxes, which immediately brought back memories one of my great-grandmothers. I was very small when we would go by her house to clean and cook a little, but I vividly remember those old, fancy perfume bottles (and all the china dogs!)

Great-Grandmother Nell is much more glamorous - and a great deal more stern - than either of the ones I remember, but our narrator wouldn't have her any other way. Tidbits of history, from movie prices to race relations, are sprinkled through the brief but full text. A wonderful book to savor, or to use as a conversation starter.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

While spring is my favorite season, most of my favorite events happen in fall. Talk Like a Pirate Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas (any time you can dress up AND eat lots of food is a happy time.) And...Cybils!

If you have never heard of the Cybils Awards, go here or here for an overview. Basically, it is an award (or several, actually) given to the best books every year for kids and young adults. And by "best", I mean well-written AND something kids will actually want to read! Take note, publishers: if a book is nominated, I will at least take a look at it. If it makes the short list for its category, I will definitely order it - and can pretty much guarantee it will never end up on my weed list for low circulation (can't say the same for many other award winners.)

One of the many neat things about he Cybils is that ANYBODY can nominate a book - you don't have to be published by one of the big names to get noticed! Heck, even your mother can nominate your book - or, you can just nominate it yourself! That doesn't mean you will win, but it does mean that judges (who are bloggers, librarians, and authors) will at least be giving it a look.

And who exactly are these judges? Well, this year, one of them is yours truly. Many years back, when Sheridan was a wee babe, I was on the first round panel for Young Adult Fiction. I had a BLAST, read some wonderful (and some not-so-wonderful) books, and met some really awesome people I am still in contact with today. Then Logan came along, then Shane, then Grace, and...well, things got a bit too busy to be reading 87 novels in two months.

Shane is two now, though, and he can make his own meals (as long as its just cereal and fruit). I am thrilled to be part of this year's Fiction Picture Books panel, and ready to start checking out titles - with my very own built-in min-panel at home. I'm also excited to get to know my fellow judges, and happy to see a friend and fellow librarian on the same panel (Hi Jennifer!) 

Here's where you come in - fill my schedule! Start thinking about books you would like to nominate, and go to between October 1 and 15 to enter them. Rules are pretty simple and can be found here. Then come back and let me know what you are nominating, so I can get a head start on my reading!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Review: The Toth Farey by Sheridan Jones

I found this nicely bound book on my computer keyboard. A strange way for me to receive books to review, but that just made it more worth a glance.

The story starts off with a sweet scene of Mommy reading to her daughter, and both of them telling each other they love them.

I would love to say that Mommy was me, but I never wear a dress, and last I checked I only had two feet.

Suddenly, the daughter doubles in size AND loses a tooth!

Mommy is so shocked at how fast her child is growing (something many readers can relate to), she loses her grip on both her book and her clothing.

Daughter is pleased by the tooth loss, and uses her Mrs. Incredible stretchy arms to carefully place it under her pillow.

Then she removes her hair, climbs under her see-through blanket, and is soon fast asleep. The Toth Farey, resplendent in fluffy cape, arrives promptly (okay, so very definitely NOT my house.)

Off she flies with the tooth - but, did she leave a little something?

Daughter seems happy...

Paper money! Much better than a measley quarter! Mommy appears stunned.

The story ends with hipster Mommy declaring it "cool", while daughter goes with "Isn't it amazing?"

This Mommy has to agree.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Toddler STEM: Buried Treasure

This year we decided to intersperse our early literacy story times with some early science explorations. In other words, we decided to make some grand messes! 

Since today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day, what better way to start off than with buried treasure? We had dirt:

Corn cob pellets:

Shredded paper:

Sliced pool noodles:

And cloud dough:

Before we began, I was actually a little nervous that it wasn't messy enough! I wanted the kids to have fun, and I guess I am so used to the disasters my own create, I wasn't sure this would be 'impressive' enough - but, at the same time, I needed to ease in to the really spectacular messes. 

They didn't seem to be disappointed!

We had magnifying glasses to check out the different types of dirt, or to decipher the print from the paper shredder.

The cloud dough was a huge hit - one parent even commented that she couldn't stop running her fingers through it, and many people asked for the 'recipe'.

The pool noodles were the first to be sat in.

Eventually kids were in every single pool, except the dirt one, which really surprised me!

 We found out that if you put dirt in water, some of it floats and some sinks, but all the corn cob pellets float.

Cloud dough packs really well.

It is also very slippery! Next time I think I will recommend removing shoes - no falls this time, but I know I will be the first to end up on my derrier.

I posted a few open-ended questions ("What would happen if you...") and tips ("Sometimes we learn more by finding out what WON'T work."), but mostly just let them 'have at it'. The kids really needed no instruction, and a few had to be bodily carried away when it was time to go. I promise we will do it again, guys!  Stay tuned for next month's pumpkin themed (and slightly gooier) fun!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Opposites Story Time

This week we combined a little early science with our early literacy, and focused on opposites. As I told parents, this is a concept that can take a little time and practice, and they shouldn't fret if their child doesn't 'get it' right away. I wanted to use this story time to demonstrate different ways we can introduce and reinforce the idea and have fun at the same time.

We started off talking about how very HOT it was this summer, and then solicited the opposite. "What about happy? Let's see your happy faces! You just got a bowl of ice cream, what does your face look like? Okay, so what would the opposite of happy be?" I was so pleased to hear both "mad" and "sad", because that segued into talking about how more than one word can work, as well as emphasizing our pre-reading skill this week of vocabulary.

Next we read:

Fortunately, Unfortunately

There's some new vocabulary right there in the title! A silly story the kids and grown-ups both seemed to enjoy, and if the kids are into it, you can ask them where they think the story will go next.

Speaking of next:

Opposnakes: A Lift-the-Flap Book About Opposites

One of the few lift-the-flaps I keep in our collection (and, in fact, I just had to get a new copy.) Fun illustrations of snakes demonstrating opposites from hot and cold to thin and plump. Again, great opportunity for vocabulary building, since most kids will say "fat" rather than plump. What other words can we use? Thick? Stout?

Finally, I wanted to introduce the idea of relativity. "Someone might call this young lady a little girl, but next to that girl over there, she is a big girl! So, which are you, a little girl, or a big girl?" (I'll bet you can guess her answer.) That led into one of our newer books:

Big Bug
$14.99 HC

It's not a NEW book, mind you (c 2014), but new to our library. The bug on the cover is big, but compared to the leaf, it is small, and the leaf is big! Or, is it?

I didn't do a rhyme or finger play because we had several activities planned, but Jack and Jill comes to mind, as well as the Hokey Pokey. You could also play In the Pond, Out of the Pond, and get some wiggles out!

We moved instead to a simple craft - blank piece of paper with suggestions for labeling (good or bad, like or dislike, etc.) and magazines to cut up. Both days, I was pleased to see all the kids filling up their 'like' sides, and just a few pictures of napping or pollution on the 'dislike' sides. (Lemons also made a few appearances under 'dislike').

Around two sides of the room I also had simple sorting centers like this one:

We also had big and small pom-poms, long and short strings, hard and soft, black and white, round and square, etc. I encouraged talking about them, saying there are not necessarily right and wrong answers - this string is longer than that one, but shorter than the other, so where does it go? What if we put them in order first? The Q-tip is soft on the ends but hard in the middle, where does it go?

So much fun! I can't wait until next week, when we go full-on science with our buried treasure program!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Review: Whose Hands are These? by Miranda Paul and Luciana Navarro Powell

Whose Hands Are These?

Interactive books for the win, this year. As I mentioned before, whenever I read a new picture book, whether fiction or nonfiction, its suitability for story time is always at the front of my mind. I have been very pleased with the number of books published recently that fit into that mold!

This one could fit in nicely with a story time about careers or community helpers. Rhyming text and pictures give easy to follow clues as to each person's job - farmer, potter, news reporter, etc. The answering line comes after you turn the page, which lends well to predicting and audience participation. Busy illustrations include a variety of skin colors and avoid gender stereotypes. At the end, children are asked what THEIR hands might do, and the illustration is of children in a classroom dressed as the adults in the preceding pages.

Unfortunately, there is one line that will probably prevent me from using this in a story time myself. In the spread covering police officers, the words star out positive ("These hands help us keep the peace"), but end with, "Hold yours up, it's the police!" we really want children to associate police with someone about to arrest them?? Especially in the aftermath of losing a local police officer, and with all the conflicts in the news, I don't think I will be presenting this one out loud. 

Of course, reader's prerogative - you could change the line to something like, "let's give a hand to...the police!" What other substitutions can you come up with?

Friday, September 9, 2016

Farm Animals Story Time

***This is the first of what I hope will be several Story Time plans, in an attempt to share with all the fellow librarians who have so generously shared their ideas with me!

We kicked off our fall story times with farm animals this year - mainly because I wanted to read Moo! by David LaRochelle.


Before the stories we talked about my expectations for kids and adults, and what we will be doing a little differently this year (more on that in later posts). One thing I am trying to do is incorporate more traditional songs and stories, and what better song for this theme than Old McDonald Had a Farm?

To help, I put together a simple paper bag barn with animals. I asked the kids what animals they might see on a farm, and what sounds they made, then we sang the song with whatever animals I pulled out of the bag.

The printable I used for the animals comes from Ideas for Early Childhood. (I whited out the chick, because it was too small for my purposes.) The barn template is from Get Coloring Pages. (I enlarged slightly and cut off the weather vane.)

Of course, animal sounds segued nicely into the reading of Moo!. If you haven't read it, the entire book has just the one word (with a small twist at the end), so inflection is everything. It is SO much fun to read aloud, and the kids love it. In fact, this group loved it so much, they immediately insisted I read it again! (And I did, with their help). I can tell I am going to have a lot of fun with this year's crew.

Hey, we've talked about what the animals say, but what about the farmer? What does he do and say? Our next story was

Oh, Crumps!
$7.95 PB

The poor farmer, all he wants to do is get some sleep before his full day of work tomorrow, but the kids animals keep waking him up! The parents in the room could certainly identify with his mounting fatigue and confusion - was he going to mow the cow, or climb it? - and the repetitive structure made it easy for kids to chime in. For props I also had a cookie sheet and magnetized pictures of the cow, silo, fence, and hay, along with pictures of a hammer to fix the cow, a bottle to milk the silo, a tractor to mow the fence, and a ladder to climb the Fortunately, I had one young man who insisted on putting all the pictures back where they go when we were all done. I have found my kindred ocd spirit!

Finally, we circled back to our song with

Young McDonald
(currently out of print)

Young MacDonald has built a machine to combine animals, making creatures such as the "cowl" - with a "HooMoo here and a HooMoo there. Here a Hoo, there a Moo..." Talk about a tongue twister! My new little friend kept asking "What about the dog?", until finally the cat pushed a button while the boy was setting that dog into place, and we got...a Bog! He really liked the idea of combining animals, and had his own opinions about how that should go.

This segued nicely into our craft, which was making our own paper bag farm and animals. At least one family switched heads on their animals after coloring them, which was awesome! They were having fun with our

Pre-reading Skill Focus: Of course, most story times will use work to develop all pre-reading skills, but using Young McDonald means this one works especially well with Phonological Awareness. Encourage kids and parents to see what other words they can combine to make up new words. This helps kids focus on the parts of words, finding places to split and combine them. In addition to animals, you can make up words for feelings ("I'm silappy" could mean you are both happy and silly). I had a handout available with some phonological awareness activities, and another one for activities to go with "Little Boy Blue", which continued with the farm theme.

A great beginning to our school year, I can't wait to see what the kids surprise me with next!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Author Interview: the Very Groovy Eric Litwin!

Last week I had the privilege of speaking with Eric Litwin, author of the first four Pete the Cat books, the Nut Family series, and now the new Groovy Joe books. I spoke with Eric once before, last fall.

In that blog post we spoke about his experience as a teacher, and how that shapes his writing. He told me he discovered early on that approximately a third of his students were not on grade level, or simply didn't like reading. Something needed to change. Rather than rely on phonics and sight words alone, Litwin started adding music and movement to reading lessons, and saw things begin to click with his students.

Twelve months after that interview, Litwin is still passionate about using a variety of tools to teach kids to read, saying, "I see my books as launch pads." His books include limited vocabulary, call and response, rhythm and rhyme, repetition - things that enable all children to decode, "offering many roads to success".

These elements also make them great read-alouds, which of course is a huge draw to teachers and librarians alike! Litwin told me his books are written as performance pieces. "The performance aspect generated because I realized these things were good for the emergent reader." Each book is a year or two in the making, with Litwin telling it a hundred times or more in front of live audiences, getting everything just right.

For Groovy Joe, illustrator Tom Lichtenheld attended one of the later performances, noting where Litwin paused and where students chimed in. This in turn affected the page breaks - giving listeners a chance to jump ahead of the reader and shout out, "a spoon!" We know predicting is an important reading skill, and any time kids feel like they figured something out before the grown-up, they are going to be engaged and excited!

The next Groovy Joe title, Disco Party Bow-Wow, is slated for release in Fall of 2017, and Litwin played a bit of the song for me. He describes it as "ABBA-esque", which I know will make my 6yo dancing queen very happy. As in every Groovy Joe book, Joe will face an obstacle, he will stay positive about it, and of course he will sing about it! In this title there will even be some simple math to stretch the listeners' brains and - again - give them a chance to 'beat' the reader to the next line.

Joe is also available in Spanish. I was curious about how the translating was done, as when I lived in Ukraine I saw some truly horrible (and often hilarious) word-for-word translations. Litwin called it a very interesting process, pointing out that the Spanish language can differ from country to country, and even region to region, making a word like "groovy" less than universal. After much thought and research, we have:

José el Chévere: Helado y dinosaurios (José el Chévere #1)

The Nut Family will also be back with a Spring 2017 release, The Nuts: Keep Rolling.

The Nuts: Keep Rolling!
$17.99, April 2017

I'll just tell you there is mud involved, which will again make said dancing queen happy. When I interviewed Litwin last year, he told me The Nuts: Sing and Dance in Your Polka Dot Pants was "probably the best book I have ever written." I asked him where that put Groovy Joe. He paused for a moment (he does not pause often, btw, so if you ever interview him, have a tape recorder ready), and told me "I try not compare my books to each other in a better or worse way. So I don't really have a favorite. But I do feel genuine excitement when a new book is written and goes out into the world."

The Nut Family books are a little more complex, with more words. Feedback from teachers and reviewers was mixed. The stories were fun, but not as instantly catchy as Pete. While the basic message was positive, with a positive outcome, some weren't crazy about the response of "not a chance". As a sometimes too-busy Mom, I noted the guilt feeling too. Litwin took that into account, and readers will be much happier with the repeated phrase "keep rolling". 

We had loads of fun with the Polka Dot Pants Dance Contest, so we were happy to hear Groovy Joe will be holding his own contest in February. In the meantime, Scholastic has a drawing contest (deadline November 1) for kids to enter, as well as a contest for grown-ups who are running book fairs. (2,000 Scholastic dollars? Yes, please!)

As Pete says, It's all good!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Review: Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson

I try not to read other reviews of a book before I read and review it myself, but this one came across my radar several times before it appeared in my TBR pile.

Ms. Bixby's Last Day
$16.99 HC

Everyone knows there are different kinds of teachers. The boring ones, the mean ones, the ones who try too hard, the ones who stopped trying long ago. The ones you’ll never remember, and the ones you want to forget. Ms. Bixby is none of these. She’s the sort of teacher who makes you feel like school is somehow worthwhile. Who recognizes something in you that sometimes you don’t even see in yourself. Who you never want to disappoint. What Ms. Bixby is, is one of a kind.
Topher, Brand, and Steve know this better than anyone. And so when Ms. Bixby unexpectedly announces that she won’t be able to finish the school year, they come up with a risky plan—more of a quest, really—to give Ms. Bixby the last day she deserves. Through the three very different stories they tell, we begin to understand what Ms. Bixby means to each of them—and what the three of them mean to each other.

Any time the big name reviewers rave about a feel-good story, I approach it with some trepidation, hardening myself against too much schmaltz. 

The folders. The folders in her desk. Okay, Anderson, you got me. Sniffle.

Backing up a bit: any time an author can carry off writing in different voices, my hat is off to them. Here we have three boys, all the same age, telling the story in alternating chapters. Anderson could have fallen into a trope of using different vernacular to help differentiate, but the truth is, three boys who hang out together are probably going to talk much the same. Being the same age, with similar interests, their inner monologue (which we see a lot of) is going to be similar as well. Anderson still manages to make each a distinct personality, so it never gets confusing. 

The three are embarked on the same quest of course, for reasons that are as different as they are similar. Being preteen boys (if I may stereotype a bit here myself), their quest goes continually awry, but thanks to the things Ms. Bixby has taught them, as well as their own strengths, they find a kind of success. 

(And then I bawl my eyes out.)

This would be a fantastic book to read out loud with a class - if you are brave enough to be compared with the perfect teacher! Adages from famous philosophers and Ms. Bixby herself are peppered through the book, offering an obvious discussion/writing extension. Some other wonderful lines:

"We're not like peas in a pod or anything. But sometimes you just need a place to sit and eat lunch." - Brand

"I suppose there is some strange comfort in it - this idea that the numbers are sometimes wrong, that there are still mysteries in the universe, and that you don't always have to know why you do the things you do. Sometimes, despite all evidence to the contrary, things can go your way." - Steven

"I hear that alcohol makes people do strange things, but I always assumed you had to drink it first." - Topher

See? Three distinct personalities, with very different back stories, and one remarkable teacher. Is she too good to be true? Maybe, maybe not (a certain 4th grade teacher comes to mind), but it doesn't matter. She and the boys all demonstrate the power a few kind words can have, as well as the power we have to  just be more or better versions of ourselves. Afraid I will have to agree with the reviewers on this one, and encourage you to put it on your must-have list!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Review: Groovy Joe - Ice Cream and Dinosaurs, by Eric Litwin

In the beginning, there was Pete the Cat
and he loved his white shoes
and it was good.

Oh, the critics didn't think it was good, but what do critics know? The children and the teachers knew better.

Then there were Pete's buttons, and his school shoes, and last but not least, Christmas. And it was all good.

But some changes came to Pete, and there was sorrow in the land.

But lo! There came the Nut Family!

And they were good, in their own right - but something was still missing.

Until now.

Introducing Groovy Joe! Everything you loved about the original Pete the Cat; the humor, the cadence, the personality, the instant I-must-use-this-in-a-story-time, all with a scruffy goatee (illustrated by none other than Tom Lichtenheld, who has also illustrated books by...well, just about everybody.)

I stopped and read the first pages aloud to my coworkers before I even got to the rest of it myself: "Groovy Joe saw something yummy. Groovy Joe started rubbing his tummy. Groovy Joe was living the dream. He had a spoon and a tub of doggy ice cream." Obviously, Groovy Joe has the right priorities in life. And can you feel the rhythm already? I want to tap my hand or foot as I'm reading it.

My first real test audience was two brothers, around 5 and 7, who were in looking for Pete the Cat books. I read Groovy Joe out loud to them, and right away they were predicting, saying lines with me, singing the chorus, and even dancing with me a little at the end. Nailed it! All those pre-reading and reading skills that teachers and librarians obsess over?

- phonemic awareness? check!
- vocabulary? check!
- narrative skills? check!
- making inferences? check!
- predicting? check!
- text clues for expression? check!
- print motivation? check and check!

True to Litwin's interest in early literacy and music, there are also numerous resources for readers and teachers alike on his web site and over at Scholastic. Remember the Polka Dot Pants Dance? Music for the Groovy Dance is already up, with a video coming soon...and what's this about a contest in the future??

Lichtenheld's illustrations bring the story to life, with a sense of fun and whimsy that match Litwin's writing perfectly. (Chipmunk in shades playing a spoon. Must. make. reappearance. in future books.)

Because there will be future books, hopefully many!

And there was much rejoicing in the land*.

*Srsly folks. Librarian sites going crazy right now.

Stay tuned for an interview with Eric Litwin, including news about his upcoming titles, dance contest, and more!

***This book has been nominated for the Cybils Awards, and I am a first-round panelist in this category. There are many other panelists, and many MANY other great nominees, so a good or bad review here does not necessarily predict placement on the shortlist.