Friday, May 30, 2014

A Summer to Shine

Every summer is a good summer for libraries to educate and entertain, but this is really our year.

Science education in our schools has been abysmal for years, despite call after call to action.  Affordable and accessible STEM programming remains a vague hope in most systems and communities.*  So this is it, folks, a summer to demonstrate the library's role as a center for creative, meaningful, amazing educational experiences that changes lives.   This is our summer to give kids sensory, hands on experiences; to challenge them to ask hard questions and take risks; to problem-solve, research, and evaluate.  This is our summer to take the "worksheet blues" out of science education and give them something that blows their minds and makes them want more.  Fizz! Boom! Read! is our summer to shine.

This is the summer to bring as many speakers and presenters into your building as possible.  As librarians we excel at learning new things, but nothing is going to take the place of a professional who lives and breathes science every day.  Of course there are museum curators, forest rangers, engineers, and university professors, but there are also pharmacists, nurses, family doctors, master gardeners, bee keepers, vets, lab assistants, chefs, and mechanics.  Even an engineering undergrad home for the summer can probably infuse your normally self-directed lego-club with so much theory, practice, and obsession that kids will never forget it (and what engineer wouldn't want to go play legos for an hour, as if you even need to be nervous about asking).  Professionals can get well beyond the surface of those science fair 101 experiments and projects that we'll all be looking up.  A professional scientist will ask challenging questions, invite hard questions, tell stories, and they will exude an honest and contagious enthusiasm.  Whether they are parents and patrons, neighbors, or representatives from local organizations they will take your programming to another level and give your patrons some serious bang for their time and effort in coming to the library.

When looking for programs and programmers remember that science has many uses and many personalities.  Engage a diverse audience with programming about machines or robots, medicinal plants, animals, bridge-building, art preservation, or cooking just to name a few of the possibilities.  Every child should be able to leave your library knowing that science is a part of their interests, and feeling excited about it.

This is the summer to motivate repeat visits.  Some science experiments are instant reward and others are make-and-takes, but a lot of them take time and regular observation.  From watching crystals or seeds grow, to observing pill bug habits, this is a summer to keep young patrons and their families coming back again and again to "make observations."  Perhaps kids/families can record their observations on a public bulletin board chart.  Perhaps they can digitally share their observations on a facebook page or blog.  Some patrons might even be trusted with weekly jobs or tasks that are important to the project.  Part of improving science education is "encourag(ing) young people to create and build and invent, to be makers of things, not just consumers of things"*  This is also the perfect summer to encourage collaboration!

Problem -solving and collaboration are the name of the game for science.  Some of you will feel comfortable throwing competition into that, too.  Describe a crazy hard problem and have a prize for anyone who elaborates a viable solution.  Or create a competition.  Mobilize your book clubs, advisory councils, or a whole new group to work on the problem and create a solution.  Host a face-off (don't forget the refreshments) and get some of those speakers to articulate a judging strategy and name a winner.  

And as a parent, please, please, please have your recipe for galaxy slime or procedures for extracting DNA from a strawberry printed out or available on the web for me to look at again when I get home so that we can have fun again and again.

As a parent of a school age child, I am so excited about a summer during which she can potentially learn more science than she will all year in school.  I am excited about a summer during which we can learn together as a family, challenge ourselves, and have lots of fun doing it.  Happy Summer Reading 2014.

* Barack Obama at his 2009 address to the National Academy of Sciences as quoted at

Monday, April 28, 2014

Fizz! Boom! Read....Summer Reading 2014 Ideas for Young Naturalists

This year's Summer Reading theme promises to be pretty exciting, between fizz, slime, and things that fly!  I'm really excited about all of the reactions and experiments that we'll be trying out around the library and around the house, but in between the explosions, it will be nice to practice the very scientific art of observation, in particular, observing nature and the amazing things that happen outside in the summertime.

Of course, I'll be using When You Are Camping, because its characters spend a good part of the book watching animals and insects.  Hazel and Tilly are definitely young naturalists in the making.  I always like to pair When You Are Camping with one of Frank Serafini's Looking Around.... titles for younger audiences.  If you have an outside area to take advantage of, follow it up with a game of eye-spy, encouraging children to notice elements in the natural environment.  What in the Wild by David Schwartz is more challenging and has a higher ick-factor for older groups. 


Memory Game: If you're outside place a handful of man-made objects on the ground and cover them up with a cloth.  Remove the cloth, let children observe, then hide the objects again.  Ask your audience what they saw.  Most will recall the man-made objects but you might get someone who says "grass" or "a stick."  Yes!  It's easy to get distracted by toys, but those natural elements are really important to notice and observe, too!

Here are some readable and beautifully illustrated biographies about famous naturalists that are great to share with a wide range of ages (perfect for mixed-age Summer audiences):

Me....Jane by Patrick McDonnell

The Watcher: Jane Goodall's Life with Chimps by Jeanette Winters

Squirrel and John Muir by Emily Arnold McCully

John Muir: America's Naturalist by Thomas Locker

One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin By Kathryn Lasky

Find my coloring sheets, activities, and crafts that I love on my Pinterest "When You Are Camping" board.

So happy Summer Reading!  I hope you enjoy a few quiet moments of observation in between all of the Boom!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Let's Take an Airplane

Kids love airplanes.  They ask me for books about airplanes at the library, my daughters rearrange the dining room furniture to play "airplane," they make them out of paper, they roar and sputter and fly around like big planes.  An airplane program is a great addition to a transportation theme or a sure-thing winner for your library, class room, or kids at home.

I love Brian Biggs', Everything Goes: In the Air for early Elementary age children.  The pictures are awesome and there's the right amount of text for their attention-span.  For younger kids, the book is skimmable or try Biggs' newer board book, Everything Goes: What Flies in the Air. 

I am really happy to share my new airplane book with young audiences, too.  I wanted more of a story about a trip through the airport and on an airplane rather than just a book about the machines and their vocabulary, thus, Let's Take an Airplane, A Hazel and Tilly Adventure.  Knowing that the details of airplane travel can change from day-to-day let alone month or year-to-year, my goal was to create a story that would capture the perennials of the airport (lines and candy) and airplane (clouds all around and sliding bathroom doors).  I think that the characters, Hazel and her sister Tilly, really capture all of the different feelings about airplane travel that a child or adult can experience, from anxious to thrilled.  Check out the glossary in the back for technical children who get excited about words like "wing walker."

The possibilities at a dramatic play station are endless!  With chairs, a few little suitcases and backpacks, boarding passes, magazines, a drink tray, and a globe or maps, young children can imagine themselves anywhere from the airport to airplane to runway to explorers charting their course.

If you're hosting older elementary age children: paper airplanes or the edgier straw and paper planes are an affordable craft, as are imagination-stretchers like "Design Your Dream Plane" or "Design A Fantasy Airport."  Tie it all into 2014's Summer Reading science theme with an experiment in flight (You can find lots of ideas on Pinterest)!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Join me on a new blog....

In my last post I noted how much people enjoyed hearing the story behind a painting or drawing...and that got me thinking. I want to share those stories, and encourage a dialogue about my artwork and books.

 A new blog was an obvious solution, and I'm very excited to introduce my newest blog:

 I hope that you'll take a look, subscribe, and pass it on to your friends!

 I may continue to post here on Artfully Told, too (there are just so many great books and ideas out there!) so stay tuned to see how things develop. In the meantime, let me know what you think of the new AnneLeeStudio! Thanks so much!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Telling Stories Artfully

It's been a while since I have done an art show.  Outside of a few wedding commissions--which were a lot of fun, and just lovely to work on--I've been thinking more about promoting When You Are Camping than I have been thinking about creating and displaying "fine art" pieces.    I had forgotten how many paintings I've done over the years and slipped away into cold-storage!  It was time to get them out into the air and to find them good, appreciative homes. 

The annual Yart Sale at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts is a laid back art fair where folks come for bargain art prices and artists set up booths with the express purpose of decluttering their studios.  Perfect. 

The scary thing about displaying paintings is that you have to see and hear how people feel about your work.  The exciting thing about displaying paintings is that you get to see and hear how people feel about your work.  Just like in most of life's instances, I've found that it's best to expect the worst and therefore avoid a lot of disappointment...and find yourself happily surprised from time to time. 

I was happily reminded this past weekend at the Fair that people are so delighted to stumble upon themselves and their story.   To come upon a painting in which they see themselves absolutely thrills people, and in that way, being an artist is a little bit like being a writer, and a lot like being a

librarian.  It's about connecting a person with the story that resonates deeply with their experiences and with the person that they are, the person that they used to be, or the person that they wish they were.  Perhaps a piece of art simply recalls a moment.  But even that moment has a beginning, an end, a reason for being, and a reason for being remembered.  And perhaps it is the smallest and briefest moments that most need capturing on paper or canvas so that we can keep them closer for just a little while longer.  How happy people were to take home a painting of a house, a library, a street, or a farmer's market. These paintings I had slipped out of sight and mind for any number of reasons, finally finding a place where they will be loved and appreciated.

So here's to painting pictures, telling stories, and helping stories find their proper home.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Camping in the Inner City

This past Friday I had the pleasure of sharing my book, When You Are Camping, with almost 70
families at a special retreat hosted by the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Family Care Connection.  Held at Camp Guyasuta, a boy scout retreat on the Allegheny River and pretty much smack dab in the middle of Pittsburgh and its suburbs, families enjoyed a special morning of outdoor activities beneath a canopy of trees and along a rambling creek.  Proving, that you don't have to go very far to enjoy a little nature.

When I was writing When You Are Camping I knew that the title would primarily appeal to families who have already made camping a family experience and tradition, but I really wanted it to be a book that a teacher, librarian, or caregiver could share with children who had never gone camping.  I felt that it was really important to include experiences that children who had never slept outside in a tent could relate to: chasing moths, seeing fireflies, walking in the rain and finding a great mud puddle.

FCC's families live deep, deep, deep in the city-- post-industrial neighborhoods in the heart of the Rust Belt kind of deep city.  Only a small handful of families said they had gone camping or fishing. Nonetheless, I couldn't have hoped for a more engaged and excited group of kids who thrilled at recalling how they had seen deer in a cemetery, watched bugs in their yard, or caught fireflies in the park.   Sharing my book with Family Care Connection's families on Friday, I knew that I had achieved that goal of writing a story that any child, any where could enjoy.

If you're doing a camping program this summer here is the copy from the handout that I passed out, including rhymes and an easy literacy-building exercise.  I can't wait to post some photos from the event as soon as possible!  Have a great summer.

Today We Met Author, Anne Lee, and This is What We Did…                                     
We read When You Are Camping by Anne Lee

We learned a rhyme, I AM GOING CAMPING:
I am going camping (point to self),
Time to pack (point to watch or wrist),
My tent (cup hands in a triangle like a tent),
my sleeping bag (hold hands as if sleeping), and a snack (eat).
I’ll sit by the fire, warm and bright, (wiggle fingers and rub hands together)
And tell ghost stories (wave hands eerily)
‘Til I say good night! (wave and hold hands as if sleeping).

We are building narrative skills and vocabulary by talking about the story and what we see around us!

There are many different animals in When You Are Camping.  Which ones do you remember?  What animals do you see in your yard or at the park?  What are they doing?

We sang a song and clapped along to the beat, Let's Go Camping (to the tune of Where is Thumbkin):
Let's go camping, let's go camping.
Pack the tent, pack the tent.
We will all go hiking.
We will all go swimming.
Let's have fun! Let's have fun!
(Ask the audience for things to pack.  Repeat the song and pack different items each time)

You put one marshmallow in, you take one marshmallow out,
You put one marshmallow in and you shake it all about!
You do the hokey-pokey and you turn yourself around.
That’s what it’s all about!
(Repeat with more marshmallows or different foods….Have fun!)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Earth Day, Arbor Day, and Nature Programs for April

April is a great time for nature programs in your classroom or library.  There is Earth Day ( April 22, 2013) and Arbor Day (April 26, 2013), warmer days, and wonderful Spring things to celebrate.  There are many classic stories about trees, and lots of new favorites, too, but When You Are Camping will, of course, be one of my go-to books this April. I hope you'll consider using it, too. 

Here are some of the other books I'll be bringing along to author visits, and some of the activities I'll be sharing. 

Amelia Bedelia Hits the Trail by Herman Parrish and Lynne Avril.   When You Are Camping's Hazel and Tilly have a friend in young Amelia Bedelia.  This is a perfectly short and breezy read for a school-age group.  Kids always enjoy Amelia's misunderstandings and this book has great tie-ins for activities. 

For example, create a nature table just like Amelia's teacher and invite children to bring something to add to it.  Help them identify and/or label what they found.  Children can work on their narrative skills by telling the story of how they found the object.

Create a "Nature Trail" in your room.  Foot prints and tracks can mark a trail from station to station.  Depending on how many helping-hands you have at your disposal, your space, and your resources, you could set up science experiments, art or crafts, matching or other problems for children to solve, and props for children to explore.

Big Bear Hug by Nicholas Oldland.  Okay, one of the things people often tell me that they like about When You Are Camping, is that there are no bears or other scary animals in the story.  So what am I doing?  Reading When You Are Camping along with a book about a very big bear that scares someone.  Hmmm.  But gosh, this bear is just so darn cute.  Big Bear Hug has a pretty simplistic message--dont' hurt living things--which is just fine for really young children (3-6 years old would be perfect).  Prek and K audiences will love this bear and his big bear tree hugs.  Add a few action rhymes.  Ask children about the animals that Hazel and Tilly saw in the story, and the animal friends that they would like to make in the woods or at the park.  Talk about how to treat small insects and animals.  Now that is one great, Earth-loving, tree-hugging story time!

Painting, coloring, or "collaging" a forest scene would be a nice activity for this young age.  Cut out people figures or a bear for children to glue on.  You could make tree stencils for children to use, or just let them free draw.  Invite families to act out parts of the stories: walking in the woods, telling a story, and especially hugging!

I Can Name 50 Trees Today from the Cat in the Hat's Learning Library is a great non-fiction read for school-age audiences.  The rhyming text is engaging and keeps everyone interested.  Non-fiction books will open up the opportunity for alot of discussion.  What trees would Hazel and Tilly see on their camping trip?  What trees would they see if they camped in the desert, or in the jungle?  What trees have you seen around your house or on camping trips? 

In most parts of the country, April is not a great time for leaf-gathering, leaf rubbings, etc, but there may be flowers, bark, or evergreens to look at.  Help children make a "Tree Journal" so that they can record differences between trees they see, or how one tree changes over the next few months.  Brown paper bags make great journals with perfect pockets for leaves, seeds, bark. and more.

Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World by Laurie Lawlor and Illustrated by Laura Beingessner.  My daughters and I fell in love with this book right away.  It helps that Rachel grew up in Pennsylvania, went to college right down the street from our house, and spent hours looking at the same birds in the Natural History museum that we look at.  These facts brought Rachel Carson to life for me and my children.  Lawlor and Beingessner do a great job of making Rachel Carson a vivid personality who loves nature, works very hard, and creates something very important.  I think most children will find this biography readable and interesting. Biographies can be challenging choices for story times, but I am looking forward to sharing this with young Pittsburgh audiences whether I read it or book-talk it.  Definitely give it a look!