Saturday, December 1, 2012

Self Improvement in 2013

It's never too early to start thinking about New Year's resolutions....following through is another story, but this is work stuff not weight-loss so I'm actually looking forward to putting these resolutions into action.

This year I have a list of things that I hereby resolve to do in each and every story time to make my programming more dynamic and meaningful to my audiences.  I look forward to reading some of your comments and resolutions for better storytimes, too.

1.  Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat.  I hereby resolve that I will repeat any song or rhyme that I use with baby, toddler, or preschool audiences at least 4 times.  One thing that nobody ever taught me as a librarian, but that I have come to understand as a parent is that children need (and want) to hear the same thing over and over again.  Children don't even hear you the first time you say something, you finally get their attention the 2nd, the 3rd they are actually interested, and around the 4th time it is starting to sink in.  Honestly, I think that repeating a rhyme 4 times at the beginning and 4 times again at the end would be the way to go.  Trust me, rookies, the only people who will mind are the rest of the library staff who will be singing "Four and Twenty Blackbirds" for the rest of the day.

2.  Come to terms with puppets.  Little children love them.  They are magic.  I feel stupid using them.  I need to get over it.

3.  Socialize. Parents so often tell me that they bring their young children to storytimes for socialization.  But babies and toddlers are sssllooooowww to warm up to one another and not alot of interaction takes place in the course of their visit.  Therefore, I hereby resolve, as the librarian, to help socialization happen!  Maybe a round of "Who Stole the Cookies from the Cookie Jar" so that we learn each other's names at each session or a game of balloon volleyball?  Whatever it is,  I will invite children to talk to one another, play together, and learn together.

4.  Follow the 10 second rule.  Young children (even kindergarteners I suspect) need at least 10 seconds to process a question and formulate a response.  And so, I resolve that I will not answer my own questions.  I will count to 10 and let little minds do their thing.

5.  Get the wiggles out.  30 seconds of a half-hearted action rhyme does not get wiggles out.  If I say, "Let's get some wiggles out!" I resolve to mean it...and really let the kids cut loose for a few minutes.

6.  Messy is memorable.  The programs that kids and parents most often remember always seem to be, for better or for worse, the messiest to clean up: the build your own graham cracker house, making silly putty, or glitter explosion valentines.  I resolve that I will embrace this fact, and make sure that every month I hold one spectactularly messy family program that parents and kids will tell their friends about.

7.  Make parents happier people.  Every parent I know sighs a heavy sigh when they consider the luxury of browsing the stacks at the library, slowly ruminating over jacket flaps, and reviews.  Ahhh, the days.  With kids in tow, there is no time for browsing the hushed adult deparment. You either grab it off the end-cap, had the foresight to order something (not I, ever), or you go without.  I hereby resolve to make parents happier people by displaying adult books in or near the storytime area (yes, I know I will have to fight the rest of the library staff over this, but I'm already working on my arguments), copies of lists of suggested readings, reviews, and a periodical or two.....and I love my neighborhood library that serves coffee.  Now that is happy people.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Wanted: New Children's Early Chapter Series (No Fairies Please)

It is official, my daughters and I have read every Geronimo Stilton book published including the most recent "Geronimo Stilton and the Enormouse Pearl Heist."  We have listened to all available audio books over and over and over and over again.  We are in need of a new early chapter book series...desperately in need.   Fairies didn't take.  Junie we love...but 'em.  Magic Treehouse, read 'em but not enough pictures.  Katie Kazoo, no thank you.  Where to turn?

I think that I may have stumbled upon a very unlikely answer, Echo and the Bat Pack, a chapter book mystery series by Roberto Pavanello.  Oddly enough this series, like Geronimo, is written by an Italian and came to the States after years of being available on the European market.  Perhaps Pavanello has been influenced by his writing colleague, the mystery man/woman/team behind Stilton?  Or not.  In any case, his team of young detectives, rodent leading man, and cartoonish graphics have been a big hit.  It may be a chapter book, but it's a great pace for reading aloud to younger children and a very accessible reading level for those who are ready to go it alone.  We had to know what would happen next, and we are so happy to see that almost a dozen titles are already available Stateside.  Great literature?  No, but the children characters are smart and respectful to one another, Echo is charming, and the mystery pulled us in.  We can't wait to read another.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Cookies Anyone?

Yes, it seems to be that time of year when everyone is holding bake sales, decorating Halloween cookies, or getting themselves in gear for the great holiday-baked-goods giveaway that is a tradition in our house.  In short, we have cookies on the brain, and many of our friends and classmates do to, so I have created two Cookie Programs.  One is for little people, and one will be short and sweet for your little toddler people.  Both programs are a great opportunity to talk about themes of sharing and politeness.  You can practice counting skills, and visual discrimination for toddlers with a colorful felt board rhyme.  Even young toddlers can participate in a game "Who Stole the Cookie From the Cookie Jar?" and it is practically a must for a group of preschoolers.

Practice early math skills by sorting candies and other cookie decorations by color, size or shape ( paper cut-outs are probably easier).  Give each child a big, round cardboard cookie to decorate.  Create a dramatic play station with a tea set and puppets so children can create their own narratives with their cookies.

Toddler Program ( 20 minutes)

Rhyme/Finger Play:
Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, Baker's man.
Bake me a cake as fast you can.
Pat it, and roll it, and mark it with a B,
And put it in the oven for Baby and me.

Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, Baker's man.
Bake me a cookie as fast you can.
Pat it, and roll it, and mark it with an B,
And put it in the oven for Baby and me.

The Best Cookie for Mouse by Laura Numeroff and illustrated by Felicia Bond

Rhyme and Felt Board (Repeat 2-3 times):

Five Little Cookies

From Blog, Rhymes and More

Five little cookies with frosting galore,
Mommy ate the white one, then there were four.
Four little cookies, two and two you see,
Daddy ate the pink one, then there were three.
Three little cookies, but before I knew,
My sister ate the blue one, then there were two.
Two little cookies, oh, what fun!
My brother ate the green one, then there was one.
One little cookie, watch me run!
I ate the red one, then there were none


Chanting Game: 
Who Stole the Cookie From the Cookie Jar...Pass, throw, etc bean bag or fake cookie

Preschool Program (30 minutes)

Rhyme/Finger Play:
Five Cookies 
Five little cookies in the bakery shop. 
Shinning bright with the sugar on top. 
Along comes (child's name) with a nickel to pay. 
He/she buys a cookie and takes it away. 
(continue with four, three, two and one).


If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff and illustrated by Felicia Bond

Who Ate All the Cookie Dough by Karen Beaumont and illustrated by Eugene Yelchin

The Doorbell Rang by Pat Hutchins

Rhyme/Felt Board:
Five Little Cookies (see above)

Chanting Game:
Who Stole the Cookie From the Cookie Jar 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

If You Are a Monster...

If you are a monster...and you know who you are...then you will love this story time!  Halloween is almost here, and it is an excellent time to let your inner monster out a little bit--especially if your inner monster is as fun and/or adorable as any of the monsters in the books below.  Kerstin Schoen's monster in her picture book, Monsters Aren't Real published by Kane/Miller, is such a refreshing change of pace from the usual creepy, crawly, under-the-bed variety, and the moral of the story (that you're okay, just the way you are) is worth sharing with a young audience any time of year.

Every parent I knows practically starts crying when the conversation comes around The Monster at the End of this Book the all-time best Golden Book title, featuring Grover at his most lovable.  It may be old, it may be small, and it may be plain my today's glitzy picture book standards, but you will have parents and grandparents wrapped around your little finger if you share this book at your monster story time. You can get a little more analysis of why this books is just so darned good at Ronosaurus Rex's Metablog on Metafiction.

Craft and art ideas for monster programs abound, from roll-a-monster games to paper collages ala Emberley, to cookie decorating (yum!).  Apple, potato, brussel sprout, and other autumn crop stamps make a nice seasonal tie-in and will result in some fine, fun, scary monster paintings.  ROAR!

Family Program 
30 minutes

Five Ugly Monsters Jumping on the Bed


Monsters Aren't Real by Kerstin Schoen

If You're Happy and You Know It...


If You're A Monster and You Know It by Rebecca and Ed Emberley

If You're a Monster and You Know It...


The Monster at the End of This Book

Friday, August 31, 2012

Keep Them Moving for Toddler Time

Toddler programming is a real challenge.  Honestly, two-year olds are a challenge anytime, anywhere--dressing them in the morning, getting them to eat, sitting behind you on an airplane, at the table on the other side of the restaurant....  They are wonderfully cute and charismatic, and give back lots of energy, but...arggghhhh.

Even a baby program can go more smoothly than a toddler time.  Parents work so hard to engage their babies, and babies are such a (sigh) captive/sleepy/passive audience.  While preschoolers, especially older 3s and 4s, are more socialized and have longer attention spans.  They can follow directions, and they happily engage in questions, activities, and songs.  Programming for these age groups isn't easy, but there are a lot of great books, rhymes, or songs--and even not great ones--that will keep them engaged.

But toddlers.  There is no room for error there.  A book either sinks or swims, and it better be short.  Rhymes have to be simple, but fun, and the more physical the better....they are going to be on their feet anyway so you might as well direct their play and activity a little.

I discovered Michelle Nelson-Schmidt's picture book, Cats, Cats, published by Kane/Miller, for the first time the other day.  My friend was reading it to my daughters, and the girls were cracking up.  Rhyming, sing-song text, bright images that begged for petting, poking, and tickling, and a very silly voice all made for a short, but brilliant read-aloud.  I've found a few other short books, and some very simple, silly rhymes to help you survive your next toddler time, and probably earn you a bunch of hugs at the end, too.  If all else fails, ask children to act like some of the cats described in Nelson-Schmidt's book: sleepy, hungry, brave,etc.  They may never want to stop! Then bring out the coloring pages for Cats, Cats on Kane/Miller's website.  Good luck!

PROGRAM (20 minutes)

Intro Song of Choice

Fingerplay (Repeat twice)
5 Little Kittens
5 little kittens, all black and white (hold up fist)
sleeping very soundly all through the night
Meow, meow, meow, meow, meow, (stretch up a finger on each word)
Time to wake up now! (wiggle fingers)

Courtesy of Storytime Kids Wordpress Blog.  Thank you!

Cats, Cats by Michelle Nelson-Schmidt

Fingerplay (Repeat twice)
Cat Chant
(Kidstuff 4:7)
Big cats. [hold up hand over head] 
Little cats. [hold hand at knee level] 
Fat cats. [curve arms, hold out at sides] 
Skinny cats. [bring arms almost together] 
White cats. [point to something white] 
Black cats. [point to something black] 
Brave cats. [puff out chest] 
Fraidy cats. [look scared] 
Sleepy cats. [put head on closed hands]
Courtesy of Addison Library.  Thank you!  View their Cool Cats & Cuddly Kittens PDF here.

Me and Meow by Adam Gudeon ...A very cute, and very simple story about a girl and her cat.  It's a nice vocabulary-builder that just enjoys being silly and fun.

Repeat 5 Kittens above twice more

Usborne's That's Not My Kitten  ...Let everyone get up and take turns enjoying this touch-and-feel.  

Closing Song of Choice

Monday, August 13, 2012

Babysitter Wanted...

Anyone looking for an affordable babysitter that entertains your children of different ages, while teaching them math skills and building awareness of geography and history?  Maybe you just need an hour of peace-and-quiet so that you can finish an email to your boss, the last chapter of your book, or want to publish a blog post.  Or perhaps you need a nanny-type to keep everyone in their seats at the restaurant while you chat with your spouse like two mature humans?   How about someone who magically appears just when you need them, and instinctively disappears when it's time to sit down to dinner.  Well, yes, you could send a letter up the chimney.

Or you could try  The Usborne Big Book of Things to Spot, my new favorite babysitter... in the car, rainy days on camping trips, at the airport, in restaurants, at home when I'm trying to make dinner or email my publisher.

My five and two year old love this book.  They scour the pages, make up stories, scribble notes in the margins, and make up counting games.

I bought it on a whim for a birthday present b/c my five-year old likes the hidden pictures in the Highlights magazine.  But this lovely book turned out to be a lot more.  Children have to find multiples of different objects in each illustration, so children are practicing counting and I can throw in impromptu lessons in addition or subtraction if I'm so inclined (We need to find 7 monkeys and we have found 2.  How many more do we need to find?...)  The colorful illustrations take a child from the chicken coop to the desert, to ancient Egypt, to the Court of Louis XIV, to modern day Scandanavia, prompting questions and conversations about people and places far and wide.  If you still have a summer getaway to survive with your children, please take this book with you!  If not, the holidays are just a hop-skip-and-a-jump me you will want this, book...on hand.

Usborne Publishing Ltd. has no connection with 

these pages and does not sponsor or support their content.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Big Time Camping Fun...Obstacle Course Style

When it comes to a big-time pay-off program for a reasonable cost, I really don't think anything beats an obstacle course or relay race for an event.  These are your everyday, same old, same old. They are memorable and silly and appeal to pretty much everyone and every age.  Okay, they take a lot of work.  They take a lot of time.  They may require many hands to put together, facilitate, troubleshoot, and clean up.  But you'll be glad you did it, and most importantly, so will your guests.

Here are some ideas for a camping or outdoor-themed course.  Combine a few events on different courses for different age groups so that everyone is challenged, and no one gets hurt.
Bandanas, little tubes of aloe, insect repellant or sunscreen, sunglasses, flip flops, granola bars and fruit leather are great outdoorsy and summery prizes for all contestants.

Sleeping Bag Relay - climb into a sleeping bag and pull yourself to the finish line using only your arms.   You have to have the bag with you to win!

Bat Cave - Great for little ones...Drape a tablecloth or black butcher paper over a table.  Hang brown and black paper bat cutouts underneath the table. Children crawl through without hitting the bats.

Log Limbo - Prop dowel rods or other long sticks (perhaps draped in fake Christmas greenery) between chairs, tables, or shelves at crazy angles and heights.  Everyone has to make it over or under the logs without knocking any askew.

Feed the Hungry Birds - Basically bean bag toss, but contestants shoot rubberband "worms" into the "mouths" of the birds.  Feed the Hungry Bear with a few skillfully sown fish-shaped bean bags would be very excellent, too.

Rucksack Relay - Competitors have to fit all of the objects into their backpack or onto their bodies and race to the finish line.  Ponchos, unfolded maps (yikes!), percolators, thermoses, fishing rods, shoes, hats, the bigger and sillier the better.

Marshmallow Roast - A team of players has to move a marshmallow from point A to point B using bamboo touching with fingers allowed...without dropping it on the floor.

Marshmallow Race - Each contestant has to balance a marshmallow on their forehead or head from point A to point B.  No hands!

Over the River - Tape paper "stones" to the floor.  Each person has to hop from stone to stone (with one leg, with one leg and their arms behind the back, with the big, heavy rucksack from the earlier event on their back, etc) without "falling into the water."

Okay, the possibilities are endless.  I hope this inspires some great camping-themed programs this summer...and makes everyone a few great memories!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Buzz, buzz, buzz, a bee story time

Bee & Bird by Craig Frazier is the wordless story of a little bee and his much bigger companion, a red bird.  They travel from one object to the next, with each spread inviting the viewer to guess what they on/in/under/etc.  There are some excellent concepts here for very young children--big/little, directional words, colors, or shapes--and it is big and bright enough for a toddler story time.  Ask older babies and toddlers to point to the bird and then to the bee on each spread.  Ask the children questions about the scenes and build a little anticipation.  Add a few classic rhymes and a song and you have a really fun, super easy story time that you might want to file away as "I'm-Totally-Freaking-Out-I-Can't-Believe-I-Scheduled-This-Daycare-For-Today!!!!"


Fingerplay: Two Little Bluebirds

Bee & Bird by Craig Frazier

Fingerplay: Beehive
Here is the beehive.  Where are the bees? 
(hold up fist)
Hidden away where nobody sees. (move other hand around fist)
Watch and you'll see them come out of the hive(bend head close to fist)
One, two, three, four, five. (hold fingers up one at a time)
Bzzzzzzzz… all fly away!(wave fingers)

Song: I Caught Myself a Baby Bumblebee

Activity:  Play Rimsky-Korsokav's "Flight of the Bumblebee."  Children can waddle, dance, and buzz to the music.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Nighttime, Anytime...A Camping Program

I am always thinking about my book, When You Are Camping,  and different programming that I can bring to schools and library groups featuring this story.  I am not sure why it took me so long to find Divya Srinivasan's Little Owl's Night, but I am certainly glad that I did!  I have seen Little Owl's Night on amazon and other book sites a lot.  Little Owl's big, big eyes on the cover are pretty compelling, but I often suspect a sharp, stylized cover of disguising a book that is all graphics, and little substance.  Happily, Little Owl is attractive, lovable, and teachable from beginning to end.  A perfect pair for When You Are Camping, and the inspiration for a great daytime/nighttime themed program for 4-8 year olds.

When You Are Camping by Anne Lee

Discussion Questions
What animals or insects did Tilly and Hazel see in the story?
Think about a time that you were camping or outside.  Did you see any animals or insects that weren't in the story?
Hazel and Tilly go to bed in their tent at the end of the day.  What animals might they hear out in the woods?

Little Owl's Big Night by Divya Srinivasan

Here are some activities that will build vocabulary, math, and science skills

Create cut outs or models of different animals.  Ask children whether they would see each animal active at night or during the day?  On a board create two sides, one for diurnal animals and one for nocturnal animals.  Children can take turns putting each animal on the board under the appropriate classification.

In what other ways could we group these animals?  What characteristics to some animals have in common, e.g. Creatures that fly, animals that live in trees vs underground, herbivores vs omnivores vs carnivores.  

Play the sounds of different animals/insects at night--crickets, cicadas, owls, a loon, a raccoon.  Turn off the lights for some ambience, and ask children to identify each sound.

Craft a paper campfire, and gather your audience around for a snack and a ghost story...or sing a campfire song.


Three little nests all in a row
Make a bed for Little Owl.  Here is a whimsical craft for young children.

My daughter's nest comes with eggs and a mommy eagle
Brown paper lunch bags will make a nice base for a nest.  Roll them over or cut them and fringe them.  Give children shreds of yarn, rafia, straw, shredded paper, etc to glue inside and out to create a "nest."  Have a supply of fabric and felt scraps for children to make into baby owl-sixed beds.  Depending on everyone's patience-level pillows can be made with cotton balls in felt scraps and a staple or hot glue.  Fabric can be decorated with designs to make a quilt.  Draw Little Owl, outline him in black, and make copies on card stock.  Each child can get a Little Owl to cut out and put to bed.
Blog, Sunflower Storytime, has an adorable rhyme and flannel board about owls and some additional book suggestions if you want to run with the owl thing.

                                                          HoOOOOot, HoOOOOot!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Kites and Fathers

My husband loves flying a kite.  We don't do it often, but we have a few of them in the garage ready for the perfect windy day, and I usually find one tucked away in the roof box when we're on vacation.  He has a surprising patience for the strings and knots and strategy of getting a kite to lift off the ground. He's even able and willing to do this with young children.  Personally, I find teaching my preschooler to tie her shoelaces to be a true test of patience and will, let alone kite-flying.  I guess that's what makes Dads special.  They have the patience and love to do impractical things (like kite-flying, pillow fights, and making pancakes) that mothers do not.  So this program is for my husband and all of the great Dads out there.  Happy Father's Day!

Let's Go Fly a Kite! Program

Tune:  "Row, Row, Row Your Boat”
Wind, wind, blow the clouds
Fast across the sky.
Blow the branches back and forth
In the trees so high.
Elizabeth Scofield

Kite Flying by Grace Lin  There are some visually stunning and very moving stories about kites, but for a family program I like to keep it short and sweet for the youngest kids. Besides, you're going to need to save plenty of time for kite-making!  Lin's book is bright and beautiful and straight to the point: wind, sun, kites, beautiful!

Kite Day by Will Hillenbrand is published by Holiday House and was released only a few months ago.   This short story for 3-5 year olds falls a little flat to me, despite the drama of a thunderstorm and lost kite.  I do love that Bear can smell a kite day, though, and children will love discovering that a kite has many good uses.  I like that part, too, and I will use this book because it opens such great discussion questions:  What else could you use a kite for?  What is repurposing?  Can you think of ways that we could repurpose some other objects?  Invite children to be as practical or as whimsical as their brains will allow, and to rediscover ordinary objects all around them.  This will be a great book for an eco-themed storytime later.

Here's a closing song to get the kids up and moving, from with many thanks.

Tune: "Here We Go 'Round The Mulberry Bush"

Oh, the wind is blowing - all over town,
All over town, all over town.
Oh, the wind is blowing all over town, 
Just like so. (Child blows)

Oh, the trees are bending - way down low,
Way down low, way down low.
Oh, the trees are bending - way down low,
Just like so. (Child bends low)

Oh, the kites are flying - watch them go,
Watch them go, high then low.
Oh, the kites are flying - watch them go
Just like so. (Child pretends to fly kite)

Continue with
"Oh, the clothes on the line - flop to and fro" 
"Oh, the flag on the pole - waves fast and slow"

Jean Warren

If you have an audience of school-age children I highly recommend Demi's Kites.  It's a beautiful story of magical kites and wishes sent up to the sky... It's the kind of story that always stays with you and we librarians love to share those with our audiences.  Older children will be able to write down, and appreciate a magical new way to send their wishes out into the ether.

Crafting kites is a sticky business I think, but I am a mother.  My husband would have no trouble sitting through a number of kite-making videos, juggling popsicle sticks, straws, tissue paper, glue, and yards of string.  I myself like the idea of making a Japanese fish kite, which is technically a windsock and therefore guaranteed to work a little bit with a minimal amount of engineering.  Below are links to a few kite projects that you and your families may enjoy making with simple materials from around the house or library.

Japanese Koi Fish Kites from the Smithsonian Institute

20-Minute Kite from Family Fun

Plastic Bag Kite from National Geographic Kids

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Small Kindnesses

Last month I was in Colorado visiting schools and promoting When You Are Camping.  I was really thrilled to be a guest reader at the Tattered Cover bookstore in Denver while I was in town.  I love that bookstore.  It's no longer in the red brick, three-story, Cherry Creek building that I grew up visiting, but the dark wood bookshelves, green carpet, and plethora of titles new and old took me right back in time.  Ahhhh (happy sigh).  While I was there, the children's staff had selected a half-dozen titles to read to the children in addition to Camping
One of them was a wonderful story about an old sailor on a boat who, night after night, finds himself taking in stray cats on the dock.  I fell head over heels for Barbara Jusse's title, Old Robert and the Sea Silly Cats, illustrated by Jan Jutte.  The prose is melodious and beautiful, Old Robert is a truly loveable character, and the little twist at the end just leaves you feeling warm and happy.  I found a nice synopsis at Shelf-Employed: A Picture Book Round-Up.

Old Robert's generosity and unconditional kindness to the sea silly cats, one and all, compels me to share this story with my daughters as well as my young library patrons...and with you! 

I am not sure how many books you can read to a group of children about kindness before they begin to suspect you of brainwashing, but I have compiled a short list here of some adorable new titles that showcase some very kind characters.  For maximum effect, and fun, I would probably pair one of these with a very, very bad, bad guy book or some other silliness like Alborough's big bear.  Of which, there are a few listed below, too. 

Old Robert and the Sea Silly Cats by Barbara Jusse and Jan Jutte

A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C Stead and illustrated by Erin Stead

Little Bird by Germano Zullo

A Splendid Friend Indeed by Suzanne Bloom

I Saw an Ant on the Railroad Track by Joshua Prince and Macky Pamintuan 

And now some villians--
some more villainous than others:

It's the Bear by Jez Alborough

I Want My Hat by Jon Klassen

Ugly Fish by Kara LaReau and Scott Magoon

My Lucky Day by Keiko Kasza

Friday, June 8, 2012

Bugs, Bugs, Bugs....

My daughter received a gardening/bug collection kit for her 5th birthday.  It was probably the best present she received.  Within hours it was used to harvest worms for a fishing trip, had housed dozens of roly-polies, spritzed everybody and everything in the house, and caught a couple of fireflies.  At a certain age, all boys and girls love bugs...cute bugs, ugly bugs, fuzzy bugs, fat bugs it does not matter.  Children find them fascinating and wonderful.  I vaguely recall a time in my own childhood when I didn't mind bugs, caterpillars, or worms.  My brother and I spent hours one summer studying rainbow-striped tomato caterpillars, tiny green inch worms, and ant hills.  With summer in full bloom and bug populations exploding (for better or worse) now is a perfect time for bug, bug, bug storytimes and programs!

There is a seemingly endless supply of bug books in fiction and non-fiction and for every age.  Below are a four titles that I love, and that I love using with an audience anywhere between kindergarten to 5th grade.  Two are picture books and the other two are non-fiction that you will be able to tailor to your time constraints.

Bugs Galore by Peter Stein and Bob Staake  The bright, beautiful artwork and jaunty prose will get everyone in the mood for some bug fun.

What in the Wild by David Schwartz, Yael Schy, and Dwight Kuhn The poems and photos in this book are guaranteed to get your audience completing involved and revved up.  Kids of all ages love to try and guess "what in the wild!"  There is lots of ewwww factor, and kids and parents alike will be fascinated by these common things that they have probably walked over or past a million times.
Bug Shots: The Good, the Bad, and the Bugly by Alexander Siy and Dennis Kunkel

Pest Fest by Julia Durango and Kurt Cyrus  Who is the best pest of them all?  It's the Pest Fest and every bug is proud of their unique talents and characteristics. 

Stage your own Pest Fest!  Compile the craziest collage materials you can find...cardboard tubes, clean plastic bottles, six-pack holders, bottle caps, cling wrap in different colors and tin foil, etc etc etc.  Invite children to create a bug.  Maybe it's a real bug, maybe it's a new species that only exists in the imagination.  Ask children why their bug would win the Pest Fest contest (boy, all of this rhyming is really fun). 

For an answer to every question that kids might send your way about bugs, take them to the Smithsonian Institute's entymology department's website for kids:  BugInfo 

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Travel Time

Ah, Summer at last.  No more early bedtimes, no more schedules, adventure awaits!  I love summer adventures...road trips through the Midwest, beach trips, hot sticky days in cities where you're happy to collapse in a hotel lobby after sight-seeing, and, of course, camping trips.  New and old, for all ages, here are a few books that get me and my family in the mood for some adventures near and far.

Picture Books

Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat by Philip C. Stead

Along a Long Road by Frank Viva

Cars Galore by Peter Stein

Beach by Elisha Cooper

Everything Goes on Land by Brian Biggs

Chapter Books
Mr. Putter and Tabby Take the Train by Cynthia Rylant 

The Golly Sisters Go West by Betsy Byars

Judy Moody & Stink: The Mad, Mad, Mad Treasure Hunt by Megan MacDonald

A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Dream Big...Building

Creating sculptures is a great exercise for children of all ages.  Whether you give them an opportunity to work with clay, blocks, or other materials (straws, cardboard tubes, sticks, etc) children will get the opportunity to practice motor skills that don't often come into play when coloring or painting.  Sculpture--especially if you're working with a combination of materials--will also introduce children to math and science lessons (weight, gravity, balance, and so on) and naturally lends itself to experimentation, observation, and reaction.

This summer, children from 3-12 can be engaged in a program about building, especially if they're encouraged to Dream Big and Build Big!

Ages 3-6

Read, We Were Tired of Living in a House by Liesel Moak Skorpen or The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Pinkwater, which never gets old, not ever, ever, never.
Preschoolers will love arranging, stacking, and destroying cardboard box cities.  Cover boxes in all sizes in butcher paper.  Each child can decorate their own box as wildly as anything in Pinkwater's picture book. Let them work together to arrage their boxes and create a city of their own.  Cardboard tubes, crazyily-shaped cartons or tubs, toy vehicles and people will add to the fun. 

Or, using the same boxes as above, ask children to work together to create the tallest building they can manage.

Read, Up Goes the Skyscraper by Gail Gibbons and introduce mathematical concepts to kindegarteners- 2nd graders with How Tall is Tall by Victoria Parker 

Ages 7 and up
Older children will be able to skillfully manipulate a variety of building materials.  Gather whatever you can find, and let them experiment with combinations and techniques to create the tallest/widest/wackiest structure they can invent.

Read one of David Macaulay's titles:  Rome Antics, Castle, or Unbuilding.  Macaulay  is a master of understatement in so many ways, and that always infuses his books with a sense of mystery.  They tickle the imagination and leave the reader contemplating all of the other stories that could be evolving between the pages.  Encourage children to write their own story about the structure that they created.  Perhaps it will be the story of how it was made (or unmade) or the story of the people who live within.

Everyone kind of enjoys hearing about people who dreamed a little, too big...Fantastic Feats and Failures will introduce your audience to some of the cleverest and most creative feats of engineering as well as a some really big Ooops.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

In a Presidential Mood

If you somehow manage to miss the cherry blossom crush of early Spring, Washington DC is a lovely place to visit in the Spring.  Cherry blossom peak or no, the National Mall is arguably at it's best this time of year.  You may not be making your way DC anytime soon, but you and your young audience will enjoy some of the recent books that have been published about presidents and White House history.

Looking at Lincoln by Maira Kalman is a unique and refreshing nonfiction picture book about President Abraham Lincoln.  Kalman's book is well-organized and written in a strong, clear voice.  Young audiences will be perfectly capable of reading (or hearing), comprehending, and remembering the info in this book.   Kalman's brightly hued abstracts are a fantastic break from somber historical texts.  These illustrations just scream "History lives!" And as an undergrad-historian myself, I really love to see a book for children that breathes life, fun, and a few laughs into historical study.  My preschooler was thrilled to recognize the huge Lincoln Monument, and to learn why it is there.  You'll be inspired to make a trip to read the Gettysburg Address on those marble walls again (or for the first time).

First Peas to the Table: How Thomas Jefferson Inspired a School Garden by Susan Grigsby and illustrated by Nicole Tadgell just came out in February.  Perfect timing.  We are weeks and weeks away from the first peas here in the Mid-Atlantic, but they are in the ground and everyone has their gardening gloves on....and that includes more and more school children working in school and community gardens.  Thomas Jefferson and his neighbors competed annually to see who would be the first to bring sweet green peas to the dinner table.  A few hundred years later school kids use a little research, experimentation, ingenuity, and teamwork in their class contest to bring a bowl of peas to the lunch table.  This story is a great bridge between the past and present.  Grigsby capably weaves a little history with a fine story that a modern grade-schooler will be able to relate to.

Finally check out Robin Gourley's, First Garden: The White House Garden and How it Grew .  I wish that Gourley had included more history about Jefferson's and Roosevelt's gardens, but there is some good stuff here and it's a nice addition to this theme.   Some primary resources would be a great addition, but I can appreciate how difficult these are to get permission for, and his cheerful watercolor illustrations are perfectly enjoyable all by themselves.

See you at the Mall!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

StoryBook Spring

I'll be at the Frick Art & Historical Center this Saturday celebrating Storybook Spring--an all-day family event featuring story times, local Pittsburgh authors and illustrators, crafts, etc etc.  Happily, Katherine Ayers and I are scheduled at approximately the same time.  How well I remember Pennsylvania's One Book Every Young Child in 2008, Up, Down, and Around by Ayers and illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott.  This is a funny rhyming picture book about veggies and where they grow...up in the air, down in the ground, or twisting and vining all around.  It's a perfect book to feature in a springtime blog and program.  Use my program below or visit Brimful Curiosities for great garden program ideas using Ayer's book.

I really love to use Demi's Empty Pot in at least one or two Spring programs.  I myself often come up with empty pots this time of year, and I can relate to the little gardener in the book.  Gardener or not, though, every child and parent/teacher will appreciate the lesson about truthfulness and doing-ones-best. As well, everyone will appreciate Demi's soft pastels and brilliant idea of framing each picture as if it was the motif of a fragile, glowing, porcelain plate.  Fantastic!


I Love Dirt (to the tune of "Three Blind Mice")
I love dirt.  I love dirt.
Fun brown dirt, fun brown dirt.
I love to dig down in the ground.
I love to have dirt all around.
I love to pile it in a mound.
I love dirt!

Gayle Bittinger in Busy Bees, Spring: Fun for Twos and Threes


Up, Down, and Around by Katherine Ayers and illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott 

Empty Pot by Demi or


Little Sprouts Grow....children can pretend to be small, round seeds slowly growing taller and taller.  You may call out vegetables from the book and ask them to show you how that veggie would grow.  "Around and around" plants should get some wiggles out!


I think that the magic seed activity that I wrote about it in a previous post is perfectly in keeping with this program and Demi's picture book.  Glue a see to a piece of paper or cardboard and ask the children to imagine what will grow.  A simple drawing is fun, but can you imagine a garden of 3D magical flowers exploding in your library or classroom? 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Arbor Day

I don't often use poetry in programs, and I really, really should.  It's great with any age, it fits any mood, it's short or long, it invites participation and discussion.  It is the ultimate story time stretcher.  I am really looking forward to using Douglas Forian's Poetrees for my upcoming Arbor Day program.  I may not read all of them, but I will definitely read Roots, Paper Birch, and my favorite Tree Rings.  Each poem is short enough that you could use the whole thing, and you will probably want to share many of his rustic and folksy illustrations no matter what.  

Below is a list of other books that will have you hugging the nearest tree.

On the serious side:

Mama Miti: Wangari Maathi and the Trees of Kenya by Donna Jo Napoli and illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story From Africa by Jeanette Winters

This Tree Counts by Alison Formento

A Tree is Nice by Janice May Udry and illustrated by Marc Simont

The Gift of the Tree by Alvin Tresselt and illustrated by Henri Sorenson

A Log's Life by Wendy Pfeffer and illustrated by Robin Brickman

The Life Cycle of an Apple Tree by Linda Tagliaferro 

And getting silly:

Good-Night, Owl! by Pat Hutchins

Nuts to You by Lois Ehlert

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bugs and Swirls...Times to Explore

It is time for digging in dirt, watching flowers bloom, and looking for tadpoles swimming.  My oldest daughter was looking for pill bugs yesterday.  Pill bugs, potato bugs, roly-polies, whatever you call them most children are fascinated by them.  They are benign little things: no bites or stings or bad smells.  Who doesn't love them?  I am not sure if they have emerged from their winter nests quite yet, but why not head out on a pill bug hunt and enjoy the books below for school-age children. 

I'm a Pill Bug, by Yukihisa Tokuda, illustrated by Kiyoshi Takahashi.  This Japanese import from Kane/Miller is one of my favorite non-fiction books for children.  It is aesthetically so appealing, very well-designed, and fun to read!  Told from the point of view of a pill bug, this book follows the adorable creatures through gardens, stone walls, winter nests, and all the stages of bug-life.  It's creative and informative.

Swirl by Swirl: Swirls in Nature by Joyce Sidman was my 2011 Caldecott Award pick.  Alas, Ms Sidman did not win the award.  As an illustrator, I marveled at her compositions.  Illustrating the great swirl of the universe is no small task...Sidman tackles it brilliantly.  Swirl by Swirl describes the smallest swirls in nature from hibernating chipmunks to flower petals.  Swirls grow larger--waves--and larger yet--tornadoes and finally the universe itself.  Sidman's picture book reads like poetry and is beautifully illustrated, but it is ultimately about science.  I love the idea of talking to children about science as something that requires creativity, imagination, and love...just like art.

While writing this post my mind went wild with the art and activity possibilities.  For pill bugs...Takahashi's collages are perfect inspiration for torn-paper "habitat" collages.  Mini-terrariums anyone? 

Children of any age will enjoy examining flower and leaf buds (dissecting them or watching them unfurl over the course of a day or two).  Tornadoes in a jar for older children, white glue swirled on black construction paper and allowed to dry before coloring for very young children.  Ask children to decorate a paper plate like a wave, snake, comet, or other swirl described in the book...then cut it into a 3-D swirl to hang. 

I thought about Van Gogh's Starry Night and an entire day spent on stars.  Hmmm,  I guess that's a post for another day!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


 The weather has been spectacular here in Pittsburgh--I mean, 70s-and-sunny spectacular--and it has been impossible to sit inside and type.  It is time for a sunshine and flowers storytime!

I have been waiting for a year to use Susan Marie Swanson's book, To Be Like the Sun.  This is the story of a sunflower, from seed to golden blossom, and while it doesn't offer any surprises, it is a well-told story.  Perfect for toddlers or preschoolers, it will hold the attention of any elementary school audience or family group.  Parents are guarnteed to appreciate the beautiful illustrations by Margaret Chodos-Irvine.  I get exuberant about Chodos-Irvine's illustration--downright giddy!  Her work is nostalgic, but still modern and fresh.  She creates richly colored and textured prints that make every book she illustrates positively pop.

Happily, Chodos-Irvine has another project underway.  Check out 7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast to read more about her newest book!

I really like the idea of pairing this story of a growing flower with Susan Shea's (author) and Tom Slaughter's (illustrator) Do You Know Which One Will Grow.  While Swanson's book is quietly told and will lull your group into a meditative hush, this story will wake everyone right up.  This question and answer book with it's folding pages, inviting children to guess and/or use their rhyming-skills, and Slaughter's brightly-collaged pictures will make for a lively program indeed.


Paper Plate Sun Flowers
Paper plates, yellow paint, brushes, glue, sunflower seeds, green paper
Have the children paint their paper plates yellow to make 'flowers'. When plate is dry put glue on plate and glue sunflower seeds on the middle of their plates. Attach them to green paper stems to create a sunflower garden.

Magic Bean
At the bottom of a white piece of paper - glue on a lima bean. Then ask children to draw what they would like to grow from the bean. It is a great project to use the imagination!