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