Friday, May 20, 2016

Series I Love: The Thickety

I am NOT a big series reader. As a youth services librarian, I usually feel like reading the first book in a series is good enough. I get to know what the book is like and who I would hand it to. No need to read the rest of the books when there are so many more first books to read. Plus, it's hard for me to keep track of characters and plots for months or a year while waiting for the next book to come out.

So it's a special series that grabs my attention enough that I keep reading subsequent books. There are a few, and I want to write about them. Starting with:

The Thickety by J.A. White
Gr. 4-7. Katherine Tegen Books. Review copies provided by publisher.


When Kara Westfall was six years old, her mother was convicted of the worst of all crimes: witchcraft. She was sentenced to death and ever since that happened, Kara’s family has been shunned by the community because to them, magic is the most evil thing there is… except maybe the enchanted forest that covers much of their island home and grows larger every day: The Thickety.

One day Kara is lured into the Thickety by a colorful bird and she discovers her mother’s grimoire, her witch’s spellbook. She knows that she should take the book straight to the town Elders, she knows that it's illegal for her to have this book, but this last connection to her mother means too much to Kara to give it up. So she opens the spellbook…

And that’s just the beginning of the story.

If you like a fantasy magic adventure story that’s a little bit scary and completely engrossing, this is a great choice for you. Even though the book is really thick, the pages are small, so it’s actually a pretty fast read. I love that it almost feels like you’re holding a spellbook as you read.

And this is the first book in the Thickety series, so if you like this one the adventure continues in the next books.

Books in the series: 

1: The Thickety: A Path Begins (2014) 496 pages.

3. The Thickety: Well of Witches (2016) 505 pages.

Why I Love Them:

The books in this series are fast-paced and magical with a strong heroine. I have always been drawn to witch stories, but more than that, this series is about a girl against the world, a girl that few people in her community (including her own family) really see or care about. She's imperfect, she's fallible, but Kara would do anything to protect her little brother. I just love Kara so much and I'm rooting for her the whole way through. 

The world that J.A. White has created here is intriguing and detailed. Magic is not to be trusted, even by those who may wield it themselves, and yet it's an irresistible force. There's history here. 

And I think the format of the books have a lot to do with my love for them. When I booktalk this series, I always mention the design of the books. They're thick and long, but because the trim size is small, the pages go by in a flash. You can read a quite long book in a relatively short amount of time (and then feel very accomplished). The pages have beveled edges (those rough-hewn pages) and the overall effect is that you might actually be reading from a spellbook, which adds to the allure of the magical story. 

Readalikes: The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell (Katherine Tegen Books, 2014) for its blend of mystery and fantasy. Dreamwood by Heather Mackey (Putnam, 2014) for its fantasy wilderness adventure. The Septimus Heap series, first book Magyk by Angie Sage (Katherine Tegan Books, 2005) for readers who love the small "spellbook-y" format and a magical story (although the tone is different). 

So, there you have it: a series I love and have actually kept up with. There are a few more, so look for more series features in the weeks to come! 

What series do YOU love??

Monday, May 16, 2016

You Can Fly

You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Jeffery Boston Weatherford. Grades 5 and up. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, May 2016. 80 pages. Review copy provided by publisher.

You guys. I am so, so pleased to be able to share an amazing behind-the-scenes look at this awesome new book. If you (or your kids/students) love adventure stories, war stories, and/or learning about American history, you are not going to want to miss this book. I am a huge fan of Carole Boston Weatherford and her latest does not disappoint.

First, check out the book trailer:

This small package packs a powerful punch. Like Kadir Nelson's We Are the Ship, the narrative is written in the second person (using "you"), which puts the reader right into the middle of the action. Using prose poems, Carole Boston Weatherford is able to get across a lot of information about the Tuskegee Airmen in an engaging read.

Back matter includes an author's note, a detailed timeline, and resources for further information. Ms. Weatherford includes an extensive list of lesson plans and teacher resources on her website. Black and white illustrations by her son Jerry Boston Weatherford illuminate the action.

And I am privileged to share a special Q&A with debut illustrator Jeffery Boston Weatherford. If his name sounds familiar it may be because he is author Carole Boston Weatherford's son.

Jeffery Boston Weatherford poses with Tuskegee Airman portrait

How did you come to illustrate children's books?

I doodled a lot in elementary school. In middle school, my mother enrolled me in studio art classes. I illustrated my first children’s book manuscript for my high school senior project. I used my mother’s unpublished manuscript Which Way to Dreamland? In college, during an internship with author/illustrator Jim Young, I created digital illustrations of the Airmen. Shortly after college graduation, I got my first contract. That project was killed and eventually reborn—with scratchboard illustrations—as You Can Fly.

When did you first hear about the Tuskegee Airmen?

I first heard about them when I was a boy. My family visited the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and the Tuskegee Institute National Historic Site. I saw the Tuskegee Airmen’s planes, uniforms and other World War II artifacts.

Archival photo provided by the author

What was your inspiration for the illustrations?

I always had dreams of flight. I watched the movie Red Tails and researched documentary photographs on the Library of Congress and National Archives websites. While doing my research, I had some dreams of meeting Tuskegee Airmen.

Describe your creative process.

Of course, I began by reading the poems. After I did my picture research for each poem, I drew a graphite study to layout the composition. Once that was completed and approved by the publisher, I refined the image and transferred it to scratchboard. I used various nibs for different effects.

Do you have a favorite illustration?

I like the one of boxer Joe Louis punching the German Max Schmeling during their historic rematch.

Illustration by Jeffery Boston Weatherford

Do you have military ties in your family?

My great great great grandfather fought in the U.S. Colored Troops during the Civil War. And my mother’s father was in the Army during World War II. He served in New Guinea and the Philippines. My grandmother still has his uniform. I think he would be proud of me and my mom.

I want to thank the author and illustrator for stopping by and providing some great content today. I've said it before and I 'll say it again: don't miss this book!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Reading Wildly: Funny

At today's Reading Wildly meeting, we discussed funny books. We've discussed funny books in the past and we keep on doing it because this is a genre that kids want all the time and it can be hard to identify these books using the catalog.

We talked about some sources for identifying funny books, including lists on the internet and getting recommendations from friends or colleagues. We also talked about how a lot of funny books have parts that are funny and parts that are serious and that there are different kinds of humor that kids may be interested in. Some kids are really looking for wacky, weird humor and others like something more subtle.

Here's what we read:

SUMMER IS COMING, so next month will be Reader's Choice, though I have challenged my staff to read something from the room they don't normally gravitate towards. Staff who normally choose books from the Children's Room should pick something from Teen, staff who normally gravitate towards teen books should choose something from the Children's Room. And if anyone feels like they read pretty equally then they can choose. 

We probably won't be able to meet over the summer months because we're so busy in our department, but I'm definitely intending a return to our library staff "summer reading log" where we'll share our reading with staff and patrons!

This was the start of our "reading log" last summer.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Preschool Storytime: Spring

Last week, I visited one of our local childcare centers to do storytime about spring. I know I have posted spring storytimes on my blog before, but since I was using some different materials, I wanted to share this one, too. You can see my previous spring-themed storytimes here and here.

Opening Song: My Hands Say Hello - This is our standard opener and it works in the library and outside the library.

Book: When Spring Comes by Kevin Henkes, illustrated by Laura Dronzek (Greenwillow Books, 2016). Oh, new storytime gold! This bright, colorful book is a great book for talking about spring. In simple text, the book introduces lots of spring concepts like snow melting, grass turning green, eggs hatching, flowers growing. There's a lot here, but it's not too much and it's a great storytime starter because you could make a lot of different connections to move to your next book.

This is a great book to practice or demonstrate dialogic reading (encourage kids to talk about what you're reading about and have a dialog with you) because there are lots of spreads with many different things to talk about. And don't forget the endpapers: the beginning endpapers show lots of spring things and the ending endpapers show lots of summer things!

Book: Lola Plants a Garden by Anna McQuinn, illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw (Charlesbridge, 2014). After reading the poem "Mary, Mary Quite Contrary", Lola wants to plant her own garden and this book follows the steps she takes to do so. I love that their first step is to visit the library to read books about gardening and I always exclaim about how that's such a good idea. ;) This book is a great book to introduce the activity of planting a garden and I love that it includes some everyday diversity, too.

Song: Ten Little Flowers. I use this song pretty much every time we do a spring storytime because it's easy to teach the kids, gives them a chance to stand up and get some wiggles out, and it's a great way to include a little STEM knowledge that flowers need water and sunshine to grow.

Source: Storytime Katie

(Tune: Ten Little Indians)
One little, two little, three little flowers
Four little, five little, six little flowers
Seven little, eight little, nine little flowers
Ten flowers in the spring

Give them rain and lots of sunshine
Give them rain and lots of sunshine
Give them rain and lots of sunshine

So they'll grow up tall

Book: Duckie's Rainbow by Frances Barry (2004, Candlewick). This is another book that I use ALL THE TIME. It's a neat book for reinforcing color knowledge and the rounded pages create a rainbow as the story unfolds, which kids love, so this is a great book for developing print motivation. I like to read the story straight through and then pass out scarves and read it again, having the kids help me retell it by waving their color scarves when we read their color. 

Scarf Play: Since we had the scarves out and scarves are my favorite, we did a few activities with them. All of these activities help reinforce basic concepts and help kids practice following instructions: 
  • wave scarves high and low
  • wave scarves fast and slow
  • wave scarves behind and in front
  • toss scarves up in the air on the count of three (always their favorite!)
Rhyme with Scarves: While I say this rhyme, I ask the kids to hold their scarves in the middle and flap them around the room.

Butterflies, butterflies, flapping around.
Visiting flowers, not making a sound.
Flapping your wings, as you go.
Flapping your wings, up high, then low.
Butterflies, butterflies, flapping around.
Visiting flowers, not making a sound.

Source: Jean Warren's Scarf Songs

Putting Scarves Away: To put the scarves away, I sing the following song. This is another activity that reinforces color knowledge, listening, and following directions. 

(Tune: Do You Know the Muffin Man?)
If you have a red scarf, a red scarf, a red scarf
If you have a read scarf, please bring it up to me

(Repeat with different colors until all the scarves are put away.) 

Felt Story: The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. This is a felt story that I bought from Lakeshore Learning when I was a baby librarian and it looks like it's not available there anymore. Since this is a classic story that many children are familiar with, I like telling it in a different format and will usually use my felt set or the pop-up version of the book so that it's something a little different from what the children have probably seen before. Not only does this story follow the life-cycle of a butterfly (STEM knowledge! Egg - caterpillar - chrysalis - butterfly!), it can be used to practice counting and to talk about different foods. 

Closing Song: Goodbye, Friends

Additional Resources: 

There are TONS of great books about spring and spring things! If you don't like or don't have any of the materials listed above, here are more great resources for storytimes about spring and you may also want to search for storytimes about flowers, gardens, bugs, eggs, birds, weather, etc.: 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Preschool Storytime: Monsters

One of my #YesWeCrab goals was to write up this fall's storytimes that I never got around to posting. I normally like to write in more detail about the books and activities that I chose, but due to the delay in posting, you're just getting my bare bones outline.

I did this monsters storytime the last week of October as a slightly scary option that wasn't actually HALLOWEEN. But one nice thing about monsters is that you can use this theme any time!

Here's what we did:

Opening Song: My Hands Say Hello

Book: Big Scary Monster by Thomas Docherty (Templar, 2010). Big Scary Monster loves scaring all the other creatures, but when he heads down the mountain in search of more creatures to scare, he finds himself getting scared and lonely.

Felt: Go Away, Big Green Monster (based on the book by Ed Emberley) Not only does this felt story reinforce body parts vocabulary, it shows kids that they have nothing to fear from monsters.

Book: Go to Bed, Monster by Natasha Wing (HMH, 2007).

Song: If You're a Monster and You Know It

(gnash your teeth, show your claws, stomp your paws, wiggle your tail, give a roar)

Source: Miss Meg's Storytime

Book: Jeremy Draws a Monster by Peter McCarty (Henry Holt BYR, 2009). Jeremy is a lonely little boy but when he attempts to draw himself a friend, he ends up with a rude monster.

Felt: Five Little Monsters Jumping on the Bed. Miss T made me this super cute felt with the template from Falling Flannelboards.

Book: Creepy Monsters, Sleepy Monsters by Jane Yolen (Candlewick Press, 2011).

Closing Song: Do You Know What Time It Is?

Play Stations:

  • Blocks (we always get the blocks out!)
  • Monster paper bag puppets

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A Bookish Wedding is Coming

I'm getting married on Saturday!

And of course we're integrating books into our wedding in a couple of ways.

My fiance designed these awesome Game-of-Thrones-themed bookmarks with sigils for each of us. We sent them out as save-the-dates and every time I use one to mark my page or see a friend using one, it makes me happy! 

I saw the lovely Rita Meade's book-page bouquet from her wedding and I had to have one, too! Krista from Krista Mae Studios did an awesome job with my bouquet and the bridesmaid bouquets...

...she even made us custom comic book boutonnieres and corsages!

And what better place for a bookish couple to honeymoon but The Wizarding World of Harry Potter?!

Fiance has even read/reread all the Harry Potter books in preparation for our vacation. 

All this is to say that I'll be back in a couple of weeks! See you then! 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Preschool Storytime: Bugs

This morning, a preschool class visited us for a storytime on bugs. Here's what I did:

Opening Song: My Hands Say Hello

Book: Lenny in the Garden by Ken Wilson-Max (Frances Lincoln Children's Books, 2010). This sweet British import has simple text to introduce a variety of bugs that Lenny finds in his garden. This was a good basic introduction to some of the bugs we'd see throughout our storytime. One thing to note is that the book uses the British word "ladybird" instead of the American "ladybug". Depending on the age of your kids, you can either just substitute the more familiar word or you might explain why the book uses a different word from the one American kids typically hear. 

Felt Rhyme: Five Little Ladybugs. I used our felt ladybugs with a flannel mitt that fits over one hand. As we said the rhyme and I removed ladybugs, we practiced counting. 

Five little ladybugs, ready to explore
One flew away, and then there were four

Four little ladybugs, crawling up a tree
One flew away, and then there were three

Three little ladybugs didn't have a clue
One flew away, and then there were two

Two little ladybugs, looking for some fun
One flew away, and then there was one

One little ladybug, alone in the sun
She flew away and then there were none

(Apologies, but I don't have a source for this!)

Book: Waiting for Wings by Lois Ehlert (HMH, 2001). This is one of my favorite books to share about bugs or spring or flowers! Simple, rhyming text takes you through the life cycle of a butterfly from eggs on a plant to caterpillars to chrysalis to new butterflies. The bright illustrations and varied sizes of the pages hold a group's interest very well, even young children. The pages you turn start out very small and then get bigger as the eggs hatch, caterpillars grow, and new butterflies fly in search of nectar. This is a great book to insert some STEM knowledge with the life cycle of a butterfly. It also shows how a chrysalis looks different as the butterfly inside changes and grows. We flipped back and forth between the two illustrations and talked about what was the same and different. 

Scarf Activities: I passed out the scarves and we warmed up a little bit by waving them high and low, fast and slow, and tossing them in the air. Then we fluttered our scarves like butterflies as I said this rhyme: 

Butterflies, butterflies, flapping around.
Visiting flowers, not making a sound.
Flapping your wings, as you go.
Flapping your wings, up high, then low.
Butterflies, butterflies, flapping around.
Visiting flowers, not making a sound.

After our rhyme, I called the scarves up to me by color (check out my post on the ASLC Blog for more about using scarves in storytime). 

Book: The Itsy Bitsy Spider by Richard Egielski (Atheneum, 2012). This pop-up book is a fun book for storytime and it's a book that can be sung. Singing with children helps them hear that words are made up of smaller sounds. I love to use pop-up books in storytime because they really capture the interest of the children. As I sang the words, I invited the kids and teachers to sing with me and do the motions that go with this song. 

Book: I Love Bugs! by Emma Dodd (Holiday House, 2010). This is another great book to share because the large trim size and colorful pictures capture the attention of a group and this book uses lots of really great vocabulary words. Though it doesn't actually name bugs, it uses descriptive words for the myriad types of bugs that this child loves: springy, slimy, spiny, fuzzy, whiny, frilly... this book is full of great words! One reason it's great to read books with children is that books expose kids to lots of different vocabulary words that they might not hear in typical conversation. It's much easier to read a word that you've heard before than one that's brand-new, so vocabulary knowledge is one of the six early literacy skills kids need before they learn to read. 

Closing Song: Do You Know What Time It Is?

Monday, April 4, 2016

Preschool Storytime: Clothes

One of my #YesWeCrab goals was to write up this fall's storytimes that I never got around to posting. I normally like to write in more detail about the books and activities that I chose, but due to the delay in posting, you're just getting my bare bones outline.

I did this clothes storytime in November and it was really fun. I especially liked getting our scarves out with one of our books. Here's what I did!

Opening Song: My Hands Say Hello

Book: Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed by Mo Willems (Disney-Hyperion, 2009). 

Book with Scarves: What Can You Do with a Rebozo? by Carmen Tafolla (Tricycle Press, 2008). I passed out the scarves and we pretended that our scarves were rebozos and used them for all the things the book mentions. 

Felt: Mittens in Washing Machine. Source: Miss Mary Liberry. This is one of my ALL-TIME favorite storytime props because it is always a hit; the kids have so much fun with it! We adapted it to use mittens, which we use quite often for winter storytimes. 

Usually, what I do is I tell the kids that I need their help to finish my laundry. It's been in the dryer, but I need help matching up my mittens. I pull out a mitten and we talk about what color it is. I put it on the felt board and then pull out another mitten and ask them if it matches. I pretend that I think it matches when it doesn't, etc. and the kids have a blast correcting me. 

Once we've paired up all the mittens, we count - this is a great opportunity to count by two's or you can just count each mitten, depending on your age group. 

This is a great activity for practicing same-and-different and identifying colors. The kids are always on the edge of their seats waiting to see what will come out of the washing machine next!

Book: Mrs. McNosh Hangs Up Her Wash by Sarah Weeks (HarperCollins, 1997). This silly story is another storytime favorite with its rhyming words and funny imagery. 

Action Song: If You're Wearing Red Today. This is not only a fun, active song, but it helps kids practice listening and following directions (school readiness skills!). 

Book: Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback (Viking Books for Young Readers, 1997). 

Closing Song: Do You Know What Time It Is? 


  • Dress up! I put out our dress up boxes, which are full of random things we've collected over the years. 
  • Blocks - I always put the blocks out.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Reading Wildly: Survival

This month, our Reading Wildly genre was survival. Whether it's the zombie apocalypse or a natural disaster, kids and teens are fascinated with survival and pick up these books often, so it's a good genre to dip into every now and then. Many survival books are fast-paced with lots of action that keeps readers turning the pages. They may be scary or thrilling. Readers may enjoy learning survival techniques JUST IN CASE and exploring characters' responses when disasters happen can help children feel more secure as they find out what characters do to survive whatever happened. 

Here's what we read this month: 

Oh, man. April is going to be sad books and tearjerkers. That always makes for an emotional discussion! 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Preschool Storytime: Mail

This was SUCH a fun storytime! The kids were into the books, the activities were really fun, and we had a great time. Since our schools are on Spring Break this week, I was not sure how attendance would be, but we ended up with a great crowd and they were just really into everything. Here's what we did:

Opening Song: My Hands Say Hello

Opening Activity: Mail call! Today, I introduced our topic via some mail. I showed the kids the giant letter they had gotten (addressed to them) and we went over each part of the address (name, library name, street address, city, state, zip code). Then I opened up the envelope and read the letter to them. (Source: Youth Services Shout-Out post by Amanda Struckmeyer)

Book: Delivering Your Mail by Ann Owen (Picture Window Books, 2003). This is a simply and straightforward introduction to mail carriers and it talks about what they do and how they deliver the mail. Several of the kids chimed in that they know their mail carrier or they have seen a mail truck driving around their neighborhood. Children are curious about their world, so I love to read books that explain something that is familiar to them. I bet kids were anxious to help check the mail that evening!

Book: Mule Train Mail by Craig Brown (Charlesbridge, 2009). Expanding on what we had just talked about, this book tells the true story of Anthony Paya, the mail carrier to the village of Supai on the Havasupai Indian Reservation in Arizona. This village at the bottom of the Grand Canyon is the only place still getting mail delivered by mule train. The text is too long for preschoolers, so I paraphrased some pages and skipped a few pages to make it shorter. Before I started reading the text of the book, I read a little bit from the author's note in the back to introduce it and so that kids and parents would know that this is a true story.

Felt: Six Little Valentines. We got this one from Storytime Katie, of course. The kids loved it! We talked about rhyming words as we read the Valentines and it's a great introduction to the parts of a letter (stamp, address, opening up an envelope).

Stretch: We had been sitting for a long time at this point, so we got up and did one of my favorite wiggle songs: Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. I like to stretch this song out by first asking kids to find some of the body parts mentioned in the song to "test" them ("Where are your... knees? Where are your... toes?" etc.). Then we sing the song at a normal/slow speed. Then we sing it again faster. Then we sing it SUPERFAST, which always ends in lots of giggling.

Book: Hi! by Ann Scott (Puffin, 1994). In this book, little Margarita and her mother visit the post office to mail a package and Margarita wants to wave hi to everyone, but no one pays her any attention. This book not only introduces kids to what a post office looks like and what people go there to do (mail letters, post cards, packages, etc.), but we talked about Margarita's expressions and feelings. How does she feel when no one will wave back to her? How does she feel at the end when the lady at the post office counter is friendly to her? Talking about feelings helps children expand their vocabulary and prepares them to feel and express empathy.

Activity: Mail carrier letter game. I took this one from Ms. A who does our Reading Rockstars storytime for beginning readers. Each week, she puts letters into envelopes and passes them out and then the kids do a song with them and a game identifying words that start with that letter. First, the kids hold up the letters and we sing our song:

(Tune: Do You Know the Muffin Man?)
Oh, have you seen the letter M
The letter M, the letter M
Oh, have you seen the letter M?
It makes the sound muh-muh-muh

Oh, yes I've seen the letter M
The letter M, the letter M
Oh, yes I've seen the letter M
It makes the sound muh-muh-muh

Then I say words and if they start with "M", kids hold their Ms up in the air. If the word does NOT start with "M', kids put their Ms down on their lap. This can go as long or as short as you want, but I did about 6-7 words, really emphasizing the starting letter sounds.

After we were done, I asked the kids to put their letters back in the envelopes and bring their envelope up to put it in the mail basket.

This is a great activity for practicing making and listening for letter sounds. It's a game, which makes it fun for the kids, but it's also a great way to insert some new vocabulary and to help children hear the smaller sounds in words.

Closing Song: Do You Know What Time It Is?

Activity Stations: 

  • Write a letter! I put out paper (plain and I found some graph paper that I thought would be fun), pencils, crayons, and envelopes (I found these rainbow ones in a cabinet, but plain would also be fine!) so kids could draw a picture or write a letter and send their own mail. This is a great activity to insert some writing into your storytime. 
  • Blocks
  • Alphabet puzzle 
  • Alphabet letter matching games 
Additional resources: