Wednesday, May 31, 2017

#middlegrademay Recap!

This month, I challenged myself to pick up more middle grade books and post about them on social media with the hashtag #middlegrademay. There are still SO MANY MORE great middle grade books on my radar that I want to get to, but here's what I was able to read this month:

(Full disclosure! I'm an Amazon Associate, so if you purchase something after clicking the links on my site, I get a small commission.)

Amina's Voice by Hena Khan (Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster, 2017). This is a really solid contemporary middle grade story about Amina, a Muslim kid living in America. When her best friend Soojin decides to adopt an American name after she gets her citizenship, it throws Amina for a loop. Suddenly everything seems to be changing. Can Amina find her voice to stand up and tell everyone how she feels? Although Amina and her family deal with some issues related to immigration and being Muslim, I wouldn't call this an issue-driven book. I would hand this to kids who like realistic stories about characters who are dealing with a lot of the typical middle school issues - friendship, family, school, etc.

The Apprentice Witch by James Nichol (Chicken House, July 2017). This one's coming out in July and it's a great read for kids who like stories about magic and witches. When Arianwyn's evaluation goes awry and she does not graduate to the status of full witch, she is sent to a desperate little town near the edge of a powerfully magical forest where they are happy to have even an apprentice witch. There Arianwyn does the best she can dealing with the creatures that venture out of the wood, and she tries to understand the mysterious, dark glyph that keeps appearing to her. This is a magical adventure story that's a bit dark, but not too scary. It reminded me a lot of The Thickety series (which I love) and I think readers who enjoy that blend of slightly scary magical fantasy will like this one, as well.

Armstrong and Charlie by Steven B. Frank (Houghton Mifflin, 2017). One of my staff members raved about this historical novel, set in 1970s Los Angeles and telling the story of two boys - one who is bused to a predominantly white school from an African American neighborhood, and one who has attended the white school his whole life. I enjoyed it, although the characters read older than sixth grade to me. As a kid who was bused myself, it was interesting to see two sides to the story. I'd suggest this to readers who love historical fiction and school stories.

The Crystal Ribbon by Celeste Lim (Scholastic, 2017). In the vein of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin, this is a richly depicted historical fantasy novel about a young girl sold away from her family to abusive in-laws who helps and befriends jing, animal spirits who eventually help her in return. Kids who love Grace Lin's work or who enjoy Chinese folklore and/or fantasy adventure stories will like this one, too.

Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm (Random House, 2016). Here's another historical novel, this one set in Depression Era Key West, Florida. Beans does what he can to make ends meet and help his family, even when his jobs are not quite legal. When strangers show up to makeover Key West as a tourist destination - a last ditch effort to save the city from bankruptcy - they turn the whole town on its head. I especially like historical fiction that tells me about things I didn't know, and I had no idea this had happened in Key West. Hand this to fans of Jennifer Holm's other works and any fans of historical fiction.

The Harlem Charade by Natasha Tarpley (Scholastic, 2017). The discovery of a hidden painting in a community garden in Harlem and a subsequent attack on an elderly man in that garden sends three kids on a hunt to solve a mystery and save their neighborhood. With developers looking to transform Harlem into something much different than the historic neighborhood, Jin and her new friends know they must stop them or risk losing their homes for good. I'm not a huge mystery fan, but I could really appreciate the rich setting, filled with details of life in Harlem. Kids who love mystery stories, especially novels like Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett or The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, will like this one, too.

The Thickety 4: The Last Spell by J.A. White (Katherine Tegan Books, 2017). This is the fourth and final book of a series that I LOVE and it did not disappoint. Definitely start with the first book, but don't skip the rest. This is a creepy magical adventure story that will please fans of slightly scary fantasy books.

Midnight Without a Moon by Linda Williams Jackson (Houghton Mifflin, 2017). Rose is used to being left behind, so when her mother leaves with her new family to travel North away from the hard life 1950s Mississippi has to offer, Rose resigns herself to her fate... for now. Her deepest hope is that her mother might send for her or that she might find some other way out of the South where tensions are rising. When a Negro boy from Chicago, Emmett Till, is murdered, Rose realizes that change is coming in Mississippi, but whether it will be good or bad, only time will tell. Hand this to kids who enjoy civil rights stories, especially fans of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor.

Moving Target by Christina Diaz Gonzalez (Scholastic, 2016). This book is a complete thrill ride! Cassie has spent her life moving around to different places, following her art history professor father's career. Now they're living in Italy when one day her father picks her up from school in a panic, saying that she is in trouble, that a group called the Hastati wants her dead. And Cassie finds out that she is part of an ancient bloodline, she is a person marked from birth with the ability to control the Spear of Destiny and alter the course of human history. But many people would kill her before she can take that power into hand. This action-packed adventure story will appeal to kids who love the action in series like Percy Jackson or Loot by Jude Watson.

Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson (Walden Pond Press, 2016). Oh, man. This book got me in the feels. When their beloved sixth grade teacher is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and leaves unexpectedly early, missing her Last Day party that the class was throwing her, three boys set out to give her the send-off they know she deserves. Both funny and heartfelt, this is a contemporary novel for kids who like to feel the feels, but who also love to laugh. I love books that are sometimes funny and sometimes serious, and this one fit the bill.

Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O'Neill (Oni Press, 2016). In this fairy tale graphic novel, Princess Sadie is waiting for rescue in her tower when it's not a prince who arrives but another princess. Although the story felt a little sparse, this is a much-needed GLBT twist on the traditional princess rescue trope (and done in a middle-grade friendly way).

The Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda (Scholastic, 2013). This rip-roaring action adventure story features Hindu mythology like the Percy Jackson series features Greek mythology. Don't miss this one for your Rick Riordan fans!

Did you read any middle grade this month?

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Science Activity Pack: Parachutes

Science Activity Packs are back at my library this year! For the full list of the activity packs we're offering, click here!

Source: Deceptively Educational: DIY Parachutes

In this pack, we included:

  • 1 small plastic cup with holes punched in the sides near the top
  • 1 plastic bag square (we cut up garbage bags)
  • 4 lengths of yarn
  • 1 instruction sheet
On the back of the instruction sheet, we included some information about the science of parachutes and the following extension activities: 

  • What happens if you put something heavy in the cup? Something light?
  • What happens if you let the parachute go from different heights? 
  • Does size matter? Can you make a smaller parachute? Does it fall differently?

Monday, May 29, 2017

Science Activity Pack: Static Electricity Butterflies

Science Activity Packs are back at my library this year! For the full list of the activity packs we're offering, click here!

Static Electricity Butterfly
Source: I Heart Crafty Things

In this pack, we included:

  • 2 tissue paper wings
  • 1 cardstock butterfly body
  • 1 balloon
  • 2 pieces of tape* 
  • 1 instruction sheet
On the back of the instruction sheet, we included some information about static electricity and the following extension ideas: 

What gives an electric charge? When you rub your balloon on your hair or cotton cloth, it builds up static electricity. What happens when you rub it on something else? (Be careful not to pop it!) Make a list of what items generate static electricity and what items don’t.

What will static electricity attract? It makes the wings of your butterfly move—what else will move when you hold your charged balloon near? Your hair? A washcloth? A plastic bag? Find out!

* For the materials that we bring out to our Pop-Up Libraries this summer, we really wanted to provide EVERYTHING that a kid would need to do the science activity. We weren't sure whether all of these kids would have basic stuff at home like tape, pencils, etc. So we devised a way to include tape by cutting out squares of thin cardboard and covering one side with packing tape. Then we cut strips of Scotch tape and affixed them on the packing tape with a little tab at the end (just cut out of cardboard) so that kids could pull it off. It's labor-intensive, to be sure, but we didn't include the tape in all of the bags, just the subset that we took out to the Pop-Up Libraries. 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Science Activity Pack: Catapults

Science Activity Packs are back at my library this year! For the full list of the activity packs we're offering, click here!

Source: One of my librarians did a catapults program over spring break!

In this pack, we included:
  • 6 craft sticks
  • 2 rubber bands
  • 1 plastic spoon
  • 1 pompom (any color or size)
  • 1 instruction sheet
The instruction sheet includes the directions for building a catapult and the following extension suggestions: 

Construct your catapult (instructions are on the back!) and then try this:

· Find something to aim at (not a person or pet!) and see how close you can get.

· Did you miss? Try again and adjust your aim or the amount of force you are using.

· Try shooting something else in your catapult. Does it go farther? Try something heavier. Try something lighter. What happens?

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Science Activity Pack: Soda Straw Rocket

Science Activity Packs are back at my library this year! For the full list of the activity packs we're offering, click here!

Soda Straw Rockets
Source: NASA Jet Propulsion Lab

In this pack, we included:
And here are our extension ideas for this activity:
  • Blow into your straw to launch your rocket. Measure how far it goes and write it down. Can you make your rocket go farther? Can you make it land closer to you? 
  • Find something to aim at (not a person or a pet!) and see if you can hit it with your straw rocket. Did you miss? What adjustments should you make to try again? 
  • How does the angle you use affect the distance the rocket travels? Try launching at a different angle and see what happens. 
  • Can you design your own rocket to launch with your straw? Which design works better?

Friday, May 26, 2017

Science Activity Pack: Marshmallow Building

Science Activity Packs are back at my library this year! For the full list of the activity packs we're offering, click here!

Marshmallow Building
Source: This one's a repeat from 2014!

In this pack, we included:
  • 30 mini-marshmallows
  • 40 toothpicks
  • 1 instruction sheet
This one is more of a free-form activity, so our "instruction sheet" really just has building challenges for things you can make with the marshmallows and toothpicks. It challenges them to try building different shapes and: 

Build the tallest structure you can build. Did it fall over? How can you change it to make it more sturdy? Try again!

Test your structure against the elements! How does it stand up against wind (fan) or earthquakes (shake table)?

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Science Activity Pack: Germinating Seeds

Science Activity Packs are back at my library this year! For the full list of the activity packs we're offering, click here!

Germinating Seeds
Source: Fantastic Farm Enterprises

In this pack, we included:
  • About 10 sunflower seeds - I bought a big bag of bird food sunflower seeds and tested some first to make sure they would germinate. They did!
  • 2 paper towels
  • 1 instruction sheet
On the back of the activity instructions, I included the following extension ideas:

  • What do your seeds look like as they start to grow? Draw a picture of what your seeds look like when you start and check each day. When do they start to look different? How long do they take to germinate?
  •  The seeds in this kit are sunflower seeds. What foods do you eat that have seeds in them? Do they have many seeds or just a few seeds? If you try germinating those seeds the same way, what happens?

Science Activity Packs Revisited

A few years ago when the CSLP theme was about science, my staff and I developed Science Activity Packs as a summer reading prize. Instead of rewarding reading with plastic toys and junk, we elected to give kids the supplies to do a fun science activity at home.

We only used those one year because we have since been able to go to giving everyone a free book at the end of the summer.

BUT NOW THEY'RE BACK! This year, we've revamped a little bit and we're trying some along-the-way prizes in order to encourage families to make multiple visits to the library and to help encourage kids to stick with the program and complete the reading to earn their free book. (Side note: we're hoping for lots of newbies to our program this year since we're taking Summer Reading into lots of our neighborhoods this year. More on that later!)

We did recycle one of our ideas from 2014, but we have some brand new Science Activity Packs to share and I will be posting about them in the upcoming days (complete with the printable instructions, which I know lots of you have asked me about!). As I get those blog posts up, I will link here so you have the complete list.

**ETA: Unfortunately, I don't have the drive space to upload the instruction sheets, so I am no longer able to provide them. 

2017 Science Activity Packs:
Of course, I do not mind if you borrow any of these ideas, but it's actually not super difficult to come up with your own Science Activity Packs.

And these can definitely be used as prizes or take-homes, but a lot of these activities may be fun to build programs around. If you're looking for some fun, cheap science activities to do with your students or the kids at your library, these may work for you (or be tweaked to work for you).

Have you tried Science Activity Packs at your library or something similar? I would love to know what ideas you have! 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Be Gentle with Yourself, Librarian

Here is a picture of me doing storytime. Because it's funny.

It's okay if you're behind on your GoodReads goal (I am).

It's okay if you're behind on your RunKeeper goal (I am).

It's okay if you don't finish your Overdrive audiobook before it is automatically returned. You can check it out again and keep going (or move on to something else).

It's okay if your blogging has slowed down to a trickle. You will pick it back up when you want to.

It's okay if you didn't follow your meal plan every day this week. Everyone survived.

It's okay that you woke up at 6am, mind racing, because then you did some yoga to try to reduce that anxiety.

It's okay that you cried with frustration at part of your day on Wednesday because the next day was a new day and it was a better one.

Summer is coming. Be gentle with yourself, librarian.

Monday, May 1, 2017


In looking at my reading choices over the past couple of months, I have realized that I have GOT to add some more middle grade books into my reading diet! I've been reading lots of adult and teen books, which have been great, but I need to give myself a little push to pick up more middle grade and keep things balanced.

Here are a few of the books on my middle grade TBR stack!

So, who will join me for #MiddleGradeMay? 

Just read middle grade books during the month of May and post about them with the hashtag #middlegrademay. Do this anywhere you normally post (Twitter, Litsy, Instagram, whatever floats your boat!) and then check out the hashtag to find some more great middle grade suggestions!

It's worth mentioning that when I say "middle grade" I mean books that are aimed at kids in approximately 3rd-8th grade. At least that's what I'm concentrating on reading more of this month. What you choose to read is up to you!

Let's help motivate each other to pick up middle grade books this month! 

What middle grade books have YOU read and loved lately?? I will take all the suggestions I can get!