Friday, April 29, 2011

#Flannel Friday - Fifteen Animals

I have been loving the #Flannel Friday roundups that Mel's been posting and I finally got my act together to post one of my own. I have to confess, I did NOT make this flannel set. My wonderful employee Miss T is gifted with craftiness and she makes many of our flannel stories. When I saw the book Fifteen Animals by Sandra Boynton, I knew it would be great for storytime, but the small board book format wasn't the best for a group. So I took it to Miss T and she created these flannel pieces to go with it:

I won't print the entire text here (seriously, go get the book! I love it!), but the gist is:

I have a cat named Bob and a dog named Bob
And two fish named Bob and Bob...

And so on, until you get to...

There's Bob the mouse and Bob the bird 
And my turtle...
Simon James Alexander Ragdale the Third. 

I love the silly, surprise ending. This is a simple story that would work with a storytime on animals, pets, or counting.

Now, head on over to Mel's Desk for this week's #Flannel Friday roundup!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Look Back at Spring Storytime

For the past couple of months, I have been posting our weekly preschool storytimes. Last week was our last week of spring storytime (summer ahoy! OMG...), so today I wanted to take a look back over our storytime series and share a little bit about what we do, what we like, and what we might change for next time. 

Our story room!
Traditionally, my library has offered registered preschool storytimes in the fall and in the spring. When I first started, we began offering a drop-in storytime, but it just never took off and our attendance was very low. Spring and fall storytime has been a tradition here for over 30 years and I think it's what people are used to, so at the beginning of 2011 we dropped the drop-in and went back to only having the registered storytimes. (We do offer weekly drop-in baby and toddler programs.)

Our Spring Storytime Series ran from the week of February 21 through the week of April 18, taking a week off for Spring Break when many of our families go out of town. To compensate for eliminating the drop-in storytime, we offered an 8-week session (up from a 6-week session in the fall) and we offered five different time slots (up from 4 in the fall). Honestly, I don't think that this made a big difference and I think we'll go back to 6 weeks in the fall. Or possibly 8 weeks in the fall and 6 weeks in the spring to give us a little more Summer Reading Club prep time.

We offered the following time slots and families were asked to sign up for one class time and attend every week (as they are able):
  • Mondays at 11:00am
  • Tuesdays at 7:00pm
  • Wednesdays at 1:00pm
  • Thursdays at 11:00am
  • Thursdays at 2:00pm. 
 The Thursday afternoon was a departure and it was not well attended. We won't have it again in the fall. The rest of the sessions were well-attended, with the exception of Tuesday evenings. Evening programs in general do not draw big crowds for us, so this evening storytime was on par with other evening programs in the past. It's important to me that we always offer an evening class time for working parents, so we will continue doing that. We might try Tuesdays or Thursdays at 1:00 or a later afternoon (like 4:00) for kids with siblings in school.

We make a nametag for each child and they pick it up at the Children's Desk before their storytime. Nametags consist of a die-cut shape with a little metal fastener and we use the same shape for all of them, but a different color for each class time. My class time was Mondays at 11:00 and we had red nametags. Children pick out a sticker to put on their nametag for each week that they attend. (Bonus: little siblings may have a sticker if they want one, and sometimes that eases the sting of not getting their own nametag!) Children may take their nametag home after the last session of the series.

We limit sign-up to 25 children per class and usually one or two class times fill up. We almost never have all 25 children show up at the same time, though, so we always welcome guests. We are very flexible about letting in siblings and letting in other children as long as we have the space for it. Parents and caregivers are encouraged to come in, but they may send their child in alone as long as he/she is comfortable with that. Most of our parents come in.

There are five of us in my department that do programming, so we each took one time slot. We planned the themes out in advance and divided up the planning with each of us planning one or two weeks. The person in charge of planning a week picks out books and materials for storytime, trying to choose a variety of materials since every group will be different and every storyteller's style will be different. That person also chooses and preps a take-home craft.

We started offering take-home crafts last fall and we LOOOOVE THEM. Traditionally, we would all do a craft with the group after the stories. Depending on the size of the group, this was more or less manageable. The main inconvenience was the tables. For every storytime, we'd have to drag out our small hexagonal tables and then we'd have to put them away again when others needed to use the room. One of my staff members suggested take-home crafts and we tried them out last fall. Not only is it 100 times easier for us, but parents love them! They love having something to take home to do with dad or brothers and sisters. We allow them to take extra packets to share with siblings at home. And it helps parents extend what the kids have learned in storytime by having a related activity to bring the learning home.

In each craft packet, we include all the supplies to do the craft (minus staples like glue, scissors, crayons, etc.), instructions, and a sheet with a topical book list on one side and ideas for at-home activities on the other side. After we determine the themes for each week, I put together the handouts and it really doesn't take too long to bang them out.

I used the same opening and closing songs each week, which worked well. For opening, I used Raffi's "Shake Your Sillies Out", which was fine but the range is a little too low for me to sing easily, so I'm in the market for a different song for next time. For the closing song, I used "Do You Know What Time It Is?" I like using that one because we use it in our Mother Goose on the Loose and Toddler Time programs, so that provides some continuity. Here's the song:

Do You Know What Time It Is?
(Sung to the tune of "Do You Know the Muffin Man?")

Do you know what time it is?  [tap wrist]
What time it is? What time it is? 
Do you know what time it is? 
Storytime is over!

Now's the time to wave goodbye... [wave hands]

Now's the time to stand up tall...  [stand up]

But come back to see us soon  [clap on beat]
See us soon, see us soon
But come back to see us soon
When the fun will start again!

I used the Memory Box every week, which went very well, although I don't think any of the kids actually learned the memory box rhyme that I said with them every week. And I don't think we planned it this way, but I believe that every week we had some variation on an activity asking kids to bring felt pieces to the board or have pieces to come up and put in a box. I like the continuity that this gives (and also it's something familiar because we do it with our Toddler Time programs, too).

Next time, I'd like to incorporate more music and possibly bring out the bells each week. I'd like to make a more conscious effort to have a felt board or item/box activity and come up with a rhyme or song for it each week. And I'd like to put more thought into my own storytime themes, so I am open to your favorite storytime themes!!

So, here are my questions for you librarians:

  • What are your favorite storytime themes or readalouds? 
  • What have you tried with your storytime that's really worked well? 
  • What (if any) activities do you repeat weekly? 
  • What's your favorite opening song?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Bumped by Megan McCafferty. Grades 9+. HarperTeen, April 2011. 336 pages. Reviewed from ARC scooped up at ALA Midwinter.

What if only teenagers could get pregnant? The Virus has now infected about 75% of the population, rendering people sterile at around age 18-20. People who want a baby after this age will pay top dollar for a teen's baby or to hire a girl to pregg for them. Melody's one such professional, landing a six-figure contract based on her good looks, athleticism, and intelligence. But when her long-lost identical twin Harmony shows up, determined to convert Melody to the Church and save her soul, a case of mistaken identity will change both twins forever.

With tongue firmly in cheek, Megan McCafferty makes her official YA debut with this hilarious satire of the dystopian phenomenon.

Honestly, I had heard some negative feedback before picking up this book, so I lowered my expectations and then was unexpectedly delighted to find myself laughing out loud. But this isn't just a funny book - it's a biting commentary on teen sexuality and pregnancy within our culture.

I love how Ms. McCafferty plays with language, creating a completely new set of slang based on the reproductivity-obsessed world portrayed in her book. In fact, the language and slang reminded me of Feed by MT Anderson (a book I loved), although the tone is definitely different. People in this world are connected through the MiNet, an implanted Facebook-ish feed on which they can check the status of their friends and share media. Um, guys, it really seems eerily possible.

Although many teen girls feel empowered by their sudden importance to the country, Melody's been raised by her adoptive parents to be the perfect reproducer. The pressure is on for her to get good grades, excel at sports, and develop herself to be appealing to potential clients who will want her egg. Melody's never given a choice in the matter, a fact that becomes evident as we get further into the book.

Celebrity hunks are revered for their sperm and their fertility. Young girls dream of being pregnant for the money and status that the condition offers, and one can even buy "vanity bumps" at the mall. Although teen girls can now provide for themselves by signing contracts to pregg or by selling their newborns, for many it means growing up way too fast. Suddenly teens are the most important people in the world - they hold the ticket to humanity's future - and pregging opens gateways by providing funds for college and even luxuries like cars or vacations. But it's not without risks, as we learn through the book. Pregnancy still carries a risk - both physical and mental. While young girls are swept up in the status symbol that pregging provides, they're not considering all the risks.

There's tons to talk about with this book and it'll definitely be a discussion starter. The ending is satisfying enough, but it definitely leads in to the sequel.

Bumped is on shelves now!

Check out more reviews at The Reading Zone, Presenting Lenore, and Forever Young Adult.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Giveaway: A Discovery of Witches

The giveaway is now closed. Thanks to all who entered!

Okay, I don't normally hold giveaways for books that I haven't read, but, well, I'm doing that today. A Discovery of Witches by debut author Deborah Harkness is technically published for adults, but it's got loads of YA appeal and I've been hearing some really good things about the book. It was a February 2011 Indie Next pick and it's been getting tons of great reviews all over the place.

Here's a little bit about the book from the author's website: 

When historian Diana Bishop opens a bewitched alchemical manuscript in Oxford’s Bodleian Library it represents an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordinary life. Though descended from a long line of witches, she is determined to remain untouched by her family’s legacy. She banishes the manuscript to the stacks, but Diana finds it impossible to hold the world of magic at bay any longer.

For witches are not the only otherworldly creatures living alongside humans. There are also creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires who become interested in the witch’s discovery. They believe that the manuscript contains important clues about the past and the future, and want to know how Diana Bishop has been able to get her hands on the elusive volume.

Chief among the creatures who gather around Diana is vampire Matthew Clairmont, a geneticist with a passion for Darwin. Together, Diana and Matthew embark on a journey to understand the manuscript’s secrets. But the relationship that develops between the ages-old vampire and the spellbound witch threatens to unravel the fragile peace that has long existed between creatures and humans—and will certainly transform Diana’s world as well.

One lucky winner will receive a copy of A Discovery of Witches and a set of buttons: 

This giveaway is open to US residents only and I will accept entries through next Tuesday, May 3! To enter, just fill out the form below. One entry per person, please. 

The giveaway is now closed. Thanks to all who entered!!

Monday, April 25, 2011

I'll Be There

I'll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan.  Grades 7+  Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, May 2011.  400 pages.  Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.

Sam hasn't been to school since the second grade when his schizophrenic father took him and his younger brother Riddle and went on the lam.  Since then, they've moved every time his father starts getting paranoid, and Sam and Riddle are on their own for pretty much everything.  Our story starts when Sam walks into a church and hears a girl (Emily) singing a solo he's sure is meant just for him.  And everything begins to change.

The brilliant storytelling drew me into this book and didn't let me go until the last page.  There's a little something for everyone here - contemporary, adventure, thriller, romance - and it's told in a way that feels somehow classic.  Maybe it's the third-person omniscient narration?  You get the story from everyone's point of view and it turns this tale of two lost boys into the story of an entire community.  I also think this is a book that is equally appealing to boys and girls.  Yes, there's some romance, but it's nothing graphic or overdone, and there's a large element of adventure and survival.  ALSO, I think this is a GREAT crossover title and it's sure to garner adult fans as well as teen fans.

And how I loved the characters!  I was surprised by how attached I was to the characters since the narration is a bit removed from their actions.  There's not a lot of dialog.  The narrator of the story definitely has a voice, but you don't get strong voices from the characters, so my attachment to these characters really snuck up on me.  Let me just say that at one point near the end of the book, something happens that made me so happy and relieved that I literally just sat there for a few minutes with tears running down my face.  I had no idea I loved these characters that much.

Somehow, even though a lot of fairly outlandish things happen in this book, I feel like all the events in the story were real.  Holly Sloan wove me a tale and I'm buying what she's selling.

The books I can think to compare it with are middle grade and I think I'll Be There is for a slightly older audience.  As I was reading, I kept thinking about Kathi Appelt's books like The Underneath and Keeper.  The storytelling style felt kind of similar to hers or maybe it evoked the same feelings - either way, it's meant as a compliment!  As I'm writing this review, I find that I'm also thinking of Barbara O'Connor's Greetings from Nowhere.

One last thing is a note on the cover.  I read an ARC that did not have a cover image and I was very pleased to see this one when I started to write my review.  From the colors used to that endless expanse of stars and nature, I think it evokes the feel of the book perfectly.  The cover adds to its crossover appeal and I could easily see this on adult shelves as well as teen.

Holly Goldberg Sloan has written for movies previously and this is her debut novel.

I'll Be There will be on shelves May 3!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Around the Interwebs

Here's what I've been reading around the interwebs (and I haven't done one of these in quite awhile, so I'm catching up on my links folder!)...

Eeee! Save the Date! Pam of MotherReader has set the date for the 6th Annual 48-Hour Book Challenge for June 3rd-5th, the first weekend in June. (How geeky is it to admit that I tend to plan my library programs so that I can keep these dates free? Very, I know.)

Amazon announced that they will launch Kindle Lending Library later this year, a feature that will allow Kindle users to borrow books from libraries that carry them. Jill of NerdGirlBlogging is a teen librarian who purchases ebooks for her system and she gives us the inside scoop on how library ebook purchasing works and what the Kindle announcement might mean.

There's a new Dr. Seuss book hitting shelves this fall: The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories. Apparently these are cartoons that ran in magazines in the 1940s and 50s and they'll be republished in a 72-page book due out in September.

Here's my big secret about how to get along with kids: kids just want to be listened to. Seriously, start with that, with actually listening to kids and talking to them about the stuff they like, and you'll find it hard to go wrong. Amanda of Not Just Cute shares her top 10 tips for adults on being good listeners.

Renee Grassi wrote a guest post for the ALSC Blog on inclusive programming for kids with autism. This simple tips will help you provide great programs for children with autism.

Speaking of programming, Sarah of The GreenBean TeenQueen posted about her Teen Read-a-Thon program, something I am dying to try out.

Okay, this has nothing to do with books or libraries, but Alicia of The LibrariYAn shared this video and it is fabulous:

And on that note, I'm out. Have a great weekend!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Planting the Wild Garden

Welcome to my stop on the Fins, Wings, and Other Things blog tour, brought to you by Peachtree Press! Be sure to check out the complete schedule at Peachtree's Blog!

Happy Earth Day! It's my pleasure to review a great Earth Day title for you today!

Planting the Wild Garden by Kathryn O. Galbraith, illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin. Ages 4-8. Peachtree Press, April 2011. Unpaged. Review copy provided by publisher.

As the weather warms, maybe your thoughts turn to gardening. You get out your garden gloves, your trowel, your seeds, your watering can... but how are flowers and trees planted in the wild? There are lots of "gardeners" in the meadow! The wind blows seeds, birds and animals spread seeds in their droppings, rain washes seeds to new places, animals carry seeds on their coats, and even people spread seeds without knowing it!

Carefully chosen words describe how animals and forces of nature help to spread seeds and plant the wild garden. I especially love the rich vocabulary, so important in books for young children. We get words like "bobbles", "splatter", "lodge", and "tangle" in addition to the animal and plant words that already make this a vocabulary-rich book.

The delicate and detailed illustrations give kids lots to pore over. Smaller inset pictures depict the growth of plants or show different kinds of burrs or show how birds extract seeds from certain flowers. These are a neat addition, presenting additional information from what's in the text. Endpapers show tons of different kinds of seeds. I do wish that there were more notes on the illustrations. Tiny labels telling what plant each seed comes from would have added greatly to the informational value.

A bibliography is included, which gives kids a good start if they're looking for more information about seeds.

This book will make a great addition to units on plants, gardens, or seeds and it would be a great book to read before taking a nature hike! Planting the Wild Garden is on shelves now!

And be sure to check out today's other stops on the tour: Wendy Anderson Halperin has a guest post at Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers, a review of About Habitats: Grasslands over at There's a Book, and a review of A Place for Fish over at A Word's Worth.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Squish: Super Amoeba

Squish: Super Amoeba by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm.  (Grades 2-5.)  Random House Books for Young Readers, May 2011.  96 pages.  Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.

Meet Squish, grade school amoeba.
He's just dealing with what all amoebas have to deal with: friends that mooch his lunch money, boring science class, detention, and a bully threatening to EAT his friends if he doesn't let him cheat off him on the next science test.  What's an amoeba to do?  As Squish imagines himself as his favorite comic book hero, he just might figure out what it'll take to save the day!

Y'all know that I'm a huge Babymouse fan and I was so excited to see that Jenni Holm and Matt Holm are starting a new series that's, well, not quite so pink. :)  I'm happy to report that Squish: Super Amoeba doesn't disappoint.

Take the stuff you love about Babymouse: humor, a relateable protagonist dealing with realistic situations, and wild flights of imaginative fancy.  Color 'em green (not pink!) and add a smattering of facts about microscopic life and you have Squish.  Seriously, the series takes successful elements from Babymouse and repackages them in an original story in a way that's appealing to boys.

It's not just the different colors that gives it guy appeal, either.  There's a definite gross-out factor when you're talking about amoebas, paramecia, and flatworms.  Matt Holm strikes a really nice balance with the artwork here.  It's gross enough to appeal to kids who like that sort of thing, but not so gross as to turn other kids off.  And for a blob, Squish is remarkably expressive.

I have a soft spot in my heart for Babymouse with her cute pink bow and her love of cupcakes, but then I'm a girl.  And I'm happy to have something similar to hand to the boys (and girls!) who turn tail at the first sight of a pink cover.

Squish: Super Amoeba will be on shelves May 24!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Cuddle Up With This Storytime

Ohhh this is our last week of spring preschool storytimes! And actually it's our last week of most programs. Since we'll be visiting all the schools (13 visits in all for our department, plus I will probably go visit the middle and high schools with our teen librarian), we offer almost no programming in May. We'll start back up with drop-in family storytimes in June (and also eleventy billion other programs...).

So, for our last week of storytime, our theme was Stuffed Animals and Toys. And here's what I did:

Opening Song: "Shake Your Sillies Out" by Raffi. I have enjoyed using this song, but Raffi's version is in a terrible range for me. It's too low, but if I take it up an octave, it's pretty darn high. I play the CD (and I need something on CD since not all of my staff are comfortable with singing alone), but the kids really respond better to my singing. I will look for another opening song for our fall session (any suggestions?).

Memory Box Item: This week's Memory Box item was a crab from the book Bear in the Air. In retrospect, it was not the best memory box item because there are crabs on LOTS of pages and the kids kept yelling out "There's a crab! There's a crab!" instead of listening to the story. Have I mentioned that my group is kind of rowdy?

Book: Bear in the Air by Susan Meyers. I shortened it a bit because it was too long for my rowdy crowd (I clipped several pages together in the middle), but this one still didn't hold their attention. It could have been because I had a guest from Toddler Time who was not quite ready to sit and listen to stories and she was distracting the other kids. Oh, well. Sometimes a story doesn't quite work. Sometimes it will work for one group and not another group. You live, you learn, and you move on to something else!

Prop: Toy Board. Our props mistress, Miss T, made this prop for a toys-themed Toddler Time and I brought it out for this group. OMG they loooved it. It's pretty simple, really. I opened up the first toy chest and it was empty - all the toys were missing! So the kids and I had to find each hidden toy. I asked them where I should check next and someone would shout out "Behind the curtains!" and we would see which toy was behind the curtains. "Under the bed!" and so on... until we found all the toys and then I opened up the last toy chest and it's filled with all the toys. (That picture at the top of this post is me peeking behind the couch.)

Rhyme: Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear. Anything that gets this group up and moving is a good thing. I probably could have done this five times. They loved it.

Book: Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems. This one was a hit. Put copies of the sequels on display for kids to check out and take home with them!

Felt Activity: Toys in the Toy Box. I passed out felt pieces to everyone and when I called their toy, I invited them to come to the front and put it "in the toy box" (i.e. on the felt board). When we do our registered storytime sessions again in the fall, I think I will try to come up with rhymes or songs to go along with these activities every week. I probably can do it, but usually I don't think about it in time, so I end up just saying "If you have an elephant, bring it up and put it in the toy box!"

Book: Where's My Teddy? by Jez Alborough. Love this book! Love it, love it, love it! It combines a simple rhyming text with big, bright illustrations to tell a funny story. Love this book. The kids loved it, too.

Song: Ten in the Bed. We didn't actually have time to get to this one, but I had it prepped. I used the same color bear felts that I used for the candy storytime to sing

There were ten in the bed and the little one said, "Roll over! Roll over!" 
So they all rolled over and a red one fell out!

And so on. If you have the right crowd, you could invite kids to come up to the board and take off the appropriate color.  And repeat as necessary!

Take-Home Craft: Teddy Bears. We cut out teddy bear shapes (using a die-cut would be a lot faster, but our teddy bear shape wasn't quite big enough for what we had in mind...) and provided scraps of cloth and buttons for kids to glue on to decorate their bears. The cloth came from old shirts from Goodwill that we had leftover from previous events.

Alternate Books: If you don't like or don't have any of the books mentioned above, here are some others to consider:

Corduroy by Don Freedman
How Will I Ever Sleep in This Bed? by Della Ross Ferreri
I Love My New Toy by Mo Willems
I Must Have Bobo by Eileen Rosenthal
Paisley by Maggie Smith
The Stuffed Animals Get Ready for Bed by Alison Inches

And that was IT for our spring storytime series! Stay tuned - next week I'll be posting a reflection of the series overall and what we want to keep and what we might like to change.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Bitter End

Bitter End by Jennifer Brown.  Grades 9+.  Little, Brown, May 2011.  368 pages.  Reviewed from ARC snagged at ALA.

At first, it was sunshine and roses.  Alex couldn't believe how lucky she was that a guy like Cole showed an interest in her.  She was head over heels.  And yeah, her best friends seemed jealous and they started drifting apart, but that didn't really matter because Cole loved her and that was all that mattered.  But as Cole's "playful" shoves and pinches escalated into punches and kicks, Alex had to admit to herself that it was not okay.  How could she leave him, though, when the only thing worse than being abused by him would be losing him for good?

Jennifer Brown perfectly captures that elated first-love feeling.  She also perfectly captures that trapped feeling of being caught in an unhealthy relationship and seeing no way out.  Alex felt so real to me that I found myself yelling at her and then weeping with her and wanting to scoop her up and protect her.

I have to give props for the supporting characters, too.  I felt the bonds between Alex and her two best friends Bethany and Zack.  When those bonds are strained by Alex choosing to hang out with Cole, to defend Cole even when he starts doing nasty things, their friendship starts to fall apart.  It just all feels so real.

And Georgia!!  I loved Georgia, Alex's boss at the restaurant where she works.  George is kind of like a mom to Alex since Alex's mom died when she was little.  And when Alex thinks about reaching out to Georgia and then stops herself because she doesn't want to add to Georgia's stress or she doesn't want to disappoint Georgia, that all felt real, too.

I like it when books feel real, when characters practically step off the pages to greet you.  And Bitter End was definitely a story that drew me in and didn't let go until, well, until the bitter end.

I'd hand this to teens who dig contemporary fiction, especially teens who were sucked into Jennifer Brown's debut novel Hate List or contemporary reads by Laurie Halse Anderson or Elizabeth Scott's edgy stuff, possibly even Ellen Hopkins, though Bitter End is not quite as issue-driven.

Bitter End will be on shelves May 10!

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Stormy Storytime

This week's storytime was all about storms and weather. Monday was the perfect day for it because we had thunderstorms and rain all day long! Here's what we did:

Opening Song: "Shake Your Sillies Out" by Raffi. The kids really know it now!

Memory Box Item: This week's Memory Box item was a mushroom from the book Stormy Day.

Book: Stormy Day by Claire Henley. I think I have realized that unless I do our Memory Box book first thing, the kids forget all about it. ;) Maybe I need to remind them...

Rhyme: The Itsy Bitsy Spider. We have a purchased felt set for this rhyme and we do it first with the itsy bitsy spider and then we do it in a deep voice with a BIG, FAT spider and then in a high voice for the eensy weensy spider.

Book: Duckie's Rainbow by Frances Barry. One of the kids said, "We read this one before!" because we had read Duckie's Ducklings last week. They enjoyed the other Duckie book, so I wanted to share this one with them, too! They loved naming the colors on each page.

Felt Activity: Weather felt pieces. You have noticed by now that this is an activity we repeat a lot. This week I improvised a little story as we decided to see what kind of weather we were having in storytime. First the sun was bright and shining, then we saw a bolt of lightning. As the wind picked up, we developed a tornado! And then the wind died down and we had a little more rain. And then we ended with a beautiful rainbow! The nice thing about this activity is that even very young children can do it, so it gives our younger siblings something to do.

Book: The Big Storm: A Very Soggy Counting Book by Nancy Tafuri. As the weather starts to get bad, different forest animals duck into a cave to wait out the storm. But what they don't realize is that there are two bears sleeping in the cave! I read the book, but this would transfer very well into a felt story.

Felt: Five Little Umbrellas. By this time, I was losing a couple of them and I noticed a few of the girls talking with each other and not paying any attention, so I substituted the kids' names in the rhyme. You better believe that as soon as they heard their name, they snapped back to attention. We ended up doing this rhyme twice so that we could get more kids' names in. (And yes, we have them wear nametags!)

Five umbrellas stood by the door.
Riley took the pink one, and then there were four!

Four umbrellas, pretty as can be.
Ben took the blue one, and then there were three!

Three umbrellas with nothing to do.
Ollie took the green one, and then there were two! 

Two umbrellas having fun.
Lincoln took the yellow one, and then there was one!

One umbrella alone in the hall.
Ashly took the purple one and that was all!

Closing Song: Do You Know What Time It Is?

Take-Home Craft: Weather hangers! We ran off the large cloud and small weather pictures on cardstock and put those in the bag. We punched the holes in the clouds, but we didn't them out or color them - they can do that at home. We included the yarn and our weekly handouts with a book list and activities they can do at home!

Alternate Books: If you don't like or don't have any of the above books, here are some other weather and storm books you might use:

Are You Ready to Play Outside? by Mo Willems
Clifford and the Big Storm by Norman Bridwell
If Frogs Made Weather by Marion Bauer
Just a Thunderstorm by Gina & Mercer Mayer
Mr. Bear to the Rescue by Debi Gliori
Rain by Manya Stojic
Rain Romp by Jane Kurtz
Storm is Coming! by Heather Tekavec

Next week's our last week in our spring storytime series. We do our registered preschool storytimes in the spring and in the fall. Over the summer we'll have drop-in family storytime.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Author/Illustrator Interview with Susan Stockdale

Welcome to my stop on the Fins, Wings, and Other Things blog tour, brought to you by Peachtree Press! Check out the complete schedule for the tour at Peachtree's blog!

Today it's my pleasure to bring you an interview with Susan Stockdale, author and illustrator of Bring On the Birds.

A: Your book, Bring On the Birds, is all about our feathered friends. How did you decide which birds to include in your book? What kind of research was involved in that decision? Do you have any favorite birds that didn't make it in?

SS: As with all my books, my first step was to write the words. I was concerned about how they sounded; I actually said them out loud as I wrote them. I thought about their alliteration and rhythm. For example, I wrote the rhyme scheme:

Skimming birds, swimming birds,
birds with tails held high.
Racing birds, riding birds,
birds that never fly

Then I headed to the library to determine: Which birds skim? Swim? Raise their tails up high? I selected birds that had the most visual appeal to me as an illustrator. And, because I celebrate biodiversity among animals in all my books, I was looking for birds from disparate geographic areas. I wanted to introduce my young readers to a wide variety of bird habitats, ranging from the rainforest canopy of South America to the arid sand flats of Africa.

American Bittern
I gathered together a number of “candidates” for each phrase. For example, for “birds with tails held high” I considered the Great Argus Pheasant, the Capercaillie and the Peacock, all of which raise their tails to attract a mate. I chose the Peacock because I was drawn to the colorful, eye-spotted patterns on its feathers. I knew they’d be wonderful to paint. I considered many different Woodpeckers before selecting the Red-bellied Woodpecker. I chose it for its brilliant red crown and intricately patterned black and white feathers, which I knew would really pop on the page. I omitted some birds that I really liked. For “hiding birds,” I left out the American Bittern, a bird with colored feather patterns that camouflage it beautifully. Instead, I went in the opposite direction with an all-white bird. I included the White-tailed Ptarmigan (pronounced tar-mih-gan), hiding in a white snow bank. I was attracted to the simplicity and starkness of this image, which provided a contrast to my more colorful, detailed illustrations.

Did you do a lot of research?

Yes, my research was extensive. First, I read books, magazines, and online resources. After writing my manuscript and creating a dummy (a mock-up of the book) with the illustration sketches, I consulted with bird experts at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, the National Zoo, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. These scientists assessed the accuracy of my textual and visual information. Clearly, everything that I convey to my young readers has to be correct. I also tried to see as many of the birds in my book as possible. I visited zoos and examined bird specimens at the National Museum of Natural History. My most exotic trip was to the Galapagos Islands, where I saw the Blue-footed Boobies perform their fanciful mating dance, and the Great Frigatebird puff out its scarlet chest. These were marvelous spectacles. The Galapagos trip also stimulated ideas for new books.
Image from Recipe Wiki

What is something interesting that you found out in your research that didn't make it into the final book?

The Ostrich lays the largest bird egg in the world.

You have created several picture books about animals and nature. Have you always been interested in nature? What about it fascinates you?

I’ve always been drawn to nature. I grew up in sunny Miami, Florida, surrounded by lush vegetation and flowers. I played outside all the time, and my family made frequent visits to a place called the Parrot Jungle, here I was dazzled by the birds’ bright, bold colors. My family also lived in Ireland for a few years during my childhood. The Irish landscape was green and sparkly, filled with cows, sheep and other animals I'd never seen in Miami. These two very different environments -- the subtropics of Miami and the magical surroundings of Ireland -- really influenced my development as an artist and sparked my interest in nature.

I’m fascinated by patterns in the natural world, which are so abundant and varied. It has become instinctive for me to find patterns in everything I paint. (Before becoming a children’s book author and illustrator, I worked as a textile designer for the clothing industry, creating intricate designs for fabric.) I find the repetition in both words and images to be very soothing and reassuring, and I think children do, too. When I read my rhyming books to kids, they spontaneously clap! They really respond to the rhythm.

Why do you feel it's important to create informational books for young children? What do you hope children will get out of your books?

Kids don’t play outside the way I did when I was little; they’re inside on their computers or watching TV. I think that’s so sad. I’ve actually been on nature walks with children who were afraid to be there, afraid of wildlife. I create my picture books to shine a light on nature and say, “Hey! Look how beautiful this animal, or flower, or leaf is!” I hope to encourage kids to celebrate and appreciate the natural world. I hope to engage them in the beauty of language by using spare text, energetic rhyme schemes and a lot of alliteration.

I am a huge fan of nonfiction picture books. What are some of your favorite nonfiction picture books or who are some nonfiction picture book authors that you admire?

I’m an admirer of books by Steve Jenkins, especially Down, Down, Down, Never Smile at a Monkey and Move. He conveys information about nature and animals with such originality and elegance in both his text and intricate collages. He makes learning fun.

I’m also a fan of books by Jim Arnosky, Russell Freedman, Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, Caroline Arnold and Robert Snedden. I’ve consulted their books while developing the text and illustrations for my work, and have included them in my books’ bibliographies.

Great authors to check out! Thanks so much for stopping by and answering my questions, Susan! 

Be sure to pick up Susan's book Bring On the Birds for a great look at different birds all over the world. And be sure to check out today's other stops on the tour: an interview with Wendy Anderson Halperin over at Book Dads and a review of About Habitats: Grasslands over at A Word's Worth.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Zita the Spacegirl

Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke.  Grades 4-7. First Second, February 2011. 184 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.

When Zita pushed the button, she opened a portal to another planet. And to save the day, she'll have to count on the help of some very special new friends.

Seriously, I can't do the plot justice with my words, so check out this awesome book trailer instead. Go on, I'll wait. 

Zita the Spacegirl: Trailer from Ben Hatke on Vimeo.

This book totally charmed me! I picked it up to flip through it when I saw it on our new books cart and I ended up checking it out and taking it home to read the whole thing. This is a book bursting with imagination!

The clear, bright artwork shows a great range of tones and emotions. What hooked me on the book is the humor, especially portrayed in characters' expressions. With simple moments and little details in the pictures, Ben Hatke brings the laughs. He's equally skilled in presenting tense and emotional moments. The moments when Zita realizes what she's done, that she's responsible for her friend being taken, are extremely poignant.

Zita's a wonderfully brave and steadfast little girl. She fights for the little guys and always helps her friends. She's maybe a little too impulsive for her own good, but her heart's in the right place. It's great to see a spunky girl protagonist in a science-fiction story and I'd wager to say that with a plethora of aliens and robots, this is a story that'll appeal to both girls and boys.

I'd hand this one to fans of sci-fi adventure stories like maybe Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins or Larklight by Phillip Reeve. Also, the art reminds me of Smile by Raina Telgemeier or Robot Dreams by Sara Varon, so I'd try this on fans of those graphic novels as well.

Zita the Spacegirl is on shelves now and it leaves the way for many a sequel (woohoo!), so you can bet I'll be looking out for those.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Bring On the Birds

Welcome to my stop on the Fins, Wings, and Other Things Blog Tour, brought to you by Peachtree Press! Be sure and check out the other stops on the tour - the complete schedule can be found on Peachtree's Blog.

Bring On the Birds by Susan Stockdale. Ages 3-7. Peachtree Press, February 2011. Unpaged. Review copy provided by publisher.

Swooping birds, whooping birds, birds with puffy chests.
Dancing birds, diving birds, birds with fluffy crests .

With catchy, rhyming text and bright, bold pictures, Susan Stockdale presents 21 different species of birds from all over the world. She really shows off all the amazing things birds can do, from dancing to swimming to hanging upside down.This is definitely a book that will inspire young naturalists and the rhythmic rhymes make for a great readaloud.

Each bird is depicted realistically in acrylic paint. Ms. Stockdale includes a background for each bird, showing its natural habitat. From the great horned owl swooping across night-time farmland to the red-billed oxpecker hitching a ride across the African plains, the complete paintings give an immediate sense of location.

Back matter includes additional information about each bird mentioned, including where the bird lives. Ms. Stockdale also includes a list of some of the books she used for her research, giving kids a place to start if they're interested in further researching their favorite birds.

This would make a great addition to a storytime or unit on birds or world animals. Pair it with April Pulley Sayre's Bird, Bird, Bird: A Chirping Chant.

Bring On the Birds is on shelves now!

And be sure to check out today's other stops: a review of A Place for Fish by Melissa Stewart over at Jenn's Bookshelf and a guest post from Melissa Stewart over at A Patchwork of Books!

Monday, April 11, 2011

You Don't Get To Vote on Your Mom

Awhile back, we talked about how ALA is not your mom. Well, here's yet another way that ALA is not your mom: you don't get to vote on your mom, and ALA members can vote on the ALA ballots.

So, please vote.

I'm not going to tell you who to vote for - this post is not about campaigning.

But this is your chance to change the association without leaving the comfort of your home. Read the bios, read the professional statements, choose to vote for people whose interest align with your interests. If, say, you've hated every recent Printz Medal winner in recent years (doo de doo de dooo...), check out who's running for the Printz Committee and vote for people who sound like they might appreciate the  kind of books you like.

People, typically less than 25% of personal ALA members vote each year (according to Jenny Levine and Michael Golrick).


You don't get to pick your mom. But you do get to pick the president and councilors of your professional organization. This is your chance! Fill out your ALA ballot(s)! They're due by April 22.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Duck into a Good Storytime

Quack, quack, quack... This week's storytime was all about ducks! (By the way, I absolutely can't take credit for all of these great storytime themes. My entire staff comes up with them. Our storytime series usually lasts 6-8 weeks and five of us split up the planning responsibilities, each taking 1 or 2 weeks. Then when we're doing storytime, we each do a session each week. For example, mine is Mondays at 11:00 this time around. Each person presenting storytime customizes it to her own preferences and what will best suit her group.)

Here's what we did:

Opening Song: "Shake Your Sillies Out" by Raffi. I like having the same opening song each week because I think it gives the kids a sense of routine and signals to them that now it's time to start.

Memory Box: This week's Memory Box item was a flower pot from the book Duckie's Ducklings.

Book: Duck on a Bike by David Shannon. I shorten this one for preschoolers and cut out some of the text where Duck runs into the different animals. When Duck says "Hello" to each animal, I ask the kids, "And what did the cow say?" etc.

Song: "Five Little Ducks" with stick puppets.

Five little ducks went out one day
Over the hills and far away
Mama Duck said, "Quack, quack, quack, quack!"
But only four little ducks came back!
[Repeat with four, three, etc.]

When I get to the end where no little ducks come back, I tell the kids we're going to have to quack louder and then after a really loud "QUACK QUACK QUACK QUACK!" I bring back all five ducks! This time, they were so very loud that I said, "Uh oh! I think we scared them! Can we do a very quiet "quack quack"?" And then they still didn't come back, so I said, "Let's do a medium-noise and see if that works!" and after that, I brought the ducks back out.

I do this one with stick puppets, taking them behind my back when they go "over the hills and far away" and leaving one behind me on the chair. I try to lay them all the same way so that it's easier to pick them up at the end.

Book: Duckie's Ducklings by Frances Barry. The kids quickly spotted the ducklings lining up behind Duckie and were happy to shout out "I see another one!" whenever I turned the page.

Stand Up and Stretch: Stretch up HIGH! Stretch down LOW! Stretch your arms in the middle so! When I say these things, I make my voice high, then low, then in the middle. This reinforces the idea that "high" can mean different things (holding your arms high, making your voice high).

Book: Wiggle Waggle by Jonathan London. I have the kids stand up for this one so they can show me all the different ways animals walk. My favorite was the bear because all the kids got down on all fours and started crawling towards me and one of the moms called out, "They're attacking!" 

Song: "The Ducks on the Bus" [sung to the tune of "The Wheels on the Bus"]

The ducks on the bus go quack quack quack!
Quack quack quack! Quack quack quack!
The ducks on the bus go quack quack quack!
All through the town!

Repeat with ducks flapping, waddling, then quacking again. I suited motions to each verse to make it a little more active. 

Sit-Down Rhyme: Handy Spandy

Handy spandy, sugar and candy, we all jump IN!
Handy spandy, sugar and candy, we all jump OUT!
Handy spandy, sugar and candy, we all jump UP!
Handy spandy, sugar and candy, we all SIT DOWN.

My group is pretty large and they were all crowded together, so I actually did NOT do this rhyme (fearing lots of jumping into each other and bumping heads, falling down, etc.), but if you have a smaller group, this is a good simple rhyme to get them to sit back down after an activity.

Song with Prop: "Six Little Yellow Ducks"

My props genius Miss T constructed this prop board and wrote a song to go with it. The ducks are all on strings so you can pull each one back as he dives. The words to the song are on the back and she's numbered each string so that they don't get tangled when you pull them up. Here's the front and the back:

[sung to the tune of "Five Green and Speckled Frogs"]
Six little yellow ducks
Floating on a big, blue pond
Swimming around and having fun [Quack, quack!]
One dove under way down deep
Wanting to play hide and seek
Now there are five yellow ducks [Quack, quack!]

Prop: Duck Pond. Miss T had created different-colored ducks with fun foam, but since we've gotten in the rubber duckies we're using as Summer Reading Club prizes, I figured we'd try it out with those since they might be a little different. Miss T constructed the duck pond out of card board and blue poster board and we handed out a duckie to each child. Since the ducks are so weirdly different, I joked that it looks like our pond had some nuclear waste in it or something, but when I did the storytime I elected to go with "The ducks are having a costume party!"

I said, "The ducks were having a costume party, but now it's time for them to go home! When Mama Duck calls for the duck you have, bring it up and put it in the pond!"

Interesting note: I started passing out "girl ducks" (princess & unicorn) to girls and "boy ducks" (ninja, army, dinosaur) to boys, but as I handed one of the boys a dinosaur, he piped up, "I want a rainbow duck!" (i.e. a unicorn! Team Unicorn FTW!) and then the boy next to him wanted a rainbow duck, too. Serves me right and shows what I know!!

Sometimes if you have a large group for storytime, it's impossible to let the kids pick out which color/shape/etc. they want and it is a good lesson for them to learn "Sometimes you get what you get!" but whenever possible, I let them have a choice because it gives them some control over their world.

Closing Song: Do You Know What Time It Is?

Take-Home Craft: Paper ducks. We had all the pieces cut out and all families had to do was assemble the pieces. We have a hand-shape paper die, but families could easily trace their kids' hands for this one as well.

Alternate Books: If you don't like or don't have any of the abovementioned books, here are some more great books about ducks!
10 Little Rubber Ducks by Eric Carle - I might shorten the text some for a readaloud, but there are some great animal vocabulary words here!
Cold Little Duck, Duck, Duck by Lisa Peters
Do Like a Duck Does by 
Duckie's Rainbow by Frances Barry
Duck's Key: Where Can it Be? by Jez Alborough - The duck's "fingers" are really disturbing to me in this book for some reason, but maybe that doesn't bother you! 
Five Little Ducks by Ivan Bates
Quack and Count by Keith Baker

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Open Art Studio

I'm at the ALSC Blog, bloggin' about our Open Art Studio!


Aliens on Vacation

Aliens on Vacation by Clete Barrett Smith.  Grades 4-7.  Disney/Hyperion, May 2011.  250 pages.  Reviewed from ARC snagged at ALA.

It's summer and once again Scrub's being shipped off while his parents go on business trips, but this year instead of going to camp or his aunt's house, Scrub's going clear across the country to stay with his grandmother at her hotel, the Intergalactic Bed & Breakfast.  Right away Scrub notices some very strange things about her B&B... like the fact that it's a destination for vacationing aliens from all over the galaxy!  In order to protect the business, Scrub and his grandma have to keep it absolutely secret, but that's not always easy in a tiny Washington town where the sheriff's got it out for you...

Aliens on Vacation is a funny science-fiction romp that'll be a great summer read for young sci-fi fans.  I was sold on this one when one of the Disney/Hyperion editors read from it at a preview at ALA Midwinter.  Not only is it laugh-out-loud funny, but it chronicles a summer in Scrub's life that's filled with big changes.  He has his first job, learns responsibility, lets down someone he loves, and has his first kiss.  There's a lot of growing up here, but it's cleverly disguised in a silly story about aliens.

As it is, I think it's a good choice for reluctant readers and it would have been a great choice for reluctant readers if it had been shorter and tighter.  Scrub and the cute girl-next-door Amy go back and forth for quite a bit, her trying to get close to him and him pushing her away for fear she'd figure out that the guests at the inn weren't typical tourists.  And there's a point where I couldn't help but think of Fred Savage asking skeptically, "Is this a kissing book?"  So, just know that that's in there.  It wasn't gratuitous (and certainly not graphic) and it felt right for the characters, but I get requests for sci-fi/fantasy books for boys who do not want romance at all and this might be enough for them to put the book down.

This is a great choice for kids looking for funny books or science fiction books (or both).  It gets bonus points for being a sci-fi story that doesn't feel like a sci-fi story (so it'll appeal to those kids being forced to read a sci-fi book for school).  I'd try it on fans of Bruce Coville.

This is Clete Barrett Smith's debut novel and a sequel is due out next year.

Aliens on Vacation will be on shelves May 3!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Audiobook Review: Carter Finally Gets It

Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford, read by Nick Podehl.  Grades 7-10.  Brilliance Audio, 2009.  8 hours, 21 minutes.  Purchased from

This audiobook is FANTASTIC!!! Nick Podehl, where have you been all my life?

Will Carter is a new freshman and he's dealing with all the trials and tribulations that go along with that. He wants a girlfriend, but he's not quite sure how to deal with one when he starts dating Abby. He plays sports, goes to parties with his friends (where he'd rather drink Mountain Dew than beer), and screws up absolutely everything he comes in contact with. But as the year progresses, Carter will finally start to figure things out.

Things I loved about this book: 

- Realistic male voice (made even more so by Nick Podehl's expert interpretation and dramatization).  Brent Crawford's not holding anything back here, folks.  You are invited into the MIND OF A 14-YEAR-OLD BOY.  Be afraid, very afraid.  Um, but actually, while Carter does really stupid stuff sometimes, it's just because he's still trying to figure things out.  His heart is usually in the right place, which made him endearing.  Of course, tween (and young teen) boys will just find him hilarious. 

- The humor!  I was laughing out loud throughout this book and it just made for a really enjoyable audiobook experience.  Narrator Nick Podehl really hams it up with different voices for the characters and dramatic inflection.  Super, super job. 

- The heart.  Yes, Carter's kind of a jerk, but he's really honestly trying here.  High school's overwhelming between the school work, sports practices, dealing with girls (and hooormooones!), and trying to look cool on top of all of that.  More often than not, Carter's messing something up.  And that gives guy readers an empathetic character.  

- The narration!  I don't know if I've mentioned it enough, but Nick Podehl brings the story to life with his reading of this work.  This is an audiobook that will create dedicated fans of the audio genre.  I know I'm already scrabbling for anything else Podehl has narrated.

This is such an excellent book and I want to heartily recommend it to EVERYONE, but I know that it won't be everyone's cup of tea.  It's worth noting that Carter thinks about sex, well, most of the time, and Brent Crawford doesn't shy away from the details.  There's also alcohol use and fights.  But it's absolutely in keeping with Carter's character and not done in a gratuitous way.  (However, it does permeate the book, so that's just something to be aware of...)

This is a book that definitely straddles the line between tween and teen and for some guys it will be exactly the kind of book they need.  It's a funny, enjoyable book about a guy who's going through much of the same stuff they're going through and who's giving them hope that they'll figure it out someday, too.

Will Carter reminded me of no one more than a high-school-age Greg Heffley, so hand this to young teens who loved Diary of a Wimpy Kid for the humor. This would also make a good choice for kids who dug the realistic male protagonist in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Alexie Sherman (another awesome recording).

Carter Finally Gets It is on shelves now and there's even a sequel on shelves now, too: Carter's Big Break.  Sadly, it doesn't look like Carter's Big Break is available on audio, but I sincerely hope that it will be at some point! 

Hey, I'm an Audible affiliate, so if you purchase items after clicking on links here I may get a commission!  

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Nation's Hope: The Story of Joe Louis

A Nation's Hope:  The Story of Joe Louis by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Kadir Nelson.  (Grades 3-6.)  Dial, January 2011.  40 pages.  Reviewed from library copy.

Joe Louis was an African-American boxer in the 1930s when black people and white people stayed away from each other.  But in 1938, when Joe Louis faced German boxer Max Schmeling, it wasn't just black Harlem that was cheering him on, but the entire country.

I love Matt de la Peña.  His words bring the reader right into the story of Joe Louis's fight and why it was important.  I love Kadir Nelson.  His paintings are phenomenal, as readers have come to expect.  The two of them together have created something special here - a story about a boxer that's much more than a story about a boxer.  This is a story about a nation on the precipice of war. In Joe Louis, the country found a figure behind which black people and white people could come together.  They cheered together.  You can feel the tension that the nation felt as they stared down the Germans starting to do things over there in Europe.  Even the last page, the resolution of the story, is dark and wary, cognizant of the battles to come, even as this fight had been won.


I picked this book up off the new books cart at my library and as I paged through I began to smile.  I went back and checked the copyright date and my smile grew as I realized that this book would be eligible for this year's awards.  And then I got to the end where I found no back matter whatsoever.  No resources, no bibliography, no timeline of Joe Louis's life, no information about the impending World War.

And to be completely honest, it ruined the book for me.  I've said it before and I'll say it again: How can we expect kids to cite sources if people writing books for them are not citing sources?  I believe that back matter like bibliographies, timelines, biographical information, author's notes, and/or illustrator's notes are absolutely essential in children's nonfiction.  It greatly disappoints me when they're not there.

All I can say is: sigh.  Use this book for the brilliant art and compelling story, but bring additional resources because you won't find any back matter here.

It's Nonfiction Monday, so head on over to LL Owens where you will hopefully find lots of books that do cite their sources.  :)