Monday, April 29, 2013

Animals Welcome

Animals Welcome: A Life of Reading, Writing, and Rescue by Peg Kehret. Grades 3-6. Dutton Books, 2012. 173 pages. Copy provided by my local library.

Author Peg Kehret loves animals.
I mean she loooooves animals!
So much that:

- Peg and her husband had their property declared a wildlife sanctuary. They've seen deer, elk, and even bears on their property and rescued many animals.

- Peg co-authored three of her books with a cat!

- She kept a pet cat who wouldn't allow her to pet him, turned her late husband's workshop into a home for foster cats, and she's spent thousands of dollars on vet care for stray animals she's rescued.

In Animals Welcome, Peg Kehret writes with warmth and humor about the animals she has known and loved. The writing is friendly and personable and she shares information she's learned about animals throughout the book. She also writes about animals in her novels that are based on animals she's known in real life.

I'd definitely classify this as a memoir, not an autobiography, since Peg concentrates on a specific aspect of her life. She includes photos of some of the animals she talks about and information about how to treat animals kindly. I can definitely see this book inspiring young readers to stand up for pets that are being mistreated or to get involved at their local animal shelters.

This memoir is sure to please animal lovers and anyone who cares about their pet (or wishes they could have a pet!). I'd also recommend it to fans of Peg Kehret's other books since she talks about the animal characters in her books and also about fans of her writing that she's met through her work with animals.


Looking for another true story of a person passionate about animal rights? Try Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World by Sy Montgomery.

Readers looking for more true pet stories might like Marley: A Dog Like No Other by Jon Grogan or Dewey the Library Cat by Vicki Myron (both are young readers' versions adapted from adult books).

Fiction series and novels about pets abound, but two I might recommend are Ribsy and Socks by Beverly Cleary for their gentle tones.

Young readers looking to read more about conservation and efforts to protect wild animals might like the following:

Can We Save the Tiger? by Martin Jenkins
The Elephant Scientist by Caitlin O'Connell and Donna Jackson
Kakapo Rescue by Sy Montgomery
The Manatee Scientists by Peter Lourie
Shark Life by Peter Benchley

Animals Welcome is on shelves now!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Afterschool: April

April was kind of a tricky month for our afterschool visits. Summer vacation starts May 23 for our public schools, so the kids are getting a little squirrelly and the librarians are a little tired from working on (and constantly thinking about!) Summer Reading Club. Still, we persevered. Here's what I shared with my groups this month:

One of my groups is ... spirited, let me say that. In March one of the most "spirited" kids in the group asked me to bring The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, so I did, and all we read was stories from that book. I let the kids pick out which stories to read and I read the ones they picked out. We probably shared four or five of the stories from this collection and that was that.

The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. Viking Juvenile, 1992. This collection of fractured fairy tales definitely delighted the kids. They're silly and, well, stupid, and that was just what the kids wanted. 

The other group is generally very receptive to whatever I bring. These are kids who love books and stories and will sit through longer stories. I often bring some of my favorites from my childhood to share with them. But this month they were a little subdued when I came in. I don't know what was going on with them, but the only book they really responded to was Mo Willems, which is a title I've read to them before last year. Oh, well. Sometimes there are days like that!

The Three Triceratops Tuff by Stephen Shaskan. Beach Lane Books, 2013. This is a retelling of The Three Billy Goats Gruff that would be great to pair with Mo Willem's Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs. It's not really a fractured fairy tale and not really as funny as Willems's title, but using some great dino voices can spice it up a bit. I love the colorful illustrations. 

Timothy Tunny Swallowed a Bunny by Bill Grossman, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. HarperTrophy, 1989. I saved this one from the weeding cart and chuckled to myself about the funny poems in this collection. I thought it would be great to share in celebration of National Poetry Month, but this group was maybe a little too young for it. I got mostly blank stares at the punch lines. Sigh. 

The Boy Who Cried Bigfoot! by Scott Magoon. Simon & Schuster, 2013. I guess fairy tale retellings were kind of my theme this month. This retelling of The Boy Who Cried Wolf is told from Bigfoot's point of view. The concise, funny text lends itself to reading aloud, although the illustrations are a little dark for large-group-viewing. 

There is a Bird on Your Head by Mo Willems. Disney Hyperion, 2007. FINALLY A LAUGH. This is one of my all-time favorite readalouds and, honestly, this was the only one that the kids really responded to during my visit. I don't know if it's because they love Elephant and Piggie (they do) or if it's because it's a book I'm very familiar with and confident reading so I just read it better. But we went out with a bang, sharing one of our favorite books together. 

This month's craft was scratch-art bookmarks that I had leftover from last year. When they asked why I wouldn't be coming to visit them in May, I talked about the Summer Reading Club with my groups and encouraged them to all come and see me over the summer. And that wraps up my Afterschool visits for this school year! 

Any great ideas for books to share or easy crafts to do next school year? 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Fourmile by Watt Key

Fourmile by Watt Key. Grades 6-8. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012. 228 pages. Review copy provided by publisher for Young Hoosier Book Award consideration. My review reflects only my own opinion, not necessarily the opinion of the committee. 

Things are a little rough for twelve-year-old Foster right now. Ever since his dad died, the farm he lives on has been slowly falling apart and now his mom says they have to sell it. Foster's not sure what kind of decisions his mom is capable of, though, since she's decided to date Dax, a bully of a man whom Foster instantly disliked. One day as Foster's painting the fence, Gary shows up and things start to change. Gary, a wandering ex-military man, offers to stay and help fix up the farm for minimum wage and a spot in the barn to sleep. Foster takes a shine to Gary who's calm and quiet and capable and seems to understand the pain Foster's still feeling over his dad's death. Though Foster keeps telling himself that Gary will have to move on, he starts to hope that Gary can stay. But Gary is not being completely upfront about his past and as the summer sizzles on, things will come to a blistering head.

Foster is a very realistic tween guy that kids will identify with. I completely believed in his confusion after his dad died, his frustration at his mom dating a jerk, and his instant attachment to Gary, a solid father figure. I loved Foster's devotion to his dog (who also doesn't like Dax) and the devotion he discovers he has to his farm. As Gary and Foster begin the process of fixing up the place together, Foster is able to let go of some of the pain he feels over his dad's absence and start to love Fourmile Farm for what it is.

Although this is a character-driven story about Foster coming to terms with his dad's death, the story also has a lot of action. Dax is a truly slimy guy and there is a lot of drama surrounding Dax and his mistrust of Gary and his mistreatment of both Foster and his mother. Although some of it felt a little over-the-top, the action blends nicely with the character development to make a story that will capture kids' interest.

The story also has a strong sense of setting. Watt Key brings Fourmile Farm to life with descriptions of the fields at different times of day, the rain coming down, the smells of the barn (and how they change as Foster and Gary start fixing things up). As much as this is a story about Foster and an action story, it's also a love letter to a Southern farm.

Readalikes: Readers looking for another story of a tween guy dealing with family issues in a rural setting might like Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Perry. In the story, Brother is searching for his place and trying to help take care of a ranch when his brothers are off at war.

Readers who like the blend of character development and action might like Bull Rider by Suzanne Morgan Williams. Between skateboarding, ranching, and bull riding, there's a lot of action in this book, but the protagonist Cam is also dealing with his brother coming home injured from war.

Fourmile was on the shortlist for the Middle Grade Cybils Award and it's also been reviewed by The Boy Reader and A Patchwork of Books. It's on shelves now.

Monday, April 22, 2013

What Sank the Titanic?

A couple of weeks ago, I held a STEM program at my library investigating the science behind the Titanic disaster. It was a really fun program and I want to share what I did.

I pulled a lot of inspiration from Amy Koester's program Sink or Float: Titanic Edition and pulled some activities from the Titanic Science Activity Guide (opens a PDF). I've also done a different Titanic program at my library a few years ago, but that one wasn't centered on STEM concepts. 

The book: 

I always want to center my science programs around literature and utilize the awesome nonfiction books we have in our collection. For this program, I chose several passages from the fantastic book Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkins and read them throughout the program. 

The setup:

The program:

I started out by introducing myself and reading a passage from the book. I read the short passage about the Titanic's cat and how she carried her kittens off the ship shortly before the ship launched (found on page 16). Then I asked the kids what they knew about the Titanic. They were happy to share facts with me and almost everyone knew at least one fact to share. 

Next, we talked about buoyancy, the force that pushes upwards on objects in water. I demonstrated the concept of buoyancy with modeling clay (as found in the Titanic Science activity guide, linked above). My helper had made a boat out of modeling clay, which floated due to the large surface area. When I squished up the modeling clay into a ball shape, it sank because the surface area was smaller. As I did each step, I asked the kids to predict what they thought would come next. 

Then I read another passage from the book, the first page of IMPACT on pages 73-74 and we talked about icebergs. I had created a model iceberg for the kids by freezing water in a balloon. The kids noticed how most of the iceberg was underwater, which made the iceberg hard to see. 

Next, I read a passage that talked about the damage done to the ship (pages 84-85) and demonstrated the Titanic's sealed compartments with an ice cube tray. I found a spread in the book Story of the Titanic by Steve Noon which showed a diagram of the Titanic and the bulkheads that separated the compartments. I passed that around to show each kid and then showed them how the ice cube tray could float with a certain number of "compartments" flooded, but started to sink after several were filled with water. 

I also did a demonstration to illustrate water pressure using a 2-liter bottle (found in the Titanic Science activity guide). This showed the kids that water pressure builds as you go deeper and that made the water gush in very fast because the holes made by the iceberg were fairly deep under the water. The activity guide has some facts about how fast the water came in, which I also shared. 

After all that demonstrating, it was time for the kids to do some hands-on work. I provided supplies for them to make their own boats that would float in our demonstration tub. A tip here: I had our tub situated on top of a cart for easy transport and that worked well for the demonstrations - it was up high so everyone could see. But when it came time to float the boats, I wished it was a little lower so the kids could reach more easily. A shallower tub for the floating wouldn't have gone amiss, either, as some of the boats did not float on the first try. :) 

Have many, many towels available! You can't have too many towels!  

I provided: modeling clay, craft sticks, aluminum foil, pipe cleaners, and bits of yarn and ribbon that had been cut for some previous craft program. I found that many of the kids wanted to use the modeling clay, despite the fact that it was a fairly heavy material compared to the other materials. We had lots of sinking clay ships, giving us an opportunity to talk about surface area and buoyancy!


- Try out each demonstration before you do it! I discovered on my trial run that the tub I thought I'd use had a crack along the bottom and water was leaking out. It's definitely a best practice to try everything out and make sure it's going to do what you think it will before you try it in front of a room full of kids. 

- You cannot have too many towels! Obviously, putting the boats in the water to test them got them wet. Then if the kids wanted to take their boat back to their table to modify it, the table gets wet, too. It's all in good fun, but just have plenty of towels. :) 

- This is a great time to display your Titanic books! 

We had a nice crowd for this program on a particularly beautiful Saturday afternoon, so I call that a successful science program!

And hey, it's Nonfiction Monday! Head on over to A Mom's Spare Time for this week's roundup!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Reading Wildly: Adventure

This month, our Reading Wildly book discussion was all about adventure. As we talked about the adventure genre, we discovered a few things. Adventure is one of those "genres" that can blend with many different genres. Books shared this month ranged from historical fiction to contemporary to science fiction to mystery. Lots of kids come to our desk looking for "an adventure story" and it turns out that can mean almost anything!

Adventure encompasses a range of genres and it can encompass a range of pacing, too. Many of the books we shared were fast-paced stories with lots of action, but some were slower and had more character development. Series like the 39 Clues have madcap adventures involving lots of foreign places and exciting situations, while series like The Penderwicks or Little House on the Prairie might feature gentler adventures. So just knowing that a kid wants "an adventure story" doesn't mean you know what they want. A readers' advisory conversation is definitely warranted to find something that they'll like!

This month, we also talked about book talks. My staff have varying levels of familiarity and comfort with book talks - some have done them and some haven't. I'd like to get to the place where we're all sharing book talks with each other at our monthly meetings, so we talked about what they are and I gave everyone some tips when writing up book talks. At the moment, our department is not involved in a lot of book talking, but I'm hoping that will change at some point. If I have my staff developing book talks as they're reading, they'll have a stack ready to start with if we ever do get in to the schools.

Here are the books my staff and I talked about at our meeting this month:

After our meeting, one of my staff members asked me if we're going to do this every month or if we were going to take a break at some point. I think it's a program that they all enjoy and this same staff member had just told me earlier that day how our discussions had helped her with a readers' advisory transaction. This particular staff member has a toddler at home and struggles to find time to read sometimes, so I think next month we'll share some tips with each other about how to squeeze in reading time. 

Next month is funny books, which is another category that lots of kids love. It's a difficult category for me, personally, because you really have to put your kid hat on, so I'm glad we'll have a list of titles after next month's meeting!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different

Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different by Karen Blumenthal. Grades 6 and up. Feiwel & Friends, 2012. 310 pages. Review copy provided by publisher for Young Hoosier Book Award consideration. This review reflects only my own opinion, not necessarily the opinion of the committee!

Steve Jobs was one of the world's biggest technology innovators and this thoughtful and readable biography brings his story to dazzling life. Starting with his childhood growing up with his adoptive family and losing interest in school early on because he wasn't challenged, this biography illuminates Jobs's indomitable spirit throughout. It doesn't shy away from the rough bits, either. Jobs fathered a child he ignored for many years, at times refused to bathe, and was fired from the company he started because he sometimes had a hard time getting along with people. But there's no questioning that Jobs was able to sense future needs in a way that few have ever done and because of him humans made huge leaps in technology.

Ask a class of kids to raise their hand if they have used at least one Apple device in the past week. From computers in schools to iPods to iPhones, Apple is everywhere. Here's a chance for students to learn how it came about.

For me, personally, this was an interesting story because I remember so many of these technological milestones playing out as I was growing up. Our first family computer was an Apple II GS. I remember Apple's decline and playing on my friend's family's computer which had Windows 3.1, a distinct change from the floppy disks at my house. It was fascinating to me to read the stories behind these stories and hear about Steve Jobs's part in them. Of course, today's tweens and teens won't have this personal background, but Apple's products are so ubiquitous today that many of them will have some experience with them.

Steve Jobs's unconventional path to success will be an inspiration to some. He dropped out of college in his first semester, proving that one can be a success without a degree. The book also clearly shows how very hard he worked to bring about that success. The book is exquisitely researched and back matter contains a time line, an author's note, a bibliography, and source notes. Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different was shortlisted for the Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults award.

Since Steve Jobs's death in 2011, there have been an influx of biographies about him for young readers, but this one stands above the rest. Make sure you stock your shelves for the tweens who are starting to do reports about his life.

Readalikes: For the story of a hardworking man behind another fairly ubiquitous American brand, check out Mr. Sam: How Sam Walton Built WalMart and Became America's Richest Man by Karen Blumenthal. Sam Walton was not a technological innovator, but he was an innovator just the same and he built great success for himself.

Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different is on shelves now!

Happy Nonfiction Monday!! You can find this week's roundup at NC Teacher Stuff, so go check it out!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Ah yes, it is April

I told my staff and my boyfriend that I pretty much spend the entire month of April in a haze of anxiety as we wrap up our spring programming and it really becomes time to buckle down and iron out the Summer Reading Club.

This April has been no exception. I've been scheduling visits to the schools to talk about the Summer Reading Club. This year we're switching to doing the reading program online using Evanced's Summer Reader. It's going to be a big change for patrons and for staff, so I'm trying to get everything airtight with our setup before we start staff training. We've all been working on our summer programs, getting copy together for the summer program calendar (we have patrons asking for it every day now, despite the fact that there's still over a month of school left) and figuring out what supplies we need to order.

I've also been reading rather frantically for the Young Hoosier Book Award committee and I've been busy with our Indiana Library Federation district conference which was held last week (I'm on the planning committee). Free time has been scarce. Heck, time to even just think about anything has been scarce.

I actually love summer once we get into it. I have a cracker jack staff and we have lots of fun programs planned. Summer's the time to put aside some of the work that can wait until later and concentrate on serving patrons. It's a time of year when we see people we may not have seen since the summer before. Yes, it's busy but that means that people are using their library. Our shelves will look completely different by mid-June, bare space everywhere!

Of course, we can't put aside all of the other work - we'll definitely be planning some new programs for the fall. We're revamping our preschool storytimes and adding a beginning reader storytime and possibly other programming.

Anyway, all of this is just to say that I may have been a little absent on this blog and I will probably continue to be a little absent. I'm just dealing with all that April stuff, trying to check things off the massive to-do list, just like the rest of you public youth librarians probably are.

And if you, like me, feel overwhelmed with the amount of things you need to get done, just try to relax and take things as they come. We can only do what we can do and no one will be harmed if things don't go exactly like the ideal summer programs we have in our heads.

Tally ho! Summer's a'comin!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Splendors and Glooms

Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz. Grades 5 and up. Candlewick, 2012. 384 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.

It's Clara's birthday and all she wants is a day of fun and frolic, a day she doesn't have to think about her poor lost sisters and brothers who died of cholera, a day when Grisini's marvelous puppet troupe will perform for her and her friends. Clara is fascinated by Grisini's puppets and by the children, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, who bring the puppets to life. When Clara mysteriously disappears after the puppet show, suspicion immediately falls on Grisini, and as Lizzie Rose and Parsefall struggle to untangle the mystery, things will take a turn for the deadly.

Splendors and Glooms has the feel of a classic and I think it's a book that could appeal to a certain subset of a wide range of ages. Certainly it's a dark story with dead siblings looming over Clara's head, an evil witch plotting against children, and a diabolical puppet master who will stop at nothing to increase his own wealth. But it's also a story with a lot of love and hope and characters who strive to do the right thing and to protect each other. I can see this being a very special and beloved family read.

This book... made me feel the feelings. I got caught up in the lives of the characters and Laura Amy Schlitz broke my heart in certain scenes. Her carefully chosen words bring across the pain and betrayal felt by Clara, Lizzie Rose, Parsefall, and the witch Cassandra in a vivid way. They also bring the setting to life, from the dirty streets of Dickensian London to the crisp, clear winter at the witch's estate.

The book started off a little slowly for me, but once I was hooked I was hooked and I couldn't put it down until the story, with all its twists and turns, had played itself out. This is a book to lose yourself in and I'd hand it to kids looking to be transported.

Readalikes: As I was reading, I kept thinking of the book A Little Princess by Frances Burnett because Clara reminded me of Sara Crewe.

I've not read it, but I've heard comparisons around the interwebs to The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken, so I'd try that one as a readalike for its setting and storyline.

Splendors and Glooms won a 2013 Newbery honor and it's also been reviewed by these fine folks: Book Nut, The Book SmugglersA Fuse #8 Production. It's on shelves now!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Stoplight Sorting

Here's a prop activity to add to your transportation storytimes: stoplight sorting!

Why use it: I got the idea on I Heart Crafty Things, where Rachel had her son sort Legos and colored blocks. Sorting colors helps reinforce color concepts and the concepts of same and different. Knowing what traffic lights mean is a life skill that can help keep kids safe, especially as they get older and might be outside on their own.

I decided to use clothespins because pinching them open is a great activity to build fine motor control. I learned from one of our local kindergarten teachers that they use clothespins in the classroom because it helps build up those muscles so that kids can hold pencils properly, so I wanted to incorporate that activity into my storytime.

How to make it: I made the stop light from cardboard covered over with construction paper. A pizza place donated some misprinted cardboard pizza boxes to us at one point and we're still working our way through them. I used small paper plates as a template to make the circles the size I wanted, but you could use any circle of whatever size you want as a template. I attached each circle to the cardboard back with black yarn because I wanted the kids to be able to pinch the clothespins on. If you wanted to sort different objects, you could make a flat stoplight. You could also make a felt stop light and pass out small felt circles for children to sort. 

You could make it more durable by laminating it or covering it with contact paper if you wanted. I purchased a huge pack of clothespins for about $8 and had a volunteer paint 30 of them. She just painted the top and the bottom - I wasn't too concerned with her covering every inch of them. 

How to use it: This would be a great activity for programs on transportation or colors. You may want to teach them this little song about stoplight colors first: 

(To the the tune of the first two lines of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star)
Red means stop.
Green means go.
Yellow watch out!
You better go slow. 

(That comes from my childhood, so I have no idea who made it up!)

You may also want to play stop and go, either with musical instruments like bells and shakers or physical activity like jumping up and down, spinning around, marching around the room, etc. Stop and go games are a fun way to practice that concept so that when parents really need kids to STOP, they'll think it's a game and do it! 

If you have a group or a class, you could have the basket of clothespins and invite them to take turns coming up one at a time to choose a clothespin and match it to the right color. You might also want to pass out clothespins and invite each child to come up and pin theirs on. You could also use this as a toy for playtime after your storytime and have the set available for children to try. If you made a sturdier version than mine, you could also put this out as an early childhood station in your children's room or your classroom. The clothespins are cheap to replace if they walk away or are lost and it's a great activity to get ready to learn to write! 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Stocking Up at the @alscblog

Today you can find me over at the ALSC Blog talking about what series and popular standalone titles I'll be stocking up on for summer! Please click through and add your two cents - I'm sure I'm missing series that I need to be restocking!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Bad Girls

Bad Girls: Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, Thieves, and Other Female Villains by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple, illustrated by Rebecca Guay. Grades 5 and up. Charlesbridge, February 2013. 164 pages. Review copy provided by publisher.

In brief biographies of notorious women, authors Jane Yolen and her daughter Heidi Stemple explore the women of the past and ask themselves (and the reader) if they were really all bad or if they just got a bum rap. Women included range from well-known (Lizzie Borden, Typhoid Mary, Cleopatra) to those you might not have heard of (Alexe Popova, Elisabeth Bathory). Each woman gets a 2-4 page biography and then a one-page comic that details some of the research and investigation that went into creating part of the book.

The brief biographies are perfect for dipping in and out of, making this book a great recreational read for tweens and teens on the go. I loved the inclusion of the comics, illustrating some of the questions the authors faced as they wrote the book. They also help break up the text as the authors move from subject to subject. The writing is succinct and the tone of the book is light throughout. Although the nature of this book calls for the biographies to be brief, there is certainly enough there to inspire an interest in further research.

The authors selected a wide variety of notorious females from a variety of places and time periods, from spies to poisoners to pirates to exotic dancers. Back matter includes a bibliography for each of the subjects in the book (hooray!), an index, and a note on changing gender roles, which may redefine our idea of "bad" over time.

This is a great book to spark an interest in women's history and introduce tweens and teens to a variety of famous and interesting women throughout history.

Readalikes: I'd be quick to hand this to readers who have enjoyed Lives of Extraordinary Women by Kathleen Krull, as the format and content are similar. There is definitely room for both books on your shelves, as Bad Girls contains different content and is presented in a different format.

Readers looking for more books featuring strong female characters should take a gander at the Amelia Bloomer Project book lists.

Bad Girls is on shelves now!

It's Nonfiction Monday (no foolin'!), so head on over to Wendie's Wanderings for this week's roundup.