Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Special Book Review: Moo by Sharon Creech

Now, I know I said I was going to do seasonal round-ups of my favorite books, but I couldn't wait to talk about Sharon Creech's upcoming middle-grade novel in verse, simple titled: Moo.

Moo by Sharon Creech
Release date: August 30, 2016
My rating: 5/5 stars

Recommended for: Grades 3-6+

Like many of my fellow children's librarians and reviewers, I have long been a fan of all things Creech; I've been reading her novels since I was in 6th grade, and so for me, Moo rang true to that childhood nostalgia in such a magical, cozy way! First of all, I'm so glad I read this novel during the summer. Reena and her little brother Luke are unexpectedly transplanted to a laidback seaside farm town in Maine, where they spend their first summer there getting a little too familiar with a grumpy elderly woman named Mrs. Falala (fuh-la-la) and her crazy gang of animals. The star of this crazy gang of animals is Zora, an ornery - rather misinterpreted - cow.
The seaside summer imagery in Moo is strong and beautiful, and true to Creech fashion, I felt the novel gave just enough detail to imagine the framework in my head, with some space to add my own details as I imagined them. That's the perfect balance I've always found in Creech novels: not too much detail, but not too little. Clean, but messy. Nostalgic, but new. A balance that makes you feel like you've lived through the story - in your own unique way - once you finish the book.
I have to say, I was a little frustrated with how the parents pushed the children to work on Mrs. Falala's farm, despite Luke's crying and even not eating in protest! What kind of parents are these?! I thought as I read along. But you know what, sometimes you come across characters who act out in ways you don't like. The parents in this story are what makes it work, regardless of how frustrated I became with them. Mrs. Falala, too. And here we arrive to another little Creech magic trick in this novel: how you can come to love those people and things that you thought you hated. I think this theme weaves itself throughout multiple elements, settings, and people in the novel, and you start to realize how well it works the further along you get. Pieces fall together and suddenly you have the coming-of-age, the self-realization story of Reena. It just all works so well, so flawlessly, even when you start to worry about how it might all fall together in the end.
I'll leave you with one of my favorite passages from Moo:
"But the surprising thing to me was that I liked doing it. I liked the hard work. I liked seeing Zora respond a little more each day, and I liked feeling stronger."

Monday, July 11, 2016

Summer 2016 Book Reviews

Hello readers! I'm going to start adding book reviews to this blog. Most of these reviews can also be found on my Goodreads. I'll round up some of my favorite books each season to highlight, from board and picture books, to middle grade novels. Enjoy!

The Opposite Zoo by Il Sung Na
Release date: March 8, 2016
My rating: 5/5 stars
My review: Il Sung Na's illustrations really make this simple, lovely picture book come to life. I have to say, it does bear quite a resemblance to Petr Horacek's "Animal Opposites", but Il's newest picture book encourages a more cohesive narrative throughout. By setting the animals in the context of an "opposite zoo", readers will find themselves in a lively story told through Il's beautifully detailed pictures and simple text.
Recommended for: Ages 2-5

My New Mom and Me by Lauren Wolk
Release date: March 22, 2016
My rating: 5/5 stars
My review: So adorable. So meaningful and well written. Made me teary eyed and smile all at the same time. So many feels with this one! My New Mom & Me is a gentle and sweet story for caregivers to read with foster children, adopted children, or to discuss a range of other unique parenting situations. This book also presents an opportunity to build empathy in ALL children (adults too!), regardless of their family structures. Love.
Recommended for: Ages 3-7 (I believe older children and adults will appreciate this book, too)

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
Release date: April 12, 2016
My rating: 4/5 stars
My review: Now that I'm not a teen librarian, I've found more freedom in reading middle-grade fiction, and I'm focusing the rest of this year on solid reads that have the potential to make award lists. I have a strong feeling Raymie Nightingale is going to be one of those award winners, or at least receive some sort of honor.
Now that I'm able to focus on middle-grade and younger fiction as a Children's Librarian, I've also been starting to remember what it's like to read a solid novel written in a child's voice. Not a teenager! There's something there, you guys. There's something real and pure, something so honest. All of the grown-up problems stayed grown-up problems in this book. Yes, we experienced them and felt them -- but through Raymie, Louisiana, and Beverly's eyes. Because of this, I was able to experience a summer, a friendship, fear, and love in a certain uninhibited way that I have not in a long time.
To be honest, it had a slow start for me. But I'm really used to reading books where things are happening, moving really fast. I don't care anymore that Raymie's summer was spread out so nice and evenly throughout the book. Every little thing that happened in this book was important, and made me more fully realize the magic of being young and growing in the reality of life: true sadness, resilience, and happiness. A perfect summer story that will leave you with three new friends, and maybe feeling a little nostalgic for the wonder of childhood.
Recommended for: Ages 10 and up / Grade 5 and up

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk
Release date: May 3, 2016
My rating: 5/5 stars
My review: Where do I start with Wolf Hollow? When I started this book, I did not know what I was getting myself into. I first saw it on the 2017 Mock Newbery list, and noticed that it won 5-stars from Ms. Betsy Bird, which is always something to take seriously. Little did I know, I would not be able to put this heavy story down for the next 3 days that followed, and I read it whenever I had a chance (which is not very often since I’m getting married in 4 days). Annabelle is a character with a heart of gold, yet she is still so authentic. She carries guilt and heartache, and is not afraid to stand up to Betty, to a certain extent. That said, she is not afraid to stand up for her family and people she cares about, like Toby. The resilience of this character is not to be forgotten. 
I was also very impressed with Annabelle’s mom. Maybe I’m too used to how easy we have it nowadays, or the fact that everyone is having kids at an older age, but I admired her bravery, wisdom, and work ethic throughout the novel, despite her young age. It made sense, then, as to where Annabelle’s resilience came from, which Toby takes notice of, as well. You’ll see, I talk about these characters as if they were real people I just saw this morning, but you know, they became very real and still are very real to me. There is a heavy honesty to this book. Characters bloom and have substance, flaws and strengths alike. Now this brings me to Betty. What a haunting character. I don’t want to say much more than that, except that she feels unfinished and hollow, although I have the feeling that is what Wolk was aiming for.
The setting in itself is a character, richly detailed in a way that just transports you there. My grandma grew up on a farm in the Midwest, and I recognized her many stories of farm life in the pages of this book. There are elements even I can relate to, like finding a cold dark room shelved with countless mason jars, each one preserving a bit of the previous year’s harvest.
This story is interwoven with so many important themes, and I am not surprised not only to see it compared to classics like To Kill a Mockingbird, but also on mock Newbery lists for 2017. I hope that this beautiful debut novel finds even more recognition as we finish out the year and move in to book award season. I’d like to conclude by saying this: a child can see things in ways no one else does; Annabelle is that child in this novel. She knows in the deepest part of herself what is right, and she stand up for her beliefs no matter what anyone else says. She may be afraid, but she is resilient. And I hope that if young readers take nothing else from this novel, that they at least come away having recognized Annabelle’s courage and strength.
Recommended for: Ages 10 and up / Grade 5 and up

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Using a Bubble Machine in Storytimes

Why Use Bubbles in Storytime?
My job of modeling the importance of play is just as significant as modeling the importance of reading and singing, and I have found that the bubble machine stimulates all sorts of happiness in my storytimes.

First, it gives children a fun sensory experience and a chance to play together with the other children in the beginning of storytime - as opposed to just the end - breaking down some initial shyness/quietness among the group.

Second, it is an amazing open-ended play experience, whether we're using it during our hello song or during our free play time at the end (our "goodbye" bubbles, when I just put on a music CD and let the kids run around in the bubbles).

Third, it gets everyone up and moving. As I just mentioned, for goodbye bubbles, it is less structured and more "free play", and I walk around the entire room as little ones bounce along after me. It's a great opportunity for a little bit of exercise and releasing all that energy!

The "Bubble Wiggle Jiggle" Hello song: This is a new song that I wrote to use with my new BUBBLE MACHINE! I just wanted a fun, new way to say hello at the start of storytimes, and this is it. I sing it acapella style, so I always encourage caregivers to clap along!

The Bubble Wiggle Jiggle (Tune: Shortin'n Bread)
Written by April Howe
Little round bubble, bubble, bubble
Little round bubble, I love you!
Verse 1:
Bubble to the Left,
Bubble to the Right
Wiggle and Jiggle
We’re Feelin’ Alright! 
Verse 2:
Bubble up High
Bubble down Low
Wiggle and Jiggle
Let’s Say Hello! 
Verse 3:
Bubbles floating slow
Bubbles floating fast
Wiggle and Jiggle
We're having a blast! 
Verse 4:
Bubble so quiet
Bubble so LOUD
Wiggle and jiggle
You make me so proud!
I initially wrote the 4 verses above, but stuck with just the first two (ending on "let's say hello"), in order to limit the amount of time we spend on bubbles in the beginning.

So, the bubble machine is running as we sing the song. I hang onto it and walk back and forth, lifting it up high so that the bubbles float for longer. I also try to get around to those sitting down in the back who are feeling to shy to come up front and see the bubbles.

For about 30 seconds after the song, I leave the bubble machine running. Then, I ask everyone to count to five and we say goodbye for now to the Bubble Machine.

The bubble machine comes back out at the end of storytime for "goodbye bubbles" - which is just some free play time chasing bubbles! As I mentioned earlier, I just put on a CD (my favorite is usually some Laurie Berkner, at least lately!) and walk around the room as the kids follow me. (I often joke to the caregivers that I could rule the world with this thing, and that if it ever broke, I'd have an angry mob on my hands!)

About the Bubble Machine: Above is the bubble machine I use. The brand is Bubble Blitz. It was $10.99 at Target (don't buy it at Amazon because you will over-pay). And it is The. Best. Invention. EVER. Also, the bubble liquid is great, it is non-toxic, non-sticky. I always tell parents that.

I had to replace it once, but I think it's because I used some cheap bubble liquid that gunked up the motor (also could have been from a co-worker who poured too much in!), because the wheel stopped turning (it would pause a few seconds after running).

I exchanged it for a new machine and have been extremely careful with it - careful how much/how fast I'm pouring, and only using the Bubble Blitz brand of liquid. I've only seen it sold at Target, but I'm sure there are other good quality brands of bubbles out there.

As you can tell, I'm kind of over protective of it, only because my storytime kids love it so much. ;)

Using a Parachute in Storytimes

My first time using the parachute at storytime was scary at first, but quickly turned awesome! At this point, we have a larger parachute (12") but initially at this storytime I was using the library's smaller 6" or 8" parachute. Taking the leap to the bigger 'chute was definitely a good idea, especially for my bigger group. I got ours on Amazon for a little over $20 bucks. Not a bad deal, and it has really held up well!

I use the parachute during the last 5-10 minutes of storytime. Then, we sing our goodbye song and then we do goodbye bubbles, followed by about 20-30 minutes of free play with our toys.

It usually helps to "practice" with kids before you get going. "If You're Happy and You Know It" is a great song to help kids get the feel of using the parachutes (grown-ups, too)!

If You’re Happy and You Know It
lift it high / go way down low / shake it fast / shake it slow / jump up and down! 

Some of my other favorite songs to use:

POP! Goes the Berry
(Begin by walking slowly in a circle with the parachute)
All Around the Strawberry Field
We picked some juicy berries
We took them home and washed them off
and POP! Goes the berries! (lift it way up!)
Other verses: Blueberry/huckleberry/raspberry/blackberry

Popcorn Kernels (Tune of Frere Jacques)  
Popcorn kernels  (x2) - slow shake
In the pot (x2) - slow shake
Shake them shake them shake them! (x2) - fast shake
'till they POP! (x2) - lift up high 

The Hot Dog Song 
5 little hot dogs frying in a pan, (fast shake)
The grease got hot and one went bam (lift way up high)
(Continue singing, counting down each time you go through the song 4,3,2,1)
No little hot dogs frying in a pan, 
The grease got hot and the pan went bam.  

These Are the Colors Over You (Tune: Twinkle, Twinkle)
(Slow shake for entire song, help children point out colors as you sing)
Red and green and yellow and blue, these are the colors over you.
Red like an apple and green like a tree, yellow like the sun and blue like the sea. 
Red and green and yellow and blue, these are the colors over you.  

Oh the city is great (lift up)
and the city is grand (down)
There's a whole lot of people (up)
on a little piece of land (down)
And we live way up (up)
on the 57th floor (down)
and this is what we do (up)
when we go out the door. (down)
We take the elevator up (up)
and the elevator down, (down)
take the elevator up, (up)
take the elevator down (down)
Take the elevator up (up)
and the elevator down (down)
and we turn around. (turn around!) 

What Are the Kids Doing? 
I've experimented many time with having all the children out from underneath holding onto the chute, and then just letting them do whatever they feel comfortable with. Obviously the latter has worked best, and everyone is happiest. 
For children who want to hang onto the parachute, that's great, it really does help develop those fine motor skills by building their little hand muscles. But if a child really loves lying down or walking around under the parachute, I'm not going to stop their fun! 

What's So Scary?
I will say, every now and then I have a kicker (lays under the parachute with feet up and kicks), a non-sharer or the handle (grabby hands!), or a scared little one. But you know what? That's why I have caregivers in the room. Most caregivers are right on the problem, and it only lasts a few seconds. Then it's back to the fun!

Closing: Peek-a-boo!
At the very end, we play peek-a-boo with the parachute. This is the only time I really encourage children to go under and lay down (facing up) underneath. One way to encourage participation at this point is to tell caregivers that their child can lay down right in front of them if they are feeling scared to go all the way underneath. 

However, some children will not want to go underneath at all. That is fine. Just let it be! Maybe they'll join in on the fun once you start and they see how much fun it is to be lying down underneath. Or they'll just walk around the perimeter of the room watching. However they want to experience the parachute, no worries and no pressure!

We lower it down gently, and then lift it way up high saying in a sing-songy voice "peeeeek-ahhh-booooo!" and then repeat about ten times. The last three times, I count down, "Three more times! Ok now, two more times! One last time!" And then at that point, everyone has prepared themselves to say goodbye to the parachute. I don't sing a goodbye song to the parachute, because I find that everyone is perfectly fine with putting it away -- perhaps the counting down? They do know bubbles are around the corner, so maybe that's it! 

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Manners - Toddler Storytime

Hello Bubbles Opening Song

Song: Chewing Quietly (Tune: Frere Jacques)
(Chewing Quietly (x2) Do no burp (x2) We must say excuse me (x2) When we burp (x2)

Book: Excuse Me! by Karen Katz
Note: This book pairs well with the "Chewing Quietly" song we sang prior. It's a cute little board book that contains simple concepts, which are easy enough for toddlers to grasp.

Song: Roly Poly
Roly poly, roly poly
Up, up, up (lift hands up)
up, up, up
Roly roly poly
roly roly poly
down, down, down (push hands down)
down, down, down 
Other verses: Out, In (expand hands out, push hands in)
Fast, Slow (roll hands fast, slow)
Song: Open, Shut Them
Open, shut them
Open, shut them
Give a little clap, clap, clap
Open, shut them
Open, shut them
Put them in your lap
Creep them, crawl them
Creep them, crawl them
Right up to your chin
Open wide your little mouth...
But do not let them in.
Flannel Activity: Thanks A Lot! (Raffi)
Note: I probably won't do this again... it's a sweet song (and I rarely play recorded music, so I tried it with and without) but it doesn't make a difference - it's still too slow! I think my group got bored with this one.

Stretcher: Wiggle and Wiggle and Stop
Stretcher: Wiggle Your Hands Way up High

POP! Goes the Berry (with parachute)
All Around the Strawberry Field
We picked some juicy berries
We took them home and washed them off
and POP! Goes the berries!
Other verses: Blueberry/huckleberry/raspberry/blackberry

Goodbye Song: Bread Butter Marmalade and Jam

End: Playtime w/ bubbles (~2-3 min) + Free play w/ toys (~20-30 min)

How it went:
This was a break-through storytime for me, because I introduced 2 really amazing, fun props: the bubble machine and the parachute! I was really happy with everyone's response and participation; both props really added a lot of movement and play to storytime that the toddlers loved!

Because this was another one of those "meh" themes ('cause toddlers' concept of manners is minimal to zilch), I only used 1 book and 1 song on theme. The rest was just free-play, free-style. Hence the random rhymes and introduction of props. Lots of fun during this week. Hooray!

Stars & Moon - Toddler Storytime

Hello Song: We Clap and Sing Hello

Book: Zoom Rocket Zoom by Margaret Mayo 

Song: Zoom Zoom Zoom / Fun / Sun
Zoom Zoom Zoom
Zoom, zoom, zoom (swoosh your arms together)
We're going to the moon.
Zoom, zoom, zoom (swoosh your arms together)
We're going to the moon.
If you want to take a trip
climb aboard my rocket ship. (make an “L” shape with one arm and then with your fingers make a little “astronaut” climb aboard)
Zoom, zoom, zoom (swoosh your arms together)
We're going to the moon.
In 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 (countdown on hand)
Blast off! (jump up in air) 
Other verses: Far far far, we’re going to the stars / Fun fun fun, we’re going to the sun
Song: If You’re Going to the Moon… (Tune: If You're Happy and You Know It)
If you're going to the moon wear your boots x3 (stomp)
If you're going to the moon, this is what you have to do
If you're going to the moon wear your boots (stomp)
Other verses: wear your helmet (pretend to put helmet on), wear your gloves (pretend to put gloves on), wear your space suit ("jump" into your suit)
Wiggle Release: Wiggle and Wiggle and Stop
Wiggle Release: Wave your hands way up high...

Book/Song: Twinkle Twinkle Little Star by Jane Cabrera 
*with wand*

Song: We’ll Be Landing on the Moon (Tune: She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain)
We'll be orbiting around the moon, yes we will (arms in circle, twirl slowly)
We'll be orbiting around the moon, yes we will
We'll be orbiting around the moon x3
Yes we will 
Other verses:
We'll be landing on the Moon (wiggle fingers down to toes)
We'll be walking on the Moon (stomping)
We'll be blasting off again (jump up with hands in air)
We'll be landing back on Earth (wiggle fingers down to toes)
Activity: Five Crescent Moons Rhyme w/ Magnet Board

Book: Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me by Eric Carle

Goodbye Song: Bread Butter Marmalade and Jam

Germs and Hygiene - Toddler Storytime

Hello Song - Clap and Sing Hello

Book: Germs Are Not for Sharing by Elizabeth Verdick
Note: For this age group, there isn't a ton of stuff you can really talk about with germs and hygiene, besides washing up! This is a cute, simple board book that is perfect for this theme.

Song: This is the way we…
This is the way we wash our hands
wash our hands, wash our hands
This is the way we wash our hands
So early in the morning!
hands / hair / teeth / toes / belly / brush our teeth / comb our hair (pretend to scrub each body part as you get to it in the song)
Song: Head Shoulders Knees and Toes
Note: Post-doctor bag activity, we were on a roll talking about the body, so this little number fit right in and flowed nicely into our stretchers below.

Wiggle and Wiggle and Stop
Wiggle your hands ways up high...

Book: Llama Llama Home With Mama by Anna Dewdney

Activity: Looking inside the Doctor Bag
Note: I basically just had a play kit doctor bag, and we looked inside together, talking about the different kinds of tools doctors use.

Song: Pop! Go the Berries
All around the strawberry fields, We picked some juicy berries
We brought them home and washed them off,
Pop! Go the berries! (have kids jump up on "pop")
Other verses: blueberry, blackberry, huckleberry, raspberry
Note: For this tune, I have everyone crouch down on the floor in little balls (the "berries) and then I creep around and sing the tune. When I say "POP!" everyone jumps up! Also a good song for using with a parachute.

Book: Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Note: Since we were talking about health/being sick, I figured this was a good classic to throw in there (plus we have the gorgeous pop-up version). The caterpillar eats a lot of bad food and gets a belly ache, but then feels better when he eats through that one green leaf!

Goodbye Song - Bread Butter Marmalade and Jam