"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." Albert Einstein

30 September 2015

Baba Yaga's Assistant

McCoola, Marika. Baba Yaga's Assistant. Candlewick Press, 2015.

Masha's grandmother once faced down Baba Yaga and survived, so when Masha sees an ad for the job of assistant to Baba Yaga, she thinks nothing of storming away from her mixed-up family and joining the witch in the chicken house. But when her new stepsister is captured by Baba Yaga, will Masha be able to rescue her?

This book was simply wonderful. The illustrations are great, the storyline is entertaining, and I love the tie-in to Russian folklore. This would be an excellent book to recommend to the tween who has read every graphic novel and isn't quite ready for young adult material.

Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: fantasy violence - Baba Yaga threatens to eat children and talks about their toes being crunchy, etc.
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alike Recommendations: The Fairy-Tale Detectives, A Tale Dark & Grimm, Egg & Spoon

28 September 2015

Vengeance Road

Bowman, Erin. Vengeance Road. HMH Books for Young Readers, 2015.

Kate Thompson is determined to avenge her father's death, even if it means chasing down the biggest, baddest gang of outlaws the West has ever seen. Along the way, Kate has to decide whether she should enlist the help of others or try to do everything on her own.

Westerns are a long-lost art, and westerns written for young adults are practically unheard of, so I was surprised to find this particular title. The story itself is good, and the cover art is beautiful, but I gave this book only three stars due to two things. First, the treatment of the Apache character, which was historically accurate but still bothersome, and more importantly, the mannerisms of the main character, particularly her speech. I understand that she is supposed to be uneducated, or at least undereducated, but her speech and thoughts crossed the line from cutesy Western-style grammar errors to seriously annoying and difficult to read text. It would be possible to re-write her speech so that she still sounds Western without sounding ridiculous.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: lots and lots of violence - shootings, hangings, etc.
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

Read-Alike Recommendations: Killer of Enemies, Under a Painted Sky, The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell

25 September 2015

Storytime: Cats

Open them, Shut them
Open them, shut them; open them, shut them
Give a little clap, clap, clap!
Open them, shut them; open them, shut them
Lay them in your lap, lap lap.
Creep them, crawl them; creep them, crawl them
Right up to your chin, chin, chin!
Open wide your little mouth
But do not let them in, in, in!

Book: A Castle Full of Cats by Ruth Sanderson

Mrs. Tabby Cat
Here is Mrs. Tabby Cat (one thumb)
And her little kittens (4 fingers)
Curled up on their little bed, (Fold fingers and thumb together)
Snuggled with some mittens.
They were startled by a squeak (Other thumb wiggles)
Their heads popped up to see. (Hand comes partly open)
Kittens, I think I see a mouse.
Now just follow me (hushed voice).
Creeping, creeping, creeping on,
Silently they stole. (Fingers undulating toward mouse.)
Just before the cats got there,
The mouse popped in his hole. (Hide thumb in fist.)

Book: How to Catch a Mouse by Philippa Leathers

If You’re Happy and You Know It

3 Kittens who Lost their Mittens
(I used a big book for this, but you could easily do a video or a flannel story)
The three little kittens, they lost their mittens,
And they began to cry,
"Oh, mother dear, we sadly fear,
Our mittens we have lost."
"What! Lost your mittens, you naughty kittens!
Then you shall have no pie."

The three little kittens, they found their mittens,
And they began to cry,
"Oh, mother dear, see here, see here,
Our mittens we have found."
"Put on your mittens, you silly kittens,
And you shall have some pie."

The three little kittens put on their mittens,
And soon ate up the pie,
"Oh, mother dear, we greatly fear,
Our mittens we have soiled."
"What, soiled your mittens, you naughty kittens!"
Then they began to sigh,

The three little kittens, they washed their mittens,
And hung them out to dry,
"Oh, mother dear, see here, see here,
Our mittens we have washed"
"What, washed your mittens, then you're good kittens,
But I smell a rat close by."

Book: Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats by Alicia Potter

Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes

Book: Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes

Goodbye Rhyme
On my face I have a nose,
And way down here I have ten toes.
I have two eyes that I can blink,
I have a head to help me think.
I have a chin, and very near,
I have two ears so I can hear.
Here are my arms to hold up high,
And here is my hand to wave good-bye.

Then it was time for our craft.  I found a cat mask online and printed it on cardstock for the kids to color and cut out. I made sure to mention that they could color it however they wanted, and as a result we had lots of rainbow-colored cats. 

23 September 2015

Storytime: Back to School

Because of weird scheduling issues and also holidays getting in the way, my back-to-school story time didn't happen until halfway through September, when most kids had already gone back to school. No worries; we could still read school stories and enjoy a school-related craft without it being the official start of school anymore.

*Opening Rhyme: I use "open them, shut them" as a chant to start story time.

Book: Lily's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes

Safety Poem:
Stop, look and listen
Before you cross the street
Use your eyse, use your ears,
And then you use your feet!

Book: Chu's First Day of School by Neil Gaiman

*Song: "If You're Happy and You Know It"

Back to School Rhyme:
Two little houses all closed up tight.
Open up the window and let in some light.
Ten little finger people tall and straight
Ready for school at half past eight!

Book: Splat and the Cool School Trip by Rob Scotton

Song: "The Wheels on the Bus"

Book: How Do Dinosaurs Go to School? by Jane Yolen

*Song: "Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes"

Book: Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

*Goodbye Rhyme:
On my face I have a nose,
And way down here I have ten toes.
I have two eyes that I can blink,
I have a head to help me think.
I have a chin, and very near,
I have two ears so I can hear.
Here are my arms to hold up high,
And here is my hand to wave goodbye.

This is my standard storytime format. I try to alternate books with action rhymes or songs, and I do more actions toward the end of storytime than I do at the beginning. The items marked with a * are always a part of my storytime, so the kids eventually learn the words and movements and can participate regularly. These are also good cues for the kids regarding the beginning and end of storytime.

I put the lyrics to all songs and rhymes, as well as book titles and author names, on Power Point slides that I project onto the screen behind me during story time so that parents can follow along. I have added a simple picture to each slide, too, so that kids who are not yet reading can still recognize when we're doing a certain song or rhyme.

My story times usually end with a craft, which I do after the last rhyme so that parents who need or want to leave can do so while everyone else moves to the tables to begin the craft.  This week we made pencil name tags that could be used as a refrigerator magnet or a door hanger, depending on what the child wanted.

To make the pencils, print this template on cardstock or make your own similar template. I made the pencil shapes in MS Publisher using the basic shapes available (triangle, rectangle, etc.). I then cut the paper so each pencil shape was separate, although I didn't cut out the individual pencils.

The kids at my storytime picked one pencil and colored the eraser (and the tip if they wanted).  Then they colored four craft sticks and used white glue to stick them on the pencil so the sticks looked like the wooden part of the pencil. I emphasized with the kids that they could color their pencil however they wanted.  I had sticky magnets to attach to the back and string if they wanted a door hanger.  Many chose to add their names to their pencils, but not everyone did.

18 September 2015

Science Club: Friction

This month my science club studied friction. We watched a brief video about friction, then we had two separate experiments to try.

1. Rice bottle

Supplies: empty water bottles, uncooked rice, funnels and scoops to put rice in bottles, wooden chopsticks

Directions: Use your scoop and funnel (I used a paper cup for a scoop and a rolled piece of paper as a funnel) to fill the bottle with rice.  Tap the bottle on the table to help the rice "settle" in the bottle and then add more.  Your bottle should be as crammed full of rice as you can make it.  Next, stick a chopstick into the bottle. Friction should hold the chopstick in with the rice, which will allow you to pick up the bottle using just the chopstick. If it doesn't stay, remove the chopstick and add more rice.

2. Balloon people

Supplies: paper cutouts of people (or whatever shape you want), balloon

Directions: Inflate balloon.  Rub balloon rapidly on your clothing.  This friction between the balloon and the fabric will create static electricity, which should allow you to pick up the paper people with your balloon.  Hold your balloon over the paper people and watch them "jump" to meet the balloon. Make paper people of various sizes; what's the biggest size "person" your balloon can pick up?

I also gave the kids a handout with an additional experiment they could try at home. Overall, the kids and parents both enjoyed learning about friction this month at the library.

16 September 2015

Star Wars: Lost Stars

Gray, Claudia. Lost Stars. Disny-Hyperion, 2015.

A new installment to the Star Wars cannon, this novel provides similar material to what is covered in other books and does not, unfortunately, provide the reader with a story on the same epic scale as any of the Star Wars stories.

This book is told in alternating chapters between two children who were born on the same planet and attended the Imperial Academy at the same time. After graduation, one character chooses to defect and become a rebel while the other rises through the ranks as an Imperial officer.  This novel covers many of the major events in the original movie trilogy while also covering the Romeo and Juliet-esque story of two young adults on opposite sides of a major conflict.

I wanted this story to be an amazing page-turner. I was so excited to read a new installment in the Star Wars universe, especially with the new movie coming out soon. Unfortunately, this was more a story of "star-crossed lovers" than it was anything to do with Star Wars. The Star Wars universe floated in the background as a non-integral part of the story, which was disappointing to me as I had hoped to read a Star Wars story, not a story told in the Star Wars universe.

I would recommend this book to teens who are not interested in the Star Wars universe, but who want to learn a bit about it because of the hype or because their friends like it, etc. etc.  I would not recommend this book to a die-hard Star Wars fan.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: sex, violence, minimal amounts of language; lots of people die because there's an intergalactic war happening
Overall Rating: 2/5 stars

14 September 2015

Book Club: A Chair For My Mother

I first read - er, listened to - A Chair for My Mother on an episode of Reading Rainbow many, many years ago, so I was glad to have the opportunity to use this book for book club. We talked about the story itself, then it was time for some activities:

1. Decorate a piggy bank. Since the main plot of the story involves saving money for a chair, I brought in old jars and containers and allowed the kids to decorate them to make piggy banks. Not only did this allow me to "upcycle" containers that would have been thrown away, but it was an easy, open-ended craft that the kids all enjoyed.

2. Digging for pennies. This activity cost me $2.00, which yielded ten pennies per book club kid. I buried the pennies in several pounds of rice in a large bowl and allowed the kids to dig. Digging for pennies is a great sensory activity and it gave the kids something to put in their newly decorated piggy banks. [Side note: The rice will be used for science club, so it did not go to waste even after all those little hands dug through it.]

3. Penny toss. This is an activity I recycled from my intern days. I bought two veggie trays from the dollar store and wrote numbers in each of the sections. The kids then tossed their pennies (which they had dug from the rice) onto the trays and added their scores. Not only was this an inexpensive and popular game, but it allowed me to sneak in some practical math practice.

All three of these activities were very popular with my young patrons, and they left book club happily clutching and rattling their penny-filled piggy banks.

10 September 2015

Holidays @ the Library

I imagine some librarians feel like this when asked about holiday programming.

It is that time of year again. Librarians and craft stores alike are frantically planning their December events and getting ready for the onslaught that is the fall/winter holiday season. With this planning comes the inevitable discussion and collaboration over what types of programs people are offering, and on the heels of this conversation is the eternal debate: shall we or shall we not provide holiday-themed programs, particularly religious ones, at our library? It seems that this is one of the big issues over which most librarians hold a very strong opinion. I've never heard a librarian say, "Meh, whatever" when asked about holiday programming.

Before I get to my opinion on this subject, let me give you a bit of background. I was raised in a very strict religious group which borders on cult status. What we wore, how we spent our money, what we ate and drank, and how we spent our free time was all heavily monitored. While I attended a public school like my neighbors, I dressed differently, spoke differently, and often was excused from my classroom so that I could avoid soiling my soul with the celebrations of Satan.

One of the most important and dangerous days was Halloween. When I was very young, my mother always took that day off of work and kept me home from school. I was not allowed to dress up, go trick-or-treating, pass out candy to others, watch Halloween-themed children's shows, decorate a pumpkin, etc. etc. When night fell we would keep our curtains tightly shut, lock our doors, and turn off all outside lights to discourage the costumed children from descending upon our doorstep. I was taught that this holiday belonged to Satan, and that if I participated, I would belong to him, too.

When I was in fourth grade my mom didn't have enough vacation days left at work to keep me home, so I had to stay at school that day. I cannot possibly articulate how awkward and frustrating it was to be there. Everyone else was happy, wearing costumes and having parties. I had to sit in the back of the classroom and read a book. My teacher attempted to involve me, inviting me to play the games or participate in the costume parade, offering me treats like the others were eating. I had been instructed, though, that I was not to touch any of the party materials at all, so I pulled my PB&J from my brown bag, gave a Ron Weasley smile and said, "No thanks; I'm all set."

This was me, except I wouldn't have been allowed to watch Harry Potter, either.
As an adult, I look back on that day and realize that nothing my classmates were doing was harmful, and that I probably would have enjoyed that party and dressing in a costume, had that been allowed. As a child, though, it was one of the hardest days I'd ever experienced. I felt guilty just for being in the room, and I know my teacher and classmates were confused as to why I was there but not participating. My family belonged to only one of a sizable handful of groups who choose not to participate in various holidays, generally for religious reasons, but on that day I felt totally isolated.

I now work at a public library in the San Francisco Bay Area. To say our patron population is diverse would be an understatement. One of the things I love about doing children's programming is listening to all of the different languages spoken in the midst of crafting or science experiments or whatever we're doing that day. I love being surrounded by this much diversity, and I make a point to reflect that diversity in my collection development, displays, bulletin boards, flyers, etc. etc. However, when it comes to programming, particularly programming about religious holidays, there are a few things I know for sure:
  1. My patrons are not all of one particular primary religion, Christian or otherwise. 
  2. As I was not brought up in most of the world's religions, I would likely do a poor job at representing a holiday or important festival from another culture.
  3. Programming about a particular topic sends the message [accurately or otherwise] that the library is promoting that topic. This is why our library has healthy eating programs but not hot-dog eating contests. If I did programming that reflected popular evangelical American culture, I would be sending the message that these holidays are best/right/good/etc.
  4. There are numerous other venues where persons who celebrate religious holidays can celebrate in whatever way they see fit. Those who want "secular Christmas" can do so, those who want to keep Jesus the reason for the season can do likewise.  On their own time. At another location.
  5. There are patrons at my library, people whose faces I have seen and whose names I know, who cannot attend programs geared toward certain holidays. Their reasons all revolve around the idea of not celebrating that particular holiday, be it Halloween, Christmas, etc. etc. They are from different religions and cultures, but the answer is the same: when there is holiday programming they will stay home.
  6. It is entirely possible to create story times and craft programs that are seasonal without being holiday-related.  For example, I can easily do a pumpkin story time and a pumpkin craft without having to make jack o'lanterns. The internet is a wild and beautiful place full of fun ideas that will ensure I never, ever run out of story time theme possibilities. 
This is the craft I'll use. It's a pumpkin that can be a holiday decoration or just a pumpkin.

My first and foremost instinct is to do no harm, so I have chosen not to use holiday themes in my programming. For example, this October I will have three family story times with these themes: pumpkins, bats, and scary stories. All of these things can sound like Halloween, but I have carefully chosen books which do not mention trick-or-treating or carving pumpkins, etc. etc. Children who enjoy Halloween can think of these as fitting with their scary October holiday season. Children who do not celebrate Halloween can enjoy fall themes and learning about things like bats without worrying that they will be left out somehow. 

I have read numerous discussions on Facebook and in comments on other blog posts where the debate can get very heated. I generally choose to lurk in these conversations, both because my personal opinion is mirrored in other peoples' statements and also because, as already stated, my personal opinion is just that: my opinion. 

Other libraries have different communities. Other librarians have different backgrounds. I will not state emphatically that my approach is the only and best approach. Rather, I tell my story so that you may consider alternatives. 

Feel free to leave comments about how your library does things or why you choose or choose not to have holiday programming, but please use kindness and courtesy in your words. I reserve the right to delete comments that resort to name-calling or internet shouting.

04 September 2015

Book Club: Skyping with an Author

Last month my 9-12 year old book club kids had a special treat: the author of the book they read offered to speak with them via Skype! I was very excited to give my book clubbers this opportunity. The Skype session took up most of our meeting, so instead of describing what we did, I will offer some author Skype tips:

  1. Test all equipment and have a backup plan.  I made sure the computer had completed any necessary updates and knew how to contact the author via other means besides Skype in case Skype decided not to cooperate (Gmail offers a video chat option, which is good for this kind of emergency).
  2. Let the kids know in advance.  Not only did this ensure that my kids all came to book club on time, but they also had the opportunity to prepare some questions to ask.  I had a list of standard questions that I was willing to let them borrow, if needed, but most of them had prepared their questions when they read the book.
  3. Use a "look here" note.  Kids might be used to using technology, but they are still tempted to look at a screen instead of at a camera when video chatting. I put a sticky note next to the laptop's camera that said "Look here" so they would have a reminder to look at the camera, not at the screen.
  4. Prepare a thank-you note. I had a thank-you note ready to go so the kids could sign it after the chat was over. The author was grateful to get the note, and the kids were able to practice gratitude.
Overall, our Skype session went very well. The kids asked some good questions and got some neat information from the author, and I now have a list of all the other authors they would like me to contact for future Skype sessions. This isn't something I can do for every single book club meeting, but it definitely was worth it for an occasional treat. 

02 September 2015


Lackey, Mercedes. Hunter. Disney-Hyperion, 2015.

A fantasy read-alike for fans of Katniss Everdeen and Tris Prior, who enjoy epic world-building sequences like those in Tolkien's work.

This book involves two things I dislike in stories: massive quantities of info-dumping / world-building and angsty teens who think they are special snowflakes. There is definitely a time and place for giving the reader the backstory for a large fantasy series, but it can be done in a way that doesn't seem tedious. In Hunter, unfortunately, the details bog down the bigger story and only the most dedicated readers will be able to see their way out. Lackey is also unfortunate in that she chose now to publish a book about a teen girl who is the only one who can save her world, a story line which has been repeated so many times recently that it's almost a joke.

This is a good fantasy story for strong readers who love fantasy and enjoy the journey of world-building, but the average reader will drown in the details and without the special snowflake to rescue them, they may never recover.

Recommended for: teens, fans of fantasy
Red Flags: fantasy violence
Overall Rating: 2/5 stars

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Netgalley for the purposes of review.