"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

29 January 2016

Book Club: The Absent Author

My book club kids read Ron Roy's The Absent Author this month, and after discussing the story, we had a few different activities:

Write your own story. Since the book is about an author, it was easy to set out printer paper and construction paper and let the kids make their own books.

Write to the author. We have written to authors during storytime before, so this was a chance for the kids to write to an author of a chapter book instead of a picture book. I noticed that many of the kids chose to write a letter instead of drawing a picture for the author, and yes, I did mail the letters. We'll see if he writes back.

Puzzles. Mysteries are like puzzles, and there aren't many good mystery games for young kids, so I set out a small tabletop puzzle and a floor puzzle with extra-large pieces for them to put together. I watched a group of kids put the floor puzzle together, look at it for a minute, then take it apart and mix up the pieces and try again.

I Spy. This was a way to involve the parents who were at book club and also to use some of our old die cuts we had sitting around in our craft closet. I pinned the die cuts to the wall and left them up as an I Spy game. The nice part about this was that there was no instruction needed - all of the kids had played I Spy before.

27 January 2016

Lego Librarian

One of my book clubbers brought me the most amazing gift. He had a brown paper bag with him at book club, and he took it out of the room, telling me he'd be right back. He came back in and presented me with this:

It's a LEGO librarian. Specifically, it's me, down to the required library nametag, the mohawk I was sporting this summer after we doubled our number of summer reading finishers, and my superhero cape.

The SL stands for "Super Librarian."
I was floored. I was speechless. I have never been given such a thoughtful and creative gift. I didn't know what to say to him besides, "Thank you."

25 January 2016

YALSA's Hub Challenge

It's that time of year again. YALSA's Hub has issued a challenge: between now and June 23rd, read at least 25 of the titles that were honored this year at the Youth Media Awards (YMA) at ALA Midwinter. As usual, I have already read quite a few of the titles on this list, so if I want to conquer the challenge, as I attempt to do every year, I will be re-reading 27 books an reading 68 other books for the first time. We'll see how well I do this year.

There is a prize for finishing 25 titles on the list: there is a drawing for a bag of young adult books, which would be a great addition to anyone's library. If you're interested in participating, check out the Hub's post on the challenge for the rules and information, and grab this copy of the official list.

And may the odds be ever in your favor!

Book Club: End of the Year Festivities

We are already well into the new year, but I did have an end of the year party in December for my book clubs. Both the older and younger kids' groups had parties that were very similar.  First, we each brought a book that we enjoyed from the past year. It didn't have to be a book club book. Each child said what book they brought and why they liked it, and I also shared a book I enjoyed.  Next, we voted on the book club books we had read that year. I had printouts of the covers of each book, and each child placed a star on the book they liked best. Finally, I had board games set out for them to play while they enjoyed some healthy snacks.

Each child left with a goody bag filled with a bookmark, a pencil, a glow stick, some erasers and stickers, etc. I asked the parents to fill out a survey about book club so I could make improvements for this year. This was a great, low-key way to celebrate book club and enjoy the busy holiday season without adding yet another complicated program to my to-do list.

22 January 2016

Storytime: Snow

Opening Rhyme: Open Them, Shut Them

Book: Snow by Uri Shulevitz

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

Book: It's Snowing! by Gail Gibbons

Rhyme: Five Little Snowflakes
One little snowflake with nothing to do,
Along came another and then there were two.
Two little snowflakes laughing with me,
Along came another and then there were three.
Three little snowflakes looking for some more,
Along came another and then there were four.
Four little snowflakes dancing a jive,
Along came another and then there were five.

Book: Snow Party by Harriet Ziefert

Rhyme: Snowflakes
Snowflakes, snowflakes, dance around.
Snowflakes, snowflakes, touch the ground.
Snowflakes, snowflakes, in the air.
Snowflakes, snowflakes, everywhere!

Book: Snow by Manya Stojic

Song: "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes"

Book: Toys Meet Snow by Emily Jenkins

Goodbye Rhyme

Craft: Paper snowflakes! We followed these directions to make 3D paper snowflakes. The kids LOVED them, and the parents had a good time, too!

20 January 2016

YMAs and Committee Service

Whew. It's finally over. For the past year I've served on the Stonewall Book Award Committee (SBAC), and because of that, I was not permitted to publicize my opinions about children's books featuring LGBT+ characters or themes. It's been a long year, but the gag is off now, and I'm able to give you my reflections on serving on a committee.

Others have already written here and here about the results of the youth media awards. There were surprises, to be sure. There were more books with diverse characters, which is definitely a nice change of pace. I agree with those who posit that these awards are important, but they're not everything. It's okay to love a book that didn't win a Newbery or a Printz. It's okay to book talk that book to the moon and back and give copies to all of your friends. It's okay to think the committee got it wrong. That's probably why these awards are decided upon by committees and not individuals; can you imagine the responsibility of choosing the one best book for the year?

I can, because for 2015 I served on the SBAC, and I had to read well over 100 books throughout the year. Some of the books were amazing and wonderful and I was glad to read them. Some went in the "nope" pile fairly quickly. I had to keep in mind that out of those 100+ books, I was only going to choose a few of the top books, and in the end we'd be picking the one best book to represent the LGBT experience.

The award was given to George, a middle grade book featuring a transgender main character, a book that I liked but didn't love. I liked it because it fills a niche that is pretty empty right now, but it wasn't my favorite.

The Porcupine of Truth also won, and that one wasn't even in my final list. I didn't mind the story, but again, I didn't love it. The same goes for Wonders of the Invisible World. The only book that made the cut that I actually wanted to win was Sex is a Funny Word, because this book talks about sex and bodies and puberty without using gender pronouns.

I applied for the committee because I was excited to help choose a book that represents the LGBT+ experience, because I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself, because the fees that I pay each year to be a part of the GLBT Round Table should be worth something, right? And I do not dispute the committee's decision. But here's the thing: as committee members, we provided information to each other so we could get to know each other better. We shared a Google doc and filled out questionnaires and suchlike. While retaining everyone's anonymity, here's the breakdown of the 8-member Children's and Young Adult division of the SBAC:

Gender Expression:
Women 7, Men 1

Straight 6, Queer 2

Gender Identity:
Cisgender 7, Transgender 1

Does anyone else see a possible problem with this? For a committee that is supposed to choose a book that best reflects the LGBT+ experience, only two - TWO - people on the committee could rightly comment on this experience. For a committee that is reading books about trans* characters, only one - ONE - person could truly voice an opinion.

I've spent a long time trying to figure out what happened here, and this is my best guess, which is only - ONLY - a guess and only my opinion: The library world is largely inhabited by white, cisgender, straight women. These women make up the bulk of the library world, of ALA memberships, and probably, therefore, also the GLBT Round Table, of which membership is a requirement in order to serve on the SBAC. Those who chose the committee members probably didn't have many options as far as diversity is concerned.  In a perfect world, this 8-member committee would be split between genders and would include at least two L, two G, two B, and two T members, yes? Or one of each and then the other four positions are open to various other identities that don't always get included in the acronym. But the committee chair had to work with what they were given, and what they were given didn't match the diverse community they were trying to represent.

This is why my favorite book wasn't chosen. My favorite book was one of the most discussed, probably because I kept talking about it and voting for it, but it wasn't chosen because those on the committee decided it didn't actually, literally discuss the LGBT experience. Because it's a picture book about crayons.

The story is about a blue crayon who has a red label and struggles to color things red, until one day the crayon realizes it's blue and can draw blue things and is so happy to be blue. My spouse, who is himself trans*, cried when I read this book to him. He also used this book in a How to Be a Trans Ally presentation he did on Transgender Day of Remembrance. Of all the many books that passed through my hands throughout this committee process, this is the only book I kept. The only one. And it was passed over because the story "could be about anything" or "wasn't trans* enough."

But this opinion was being voiced by cisgender individuals who may or may not know any trans* people. These cisgender, straight individuals were tasked with choosing a book that best represents a community of which they are not a part, which likely explains why I, a lesbian who is married to a transman, disagreed with many of the final decisions. Because I was in the minority on a committee dedicated to serving a minority population.

The committee had a difficult task: choosing the book(s) that best represent the LGBT+ experience. This was made more difficult for many committee members since they themselves do not belong to the LGBT community. As with the other awards, just because I don't personally agree with the decision does not mean the committee didn't choose good books, and it does not mean that Red or other books that were considered but not honored are not good books. Rather than finding a needle in a haystack, committee work is more about finding a needle in a needle stack.

I am glad I served on the SBAC this year. I'm glad for the experience of being on an award committee, and I am glad that I got to be a part of this process, but it isn't an experience I will seek to duplicate, and I will definitely be looking at the awards - all of them - with new eyes, knowing that decisions by committees can be just as flawed as those by individuals, and that even though George gets a new shiny medal on its cover, I will still recommend Red first, because I think it was the best book this year.

But that's only my opinion. Your mileage may vary.

How about you? Have you served on an award committee? Were you surprised by the YMAs this year?

18 January 2016

I Fired God

Zichterman, Jocelyn. I Fired God: My Life Inside - and Escape From - the Secret World of the Independent Fundamental Baptist Cult. St. Martin's Press, 2013

This memoir details Zichterman's childhood in an abusive IFB home, her marriage to an IFB man, and their eventual escape from the cult, along with details of Zichterman's mission to help rescue those who have been abused within the IFB.

As a person who also grew up in the IFB, attending camp at the Wilds of the Rockies, at Northland Baptist Bible College (now the defunct Northland International University); spending six years earning two "degrees" from Bob Jones University, and leaving the world of the IFB behind after six additional years teaching at an IFB school, I can attest that Zichterman details accurately the life within the IFB. To be sure, her home life was more extremely abusive than may be typical, but the church politics, the breaking of a child's will, the focus on women staying home to serve their men - all of this is seen throughout various sub-cultures of the overall IFB culture as a whole.

I myself have interacted with many of the people Zichterman mentions in her book and was not remotely surprised at the character abuse she endured upon her escape, along with multiple pleas to return to "the truth that she knew." I myself was chastised for not tithing exactly ten percent of my paycheck, which was easily discoverable at my church since one of the deacons was also the school principal. I, too, was chastised for being female and wanting to think or learn or have opinions. I, too, experience flashbacks to childhood abuse and was told the most important thing was to forgive my abuser and ask for forgiveness for any sin I may have committed while having the flashbacks to being raped as a 6-year old child. I also left the IFB behind, discovered my "degrees" from Bob Jones University were worthless, and was forced to start over again, working multiple jobs while I put myself through an accredited university education so I could get a new position outside of fundamentalism.

This book isn't an easy one to read, and I'm certain it wasn't an easy story for Zichterman to tell. But it is the truth, and it behooves us to remember that there are many of these churches scattered throughout the country where children are growing up uneducated, abused, and virtually trapped because they cannot imagine a way out and have no support system in place should they choose to leave. Recommended

Recommended for: adults, those who wish to learn more about the IFB or Bob Jones University, etc.
Red Flags: lots of descriptions of abuse, language
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

15 January 2016

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly

Oakes, Stephanie. The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly. Dial Books, 2015.

Minnow Bly is in prison because she brutally beat a man under a bridge, beat him so badly he was hospitalized, even though she has no hands. That's right: Minnow recently escaped a cult where her hands were cut off as a punishment for disobedience. As Minnow adjusts to life away from the cult and in the juvenile detention center, she meets with an FBI agent who is trying to get the whole story of the Kevinian cult, especially the events leading up to the fires that claimed the life of their leader. Minnow knows who killed him, but will she tell?

Wow. This book was a difficult one to read, but I found myself compelled to turn the pages even as I was horrified by what happened to Minnow and the others in the cult. The juxtaposition of Minnow's life of relative freedom within the juvenile detention center and her very controlled existence in the cult is astounding. For the longest time I was sure I had figured out the ending, but I was actually surprised because the person I thought had killed the prophet actually didn't do it. This is a difficult book, but a great one. Recommended.

Recommended for: teens, fans of books with strict religious groups
Red Flags: language, lots of violence (the main character gets her hands amputated with a hatchet, for one thing)
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alike Suggestions: A Good Courage, The Poisonwood Bible, Eden West, Watch the Sky

13 January 2016

Science Club: Reaction Time

This month our science club studied reaction time. This was possibly the simplest experiment we've ever done, but the kids really enjoyed it.

I gave each child a ruler, which they were allowed to keep, and a chart so they could keep track of everyone's results. They tested their parents by dropping the ruler and seeing how fast they could catch it, then trying again while their parents' eyes were closed and again with eyes open but the child talking to the parent to distract them.  Then they switched roles to see if the kids could be faster than their parents. The parents and kids all enjoyed this simple experiment, and it's one that will be easy for them to do again at home.

11 January 2016

Storytime: Kevin Henkes

This week we did another author focus, this time on Kevin Henkes. We received a letter back when we wrote to Tomie DePaola, so I tried again with the kids writing or drawing for Kevin Henkes. We'll see if we get anything back.

Rhyme: Open them, Shut them

Book: Kitten's First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes

Game: Animal guessing game on Power Point. I put a picture of an animal on a PowerPoint slide, then covered it up with four squares. I animated the squares so they would disappear with a mouse click, and gave the kids clues between clicks so they could try to guess the animal before I showed it. I did about six animals, and the kids really enjoyed the guessing game, but they said my clues were too easy.

Book: Little White Rabbit by Kevin Henkes

Song: "If You’re Happy and You Know It"

Book: Old Bear by Kevin Henkes

Rhyme: Five Little Monkeys

Book: A Good Day by Kevin Henkes

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

Book: Waiting by Kevin Henkes

Goodbye Rhyme

08 January 2016

Storytime: Fall

I know, I know: It's not fall right now. It's very obviously winter. I did, however, do this storytime during fall, but wasn't able to post it until now. There were too many other things, particularly Dinovember, taking up valuable real estate on my blog. So if you are planning a fall storytime and need some books, here are my suggestions:

Opening Rhyme: Open them, Shut them

Book: Hooray for Fall! by Kazuo Iwamura

Rhyme: Mother Nature, Did You Sneeze
Falling, falling, falling leaves
Mother nature did you sneeze? (Aachoo!)
Red ones, yellow ones, orange and brown,
Big ones, little ones, on the ground
Falling, falling, falling leaves
Mother nature did you sneeze? (Aachoo!)

Book: Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert

Rhyme: Fall
Around we go and around we go. (twirl to the left).
A-whirling with the wind. (twirl to the right)
Down we go and down we go. (move body lower)
A (color name) leaf to find. (pick up a leaf from the floor)
*for this rhyme I had scattered a bunch of leaf die cuts on the floor, and the kids actually had to pick up the leaves for each color I named. They LOVED this activity, and even the littlest ones could participate

Song: "If You’re Happy and You Know It"

Book: Bear Has a Story to Tell by Philip Stead

Rhyme: Five Red Leaves
Five red leaves, five and no more
The caterpillar ate one, now there are four
Four red leaves, that's easy to see.
Along came a rainstorm, now there are three.
Three red leaves, nothing much to do. A big wind blew, now two!
Two red leaves, that's not much fun.
I glued one on my paper; Now there is one.
Hang on, pretty red leaf! Your branches won't break.
You're one less leaf for me to rake!

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

Book: Leaves by David Ezra Stein

Goodbye Rhyme

Craft: We did leaf rubbings! They were a lot of fun and the kids and parents both enjoyed them. 

06 January 2016


Leavitt, Martine. Calvin. Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR), 2015.

Worth the read if you enjoy books about mental illnesses, but not a stand-out among its peers.

Calvin is convinced his life is closely tied to that of the fictional Calvin from Bill Watterson's comic strip. Once he receives his diagnosis of schizophrenia, he decides that he will be completely healed if only he can convince Watterson to draw one last comic strip of Calvin, without Hobbes and without any mental illnesses. Because real-life Calvin has been seeing Hobbes everywhere.

This is a standard "kid with mental illness takes journey for healing" type of story, with the added twist of a middle of winter cross-lake trek. Calvin is pretty up-front about the fact that he can see Hobbes following him everywhere, and he even acknowledges that he has an illness and that Hobbes, in fact, is not really there. Other than the Calvin and Hobbes connection, this particular story doesn't stand out among the dearth of teen books featuring mental illness, particularly those books published recently.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: Other than the "mild peril" of a person walking across a lake, nothing really
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

Read-Alike Suggestions: Challenger Deep, Going BovineMosquitoland, I Am the Cheese

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

04 January 2016

Science Club: Acids and Bases

This month's science club was all about acids and bases. Before the children arrived, I made sure to have the following items on hand:

  • craft sticks for stirring
  • clear plastic cups (6-8 per child)
  • a Ph chart for each child
  • lots of paper towels for cleanup
  • masking tape and markers for labeling the cups
  • two pitchers for the cabbage juice
  • a variety of test materials - lemon juice, Alka-Seltzer tablets, baking soda, citrus-flavored soda, clear-colored shampoo, clear dish soap, etc. I avoided the ammonia, bleach, and HCl I've seen suggested elsewhere since there are a lot of young children who come to my science club

When the kids arrived, I explained what we were doing, and then showed them a video of the Sci Guys explaining how Ph works. Then we did our experiment. I had purchased some red cabbage extract so I could make as much cabbage juice as needed, so I (along with a few parents whom I asked to help) poured 5 or so glasses of cabbage juice per child, then led them through the first two or three substances, showing them how to add a substance and to figure out, based on the color change, whether that substance was an acid or a base. After that, I mostly circulated throughout the tables, making sure kids had the materials they needed and making comments on what they discovered. Kids were more than happy to pour more substances into the cabbage juice, or combine substances, or whatnot. Several children used their Ph charts to note which substances were acidic and which were basic, and they took the charts home with them. Overall, it was a successful science club with only a few spills and a pretty easy cleanup. 

01 January 2016

Book Club: Anansi the Spider

My book club read and discussed Anansi the Spider by Gerald McDermott. After our brief discussion, it was time for activities:

1. Weave a spider web. Take a paper plate and cut notches around the edge, then weave yarn through the notches to make a spider web. The kids enjoyed this one once we got the notches cut into their plates, and I liked that the freestyle activity allowed them a lot of creativity.

2. Make a styrofoam spider. I painted some styrofoam balls black, then gave the kids pipe cleaners, googly eyes, and glue. The pipe cleaners stick directly into the styrofoam, and the kids could choose which kind and how many eyes to add to their spiders.

3. Sticky webs. Using masking tape, I made a web inside a door frame with the sticky side of the masking tape facing our auditorium.  I gave the kids small pieces of scrap paper, which they crumpled into "flies" that they threw at the web. The goal was to get your fly caught on the web, and it's a lot harder than it looks!

4. Web walking. I made another masking tape web, this one on the floor and sticky-side down. I threw six "bugs" (really some little squishy balls I found at the dollar store) on the floor, and the kids walked along the web to try and pick up the balls.

What the kids didn't know, and I certainly didn't tell them, is that all of these activities helped them to practice both gross motor and fine motor skills, things kids apparently are lacking now due to not enough free time for playing and crafting and too many pre-cut, pre-fabricated items.

I also set out a display of all the other Anansi stories we had available at the library. By the end of the night, all of the books were gone, so hopefully Anansi will have a new life in our library.