"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 October 2015


This delicious book is best enjoyed with a glass of sweet tea.

Murphy, Julie. Dumplin'. Balzer+Bray, 2015.

Willowdean's mother is obsessed with the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant, while Willowdean has followed in her late aunt's footsteps in scorning the pageant and listening to Dolly Parton records. But when Willowdean decides to spite her mother and enter the pageant, her misfit group of friends joins her, and Willowdean is soon drowning in pageant details, friend drama, and possible boyfriend drama. What's a girl to do?

I cannot begin to explain how much I loved Willowdean's character. She's fat, but not ashamed of her weight and not perpetually dieting. She joins a pageant where she will be putting her body on display against very thin girls and she still doesn't try to lose weight to squeeze into a smaller dress. Her almost-boyfriend likes her, but not out of pity or because of a dare from a friend; he just really, really likes her. She has an argument with her best friend from childhood and they go through the awkward "is this over, should I still hate you" phase. Willow is friends with a girl with a physical disability and a girl who is biracial, lesbian, and really bitchy most of the time. The book doesn't have a Disney-esque ending where Willow wins the crown and everyone learns a lesson. The gentle Southern voice rings throughout the story and makes me hopeful that a good narrator will be found for the audio version of this story.

Willowdean is a strong female character who owns her $h!t like she should and embodies the gentle fierceness that defines a Southern lady. Also there are Dolly Parton drag queens.

Recommended for: teens and adults
Red Flags: minor bullying, a few fights, El has sex with her boyfriend but the reader doesn't get any graphic details
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Beauty Queens, 45 Pounds, Gabi, a Girl in Pieces

28 October 2015

This is My Home, This is My School

Bean, Jonathan. This is My Home, This is My School. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux BYR, 2015.

This is the story of a homeschooling family. A young boy introduces the reader to his teacher, his classmates, his classrooms, even the cafeteria! The innocence of childhood introducing a friend to a familiar place is felt throughout, and this warmhearted book is perfect to help children who have yet to meet a homeschooling family to understand what it's like.

Unfortunately, the illustrations are a bit chaotic, which makes for a distracted read and places this book on the "not for storytime" list. With real photographs or a different style of illustration, this book would be perfect for showing different ways kids learn.

26 October 2015

The Goodbye Book

Parr, Todd. The Goodbye Book. Little, Brown BFYR, 2015.

The story of a pet fish whose fish friend has died can help children understand how to process grief. The simple pictures and text work well together, and Parr's distinctive style is evident throughout this short but important book. For libraries which already house the Parr cannon, this is a welcome addition. For places without a deluge of Parr books, perhaps it's time to begin a collection, starting with this one. Recommended.

23 October 2015

Storytime: Pumpkins

I don't do holiday storytimes at my library, but I do use themes that are very similar to those found in holiday storytimes.  This week we had a pumpkin-themed storytime, and we learned about real pumpkins and read about pretend pumpkins, all without talking about Halloween or trick-or-treating or jack o'lanterns.

Opening Rhyme

Book: The Legend of Spookley the Square Pumpkin by Troiano

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

Book: From Seed to Pumpkin by Wendy Pfeffer

Five Little Pumpkins:
Five little pumpkins sitting on a gate.
The first one said, "Oh, my, it's getting late"
The second one said, "There's a chill in the air."
The third one said, "But we don't care."
The fourth one said, "We're ready for some fun!"
The fifth one said, "Let's run, run, run!"
So "woo" went the wind and out went the lights,
And five little pumpkins rolled out of sight!

Book: Pumpkin Town! by Katie McKay

Pumpkin, Pumpkin
Pumpkin, pumpkin
Sitting on a wall
Pumpkin, pumpkin
Tip and fall
Pumpkin, pumpkin
Rolling down the street
Pumpkin, pumpkin
Good enough to eat!

Book: The Very Best Pumpkin by Mark Kimball Moulton

Song: "Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes"

Book: Splat the Cat and the Pumpkin-Picking Plan by Rob Scotton

Goodbye Rhyme

For our craft, we made paper pumpkins. Take any sheet of paper and cut it into 1-inch strips. Punch holes in both ends of the strips, then attach them with brads. Fan out the strips into a round ball to make the pumpkin. Add a green pipe cleaner, curled around a pencil, for the vine.  When I did this craft, I showed the children some different colored and striped gourds as well and provided a variety of paper colors so they could be creative with their pumpkins. We ended up with orange pumpkins, green striped pumpkins, blue pumpkins, and rainbow pumpkins.

21 October 2015

What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night: A Very Messy Adventure

Tuma, Refe. What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night: A Very Messy Adventure. Little, Brown BFYR, 2015.

This picture book follows the annual exploits of the Tuma family dinosaurs, who come out of hiding every November to wreak havoc on their family and make big messes throughout the month. This story is very reader-friendly and works well when read to large groups of children.

I have spoken with the dinosaurs at my library, and they reluctantly agreed to allow me to photograph their antics this November, provided I give them proper credit when I post their pictures and only show their good sides. I know our community looks forward to Dinovember each year; with this book your community can enjoy it, too!

19 October 2015

Storytime: Bats

As I have mentioned before, I make a point not to create programs revolving around holidays, particularly holidays that are religious in nature. Because of this, my October storytimes all have themes that relate to fall and/or Halloween, but none of them are Halloween storytimes in and of themselves.  This week's theme was bats.

Opening Rhyme: Open Them, Shut Them

Book: Bat Loves the Night by Nicola Davies

Rhyme: Spooky Bats
Spooky bats go flying at night
Flapping about in the pale moonlight
Spreading their wings; they're a scary sight!
But truth be told, there's no need for fright.
Spooky bats like to sleep in the day.
They hang upside down and doze all day.
Caves and trees are where they stay.bri
Until it grows dark, then it's up and away!

Book: Stellaluna by Janell Cannon

Rhyme: Five Little Bats
Five little bats went out for a flight
On a crisp and clear fall night.
Mother bat called, "Please come right back!"
But only four little bats flew back.

Four little bats ...

Mother Bat went out for a flight
To look for her five little bats that night.
When Mother Bat saw them, she said, "Boo!"
And right back home five bats flew!

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

Book: Desert Song by Tony Johnston

Bat Rhyming Game: I gave the kids words/pictures on cards and we made two columns on our storytime board - words that rhyme with "bat" and words that don't.  This didn't work as well as I expected because many of the children at storytime were a bit too young to understand the concept of rhyming.

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

Book: Bats at the Library by Brian Lies

Goodbye Rhyme

Craft: We used Brian Lies's reading bat as our craft. Some of the children left their crafts with me so I could display them in the children's area of the library.

16 October 2015

Honoring "No" at Storytime

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the problem of sexual assault on college campuses, as well as the importance of banishing "rape culture" and teaching people, generally men, to understand that "no means no." Tightly paired with this are discussions about the ways our schools teach about sex and puberty and all of those things, and how we ought to be like many European nations, where the consent discussion is started much, much earlier.

I'm a children's librarian. I am also a mandated reporter, and I know what to look for as far as identifying abuse and how to help a person who may approach me and disclose that they've been assaulted. I also know how to find information for parents to begin to teach their children about consent and about loving relationships of all kinds. For the most part, though, this type of discussion is beyond the realm of my position. I don't do "consent storytime" or provide sex education in our library's program.

I do, however, believe that a major part of teaching children about consent and explaining that "no means no" or "only yes means yes" or however you want to phrase it begins with honoring a child's no. I have had a long-standing practice of not requesting/requiring hugs or other forms of affection from children who are unwilling to give them, even if their parents want to insist that they "give Miss Jenni a hug." I usually reply with something like, "It looks like So-and-so is a bit shy today and doesn't want a hug. That's okay," and then I finish off my conversation and move away so the child is not forced to do something they do not want to do.

You see, when I was a child, I was taught that adults were always right and always to be obeyed. Always. So I was subject to many unwanted hugs and kisses from the time I was very young, and knowing I could never, ever tell an adult no meant that it was that much easier for my uncle to rape me when I was six years old, and to continue doing so throughout the rest of my childhood. I wasn't allowed to say no; it wasn't really part of my vocabulary.

My first day of kindergarten. I didn't learn about saying "no" for nearly three decades.

A big part of learning that "no means no" is learning that my no means no. This plays out frequently in my library programming. If I am taking pictures of kids as they work on their science experiments at science club or their crafts at a craft program, I always ask, "Is it okay if I take your picture?" Most kids and parents don't mind, but I have had children say no before, even as their parents said it was okay.  When a kid says no, I say, "Okay, thank you for letting me know," and I move on to another group. At our LEGO club last week, I had a rug set out with a bucket of DUPLO blocks on it for the younger children. A little boy who was probably 18 months old or so toddled over to the bucket. His adult was watching him, but I thought he looked lonely, so I squatted down near the rug and said, "Can I play with you?" He shook his head no, vehemently.  So I left. I said, "Okay, maybe another time," and I got up and walked over to another group.

What young patrons learn, without my directly teaching it to them, is that if they say no, I'll honor it. That means anytime they say no - no, I can't take a picture of their experiment; no, I can't play blocks with them; no, they don't want a new sheet of paper; no, they don't want help cutting the craft. Except in the case of something life-threatening, I honor a child's no in the same way I would honor an adult's. I don't expect them to explain themselves, and I don't try to convince them to change their minds.

14 October 2015

The Unwanteds

McMann, Lisa. The Unwanteds. Aladdin, 2011.

Alex and Aaron are twins, and when they turn thirteen, they already know what to expect. Aaron is identified as Wanted and sent to university. Alex, who already has too many infractions of creativity to his name, is identified as Unwanted and sentenced to death. But when Alex and his fellow Unwanteds step through the doors of the execution area, they find a wondrous Hogwarts-esque land where creativity and magic thrive entirely apart from the land where they grew up.

I picked up this book because the cover claimed it would be a combination of The Hunger Games and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. And it is, sort of. It definitely feels more like a Harry Potter wannabe than anything to do with the Hunger Games, and it is definitely written for a younger audience. The school where Alex is sent is full of magic and secret passageways and odd creatures and talking statues and a wise old man who runs the place. Aaron, on the other hand, is in a place void of emotion or creativity or fun. I kept thinking I would give up on this book after I hit 100 pages (which is my requirement for a DNF), but I was intrigued enough by the story to keep reading. I can see how this book would appeal to tweens, especially those who have read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and The Lightning Thief and want more fantastical journeys and magic schools to visit. I would gladly read this book with my book club, because the kids love fantasy and have enjoyed every series we've started, so it would be easy to get them hooked on this one, too.

Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: lots of fantasy violence, particularly in the epic battle scene
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars [negative points for being Harry Potter by another name, positives for kid-appeal]

Read-Alikes: The School for Good and Evil, The Dragonet Prophecy, Freakling

12 October 2015

Night on Fire

Kidd, Ronald. Night on Fire. Albert Whitman & Company, 2015.

Billie, a tomboy growing up in small-town Alabama, doesn't think she's racist. She just wants things to stay the way they've always been, since everyone's comfortable being "with their own kind." But Billie's eyes are soon opened to the ugliness in prejudice as she sees the hateful way her neighbors treat the Freedom Riders, and she begins to understand that standing by and doing nothing is the same as agreeing with the haters.

This was an interesting book in that it told one of the stories of integration from the perspective of a white child. It reminded me of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry with the way the main character was beginning to learn the implications of the "separate but equal" ideas. I appreciated the way the main character realized what was wrong in her thinking, and with the naivete of childhood, set about fixing it, even if it meant endangering herself.

Recommended for: middle grade
Red Flags: lots of racially motivated violence - people beating other people (or inanimate objects like buses and doors) with chains and baseball bats
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Stella by Starlight,Lies We Tell Ourselves

09 October 2015

Storytime: Tomie dePaola

This week we focused on the author/illustrator Tomie de Paola. Except for our flannel story, all stories were written by him, and our craft at the end was to draw him a picture or write him a letter.  I then bundled up the letters and mailed them to him. It will be interesting to see if we get a response. 

Opening Rhyme: Open them, Shut them

Book: Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola

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

Book: Four Friends in Autumn by Tomie dePaola

Rhyme: Five Little Monkeys

Book Video: Legend of the Indian Paintbrush by Tomie dePaola

Flannel Story: The Three Wishes

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

Book: The Art Lesson by Tomie dePaola

Goodbye Rhyme

07 October 2015

Seven Dead Pirates

Bailey, Linda. Seven Dead Pirates. Tundra Books, 2015.

Lewis and his family inherit his grandfather's historic home, and Lewis is excited to move into his grandfather's childhood bedroom in the tallest tower of the house. Unfortunately, his bedroom is already occupied - by seven ghost pirates. The ghost pirates are excited to meet Lewis, who is extremely shy and never speaks outside of his home, because they have been promised that Lewis would be the one to reunite them with their ship.

This book is adorable. The pirates are silly and funny and weird, and Lewis grows in his confidence and is able to speak around others and even advocates for keeping his grandfather's house when his parents are planning to sell it. This book would be an excellent read-aloud story, and kids might be motivated to read other pirate stories after reading this one. Highly recommended.

Recommended for: middle grade, classroom read-alouds
Red Flags: bullying, pirate violence (one pirate threatens to pin some boys' livers to a tree, but he doesn't actually do anything), there is an epic pirate battle scene with knives and swords and guns
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Treasure Island, The Wednesday Wars, Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary "Jacky" Faber, Ship's Boy

05 October 2015


Smith, Andrew. Stand-Off. Simon & Schuster BYR, 2015.

Ryan Dean is in his final year at Pine Mountain, but he finds himself assigned a freshman roommate on the first floor of his dorm. Moreover, his freshman roommate is only twelve years old. Ryan Dean spends most of the year trying to avoid the Abernathy (as he not-so-affectionately names his roommate) and working through his grief over his friend's suicide the year before.

This is a good second installment in the Winger series, and I found myself enjoying it in spite of a very mixed track record with Smith's work. Teens who enjoy books about boarding schools or who have read the first book in this series are likely to enjoy this one. Many of the references in it, however, would be difficult to understand if a person hasn't read the first book in the series.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: porn, alcohol, drugs, references to male genitalia - this book is told from the point of view of a teen boy, so it's not a "clean" book by any definition; Ryan Dean and his girlfriend have sex in the woods
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

02 October 2015

Book Club: Make Way for Ducklings

My Book Munchers read Make Way for Ducklings this month, and we had activities to go with our discussion:

1.  Make a duck mask - These are very similar to the cat mask I used in the cat storytime, and the kids enjoyed decorating their ducks. The use of scissors and a hole punch helped them exercise their small motor control.

2. Draw a scene. I gave the kids papers and let them draw their favorite scene from the book.

3. Fishing for duckies. This was by far the most popular activity. I used string, a dowel, and a magnet to make a "fishing pole," then attached paper clips to duck cutouts and put them in a large bin to be the "pond." The kids spent more time at this activity than any other.

4. Real vs. pretend ducks. I have found that the homeschooling community is a wealth of resources for activities related to classic books, and this was no exception. I found a cut and paste handout containing pictures of real and pretend ducks, and I gave it to the kids so they could practice their scissor skills again and divide the ducks.