Friday, April 28, 2017

A Most Egg-cellent Storytime

I was trying to decide what to do for my Friday storytime, as I didn't want to necessarily do the same theme that we had finished with the Storytime-To-Go program ("Birds"), and a co-worker had mentioned doing an "Egg" themed storytime. I thought that would be a good theme since it was just after Easter and I knew I had some books from the "Bird" kit to fall back on if I needed to, but I decided to try to find different books that would help show that other animals besides birds lay eggs.

We started with our welcome song, and talked about eggs a little bit, but then they got side-tracked by talking about Easter eggs. I tried to get them to think about what other animals besides chickens and other birds lay eggs, but they just couldn't grasp the question and kept talking about either Easter eggs or chickens, so I just moved on to our story song.

For our first story I read The Cow That Laid An Egg by Andy Cutbill and Russell Ayto, which is a cute story about a cow named Marjorie who is sad because she doesn't have any special talent. Her friends the chickens concoct a plan to make Marjorie feel special. The next morning when everyone wakes up, Marjorie discovers a black-and-white egg in her bed! 

This is a funny story that doesn't end quite the way the audience expects, with whimsical, cartoonish illustrations.

Of course we cannot talk about chickens and eggs without singing Laurie Berkner's "I Know A Chicken", and we have to have shaky eggs!

Everyone loves the song, and it elicits a lot of audience participation.

I followed that up with a non-fiction book, An Egg Is Quiet by Diana Aston and Sylvia Long, to show all different kinds of eggs and various characteristics. Most were from birds, but it also shows a dogfish shark egg, various insect eggs, frog eggs, iguana, fish, and turtle eggs. I really like how it showed the range of sizes, shapes, colors, markings, and that it made a point of explaining bird eggs have hard shells, while reptile eggs have softer, learthery coverings, and amphibian eggs are "gooey". 

This is a really nice book; my only complaint is that I wish it showed a few less bird eggs and a few more "other animals" eggs, and had them grouped by animal type on the 2-page spreads so they would be easier to differentiate.

I followed this up with a really cute flannel board activity inspired by one I saw at "Jen In The Library", that she had originally found in a book called Preschool Favorites by Diane Briggs. I made a few changes due to time constraints and personal preference. First, I knew I didn't have time to make 10 since I was doing it somewhat last minute, so I reduced it to 5. Second, I didn't have the pattern book mentioned, nor time to make patterns, so I had to do the very "quick-and-dirty" freehand method. 

I'm not much of an artist, so they are a bit crude and some are too small, but not terrible considering how quickly I made them while working the service desk (I plan on remaking them later, and adding more). I also chose animals based on what I wanted to use, and re-wrote the rhyme. I then decided rather than simply removing the egg to reveal the animal behind, I would cut the eggs in half and remove the tops, to really make it look like they were hatching. And then I decided they would look so much cuter in a nest than just stuck on the board, so I very quickly freehanded a nest, cutting out a slit to tuck the eggs into.

"Five Little Eggs"

Here are five little eggs, and what do I see?
They're about to crack open!
What's inside? I'll wait and see.

The first egg cracks open, and what do I see?
A fuzzy, yellow duckling looking at me!

The second egg cracks open, and what do I see?
A fluffy, white owl looking at me!

The third egg cracks open, and what do I see?
A scaly, brown snake looking at me!

The fourth egg cracks open, and what do I see?
A fierce, little dinosaur looking at me.

The fifth egg cracks open, and what do I see?
A little, green turtle looking at me!

Five little hatchlings, as cute as can be.
Five little hatchlings, living happily!

And that brought us to our final book, The Odd Egg by Emily Gravett, which is a story about a poor Duck, who wishes he had an egg like all the other birds. Then, he finds one a most unusual egg. It is huge, and covered with green spots, and Duck thinks it's the most beautiful egg in the world; the other birds disagree. One by one the other birds' eggs hatch, revealing their babies. Will Duck's egg ever hatch?

This is a cute story with a surprise ending, and I really like the way the pages are cut to reveal each hatchline one-by-one. But while the illustrations are cute, I hate that they are so small and so pale! It makes this book difficult to use as a group read-aloud, unless you have a very small group, as the pictures are very hard to see and no one ever recognizes the parrot as a parrot without the proper vibrant coloring.

We finished up with our closing song and stickers.

How It Went
Today was a little more difficult than usual as the kids were very restless and talkative, and had a very hard time settling down. We had to stop and start our "story song" over twice because most were not paying attention or participating, and one little boy who has decided to be the class clown kept singing nonsense words and doing incorrect actions despite after being asked to stop and do it right twice by the teachers. So I had to stop the song and firmly tell him that I wanted him to stop what he was doing and sing the song right, that it wasn't funny; it was just rude. We started over and after that he did a great job. I still had to periodically stop and redirect their attention throughout the storytime.

This class is usually not like that, and are typcially mostly good listeners. I think it must've been a combination of Spring fever and that it had been a month since I'd been there last because they were closed for Good Friday. They really liked The Cow That Laid An Egg, though I think it confused one little boy who now thinks cows do lay eggs! And of course they loved doing "I Know A Chicken". Some of them had a hard time accepting that other animals besides birds lay eggs, especially when I showed them the dogfish shark egg case. They just could not believe that was an egg. I think they were amazed at the variety of sizes, colors, and shapes of eggs, since most are just familiar with white chicken eggs.

Even though my little flannel hatchlings were very crude, they guessed them all correctly, though sometimes it took them a minute and maybe a hint. The snake was the one they had the most trouble with, but I think they enjoyed it and thought it was cute.

I'm not sure if they all really got the point that birds are not the only ones that lay eggs, but they still had some good stories and activities. I had intended on bringing some photographs of other animals and their eggs, but sadly, when I went to print them out this morning my printer was out of ink.

Monday, April 24, 2017

A Poem for Peter - Review

 A Poem for Peter by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Lou Fancher & Steve Johnson (using Ezra Jack Keats' original artwork). November 1, 2016. Viking Books for Young Readers. 60 pages. Ages 7-10 (and grown fans of A Snowy Day).

A Poem for Peter is a picture book biography of both children's author-illustrator Ezra Jack Keats and the character of Peter that he first created in his Caldecott-winning debut as a solo author-illustrator, A Snowy Day, published in 1962.

The book is written in a style of verse known as a bio-poem or tapestry narrative, which, according to the author, is intended to echo the layers Keats employed in his rich, collage style of illustration. Andrea Davis Pinkney is an accomplished author in her own right, and is also the daughter-in-law of well-known children's author/illustrator Jerry Pinkney.

I'm a little late to the party on this one. It came out right before the holidays, which is already an incredibly busy stressful time, made even more so now that I'm in graduate school as well as working and being a mom. I thought I had put in on hold at the library, and then forgot about for a while. When I realized it had been awhile and I had never gotten it, I discovered that either I never put the hold on it, there had been a computer glitch that kept it from going through, or it had been accidentally cancelled. By that time, the peak demand was over, and it was simply sitting on the shelf waiting for me to find it.

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I really didn't know exactly what this book was, just that it was written by Jerry Pinkney's daughter-in-law and had some connection to The Snowy Day. If you follow my blog, you already know I absolutely love The Snowy Day, partly because it's nostaligic as it came out just a few years before I was born and was one of my first books; I still have my 50 year old childhood copy, which is in suprisingly good shape after going through me, my three siblings, and my daughter, as well as the 50th Anniversary edition. I also just love the simplicity of it, the simple text, and the charming illustrations that are rich yet simple at the same time. It perfectly captures the quiet beauty and solitude of exploring outside after a fresh snow.

(Click on image to enlarge)

Even though I didn't know what to expect of A Poem for Peter, it did not disappoint! It is a wonderful tribute to Ezra Jack Keats, describing his family and childhood, how his career as an artist developed and followed several twists and turns, eventually leading to his career as a children's author and illustrator, and how he came to develop the character of Peter. I knew a little bit about this part, but not much of the rest of Keat's life. While I've always loved A Snowy Day, I never fully appreciated how truly ground-breaking it was until recently.

(Click on image to enlarge)

A Poem for Peter is an absolutely beautiful book in every way! I am not a person who has an appreciation for poetry, but I loved the way Andrea Davis Pinkney chose to tell the story in verse, and couldn't imagine it any other way. The book is illustrated with collages, using Keats' own artwork from The Snowy Day and other books of his, so Keats' style and spirit permeate the book. The lyrical verse and the illustrations capture the same magic of A Snowy Day, and I was so moved and impressed by it, I ordered my own personal copy as soon as I finished it!

(Click on image to enlarge)

I often cry or tear up when I read novels, but I don't think I've ever cried over a picture book. However, after reading the whole story, told in such beautiful, lyrical verse, I must confess I almost teared up when I got to this touching image of Ezra Jack Keats walking hand-in-hand with Peter after knowing the journey that brought them together and having a better appreciation for the significance of that first book, The Snowy Day. I don't know how this book hasn't won any awards.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Bird Storytime

This week I finished up a two-week rotation on "Birds" with the Storytime-To-Go program. I did this same theme last spring, and since I used mostly the same books and the same activities, I'm just going to link to the previous "Bird" post for the descriptions of all those and just focus on the two new books I used this time, how it went, and some very funny comments it prompted!

Sylvie by Jennifer Sattler is actually not a new book (2009), but it was new to me. Our system only has one copy, which was at a different branch, so I had never seen it before. My manager found it when she had been asked to do a bird-themed storytime by a teacher who specifically requested something on flamingos, and suggested it to me.

The story starts with little Sylvie asking her mother why they were all pink. Her mother explains that it is because of the shrimp that they eat [which is true]. Sylvie wonders what would happen if she ate something something different and experiments to find out, with results that are very colorful and sometimes funny. But in the end she doesn't feel like herself and decides to go back to eating shrimp....but not quite exclusively.

This is a cute story with bright illustrations, and I really liked that it was based on the surprising truth about where flamingos get their pink coloring, which not many people know. I have always mentioned this when we would have a flamingo show up in our stories, but I like having a story that incorporates this fact (if they don't have their normal diet, they will be white or pale grey). And we talked about how funny it would be if people turned different colors based on what they had been eating, and how their parents would know if they had been sneaking treats if we did. Another thing I like to point out is in at least one picture, the flamingo's legs look like the number "4" (which is often the case when flamingos are pictured, I've noticed).

By pure coincidence, the first class I pulled this book out to read to had a little girl name Sylvia in it. And you wouldn't believe what she was wearing.....a t-shirt with a big, bright flamingo on it! She thought it was so cool that she matched the book, and her teacher took a picture of the book to show her mom. I wish I could have taken a picture of her holding the book, but alas, one of the downsides of outreach is that we can't take photos of the kids since the parents are not present to consent.

Hooray for Birds! by Lucy Cousins is a brand-new book that we just got in a couple of days before I started this theme, which was perfect timing. I was expecting it to be similar to Hooray for Fish!, which is okay, but not particularly exciting. I do really like her illustration style, with the simple illustrations, saturated colors, and heavy black outlines, which I think is great for keeping younger kids focused.

But when I opened it up, I found it was so much more than I had expected. It not only shows all different kinds of birds, but prompts the reader or audience to imitate them, so it's very interactive and a great way to incorporate some fun movements! They get to say "cock-a-doodle-doo", flap their wings, hop, stand on one leg, waddle like a penguin, and more! The kids really enjoyed it, and I highly recommend it. And coincidentally, it also features a flamingo on the cover, whose legs just happen to make the number 4!

Seven Hungry Babies by Candace Fleming and Eugene Yelchin is a book I've used before, but I wanted to show it since it is a favorite, and it prompted a very surprising discussion and funny comments.

This is a story about a mother bird working hard to feed her seven babies. By the time she finally gets the last one fed and settles down to rest, they wake up crying again! But this time Daddy has to take a turn.

I went on to mention that's how it really is with new babies; as soon as you get them fed, changed, and back to sleep and try to get something done or take a nap, they are awake and ready to eat again. Some of the kids have babies at home and could relate, and one boy piped up in a knowing voice, saying "Yeah, they can be really annoying..."

But in another class, the kids ended up having quite a discussion while I was selecting the next book to read:

Child #1: "Yeah, then it's my Daddy's turn to help. But he has to feed my baby sister with a bottle."
Child #2: "Yeah, because he doesn't have breasts."
Child #3: "No, men have breasts, they just aren't big enough."
Child #1: "No, it's not because they aren't big; they don't make milk."

Now some people might have gotten a bit flustered or uncomfortable with this, but I found it amusing and sweet, and the teacher was fine with it. The kids weren't trying to be funny or shocking, they were simply having a sincere discussion about lactation amongst themselves, and I didn't intercede since we were at a transition point while I decided which book to read next anyway. I should also note that there were both boys and girls involved in the discussion, and I think it's a great thing that more boys are growing up knowing what breasts are *really* for!

How It Went Overall
This always seems to be a popular theme. The kids enjoy identifiying different birds, and hearing the different calls, and they are always completely fascinated by the nest we have with the egg that never hatched. Some of them are convinced that egg will hatch eventually, while another child was so empathetic with the poor baby that didn't make it I was afraid he was going to start crying! But, thankfully he didn't. I never say that the baby died, I tell them it didn't have a baby grow in it [and it could be either way; an unfertilized egg or an embryo that didn't make it].

In addition to the books above, Peck, Peck, Peck was a big hit once again, as was Owl Babies, which is a favorite of mine as well. The kids just love joining little Bill whining, "I want my Mommy!". They also liked The Odd Egg, Roly-Poly Egg, and The Pigeon Needs A Bath. Night Owl is a really good one for younger kids since it is shorter and has the different sounds to guess.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Today Was A Bust...

Today was a programming bust...

First, I had my "regular" outreach storytime scheduled. I've had it in the back of my mind for a while to do a "Library" themed storytime after realizing just how many children's books there are that have something to do with a library, and when I realized this week was National Library Week I figured this was the time to do it!

So I pulled a whole stack of picture books that had "library" as a subject tracing and went through them, settling on three. Since I had quite a stack leftover, I decided to put them on a display. I was really hoping to use this storytime to promote going to the library, so I also grabbed a stack of calendars to send home with the kids. The daycare is literally only two blocks from the library, but they've never brought the kids on a field trip, and I've never seen any of the kids come in on weekends or after school with their parents, either. I was really hoping for a chance to change this by getting the kids excited about the library.

So I had my books (Lola At The Library, Froggy Goes To The Library, and The Not So Quiet Library), found a couple of songs, my stack of calendars, and some Cat-In-The-Hat "I Can Read!" stickers and was all set to go. I went directly from home to the daycare, and when I turned in, the parking lot was empty. Crap! I had forgotten it was Good Friday, and they were closed! True, they didn't remind me, but I think I did know that. The same thing might have even happened last year. I do remember thinking last month I should double check with them, and completely forgot.

So, after feeling a bit let down and more than annoyed with myself (because this is actually my day off, and the ONLY reason I went in was to do this storytime!), I decided I will probably save this particular plan for the end of May/beginning of June when I tell them about the summer reading program. 

Next, I was supposed to help out with the book club at our local middle school (as a parent volunteer). The school librarian organizes it, and there are usually 4-5 different discussions groups, each led by an adult volunteer. This used to be a very well-attended program, but this year has not done so well due to scheduling changes, lack of teacher support, and fewer volunteers available to help. Today, only one other volunteer showed up, and instead of the usual 40+ kids, only 3-4 showed up, and not all for the same book.

So, instead of having a formal discussion about one particular book, we all just sat around and talked about several of the books, as well as various other books. I have to say, I actually enjoyed that more than what we usually do, so I guess it wasn't a total bust, but it would have been nice to have had a few more kids show up.

The worst part is that Friday is *technically* my day off, and I really could have used the chance to sleep in and relax. In case you're wondering why I am going in for storytime if it's my day off, it is my choice. This is for the daycare where I did my very first storytime ever, when I started volunteering to get experience since I couldn't do it at the library because I was just a lowly page at the time. The experience I gained from volunteering there enabled me to get promoted to my current position. 

So, they have a special place in my heart, plus it is the one I feel is truly "my" storytime. I do it on my own, not with the Storytime Bus and driver or volunteers. So I can do whatever I want, and I don't have to worry about the time frame. It's a great opportunity to try new things, experiment, and take chances, which is truly the only way to learn and grow. After I started my new position doing outreach storytime, my new manager said I could include this one, and so get paid for the time. But because of scheduling conflicts, Friday is the only time I can fit them in, and I don't want to give it up, so that's how I end up going in just to do one storytime on my day off, though just every other week.

But, it does kinda stink to get up early for no reason on my day off and give up time and it not even be productive. Oh well, stuff happens and we just have to roll with it!

Friday, April 7, 2017

What's The Point?

"What's the point?"

This question came up in a meeting not too long ago, and to be honest, I was a bit flabbergasted so it took me a minute to respond. 

To give a little context, this was a meeting of all the staff and volunteers that work with our Storytime-To-Go early literacy outreach program. To make things easier, we have a collection of approximately 32 themed storytime kits that we use. Each kit contains roughly 12-15 books that range in style and length, as well as various props, songs, rhymes, and activities to go with them. [I have developed a few of these kits, most were already here when I joined the program].

One person was not happy with one particular kit, which had a very general theme of "Animals" with a varied assortment of books with animal characters. We already had full kits that were more specific, such as "Jungle", "Zoo", and "Farm", so this was kind of a catch-all for other really cute books that we wanted to use. Apparently, this lack of specificity or message really bothered this particular person, and she didn't think it was worthwhile, asking:

"What are they supposed to learn from this? What is the point?"

I was a bit stunned, as I thought the point was obvious: that they get to enjoy some good books and learn that reading is fun! As far as I'm concerned, that is THE point of our whole program, to instill an appreciation for reading, and [hopefully] create life-long readers. I explained that my goal was for them to learn reading is fun, and there wasn't necessarily an intention or need for every kit to have a big lesson or message, but that these books would expose kids to animals they might not be familiar with, in addition to being fun stories.

I want to create as many positive associations with books and reading for these kids as possible. They will get enough required reading, reading for a specific purpose, reading to meet certain criteria, etc., in school. And as most of us know, what happens with regards to reading in school is often counter-productive. We have to reach these kids and instill a love of reading early, hopefully it will be enough to get them through all the experiences that tend to turn kids off of reading later. 

Of course I keep all the early literacy skills in mind, but I can use almost any book to do that in some way, and as a former scientist and teacher, I definitely take the opportunity to work in factual information, as well as basic concepts, lessons in kindness, manners, making good choices, etc. Some of my kits do have more of a purpose, such as "Folk Tales & Nursery Rhymes" for cultural literacy, "Feelings" to learn the names for our emotions and how to express them, as well as recognizing facial expressions and body language, but I don't think every theme has to hit the kids over the head with a strong message or lesson. Heck, I don't even think you *have* to have a theme!

There is nothing wrong with pulling a bunch of fun books that seemingly teach nothing at all, and are just good, silly fun. I think you can work in early literacy skills with any book (even ones about underwear, poop, or farts!), and I strongly feel that the most important "skill" we can teach is the love of reading. If they don't get that first, I don't think they will get very far with the others.

Now, I do get where this person was coming from. She is a former public school librarian, so is accustomed to having to justify everything by somehow tying it into the school district's curriculum. Fortunately, that's one great thing about working for a public library; we are free to follow what we know about early literacy and child development, rather than being subjected to the whims and trends in education, which often totally ignore what is developmentally appropriate. We recognize that PLAY and personal INTERACTION is how young children learn!

So, I'm curious to see what others have to say. Have any others had conflicts with colleagues who have fundamental differences in how they approach storytime? In YOUR opinion, what is the point?