Friday, April 6, 2018

Another Suspenseful Storytime!

Since we had so much fun with the last one, I decided to do another Suspenseful Storytime using a couple of books I had wanted to use, but were checked out before, and one that someone had suggested to me. As I've said before, these are my very favorite kind of storytime books to read; I really love building up the suspense, being very dramatic and spooky, then surprising them with an unexpected, and happier, ending.

We started with our welcome song and story song, then got right to the first book, Wolf's Coming by Joe Kulka, one of my favorites. I had wanted to read it last time, but discovered our copy had gone missing and couldn't get another copy soon enough. 

In this story we see all the animals running away and hiding after Wolf's howl announces his approach. Eventually, he reaches the house, and everyone must be still and quiet so he doesn't know they are there. Wolf opens the door, peers inside, and everyone jumps out and yells "Surprise!" It was Wolf's birthday! This book is so much fun, and the dark, eerie illustrations help set the mood, though there is a clue on each page that there is more to the story.

From there I led into a cute little fingerplay about little wolf cubs that I got from the Allentown Public Library and modified slightly:

"This Little Wolf"

This little wolf liked to howl. (howl)

This little wolf preferred to growl. (growl)

This little wolf was panting to play. (pant)

This little wolf chased bunnies all day. (make bunny ears)

This little wolf needed a scratch. (scratch)

How many little wolves is that? 1, 2, 3, 4, 5!  (count)

After that it was onto an even scarier topic with Ed Vere's Bedtime for Monsters. Though I've used a couple of his books before, I had not seen this one until a reader suggested to me, and it is very fun and cute, and perfect for this theme. We see a land of monsters, and one monster in particular seems to be licking his lips and thinking of ....YOU! Oh, no! Is he thinking of eating you?

Here he comes. Is he thinking of how good you'll taste, perhaps with ketchup or on hot buttered toast? He's coming up the stairs, and it's worse than we thought. The monster doesn't want to eat you; he wants to give you a big, slobbery monster goodnight kiss! Ewwwwwww......

Of course we had to follow that with something that would allow the kids to act like the little monsters they are, so we sang "If You're A Monster and You Know It" based on Ed Emberley's book of the same name:

If you're a monster and you know it, snort & growl.
If you're a monster and you know it, snort & growl.
If you're a monster and you know it, then your growl will surely show it.
If you're a monster and you know it, snort & growl.

Smack your claws, stomp your paws, twitch your tail, wiggle your warts, give a roar, do them all.

Then our last book is a relatively new on that I have been wanting to use, Bear and Chicken by Jannie Ho. Bear finds a poor frozen chicken while out walking in the snow, and brings him in the house to warm up. 

Chicken awakens to see Bear preparing to cook something (and Bear's mouthful of sharp teeth)! Chicken soon fears he is on the menu and jumps down and tries to run away, only to be caught by the much faster Bear. But, as it turns out, Chicken had jumped to the wrong conclusion. Another very cute story with cute illustrations.

Then we ended with our closing song and stickers.

How It Went
It was Spring Break, so I had a smaller group than usual, and a few stragglers were still eating breakfast. One cute little boy didn't want to miss anything and told me "Miss Jennifer, you can't read any stories until I'm finished with my breakfast." At the end, the same little boy asked for more stories, and when I told him we had already read all three books I brought, he asked me if I would bring some more tomorrow. It's so nice to know that they really do enjoy and appreciate storytime.

The liked all the books, but I think Wolf's Coming was the one that had them on the edge of their seats. They loved the twist, and one boy insisted we sing "Happy Birthday" to Wolf, so we did. Monsters had more cutesy rather than dark illustrations, so it was more fun than dramatic, and by the third book they were kinda on to things, so had a feeling that Bear really wasn't planning to cook Chicken. The loved doing the "If You're A Monster And You Know It" song and acting like little monsters.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Asbury Kid Lit Conference

Last Saturday I went to my second children's literature conference. Like the last one, it was a small local conference hosted by a nearby college, but this time by the education department rather than an LIS department, so it had a little bit different slant, and was attended primarily by teachers rather than librarians. But, I have to say I liked it much more than the previous one

The first one I attended had only 2 keynote speakers, and despite being good, the sessions were just too long. Then there were 5 shorter breakout sessions led by others that were very hit and miss, and it wasn't over until 6:00 (not counting the formal dinner with a 3rd speaker that I didn't stay for). The conference today was the reverse, 5 keynote speakers and only 2 breakout sessions, and they were all just 45 minutes in length, so the day was over by 4:00. It was just right!

There weren't many sessions to choose from during the breakouts, and they weren't very applicable for public librarians, but ALL 5 of the keynote speakers were phenomenal! They are pictured above, from left to right: Aaron Reynolds, Marc Brown, Erin Barker, Peter Catalanotto, and Marc Tyler Nobleman*.

Aaron Reynolds was the whole reason I decided to attend. I love his Creepy Carrots and Creepy Pair of Underwear, and after seeing a video of him lip syncing and dancing to Britney Spears' "Oops, I Did It Again" I really wanted to meet him in person! He was very entertaining (no surprise that he has a theatre background). 

He shared that he had no interest in reading until his 5th grade teacher read
Ramona the Pest to the class, and then he was hooked! He talked about the importance of not giving up, sharing that he received 390 rejections before his first book was published! He closed by performing Creepy Pair of Underwear, and later was kind enough to sign books and pose for a picture with me.

Marc Brown, the author of Arthur (try saying that 3 times fast), was another reason I wanted to attend to get a book signed for my niece, who when she was around 4-5 bore an uncanny resemblance to D.W. He was very nice, sweet, and soft-spoken during the meet & greet, and turned out to be surprisingly funny during his presentation. 

He told a bit about his background and how his grandmother and great-grandmother inspired him with their storytelling (his grandmother made her scary stories even more scary by taking her teeth out!), and shared funny and interesting stories, like the time Barbara Bush made catty remarks about Nancy Reagan while giving him a tour of the White House, or the time he traveled to Russia with Laura Bush and met Putin, and was later tackled by a Secret Service agent for taking a picture, which he pretended to delete, but really didn't. 

Some other interesting tidbits he shared were Matt Damon's mother has done work for the Arthur television show, he is working on an idea for a new series called Hop centering around a frog, and all characters will have something that makes them different, and..... 

>Spoiler Alert!<  

*To reveal, highlight the area in brackets!*
......[in the upcoming season, Mr. Ratburn will be getting married to another man! Let's see if this is better received than when he tried to introduce a same-sex couple back in 2005.].....

He closed by reading a favorite of mine, Wild About Books, which he illustrated, but was written by Judy Sierra.

Erin Barker is one you are likely not familiar with as she is just breaking into the kid lit game, but she is an alumnus of the school that was hosting the conference. She has done graphic design and illustrations for other kinds of projects, but her first illustrated children's book, a board book called What Is Soft? with author Susan Kantor, will be released next month. She shared some of her work and her process for developing characters, and talked about how it evolved and realizing that she really wanted to illustrate children's books rather than do graphic design. 

Peter Catalanotto was not a name I recognized right away, but I did recognize some of the books he has written and/or illustrated, such as Monkey & Robot as well as others by such notable authors as Cynthia Rylant, Mary Pope Osborne, and Ella George Lyon. 

Like the others, he talked about his childhood and how his interest in writing and illustrating developed. As it turns out, he first childhood career choice was a bookmobile driver! He talked about having dysgraphia, and how it was much easier for him to tell a story with his art than with words (some of his early art is pictured), and his teacher, then later his publisher, encouraged him to use that to transition to using written words to tell his own stories. He emphasized leading with a child's strengths, and like Aaron Reynolds, not giving up.

And last, but not least, Marc Tyler Nobleman. This was another name I did not recognize, nor was I familiar with any of his books, but his presentation was very interesting. He is a fan of the superhero genre, and talked about two non-fiction children's books he wrote about the history of the development of the Superman and Batman characters. The story of the never-credited and nearly forgotten writer and collaborator for the Batman character, Bill Finger, was particularly fascinating. Mr. Nobleman had to do extensive and difficult research to put together the pieces of the story and fill in some of the gaps, and ultimately his research led to DC Comics finally giving proper credit and giving some compensation to his only descendent. It was amazing to think research for a children's book led to such significant events.

I honestly did not have high expectations for this conference, but I was very pleasantly surprised, and would highly recommend any of the above authors/illustrators to present at conferences, libraries, or classrooms. I ended the day with door prizes and having several signed books, so it was a win all around!

* I should note that while the speakers were excellent, the conference has received a fair amount of criticism from the larger kid lit and library communities for the lack of diversity of the speakers and that it was hosted by a Christian college with discriminatory policies towards LGTBQ students, and rightfully so. While I enjoyed the conference, I was also bothered by the lack of diversity and noted that on the survey I filled out and suggested several diverse authors for future consideration, as well as following up with an e-mail.

While the event organizers certainly deserve criticism for the lack of diversity among their invited speakers, I was saddened to hear that the speakers themselves have been targeted on social media, which I think is very unfair. The fault and responsibility lies squarely with the event organizers, not the speakers themselves, in my opinion.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Preschool Storytime - Sink Your TEETH Into a Good Book!

Apparently last month was Dental Health Month, but I was unaware or I would have done this theme then. I was inspired by Jan Thomas' latest book, and it just took me a while to have a chance to decide what to use with it.

We started with our welcome song, then I used this fun little board book, Book-O-Teeth by Donald Lemke and Bob Lentz, to introduce the topic. 

They guessed teeth right away, and had fun guessing at the rest, and did surprisingly well, with someone even recognizing the beaver. I think the shark was their favorite, and most knew that to keep their teeth from being all rotten like the zombie's, they had to brush them and keep them clean. (This book is part of a series including hats, beards, and masks.)

We settled back down for our next book by singing our story song. Since we had just mentioned cleaning our teeth, I decided to read Does A Lion Brush? by Fred Ehrlich and Emily Bolam, which starts off asking if various animals brush their teeth. 

It then  explains they don't need to because they gnaw and chew on hard things like carrots, bones, and wood which keeps their teeth clean (I also added that animals don't eat/drink all the sugary treats that we do, either). Then it talks about how everyone needs to brush their teeth (and floss), as well as how many teeth we have.

We followed that with pretending to brush our teeth, and brief demonstration of flossing, then acted them out while singing "This Is The Way...":

This is the way we chew our food, chew our food, chew our food.
This is the way we chew our food, so early in the morning.

This is the way we brush our teeth, brush our teeth, brush our teeth.
This is the way we brush our teeth, so early in the morning.

This is the way we floss our teeth, floss our teeth, floss our teeth.
This is the way we floss our teeth, so early in the morning.

This is the way we rinse our teeth, rinse our teeth, rinse our teeth.
This is the way we rinse our teeth, so early in the morning. 

I followed that with the funny book that inspired this storytime, My Toothbrush Is Missing by Jan Thomas. I love most of her books for storytime, because they are funny, engaging, and have bold, simple illustrations. (However, I HATE that they are changing the format to the smaller early reader style instead of picture books.) 

Poor dog cannot find his toothbrush, but Donkey offers to help look for it. But Donkey doesn't know what a toothbrush is, so keeps finding hilariously wrong items instead. Finally, Donkey says he gives up and needs to get back to scrubbing his hooves. But, guess what he is using for that!

I led into the next activity (inspired by SLC Book Boy) by reminding them of how we talked them having baby teeth that would eventually loosen and fall out as they got older and be replaced by grown-up teeth when we read Does A Lion Brush? I asked them if they knew what you did with the baby teeth when they fell out. Some said "throw them away" while others (probably those with older siblings) said "put it under your pillow". I asked them why, and several did know that the Tooth Fairy came to get your tooth and leave money. I told them we needed to help the Tooth Fairy find which pillow the tooth was under.

Obviously you would put the tooth under one of the different colored pillows, but I left it on top so you could see it. You can make as many pillows as you have room for on your board, and could include more than one tooth if you wanted. I also had a stick puppet of the Tooth Fairy made from laminated clipart, but forgot to include it in the photo.

Each time we would say the following verse: 

"Look and see" says the Tooth Fairy,
"Can you find the tooth for me?"

Is it under the  (color)  pillow?

There are a few ways you can do this, with either letting kids take turns saying the last line and choosing the color, or letting kids take turns looking under the pillow as the present says the last line. They really liked this, and would have played it many times if time permitted, though we just did it twice.

For our final book, I read Alan's Big, Scary Teeth Jarvis. Alan is a big, scary alligator from a long line of scary alligators. He loves to show off his big, sharp teeth and scary all the other animals by snapping his teeth and growling at them. But, he has a secret. His teeth are not real! 

One day he loses them and finds everyone laughs at him instead of crying in fear, and he is very sad and embarrassed. But, in the end he finds a much better way of being scary.

After that, the kids asked to do "Five Little Monkeys Swinging in A Tree" so they could do the big alligator jaws snapping, so we did, and then ended with our closing song and passed out stickers.

How It Went
This storytime went very well, and the kids were surprisingly enthusiastic about teeth, and I was surprised at how many good books I found. There was one called What If You Had Animal Teeth? by Sandra Markle I think they would have liked, too, and there is another non-fiction book called Whose Teeth Are These? that I know they would have liked, but I did not have a copy available.

They seemed to like all the books and activities, and showing off their own pearly whites! Fortunately, their teeth all looked it great shape!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Printz Award Winners & Honor Books

2018 Printz award winner and honor books

I finally got a chance to finish the last of this year's Printz honorees a week or so ago, but it took me at least another week to have time to sit down and reflect on all of them. 

I don't get a chance to read a ton of YA since I try to keep up with picture books and middle grade as well, so I wasn't surprised that I had only read one of the honorees, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, but I did have Long Way Down by Aaron Reynolds on my to-read list, and had started Vincent and Theo by Deborah Heiligman. I'll give a mini-review of each, and link to any full reviews I've done.

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour was the medal winner this year.
This is the story of a teenage girl dealing with shock, grief, and depression,
 prompted by the death of her grandfather and the revelation of the secret he was hiding, which causes her to completely cut herself off from her old life. We follow as her former best friend's visit helps her finally begin working trough all her feelings. Much of this story takes place in the main character's head, or in dialog with her friend, and deals with serious issues, but is hopeful, not depressing. 

This could be a good book for a teen who has experienced loss to relate to, as well as good for friends of someone who may be grieving to help them better understand, and see that everyone grieves differently, and some ways are more healthy than others.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds was one of the darlings of the YMA's this year, winning multiple honors, and rightfully so. This is one of the rare books that made me thing "wow, this is really amazing" as I read it. A young teen is grief-stricken when his older brother is killed, and feels compelled to go after the person he believes did it. He gets his brothers gun, and gets on the elevator down. But this will be the strangest ride of his life, as each person that gets on is someone Will knew, when they were alive. And each gives Will a new perspective on what he's about to do.

I was not as happy with this book as a Newbery Honor because in my opinion it is clearly for teens, not children, but I was very happy to see it as both a Printz and CSK honoree. If it were up to me, I might even have given it the Printz medal. I like a lot of books, but it is rare that a book wows me like this one did.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is another darling of the awards this year, winning the Morris Award and CSK honors in addition to being a Printz honor book. I'm sure this was one of the few surprises, as this book was talked about by everyone all year long.

Starr leads a double life, living in a poverty-stricken, gang-riddled inner city neighborhood with her family, but attending a private school in a gated community in the suburbs were the vast majority of the students are from affluent white families. When she witnesses the death of a close friend in a police-stop gone wrong which casts the community in turmoil, she feels torn between loyalty to her friend and wanting to stay safe, and questions her own identity and friendships. A very compelling with story with well-developed characters, particularly Starr and her family.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor is a beautifully written, epic fantasy, that has the feel of a fairy tale or mythology.

Lazlo Strange is a young librarian, who has always been obsessed with the legend of the lost city of Weep, a city long forgotten by most people, whose existence is doubted by others. Then one day, he gets the unbelievable chance of a lifetime, when visitors from Weep, a city there's been no contact from in 200 years, suddenly show up, recruiting scientists, engineers, and other technological experts for a mission to Weep. Lazlo manages to impress the leader, with his knowledge of Weep and the ability to speak their language, and is invited to join them. What he finds there is beyond his wildest dreams... 

This story deals with terrible choices and the overriding guilt, vengeance, mercy, and love, and is the first of a series, so don't expect a real ending. It is also VERY long at over 500 pages, so might be best saved for a summer read when one has enough time to devote to getting lost in such a long book.

Vincent and Theo by Deborah Heiligman was the one Printz honor book I could not read. I was actually looking forward to it, since I generally like biographies and I am a HUGE fan of Van Gogh's art; plus I liked the cover art. But much to my surprise, I just could NOT get into this book, and I really tried. I read several chapters, but it just did not engage me at all.

It seemed as though the author wasn't quite sure who her audience was, because in some ways the writing was patronizing and seemed aimed at lower ages, but the content was definitely more teen/adult. It also was not told in a real narrative, but a series of many very short (3-4 page) chapters and was very choppy. It just did not flow. I finally had to give up, because I had too many other books to read, but I was very disappointed.

All in all, I'm pretty okay with this slate of honorees (though I would bump Long Way Down up to medal winner), with one exception. The first four books were all very different, but all very good and I could see appealing to teens. The last one, Vincent and Theo, I just do not get why it was chosen at all, and I do not think that it would be very appealing to teens. I do know that many people really like it, but it is so rare for my to DNF, I just don't see what they are seeing. Maybe someday I'll give it another try.

So what did you think? Are you happy with the medal winner? The honorees? Would you have picked something different? 

Leave me a comment!

Monday, March 12, 2018

2018 Caldecott Winner & Honor Books

As I've said before, I don't really spend any time speculating on what books will be recognized by the Caldecott committee because we are never on the same wavelength. Since 90% of my job is doing outreach storytimes (I did about 500 last year, and will do even more this year), I am looking for highly engaging and interactive books that will work well in storytime, so the kind of books the committee recognizes generally don't even register on my radar. So it was no surprise that I wasn't very familiar with most of these.

Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell was the medal winner.

This is a nearly wordless picture book about a girl and a wolf pup who are both lost in a snow storm. The girl helps the wolf pup back to his pack, then the pack helps the girl back to her family.

This is very cute, though it bugs me that the little girl just looks like a red triangle, and would be a good one-on-one shared read, letting the child tell the story from the pictures. Some say they've used it successfully in storytime, but I personally find these kinds of books rather awkward to use. It's okay, but as usual, I'm not blown away by it.

Crown by Derrick D. Barnes and illustrated by Gordon C. James is one Caldecott honor book that actually had caught my attention before the awards because of the eye-catching cover and the use of something as everyday as a haircut to portray cultural diversity, and encourage positive self-image. I really like this book, both the text and the illustrations, but I'm not quite sure who it's real audience is. 

I certainly wouldn't use it in my preschool storytimes because of the amount of text and I don't think it would be as meaningful at that age. I think older elementary kids would appreciate the subject matter more, but might feel a picture book is "too babyish". If you've used this book, please tell me about your audience and how it was received in the comments!

Grand Canyon by Jason Chin is a beautiful non-fiction book full of information and scenic landscapes. 

While I personally liked this book, again, I'm not sure that it will find an audience. It has way too much text and advanced information for kids that typically like picture books, and older kids would probably prefer photographs to paintings or drawings. This reminds me of Locomotive, a Caldecott winner from a few years ago, that several patrons reported their kids just had no interest in.

I'm afraid this is a very niche book that will not circulate much, after all the librarians and teachers had looked at it following the awards announcements.

A Different Pond by Bao Phi and illustrated by Thi Bui was inspired by the author's early morning fishing trips with his father. It is a simple story that alludes to so much more, and is illustrated in graphic-novel style, though there are fewer panels and many full-page illustrations. Both the author and illustrator immigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam with their families as children.

Like most Caldecott books, this one seems intended for an older audience, perhaps K-3rd grade. While I like the illustrations overall, I think the illustration chosen for the cover is too dark and the characters and title too small, to be very appealing or attention-getting. I have discovered that kids, particularly the younger ones, equate dark covers with being scary, even when they are just depicting nighttime, or early morning in this case.

Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper is probably the one that disappointed me the most, and here's why.

As I started looking through it, I really liked it, being a cat person myself and having had a similar situation where the new kitten ended up growing up to be bigger than the older cat. It was such a simple, but cute and charming story, watching the kitten grow up, and the cats becoming best friends (though mine never really did) and doing everything together. 

I got excited at the small amount of simple text, simple illustrations, and cute story, thinking this would be the rare Caldecott book I could actually use in storytime! Until I got to this spread, that is:

(Click to enlarge)

What?!? The older cat leaves and never comes back? Now, unlike some of my co-workers, I never get emotional reading picture books. Novels always make me cry, but not picture books. But having had to euthanize my cat just over a year ago, and another one 4 years ago that was THE best cat I've ever had, this got to me and made me tear up 😭.

While I know others have said they used this in storytime, there is NO way in H-E-double-hockey-sticks I am ever using it in storytime. Though I think I could control my emotions, there is no way I'm going to attempt to answer all the questions it would prompt: "Where did the big cat go?", "Why can't he come back?", "What happens when you die?", "Why?"..... Plus I do outreach in daycares, so no parents to help answer the questions consistent with their beliefs. Nope, not touching that with a 10-foot pole!

BUT, this would be a wonderful book to help a child prepare for the loss of an aging pet, or cope afterward, as well as gently introducing death in general, along with Ida, Always, a beautiful picture book inspired by a true story that gently portrays death following a long illness.

So, my impression this year is pretty much the same as every year. Yes, I can see these have either impressive art work, or art that tells the story on it's own, but I will not be able to use any of these in storytime, and I question how much appeal most will actually have to children. On the other hand, I think Big Cat, Little Cat would appeal to kids, but I feel for the parents who might be in the uncomfortable position of answering questions they aren't prepared for if they don't know where the story goes.

What did you think of this year's slate of Caldecott honorees? Any that you think got snubbed that should have been recognized? Have you actually used any of these with children? 

Please leave a comment and tell me your opinion and experience!