Sunday, January 13, 2019

Snowmen - Family Storytime

I chose this theme to have something seasonal, and because I have a really fun snowman activity I love to do. Though I had planned it 2-3 weeks ago, it turned out to be the day we had our first significant (though barely) snowfall!

As always, I started with our welcome song and introductions, then of course we had to talk about the weather and things we like to do in the snow, ending with talking about building snowmen, and pretending to build a snowman along with the following rhyme I first saw at Storytime Katie:
I Built A Little Snowman

I built a little snowman; he had a carrot nose.
(pretend to build snowman & place carrot)

Along came a bunny, and what do you suppose??
(hold up 2 fingers & "hop", shrug)

That hungry little bunny, looking for his lunch,
(rub tummy, hop bunny around)

ATE the snowman's nose! Nibble! Nibble! Crunch!
(pretend bunny is eating nose/carrot)

Then I led into our first book, a pop-up version of Snowmen At Night by Caralyn and Mark Buehner, with our story song. I like the pop-up version for younger or less-attentive kids because it is a little shorter than the original story, and pop-ups are always a big hit and more engaging. 

This story is very cute and has a nice rhythm when read aloud, and has nice illustrations, but the young kids usually need a little help realizing the real reason the snowman looks different is because he has melted. This led in nicely to the next activity.

After that is was time for one of my favorite activities, based on the fingerplay, "Five Little Snowmen", for which I made these props using the "Shapes" tools in Word (you can find downloadable files and more pictures in my original "Flannel Friday" post):

Five little snowmen, standing in a row.
Each with a hat and a carrot nose.
Out came the sun and shined on all day.
And one little snowman melted away.

[Continue down to the last snowman]

The first time I did this, I had a sudden moment of inspiration and turned it into a game after we did it the traditional way first. I had the kids all stand in a circle and be the snowmen. I was the sun, and walked around behind them as we said the rhyme, and if I tapped them on the shoulder, that meant it was their time to melt. It was so much fun, I've done it that way whenever space allowed every since.

After all of our little snowmen had finished melting and turned back into children, we moved on to a story about a very different kind of snowman, the "Abominable Snowman", a Western misnomer of the Yeti of Nepali legends. I gave an introduction and explanation of the Yeti before we read our second book, No Yeti Yet, by Mary Ann Fraser.

In this book, two kids go out looking for a Yeti, with the older one hoping to get a picture. As they walk through the woods, the Yeti is close by, but they never spot him, and all the while the younger child keeps questioning the older one about the Yeti. Finally, they reach the Yeti's cave and run into him, then run away in fright. Kids will love trying to spot the Yeti on each page, and laugh at the kids being afraid when the Yeti chases after them when they realize he is just trying to return their camera.

After that we of course had to go on our own Yeti hunt! First in the form of a call-and-response chant modeled after the classic "Going On A Bear Hunt". First start a clapping rhythm, then the leader says a line, and the audience repeats.

Going On A Yeti Hunt

We're going on a Yeti hunt.
Gonna find a big one. 
With great big feet,
And long white fur.

Look, it's a great, big snowfield!
Can't go around it,
Can't go under it,
Have to ski across it!
(pretend to ski)
Swoosh, swoosh, swoosh!

[Repeat beginning verse]

Look, it's a wide, frozen river!
Can't swim across it,
Can't go around it,
Have to skate across it!
(pretend to skate)
Glide, glide, glide!

[Repeat beginning verse]

Look, it's a great big mountain!
Can't go around it,
Can't go through it,
Have to climb up it!
(pretend to climb)
Climb, climb, climb!

[Repeat beginning verse]

Look, it's a deep, dark cave!
Just like where the Yeti lives.
Let's go in it!
(pretend to walk carefully)
Step, step, step.

Whoops, what is that?
I feel two great big feet!
And long, shaggy, fur!

[Say the rest quickly, without pausing for response while acting out the motions]

It's the Yeti! Run!  Run, run, run
Climb down the mountain!   Climb, climb, climb
Skate back across the river!  Glide, glide, glide
Ski across the snowfield!  Swoosh, swoosh, swoosh
Go back in the house, and shut the door!  Slam, lock
Ah, safe at last!

Yeti Hunt, snowman storytimeAfter that, we went on actual Yeti hunt, looking for a small, stuffed Yeti I had hidden in the picture book section next to the storytime area. Since we were running a tad over our time after that, I skipped the closing song and went straight to the craft.

Today's craft was very open-ended. I started with the idea of making snowmen by gluing cotton balls on a piece of construction paper. I provided blue paper, cotton balls, both liquid glue and glue sticks, pieces of scrap paper of several colors for added details, scissors, and crayons. At the last minute, I decided not to provide an example to discourage parents from thinking it had to be made the "right" way.

I just put out the materials, and told them to use the cotton balls however they wanted to create their own snowy scene. I suggested they could use them to make snowmen, Yeti, snow forts, snowballs in a snowball fight, snow falling down, or whatever they wanted.

I was pleased to see that the parents did just let the kids do whatever they wanted, and not worry about how they turned out. 

This one little boy [pictured with permission] was so cute! We have the glue sticks that are purple when "wet" and dry clear, and evidently he had only seen regular white ones because he kept opening one after the other, exclaiming "Look, purple!" each time. He had the sweetest little smile, too.

How It Went 
I was a little concerned about whether I would have anyone show up for storytime, because, ironically, we were forecast to have snow, possibly heavy and possibly mixed with freezing rain, overnight and in the morning. Luckily, we only got about a couple of inches of snow, no ice, and it was over before morning. I still had a smaller crowd than normal, but still a decent number with about 8 kids and 7 adults, and one family had actually already been out in the snow that morning and built a little snowman, so in a way it was good timing for the theme.

The kids were all on the younger side, and a couple had a little trouble listening to the stories or participating in some activities, but overall they did great. They didn't get into acting out the "Five Little Snowmen" like slightly older kids do, but some did (I'll have to remember to save the "game" version for older kids). One little girl was too shy, so her dad held her and melted to the floor holding her! I was pretty impressed with that. I was really glad to see several dads in the audience, and see them participating. 

They all like spotting the Yeti in No Yeti Yet and liked the twist of the Yeti chasing after the children not to get them, but rather to return their camera, and everyone enjoyed the Yeti hunt. All in all, I was very pleased with how it all turned out, and we all had a lot of fun with it.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Reflecting On The Past Year & Setting Goals for 2019

This year seems to have been a whirlwind, with so much going on and making a big change job-wise. After working in early literacy outreach for three years, I was ready for a change. Don't get me wrong, I love doing outreach storytimes and I think it is very important and continue to be an advocate for outreach, but I found that doing ONLY that day after day just became too repetitive and isolating. I really missed working in the library and interacting with more people of all ages, and doing other things besides storytime.

So in July I transferred to the Children's Department of our busiest suburban branch, and I love it! Though I may not be the bubbly, perky, cheerleader type, I actually do enjoy customer service and am pretty good at it, so I've been so glad to be back in a more traditional role in the building with more variety and people.

Now I get to work on reader's advisory and do things I couldn't do working in outreach, like my month-long Dinovember campaign, working on bulletin boards like the one below, which was the first I had ever made a significant contribution to design or execution (it was a very collaborative effort with several people involved in the design & construction, but the trees are all me), doing monthly STEAM programs, and the potential for other programming. The downside is I don't get to do as much storytime as I'd like, only one family storytime a month, but I'm hoping that will change in the future.

The new job has been a big adjustment in some ways. Doing a family storytime in the library is very different from a preschool outreach storytime in the classroom, and presents it's own unique set of challenges, so in a sense I'm having to figure things out all over again. Also, it is very busy, insanely busy during the summer, so it can be difficult getting everything done that needs getting done, and since I get no off-desk time, program planning is very challenging. It's a very different environment than my previous two positions, and is great experience to prepare me for to be a full-fledged children's librarian once I complete my degree.

Another new development I almost forgot is that I was appointed to the Board of Trustees of my small local public library, which has been kind of a surreal experience. It has been interesting to see things from the administrative side of things, and nice to be more involved in supporting my own community. I may even get the opportunity to be involved in a library expansion, which is an exciting prospect; we are just in the beginning stages to determine if it's feasible at this time.

I've met most of my goals for the year. I completed four more classes towards my MLIS (only five to go!!), attended a local conference and did a few webinars. Unfortunately there just weren't any opportunities to present at a library conference this year, as the one I'd planned on was not held, but I did do a presentation for after-school program workers on encouraging literacy and life-long reading. I was very sad to miss the ALSC conference, but with the new job it just wasn't possible to take off. I continue to read as much as I can, and have made more effort to look at reviews and lists and I think my RA is improving, and I am getting experience in different types of programming for varied ages.

My goals for next year are pretty simple and straightforward this time:
  • Complete 4 more courses towards my MLIS, putting me on track for finally graduating in May of 2020! 🎓
  • Continue to gain experience in different types of programming and in marketing our programs and collection (bulletin boards, fliers, displays, passive programming, etc.)
  • Get more efficient and decisive in program planning.
  • Hopefully add some outreach storytimes as I do miss doing them.
  • Continue to work on RA.
  • Take a little more time in reviewing the new picture books that come in, and keep a running list of ones that I like. I find since I'm not able to use them right away now, I tend to forget them.
  • Attend the state public libraries conference, as it will be here, so much easier to attend at least some sessions around my work schedule.
So this year is mostly about survival and getting through school and settling into my new job even more, and trying to generally improve a little in everything overall. But, next year I will complete my MLIS, so that will be the time for some more lofty goals! 

How about you? Please share on of your goals for 2019 in the comments!

Monday, December 31, 2018

Favorite Reads of 2018

This year I did not get to do as much reading as I would like because of school demands, and much of it what I did read was playing catch-up on 2017 books after the YMA awards. So instead of three separate lists for picture books, middle grade, and teen reads like I did last year, I'm just doing one list with a few favorites of each category, mostly books published in 2018, but I might include a few from 2017 that I didn't read until 2018.

Picture Books
Surprisingly, this is my weakest category this year. I just did not come across very many new picture books that really caught my attention, and the ones that did tended to be more non-fiction. I just don't think this was a very good year for good storytime books (at least the ones that fit my style); everyone seemed to be much more focused on jumping on the social issues bandwagon than writing books kids would really enjoy, plus I'm not doing as many storytimes now, so I don't get the chance to try them out like I used to.

Everybunny Dance! by Ellie Sandall

My absolutely favorite storytime book of those I discovered this year (thanks to jbrary!) was actually published in 2017, but it's so good I have to include it. This is a highly interactive book that I have the kids stand up and act out. They clap, twirl, dance, sing, pretend to play musical instruments, run, and hide with the bunnies, and at the end they can even do the bunny hop.

A must-have for any storytime collection!

Shark Nate-O by Tara Luebbe & Becky Cattie, illustrated by Daniel Duncan.

I'm always on the lookout for new shark books, so this caught my eye immediately, though it's really about a boy who can't swim and is apprehensive about trying. What I really loved were humorous little references to the notorious Sharknado and classic Jaws movies for the adults. A good lesson in overcoming fears and perseverance, plus some shark facts.

The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Ekua Holmes.

While a cataloging conundrum (picture books, 811's, or 523's??), this book is a lyrical poem describing the big bang, likening it to the birth of a child, accompanied by Ekua Holmes absolutely AMAZING illustrations. I cannot tell you how much I love this book! 

Probably not a good choice for storytime, but excellent for a one on one lap read.

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

This beautiful story is inspired by Yuyi's real-life experiences as an immigrant and mother of a young child, and her discovery of the public library and how much it helped her and her son.

I don't usually get emotional reading picture books, but this one got me a little teary-eyed and gave me chills when she talked about finding this wonderful place where everyone was welcome, and turning the page to see it was the library. I thought this was going to be a political statement about immigration policy, but instead it was a wonderful tribute to public libraries and librarians.

Secrets of the Sea by Kate Baker, illustrated by Eleanor Taylor

This is a true non-fiction picture book, exploring the different regions of the ocean and focusing on very small creatures, or small details of larger creatures. The text is full of factual information, and the illustrations are absolutely beautiful and detailed. A very gorgeous "coffee table" type book for kids or adults.

Middle-Grade Fiction
I did read several great middle-grade novels published this year, plus some from last year, too.

Property of the Rebel Librarian by Allison Varnes

The parents of avid reader June object to a book she got from the school library, and they go to the school to complain. This one complaint grows into mass hysteria and extreme censorship, both at June's home and school. She finds a Free Little Library and begins to supply other students with banned books. 

Some have complained about how unrealistic and exaggerated the censorship was, but I didn't mind the hyperbole to make a point and loved the book as a tribute to children's librarians everywhere.

Squirm by Carl Hiaasen

I love Carl Hiaasen's books, and this one did not disappoint. Just like all the others, this one has humor, adventure, and a message about conserving nature. The one difference about this one is that at least half of the action takes place outside of Florida. 

This is a great, fun read, perfect for someone who wants something that is not fantasy or sci-fi, is a little lighter but still has plenty of adventure and no romance, and likes to see jerks and bullies get what they deserve.

The Dollar Kids by Jennifer Jacobson

Lowen and his family need a fresh start in a new place after one of Lowen's friends is killed in a convenience store robbery. They decide to buy a foreclosed house in a dying town for $1, but while some of the town welcomes them with open arms as expected, others treat them with suspicion and resentment.

There is a lot going on in this book, but it is all pulled together together fairly well. It's about dealing with guilt, overcoming obstacles, and working together for the common good. Highly recommend.

My Year In The Middle by Lila Quintero Weaver

This is a great story of a young Argentinian-American girl in racially-polarized 1970 Alabama, who feels she doesn't really quite fit in on either side, and cautiously navigates the no-man's land in the middle, while also dealing with bullying resulting from jealousy over her new-found running talent and changing friendships.

A story about friendships, racism, and pursuing one's talent and passion.

Like Vanessa by Tami Charles

In this semi-autobiographical story set in 1983, 13-year old Vanessa is thrilled when Vanessa Williams is named Miss America, paving the way for future African-American beauty queens. Vanessa dreams of one day being Miss America, and soon finds herself in a school pageant.

This is a great story about learning to be comfortable in your own skin and re-defining "beauty". I loved this book, and it reminds me very much of Rita Williams-Garcia's work, but for whatever reason it doesn't seem to have gotten much attention. However, I highly recommend it, so give it a try!

And finally I'm just going to quickly mention this year's Pura Bel Pre honor book, The First Rule of Punk by Celia Perez. This is another great book that has been overlooked by many. It deals with with some of the unique issues biracial/multicultural children deal with in figuring out who they are and how they want to express their cultural identities, but also has several issues all kids can relate to: starting over, fitting in, mean girls, forming new friendships, and school dress codes. 

YA Fiction

Puddin' by Julie Murphy

Sequel to the hit Dumplin', I think this one is even better! This book picks up where the last one left off, but focuses on Millie and Callie, two girls who seem to have absolutely nothing in common, but when circumstances force them to work together, the begin to find common ground and form an unexpected friendship.

I like that not only do we see Millie fight for her goals, but we get to see another side of Callie and understand what is behind her "mean-girl" bravada.

The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee

This sequel to The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue continues where the last one left off, but now following Felicity, though Percy and Monty do make an appearance.

This story is full of strong, independent women, with a clear "girl power" message. Overall I really enjoyed it, though I wish Percy and Monty had had slightly larger roles, but just like the first, I really could have done without the odd, forced bit of fantasy added to the story. I felt it added nothing, and only detracted from the story.

I did not read a lot of YA published this year that I really liked, so I'm going to include a couple from 2017 that were really exceptional.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

This was such a well-done, powerful story told in verse (so it's a quick read). Will is planning to avenge his brother's recent death due to gang violence, and is convinced he knows who did it. But as he rides the elevator down, at each floor someone from his past gets on, and they all have something else in common. Besides knowing Will, they were all victims and/or perpetrators of gun violence. Will he change his mind?

A great story, well deserving of its many awards and honors.

Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

This is a wonderful book that is at times painful to read due to the emotional abuse Kiko's mother inflicts on her because of being half Japanese. It is heartbreaking and maddening to see what Kiko puts up with before she FINALLY finds her spine and her voice. 

Highly recommended, Kiko's mother is a very unsympathetic character one will love to hate!

Well, that's the best I can come up with. If you want to see the other middle-grade and YA books I read, check out my Goodreads 'Year In Books'

I know I missed out on a lot this year, so please, tell me about your favorites in the comments, especially any good storytime books I've missed!

Friday, December 28, 2018

Flannel Friday - Cookies!

Cookie felt set for flannel board

I initially made the first pieces of this set to use with a rhyme in my "Cookie"-themed storytime in December, so I included a snowman, gingerbread man, and tree; then I realized that I had limited its usefulness to winter-time. So I added some simple geometric shaped cookies to make it more versatile, and allowing selection by shape, color, or cookie type. If you've seen many of my "Flannel Friday" posts, you know I like options and versatility! (As always, click on any image to see it full-size.)

For some of these I used clipart for patterns, and for others I used the "shapes" function in Publisher or free-handed. I added subtle shading and details to the chocolate chip cookie and waffle lines to the sugar wafer (rectangle) cookie with Sharpies. All the "icing", creme filling, and chocolate chips were added with puffy paint. Green glitter glue was used to imitate colored sugar on the green square, and blue glitter was sprinkled on the triangle while the paint was still wet. 

(Note: puffy paint takes a full 3 days to properly cure, but is dry enough to use in about 12 hours, if handled carefully.)

This is the rhyme I used with my initial set (found on the "Everything Preschool" site and modified):

"Five Little Cookies"

Five little cookies, with frosting galore!
Daddy ate the red one, and then there were four.

Four little cookies, two plus two you see.
Mommy at the green one, and then there were three.

Three little cookies, and before I knew,
Brother ate the white one, and then there were two.

Two little cookies; oh, what fun!
Sister ate the brown one, and then there was one.

One little cookie, yum-yum-yum!

*I* ate the last one, and then there were none.

Depending on how large your crowd is and how many times you want to repeat, you could also use the names of the children attending, instead of the generic nicknames here. Instead of color, you could also go by shape or type of cookie. I always like to repeat 5-little something fingerplays, and have them use the non-dominant hand the second time so that they are working on the dexterity of both hands.

And, since when I go to the trouble of making a felt set I like for it to multi-functional, I found a couple of other songs/rhymes it could be used with (remember, I like options!). I found two different versions of the next rhyme, one at the King County Library System site and the other at the Harris County Public Library site, and combined them, with some modifications:

Five Little Cookies In The Bakery Shop

Five little cookies in the bakery shop
Five little cookies shining with sugar on top
Along came (_____) with a dollar to pay
He/She bought one cookie and took it away.

[count down to none]

No little cookies in the bakery shop.
No little cookies shining with sugar on top.
Along came (_____) with a dollar to pay. 
He/She saw no cookies, and sadly walked away.

[Fill in the blank with names or generic terms like "man," "woman," "boy".... You could also be more specific and say which color/shape/type of cookie each time; I've shown a set to focus on shape.]

And finally, I found this Christmas one at Felt Board Magic, though just a few days late for this year.

Reindeer Cookies

Five little cookies sitting on a plate;
Waiting for Santa, but he was running late
Along came a reindeer & guess what he ate?
One of the cookies sitting on the plate!

[Repeat, counting down to zero]

No little cookies sitting on the plate,
because that’s what Santa’s reindeer ate!

[Again you could be more specific and say the color/shape/type of cookie each reindeer ate. Here I've shown a set based on type (gingerbread, Oreo, sugar cookie, chocolate chip, and wafer). You could also use specific names of reindeer. If you have a reindeer puppet to eat the cookies, even better!]

I realize these are all counting down rhymes, and I normally like to include both, so if you know a cookie song or rhyme that counts up, please let me know in the comments!

For more felt & flannel ideas and tips, check out the Flannel Friday Facebook group and Pinterest Boards! To share your flannel, submit via the Flannel Friday Tumblr. For complete information and all the details, visit the main Flannel Friday website.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Engineering Challenge - STEAM Program

After my big, messy Paleontology program last month, I needed to do something a little simpler, with little to no preparation or clean-up required this month! So I decided it was time for this deceptively simple, yet challenging engineering activity that I saw on a homeschooling mom's blog,"Frugal Fun for Boys & Girls" a couple of years ago and have been waiting for the opportunity to try.

This activity uses everyday items (craft sticks, clothespins, and binder clamps) as unconventional building materials, requiring the kids to experiment, problem-solve, and think outside the box more so than traditional building materials like Legos, Magna-tiles, etc. The original blogger did several challenges, but she just had 3 kids and presumably more than an hour, so I limited it to two: building a bridge or platform that could hold at least one book, and building the tallest structure possible.

Recommended Ages: 8-13 (I had ages 5-10, but it was too challenging for some)

Time: 1 hour (for 2 challenges)

Budget: $28 ($45 with recommended amounts; all supplies are reusable)

Number: 10 (would easily work for larger numbers with teams and/or more materials)


  • 500 Jumbo craft sticks (350-400 would be sufficient)
  • 200 Wooden clothespins (I only had 100, and that was not enough)
  • 150 3/4" Binder clamps (I had 100 1/2" clamps, and they were too small, and not enough)
  • Rubber bands (for bundling sticks)
  • sample cups/small zip-lock bags (for dividing clamps & clothespins)

  1. Divided craft sticks into bundles of 25 with rubber bands.
  2. Divided clamps into sets of 10 (recommend 15) in disposable sample cups.
  3. Divided clothespins into sets of 10 (recommend 20); they were attached to cardboard, so I just left them that way.
Challenge #1 - Strength
  1. Each participant was given 2 bundles of craft sticks, a set of clothespins, and a set of binder clamps, and shown a few pictures to give them ideas of how the materials could be put together to help them get started.
  2. They were instructed to used these materials in any way they they wished to construct a bridge or platform that was large enough and strong enough to hold at least one book in 15 minutes. [I had several sizes, but stuck with 3 small hardbound intermediate chapter books].
  3. Fifteen minutes was not enough time for most, so gave an additional 5 minutes.
  4. Began testing as they finished, by placing one book at a time, and going up to 3.

Challenge #2 - Height 
  1. For this challenge, I had them combine into teams of 2, and pool materials.
  2. I instructed them to work together, making sure both people were getting to contribute ideas and build, and see how tall a structure they could build. I also instructed the adults to please step back and let the kids figure it out and only provide minimal assistance.
  3. I initially gave 20 minutes, but just let them go until the end of the program as some were struggling.
  4. No measuring was necessary.

How It Went

Everyone was able to build a structure that supported at least one book, and a few could support 2 books, and two could support 3 or more (we only tested with 3), with significant parental assistance for most. However, only 3 of the 5 groups were able to build a structure with any significant height. I did find that I had more craft sticks than needed, but not quite enough clothespins or binder clips (I have included both actual and recommended amounts of each in the "Materials" section).

This proved to be far more challenging for this group of kids than I expected. I really didn't think it was that hard, but most of them were completely daunted by having materials that didn't have an obvious, straightforward way of building. Most of them heavily relied on adult assistance, not just in building, but in design as well. Some also got very easily frustrated, and one even cried.

Trying to get them to work in teams did not go well at all. I had really hoped that by working together they would have more success, but I noticed in every single pair either one person did everything while the other just watched, or they each did their own thing instead of working together on one structure. I also noticed that trying to get the adults to step back and let the kids take the lead did not work, either.  

In retrospect, I should have started of with just having them free-build, and leading them in building different modules so that they could get the hang of ways to combine the materials before doing the challenges. Also, with the younger crowd I'm getting it is probably not realistic to expect the kids to be able to work together effectively, and I should just approach it as an opportunity for kids and their caregivers to work together, and focus on modeling how the adults can assist without just doing it for the kids, and how to encourage the kids to problem-solve.

There was one participant that really excelled once he got the hang of it from looking at the examples. He ended up building a tower that was about 3 feet tall before it collapsed. I was really surprised the other kids didn't observe what was working for others and try to learn from that. 

I still like this activity, but I would not recommend it for the younger ages I tend to get. Though the program is supposed to be for ages 5-10, and I was hoping to get more 8-10 year olds, the reality is that is that I mostly get ages 5-8, and I'm still struggling to get things simple enough for them sometimes. This activity would probably be best for the tween age group, 10-13.

But, even though some found it too challenging, most did not seem to get overly frustrated, and one of the ones that struggled the most still said he wanted to come back for next month's program.