Sunday, September 16, 2018

Picture Book Reviews!


Finally, new picture books!

So things have finally slowed down a bit after the busy summer and then being very short-staffed, and I've been able to start paying more attention to the picture books that come through. In the last week three new ones caught my eye and made an impression.


The Stuff of Stars review
The Stuff of Stars, Sept 4, 2018
Written by Marion Dane Bauer
Illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Candlewick Press, 40 pages, ages 4-8

I cannot adequately describe the beautiful artwork in this book! 

The birth of the universe leading to the birth of a child are described in brief, lyrical text complemented by Holmes' gorgeous abstract collages made with marbled paper.

I rarely try to make award predictions, and am usually wrong when I do, but I'm sure there will be buzz about this one and I would not be surprised if it gets at least a Caldecott honor for the amazing illustrations. Here are a couple of the spreads; I wish I could show more! 


The Stuff of Stars reveiw
(click on any image for full-size view)
The Stuff of Stars reveiw

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Water Land Review
Water Land: Land and Water Forms Around the World, May 22, 2018
Christy Hale, author & illustrator
Roaring Book Press, 32 pages, ages 3-8

This is a really neat little book for teaching a number of geographical terms, focusing on land areas and bodies of water. 

The pages feature cutouts, initially showing a body of water, for example the lake in the spread below. But when when the page is turned, the cutout becomes a land feature instead.

At the end of the book is a page summarizing all the features depicted, which then folds out to give even more definitions, and further unfolds into a world map with geographical features labeled.


Land and Water Forms Around the World review
(click on any image for full-size view)
Water Land: Land and Water Forms Around the World review

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Cookiesaurus Christmas review, Cookiesaurus RexCookiesaurus Christmas, Sept 4, 2018
Amy Fellner Dominy & Nate Evans, authors
A.G. Ford, illustrator
Disney-Hyperion, 40 pages, ages 3-8

One of my favorite picture book from last year, Cookiesaurus Rex, gets a sequel! Like the first, it combines two of my favorite things, cookies and dinosaurs! What could be better?

This time it is Christmas, and Cookiesaurus rex has the holiday spirit and really, really, really, wants to be the cookie on Santa's plate. Predictably, he gets an attitude when he is not chosen and decides to take matters into his own hands. Though not quite as funny as the original, it's still cute and worth a look. 

Cookiesaurus Christmas review, Cookiesaurus Rex
(click on any image for full-size view)

So what new picture books have caught your eye lately? I'm still on the look out for some really good new storytime reads....

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Slime & The Brouhaha Over Borax - STEAM Programming

*Updated with additional links to research

Borax safety, using borax in slime, is borax safe


So I'm a little late getting into the slime game since I spent the last three years almost exclusively doing early literacy outreach, but in my new position I will be doing a school-age STEAM program once a month. I was looking ahead to October and trying to come up with "spooky science" activities, and a colleague suggested slime made with clear glue to be ghost ectoplasm, a la Ghostbusters:


So I began researching Slime recipes. Now people have been making Slime with the tried and true Borax recipe with white glue for YEARS with no apparent issues, but being aware of the recent concerns about safety due to a widely circulated story of a girl who allegedly got chemical burns on her hands from making Slime which were assumed to be from the Borax, I first tried a different recipe that uses contact solution and baking soda.

But the funny thing is, guess what the ingredients in the "saline" contact solution are that make it work?? Boric acid and sodium borate! So basically, it's the same thing, though already in a dilute solution. But it makes people feel safer, so I tried it first. The problem is, that this recipe requires a boost from the addition of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) to raise the pH so the borate can bond with the glue, and I found that (1) the reaction with the baking soda produces lots of tiny bubbles, making the slime opaque rather than clear, and (2) even with playing around with the amounts of soda and/or contact solution I couldn't get the right consistency for a nice ectoplasm-like Slime.

So I said the heck with it, I'm going to try the original Borax recipe. And guess what, I got excellent results! The result was clear "ectoplasmic" slime that was only slightly sticky, and perfectly stretchy, gooey, and oozey (and stickiness could be eliminated by just a few drops more Borax solution, but it would be firmer and less stretchy). It was lovely! And it was still perfect the next day, whereas the contact solution/baking soda recipe became extremely firm, and dry and crumbly on the surface.


Clear slime, ectoplasm, borax safety, borax slime recipe

So then I started looking into the safety concerns. Having a scientific background and having worked with many laboratory chemicals in the past, I knew the place to look was NOT in news reports or social media, but the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) that OSHA requires all chemicals to have. And guess what, as long as you don't eat, inhale, or get it in your eyes, there are really are no major safety concerns. The MSDS shows it has a hazard rating of 1, the same as baking soda or salt.

The powder does not cause irritation on intact skin (though washing and rinsing well after use are recommended), and gloves are only required for repeated or prolonged exposure. I also looked up the MSDS for Borax in solution, and at 1% it may cause mild skin irritation (again, handwashing after contact should prevent this), but the solution I used was only 0.88%, and the concentration in the final product is only about 0.4-0.5%, AND it is bonded to the polymer matrix, not free to react. So then I looked up the MSDS for the glue, and it also suggests washing hands after contact. (Incidentally, after spending 3 days in a row making and playing with slime, I have had no issues even though my skin tends to be somewhat sensitive.)

So what does all this mean?? Basically, if you use a little common sense, the traditional Borax recipe should be about as safe as the newer contact solution recipe, and neither are likely to cause any ill effects. That being said, I would not let kids handle the pure powder, but have an adult prepare the solution in advance, I would have everyone wash their hands well immediately after making or playing with Slime of any kind, I would not let kids make it frequently over a prolonged time, and I would not use it with younger children or anyone who is likely to put any of the materials or finished product in their mouths. Of course, this does not preclude the possibility that there could be individuals that have an atypical sensitivity to either the Borax or the glue, or could develop a sensitivity to either after prolonged or repeated exposure (as with anything else).


Ectoplasm slime, clear slime, borax safety in slime, borax

Now, what is my take on the original story that sparked the Borax hysteria? 

I am certain there is more to the story than what has been reported. From my research, it seems extremely unlikely one could get burns like that from the traditional slime recipe, and frankly, I find the whole story slightly suspicious. She claimed to wear gloves with making the slime, and only using bare hands to play with the finished slime, where the borax is all bound up in the polymer matrix, not free to react. She had been making slime repeatedly for weeks with no irritation. And, the burns showed up while she was at a sleepover. So my theory is she was exposed to something else entirely that had nothing to do with the slime, or was using higher concentrations and/or additional ingredients and did not wash her hands.

So if you're more comfortable using a different recipe that is safe and works for you, by all means use it. But I do believe the Borax recipe can be used safely with supervision and common sense precautions I would use with any experiment, and may actually be safer than some of the alternative recipes I've seen. Of course this is only my educated but non-expert opinion and everyone must make their own informed decision, but it would seem two PhD-level chemists, one specializing in Boron chemistry, agree with me, and there are research studies to back it up. 

Check out the following scientific articles and research papers that basically all say there is no risk in simply handling Borax or being around it (just don't eat it large quantities on a regular basis): 
 And here is what science educator and performer Stever Spangler has to say about it:


Please share your experiences and favorite Slime recipes in the comments!

Friday, August 24, 2018

Why? Why Not? What If? - Three Books to Satisfy Curious, Inquisitive Kids



We've all seen those precocious, inquisitive kids who are always asking questions, refusing to accept anything at face value just because a grown-up says so. It seems like everything you say is met with a "Why?", or conversely, "Why not?" With my daughter it was always, "What happens if....?" While this is often a sign of intelligence and analytical thinking, it can be a bit exhausting for their parents and teachers trying to come up with all the answers!

Thankfully, Nat Geo has three great books to help satisfy the most curious of kids. The most recent one just came out and caught my eye, and that led me to the other two. Check out this trio of elucidation:


Why? 1,111 Answers to Everything, by Crispin Boyer, 2015. National Geographic Books for Kids,192 pages, ages 8-12.

Children are always asking why, and this book has answers to, well maybe not everything, but to quite a lot! All kinds of questions kids might ask are answered, and grouped by category. Questions like: "Why do men have nipples?", "Why do penguins look like they're wearing tuxedos?", "Why is the Golden Gate Bridge orange?". (There are also How? and What? questions, too.) And as one would expect, it is filled with full-color photos and graphics to illustrate the information.


Why Not? 1,111 Answers to Everything by Crispin Boyer, Aug 21, 2018. National Geographic Books for Kids, 223 pages, ages 8-12.

While this wasn't the second book chronologically, it is clearly the obvious complement to the first book. This one has the same format and beautiful full-color photos and graphics with tons of interesting facts and explanations to answer questions such as "Why don't spiders get stuck in their own webs?", "Why can't I use my left hand as well as my right?", and "Why can't I eat cupcakes for dinner?" arranged by category: Animals, Our Planet, The Universe, History, Your Body, Technology, and Pop Culture.


What Would Happen? Serious Answers to Silly Questions by Crispin Boyer, 2017. National Geographic Books for Kids, 176 pages, ages 8-12.

These are the kinds of questions my daughter peppered me with from around ages 3-5: "What if you ate nothing but ice cream?", "What if mosquitoes went extinct?", "What if you stepped in lava?" Again, a fun book full of interesting facts and information about things you've always wondered, or never even though to ask, illustrated with lots of full-color photographs and graphics, organized by category.

Kids really seem to love these types of books full of random and interesting facts; they seem to circulate really well in my library system. I would recommend them for all curious kids aged 8-12, possibly even younger if an adult was helping to read and explain the information.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

A Bit of a Dry Spell....




For the last 3-1/2 years I have posted pretty regularly here, generally weekly, but right now I am having a bit of a dry spell. I just don't have any material right now, and I'm out of ideas.

Part of it is the job change, which has led to a long break in programming due to both a greatly reduced amount of programming in my new position, and my transfer coinciding with the end-of-summer break from regular programming. It's been SIX weeks since my last storytime, and I won't do one for another month! That has been a huge change from my previous 12-15 storytimes a week schedule! While the break has been a nice rest for my strained vocal cords, I must admit I do miss it. If I could create my ideal position, it would include one or two mornings of outreach storytimes each week.

So I've had no storytimes to write up, no STEAM programs, no new picture books have caught my eye... It's been mostly six weeks of very busy customer service, weeding, and shelving since all of our pages left at the end of the summer. Next month I will finally start doing regular programming, one family storytime and one school-age STEAM program a month, which I really need to get planning, but have had a hard time finding the time, since I'm on the desk all the time and we are short-staffed.

I've already decided to play it safe for my first STEAM program, doing my "Mirror, Mirror" program that I did many times for different outreach groups the last two summers. I decided it would be best to start with something I'm comfortable with, is cheap and requires few supplies, and I know works well with a wide variety of ages and groups since I don't really know what to expect. It's marketed for ages 5-12, but we don't know what we'll actually get or how many. But I need to get supplies together as well as decide on topics for the rest of the year.

I could do storytime in my sleep, but I have no idea what I'm going to do for my first storytime here! There's just too much pressure on the first one! For one, I'm not used to having parents in storytime, possibly judging everything I do. Then, I have to worry about a craft, which we didn't do for outreach storytimes either. I keep hoping for an epiphany, but I'm just going to have to pick something soon, as well as plan the rest of the year, since I need to request any good seasonal books I want to use NOW and hoard them before all the teachers beat me to them! (Luckily, I do own several of my favorites, just for this reason.) 

But right now, I just do not seem to have any original, new storytime ideas, and I know I've already done most of my themes at least twice and run out of new content. I'm really hoping we start getting new picture books in soon and some good ones catch my eye and inspire me! My blogging may take a hit until I get back into the swing of regular programming, so please bear with me.

Feel free to suggest any ideas for storytime, STEAM programs, or topics for blog posts below or via e-mail!


Friday, August 3, 2018

From The Other Side - On Being A Board Member



Back in May I wrote about being appointed to the Board of Trustees for my local library to finish out a year of an unexpired term, in order to feel more connected to my own community and gain some perspective from the administrative side of things. It's only been three months, but so far it has been a very surreal experience! 

Let me explain. I work in another, much larger, public library system as a part-time paraprofessional where there is a huge divide between librarian and non-librarian, and full-time versus part-time. So as a part-time non-librarian, I'm pretty near the bottom, and have always felt very anonymous and invisible. For the most part, I have no voice, nobody really cares what I think or recognizes what I do, except immediate supervisors and co-workers (which is probably why I'm drawn to blogging, to have someplace to express all my deep thoughts 😉). That's just how it is, and I imagine that's fairly typical of most larger libraries/systems. Sometimes it's frustrating, but mostly I try to accept my place in the hierarchy.

But then I go to my local library to meet with the director, and get a tour of the library and introduced to everyone as a new board member and treated like a VIP (ironically this same library did not even interview me for a clerk position I applied for 6 years ago 😆). At the board meetings, not only am I free to express my opinion, my input is sought after and valued. At the last meeting we did the director's annual performance evaluation, and later on we will be reviewing and revising library policies and setting the tax rate. I mean, this is REAL stuff, and I have a say in it!

It just feel so strange to be in a position that has some real authority to effect change, and where I have a voice. Half the time I feel like an imposter and that I don't belong there, and the thought is always in the back of my mind "why are they asking my opinion, don't they know I'm just a peon?", but I just keep reminding myself I'm there as a library user and long-time community member (who just happens to have a deeper understanding of library operations than most), and in that capacity I have every right to be there and not only the right, but the obligation, to voice opinions and ask questions. But it still feels very surreal at this point!

One side benefit, is that as a board member, I already had all the information I needed to do my community analysis paper for the Adult Services class I took this summer in the form of circ stats, patron survey results, Edge assessment, strategic plan, budget reports, etc., and using this library as my profile library for my class helped me get more familiar with all the information I need to be aware of as a trustee, so that worked out nicely! 

The time commitment is not huge; the monthly board meeting lasts about an hour and I spend about half an hour reviewing the reports before the meeting, and I try to drop by a library event each month. I am also working my way through several webinars required for trustee certification. It is a great way to give back to your community and the profession, as well as see things from a different perspective, so if anyone else is considering it, I would say go for it, especially if you have the opportunity for a short-term commitment by finishing out someone else's term like I did to see how you like it. But don't be suprised if sometimes you feel a bit like Alice!