Friday, October 28, 2016


I've already done two weeks worth of Halloween storytimes and am in the middle of two weeks of Monster storytimes with the Storytime-To-Go program, so I wanted to either find different books, or tweak the theme a little, for my regular outreach storytime today. 

I decided on "Zombies" for two reasons, (1) I found a great book, and (2) the season premiere of "The Walking Dead" was this week, and while it is most definitely NOT a show for kids, many adults watch it [I don't] so zombies have been a hot topic as a result. So for my friends and family who were traumatized by this week's premiere, hopefully this storytime will cheer you up!

We started with our usual welcome song, then during our introduction we talked about Halloween and shared what we were dressing up as, discussed various monsters and how it was fun to pretend to be scared, then sang our story song. I used the first book, Peanut Butter & Jelly Brains by Joe McGee and Charles Santoso, to introduce the topic of zombies and their normal diet being brains.

Reginald is an unusual zombie. Instead of brains, he craves peanut butter and jelly sandwiches! He finally gets one, and then shares it with the other zombies, who subsequently give up their diet of brains and become integrated into Quirkville society. Reginald then moves on!

I went straight to our second book, I Want To Eat Your Books by Karin LeFrank and Tyler Parker, because they were listening pretty well, and it continued the theme of atypical zombies who eat something other than brains. 

This little book-eating zombie finds his way to the school library, threatening to eat all the books. One inspired little boy shows him a book about the brain, and the zombie learns to appreciate books and wants to read them, not eat them. At the end, they find the zombie sharing his new-found love of reading with a mummy.

Then we were ready to have fun with some monster dancing, "Zombie Style"! I came across this cute parody of Psy's "Gangnam Style" and knew I had to use it. While the original song is before these kids' time, it still has a great beat. The "video" below is the original recording that I used for us to dance to, but check the end of this post for some really cute videos a couple of different schools made.

Next, we danced to the classic "Monster Mash" by Bobby "Boris" Pickett and the Cript Keepers, using movement scarves.

After they were tired out from dancing, I had them all sit down for one last story, Zombelina by Kristyn Crow and Molly Idle. This is the story of a little zombie girl who loves to dance, so her mother signs her up for a proper ballet class. 

Zombelina excels in the class, but on the night of the big recital, she has a terrible case of stage fright and freezes. Her stiff movements and anxious groans frighten her classmates and audience, but when she sees her family supporting her, she puts on such an incredible performance, her teacher declares her the best in the class.

We ended with our closing song and passed out stickers.

How It Went 
Today was a clear case of "I should have quit while I was ahead!"

They really liked the first two books, though I was a little surprised (though pleased) that the kids had a much stronger reaction the the idea of a zombie eating all the books in the second story than they did to the idea of the zombie horde being after people's brains in the first book! Maybe because the zombies never actually ate any brains, just wanted to, but I was still glad to see the kids had such strong feelings about using books appropriately and protecting their books.

The kids enjoyed dancing to both songs, but I would have to say they LOVED "Zombie Style", even though they are too young to know the original song. They liked pretending to be zombies, and the song has a really upbeat tempo and techno sound, that helps off-set the rather dark lyrics (I don't think the kids were even really aware of what any of the lyrics really were, other than hearing the words "zombie" and "brains"). Most of the kids got into dancing, though a few didn't, or tired out early.

Up until this point, things went great. But I pushed and made the mistake of trying to do a third book. They had absolutely no interest in Zombelina whatsoever. I think there were a few reasons,(1) even though they were tired from dancing, they weren't ready to focus on anything, (2) Zombelina was a little too tame compared to the first two, (3) None of the books I had selected were very interactive, and (4) they were just done.  So, I quickly flipped through the pages, greatly shortening and paraphrasing to mercifully get to the end. They didn't get too out of control, so it wasn't a disaster or anything, just would've been better if I had stuck to the two books.

Check out these two "Zombie Style" videos made by different elementary schools as part of a competition!  Didn't they do a great job??

Friday, October 21, 2016

Halloween Storytime

Luckily all the daycares/preschools that I go to request Halloween storytimes, because I think it is my favorite theme to do. The kids have so much fun pretending to be scared, cuddling up together and fake-shivering in fear and suspense. And I get to do one of my favorite storytime books!

With the Storytime-To-Go program I see about 4-6 classes most days, for a 20-30 minute storytime each (depending on whether they arrive on time). I have about 12 books to choose from covering a range of ages, and use 2-3 with each group, along with a couple of songs or activities. We started with an introduction, letting each child quickly say what they might dress up as for Halloween, the letter of the day (Hh), and our story song.

The Books

(Click to enlarge)
The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid Of Anything by Linda Williams & Megan Lloyd, a classic, a little long, but lots of participation, my favorite for Halloween storytimes
The Hallo-Wiener by Dav Pilkey, kids won't get all the puns, but very cute & funny
Mouse's First Halloween by Lauren Thompson & Buket Erdogan, great for younger kids
Snappy Little Halloween by Derek Matthews & Dugald Steer, fun pop-ups!
Big Pumpkin by Erica Silverman & S. D. Schindler, repetition & identifying monsters, longer
What's In The Witch's Kitchen? by Nick Sharratt, very funny, mentions pee & poop
Just Say Boo! by Susan Hood & Jed Henry, good for younger audience, interactive
What Am I? Halloween by Anne Margaret Lewis & Tom Mills, good for 2-3 year olds, easy
Boo Who? by Lola Schaeifer & Michael Frost, foldout guessing, good for 2-3 year olds
Scary, Scary Halloween by Eve Bunting & Jan Brett, another classic, little dark
At The Old Haunted House by Helen Ketteman & Nate Wragg, counting in the style of "Over In The Meadow", cute illustrations

The Activities

Since we spent a little more time with our introduction talking about Halloween and the costumes they were going to wear, and some of our stories were longer, we ended up not doing quite as many activities during this rotation, usually just one per session. I stuck with the two that they always seem to enjoy the most and have motions or movements to do with them, though occasionally a volunteer might have something different to add.

"Five Little Pumpkins"

Five little pumpkins, sitting on a gate.
The first one said, "Oh my, it's getting late."
The second one said, "There are witches in the air!"
The third one said, "But we don't care!"
The fourth one said, "Let's run and run and run!"
The fifth one said, "It's Halloween fun."

Then, "Whoooosh" went the wind,
And OUT [clap] went the light!
And five little pumpkins rolled out of sight!


"Little Ghost"

Little ghost, little ghost, flying through the air.
Little ghost, little ghost, tickling my hair!

Little ghost, little ghost, flying way down low.
Little ghost, little ghost, tickling my toes!

Little ghost, little ghost, circling all around.
Little ghost, little ghost, please sit down!

For this I gave them each one of our movement scarves to be their ghost since they were nice and "floaty", even though they weren't white. Not one kid commented that ghosts weren't red, orange, yellow, blue, or green; much to my surprise! You can also use tissues, white handkerchiefs, etc. I like how this one ends with them sitting down so that they are ready for the next story.

How It Went
As I said earlier, Halloween is one of my favorite themes to do and we have a lot of fun with it! I love, love, love The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid Of Anything and it's one of the few books I can read multiple times without getting too tired of it, especially when I get good audience response, which I usually do. The only downside is that some of the kids already know it, and give away the ending, even when I ask them not to, or they may have already read it in the classroom, and it's a little long. The Hallo-Weiner is one of my daughter's childhood favorites, and most of the older kids really like it, even if they don't get all of the puns.

The Snappy Little Halloween is also a lot of fun to do, and some classes really get into pretending to be scared when the monsters pop out at them. I had a couple of classes where the kids paired off, huddling together and fake-shivering in fear, then screaming as I turned each page. I love it when they are that engaged and I can get that kind of a response! The kids always LOVE the hilariously gross What's In The Witch's Kitchen, though I'm always a bit concerned about whether the adults will appreciate the mention of goblin pee and rabbit poop; so far no one has objected. One class really got into that one, too, and screamed at the end when the witch popped out, catching us snooping around in her kitchen.

Big Pumpkin is a little long for some, but those that can handle it seem to like it, and it can be very interactive, with the repeated lines and the witch kicking the pumpkin in frustration, which they can relate to. The also like identifying each creature. I usually pause to let them say the pumpkin just "sat" and the character saying "Drat!". One little boy said "On, snap!" instead, which made all the adults laugh. I could tell the kids generally weren't familiar with "Drat!" Mouse's First Halloween and the two lift-a-flap books were great for the younger kids, or when we just had 2-3 minutes left to fill.

I tried to find some new Halloween books to add to my repertoire, but didn't find any I really liked as much as my favorites. Got any suggestions?

And just for fun, here is my cat Toby in his own Hallo-weiner costume! He actually doesn't mind costumes that much, and tolerates them pretty well. Plus they slow him down so he can't pester my other poor cat as much!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Middle School Book Club

Last week I helped the school librarian with the book club at the local middle school. Her goal is to get as many kids involved as possible, not just the avid readers. So she chooses 5 books each year, of various genres and with a range of reading levels, and recruits volunteers to help lead discussion groups. Each month a different group of kids participate, with about 12 assigned to each group, then we meet in the library and break into discussion groups for each book, lead by adult volunteers (most of us work at public libraries). 

The books for this year are Do You Know The Monkey Man? by Dori Hillestand Butler, Heat by Mike Lupica, Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix, The Ghost of Graylock by Dan Poblocki, The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan.

The Book
This month I led the discussion of Do You Know The Monkey Man? by Dori Hillestand Butler (2005). This is a good high-interest, lower reading level book that, at only 193 pages, will appeal to both reluctant readers and those who like something they can finish in one sitting.

For as long as 13-year old Sam can remember, it's just been her and her mother. A long time ago they were once a family of four, but her parents divorced following her twin sister Sarah's tragic death, and her father disappeared from her life. But now her mother is getting re-married, and wants her fiance, Bob, to adopt Sam, which brings up old memories and confusing feelings.

Sam likes Bob, and wants her mom to be happy, but she doesn't want him to adopt her when she already has a father, somewhere. She decides to try to find and contact her father, with the help of her friend Coral. But things don't go quite the way she expected, and she begins to have doubts about the story surrounding Sarah's death. She continues to investigate, and when she finally confronts her father, what she finds will turn all their lives upside down.

This book is part self-discovery, part mystery, and part family drama, and is sure to capture the reader's attention.

Discussion Questions 
I looked over some prepared questions in advance, but I just let the discussion progress naturally and let the kids lead as much as possible, proposing new questions when the discussion slowed. Some of the questions/topics we discussed, though not necessarily in order, were:

1. Do you think Sam should have told her mother she wanted to try to find her father first?[All said she should, even though most thought her mother would probably say "No"]

2. How would you go about finding a long lost friend or relative? 
[Ask friends or relatives, social media, internet, private investigator...]

3. Would you consult a psychic like Sam did? 
[Some yes, some no, some maybe] Do you think psychics are real or fake? [Some said yes, some said no, some said not sure, and some said that most are fake but some may be real.]

4. Do you think twins have a special connection?  [Maybe, probably] If so, were you surprised that Sam never felt that Sarah might be alive before now?  [Mixed answers]

5. Would you be willing to help your best friend like Coral and Angela helped Sam? 
[All emphatically said "yes", and this led to a discussion of how Angela should have been more supportive, and how her experiences with her father affected how she saw Sam's situation.]

6. Do you think Joe should have gone to jail? 
[First most said no, then all agreed that he *deserved* to go to jail, but that it was better for T.J. that he didn't, and that was more important.]

7. Do you think Sam and T.J. will be able to forgive Joe? Could you? 
[Mixed answers, very unsure]

8. Do you think Sam's mom will ever be able to forgive Joe for taking Sarah and letting her think she was dead all this time? Why or why not? 
[Most said she probably wouldn't, but would try to pretend to for T. J.'s sake.]

9. Why do you think Sam didn't want Bob to adopt her? How do you think you would feel in a similar situation? Do you think she may change her mind now that she's found her father and learned what he did and what he's like? 
[Most understood that Sam felt like she already had a father, and most commented to the effect that she could still like him and have a close relationship without him adopting her. Several thought she might change her mind now that she knows what kind of a father Joe is.]

10. Do you think T.J. and Sam will ever be close, and really be like sisters? Will she and Suzanne be able to have a mother-daughter relationship? 
[Yes, but it won't be easy and will take time.]

11. Would you want to read the sequel?  [Several already had]  Would these books make a good movie?  [Yes! They all said they would love to see a movie version, a couple said they wanted to e-mail the author and ask her to have it made into a movie and/or write a third book.]

How It Went 
I had about 10 girls, and most were very enthusiastic about the book, and some had even already read the sequel, Yes, I Know The Monkey Man, which continues the story from T.J.'s perspectiveAbout four of them weren't even supposed to participate until next month, but they had already read the book and couldn't wait to discuss it. We had a pretty lively discussion, with all of the kids contributing, though there were 2 or 3 who were on the quieter side and did not say as much.

They all talked about how much they loved the book, and the ones that had not read the sequel already said they really wanted to. One girl happened to spot it on the shelf nearby and jumped up and grabbed it so she could check it out that day. She was one of the two girls who reported that they normally didn't read much, but that they read this book from start to finish in one day. We had a great discussion, and the several of the kids mentioned how much they enjoyed it, and one even gave me a hug, which I expect from the preschoolers, but not middle schoolers.

I had not heard of this book before, and the library I work at doesn't even have it, but I would highly recommend it for this age and found it a great choice for a class read or book club as it appeals to all readers, even reluctant ones. I personally enjoyed it as well, though did not find the sequel to be quite as good as the first one. From the title and the cover, I had expected it to be more creepy and sinister, but it isn't at all.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Fall On The Farm

I did my last Fall-themed storytime today, and even after postponing it two weeks, the trees are just now starting to show some colors; it seems I can never time it just right to coincide with when the leaves reach their peak colors and are starting to fall. I did manage to find a few red and yellow leaves to show, though.

We started with our welcome song, then discussed the seasonal changes of fall and brought out my adorable squirrel puppet to greet them and lead us in our story song and first book, The Busy Little Squirrel by Nancy Tafuri.

This is a short, simple story with repetitive phrases the audience can say with you, plus animals to identify and give sounds for. The charming illustrations show our little squirrel scampering around to gather different kinds of food to store for winter, too busy to stop and play with the friends he sees along the way.

I lead into our next activity by asking them where they think the squirrel was, if there were apples, pumpkins, corn around, and eventually they came up with a farm. Then we took a pretend trip to the farm, where we picked apples and pumpkins, and helped rake leaves. We acted out each part, and struggled to lift the huge pumpkins we picked!

Then I read our second book, Mouse's First Fall by Lauren Thompson and Bucket Erdogan. In this story big sister Minka takes Mouse outside to play on a beautiful fall day where he discovers beautiful autumn leaves and all the ways to play in them.

This book does not have the guessing game format of many of the Mouse's First books, but it does have colors, minimal counting, shapes, and trying to find Minka in the leaves to test their powers of observation. It is short and sweet, good for the younger audiences.

The kids were restless today, but had finally settled down for the most part by the end of Mouse's First Fall and I was hesitant to disrupt them with an activity, so I decided just to go right into the last book, Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert. 

This is a beautiful book illustrated with photographs of real leaves that have been put into collages, forming various figures. We start with the Leaf Man, then see various animals as the wind blows Leaf Man across the countryside.

I've used it once before (in my very first storytime ever, in fact), and while the pictures are wonderful, the text leaves something to be desired. It doesn't have any rhythm or rhyme, and just doesn't flow well or engage the kids at all. I decided this time not to read it, but just show the pictures and see it the kids could pick out the various creatures in the collages.

I ended by telling them they could go home and collect leaves and make their own collages. Then we sang our ending song and passed out stickers.

How It Went
I'm not sure why, but the kids were much more restless this week, and I saw a few faces I had not seen before, either because they are new or typically arrive late. Though The Busy Little Squirrel usually works well, there were several kids that were not engaged at all and only a handful really paying attention. They did enjoy pretending to visit a farm, and finally started to settle down during Mouse's First Fall. They seemed to like that the little mouse was with his big sister, and one eagle-eyed little girl spotted Minka's tail right away when she was hiding in the leaf pile; no one else has spotten it that quickly.

However, I started losing them again with Leaf Man. They had a really hard time seeing the different animals and things in the collages, even after I pointed them out. I think I'm just going to have to accept that as I much as I like the book, it just doesn't work with this age group and I'll have to save it for the 5-6 year olds. I would like to do a program for older kids using this book and Zoe Hall's Fall Leaves Fall, taking the kids for a nature walk to collect leaves, then have them make their own collages, but I had a little too much going on in the last month to put one together. Maybe next year!

I got a couple of funny comments; when I first brought out my squirrel puppet and asked them what he was holding, one boy called out "coconut!". That is the 4th time during this theme someone has said coconut instead of nut or acorn, and I find that interesting. I wonder what is making coconuts so prevalent in their minds? Also, at the end of Leaf Man, when the Leaf Man comes back together and is joined by a Leaf Woman, one little boy said the Leaf Woman looked mad. Curious as to their thought processes, I asked them why was she mad? One little girl quickly said "At him!" point at the Leaf Man. I again asked them why, and while no one really came up with a good reason, they were all quite sure she was mad at the man ;)  

They all had to give Mr. Squirrel good-bye hugs, and I got a few today, and some wanted Mr. Squirrel to kiss them, too. He is pretty adorable, I have to admit, though my cat does not like him at all!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Picture Books About Elections

(Click on image for full-size picture)

With the upcoming election and all the inescapable coverage and conversation about it, kids are bound to be asking questions. Here are some fiction and non-fiction books to help them understand, and give adults a respite from all the drama and negativity of the real election.


Duck for President by Doreen Cronin & Betsy Lewin (2004). Duck finds that holding office is not all it's quacked-up to be [Sorry, I had to!]. A classic.

President Squid by Aaron Reynolds & Sara Veron (2016). Squid thinks he has the right stuff to be President.

Max for President by Jarrett Krosoczka (2008). Max wants to be class president, but so does Kelly. Who will the class choose?

Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio & LeUyen Pham (2012). Grace thinks its time for a female President.

Otto Runs For President by Rosemary Wells (2008). Charles and Tiffany are running for school president, but they care more about winning than what the voters want, so Otto decides to enter the race.

Monster Needs Your Vote by Paul Czajak & Wendy Grieb (2015). Told in rhyme, Monster goes to cast his vote, then decides to throw his hat in the ring.

My Teacher For President by Kay Winters & Denise Brunkus (2008). Oliver decides his teacher would be perfect for President.

Madam President by Lane Smith (2008). A little girl imagines what it would be like to be President.


One Vote, Two Votes, I Vote, You Vote  by Bonnie Worth & Aristides Ruiz (2016). The Cat in the Hat explains elections and voting.

If I Ran For President by Catherine Stier (2007). Explains the process of running for President, and presidential qualities.

So You Want To Be President by Judith St. George & David Small (2004, updated edition). This Caldecott-winner tells a little bit about being president and those who have held the office.

If I Were President by Catherine Stier & Diane DiSalvo-Ryan (1999). Children of various ethnicities imagine what it would be like to be President.

The People Pick A President by Carolyn Jackson (2012). From Scholastic, for older kids.

Vote! by Eileen Christelow (2008). From the author of the Five Little Monkeys series comes a book about elections and the importance of voting.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Fall Storytime

We were still having summer weather when autumn officially started; luckily, by the time I started my "Fall" rotation on the Storytime Bus the following week we had some nice crisp fall weather. I saw around 28 classes, doing 2 or 3 books and 1 or 2 activities for each, following our introduction, letter-of-the-day ("Ff"), and story song.

The Books 

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Animals In Fall by Martha E. H. Rustad, non-fiction with photographs 
Fall Is Not Easy by Marty Kelley, everyone's favorite, gets lots of laughs
Fall Leaves Fall by Zoe Hall, collage illustrations, shows all different kinds of leaves
Sleepover with Beatrice & Bear by Monica Carnesi, cute story about friendship
Leaves by David Ezra Stein, short and simple, Bear worries when leaves fall
When The Leaf Blew In by Steve Metzger & Kellie Lewis, fun, cause and effect
The Busy Little Squirrel by Nancy Tafuri, short, simple & repetitive; good for ages 2-3
Hocus Pocus It's Fall! by Anne Sibley O'Brien & Susan Gal, participatory, fold-out pages
Oliver Finds His Way by Phyllis Root & Christopher Denise, lost bear, good lesson
Mouse's First Fall by Lauren Thompson & Buket Erdogan, cute, good for younger kids

The Activities

With so many squirrels in our stories, it was only fitting to greet the kids with our adorable squirrel puppet, and bring it out for our "Five Little Acorns" rhyme. First I showed the kids some real acorns, pointing out the round nut and the cap.

(Folkmanis Squirrel Puppet)
"Five Little Acorns"

Five little acorns, laying on the ground.
(hold up 5 fingers, gesture to ground)

The first one said, "I'm nice and round."
(hold up 1 finger, then hold arms out in front)

The second one said, "I think I'm getting fat."
(hold up 2 fingers, hold arms out to sides)

The third one said, "I have a nice hat!"
(hold up 3 fingers, pretend to put on hat)

The fourth one said, "There's a squirrel up there!"
(hold up 4 fingers, point up)

The fifth one said, "I don't care."
(hold up 5 fingers, shake head)

Then down came the squirrel and took them all away,
(make climbing motions down, scoop up acorns)

Back up to his nest, for a cold winter's day!
(making climbing motions up)


When we needed more movement, or an additional activity, we pretended to be scarecrows with this song:

"Scarecrow, Scarecrow"
(to the tune of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star")

Scarecrow, scarecrow, turn around.
Scarecrow, scarecrow, touch the ground.
Stand up tall and blink your eyes.
Raise your hands up to the sky.
Clap your hands, then tap your knees.
Turn around and stomp your feet.

Scarecrow, scarecrow, touch your toes.
Scarecrow, scarecrow, tap your nose.
Swing your arms so very slow,
Now really fast to scare the crows!
Touch your head, jump up and down.
Now sit down without a sound.

I like how this ends with them sitting down, ready for the next story; after first checking for crows and complimenting them on being such good scarecrows.


Leaf Sorting

Sorting activities are great as they work on so many skills: identifying colors, shapes, attributes; analytical reasoning (pre-math and science skill), and expressive language. I had a large assortment of foam leaves, some of which are pictured above. There were green, orange, brown, red, and gold leaves. There were maple, oak, and aspen leaves. Some leaves were plain, and some were sparkly. 

I would give each child one or two leaves, then place a few different ones on the board for a starting point. I first called the teacher to model how to make observations and reason out where their leaves belonged, then called each child up one at a time to put their leaves up where they thought they belonged. I would try to get them to explain their choices, but if they were too shy I would ask them yes or no questions about it, that they could answer by just nodding or shaking their heads.

How It Went 

We had a lot of fun talking about all the changes of fall. Fall Is Not Easy was the biggest hit, as always, and my personal favorite. When The Leaf Blew In was also a great book with all ages, with the chain reaction of events and all the animals to name. The Busy Little Squirrel worked well with all ages, and was perfect for the younger kids, along with Mouse's First Fall. I used Oliver Finds His Way to show kids that if they get lost they should just stay where they are and wait for a trusted adult to find them, rather than running around and getting even more lost.

We had a lot of fun with the rhymes and song, and the leaf-sorting activity worked well with the older kids. I think it needs to be simplified a little with the younger kids, so there are not so many different characteristics to consider. Several were too shy to explain their reasoning, or too unsure, but most would at least identify the color. The squirrel puppet was a huge hit with everyone!