Sunday, September 23, 2018

Family Storytime - Unicorns

Today was my first storytime in my new position, AND my first storytime with parents present. Even though I've done hundreds of storytimes, they were all outreach storytimes at daycares and preschools, rather than in the library with parents and caregivers, and I was just a little nervous about that.

I had trouble deciding what to do, and felt more pressure than usual since it was my first one here, and I only get to do one a month. I wanted to do something new, but had no idea what and kept hoping for inspiration. Then one day a young patron asked for unicorn books, and in the process of looking them up for her, I realized there were several more unicorn picture books out than the last time I was looking for them, so decided to use that for my theme.

I started by announcing it was time for storytime, and gave families a couple of minutes to get settled, and passed out programs with all the songs and books we might use (I always plan extra). Then we started with the welcome song I've always used, and I introduced myself, and briefly explained how I do things and expectations, then gave clues for the kids to guess the theme. 

After that we sang my "Story Song" to lead into the first book, Today I'll Be a Unicorn by  Dana Simpson, a board book that stars the characters from the graphic novel series Phoebe and Her Unicorn

Since this is family storytime, I tried to choose a range of books, and I selected this one for the younger end of the spectrum. I liked that it had short, simple text and could be very interactive and add movement by acting out pretending to be a unicorn along with Phoebe: trotting, swishing our tails, putting on tiaras, etc.

We continued pretending to be unicorns with this fun song:

If You're A Unicorn....

If you're a unicorn and you know it, shake your horn.
If you're a unicorn and you know it, shake your horn.
If you're a unicorn and you know it, then your magic will surely show it.
If you're a unicorn and you know it, shake your horn.

...stamp your hooves...toss your mane...twitch your tail...prance around...

For our second book I read A Unicorn Named Sparkle by Amy Young. Lucy dreams of having a beautiful pale blue unicorn with pink mane and tail, that will let her ride him and go to show-and-tell. When she finally gets one, it turns out to be VERY different that what she expected, and she is angry and disappointed. Will she send him back? 

A funny book, but also a great lesson that even though things may not turn out the way you expected, they can still be pretty special. Really cute, but a little on the long side. (There is also a sequel called A New Friend for Sparkle and a Christmas special just released this month.)

After that we talked about whether it would be fun to ride a unicorn, then pretended to with this fun little song:

(to "The William Tell Overture" aka the Lone Ranger theme)

Start clapping hands agains legs in rhythm, to simulate galloping, then sing:

Giddy-up, giddy-up, giddy-up, up, up!
Giddy-up, giddy-up, giddy-up, up, up!
Giddy-up, giddy-up, giddy-up, up, up!

(repeat several times, getting faster each time)

I wasn't sure they'd be able to handle a third book after the longer second one, but they were doing such a great job listening I decided to take a chance. 

You Don't Want a Unicorn! by Ame Dyckman and Liz Climo is a funny book that shows the darker side of having a unicorn. After a little boy wishes for one in a wishing fountain, he ends up with 5 unicorns and lots of problems! After he realizes he must say goodbye and wishes them all back, he thinks of a new pet to wish for.

After that we sang a new closing song (I was tired of the old one, and other people in my department also use this one):

Storytime Is Over...

Storytime is over, clap your hands.
Storytime is over, clap your hands.
Storytime is done, and I hope that you had fun.
Storytime is over, clap your hands.

(I'm not sure I like the "clap your hands" because we shouldn't be glad storytime is over, right? But I don't want to use wave or say 'good-bye' because we do a craft afterward and like to encourage everyone to stick around. I'm going to have to think on this one.)


I picked what I thought was a simple craft, but it took more time to prep than I expected. I pre-cut the letter U's, heads, and legs from a few different colors. Then I provided 1" wide strips of paper in many different colors and scissors so the kids could work on the scissor skills cutting the small pieces for the horn, mane, and tail, and use their pincher grasp to pick up and place the small pieces. I explained to the adults that using scissors helps with hand strength and both help with fine motor skills, which would help with writing later on.

I purposefully made my example to be imperfect so they (hopefully) wouldn't worry about making it "right" and focus on the process (at least that's my story and I'm sticking to it)  and I did see at least some parents letting the child do the cutting.

How It Went

Despite being just a bit nervous and concerned about whether I'd have any kids and what ages they'd be, it went really well! Most of the parents did sit on the floor in front of me, rather than on the built-in benches around the perimeter of the room, and even though it did end up being a young crowd and two of the books were longer than I'd typically choose for that age, all the kids did a great job listening and only 1 got restless.

I ended up with about 11 kids (plus a couple of infant siblings) and 10 adults, and I'd say they were almost all older 2's and young 3's, with maybe one 1-year old and a couple of kids that might have been 4-5. They seemed to like everything; I don't recall a stronger reaction to any particular book or activity.

This was also my first time doing a craft, and I definitely want to do something different in the future. For one thing, since I'm only part-time and have no time off the service desk, I had a really hard time getting things planned and prepped. Second, those attending didn't seem to have much interest in the craft, either. Only half of them stayed around for the craft, if that, and I could see some got frustrated or impatient with it. So I'll have to experiment with different activities, and maybe the occasional very simple craft.

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


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


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!

Friday, July 27, 2018

Shark Week 2018 - Even More Picture Books About Sharks

I didn't put together a list last year as I didn't think there were a significant number of new shark books to add, but this year I was really hoping to add some new material to my usual "Shark Week" repertoire, so I searched our catalog and I did find a few new picture books (links to my previous two lists are at the end):

Misunderstood Shark by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Scott Magoon; April 24, 2018. Orchard Books. 48 pages. Ages 4-8.

This book is right up my alley with it's dark humor and sprinkling of factual information. The filming of an underwater show is interrupted by a shark, who seems to be on the verge of eating a poor fish on live TV! But, when he realizes he has an audience, he swears he is misunderstood; he was only showing the fish his loose tooth. He finally convinces everyone he is just misunderstood, only to reveal his true self in the end. Funny, but definitely for older kids due to the dark humor and length.

Smiley Shark by Ruth Galloway; March 1 2017 (first released in 2003). Tiger Tales. 32 pages. Ages 3-7.

This is a cute story for the younger or more sensitive kids. Smiley Shark is trying his very best to make friends, but his well-intentioned smile just scares everyone away because of his huge teeth. But then one day, the others are caught in a fisherman's net! Can Smiley Shark's teeth save the day? The ending is a slight twist from what most people are likely to expect, so ask the audience first how they think Smiley can help, and see what they come up with.

Benny Shark Goes to Friend School by Lynn Rowe Reed, illustrated by Rhode Montijo; July 11, 2017. Two Lions. 32 pages. Ages 3-7.

Benny is not very friendly; in fact, he is rather grouchy, rude, and a bit of a bully. But he soon realizes that he is lonely without friends to play with, and tries to make friends with the other sea creatures by ordering them to play with him. Janice Jellyfish kindly explains that's not how it works, and takes him to Friend School, where he learns to share, be polite, and listen. But, when the ultimate test of friendship comes, will Benny make the right choice? 

There Was an Old Mermaid Who Swallowed a Shark! by Lucille Colandro, illustrated by Jared Lee. March 27, 2018. Cartwheel Books. 64 pages. Ages 4-8

Like all the others, this book is mostly pure silliness with a nice rhythm and rhyme, but this one also sprinkles in a few facts, with more factual information at the end. Kids who are familiar with this series will especially love it. Though I like the idea of facts being sprinkled in, they interfered with the rhythm a little bit. I liked how it ended with it all being a daydream and nobody in danger of dying.

The Pout-Pout Fish and the Bully-Bully Shark by Deborah Diesen, illustrated by Dan Hanna; September 5, 2017. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. 32 pages. Ages 3-7.

Mr. Fish and his friends are having fun, until a bully shark comes along. Can Mr. Fish find the strength to speak up for himself and his friends? This has a similar rhyme and rhythm to the original, and has a good (if a bit heavy-handed) message, but lacks the magic of the first book and doesn't have the catchy, repeated phrases. It would be better for a lap-read than a group read aloud.

Big Shark, Little Shark by Anna Membrino, illustrated by Tim Budgen; May 9, 2017. Random House Books for Young Readers. 32 pages. Ages 3-6.

I don't normally use early readers for storytime because they are so small, the text is short and choppy, and some of them are 50-60 pages long, but I would make an exception for this one. I think this would would work for storytime for a small group of toddlers and just-turned 3-year olds. It is short, and has very simple text focusing on contrasting terms as the two sharks try and fail at catching lunch, until they work together.

Shark Nate-O by Tara Luebbe & Becky Cattie, illustrated by Daniel Duncan; April 3, 2018. Little Bee Books. 40 pages. Ages 4-8.

This is probably one of my favorites of this year's finds, and I am sad I didn't get the chance to use in in storytime (but there's always next year). Nate is a little boy who loves sharks and knows quite a bit about them, but surprisingly, Nate doesn't know how to swim. The story follows Nate as he learns to swim, eventually joining the swim team!

There are references to various species of sharks throughout the story, followed up by two pages of facts at the end. But my favorite thing about this book are the references to the two most well known shark movies. The title is obviously a nod to the campy, so-awful-it's-funny Sharknado movie franchise, and there are also references to the movie that started it all, Jaws; Nate apparently lives in the town of Amity and at one point he tells his swim teacher that "We're going to need a bigger float". 

I love it when children's materials include a few jokes for the adults' benefit as well. This book is a bit longer and probably best suited for older preschooler and school-aged kids, and would be great for family storytimes with plenty of adults to appreciate the references.

For more books about sharks, check out my previous "Shark Week" bibliographies: 

For non-fiction books to learn factual information about sharks, visit your local library and look in the 597.3's.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Shark Week Storytime Plan

This is the first year since I started doing storytime 4 years ago that I won't get to do a "Shark Week" storytime, because I changed jobs and as it works out, I won't do a storytime in my new job until regular programing resumes in September. I'm a little bummed, as it's one of my very favorite themes, but it couldn't be helped.

However, I DO have the "Shark Week" storytime plan that I prepared for the interview that got me the new job. It uses components I've used in previous Shark Week storytimes, plus a couple of new additions.

Storytime always starts with our welcome song, then I have several things to include as part of the introduction. First up is the shark puppet above  to greet the kids with his toothy grin, and many kids will want him to "bite" their fingers. Then I would use a non-fiction book like this one to show some different kinds of sharks and share a couple of interesting facts.

Next, I have a couple of things for "show & tell". One is a small collection of fossilized shark teeth I found while vacationing on Manasota Key, Florida, and the other is something I made to let the kids get a sense of what a shark's skin feels like. Many assume it would be smooth, possibly slippery or even slimy because sharks are fish, but in fact it is rough and feels much like sandpaper. I searched everyone and finally found dark gray sandpaper and cut out a shark shape and glued it to a piece of cardstock and added detail and shading with a white colored pencil and a sharpie. The kids can then "pet" the shark and feel its rough "skin".

After that is my usual lead-in song, "If You're Ready For A Story".

The book that I read for
my interview is one I've done many times, and have so much fun doing, The Three Little Fish and the Big Bad Shark by Ken Geist and Julia Gorton. It's obviously a re-telling of the classic Three Little Pigs, but I think is even more fun. I love all the repetition, which makes it easy for the kids to participate and say it along with you.

Another fun book is the classic Shark In The Park! by Nick Sharratt (or the sequel, Shark In The Dark). In this story, Timothy Pope is at the park, looking through his telescope; he looks up, he looks down, he looks all around. He keeps thinking he sees the dorsal fin of a shark, but it turns out to be something else. 

This is particularly good for younger kids, as the text is short and simple, and they can can pretend to look through their telescopes as well, and predict whether Timothy Pope really sees a shark, identify what it really is, and make the appropriate animal sounds.

I was excited when I first discovered this great pop-up shark story, that is also a re-telling of a classic folk tale, The Little Fish Who Cried Shark by Trish Phillips. (It is out of print, but I was happy with the two used copies I ordered from Amazon.) 

Little Sprat loves playing tricks, and his favorite is to yell "Shark!" and watch everyone scramble to hide. But he eventually learns that sharks are nothing to joke about! This one is slightly heavier on text, but it has a good rhyme and rhythm, and kids LOVE the last page with a giant pop-up shark!

A final book I had as an option for older kids is the latest installment of the There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a.... series that is perfect for a Shark or Ocean theme, There Was An Old Mermaid Who Swallowed A Shark by Lucille Colandro and Jared Lee. 

Older kids who know the original song love all the other versions, and love the pure silliness of them. This one has a few facts about the various creatures sprinkled in, with more detailed information in the notes at the end.

I have several fun songs to with these theme that I've used before: Baby Shark, Slippery Fish, and The Creatures In The Ocean Go.... (to the tune of "Wheels On The Bus", and let the audience suggest animals and sounds/motions to go with them). Then for my interview I made two new felt sets that I've featured earlier for "Flannel Friday". I'll show the pictures, and link to the original Flannel Friday posts for all the details.

And finally, a craft. This is something new for me, as we did not do crafts in outreach storytimes since we did so many. I saw some that I liked, but did not think they were appropriate for the younger kids I would expect for this particular storytime, so I settled on this simple one that used a CD or similar circular pattern to create pieces to assemble into a shark that greatly resembles a certain literary shark.


While I haven't had the chance to put this exact plan into practice yet, evidently the hiring committee liked it, because I just finished my second week in the position! Right now I'm just working the desk, but will start regular programming in September, with one family storytime and one school-aged STEAM program each month.

Friday, July 13, 2018

A New Chapter Begins....

I'm excited to say, this week I started a new job! 

For the last three years I have worked in the Outreach Services department providing early literacy programming to preschoolers in daycares and schools all around the city, averaging about 12 sessions per week (with a 20 hour work week), plus providing early literacy training to childcare workers at 2 events each year, doing some school-aged STEAM programming in the summers, and working at the children's service desk in our main downtown library one afternoon a week.

There were a lot of things that were great about this job, I had a great manager who had a very collaborative management style and was open to others' ideas and let me try new things. As a result, I got a great deal of programming experience in a relatively short time, vastly increased my knowledge of picture books, authors, and illustrators, and gained experience presenting. It was great for the the first two years, but approaching the end of my third year I was starting to burn out. I LOVE doing preschool storytime, but found it too much of a good thing to be doing so much of that, and not much of anything else, plus it was putting serious strain on my vocal cords.

I found I really missed working in a children's department and having a wider variety of duties, being able to form deeper, more long-term relationships with the kids and families, and each day being a little different. So when a position opened up in the children's department in the branch that was closest to my home, where my previous supervisor was now the branch manager, I knew it was time for a change!

So now I am a Library Associate in the Children's Department of one of our busiest branches, and it's going to be quite a change. I will be doing far fewer storytimes, just one family storytime a month at least initially. I will also be doing a school-age STEAM program once a month, and probably some other programs as I get settled in. Right now everyone is still in summer reading survival mode, and regular programming will resume in September. Much of my job will be customer service, including RA and reference, which I have really missed.

The schedule is a little weird, as it's all over the place: 1 morning, 2 afternoons, and 1 evening; plus one weekend a month, but in the long run I think it will be a good thing, as I will see a broad cross-section of patrons and activity, and it will give opportunities for a broad range of programming for various ages. It has been super busy so far, but it's a good busy, and makes the shift go by fast! Just as I've always heard, branch life is very different from working at the main library downtown! It's a whole new world....with a shorter commute! 😉

Next week I'll share the storytime plan that helped get me the job 😊.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Sink or Float? - Buoyancy STEAM Program

My department was asked by one of our clients to provide a program that might somehow tie in with their topic of the week, which was the Titanic, and "Sink or Float?" seemed like an obvious place to start.

My first thought was to have them test various items, then to compare the same material in different forms, such as a flat piece of aluminum foil versus a crumpled piece, versus a folded piece and experiment with folding and shaping the same piece of aluminum foil to see if it could hold more weight. I also wanted to do the same thing with clay, comparing how a ball would float or sink, versus a flattened piece, verses a piece molded into a more boat-like shape and seeing if it would hold weight as described on the Playdough to Plato blog. 

These activities would let them observe how both density and water-displacement affected buoyancy. I then envisioned them using this knowledge in designing and building their own boat using provided materials and seeing whose could hold the most weight. However, we ended up going a different route because of very limited time to plan and gather supplies, and we found out the kids were going to be on the younger side this year. So, instead we made use of several Lakeshore kits we already had on hand, and supplemented with a few other items.

Time: 45 minutes to 1 hour

Age: 5-10 (most of our participants were around 8)

Budget: $20 for up to 10 participants, plus $75 for optional, reusable STEM kits.

Sink or float, float or sink, buoyancy, STEAM, STEM program


  • *Lakeshore kits are entirely optional, and used for convenience as we already owned them. They can mostly be replicated with items you may have on hand or can obtain easily, but do have some nice activity suggestions.

1. Using several of the items from the first kit and other items, let the kids each take a turn dropping things in the water to observe if they will float or sink, AFTER they first examine them, consider size and weight, and make predictions.

Coke vs Diet Coke Sink or Float2. Make predictions and then test the Coke vs. Diet Coke. We expected that the Coke would sink and the Diet Coke would float, as led to believe by internet videos, but we did not find that to be the case.

However, there is a very slight, but definite difference. The regular Coke does not sink, but floats just at the surface, while the Diet Coke floated about 1 cm above the surface (we used the 6 oz mini cans).

Key Lime vs. Lime Sink or Float, Float or Sink3. Then compare the two types of lime and the lemon side by side after encouraging participants to make predictions. This is one internet tip that did hold up in our test! 

The kids will likely expect them to be the same, or that the larger lime might sink and the smaller one float, but it's the Key lime that is actually more dense and will sink. [Fun Fact: The "regular" Persian lime is actually a cross between the Key lime and lemon.]

Sink or Float, Float or Sink, Buoyancy4. Place a flat piece of aluminum foil in the water and observe it floats (mostly due to surface tension). Ask them to predict what will happen if you crumple it up (it will still float because of trapped air, i.e. lower density). Then ask them to predict what it will do if you fold up an identical piece (several times until very small).

Float or Sink, Sink or Float, Buoyancy5. Then, fold up the sides of another identical piece and then show that it can hold more weight and remain floating than a flat piece due to water displacement; this is why ships that weigh many tons and are made of steel can float. 

(In this test, the flat piece could hold the weight of 16 pennies without sinking, while the piece folded into a boat-shape could hold 26 pennies without sinking.)

6. If you have a waterproof, oil-based clay, try different shapes: ball, flat "raft", boat-shaped.

Float or Sink, Sink or Float, Buoyancy
7. Try a couple of the suggested activities in the Lakeshore STEM Science Station kit. For example, put one of the plastic boats in the water, then let the kids take turns adding the little plastic "jewels" to see how many it could hold before it sank. The kids will likely instinctively distribute them evenly.

8. Repeat, but add jewels to just one side of the boat and observe how it holds fewer when the weight is distributed unevenly.

9. Discuss the observed results and how size, weight, density, shape, and weight distribution affect buoyancy.

We then got out the Design & Play STEAM Boat kit and let each kid put together their own boat, of their own design, then tested them in a large, shallow tub of water to see how they would sail. The kids could make adjustment to their design if desired, and then we had a sailboat race.
How It Went

It went pretty well, and even though "Sink or Float" is a basic activity that is often done with kids as young as 3, they really seemed to enjoy it, especially with some of the unexpected outcomes. I was disappointed that the Coke (more dense because of all the sugar) vs. Diet Coke did not work as dramatically as internet videos would suggest; perhaps the larger 12oz cans would work better?

I wish I had realized we had the "STEM Science Station" kit earlier, and had time to look it over more carefully. It goes beyond the simple "Sink or Float" activities, and involves more critical thinking. However, it is a little pricey, though, so I'm not sure I would buy it if we didn't already have it on hand. The activities could be replicated fairly easily, though.

The Design & Play kits were a little too simplistic I thought, and involved really very little creativity and design input from the kids. Everyone got an identical styrofoam hull, then there were tall and short masts, two sizes of sails, flags, and small styro blocks they could add and arrange however they wanted. The masts did not really fit securely into the foam, either, and kept falling over. But it did give them something to make and take home.

If I were to do it again, I would have them each experiment with shaping the foil and clay to see who could come up with a boat that would hold the most weight, and for older kids, give them an assortment of building materials and let them design and build their own boats from scratch. The engineering class at the local high school has a competition each year where teams build boats out of nothing but cardboard and duct tape, and then they take them to the local pool and race them. It's amazing how well some of them work!