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:

Giddy-Up!
(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!
WHOOOAAAAA, Unicorn!

(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.)

Craft

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

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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!