Friday, February 14, 2020

Valentine's Day Science - STEAM Program

Valentine's Day Science, Valentine's Day STEM activities for kids, mini Cupid's bow, conversation heart chemistry, valentine building challenge

What is "Valentine's Day Science"? Well, it's what you put on the calendar when you still have no idea what you want to do for your February program by the deadline, and then you figure it out later! 😂 In this case, it was several activities that were tweaked to tie them in with Valentine's Day, but could easily be adapted to do anytime.

Ages: 5-10
Time: 1 hour
Number: 20 (I ended up with just 15)
Budget:  $40, but can be done for less 

  • 1 bag conversation heart candies
  • 20 bags "Ju-Ju" gummy heart candies (10 would have been enough)
  • cold water
  • hot water
  • vinegar
  • 2 2-L bottles of clear soda
  • 80 test tubes or 4-5 oz plastic Dixie cups or plastic shot glasses
  • 20 8 oz clear plastic cups
  • 10 boxes of flat toothpicks
  • 20 small craft sticks with notches cut at each end
  • 20 rubber bands
  • 40 cotton swabs
  • Something to use as a target 

Activity #1 - Mini Cupid's Bow & Arrows

Prep - I used a box cutter to very carefully cut notches at each end of the craft sticks in advance, and put them in hot water to soak an hour before the program to make them more flexible, them removed and quickly blotted dry before passing out.

1. I gave each participant a craft stick that had already been notched and soaked in hot water to soften, a rubber band, two cotton swabs, and a pair of scissors, then instructed them to make a single cut in the rubber band, and to cut or break off one end of each cotton swab.

2. Next, they were instructed to VERY carefully bend the craft stick slightly. They need to do this slowly and gently, and of course there were some who ignored that instruction and bent them too hard and broke them, so be sure to have extras on hand.

3. After that, they tied the rubber band onto one end of the craft stick, then pulled it tightly and tied to the other end and cut off the excess. Many had trouble tying it off at the second end and getting it tight enough. It needs to be really tight! Then rotate the knots around until the rubber band is at one side of the craft stick, rather than the middle.

4. Let dry.

mini bow and arrow, mini cupid's bow

5. Line your arrow up, pull the arrow back with the bowstring, and try to shoot it through the heart target! (This proved to be more challenging that the catapults we made back in the fall, but one boy did manage to get an arrow through the heart.)

Activity #2 - Conversation Heart Chemistry

1. Each participant was given a set of solutions in small cups: cold water, hot water, vinegar, and clear soda; plus a cup with 10-12 conversation hearts. They were instructed to add one heart to each cup to see which would dissolve the fastest.

conversation heart chemistry

2. As they were doing this, they were encouraged to make predictions, and explain why.

3. While we waited for the hearts to start dissolving, each child was given a larger cup of clear soda and told to add the remaining conversation hearts to it and watch them dance! We observed how they will first drop to the bottom, then float up to the top, then drop down again, and back up. I asked them to explain what they were observing, and most knew it had to do with the carbonation in the soda and the bubbles, but couldn't identify the gas in the bubbles as CO2 .

conversation heart chemistry

4. We made a final observation of our dissolution comparison, and all agreed that the hot water dissolved the most/fastest, then quickly cleaned up to allow plenty of room for our last activity.

Activity #3 - Building Challenge

1. Each participant was given 1 bag of Ju-Ju hearts and 1 box of flat toothpicks [I realized later that was way too many toothpicks, and more candy than most ended up using, so a lot was wasted. I would suggest 1 bag for every two kids, with a couple extra for those who need more, and 1 box of toothpicks for every 3-4 kids is more than enough.] 

These particular candies worked really well as they do not have sugar crystals on the surface to make a big mess and do not get sticky when handling like jelly hearts do. I like using the flat toothpicks because they tend to "grip" better and not allow as much movement as the round toothpicks, plus they are cheaper.

candy heart and toothpick building challenge, Valentine's Building challenge

2. They were shown a few pictures of examples, and reminded that they needed to be sure that they had a stable, strong base before they tried to build up, and encouraged to use their imaginations and build whatever they wanted, and they could work together if they chose.

How It Went
So, what do you do when you get sick and lose your voice on the day of a program? Besides panic? First you type up step-by-step instructions with pictures to pass out, and you gratefully accept when a coworker kindly offers to be your voice!

I'd had a cold that caused me to lose my voice and cough excessively at night so that I'd not had any sleep for several days, so doing this program proved to be quite a challenge, and I was so thankful my coworkers were quick to offer to arrange desk coverage so one of them could be my voice to give instructions. I could talk quietly one-on-one, but not to a whole crowd.

Overall, it went pretty well. The mini-bow and arrow proved to be more difficult for them, and much more challenging to hit a target than the mini catapults we made in November. I was a little disappointed that no one really tried to make a really large, tall structure with the building challenge, most were content to make one or more small structures, and one little boy did something I hadn't thought about, and made letters to spell out his name, which would be a great literacy activity to do.

Candy Heart & toothpick literacy activity, valentine's day literacy activity

Just as I did when we used candy pumpkins for our catapults, I instructed them not to eat any of the candy we were using in our activities, but told them I had candy set aside for eating that they could have at the end if it was okay with their grownup. 

What I Would Do Differently
The main thing I would do differently is buy less candy and toothpicks. Most of the kids only used about half of their candy hearts and a tiny fraction of the toothpicks. One half of a bag each would have been enough for almost everybody. 

And since the mini bow and arrow seemed too challenging and frustrating for many of them, I'd probably skip that, and spend more time on the building challenge, adding some directed building, like can you build a cube, can you build a pyramid, can you make a heart, can you make your name, then letting them free-build. I think I'm still trying to cram too much into each program, and I need to cut back a little and spend more time on each activity.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Youth Media Awards 2020

2020 Youth Media Awards, 2020 YMAs

Time for my annual reflection on the Youth Media Awards! Every year I am surprised by the winners, and find that no matter how much I try to read and pay attention to what people are talking about, I am unfamiliar with many of them. I tried to make predictions one year, but found it was an exercise in futility; it is just too subjective and the committees and I are rarely on the same wavelength. So I am happy if I have at least read some of the winners and honor books, or at least had them on my radar.

I really didn't expect to fare very well this time around, since I took two literature classes in 2019 and spent most of my time reading assigned books and had less time to read new books, but I was pleasantly surprised! I had already read New Kid by Jerry Craft, which won both the Newbery and the Coretta Scott King author awards. That's the second year in a row I had actually already read the Newbery winner. I had also read Morris Winner Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe, American Indian Youth Literature Award middle-grade winner Indian No More by Charlene Willing McManis, and Asian/Pacific American Award YA winner, They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, and remembered seeing several of the picture books that won honors: Fry Bread, Sulwe, My Papi Has a Motorcycle, Bilal Cooks Daal, The Book Hog, and When Aidan Became a Brother. Though I hadn't had a chance to read it yet, Jason Reynolds' Look Both Ways was on my mental "to-read" list.

I had a pretty good feeling that New Kid would would be somewhere in the mix, and I thought Indian No More would likely be honored by the American Indian Youth Literature award, but I was very pleasantly surprised when Field Guide to the North American Teenager was announced as a Morris finalist. I read it when we first got it at the library, and loved Norris' snark and sarcasm, and told my supervisor she had to read it, as she is fluent in sarcasm as well. I was certainly not surprised to see Jason Reynolds win more honors, but I was a bit surprised that out of all the middle-grade LGTBQ+ books I read, none were honored. I really thought Zenobia July might be one of the Stonewall honor books.

But there were still plenty of winners and honor books that I had not read or even heard of, so I was placing holds as fast as the awards were announced, and now my "to read" pile is huge! I've made a small dent in it, but have a ways to go. I try to read all the winners, and as many of the honor books as I can. To be honest, I don't put a lot of stock in the awards, but I know others do and many will appear on summer reading lists, so I want to be familiar with them. 

Personally, I think the awards are too subjective to be meaningful because lots of great books don't even get considered and committees often tend to choose books that adults think kids should read, rather than books that actually appeal to kids. I've seen many an award winner or honor book languish on the shelves, virtually untouched once all the teachers and librarians have finished looking at them following the awards. I care more about books that kids will want to read.

I have found that I generally like the Coretta Scott King, Pura Bel Pre, and Stonewall winners and honor books more than the Caldecott or Newbery. Also, I have found that winning multiple honors is more of a true indication that a book is one of the best books published that year, and those get my attention first. Then I look at the Caldecott winner and honor books, the Newbery winner, and the Printz winner. From there, I read as many of the other medal winners as I can, then go back and read the Newbery, Printz, CSK, and Morris honors, then as many of the remaining honor books as I can. It usually takes me about 3-6 months to get thru it all!  

So here are the ones that stand out because of winning multiple honors, and what I think of them:

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander & Kadir Nelson

Caldecott medal winner
Coretta Scott King Illustrator medal winner
Newbery honor book

With such an amazingly talented creative team as this, how could this book not win multiple honors recognizing both the illustration and the written words? This is such a moving book, showing the triumphs, struggles, and achievements of African Americans throughout history with Kadir Nelson's amazing photo-realistic illustrations and Kwame Alexander's poetry. The blank page depicting those that did not survive is very impactful, and I love all the endnotes that identify the people depicted and tell a little more about the events surrounding them. I can definitely see why it was selected for all the honors it received without question.

New Kid by Jerry Craft

Newbery medal winner
Coretta Scott King Author medal winner

I read this book right after it came out and loved it! It's about an African-American boy trying to fit in at a new school full of mostly privileged kids, make friends, and dealing with racism and classism. A really good book, and significant because it is the first graphic novel to win the Newbery award, and one of few books by POC to win.

Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams

Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent medal winner
Newbery honor
Morris Debut YA Author honor

Very impressive honors for a debut author! This book was so good, but also so heartbreaking as we watch Genesis deal with having to move constantly, always on the verge of homelessness because of her father's alcoholism and gambling, plus her own self-loathing because of her dark skin and nappy hair (her words), which drives her to risk self-mutilation in her desperate attempts to lighten her skin and straighten her hair to look more like her mother, who has lighter skin and "good" hair so that her father and everyone else will think she's pretty. This is a book that should be discussed, to be sure young readers don't internalize Genesis' insecurities and self-hatred, but instead see the bigger lesson in embracing your own unique beauty as well as that of others.

Ordinary Hazards  by Nikki Grimes

Printz honor book
Sibert honor book

This memoir told in free verse is a fairly quick, but difficult read. Grimes reflects on her difficult childhood, as much of it as she can remember, growing up with a mother who was an alcoholic, schizophrenic, and emotionally distant. She describes being separated from her sister and living in foster care, suffering sexual abuse at the hands of her mother's second husband, and losing her beloved father. She explains how she has gaping holes in her memory, which is typical of those suffering trauma. This one is even more moving and heartbreaking than Genesis because it really happened.

Frankly in Love by David Yoon

Morris honor book
Asian/Pacific American honor book

Frank Li has a problem. His best friend is black, his girlfriend is white, and his Korean parents are racist, but don't think that they are. They have already disowned his older sister for marrying a black man, so what is Frank to do? Pretend to date the nice Korean girl his parents have picked out for him, who is also hiding her non-Korean boyfriend from her parents. This book was an enjoyable read, and delves into multiple levels of racism and classism. I did find it very predictable, but that didn't prevent me from enjoying the story.

The Beast Player by Nahoko Uehashi

Printz honor book
Batchelder honor book

I found this to be a fairly typical YA epic fantasy, with a human protagonist that bonds with a magical flying beast, caught amid political intrigue and threats of war. Though I didn't find the story to be particularly original or creative, it was a well-written and enjoyable story, and a thought-provoking commentary on man's relationship with animals and nature, and the consequences of interference.

One thing that really stood out to me was the diversity in this year's awards. Looking back over my list of books that won multiple honors, I realized they were all written and illustrated by authors of color writing their own voices, which I am so happy to see! 

So how did you fare this year? Had you read many of the books honored? Did any of your favorites win? What surprised or disappointed you the most?

Need more info about the YMA's? 

Well, I'd better get to work whittling down this to-read pile! I've got a long way to go...

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Kindness - Family Storytime

Kindness Storytime

I had a little trouble deciding on themes for this month. I've already done several versions of Valentine's Day, Love, and Hugs & Kisses themes in the past and didn't really want to do that again, especially since my storytimes this month fell at the very beginning and end of the month rather than close to Valentine's Day. I had several new themes partially planned, and was trying to decide which of them to use, when Todd Parr's latest book came in and inspired me to do a "Kindness" theme.

I started with a simple "Hello" song as I passed out programs and greeted people, and briefly went over storytime expectations; then we warmed up with "Hello, Everybody" for a little gentle movement. I introduced the topic of Kindness, which is a kind of an abstract idea, especially for young kids. I said it can sometimes be hard to explain what it is, but our first book would give us lots of examples of ways to show kindness. Then we settled down and led in with "If You're Ready For a Story".

Kindness Storytime
I love Todd Parr's books for young kids, with their bright, simple illustrations and straightforward presentations that always reflect kindness, tolerance and inclusiveness, so I was excited when we got his latest book, The Kindness Book. 

This book gives several examples of being kind to other people, the earth, and animals, and reminds kids they need to be kind to themselves, too (which came in handy later), and is illustrated in his signature style.

Then we sang a familiar song with some new verses I made up to go with the theme:

The More We Get Together

The more we get together, together, together;
The more we get together, the happier we'll be.
Because your friends are my friends, and my friends are your friends,
The more we get together, the happier we'll be.

The more we help each other, each other, each other;
The more we help each other, the happier we'll be.
Because helping is kindness, and kindness is helping,
The more we help each other, the happier we'll be.

The more we share together, together, together;
The more we share together, the happier we'll be.
Because sharing is caring, and caring is sharing;
The more we share together, the happier we'll be.

The more we show kindness, show kindness, show kindness;
The more we show kindness, the happier we'll be.
Because kindness is sharing, and helping, and caring;
The more we show kindness, the happier we'll be.

Kindness StorytimeFor our second book I chose one that actually has a story and illustrates acts of kindness without being too heavy-handed or even using the word "kindness", plus it fits the winter season. In The Most Perfect Snowman by Chris Britt we meet Drift, a snowman who is teased for not having all the accessories the others have and is lonely, and sad, until three children come by and generously give him a hat, mittens, a scarf, and best of all, a big carrot nose! Now he is perfect. But when he comes upon a cold, hungry bunny, he shows incredible kindness and compassion.

Since both books were a bit on the long side, I decided it was best not to read another, but to finish with an old traditional song before moving to the craft.


Skinnamarink a dinka dink
Skinnamarink a doo,
I love you!

Skinnamarink a dink a dink
Skinnamarink a doo,
I love you!

I love you in the morning,
And in the afternoon
I love you in the evening,
Underneath the moon…

Skinnamarink a dink a dink
Skinnamarink a doo,
I love you!


Kindness Storytime, Kindness Craft
While looking for other books to use, I came across the classic by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace, The Kindness Quilt. It was too long to actually read in storytime with the younger crowd we usually get, but I thought it would be a great inspiration for a piece of collaborative art.

I printed out a bunch of squares that at least somewhat resembled quilt squares, most with a large open space in the middle. While I didn't read the book, I quickly went through what it was about, and showed how this class drew pictures of acts of kindness and put them together like a quilt on the bulletin board, and that this is what we were going to do.

I put out the squares and some crayons on tables, and told them if they wanted a copy of their art to take home, I would be happy to make a photocopy. After they were all done, I mounted them each on different colors of construction paper and then hung up together like a quilt.

Kindness Storytime, Kindness craft, kindness quilt

How It Went

I had a pretty good crowd for a weekend, and it went pretty well. Though they stayed engaged with the Todd Parr book, I think they enjoyed The Most Perfect Snowman the most because it had an actual story. They participated very well with the songs, but as always, I lost several when it came to the after storytime activity. 

On the weekends people always seem to be in a rush, and don't want a full storytime, and have little interest in any structured activities after. The kids also didn't really quite understand that they were supposed to draw something related to showing kindness, and I ended up with mostly random drawings and scribbles, but that's okay. I realized I had gotten carried away with the idea of doing collaborative art (I really do love the idea of collaborative pieces for public places) and this activity was really more suited for school age. It still made a nice piece to display, though, and a few of the kids were really proud about their art being part of it.

On little girl was a major perfectionist and started to get upset when she marked with a different color than she intended, saying she had "ruined it". As a perfectionist myself, I could see she was about to have a meltdown, and I stepped in and reminded her that she also needed to be kind to herself, and that actually helped! Her mother was able to talk her down from there. She was so cute, after she was finished and her mother helped her write her name on her picture, she wanted her baby sister's name on it, and my ("the librarian's") name on it as well.