Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Story Time Music: On the Record

Music is a huge part of story time. Singing with kids is a great way to promote early literacy skills, and it's fun, too! In my three years as a children's librarian in DC, I used recorded music, a cappella singing, and the ukulele to incorporate music into my story time sessions. Over the next several weeks, I will be posting about my experiences using music in story time, and how these experiences have informed the decisions I make about incorporating music into my story time sessions. I begin today with my reflections on recorded music.

I had actually never even thought of using recorded music in story time until I started my job in DC. All the nursery school teachers and children's librarians I knew did all their own singing. But my very first day in my library branch, someone else was still covering the story time, and every song she used in the session I observed came from a CD. I immediately adjusted my expectations. "Oh," I thought. "I'm supposed to use recordings." For the first several months of story time, that's what I did. Here are some of the advantages of recorded music that I discovered during this time.
  • I could use songs I didn't know well, or for which I didn't know all the words, because the recorded singer could do most of the singing for me.
  • I could comment on the kids' actions during songs because again, the song could go on whether I was singing or not.
  • If I had laryngitis (which I did once), or just didn't feel like singing, I could still incorporate music into story time.
  • I could take time to get used to my story time audience without the added anxiety of also singing in front of a group.
  • The recordings included instrumentation that would have been missing from an a cappella performance, and which exposed kids to different beats and rhythms I might not be able to replicate on my own.
  • I could promote CDs from my collection at story time and encourage folks to check them out.
Though I enjoyed story time from the get-go, as the months went on, I became more and more comfortable being "on stage." As I started to think more critically about my story time performances, I began to see the drawbacks of relying solely on recorded music.
  • I was stuck with what was available in my collection, and with whatever verses were used by the recording artist.
  • If the CD player was accidentally unplugged during story time, everything derailed rather quickly. (I also tried using an iPod, but that was even worse, as our speakers were forever turning themselves off mid-song.)
  • I couldn't necessarily cut a song short if the kids were getting restless.
  • The transition from book to song was cumbersome because I had to find the correct CD, correct track, etc.
  • The adults in my audience began to carry on personal conversations the second I pressed the play button for a song.
After about a year of relying pretty heavily on recorded music, I decided it was time for a change and I began doing all my story times without any CDs or MP3s on hand. Next week, I'll talk about the new joys and challenges I faced when I decided to sing all on my own.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Middle Grade Review: 30 Days of No Gossip by Stephanie Faris (ARC)

30 Days of No Gossip
by Stephanie Faris.
2014. Aladdin.
ISBN: 9781442482821
 Maddie loves to gossip. It's fun and it wins her lots of friends. Her best friend, Vi, is more reserved and never says anything at all unless she can say something nice. When Maddie reveals Vi's secret crush, Vi decides that the gossiping has to stop. She challenges Maddie to go 30 days without gossiping; otherwise, their friendship is over. Maddie wants to stay friends with Vi, but it's more difficult than imagined to have a conversation that doesn't involve talking behind her classmates' backs.

This tween friendship drama does what more middle grade novels should do: humanizes and reforms the "mean girl." Maddie, though addicted to a bad habit, is likable and believable. Readers will sympathize with her wish to salvage her friendship with Vi, but they will also understand how difficult it is for to give up her coveted position in the social hierarchy. The chatty tone makes for light  reading, but the story also has enough depth to satisfy concerned parents and provoke interesting discussions. 30 Days of No Gossip is a great addition to the Aladdin Mix line, and will appeal to girls in grades 5 to 8, especially those who like Lauren Barnholdt and Lauren Myracle.

I received a digital ARC of 30 Days of No Gossip from Aladdin via Edelweiss.

For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Old School Sunday: The Galloping Goat and Other Stories by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (1965)

The Galloping Goat
and Other Stories
by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.
1965. Abingdon Press.
The Galloping Goat and Other Stories is yet another collection of short fiction written by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor in the 1960s. It was published between Grasshoppers in the Soup and Knee-Deep in Ice Cream, but it could not be more different in tone or subject matter from either of those books. While both of those are collections of humorous vignettes about teen life, The Galloping Goat is a series of heartwarming, principled short stories about young children living in different places all around the world.
  • "The Galloping Goat" is set in Greece, and tells the story of Nicos, who attempts to deliver a mischievous goat to his lonely grandmother.
  • In "Hala and the Gander," a young polish girl’s efforts to earn money are thwarted by a gander that won’t let her work in peace. 
  • "What the Stars Said for Asoka" reveals the bravery of a young boy in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) who fears camping but manages to fend off a bear in an unexpected way. 
  • "Maria of the Mountains" explores a Colombian girl’s desire to see the world and become educated and demonstrates how this wish brings her to an important decision that will improve her community. 
  • In "Kimo and the Keys," a Hawaiian boy must choose between helping himself to a prize and helping a man who has dropped his keys into the ocean.
  • In "The Silver Trinket", set in India, Sita loses her sister’s wedding jewelry and must work hard to replace it. 
  • In "The Church the Children Built," a group of Mexican children band together to build a church in order to keep their beloved priest with them even during the rainy season. 
  • "The Dragonfly" tells of a Japanese boy who sacrifices his own chances of winning an insect contest in order to comfort his sister whose beautiful insect flies away. 
  • In "The Donkey and the Kettle," two young gypsy boys in Spain make a trade that unexpectedly angers their families.
Each story bears a positive message and a character-building theme, while also providing the reader with insight into a foreign culture.

I loved this book in the same way that I loved Bo at Ballard Creek. So often books about other times and cultures focus on the hardships of those societies and on the major dramas and difficulties that shape their worldviews and customs. This book takes a different approach, giving us simple insights into the day-to-day lives of average kids who happen to live in places very different from the United States. Each character is easy to relate to, because he or she faces a basic conflict that is instantly recognizable, even if the reader has never set foot on foreign soil. Each character, though different from the average American child in dress, or looks, or language, is fully realized and so sympathetic that the reader can’t help but step into their shoes and look at things from their perspective. The characters are also wonderful role models. Each one looks for ways to make his or her world a better place and makes appropriate sacrifices for the good of family, friends, and sometimes even strangers.

Despite the age of this book - and the fact that some of the stories date back as far as 1959 - there is very little offensive, stereotypical, or inaccurate content in it. I’m actually disappointed that it isn’t still in print, and that I didn’t know of its existence back during the One World, Many Stories summer reading program, as I think the stories would make perfect read-alouds for elementary classes and perfect preliminary explorations of other cultures for young readers. I wouldn’t even really consider the writing style to be outdated. With different artwork, this book could easily pass for a much newer title, and I think it would have no problem at all finding an interested audience.

The Galloping Goat and Other Stories was Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s first book for children, and I think it perfectly predicts her later success as a Newbery Medal winner and prolific author of books for young readers at all levels. These stories are well-plotted, with strongly well-developed characters and messages that teach without preaching. Some interested me more than others, but I can see how each one would be satisfying for the right child at the right time. After reading this book, I’m anxious to read more of Naylor’s older work, as well as some of her newer things - I suspect I have been underestimating her talents, and I’d like to become more familiar with her middle grade work.

I borrowed The Galloping Goat and Other Stories from interlibrary loan. 

For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Picture Book Review: The Bear Went Over the Mountain by Iza Trapani

The Bear Went Over the Mountain
by Iza Trapani

Quick Booktalk

The bear went over the mountain to see... and hear, taste, touch, and smell.

About the Illustrations

This book features all the characteristics typical of Trapani's work: soft colors, natural scenes, and a sense of playfulness. The bear at the center of the story has some anthropomorphic qualities, but he maintains the natural movements and habits of real live brown bears. The illustrations also indicated that, in addition to the five senses, Bear is also experiencing each of the four seasons. Though the text does not address this fact directly, it does guide us toward a wintry ending, wherein Bear settles in to hibernate.

Story Time Possibilities

This book is a natural story time choice. It features a well-known song, which encourages audience participation. Sheet music is provided at the back of the book, so those story time performers who play musical instruments can easily accompany themselves singing the story. It's a great book for so many story time themes - bears, seasons, music, rhyme, and, of course, the five senses. Each verse of the song matches the tune exactly, so the story reads smoothly, and each of the rhymes is a perfect match so the listener is never taken out of the story by awkward word choices.

Reader’s Advisory

Readers who have enjoyed Trapani's other adaptations of childhood songs will like this one as well, as will fans of Jane Cabrera. Teachers looking for five senses books will be pleased to find one that conveys the information in a fun and singable way. Other read-alikes include We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, Old Bear by Kevin Henkes, and Baby Bear Sees Blue by Ashley Wolff.