Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Secrets & Sharing Soda's Books of the Year (2013)

With the end of the year less than 24 hours away, it's time to look back on this year's reading and announce my picks for Secrets & Sharing Soda's books of the year.

In previous years, I have set specific reading goals (last year, I aimed to read 1500 books, for example), but this year I decided to give myself a break and just read, without worrying about reaching a particular number. In the end, I wound up reading 729 books that I had never read before, and an additional 210 which were repeat reads. Here is how the 729 break down by category:

From these books, I have selected favorites in five categories based on four main factors: literary quality, kid appeal, my personal feelings about the book, and its suitability for use in library programs and book talks. (This last factor was not weighed as heavily as the others.) Each category features a top favorite and three honorable mentions, because I could never choose just one favorite book! Links will take you to my reviews, if available, or to my posts about the book in my story time blog and on Goodreads.

Favorite Young Adult Contemporary Novel
by Elizabeth Eulberg

Honorable Mention:

Favorite Middle Grade Novel
by Kirkpatrick Hill; illustrations by LeUyen Pham
(Henry Holt & Co.)

Honorable Mention:

Favorite Chapter Book
by Graham Salisbury, illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers
(Wendy Lamb Books)

Honorable Mention:

Favorite Easy Reader
by Grace Lin 
(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

Honorable Mention: 

Favorite Picture Book
If You Want to See a Whale
by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin E. Stead
(Roaring Brook Press)
Honorable Mention: 

Thank you so much for following Secrets & Sharing Soda through its third year! I look forward to starting year four tomorrow. In the meantime, take a look back at my favorite books of 2011 and my favorite books of 2012. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Ten Picture Books to Welcome Winter

Though Winter officially starts up in December, wintry weather often doesn't hit until January, so I like to save this story time theme for after the holidays.  Here are ten great picture books celebrating the season of Winter. 

by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
How will the town of Toby Mills survive this cold snap? Watch as the whole community finds ways to keep warm, culminating in a toasty celebration organized by the mayor's wife. This is a longer book best suited to school groups and preschoolers with sizeable attention spans. It works in story time, but for kids to get the full effect of everything happening in the illustrations, they'd need to sit with it one on one. 

by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by G. Brian Karas
Pauline and her brother John-John learn a lot about making money, advertising,  and supply and demand when they decide to open a lemonade stand in the dead of winter. I have read this to pre-K classes in the past with great results. They don't quite follow the money-counting aspects of the story, but they do pick up on a lot of  the business practices used by the characters.

Owl Moon
by Jane Yolen, illustrated by John Schoenherr
There is no better read-aloud for Winter than this book. Kids of all ages respond to the poetic text and the gorgeous artwork, and it feels fresh every time I read it aloud.

Winter Lullaby
by Barbara Seuling, illustrated by Greg Newbold
Find out where the animals go in winter in this simple rhyming story. This book works well with toddlers, especially, but preschoolers, too, might like to call out the name of each animal and where it spends the winter months.

A Little Bit of Winter
by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell
When Hedgehog must hibernate, he asks Rabbit to save him a little bit of Winter for when he wakes up, but Rabbit finds this easier said than done. This book has enough of a plot that preschoolers don't get bored, but it's still short enough to hold the attention of twos and threes who might not be that familiar with sitting for longer stories.

by Jane O'Connor, illustrated by S.D. Schindler
A family living inside a long-neglected snow globe longs for it to snow,  as do the big people who live in the house where the snow globe is kept. When snow falls, the Baby who lives in the house finds the snow globe and the family's wish finally comes true. This is a good school-age read-aloud. I especially like to ask kids in Pre-K through Grade 2 what would happen if they lived in a snow globe. They always give great, insightful answers.

by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal
See what happens underground and in the snow itself in this picture book all about animals who do and do not hibernate.  The pictures in this one make it stand out, though the text might be a bit much for the average preschool group. Animal lovers will enjoy it as a one-on-one read.

by Alvin Tresselt, illustrated by Roger Duvoisin
This oldie-but-goodie Caldecott winner narrates one community's response to a snowy day and shows how the neighborhood looks all covered in snow. 

by David A. Johnson
This book tells the story of a snow day using only onomatopoeia. Story time groups love to make the sounds of the plow and various other vehicles that appear in the illustrations. This book pairs well with the poem "Ears Hear" by Lucia and James L. Hymes, Jr.

by Lita Judge
This mostly-wordless picture book  shows what happens when a child leaves a sled out overnight and the animals take a turn riding it. Similar to Duck on a Bike, but with a winter spin.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Reflections on Library Service to Toddlers

I have been working with toddlers almost my entire adult life, but never in such great numbers or in such an unstructured environment as in the public library. For the purposes of this post, I am defining toddlers as children who walk but who have not yet passed their third birthday, because this is how I separated toddlers from babies and preschoolers when I asked folks to register for toddler story time. Below are some general lessons I have learned from interacting with toddlers both in and out of the story time room.

  • Toddler Tip #1: Communicate behavior expectations to parents and caregivers.
    Toddlers are just beginning to learn about boundaries, and their grown-ups are often just learning how to enforce them. While the rules of the library might seem like second nature to those of us who are in the library all day, that might not be the case for parents of toddlers. Instead of waiting for a rule to be broken before broaching the subject, the best thing to do is to make your behavior guidelines as clear and conspicuous as possible. A great way to do this is with signs, handouts, and story time announcements. And remember not to just focus on the negative. We do want to discourage running, removing shoes, and climbing shelves, but we also want to encourage enthusiastic story time participation and socializing with other kids during story time sessions. By letting the adults know what is and is not okay, we empower them to help their kids learn to follow those rules.
  • Toddler Tip #2: Don’t contribute to a meltdown.
    Being a toddler can be tough! Communication is still tricky for kids in this age range, and life is full of frustrations. Because of this, toddlers often have tantrums and meltdowns right in the library. While this is sometimes unavoidable, I have found that it is best for a librarian to make sure she is not contributing to the situation. I have always worked in libraries where eating has not been allowed. Not everyone knows this, though, so I have often been faced with the delicate situation of having to let a mom know her daughter isn't supposed to have that slice of banana she just handed her. I have worked with some staff members whose zero tolerance approach to eating would demand that Mom take that banana away from her child. I tend to be more lenient, telling the parent that she doesn't have to take the food away from the child right now, but that next time, she should be aware that food isn't allowed. Parents appreciate a little understanding, and that kind of goodwill gesture often makes them more likely to comply with rules in the future. (I also think it is sometimes easier to clean smooshed banana out of the carpet than it is to listen to the child scream for 30 minutes!)
  •  Toddler Tip #3: Provide opportunities for movement.
    Toddlers are busy people with loads of energy and short attention spans. One way to engage them is to put yourself in motion. Toddler story times are chaotic by definition, but movement activities provide a little method for the madness. Try repeating the same familiar action rhymes and songs at each session, using basic movements - clapping, stomping, tapping knees, nodding head, waving -  that most kids can learn to imitate fairly easily. Whereas in preschool story time, you might use movement activities to calm kids between books, in toddler story time, movement should be the main focus. Acting out books, dancing with scarves or other props, and generally keeping things high-energy keeps the kids focused and eases your frustrations when the kids just won't sit still for a book.
  • Toddler Tip #4: Bring enough for everyone.
    Toddlers love to handle things like puppets, crayons, flannel board pieces, and other story time and library props. To truly get them excited, provide individual copies of things for the kids to handle. In my toddler story times, there is always one segment where every child gets to hold onto a prop as we dance and sing. The kids don't tend to be too particular about what they get to hold, as long as everyone gets one. I have used various foam shapes, homemade shaker eggs, hand puppets, and even paper snowflakes. To ensure that everything comes back to you with minimal fuss, turn cleaning up into a game and make it a routine part of story time. We always sing a clean-up song then applaud loudly when everything is put away. (But remember - meltdowns happen easily, so if one child wants to hang onto his foam star a little bit longer, it's usually best to just let him do that until story time is over.)
  • Toddler Tip #5: Go with the flow.
    Toddlers are the least predictable library patrons, with the possible exception of teens and the mentally ill. Planning toddler programming can seem like a headache, especially if you expect your plan to come off without a hitch. The best way to interact with toddlers is to follow their lead. If it's a sleepy kind of day, play quieter games and read a few cozy books. If everyone's climbing the walls, it might be a day to save the books and instead take out shakers, the parachute, or some bubbles. 
By having lots of toddler-friendly activities in your arsenal, and being prepared to let a few things go to keep the peace, your library will be a place where toddlers are free to explore, learn, and be themselves, and where they will gain a love of reading that will far outlast their tricky toddler years.

Monday, December 16, 2013

LibraryAdventure.com: Tips for Playing the Ukulele at Story Time

Do you play the ukulele at story time? Would you like to start? Today, I'm at The Library Adventure with some quick tips for playing the uke in a story time setting, along with links for chords and songs.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Ten Picture Books That Are Secretly Easy Readers

It is usually pretty easy to identify an easy reader. Most of them are paperbacks, in a compact size, with a reading level printed on the spine and/or front cover. Many libraries shelve them separately as well, in an area apart from picture books and novels. Beginning readers can easily find their section and browse for books. But this does not mean that the only suitable books for beginning readers are the ones labeled as such. In fact, there are lots of great books that I have always shelved in the picture book section that are actually also perfect for kids who are learning how to read. Here are ten examples, listed in order of difficulty according to the Guided Reading system.

by Chris Raschka
Guided Reading Level: C
In very few words, two boys from obviously different backgrounds form a friendship. This would be a good one to use in a beginning reader story time setting, because the words on each page are large enough for everyone in a group to see them at once.

by Eric Carle
Guided Reading Level: C
 This has recently been published as an easy reader, but whenever it's checked out, the picture book version does just as well. The only problem is that kids might have it memorized so it might not be a good one to measure how much they are actually able to read.
by Antoinette Portis
Guided Reading Level: F
This book encourages kids to think outside the box - literally - by showing them how to use a cardboard box in a number of creative ways. There is very little text, and what is on the page is pretty repetitive, but kids I've read it with have talked about it for weeks afterward.  There are also a number of related printables on the publisher's website to extend the discussion after the initial reading is over.

by Janet Morgan Stoeke
Guided Reading Level: G
Midge, Pip, and Dot idolize Rooster Sam because they believe he can fly. They try to fly, too, but no matter what, they just can't seem to get the hang of it. The big, bold font, brightly colored illustrations, and great sense of humor make this a natural choice for beginning readers, especially those who like a good laugh as a payoff for their hard work.
by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
Guided Reading Level: G
Various nursery rhyme characters hide on the pages of this book. The reader has a chance to play I Spy  while decoding the simple rhyming text. This book is probably best for kids who already know some nursery rhymes so they might recognize their names in print even if they're tricky to sound out.

by Jules Feiffer
Guided Reading Level: H
Animal names and sounds make up the majority of  the text in this book, and there is lots of repetition, making it just as ideal for new readers as for preschoolers. Kids will love laughing along with the silliness of the story and they might even want to perform it for others.

by Audrey and Don Wood
Guided Reading Level: I
I have used this book with beginning readers as a flannel board, and I've found that kids in first and second grade are the ones who can read every word. It's a great one for introducing adjectives and similes all at once, and the kids I shared it with loved guessing which animal was coming up next.
by Pat Hutchins
Guided Reading Level: J
This is another repetitive story, and it combines literacy with simple math skills. Though I have used it successfully with preschoolers, early elementary school kids are the most likely to understand the math concepts and to be able to calculate the number of cookies each child should get each time someone new joins the party. This is another one that would work well in a beginning reader story time setting, especially if the kids were able to come in and out of  the room and act out the story.

by Ruth Krauss and Maurice Sendak
Guided Reading Level Not Available

This strange little book is one I like to quote frequently. It's a great lesson in rhyming words, simple verbs, and prepositions, and the illustrations are reminiscent of Sendak's work in Where the Wild Things Are. It doesn't have much of a plot, but new readers will find they can read or sound out most of the words - even the ones in speech bubbles. Though I could not find a reading level for this book, I think it is probably a kindergarten or first grade book.

by Jan Thomas
Guided Reading Level: N
This fun book helps kids understand the concept of rhyme and plays into their silly sense of humor at the same time. Most Jan Thomas picture books are great for beginning readers; many of the jokes might even be lost on a younger audience. (Based on the Guided Reading level, this would work best as a reader for a child who is just about ready to graduate to chapter books, making it the most challenging book on the list.)

Monday, December 2, 2013

At the Children's Desk: A Day of Questions


In the weeks before I left my job, my duties away from the reference desk began to dwindle, and I started really focusing my attention on answering questions. There were several days in September and early October where I was on the desk more often than I was not, and on those days, I took notes, keeping track of every question I was asked, and by whom. Today's post focuses on the questions I handled on a typical Thursday (September 12, 2013) when I was working alone in the children's department. I mostly let the questions speak for themselves because they're more interesting - and funnier - that way, but I have included some notes in brackets where necessary.

9:30 a.m. - LIBRARY OPENS

9:30 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.

  • Parent: My wife told me to sign up for this thing at 11:00. Can I do that with you? 
  • Parent: My daughter is in third grade, and she has this geometry homework. [She showed me a worksheet where shapes needed to be sorted into Venn diagrams.] Do you have books on that? 
  • Senior Citizen Woman: Do you have Wild by Cheryl Strayed? How about anything by Robin Cook? What about Whiskey Beach? Will you notify me when my hold comes in? 
  • Pre-K Teacher, via phone: Can I set up a time to bring my pre-K class over for story time? 
  • Woman: What is today's date? 
  • Senior Citizen Woman: I didn't find Whiskey Beach. Are you sure it's here?

10:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.

  • Parent: Can you find me some Thomas books that are level one?
  • Parent/Nanny: Where do you keep your level 4 easy readers?
  • Parent: Do you have Fall books? Do you have I Spy books?

11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. LUNCH

12:30 p.m. - 1:30 p.m.

  • Homeschooled Child: Do you have the first two books in the Warriors series?  Do you know what the second Redwall book is called?

1:30 p.m. -  2:30 p.m.

  • Homeschooled Child: Do you know where I could find the movie Eragon?
  • Teacher: Do you have the Carl books? [For clarification, I asked, "Eric Carle?"] No, you know, the rottweiler?

2:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.

  • Child: The computer [AWE Early Literacy Station] isn't playing any sound!
  • Adult: I was looking for the third book in the Song of the Lioness series. Is it here?
  • Adult: I'm having trouble placing a hold on Born Standing Up. Can you do it for me?
  • Parent: If I borrow a Harry Potter DVD, and it's late, is that treated as a children's item or an adult item for my late fee?
  • Child: Can you go on the computer without a library card?
  • Middle Schooler, tattling: He's trying to get her to sell him cookies! 
  • Adult: Do you know where the medium conference room is?
  • Child: Can I borrow a headset?
  • Middler Schooler: The boy sitting next to me is pulling my chair back when I'm sitting in it.
  • Parent: Did my son pull his chair?
  • Adult: Where do I return books?
  • Adult: Where is the medium conference room?
  • Adult: Is the only printer you have the one that is out of order? Where can I fax?
  • Parent, with two kids: Do you have two pencils we can borrow?

3:30 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.

  • Child: Can I borrow a pencil?
  • Child: Do you have anymore notebooks like this one on your desk?
  • Child: Can I borrow a pencil?
  • Child: Can I have a bookmark?
  • Parent: Where are the Thomas the Tank Engine books?
  • Middle schooler: Safari is frozen and I can't log out of my computer.
  • Middler schooler, complaining about another middle schooler: He's taking pictures of me, and I want him to stop.
  • Staff Member: Do you know where the Star Wars DVDs are for kids?
  • Parent: You're not really monitoring what these kids do on the computers, are you?
  • Child: Do you have any books by John Green?
  • Middle Schooler, holding bottle of Dawn dish soap: I found this on the floor.
  • Child: Do you have the movie Happily Never After II?
  • Middle Schooler: Can I have this comic book?
  • Middle Schooler: There was dish soap on the floor over there and now it's gone!
  • Child: How do I log out of this computer?
  • Middle Schooler (who was earlier taking pictures): Are we having a tornado?
  • Parent: I don't have my library card. Can I check out if I just give them my name?
  • Child: Where are the chapter books for kids?
  • Child: Do you have comic books at this library?
  • Child: Where are the books about fairies for kids?
  • Child, sibling of previous child: Where are the fairy books?
  • Child: Did you find a clarinet?

4:30 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.

  • Child: Do you have to check out this magazine?
  • Parent: Can we just set our stuff here while we use the bathroom?

5:30 p.m. - LIBRARY CLOSES

Monday, November 25, 2013

Reflections on Library Service to Babies

Most children’s librarians know that the first five years of life is a critical window for developing early literacy skills. We encourage parents to read with their babies. We offer lap times for babies and we continually seek out those wonderful board books and fingerplays that parents will take home and share again and again. We deliver early literacy messages at story time that define early literacy skills for caregivers and provide practical applications for them. Still, even with all the theory and background information in place, some of us can become intimidated by the thought of approaching an actual baby, or group of babies, especially if we are not parents ourselves.

I remember very well the sense of panic I felt the first time I was asked to do a baby story time. What would the parents think of me? How could I possibly perform story time for children who did not yet speak, some of whom could not even sit up on their own? For me, who had never really interacted with babies at all, the learning curve was very steep and the level of anxiety very high. Now, looking back over nearly three years of baby story times and interactions with the parents and nannies of little babies, I can recognize little hints and tidbits of advice that would have been very helpful back when I was a new librarian. I want to share a few of those today.
  • Learn each baby’s name.
    The quickest ice breaker when meeting a parent and baby for the first time, is to learn their names. Most parents like to talk about their kids, at least a little bit, and asking what the little one’s name is and how old he is shows your interest in the child. It also provides a welcoming atmosphere for a new mom or dad when you offer a smile and initiate introductions. If at all possible, it’s great to retain the baby’s name in your memory so you can greet the child by name the next time he comes to the library. This leads directly into my next point, which is...
  • Address babies as well as their grown-ups.
    Babies who ride in strollers or carriers all day can sometimes be easy to ignore, as though they are accessories or articles of clothing rather than people. Parents often even don’t realize that the librarian is there to serve the child as much as the mom or dad. But my quest is to make the library a welcoming place for even the youngest patrons, so I make sure to always speak to both the parent and the child. If I’ve met the child before and remember her name, I might say, “Oh, good morning, Susie! I notice you’re wearing your lion shirt. It’s so nice to see you at the library.” Then I’ll turn to Mom and greet her as well. When parents ask for books for their babies, I also try to include the baby in the discusson. “Oh, look at this book. You might like this one. Let’s see what Dad thinks of it.” I don’t have any expectation that a baby is going to participate in a conversation about books, but I do make sure the baby is included and has the chance to interact with me along with his parent.
  • Have a separate story time for babies.
    When I first started, the babies and toddlers at my library attended story time in one giant group. This seemed to be what the nannies preferred, and I wasn’t sure they would be thrilled with any changes. I quickly learned, though, that whatever the nannies liked, the babies sure didn’t like being jostled, bumped, drowned out, poked, and otherwise annoyed by their busy toddler friends. The really little ones also didn’t like being in a hot, crowded room where they couldn’t see, hear, or understand what was happening around them. Thus, I created a baby story time, and I was adamant about limiting attendance only to babies who did not yet walk. Parents felt more comfortable bringing their tiny ones to a more controlled story time, and I was able to focus my materials on the developmental needs of this age group. Babies sometimes still showed up to story times that were for older children, but the option for a story time of their own was always available. The quality of my baby story times improved greatly, and the story time became one of the most popular at my branch.
  • Have a baby-friendly space in your library.
    I had no idea how many parents would want a place for their babies to be able to crawl around in the library until they started asking me where they could find such an area. It turns out that many parents realize that the library is a baby-friendly place and they want to be able to hang out there outside of organized library activities. What I ended up doing at my branch was moving some of the picture book bins and replacing them with a square carpeted area for sitting and crawling. I also allowed people to use the carpeted story time room when story time was not in session, so their babies could have a safe child-proofed area to explore. Some might argue that the library is not really intended to be a baby meeting place, and that parents who expect a place for their babies to play in a public building are asking too much. I don’t think that is true. If we want to serve all children, from birth to adolescence, then we should be thoughtful enough to provide developmentally appropriate spaces for each age group.

I might have been afraid of babies when I became a children’s librarian, but over time, they became one of my favorite groups to work with. As a result of my early efforts, I was able to see several babies grow up into toddlers, and then into preschoolers, all while using the library and attending story time. By smiling, welcoming each child by name, and providing the spaces and services that best suit babies’ needs, any children’s librarian can help her library become the perfect hotspot for babies and their caregivers.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Flannel Friday: The Elephant and the Bad Baby by Elfrida Vipont & Raymond Briggs

As we continue to anxiously await the arrival of our new baby, expected just about any day, my husband and I have been relaxing and sharing books. The other day, he came home with a 1969 picture book called The Elephant and the Bad Baby, written by British children's author Elfrida Vipont and illustrated by Raymond Briggs of The Snowman fame. We read it aloud to each other just for the fun of it, but I soon realized the story would work really well as a flannel board or Powerpoint presentation. We came to have this book because it was being weeded from the collection at my husband's library, so I'm not sure how widely available it is, but I'd like to share my suggestions for using it with kids, and I'll try to provide enough of a script that  you can tell the story even if you can't find a copy of the original story.

The Story 

The story begins as follows:

Once upon a time there was an Elephant. 

One day the elephant went for a walk and met a Bad Baby. And the Elephant said to the Bad Baby, "Would you like a ride?"  And the Bad Baby said yes. 

So the elephant stretched out his trunk, picked up the Bad Baby, and put him on his back. And they went rumpeta, rumpeta, rumpeta, all down the road. 

At this point, the elephant and the baby meet the ice cream man. The elephant asks the baby if he wants an ice cream, and of course, the baby says yes.  So the elephant takes an ice cream for himself, and an ice cream for the baby, and they go "rumpeta, rumpeta, rumpeta, all down the road, with the ice cream man running after."

This is the basic formula for the entire story. The elephant and the baby come upon a butcher from whom they take meat pies, a baker from whom they take buns, a snackshop from which they take gingersnaps, a grocery store from which they each take a chocolate cookie, a candy store from which they take lollipops, and a fruit and vegetable man from whom they take apples. After each stop, the line of characters running after them grows longer, until finally, they go "rumpeta, rumpeta, rumpeta, all down the road, with the ice cream man, and the butcher, and the baker, and the snackshop man, and the grocer, and the lady from the candy store, and the fruit and vegetable man all running after."

At this point, the elephant turns on the baby, realizing that he has never once said please for any of the treats he has received. The Bad Baby falls off the elephant's back, and the entire group running behind them goes "BUMP into a heap." Finally, the Bad Baby does say please, and he asks to be taken home to his mother.  At the Bad Baby's house, his mother makes pancakes for everyone, then the angry mob chases the elephant away "rumpeta rumpeta rumpeta" while the baby falls fast asleep in bed.


This presentation, which I created in Google Drive using free clipart is probably not finalized enough to use in a real story time. The structure of it is fine, but the clipart images I was able to find don't really match each other, and I'm not sure how well the kids would understand who is who based on some of the images. (The person in the candy store is meant to be female, for example, and a snackshop isn't really a fast food restaurant.) Still, I think this presentation will be helpful for anyone who wants to create flannel board pieces for the story, because there are so many characters and objects to keep track of. I also like experimenting with presentations like this because they let me get creative with moving the pieces and adding textual elements to the story without creating a lot of the distractions that come from constantly moving things on and off the flannel board.

Other Suggestions

My instinct is actually not to tell this story using the flannel board at first. I think the book works perfectly on its own, and if possible, sharing the original text and illustrations is probably the best way to introduce the story to a group of kids. Because the story is repetitive and cumulative, though, I think it lends itself very well to being retold on the flannel board once the kids have had a chance to assimilate the content. In classrooms, or in public libraries where theft is not a major problem, a set of flannel board pieces could easily become a center for kids to work on individually or in small groups. In a structured story time setting, having flannel board pieces on hand creates an opportunity to match the shopkeeper to the item taken from his shop, or to see how many of the shops the kids can remember in order. Just in general, I think it would also be interesting to hear from kids why they think the baby is bad, and whether the elephant is truly blameless. The "rumpeta, rumpeta, rumpeta" refrain also lends itself to interaction - it would be fun to have kids tap their knees in a galloping motion, or even stomp their own feet to imitate the elephant running. I really like this book, and I hope some of you will find that it is in your library's collections so you can use it and let me know what your groups think!

Flannel Friday

Bridget is our Flannel Friday host this week. For more Flannel Friday information and contributions, check out the official website, the Facebook group, and the Pinterest boards.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Monday, November 18, 2013

LibraryAdventure.com: Five Ways to Use a Flannel Board

Not sure what to do with a flannel board? Visit my post at the Library Adventure today to learn five ways to use one with kids.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Ten Holiday Activities for Story Time

Thanksgiving - which is also the first night of Hanukkah - is just over two weeks away, which means the holiday season is upon us! Below are ten of my favorite activities to share at holiday-themed story times. (I have never worked in a library where the community celebrated Kwanzaa, so these activities pertain to Hanukkah and Christmas only.)

I Am Lighting all the Candles 
This song is sung to the tune of I've Been Working on the Railroad. (I wrote the lyrics.) Start with an empty menorah, then place the blue candle in the middle position. Explain that this is the candle used to light all the others. Then sing the first verse of the song, which goes like this:

I am lighting all the candles
On this Hanukkah night.
I am lighting all the candles
To see them shining bright.
Flicker, flicker little candles,
Fill me with your glow.
Now the time has come to count them
Ready, set and go

As you count to eight, place one candle in each space on the menorah.  Then sing the song again, with one change. Instead of "Now the time has come to count them," sing, "Now the time has come to blow them out." Then as you count, remove each candle from the menorah until none are left. Then remove the middle candle to signify the end of the song.

One Menorah Candle
Another menorah counting activity is this rhyme, which celebrates each of Hanukkah's eight nights. Add one candle at a time, until all eight are present, then recite the final verse.

One menorah candle
burning oh so bright.
Now we'll add another one -
it's Hanukkah's second night!

(Repeat, counting up to eight candles.)

Eight menorah candles
burning oh so bright.
We're celebrating Hanukkah -
the festival of lights!

Spin Little Dreidels 
Two years ago, when I was desperately seeking an action rhyme to accompany some Hanukkah books, Lisa from Story Time with the Library Lady shared a great one called Spin Little Dreidels. It was a huge hit with all the kids at my holiday story times that year, whether they celebrated Hanukkah or not. It will work with any Hanukkah-themed book, but I especially recommend it to accompany picture book versions of I Have a Little Dreidel.

Rudolph, Rudolph
Rudolph is a little bit confused. He's supposed to guide Santa's sleigh, but his nose is the wrong color!  So begins this silly rhyme:
Rudolph! Rudolph!
What will you do?
You can't guide Santa
If your nose is blue!

Rudolph! Rudolph!
Santa gave a wink.
But what will he think
If your nose is pink?

It's a long one, but the full text of the rhyme is available here. It concludes with the following:

Rudolph! Rudolph!
The children are in bed.
 And now I know you're ready
‘Cause your nose is red!

Ten Little Reindeer
For babies and toddlers, I like to incorporate some simple fingerplays into story time. I found this song, to the tune of Ten Little Indians, on this website, then wrote a second verse. At the end of  the second verse, kids love to point to their noses.

One little, two little, three little reindeer
Four little, five little, six little reindeer
Seven little, eight little, nine little reindeer
Pulling Santa's Sleigh

Ten little, nine little, eight little reindeer
Seven little, six little, five little reindeer
Four little, three little, two little reindeer
Rudolph leads the way!

Five Little Presents

Place five presents on the flannel board, with something hidden behind each one. Then reveal the presents one by one using this rhyme.

Five little presents underneath the tree
Five little presents  - could these all be for me?
I unwrap the red one to find out what's in there
I open up the box and it's a... TEDDY BEAR!

Click here for the rest of the gifts!

Christmas Alphabet 

The Christmas Alphabet is an old song, a version of which is available on YouTube. To perform this song at last year's holiday story time I created a set of letters that appear in the word CHRISTMAS, which, when reversed, revealed the image of whatever object corresponded to that letter in the song. I mounted them on red and green construction paper, then lined them up along the edge of the whiteboard and sang the song a cappella.

Download the letters CRSMS (red letters with a green border), here.
Download the letters HITA (green letters with a red border), here.
Download the objects for each letter (with labels) here

Let’s All Do a Little Clapping
This is an action song to the tune of We Wish You a Merry Christmas, which doesn't specifically refer to any holidays by name.

Let’s all do a little clapping
Let’s all do a little clapping
Let’s all do a little clapping
to spread holiday cheer.
You can replace "clapping" with almost any action - or ask the kids for suggestions.

Five Little Snowmen Riding on the Sled 
This is a great song to sing with kids who are familiar with Five Little Monkeys. You can also sing it about penguins.
Five little snowmen riding on the sled
One fell off and bumped his head
  Frosty called the doctor and the doctor said
"No more snowmen riding on that sled!"

Monday, November 4, 2013

At the Children’s Desk: “Is this book appropriate for a third grader?”

One of the most commonly asked questions I have encountered at the children's reference desk over the past three years is from parents wanting to know if a given book is appropriate for their child, based on his or her grade level. This could be a tricky question to answer, but over time, I have found ways of tackling it that satisfy parents and fulfill my desire to provide quality library service.

When dealing with a question like this, it is important to first identify what the parent actually wants to know. Some parents define appropriateness in terms of content. Are the action sequences violent? Do the characters in the book curse? Are there scary sequences that are likely to cause nightmares? When other parents ask about the appropriateness of a given book, they aren't concerned with content at all. Rather, they want to know if the book in question is too easy (or too difficult) for their young reader. Asking a few questions up-front goes a long way toward making sure librarian and parent are on the same page and having the same discussion.

Once I establish what the parent is actually concerned about, I do my best to answer the question they have asked with objective information. If the parent is worried about content, my answer would include everything I know about the book's subject matter, either from my personal reading of it, or from review sources. I might say, “Well, the story contains a sword fight, a rabid dragon, and some swear words. If you’re concerned about exposing him to those things, you might want to read the book first and see how you feel. I also know of two other books on the same subject that don’t include those things, if you’d like to see those.” Instead of deciding for the parents whether the book is appropriate for the child, I present the facts and let them make the call.

If the parent is worried about level, again, I can supply the facts that will help the parent make a decision. The local schools here use the Fountas & Pinnell Guided Reading system. There are several decent resources online for finding out a given book's guided reading level, and I let parents know which level is listed for the book in question and where I found it. Sometimes, kids attend private schools or come from out of town, and they prefer to know the Lexile number, or another system's reading level, and I do my best to look those up, too. By providing a reading level from an objective leveling system, I'm able to assist the parent without passing my own judgment on the book or the child's reading ability.

I know that public librarians feel strongly about promoting a blind love of reading, and some would go so far as to tell patrons they can't help them with questions about reading levels, or that reading levels don't matter. It's true that the public library generally doesn't support a prescribed curriculum, but it is still part of our job to support the users of our libraries by providing the information they truly need. However we feel about the reading level obsessed parents and teachers in our community, we need to be able to provide them with the information necessary to decide whether a given book is going to work for a given child.

I have found the following resources to be especially useful in assisting parents with questions regarding appropriateness:
  • CommonSense Media's Book Reviews
    The reviews on this site are designed to inform parents about the content of books. The reviewers assign a particular age to each book, which represents when the book is most appropriate for kids to read.
  • StorySnoops
    This site features a group of parents who blog about kids' books. It was "founded to [...] help [parents] seek out books that may reflect the experiences, interests, strengths or weaknesses of their own children."  
  • Novelist K-8
    This subscription library database provides access to professional reviews of children's books, as well as subject headings indicating what is covered in a given book.
  • Scholastic's BookWizard
    This tool allows users to search for a given title, and it will provide the Grade Level Equivalent, Guided Reading level, DRA level, and Lexile measure for the book. Some more obscure titles might not be in the database, but it is not restricted to just Scholastic's publications.
  • Lexile.com
    Search for a given book's Lexile number and create reading lists.
  • Local schools' websites
    Many school librarians and classroom teachers provide leveled reading lists for students and parents to access online. These are not always readily available, but many times they are right there for the taking and the parent just hasn't been made aware of them. It helps to bookmark pages for quick and easy access whenever a question comes up.

Monday, October 28, 2013

In the Story Room: Fighting Story Time Burnout

No matter how much you love story time, you are bound to get burned out now and then. Some libraries have the luxury of taking breaks from story time, or offering seasonal sessions, and these are great opportunities for those who can take them. Unfortunately, though, for those of us whose systems require year-round story time offerings, or for solo librarians who are the only story time providers for their libraries, it might not be that easy to simply take a break. Below are five other ways to break out of a story time rut.
  • Visit another branch, or another library, and look for books you’ve never used before.
    For me, the greatest source of new story time books was always the main branch of my library system. My branch had a great collection, but the main library’s collection is both larger and deeper. Sometimes just browsing the shelves will spark a series of new ideas for themes or songs. Sometimes just finding one new book on an old familiar theme is enough to rejuvenate the entire concept and renew your excitement. Repetition is wonderful for kids, but if you’re sick of the books you’re reading, your audience will pick up on that in a heartbeat. Better to find some new favorites than to make yourself nuts with your 400th reading of Bark, George.
  • Revamp your songs and rhymes library.
    There was a period of time where I sang The Wheels on the Bus three times in a row every Tuesday morning and twice more on Friday morning. I sang it because the kids loved it and the nannies responded to it, and I could count on at least five minutes of uninterrupted participation if I sang every verse I could think of. After a while, just the thought of turning my hands around and singing those opening lines was enough to make me want to stay home in bed. It was time to branch out. Thankfully, there are lots of resources for finding songs and rhymes for story time that will excite the kids without making you pull your hair out. Some of my favorites are:
    Another great approach that has worked for me is writing my own piggyback songs based on familiar tunes the kids know and love. Sometimes just a new set of lyrics is enough to make an old favorite bearable once again.
  • Change the structure of your story time.
    I like structure when I’m planning story time, and I think it helps the kids to have a predictable pattern they can anticipate. Unfortunately, though, a strict story time structure can sometimes become more of a burden than a blessing. For example, during the 2012-2013 school year, I introduced a letter of the day at every story time. It was a great way to add variety to story time without necessarily having to read more books, and it provided a nice opportunity to work in some of the flannel boards and fingerplays I had learned but not yet shared with kids. After twice through the alphabet, however, I began to dread the letter of the day. My audiences, too, had begun to fidget and squirm during this portion of story time. They’d seen it all. It was old news. I sat down with an outline of a story time and made some changes. I added an additional book, threw in a couple more songs, and added a magic envelope activity. Suddenly, what had seemed stale had a new lease on life and story time was once again a fun time for everyone.
  • Ask colleagues for their favorites, and if possible, observe colleagues performing story times.
    Children’s librarians are such creative and giving people. If you ask them for new story time ideas, they will provide more material than you can ever possibly use - and they’ll have brand-new approaches to old favorites that you never imagined in your life. If you’re the only children’s staff person at your own branch, try getting in touch with other branches, by phone or by email, or at monthly meetings. If your system is small, or you’ve tapped out its resources, or you’re just shy, there are also great online communities, such as the Flannel Friday Facebook page, where you can ask questions and receive instant advice. Sometimes just seeing how someone else performs a song or acts out a story can change your whole perspective and get you excited about trying something familiar in a new way.
Performing story time is a fun job that we are lucky to have, and you don’t want to let yourself get so burned out that you stop enjoying it. When you find yourself in a rut, take the extra time to analyze what is causing you to grow weary of story time and give yourself permission to make the changes necessary to restore your sanity. Your story time audiences - and you - will be happier for it!

Monday, October 21, 2013

LibraryAdventure.com: Library Crafts for the Craft-Phobic Children's Librarian

Are you a craft-phobic children's librarian? Or are you looking for simple, budget-friendly craft ideas for your programs? Today I'm over at The Library Adventure sharing my list of fun and easy library crafts.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Flannel Friday: Do You Know Where I Live?

I recently learned about a new story time song from my former co-worker who is now working in his first children's librarian position. When I was helping him plan for his first story time, he shared his repertoire with me, and I was excited to see "Do You Know Where I Live?" on his list, because I'd never heard of it! I'm not sure where he found it, but it's perfect for a houses and homes theme (which is how he used it), or for a more generic animal theme.

The tune for this song is Did You Ever See a Lassie? I wasn't completely pleased with the way some of the original verses fit into the song's rhythm, so I discarded those and wrote my own. Only the first two verses remain from the original; the final three verses are written by me.

Since I am not working right now, and have no need for a new flannel board, I didn't make the pieces, but as I did for Knock Knock! Trick or Treat! I created a Google Drive presentation to show how I might present the song. Linked at the bottom of the post are the clip art images I used. (Except for the hole - I drew that myself.)

To view the presentation properly, just click through the slides one at a time.

This week's Flannel Friday host is Amy of Catch the Possibilities.

Monday, October 14, 2013

10 Non-Spooky Halloween Picture Books

In schools and libraries where Halloween celebrations are permitted, it can sometimes be a challenge to find books to share that aren't too scary for the under-five crowd. Here are a few tried and true favorites that capture the spirit of Halloween without troubling kids' sleep. 

This is NOT a Pumpkin
by Bob Staake
It sure looks like a pumpkin from every angle, but at Halloween, this orange gourd becomes something even more exciting. (Hint: It has a face, and it lights up at night!) I have only used the board book version with small groups, but it also makes a quick and easy flannel board to use with larger crowds.

by Linda D. Williams
A pair of shoes, a shirt, and other creepy clothing articles follow the little old lady home one night, but she's not afraid of them - in fact, she has a job for them to do! This book is especially fun to act out with preschoolers and early elementary schoolers.

by Richard McGilvray
There are all kinds of silly creatures out tonight - best to stay in your cozy bed! (This book could potentially scare a very small child, but the reader's tone really determines whether it's silly or scary. I have used it with toddlers with great success.)

by Steven Kroll
Two mice fall in love with the same pumpkin but neither one realizes the other's plan to carve it and enter into the Biggest Pumpkin contest. This is one of the first books I remember buying at the school book fair when I was in elementary school, and it was a great alternative to the ghost stories my classmates were reading.

by Ed Emberley
What better way to confront Halloween monsters than to banish them with the power of our imaginations? This book builds up a monster, then sends him away one scary feature at a time. This is a great one for large crowds who can repeat each line after the storyteller.

by Wendell Minor
Where can you see pumpkin heads on Halloween? Almost everywhere! The illustrations in this book are beautiful, and the text is spare enough to make this a good title to share at multi-age story times, or sessions with lots of toddlers and babies in attendance. 

by Janet Morgan Stoeke
Minerva Louise explores the farmyard's Halloween decorations, coming to  all the wrong conclusions. This is a great one for preschool story time - and even better if the audience is already familiar with the Minerva Louise "schtick."

Halloween Faces
by Nancy Davis
On Halloween, everyone puts on a different face. This toddler-friendly lift the flap book shows the fun of wearing costumes and might even help explain that the scary creatures wandering the neighborhood are just big kids dressed up. 

by Anne Rockwell
Celebrate all the fun of Fall, ending with the carving of a jack o'lantern in time for Halloween.  This works well in a seasons-themed or Fall-themed story time as well as a Halloween story time. It's perfect for twos and threes.

by Peter McCarty
Jeremy draws a monster who isn't scary, just rude! Thankfully, Jeremy knows when to say enough is enough, and before too long, he sends that monster packing. This book actually makes no reference to Halloween, making it a good alternative for schools and libraries where Halloween isn't celebrated.  Check out my flannel board adaptation of this book here
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