Friday, July 31, 2015

Reading with Little Miss Muffet, July 2015

New Book Behaviors

Little Miss Muffet is now right around 20 months, and it is amazing to see how much more verbal - and physically capable - she is becoming. Thankfully, despite the many distractions that catch her eye, she still loves books, and we still read quite a bit on most days, even if we don't always meet the "requirement" of fifteen minutes a day. Amidst her newly emerging skills, I have noticed two new book-related behaviors.

  • Choosing library books. In general, when we take Miss Muffet to the library, we do all of the browsing and she does a lot of running around and playing with toys. On our last trip, however, she actually chose two books of her own to bring home! Both were board books: Oops! by David Shannon and Wemberly's Ice Cream Star by Kevin Henkes. Though she is really much more into picture books than board books in general right now, she has asked for Oops! to be read to her at least once a day since we brought it home, and she is even learning to recite the entire story herself. The Henkes book didn't make as much of an impression, but I'm still glad we brought it home, since she went to the trouble of selecting it! 
  • Acting out stories. The other thing Miss Muffet has been doing with greater frequency is acting out the books we read. It started with From Head to Toe (a favorite from back in April that has yet to lose its appeal), and has since expanded to any book which provides instructions on how to move, or which involves animal sounds, or naming body parts. Usually, she makes movements that I have modeled for her, but on occasion, she comes up with her own unique motions, too. It makes reading time more fun for me, because it adds some variety to the many repeated re-readings of her favorite books, and it makes it easier to engage her with a story. 

Current Favorites

Though we are still reading many of the previous months' favorites, Miss Muffet has also added some new ones to her repertoire.

  • Can You Cuddle Like a Koala? by John Butler
    I have been reading this book to Miss Muffet every night at bedtime for a few weeks. I initially chose it because it is a true bedtime story, which invites the child to curl up and get ready to sleep in the final pages, but I stick with it because I love the way she acts out the animals' different movements. I also love the way she stops on the otter page every night to tell me it's not a mouse. ("Mouse no.") 
  • The Great Big Word Book by Margaret A. Hartelius
    This was my book as a child, and when my mom told me she had found it among my childhood possessions, I asked her to set it aside so we could bring it home when we visited. Miss Muffet loves it almost as much as her Richard Scarry word book, and we have already spent a lot of time poring over the details on every page. She is especially fond of the scenes early in the book where the family eats breakfast and gets ready for the day. 
  • The Grumpalump by Sarah Hayes and Barbara Firth
    My mom bought me a used copy of this book, which I have been wanting for my personal story time collection. I usually use it with older kids who can act out hand movements to accompany each animal's role in the story, but Miss Muffet took a surprising liking to it, so we have been reading it a couple of times a day. She is fascinated by the yak and the gnu, and she loves to identify the "boon" (balloon) on the last page of the story. 

One Tip from Mom

  • Let your toddler fill in the blanks. In the past couple of months, I have started pausing at certain points in familiar books to let Miss Muffet fill in the next word. Even in books where I am positive there is no way she could know what comes next, she has surprised me by chiming in with the exact right response. We are at the point now where she can "read" Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? on her own, and she has also started filling in two-word phrases in some parts of Caps for Sale. This is a fun way to engage your child with favorite books, and it's also proof that reading aloud to your little ones makes a difference even when they don't always look like they are paying attention! 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Review Round-Up: Books for Beginning Readers, July 2015

Each week, my fellow Cybils organizer, Charlotte, compiles a round-up of middle grade science fiction and fantasy reviews from around the blogs. As someone who reads primarily realistic fiction, I find this to be such a useful resource for learning about the latest and greatest books in the sci-fi/fantasy category, even if I don't often read them. I have decided to provide a similar monthly posting here at Story Time Secrets, but focusing on the books in my Cybils category: easy readers and beginning chapter books.

This list, for the month of July, is by no means exhaustive. If I've missed your review, or a review on a blog you love, please share and I will add it the round-up! Please note, however, that I am somewhat particular about my definition of a chapter book, and I reserve the right not to include something I don't think fits the category. Thanks!

(Note: if you think you might want to be a Cybils judge this year, now's the time to get familiar with the requirements. It won't be long before we start accepting applications!)

Easy Readers

It seems that the most popular book for beginning readers so far this summer is What This Story Needs is a Pig in a Wig by Emma Virjan. It was reviewed this month by Kid Lit Reviews, Waking Brain Cells, and Librarian's Quest.

Also popular this month is Mo Willems's latest installment in the Elephant and Piggie series, I Will Take a Nap, which was published in June. Both Jen Robinson's Book Page and Sal's Fiction Addiction recently featured this book.

Jean Little Library's Small Readers feature also covered a few easy reader titles during July: Brave Fire Truck by Melinda Melton Crow, Dino School: Meet Teddy Rex! by Bonnie Williams, Justin and the Bully by Tony and Lauren Dungy, and Welcome, Bao Bao by Gina Shaw.

In the 27th installment of the Seuss on Saturdays series, Becky's Book Reviews covered The Foot Book by Dr. Seuss. Becky also reviewed the latest from Pete the Cat, Pete the Cat's Train Trip by James Dean. reviewed two easy readers in graphic format from the Toon Books series: We Dig Worms by Kevin McCloskey and Benjamin Bear in Brain Storms by Philippe Coudray. 

Check out the links below for additional reviews of easy readers old and new:

Chapter Books

By far, the most popular chapter book in the blogosphere this month was the sequel to Dory Fantasmagory, entitled Dory and the Real True Friend. There were reviews here at Story Time Secrets, as well as by The Cath in the HatSal's Fiction Addiction, There is a Book for That, Waking Brain Cells, and DIY Del Ray.

A close second in popularity is the beautiful new Toon book, Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure by Nadia Spiegelman, which was reviewed by Kids Book a Day, Books4YourKids, Sonder Books, and It's All Comic To Me.

Also getting some attention are Piper Green and the Fairy Tree by Ellen Potter, which was reviewed at Waking Brain Cells (Book 1), Jen Robinson's Book Page (Books 1 and 2) and here at Story Time Secrets (Books 1 and 2), as well as Detective Gordon: The First Case, reviewed by Kids Book a Day and Anastasia Suen.

A good bunch of bloggers have also been reading various titles from the Scholastic branches line. Jean Little Library and Geo Librarian both reviewed books in the Dragon Masters series, while Ms. Yingling Reads and Story Time Secrets both focused on the Race the Wild series. Here at Story Time Secrets, I also reviewed the first book in the Silver Pony Ranch series.

Ms. Yingling Reads had two additional chapter book reviews: Backyard Witch: Sadie's Story by Christine Heppermann and Ron Koertge and Pool Party Puzzler by Carolyn Keene, while Jean Little Library had one (Best Friends Forever! and More True Stories of Animal Friendships by Amy Shields) and I had three (The Cabin Faced West by Jean Fritz, the Chime Travelers series by Lisa M. Hendey, and Sprout Street Neighbors: Five Stories by Anna Alter.)

Kids also got into the blogging fun this month! At Blooming Brilliant, Isabella gave a wonderful video review of Jessica Finch in Pig Trouble from the Judy Moody and Friends series, and on his own blog, A Boy's Books, nine-year-old Ben weighed in on Ellray Jakes is Magic! Kidliterati also interviewed nine-year-old Claire about Amelia Bedelia Road Trip by Herman Parish.

There were lots more chapter book reviews this month. Click the links below to see what everyone has been enjoying! 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

10 Picture Books About Ducks & Geese

Ducks and geese are popular characters in picture books. Here are ten titles starring these fluffy feathered friends.
  • Duck and Goose by Tad Hills
    Duck and Goose become friends when they each fall in love with a polka dotted ball they believe to be an egg. 
  • Gossie by Olivier Dunrea
    Gossie loves to wear red boots every day - a habit which leads her to make a like-minded friend.
  • The Day the Goose Got Loose by Reeve Lindbergh, illustrated by Stephen Kellogg
    When the goose gets loose, utter chaos breaks out on the farm in this rhyming story. 
  • A Splendid Friend, Indeed by Suzanne Bloom
    A very chatty goose and a quiet, thoughtful bear form an unlikely friendship. (This book was a 2006 Geisel Honor book, meaning it's a great choice for beginning readers!) 
  • Petunia by Roger Duvoisin
    When Petunia finds a book, she assumes she has been given all the wisdom necessary to give advice to other farm animals, with silly and hilarious results. 
  • Across the Stream by Mirra Ginsburg, illustrated by Nancy Tafuri
    When a mother hen and her chicks are threatened by the presence of a nightmarish fox, they escape across the stream on the backs of a mother duck and her ducklings. 
  • Angus and the Ducks by Marjorie Flack
    When Angus the terrier goes out exploring, he has a surprise encounter with some neighborhood ducks, who scare the curiosity right out of him! 
  • Little White Duck  illustrated by Joan Paley
    This picture book adaptation of a well-known folk song uses large, colorful images to portray the actions of a duck, frog, bug, and snake. 
  • One Duck Stuck by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Jane Chapman
    This rhythmic counting book tells of the efforts of different animals to rescue the duck who is stuck in the muck down in the marsh. 
  • The Fuzzy Duckling by Jane Werner Watson, illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen
    In this Golden Book, a fuzzy little duckling walks down the lane greeting other animals as he goes. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

5 Things I Love About Cotsen Children's Library

Last Monday, on our way home from visiting family in upstate New York, my husband and I stopped in Princeton, New Jersey and took Little Miss Muffet to the Cotsen Children's Library at Princeton University. Cotsen is a division of the university library's Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, and is home to a rare books collection, as well as the Bookscape reading space for families. We spent a little while exploring Bookscape and later, reading some of the online and print materials provided by Cotsen. Here are five things I loved about the experience. 

  1. The bonsai tree.  The most appealing part of Bookscape is the two-story bonsai tree which kids can crawl inside to snuggle and read a story. The inside walls of the tree have been engraved with the names of various animals from children's literature, including Tom Sawyer, Eloise, the cast of the Winnie the Pooh series, Frog and Toad, and more. Big comfy pillows make the space inviting, and surely if Miss Muffet hadn't been wound up from not napping the day before, we would have sat down to have a story. As it was, though, she mostly wanted to climb the stairs to the second floor of the tree and look out the window, which was also a lot of fun.
  2. Puppets. There is also a child-sized puppet theater in Bookscape, which is well-stocked with Folkmanis puppets in wonderful condition. Since this is not a public library per se, it seems that the puppets are not abused in the way puppets were always abused by the patrons at my last library. Miss Muffet enjoyed the bear puppet, which her daddy used to growl at her, and the alligator puppet, with which I snapped at her nose and nibbled her chin. (We also chanted Five Little Monkeys Swinging in a Tree.) For kids who are verbal enough to tell their own stories, this section of Bookscape will be even more fun.
  3. Programming space. Though we did not attend a program, we could see the tables and Narnia-esque supply closet in the space where programs are held. This area is bright and welcoming, and there is a well-stocked bookshelf nearby with all kinds of favorite picture books lined up along its rows. Knowing the kinds of programs that are offered, it seems like the ideal space, and I definitely think the program performers are very lucky! (Even Miss Muffet liked the furniture. She kept saying, "Chair! Chair!")
  4. Outreach blog. Visiting Cotsen in person renewed my interest in its outreach blog, Pop Goes the Page, which is written by Education & Outreach Coordinator Dana Sheridan. The blog focuses on activities related to children's books, and often provides instructions for replicating the activity at home or in a classroom. We have yet to try any of the projects, but I have my eye on these fairy houses and this Cheshire cat grin for homeschool projects in a few years!
  5. 350 for 50. We took a copy of each handout that was available in the gallery when we visited, including the summer 2015 edition of Picture Book Press, which happened to be the issue featuring the winners of the annual 350 for 50 contest. The contest challenges kids ages 9 to 14 to write a 350-word story using a specific sentence. Not only is this a great idea, but the winning stories are amazing, especially knowing the ages of the authors.

If you are ever passing through Princeton, definitely plan a visit to the Cotsen Children's Library. Directions and hours are available on the library's website. There are some rules (also listed on the hours page) - no playgroups, no food, no photography, etc. - so make sure you are aware of those before you go, but otherwise, this is the perfect place to let your little guys stretch their legs during a long car trip, or if you're local, to visit regularly for snuggles and stories.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Summer Camp Story Time, 7/10/15

When I was visiting my family recently, I volunteered to do a story time for my mom's summer camp kids. This audience included 20-25 "pee wees", all between the ages of 4 and 6, and my theme was nature. I haven't done a story time for this age group since I left the library, so this was a special treat, and the kids were one of the best groups I've ever had! Here is what I shared with them. 

Opening Song with Ukulele: Hello, how are you? 
I spent the morning before this performance playing every hello song I know on the ukulele and trying to choose one other than my usual. And then  I went with the usual. As basic as it is, it really works, and the kids happily participated.

Book: Who Was Here? by Mia Posada 
I received a digital ARC of this book when it came out last year, and it was the first book I chose for this story time. It is a guessing game which shows animal footprints, provides some rhyming clues, and then asks the reader, "Who was here?" The only issue I had was that some of the pages provided clues for two animals, and I had to manage guesses for both at the same time. (It helped that the kids just naturally raised their hands instead of just calling out, which is not something I usually enforce.) Otherwise, this book was a much better choice than either How to Be a Nature Detective or Around the Pond: Who's Been Here? which I used when I did this theme three years ago

Book: Birdsongs by Betsy Franco and Steve Jenkins 
I love this book, which focuses on birds and their calls. The text counts down from ten to one by asking the reader to make the sound of the first bird mentioned ten times, the next one nine times, and so on. It can sometimes be difficult to get the kids to count all the calls together, but this group was amazing. I think there was only one time where we had an extra "tweet" or "chirp" after the count was finished. Otherwise, they were perfect. (Incidentally, I read this book to Little Miss Muffet so many times in preparation for the story time, that any time we mention a chickadee now, she pretends to count six "dees" on her fingers.) 

This song (which is one of my favorite extension activities for school-age kids) continues to be my secret weapon. I used the summer version, since this is a summer camp, and the kids laughed on cue when I introduced each silly element. I could probably have done more verses, but kids were starting to call out suggestions and I didn't want us to run out of time, so we just did moose antlers, bat wings, squirrel tail, and tiger claws. 

Book with Ukulele: Over in the Ocean in a Coral Reef by Marianne Berkes 
I have never been able to do this book with the ukulele because I don't usually have help. This time, though, I enlisted my mom to do the hand motions, and a camp counselor to hold the book, and we turned it into a multimedia presentation. We were not that well-rehearsed, but the kids were into it anyway, and they enjoyed seeing some of their fish friends from Finding Nemo

Song: Taba Naba 
It has been a long time since I did this song with a group, and I had a harder time modeling the motions than I thought I would. The kids didn't mind at all, and seemed to enjoy the challenge, but I know I could have explained it a lot more clearly. I will work on the presentation if I ever have an opportunity like this again. 

Goodbye Song: We Wave Goodbye Like This
I didn't even bother trying to come up with a different goodbye song. This one worked fine, as always. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

10 Picture Books About Alligators and Crocodiles

There are a lot more picture books about alligators and crocodiles than you might expect. This post highlights ten. (Not sure of the difference between gators and crocs? Click here for an explanation.)


  • Alligators All Around by Maurice Sendak
    This classic book from the Nutshell Library is one of the most fun and kid-friendly alphabet books available. Follow the alligators as they do dishes, make macaroni, and never nap. 
  • There’s an Alligator Under My Bed by Mercer Mayer
    When a young boy suspects there is an alligator under his bed, he takes many extra precautions at bedtime.
  • Hooray for Amanda and Her Alligator by Mo Willems
    In a series of six short illustrated stories, Amanda and her stuffed alligator exchange surprises, read books, and welcome a new friend. 
  • The Lady with the Alligator Purse by Nadine Bernard Westcott
    When the baby drinks up the bathwater, it is the lady with the alligator purse, not the nurse or doctor, who has just the right cure. 
  • Snip Snap What’s That? by Mara Bergman, illustrated by Nick Maland
    Who is making that snip, snap sound? The kids are scared, but they still want to find out! 


  • The House on East 88th Street by Bernard Waber
    The Primm family of East 88th Street have a very unusual pet living in their bathtub - Lyle the crocodile! 
  • Open Very Carefully by Nick Bromley, illustrated by Nicola O'Byrne
    It's hard to read any story when a crocodile has found its way into your book! Read this "book with bite" at your own risk! 
  • The Watermelon Seed by Greg Pizzoli
    When a crocodile swallows a watermelon seed, he begins to wonder what might happen to him. (This book was the 2014 Geisel Award Winner!)
  • Cornelius by Leo Lionni
    Unlike other crocodiles, Cornelius walks on two legs and performs silly tricks. 
  • What Time Is It, Mr. Crocodile? by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Doug Cushman
    Try as he might, Mr. Crocodile just can't catch the five pesky monkeys, but before the day is over, he will learn a lesson or two from them! 

Friday, July 17, 2015

5 Things I Love About The Bear and the Books

On our way north to New York last week, my husband and I and Little Miss Muffet made a stop at a lovely little bookstore in Hopewell, New Jersey called The Bear and the Books. We really enjoyed our visit, and I want to recommend stopping by if you happen to be in the area. Here are the five things I loved most about the store.

  1. Focus on kids' books. I haven't been to too many bookstores which are solely focused on children's books, so this was a real treat. There was no wandering around trying to find the children's section, and I didn't have to worry about Miss Muffet wandering off into adult romance and bothering customers who were trying to browse in peace. Being surrounded by children's books on all four walls made me feel very at home, and it made me feel comfortable coming into the store with a toddler.

  2. Great selection. The shelves of the shop were filled with so many great titles, most of which I knew, but some of which were unfamiliar. I had the impression, just from browsing the shelves, that each book had been chosen very carefully and very specifically, with the hope that just the right reader would find it. Not every book was necessarily an award winner, or even a book I would suggest, but there was much less fluff than the average bookstore carries, and a real sense of respect for the child reader as someone who is worthy of great stories. (I was also thrilled to see one of William Bee's Stanley books!)

  3. Friendly and knowledgeable owner. The owner of the store, Bobbie Fishman, was everything you'd want in a bookstore owner. She was welcoming, asking us about where we were from and wondering what Miss Muffet likes to read. We talked about Mr. Gumpy and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, as well as Richard Scarry and nursery rhymes. I could tell instantly that we were speaking the same language when it came to books, and that if I had needed a recommendation, she could have given me a great one (or ten!) It was obvious that she had a strong knowledge not just of the new and popular books, but of the tried and true favorites as well, and when she spoke of ordering books, I could tell she took great care with her work.

  4. Interesting displays.The window displays were fabulous! Books faced out toward the street as well as in toward shopping customers, and they included many interesting titles, some of which were known to me, and others of which I did not recognize but was happy to discover. The books were grouped thematically (many were about elephants) and they caught my attention right away, and repeatedly throughout our visit. Unlike Barnes & Noble, where displays usually focus on the newest and most popular materials, this was a display that had clearly been put together by a thoughtful person who wanted to highlight great books, regardless of how well known they were.

  5. Child-friendly environment. We take Miss Muffet to a lot of bookstores, and they vary in terms of how friendly they really are toward child visitors. This one is definitely one of the most welcoming toward kids. There were toys for Miss Muffet to play with, and board books were at her eye level so she could easily see what was available. The owner spoke to her as well as to us, treating her as her own little personality with unique interests and abilities. The only drawback to the welcoming environment is that Miss Muffet didn't want to leave and we had to drag her out in tears.

The Bear and the Books is located at 45 West Broad Street Hopewell, New Jersey. The store's hours are available on its website, along with contact information. You can also see a photo of the inside of the store, as well as an image of the sweet and simple sign which hangs outside the door. If you are passing through - or if you are lucky enough to live locally - this is a great place for children's book lover to visit with kids, or on their own.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

12 Picture Books About Sheep & Goats

"Baa" and "maa" along as you share these picture books about sheep and goats with your little ones!


  • Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox, illustrated by Judy Horacek
    There are sheep of all colors and persuasions on the pages of this book, but the location of the green sheep remains a mystery until the very end. 
  • Sheep in a Jeep by Nancy Shaw, illustrated by Margot Apple
    This silly rhyming story shows what happens when a herd of sheep try to drive a jeep. 
  • When Sheep Sleep by Laura Joffe Numeroff, illustrated by David McPhail
    This story recommends other animals to call upon if you want to count sheep, but they have all fallen asleep! 
  • Baa Baa Black Sheep by Iza Trapani
    In Iza Trapani's expansion of this favorite nursery rhyme, the black sheep is generous with her wool, even when her friends are somewhat ungrateful. 
  • Mary Had a Little Lamb by Sarah Josepha Hale, illustrated by Salley Mavor
    This illustrated version of the favorite nursery rhyme includes all of Sarah Josepha Hale's original words accompanied by Salley Mavor's signature hand-stitched scenes. 
  • Time to Sleep, Sheep the Sheep by Mo Willems
    In this simple story, Cat the Cat must inform all of her friends - including Sheep the Sheep - that bedtime has arrived. 


  • G is for Goat by Patricia Polacco
    There is a goat for every letter of the alphabet in this preschool-friendly book by Patricia Polacco.
  • Oh, Look! by Patricia Polacco
    In a style similar to Michael Rosen's We're Going on a Bear Hunt, a herd of goats escapes from its pen and runs all the way to the county fair, where the goats are startled by an ogre! 
  • Let’s Count Goats by Mem Fox, illustrated by Jan Thomas
    On each page of this silly book, the reader is invited to count goats who are distinguished by various clothing styles and specific actions. 
  • The Three Billy Goats Gruff by Paul Galdone
    This classic adaptation of a favorite fairy tale features a trio of wide-eyed, realistic-looking goats and a scary (but not too scary!) troll. 
  • Grumpy Goat by Brett Helquist
    The new goat on the farm wants to be left alone to eat in peace, until one day a dandelion changes how he sees the world. 
  • Gregory, The Terrible Eater by Mitchell Sharmat, illustrated by Jose Aruego and Ariane Dewey
    Gregory, a picky young goat, refuses to eat trash like the other goats and instead prefers fruits and vegetables. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Why I Won't Read Go Set a Watchman

To Kill A Mockingbird was the best book I read in all four years of high school, and for years afterward, it was the title I gave when I was asked to name my favorite book. (Now I usually name a children's book because that is primarily what I read, but To Kill a Mockingbird is still among my favorite novels for grown-ups, and it's still my answer when "serious" grown-ups are the ones posing the question.) Despite my love for the novel, however, I could not be less interested in Go Set a Watchman, which comes out today, and I do not plan to read it. There are four main reasons:

  1. I am still suspicious of the circumstances under which this book is being published. I have always admired Harper Lee for her willingness to walk away after writing just one great book, and I find it hard to believe that she is suddenly interested in having the public read what is essentially a rough draft of her beloved classic. It strikes me as suspicious that this decision came about only after Lee's sister died, and during a time when she is living in an assisted living facility. It doesn't sit right with me, and deep down, I don't think this is what Harper Lee truly wants.
  2. It was never intended to be a sequel. I've already read several articles talking about how the representation of Atticus in Go Set a Watchman has "ruined" readers' visions of him and caused them to question their devotion to his character. My response is that of course it has! Go Set a Watchman is not a continuation of To Kill A Mockingbird; it's essentially the writing exercise that led to To Kill a Mockingbird. I might be interested in a true sequel, but this is not that. I don't want to know what might have been. I appreciate To Kill a Mockingbird as it was originally published.
  3. It is a guaranteed disappointment. There is absolutely no way a second Harper Lee book published 55 years after the first can live up to the anticipation and hype surrounding it. Even if I found that I kind of liked Go Set a Watchman, it would still be a let-down compared with To Kill a Mockingbird. Why set myself up? There are plenty of other books for me to enjoy.
  4. Ignorance is bliss. If Go Set a Watchman is going to ruin To Kill a Mockingbird for me, or if there is some revelation about a character that would forever change my reading of the original novel, I am better off not knowing anything about it at all. There is nothing about To Kill a Mockingbird that leaves me feeling unsatisfied or that I have been deprived of a proper resolution. I think, for true fans of the classic novel, Go Set a Watchman is a can of worms best left unopened. 

Are you planning to read Go Set a Watchman? Why or why not? 

Friday, July 10, 2015

10 Story Time Extension Activities for Early Elementary Audiences

It seems like I frequently see librarians asking for suggestions for story time extension activities to share with older kids - usually Kindergarten to grade 2 or 3. Though sometimes kids in this age group simply like to sit and hear stories, there are some types of other activities they really do enjoy. I've decided to post my list of favorites here so that they are all in one place for easy access.

1. Taba Naba

This song by the Wiggles, heard here on YouTube, appears on a video that is clearly intended for preschoolers, but the movements - which are essentially dance steps performed while sitting down - are definitely too challenging for most three and four year olds. It is older kids who are drawn to them, and who enjoy practicing to get the motions to match up properly with the rhythm. What works best is to memorize the words and sing the song a cappella. That way, you can vary the pace of the music according to the abilities of your group, and speed up as they get better. Another option is to practice several times through without the recording, and then try to keep up with the recording. This song works well with kids in all grades, even at the upper elementary level.

2. Interactive Aikendrum 

Aikendrum is probably the song I play best on the ukulele, so it is a staple of my story time sessions. A couple of years ago, a first grade class helped me come up with a way to involve  the audience directly in singing the song. Instead of me singing the traditional lyrics - his eyes were made of meatballs, his nose was made of cheese, etc. - I invite the kids to choose a part of Aikendrum's body and a food to represent it. Your mileage may vary on this one. Though it has not yet happened to me, there is always the possibility that a child will choose a part of the anatomy that is not appropriate to discuss in story time. Usually, though, you will get responses like, "his legs were made of pretzels" and "his eyes were made of grapes" which give you a lot of insight into the creative minds of elementary school kids.

3. The Banana Dance 

Dr. Jean's Banana Dance became an obsession for me and a former coworker one summer, and we performed it together every chance we got. It really requires you to ham it up - the more foolish you look and feel, the better the chances are that you are performing it properly. The tune is tricky and the motions require some practice so definitely don't introduce this one in a program without trying it first on your own, but the rehearsal is worth the end result. Especially rewarding are the puzzled looks on the faces of the parents or teachers in the room who can't quite believe grown people are dancing around like various foods.

4. Tooty Ta

Tooty Ta is a song I have never performed in public (and likely never will), but I know many people - my mom included - who swear by it. It's another Dr. Jean favorite, which will make you look even more ridiculous than the Banana Dance.

5. Hat, Coat, Pants, and Shoes

I wrote the lyrics to this song, which is modeled after Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes and sung to the tune of London Bridge. Each verse begins as follows:

Hat, coat, pants and shoes
Pants and shoes, pants and shoes
Hat, coat, pants and shoes

Pause dramatically after glasses, holding your note to build suspense, and then move your hands quickly to a silly position and name something silly the kids could be wearing. Some of my go-to favorites are bat wings, moose antlers, squirrel tail, party hat, bow tie, mittens, and wristwatch.

In the summer months, and when promoting summer reading, I adapt the song to suit summer clothing, and change the words to "Visor, T-Shirt, Shorts, and Shoes."

6. Bag of Verbs

This is a game I invented to use in my Read-Along Story Times for Beginning Readers. I printed out a set of interesting verbs, cut them apart, and put them in a paper bag. At the halfway point of the story time, I brought out the bag and invited each child to take a turn choosing a word for the group to act out. Kids who could sound out words enjoyed decoding each verb, but even those who did not yet read usually got a kick out of being invited to move around the room and act silly. This is my go-to activity for kids who feel that music is too babyish.

7. Quick as a Cricket Flannel Board Game

This is a classic picture book I loved in childhood, which works really well as a flannel board guessing game. I printed out the clip art for the book provided by, which includes a sentence strip for building the sentences from the story. When I present it, I put the adjectives up on the flannel board one at a time and have the kids guess which animal each one describes. When I have heard a fair number of guesses, I show the picture to reveal the correct answer. This works well in groups of all sizes - I've had groups of 40 kindergarteners enjoy it just as much as small audiences of 3 or 4 preschoolers. See a photo of the flannel board in action here. (Note: Because I only had travel flannel boards, I needed two to hold all the pieces. If you have a larger flannel board, you will definitely need it!)

8. Ears Hear

This poem by Lucia and James L. Hymes, Jr. appears in Read-Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young, selected by Jack Prelutsky. Just as the Bag of Verbs invites kids to move in fun ways, this poem encourages them to make funny sounds. The room can get quite loud, especially with a large group, so it is usually wise to have the door closed and to invite teachers, parents and younger siblings to cover their ears for sounds like "shout" and "scream." If your group is a little older, you can also try turning the poem into a guessing game as I did for this story time.

9. Making Lists

Early elementary kids love to share their thoughts on anything and everything. Channel their energy into a list-making activity. On a piece of poster board or chart paper (or on a chalkboard, white board, PowerPoint slide, etc.) post a question for the kids to answer. Then record each child's answer and display the list in the story time room or other suitable location. Suggested topics include:

  • If you could wish on a star, what would be your wish? 
  • What do you like most about the library? 
  • Can you name something green? 
  • Do you have a pet? If so, what is it? 
This concept would also work as an ongoing display for your library or classroom. Leave markers and poster board out and let any child who wants to participate add his or her thoughts to the list. 

10. Happy/Sad Faces

Another way to engage kids' inherent desire to express their opinions is to provide happy and sad faces to each child. (I usually print out paper faces and tape them to popsicle sticks, but you could use more durable materials if desired.) Ask the kids yes and no questions - or read a book posing such questions - and allow them to show you their opinion by holding up the appropriate face. This activity is really good for small, quiet groups who might be shy about participating, as well as very large groups where there isn't time for every child to express an individual opinion.

How do you engage older kids in story time? Share your favorite activities below!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

12 Picture Books about Frogs & Toads

After receiving a review copy of Toad Weather in the mail recently, I compiled this list of picture books, all of which involve a frog and/or a toad.

  • Toad Weather by Sandra Markle, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez
    On a rainy day, Ally's mother takes Ally and her grandmother outside to see something amazing  - a toad migration! This is a great STEM-themed title for families to read together. 
  • Jump, Frog, Jump! by Robert Kalan, illustrated by Byron Barton
    In this cumulative story about the food chain, a frog must jump to avoid various dangers and stay alive.  
  • Frog Went a-Courtin' by John Langstaff, illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky
    A beloved folk song about the marriage of a frog and a mouse is fully illustrated in this classic picture book originally published in 1955. 
  • City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems, illustrated by Jon J. Muth
    When a city dog visits the country, he makes fast friends with a frog, only to wonder where he has gone when he returns during the winter. (This is a surprisingly serious and poignant story for funny man Mo Willems!)
  • Frog and Fly by Jeff Mack
    In a series of simple stories, a frog meets a fly and finds a way to outsmart him - until one day the tables are turned! This is a perfect picture book for beginning readers to enjoy on their own.
  • The Frogs and Toads All Sang by Arnold Lobel, illustrated by Adrianne Lobel
    This lesser-known Arnold Lobel work, published years after his death and illustrated by his daughter, is a collection of rhyming stories about frogs and toads. 
  • Tuesday by David Wiesner
    This winner of the 1992 Caldecott Medal is nearly wordless, and it depicts one surreal Tuesday night on which frogs rise on their lilypads and levitate ominously through their town.
  • A Home for Bird by Philip C. Stead
    With help from Skunk and Porcupine, a toad named Vernon makes it his mission to find a home for the small, silent blue bird he has found. 
  • Seven Little Rabbits by John Leonard Becker, illustrated by Barbara Cooney
    In this rhythmic, repetitive tale, seven little rabbits make their way down the road to visit their old friend toad, but many of them are waylaid by the temptation to nap. 
  • Ribbit by Rodrigo Folgueira, illustrated by Poly Bernatene
    The peaceful lives of a group of frogs are upset when a pig comes along and begins to act as they do. 
  • Leap Back Home to Me by Lauren Thompson, illustrated by Matthew Cordell
    No matter how far the baby frog leaps from his mother, she always welcomes him home again with open arms. (Like Matthew Cordell? Check out this list of books he has illustrated!)
  • I Took My Frog to the Library by Eric A. Kimmell, illustrated by Blanche Sims
    This imaginative introduction to proper library behavior explores what could happen if kids brought their pets to the library.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Moms Club Story Time, 6/29/15

My June story time for the Moms Club got rained out earlier in the month, but we had a beautiful day for this rescheduled date. We had a great turn-out; our only complication was that the pavilion where we met was also being used by a local kids' tennis club. Thankfully, we were able to sneak in just after their snack time and before parents started coming to pick up their kids, so we didn't disturb them too much, and they didn't get in our way. (I do wish there was a way to know when that pavilion is being used. I don't think it can be reserved, so we are always guessing!)

The kids in attendance ranged in age from 1 month to 4 years, and I aimed for the middle of that age range, since most of the kids hovered between 18 months and 2 years. This is what I performed:

Hello Song with ukulele: Hello, how are you?

Song: If You'd Like to Read a Book

Book: Stanley the Farmer by William Bee
We have had this book for months, and I've been itching to spread the word about Stanley to my mom friends. I don't think anyone is as excited about this series as I am, but I was glad to be able to share it!

Flannel Board Song: Stanley's Tractor 
I used clipart from the publisher's website to make flannel board pieces to accompany Stanley the Farmer, then wrote up some lyrics to the tune Mary Wore Her Red Dress and shared it on my homemade handheld flannel board. The kids were probably the most interested in this one, and Little Miss Muffet only cried a little bit when I said she couldn't hold Stanley until we got home.

Book: Mr. Gumpy's Outing by John Burningham
The oldest kids in the group liked this one a lot, and one little boy eagerly called out the names of the animals.

Song with Ukulele: Five Rowers in a Boat 
I learned this one for ukulele after hearing it on Spotify. The original song starts with eight rowers, but I cut it down to five for the sake of everyone's sanity.

Flannel Board Rhyme: Seven Snazzy Aunties
This rhyme used to work for me a few years ago, but at this story time, as in others toward the end of my time at the library, it was met with silence. I am not using it anymore. Really this time.

Book: The Bus is for Us by Michael Rosen
I don't like this quite as much as The Bus for Us by Suzanne Bloom, but I wanted to try it out since it's new. The kids seemed fairly into it, though I think it was too basic for the preschoolers and one book too many for the little guys.

Song: The Wheels on the Bus

Song with Ukulele: ABCs
This was going to be my usual medley but the tennis kids returned to the pavilion just as the ABCs were coming to an end, so I cut us off and went right into the goodbye song.

Goodbye Song: We Wave Goodbye Like This 

I will have two more programs to post about in the month of July. This Friday, I'm doing a school-aged nature story time for the summer camp where my mom works, and later in the month, I'm hosting a ukulele sing-along for the Moms Club. I look forward to sharing those plans here on the blog!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Early Literacy in Everyday Places: Baseball Game

If you and your family plan to attend a major or minor league baseball game this summer, this post is for you! Below are four suggestions for literacy activities you can do with your kids in a baseball stadium.
  • Talk about the letters of the players’ names when they appear on the Jumbotron. Encourage your child's print awareness and letter recognition skills by talking about the letters in their favorite players' names. If a player happens to share a name with your child, challenge him to look for it each time that player goes up to bat. The jumbotron is also a good place to look for other print material throughout the game, as it is often where birthday messages, advertising, and other information is presented. 
  • Explain baseball vocabulary such as strike, ball, hit, run, and out. Toddlers might not understand the rules of baseball just yet, but you can still go over the basic vocabulary. For added fun, have them try to count strikes for each out, and outs for each inning. 
  • Encourage your kids to sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the 7th inning stretch. How often do we really have the chance to join in a group sing-along? Don't miss out! To get your kids geared up for this tradition, practice singing the song before the game, or read a picture book version of the song, such as the ones by Ben Nussbaum or Maryann Kovalski.
  • Act out the "Five Little Hot Dogs" fingerplay. Whether you actually eat hot dogs at the ballpark or not, this rhyme will get your kids in the spirit of the game! Words for the rhyme can be found here

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

10 Favorite Picture Books (A Picture Book of the Day Retrospective)

This year, from September to June, I was part of Picture Book of the Day, a group project in which kidlit bloggers share great picture books on Facebook every weekday. We have just wrapped up for this year, which has inspired me to look back at the 10 books I recommended on the days it was my turn to share. They appear below in chronological order, along with links to the original posts on Facebook and related links on this blog.

Ol' Mama Squirrel 
by David Ezra Stein
Share date: September 23, 2014

The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything
by Linda Williams, illustrated by Megan Lloyd
Share date: October 21, 2014

Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type 
by Doreen Cronin & Betsy Lewin
Share date: November 18, 2014 

Chicken Soup with Rice
by Maurice Sendak
Share date: January 6, 2015 

Caps for Sale
by Esphyr Slobodkina
Share date: February 3, 2015 

The Doorbell Rang
by Pat Hutchins 
Share date: March 3, 2015 

May I Bring a Friend?
by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers & Beni Montresor

Share date: March 31, 2015

The Babies on the Bus
by Karen Katz
Share date: April 28, 2015

Harry the Dirty Dog
by Gene Zion & Margaret Bloy Graham
Share date: May 26, 2015 

Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain
by Verna Aardema & Beatriz Vidal
Share date: June 23, 2015
Related link: 15 Literacy Activities for Rainy Days

Picture Book of the Day will resume in September. In the meantime, see all of our selections from this year on Pinterest.
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