Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt

You guys. I just read the most whack-a-do book in the entire world and I loved everything about it.

So you've got two raccoon brothers, out on their own for the first time as sworn protectors and early warning detectors for the Sugar Man Swamp. They live in the rusted out shell of an old car with a radio that only works when lightening strikes and spend their nights (raccoons are nocturnal, duh) trying to figure out exactly what being a scout means. A few miles out of the swamp is Chap, a 12 year old boy who learned to love the swamp from his grandfather and now needs a literal boat full of cash to save his mother's bakery from a greedy land developer.

Then there's Sonny, said greedy land developer who, with a world renown alligator wrestler, wants to pave over the entire swamp and turn it into an alligator wrestling theme park. Out in Louisiana, and making their way towards the Sugar Man Swamp as fast as they can (rumble, rumble, rumble) is a pack of the biggest, meanest, most wild, wild hogs the world has ever seen. They've heard rumors of the sweet cane break sugar that gives the swamp it's name and they'll stop at nothing (except the occasional mud hold) to gobble it all up.

And of course there's the Sugar Man himself, the living breathing embodiment of the swamp. A great mythical creature, a distant relative of the Yeti. Sugar Man is old and tired though, and he's been asleep for 40 years, curled up deep in the swamp with his rattlesnake best friend, secure in the knowledge that his scouts will warn him of any potential danger.

As all of these forces converge on the swamp, Appelt deftly weaves their separate plot lines into a charming and deceptively simple folk tale. It was announced yesterday that The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp is on the long list for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature and I can't think of anything I've read this year that deserves to be on the list more. I've never read any of Kathi Appelt's previous books, but before I even finished True Blue I put them all on hold.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Theme Thursday: RED

Themes are hard yo. Sometimes when nothing else is coming together you just have to say screw it and go with a color.

Song: Good Morning Dear Earth

Flannel: Little Mouse (he was hiding in the red house today)

Flannel: Alphabet Soup- RED

Flannel: Things that are Red
In which I described flannel pieces from all sorts of different sets and had the kids guess what they were. Normally I'd try to come up with a cute couplet for each one, but for today please see the above note on saying "screw it"

Book: The Red Hen by Rebecca Emberley

 Song: Wheels on the Fire Truck

Song: Mi Cuerpo from Hot Peas n' Butter's Best of the Bowl: Ingles y Espanol

Flannel: 5 Little Apples

Song: Itsy Bitsy Spider

Book: Clifford the Big Red Dog from Clifford Collection by Norman Bridwell

 Funny story, I thought we didn't have any Clifford books for a while this morning because I always want to spell his name bIrdwell instead of bRidwell. Dyslexia strikes again!

Song: Turn Around from Hap Palmer's

Make and Take Craft: Red Collages

-glue sticks
-red markers
-red construction paper
-red pipe cleaners
-red tissue paper
-red glitter glue

Process: Cut the red paper and tissue paper into shapes. Give everything to the kids and let them go crazy. Some of the kids tried to make representative things like ladybugs or this itsy bitsy spider, others just had fun with glue sticks and tissue paper.

Time: Prep took 3 minutes, the craft took 25.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Where in the World (Non-Fiction section) is Carmen San Diego (Melvil Dewey)

Okay, now that we've got that out of our systems...

I've been wanting to do a scavenger hunt in the non-fiction section for a long time. I just wasn't sure how it was going to work. Then I saw Miss Ingrid's post on how her library does a Melvil Dewey scavenger hunt and I loved it so much that I stole it wholesale, right down to the smokin' hot picture of Dewey (seriously, what a fox) and the glitter accents.

Ingrid (I read her blog enough that I feel like we're friends and totally on a first name basis) doesn't have prizes for her kids who play the Dewey game. Just the satisfaction of a job well done. Which I think is fantastic. BUT. We have so much crap  leftover summer reading prizes in our back room, including some Chipotle coupons that will expire at the end of the month, that I basically look for excuses to give kids stuff.

I've also really been wanting to have a non-fiction party. Now that the Common Core is really a thing, I think there are so many cool applications for Ripley's Believe It or Not, hands on science experiments and crafts drawn from our non-fiction section.

So with those two things in mind, I've tweaked Miss Ingrid's Melvil Hunt to fit our needs.

"Today I'm in the 400s, books about languages"

This is Melvil Dewey. He invented the Dewey Decimal system. Melvil hangs out on the easel on the back of the flannel board, near the children's desks on Saturdays. Each Saturday he hides in a different part of the non-fiction section, as indicated in his speech bubble. Anyone can come, check him out, grab one of the entry forms and a golf pencil, and head off to find good ol' Melvil. 

"Now see if you can find... How do you say hello in 3 languages?"

When they find the smaller Melvil, he's asking more specific, yet still open ended question about the section that he's hiding in, encouraging the kids to look through some of the books. And since I "laminated" this picture with packing tape, we can use it like a dry erase board to write and re-write the weekly question. The piece of paper that they answer the question on serves as a raffle entry- so they can answer the question as many times and in as many different ways as they like- and at the end of the day we draw for a bunch of prizes.

At the end of the semester we'll have a non-fiction party instead of a big to-do for the holidays. There will be trivia drawn from the cool facts that the kids supply us with through their answers, hands-on stations from featured Dewey sections (like an animal print identifying table! I just got really excited about that possibility, please excuse excessive use of exclamation marks) and the usual snacks and goodies that accompany a party. 

In October our library system is going to extended hours, and in conjunction with that, we're being asked to plan programming for both Saturday and Sunday (as well as story time every day, but that's a different story for a different time). As most librarians know, programming on Saturday is a tricky beast in that no one comes. Ever. And I imagine Sundays are even worse, with all the pressure to do neglected homework before Monday. A low-key, drop-in program like this seems to be just the ticket to complying with administrative edicts while still maintaining our sanity.  

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Theme Thursday: Chugga Chugga Cho Chooooooooooooo

And rounding out our impromptu transportation unit, stories about trains.

Song: Good Morning Dear Earth

Flannel: Little Snake

Song: Open, Shut Them

Flannel: Alphabet Soup- RED

Book: Down by the Station by Will Hilldebrand

Song: Wheels on the Bus

Flannel: This Little Train

Song: Shake Your Sillies Out from Raffi's The Singable Songs Collection (20th Anniversary Special Edition)

Song: Grand Old Duke of York

Song: Itsy Bitsy Spider

Book: And the Train Goes... by William Bee

Song: Turn Around from Hap Palmer's Getting to know Myself

Make and Take Craft: Train Engineer Hats

-construction paper

Process: Cut out a template for a train engineer hat. I just googled "train engineer hat" and copied what I saw on a full sheet of construction paper.  Color the hat as desired. Fold the hat at the brim line (where the sides of the hat start in pinch in) staple a long strip on construction paper to each side on the back and wear like a visor!

Time: Prep took about 10 minutes and the craft took about 15.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City by Kristen Miller


 I want you to close your eyes for a minute and picture this:

Imagine that it's early on a Saturday morning, so early that no one else is awake and you're not sure why you're awake either. As you go to the kitchen for a glass of water you happen to glance out the window and you see it. A great, big, giant hole. I'm talking swallowed the side walk and a couple of park benches, glad there wasn't a house there because it would be GONE sized hole. There's no one outside, no caution tape around the hole, no workers trying to fill it in. You may be the very first person who has ever seen this gigantic hole. Until. Out of the corner of your eye you see a small girl, a child really, sneak up to the edge of the hole, look around like she's trying to figure out if she's being watched, and then jump in.

What do you do? Do you go get your water and come back to bed? Maybe try to find a Saturday morning cartoon? Do you wake up your parents or call the police? Or do you sneak back to your room, pull on some clothes and follow that girl down the hole to see what you can find?

That's the choice that Ananka Fishbein is faced with in the first few chapters of Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City . And since the book last longer than those first couple chapters I'm sure you can guess what her decision was. But it's what follows that's truly amazing.

Read Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City to discover what Ananka finds inside the hole- including but not limited to millions of rats, secret tunnels, rooms full of treasure and plague and a band of delinquent girl scouts.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The End of the Season


We've handed out prizes, held raffles, stopped serving lunches and generally wrapped up shop. Most of the kids went back to school on Monday and for the first time in three months, we've been able to breathe.

So how did summer reading go? Well, at our little branch summer reading completion was up over 300% from last year. 300%! Sign-ups were also much higher. I talked to a few parents and they attributed this to Ms. E and me pushing summer reading harder than ever before, and the prizes being better too. It's hard to argue with that, when for the first time ever there was a Chipotle coupon for half-way finishers and everyone got an actual prize- a book- when they completed the program, in addition to being entered into the raffle for a Kindle Fire.

Our finisher wall

For the first time this year, we also had a separate program for the Read With Me crowd, ages birth to five.

Close up on the best ever way to spell "Dylan"

This program also went a long way to pushing up our numbers. It made absolutely zero sense for an 18 month old to be held to the same standard of "reading" as a 10 year old and, I'm convinced, turned off a lot of parents from participating in past years.

This year we had a game board with all sorts of activities promoting early literacy- we sang a song together, we talked about what we saw on a walk, we went to a library program, we practiced counting to 10 etc... 

Putting these sorts of things in an early literacy summer reading program not only legitimized/validated what a lot of parents are already doing with their child, it gave us a great way to talk more about the six components of early literacy and what programs at the library are focused on early literacy development.

All that being said, I'm super looking forward to fall and what back to school season has to offer. 

Sayonora Summer Reading, see you next year!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Theme Thursday: Miss Susie Had a Steamboat

That steamboat had a bell/ Miss Susie went to heaven/ that steamboat went to AND I think we all know where this is going.

Song: Good Morning

Flannel: Little Mouse

Finger Play: I had a Little Turtle

Book: Sail Away by Donald Crews

 Song: Row, Row, Row Your Boat

Book: Little Tug by Stephan Savage

 Song: 5 Little Sailboats
to the tune of 5 Little Ducks
5 little sailboats went out one day,
over the waves and far away
when the winds began to rock
4 little sailboats came back to dock

Song: Jumping and Counting from Jim Gill's Irrational Anthem and More Salutes to Nonsense

Song: Shake Your Sillies Out from Raffi's The Singable Songs Collection (20th Anniversary Special Edition)

Flannel: Let's Go Out on a Starry Night

Book: Splish-Splash by Nicola Smee

 Song: Turn Around from Hap Palmer's Getting to know Myself

Make and Take Craft: Shape Boats

-construction paper shapes
-glue sticks
-blue construction paper
-chalk (optional)

Process: Use the shapes to make a representative boat and use the chalk to color in waves or sea creatures. Crayons would also work, but chalk shows up beautifully on darker construction paper.

Time: Prep took about 5 minutes, the craft took 20.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Favorite Picture Books for Older Kids

Who says picture books are just for the pre-school set? Uh-uh, no way siree bob. I love using picture books with older kids, usually during school outreach visits, to stimulate discussion and keep the interest of everyone in the class, from the overachievers to the ones still struggling with reading. Everyone loves to be read to and watching older kids make connections between text and illustrations .

Since school visits are usually pretty short, no more than half an hour or so, I usually start with a spiel about the library and all the cool things that we have. Then I demonstrate with one of my favorite picture books and finish up by book talking a few of our other awesome options, either more picture books, great non-fiction titles, or chapter books depending on the age of the class and what I've been brought in to talk about.

Here are my absolute favorite picture books, titles that I've found work really well with large groups of kids with varying attention spans, all the way from 1st to 5th grade.

by Mac Barnett and Adam Rex

So the key that I've found is silly and random. Keep the kids guessing as to what is coming next, because the worst thing a read aloud in a room full of know-it-alls can be is predictable. When Billy Twitters doesn't clean his room, his punishment is a blue whale to take care of. But how do you take care of something so big it doesn't even fit in your house?

by Oliver Jeffers

Stuck is the story of an exceptionally strong boy and an exceptionally grabby tree. When Floyd's kite gets stuck in a tree, he throws item after item into the tree to try and free his kite. The escalation of items thrown and the misuse of seemingly obvious ideas (if you get a ladder, you climb it, duh) keeps kids guessing and groaning until Floyd is in bed, the entire adventure but a hazy memory.

by Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri

Grumpy old men and silly, silly squirrel antics. Everyone can scream "THOSE DARN SQUIRRELS" as they shake their fists. Good times abound.

by Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri

Another Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri. This is actually the first book of theirs that I found. It's the randomness of this book that makes it so winning, tangents break off the main story line, mimicking a children's train of thought consciousness perfectly.  

by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean

What constitutes a fair trade is a pretty solid discussion topic. Suspending disbelief for a second that anyone's father would abide by such a trade, are two goldfish worth as much as a dad that sits on the couch and reads his paper all day? What about an electric guitar? A gorilla mask? Bunny rabbits!?! The illustrations in this book add a lot to the story so it's worth passing the book around afterwards so everyone can see all the small details.

by Jonah Winter and Majorie Priceman

Of all the non-fiction books and bios I've tried as classroom read alouds, this one always plays the best. The text is sing-songy, call and response-y like a great jazz song and the story of Josephine Baker's life has different points of interest for kids at all different ages. The race riots section and the discussion of black face were useful with 5th graders talking about segregation while EVERYONE zooms in on the illustrations of her pet cheetah. 

Honorable Mention:

by Satoshi Kitamura

Millie's Marvelous Hats has such detailed illustrations that it's a pass around, point out kind of book for sure. The amount of imagination lends well to group discussion and dramatic play afterwards. It skews a little younger, say kindergarten to 2nd grade. 

by John Perry and Mark Fearing

I've talked before about my love of The Book that Eats People, I only include it in Honorable Mentions because it also skews younger. Children older than 3rd grade are sometimes too cool to be scared by a book like this and it looses it's effectiveness exponentially in grades thereafter. 

by Jonah Winter and Red Nose Studio

And finally, a great read that skews older. I usually use this one with 4th and 5th graders, due to the sheer length. In terms of readability, Jonah Winter once again proves himself as the master of short form non-fiction. Finding the obscure story of a boat filled with garbage, the poor man who had to haul it around and all the towns/cities/ports that rejected it was a stoke of luck. Winter wields a deft hand in making this call for ecological sustainability way more exciting than it is preachy.

And that's it for me. Have you got any favorite picture books that you use on class visits or with older kids? Tell me!