Category Archives: Children

Wednesday was another day

So Monday’s storytime was a bit rough…but then I did the exact same storytime lesson plan on Wednesday, with a group of similar composition (i.e., ages and number of children), and it went very well.  Though the two stories I read were long, this group was able to stay attentive; though there are a fair number of newbies in the group, the group dynamic was focused for most of the twenty minutes.  This was good, since it reassured me that I’m not crazy and this lesson plan on hats can be used successfully with this group, but it also made me think that I should have changed tactics a bit more midway through the Monday storytime.  If I had stopped and deliberately encouraged everyone to stick it out, rather than keep rolling as if there weren’t a problem, if I had addressed the unraveling of the group directly, then perhaps the entire storytime could have been resurrected.  I did think about doing this, but I didn’t want any one parent to feel self-conscious or singled out, so I decided to just keep on going.

What is the best solution?  Stop and talk about the meltdown when it’s happening, or keep going and give the parents and caregivers time and freedom to address inattention without feeling singled out?  The “keep going” option has always, always worked for me before…but perhaps there are just times when it’s not the way to go.

About reading…and books…

I’m trying to squeeze some adult books back into my reading diet, and am currently reading The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova and The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma.  Today, after working the last Friday that the library will be open until the fall, I came home and chipped away at The Reading Promise (after falling asleep, book in hand, for a bit, since I couldn’t sleep last night and am pooped).  I really like the subject of the book – a father reading aloud to his daughter for eight years – and have enjoyed the book so far.  In my usual manner, though, I flipped to the end of the book after getting to page seventy-six this afternoon (I know, it’s a bad habit, but one I can’t seem to break) and read the account of how Ozma’s father left his position of school librarian under pressure from his principals.  Her father is clearly a man who values reading aloud, and was told by his principals (his work load had been doubled by the addition of a second school) that he could only read one picturebook to each class, for no more than five or ten minutes.  Ozma quotes her father as saying, “The most frustrating part…is that reading has become irrelevant.”

I know what he means, which saddens me, but I also do hold out some hope.  The truth in what he says is evidenced every day after school at the library where I work, which is a public library but located on the school campus, so that we get many students at the library after school lets out.  I hear from these elementary school students, over and over again, “Abby, I’m BORED!”  To which I suggest, gently, that they take a look at some of the great books in the children’s room.  And I often get rolled eyes in response, since what “I’m bored” really means here is, “The only internet-access computer in the children’s room that we’re allowed to play games on is being used by someone else.”  So then I’ll counter with a suggestion to look at one of the good children’s magazines that we have on the shelves, or perhaps even to do their homework.  But then comes a heavy sigh and a repetition of, “I’m bored.”  At those moments, I do feel like reading has become irrelevant for a certain portion of today’s kids.

But then I remind myself what I used to do after school each day, and it usually wasn’t read.  I liked to have a nice snack first thing after getting home, then sometimes I’d watch a bit of bad daytime T.V., then, if the weather was good, I’d go outside and either play with other kids in the neighborhood or play by myself in the backyard.  Or, if the weather was bad, I’d often do some kind of art project, like work on my collection of paper shoes (hand-decorated paper “slides” that were held together with staples).  Reading, though, was usually a weekend and vacation activity for me; but it wasn’t where I headed after a long day of sitting still at school.

And here’s where my hope for this rising generation of readers comes in:  I know many, many kids who come to the library after school who literally get lost in the stacks.  I’ll know that I’ve seen Brenda come in to the children’s room, but when her mom comes to pick her up, neither of us can find her.  Until we look through the stacks and find Brenda curled up against a bookshelf, nose in a book, completely oblivious to the world around her.  Brenda and her peers are far more dedicated readers than I ever was, and I turned out ok when it comes to reading.  So even though there is a push to have more technology instruction in schools, and even though some schools have emptied their libraries of books, I really do believe that there are enough passionate readers growing up in our society to keep books and reading alive and healthy for many more years.  And hopefully libraries, too.

The Lightning Thief…again…

It’s great that the book group members have nominated, voted on, and then chosen all of the books they have read and will be reading this school year, but this month I’m feeling a little gloomy personally about their choices.  Notice that I said “personally,” because I’m only talking about me – I think the choices are great for the kids in the groups.  Today we’re discussing The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, a book that has gotten a lot of reluctant boy readers very jazzed about reading.  And then they go on to read the rest of the series, and then other books, and it’s all good.  The Lightning Thief also introduces readers to Greek mythology, inspiring some to then go to the source and read “real” Greek mythology, which is very cool.  But, and this is where my personal opinion comes in, we’ve discussed this particular book in several book groups over the past few years, and I’m totally sick of discussing this book.  I’ve read it so many times that I didn’t even bother to re-read it this weekend – especially since I thought I might be nauseous if I did.  I have nothing against this book, I’m just tired of it.  And it doesn’t really lead to great book group discussions, at least it hasn’t in the past. 

So maybe I should have told the kids that we wouldn’t be reading it…but that doesn’t seem fair.  I wanted them to have ownership of their book choices, and the entire group was excited about this book.  If I had come in and said, “No, we’re not discussing that book,” then the whole tenor of the book selection process would have changed.  Which means that we’re discussing it today, and that it will probably come up again in some future group.  Arrgh.

And then the 6th grade choice for this month is another well-worn book group book, The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart.  Yawn.  Again.


The 6th Grade Book Group met on Tuesday, and we had such a good meeting (eight attended the meeting – only one member abstained from attending, and that was because he hated the book).  This group of kids is smart, funny, well-read, and increasingly more mature and sophisticated.  It’s a joy to see them growing up and to see them developing and voicing their thoughts and opinions.

We discussed Michelle Harrison’s 13 Treasures, a book that I’ll cover in more detail in a separate post.  Though our discussion did mostly focus on this particular book, my favorite part of the group meeting was when we each answered a question from the book club edition of Table Topics cards:  “Why do you like to read?”  This question really sparked everyone’s interest, and there were some great responses.  As always, it’s hard to completely replicate this kind of intense, rapid-fire conversation, but here’s my best attempt to remember everyone’s comments:

  • “I really like to read, then create a movie in my mind.”  To which I replied, “That sounds like something a teacher might say…”, prompting this passionately spoken follow-up response: “Yeah, but I really DO like to create a movie in my mind.  I like to imagine what the characters look like, what the scenery looks like, and to imagine how the book would come to life.”
  • “I really really like suspense in a book.  I really like it when I don’t know what’s going to happen next, and I’m on the edge of my seat.”
  • “I love fantasy and action – I love imaginary things.”
  • “I love the way that when you’re reading a book you completely and totally forget about everything else in your life – you’re so busy reading and imagining that you can’t think about other things.”  [Lots of agreement to this statement – reminding me, the grown-up, how tough it is to be a sixth grader.]
  • “I’m completely the opposite of Jane – I HATE suspense!!!  I hate not knowing what’s going to come next!!!!”
  • “I love when you finish a book and you can move on to the sequel, and continue to find out more about the characters and what happens to them.”
  • “I love reading and reading and reading, as much as I can, as fast as I can.”

There were many other great comments, which my aging brain cannot, unfortunately, remember.  And then there was a lull in the discussion, and I said, “It’s interesting to me that you all had great responses to this question, but no one had the response that I have – that I love to read because I love to see how authors use language, especially in really well-written books.”  And the kids agreed that yes, they mostly read for plot, not language.  So I mentioned that one of my favorite children’s books has an incredibly lovely first paragraph that makes me misty eyed every time I read it.  Surprisingly, most of the kids had never read Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, though one or two had seen the movie (and I told them there is absolutely NO comparison between the book and the movie).  I could see some of the group was intrigued by the idea of this lovely first paragraph, so I asked Suzy to go out into the children’s room and see if the book was on the shelf, which it was.  And I asked the kids to really listen to the words – to even close their eyes if they were going to be distracted by their neighbors, and I read this wonderful paragraph out loud:

The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning.  The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot.  It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color.  Often at night there is lightning, but it quivers all alone.  There is no thunder, no relieving rain.  These are strange and breathless days, the dog days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after.  (Babbitt, Natalie. Tuck Everlasting. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1975.)

There was a moment of silence when I finished reading this paragraph, then one bright-eyed boy quietly said, “Could you read that again?”  Which I did.  And then there was more silence, and not much discussion of what I had just read, but I could tell that the kids were moved by Babbitt’s language.  Some things don’t need to be talked about – some things can just be understood by everyone in a room.

And then our time was up, and we had to clean up and distribute the books for our January meeting.  As the kids were leaving the room, I thanked them several times for a great meeting – and for being such a great group.  Thanks, guys, again, for your thoughts on books and reading.  It was inspiring!!

Happy Holidays!

There have been lots of sweet and thoughtful holiday gifts arriving on my desk this week:  a lovely bookmark with a quote from Thoreau; bath gel and lotion; enormous olives stuffed with feta cheese; a sweet little picture frame; heavenly homemade cookies; homemade marshmallows; a pretty mug with Ghiradelli cocoa mix in it; and all kinds of other awesome stuff.  And then today a cute first grade girl shyly came up to me with a picture that she had made for me (she also inscribed it “To Abby – From Jane Doe,” which I cut off in my photo to preserve her anonymity).  Click on photo to enlarge and to see all of the details, which do get cut off in the thumbnail:

She took a minute to tell me about her picture:  Santa’s bookcase has books, and also Santa’s hat and an elf’s hat.  Then there’s a roaring fire in the fireplace, and Santa’s desk and desk chair.  I LOVE this picture!  It’s on our fridge, in a spot of honor.  I also LOVE that so many people have taken the time and energy to let me know that they care about me this week – it’s really, really nice to be reminded once a year that what you do matters, and that other people notice.  Thanks, everyone, and right back at ‘cha!!!

Good things

The fully cranked woodstove, with slightly damp, lightly hissing logs, keeping our house toasty and the cats mellow.

Freshly washed flannel sheets for the bedroom – which doesn’t get the heat benefit of that woodstove.

Meeting my friend Judy at yesterday’s Artisans Fair at my church.  Judy, wonderful friend that she is, gave me an envelope with money in it to spend at the fair, in honor of her mother, who loved to shop.  (Needless to say, I’ll be making some jewelry for Judy for Christmas…see the next good thing.)

Learning how to make wire wrap earrings – and bracelets and necklaces- on Thursday night.  I love community ed classes!! 

Sitting with my dad at church this morning.

Finding a Stanley Mini Plier six-piece set at KMart today for only $13.00 – when the pliers I’d been looking at in jewelry making catalogs cost at least $9.00 each.  Woo-hoo!

And, the best good thing of all:  running into one of my favorite moms and her seven-year-old daughter at KMart right after finding the mini plier set.  Not wanting to be overly pushy, I just smiled, made eye contact, and said “hi” to the pair, they said “hi” back (confusedly), and I walked on down the aisle to the mint section (shortage of Altoids in our house).  As I was searching the mints, I heard the little girl saying, “I think it’s Abby!!”  And, sure enough, they came up to me, and the little girl said, “Hi Abby!!!”  And I said, “Ah, you figured me out!”  To which she replied, ” I didn’t recognize you at first because you didn’t have your glasses on!”  So I said, yes, I usually wear glasses at work and contacts on the weekends.  And then this totally awesome little girl – only seven, mind you, but one of the smartest kids I know – looked over at the display of Christmas trees, and she said, “Why are they showing Christmas things?  We haven’t even had Veteran’s Day or Thanksgiving yet!!”  And I agreed, with a laugh, that I was thinking the exact same thing.

And now for the next good thing:  a nice big glass of Guiness by the woodstove while reading the book for Tuesday’s teen book group:  Treasure at the Heart of the Tanglewood by Meredith Ann Pierce.

Preschool Storytime & Circle Weave

Yesterday was an art week for the preschool storytime, and for our project I chose “Circle Weave” from MaryAnn Kohl’s book Preschool Art, my favorite resource for great art ideas for ages four to seven.

Before the project, though, I read three books to the kids.  I realize I’ve been remiss lately and haven’t been reporting on what books have been a hit in storytime, so here is a brief rundown on the books I used yesterday and the reactions of the kids to each book:

First up was Scaredy Squirrel at Night by Melanie Watt.  I broke the cardinal rule of storytimes, and didn’t preview this book before I read it aloud.  Big mistake. Though cute, this book doesn’t lend itself well to a storytime read aloud (which I should have remembered from reading the first two Scaredy Squirrel books to storytimes in the past).  Too many little details in little pictures – the kids had a tough time seeing what was going on in the pictures and also understanding the story line.  I’d still recommend this book, but for a lap sit reading with one or two children; in a lap sit, kids would be able to really study the pictures and also ask questions about what is happening in the story.

The kids were an exceptionally patient, sweet group, though, and lasted well through the first story, even though they weren’t totally engaged.  Next up:  Rhyming Dust Bunnies by Jan Thomas.  I love Thomas’s illustrations, and I love the all-out goofiness of the storyline: four dust bunnies finding rhyming words – all except Bob, who keeps saying things that don’t rhyme, like “Look out!”  Bob, of course, is the voice of reason, trying to warn his fellow dust bunnies that there is a broom and a vacuum cleaner after them.  I thought the kids would find this situation funny, but in fact several were deeply disturbed (and I do mean deeply disturbed) that the dust bunnies were being harmed.  I tried to explain that dust bunnies are just bunches of fluffy dirt that we all clean up, but my explanation was met with furrowed, worried brows.

After that flop, I was ready to move right on to the art project, but H. pointed out that I still had one book left to read.  So we read Potato Joe by Keith Baker, a book that I had put in my preschool storytime pile a couple of weeks ago.  I don’t know what I was thinking.  The book is just too young for this crowd, and though they were patient with it, and counted the potatoes aloud with me, they were clearly bored by it.  I’m not condemning this book, though; it would be an excellent choice for my toddler storytime, and I will definitely use it for that group in the future.

On to “Circle Weave.”  For this project, I pre-cut a couple of dozen five inch diameter circles from poster board of various colors.  I also pre-cut two foot lengths of yarn; I had bought yarn in five different colors, two of which are cool multi-color skeins of varying shades.  Before embarking on the project, I introduced it to the kids by showing them the pile of poster board circles.  Then I showed them a circle with six small triangular slits cut around the edge (see Kohl’s book for an illustration and details on how to do this).  We talked about how the circle with the slits was different from the other circles, and I told the kids that their first assignment was to cut their own slits.

This proved to be way too much of a challenge for the kids.  I had incorrectly assumed that parents would come in to the room to help out with the slit cutting, but many of the adults had very young children they needed to watch and thus were unable to assist.  Luckily, none of the kids had a meltdown when they struggled with cutting, and luckily, I was able to quickly cut slits in stacks of circles.  But there were ten dicey minutes at the start of this project where I thought for sure it would be an absolute failure.  All of the kids were frustrated with the cutting, some of the kids were having a really tough time with taping the ends of yarn to the back of their circle (one boy pulled off two feet of scotch tape and looked up at me with puzzled, desperate eyes), and one little boy totally didn’t understand that we only need to use one piece of yarn at a time.

But suddenly the tide turned, and everyone started to have fun.  Some kids did straight weaving, lacing the yarn in and out of the slits, but other kids got incredibly creative.  We had necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and paper dogs being walked on yarn leashes.  We had letters woven on to the circles.  Each child kept asking for another circle, please, and each child made at least five woven circles.  One little boy kept leaving the room – I thought he was bored and leaving, but he was actually delivering woven circles to his mother, then he’d come back to make another.  The kids kept at this project for a full half hour, and only stopped when their parents came in to say it was time to go.

This art project was a very good lesson for me as a teacher/facilitator: don’t give up if you think the project isn’t working.  Have patience, let it evolve, let the children be challenged for a bit, and allow them to come up with their own solutions to the difficult task given to them.  If you give the kids the space and freedom to work, they will end up surprising you with their creativity and artistic joy.  And then everyone leaves happy: teacher, children, and parents.

Gregor the Overlander

Tuesday was the November meeting of the 5th grade book group, and we discussed Suzanne Collins’ Gregor the Overlander.  Six kids showed up (impressive, considering I forgot to send my usual email reminder the day before the group), and we had an odd mix of deep discussion of heavy topics and juice-through-the-nose giggles.

So let’s get the juice spurting giggles out of the way: when the bagels and cream cheese were about half-devoured, the group’s newest member excitedly raised her hand, and I called on her.  And she burst into song, “The rocket’s red glare…Rats bursting in air…>giggle giggle snort<…”  And the whole group lost it.  I have to admit, the song works.  And though gross, it’s pretty funny.  And actually related to the book.  I let everyone giggle until the giggles started to sound forced, then I tried to rein the group back in to the book discussion.  It took a few minutes, and there were a few more attempts to start the song up again (all very politely preceded by the raising of hands), but eventually we got back on track.

I posed a few questions of my own, and then moved on to two questions from the Scholastic website that particularly intrigued me:

1.  “The prophecies of Bartholomew of Sandwich foretold many things that have occurred in the Underland including the death of Luxa’s parents. When prophecies are fulfilled, is it because of fate or because people shape their behavior to conform to the prophecy? Discuss the concept of self-fulfilling prophecies. Also discuss the belief in free will versus fate.”

2.  “Quest is a recurring theme in the fantasy adventure genre. You might argue that there are two quests in Gregor the Overlander. One is that of the Underlanders to fulfill the Prophecy of Gray and thus prevent their annihilation by the rats. The other is Gregor’s quest to find his father and bring him home. How are the two quests interrelated? Why can one not exist without the other?”  (both questions from the Scholastic book discussion guide on Gregor the Overlander.)

After the juice snort giggles, I wasn’t sure how these questions would go over, but the kids launched into a fabulous discussion of fate versus free will, and then quests and the genre of fantasy.  Interestingly, the group was split evenly on the fate/free will issue, with half of the kids believing that fate completes governs our lives, and the other half arguing that our lives progress as they do entirely because of free will.  The kids talked about the first question for a good fifteen minutes, in great depth, with intelligence and perceptivity.  I was impressed.

We didn’t spend as long on the second question, but our conversation was just as interesting, and I think we cleared up some misconceptions amongst the group members as to what constitutes fantasy.  Several of the kids mentioned that they prefer quest fantasy to fantasy sans quest, since a quest makes the plot exciting and adventurous.  (Not one of the kids mentioned Harry Potter here, which makes me very happy!)

The group’s consensus was that they all loved this book, and two of the six had already gone on to read the entire rest of the series.

As we ran out of time, I introduced the December book selection to the kids.  I told them that I had chosen my favorite book of all time, and that I’d never dared to have a book group read it before, since I love the book so much.  But that I trusted them, and couldn’t wait to hear what their thoughts on it will be…and then I showed them the book.  Anyone care to guess what this mystery book is?  [My siblings, especially Dan, will have the upper hand here.]

A fan


I was sitting at my desk…one of my Mother Goose on the Loose storytime regulars came in with her mom and older brother…and I overheard her say:

“Abby’s home!  Abby’s here!  Abby’s home!!!”

I guess I do kinda live at the library.  And I guess Jim is right when he says I’m like a rock star to the little kids.  Because Janey kept up that refrain, “Abby’s home! Abby’s here!  Abby’s home!” for the whole half hour that her family was at the library.  Her mom and I thought it was pretty funny, and pretty cute.


On my way back from Idylwilde today, I passed our neighbors’ house and said hi to the kids. 

“How’s the yard sale going?”  I asked the three boys.

“Great!”  then, “Hey, Abby!  I can tie my shoes!!!!”

“That’s awesome!” I said, then their mom and I talked about their new cat for a minute before I went my way.

I’ve been thinking about these kids lately, and how they are raised the way I was raised:  they play outside a lot, often with other neighborhood kids; they aren’t scheduled for a million lessons, but rather have a lot of free play time; and their parents don’t treat them as though they’re little gods.  These kids have boundaries, and they know when they’ve crossed the line.

The result is that these kids are well-behaved, friendly, and know how to entertain themselves simply by riding their bikes or picking beans and tomatoes out of their garden.  They’re also interested in other people: they’ve brought us a plate of homemade brownies, and they always come running over to greet Jim when he grills, asking him, “Hey, Jim!  Whatcha doin’???  Are you going to play guitar??  Whatcha cookin’???”

It’s really refreshing to see a family that’s raising such sweet, fun, un-selfcentered boys, especially in this age of over-scheduled children and helicopter parents.  It seems like every time I turn on the Today Show there’s a piece on how parents overindulge their children these days, and how current parenting practices aren’t ideal, that maybe we’ve swung too far away from how parents raised children in the fifties, that parenting needs to swing back to a more moderate point somewhere between where we are now and where we were in the fifties.  I suspect that the economic downturn will actually encourage more parenting like I see next door, as more families can’t afford to pay for classes and lessons for their children, and as more families want to raise kids who will be able to take the blows that society is bound to deal them in the coming years. Things have changed a lot in the last year, and our kids need to be equipped for what looks to be a hard-scrabble future.

And now Jim and I should head over and meet that new cat…