Category Archives: Picture book review

Recipe for a great storytime

Yesterday’s preschool storytime was a BLAST – for me and for the kids.  Here’s what made it so fun:

“Open, Shut Them” ~ The group has learned our opening song well, and everyone now sings along with me.

Otis by Loren Long ~ The kids really, really, really liked this book.  They listened with rapt attention; reacted with concerned faces when the calf is stuck in the mud pond; and nearly cheered when the calf got free.  When the story was over, I asked the group what they thought of the story, and they simultaneously yelled, “I LOVED it!!!!”  Though some reviewers indicated that this book might be more for adults than kids, my experience yesterday tells me that it will become a modern classic with kids.

Ready for Anything! by Keiko Kasza ~ A silly story that doesn’t push its message too much, Ready for Anything gently deals with a character who worries excessively.  The kids liked this book a lot (though not with the level of love they expressed for Otis), and we had a good time reading it together.  One girl even predicted the surprise ending, which was fun for us all.

“The Silly Dance Contest” from Jim Gill’s album, Jim Gill Sings the Sneezing Song and Other Contagious Tunes ~ We have all of Jim Gill’s albums in the library collection, and they’ve become so popular that I had to use some programming money from the Friends to buy copies exclusively for use in my storytimes.  These albums are popular for good reason: Jim Gill “gets” kids.  We had a great time yesterday bopping around to this song, giggling so loudly that the parents came to observe through the story room window.  My eternal thanks to Maureen A. for telling me about Jim Gill a couple of years ago!

Jeremy Draws a Monster by Peter McCarty ~ I was worried that this quiet story might not work well in a storytime, but it was a hit.  It even provoked a discussion about how Jeremy changes from the beginning of the book to the end (and a child started the conversation, not me). 

“The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” Abby’s version ~ This week I decided to add a few more layers to this song, going beyond Hugh Hanley’s “Huge Enormous Spider” and “Very Quiet Spider.”  Those two additions are so much fun that I added the very fast spider, the very slow spider, and the very loud spider (ending, of course, with the very quiet spider, for sanity’s sake).  The toddlers on Monday had a good time with these additions, but the preschoolers yesterday REALLY hammed it up. 

And, for our final story, I pulled out my feltboard version of The Very Quiet Cricket by Eric Carle.  And the zebra finger taster puppet somehow thought that each child yesterday tasted like a kind of bug – butterfly, mosquito, dragonfly… – which made for a lot of final giggles before we all belted out “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”

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.

busy busy busy

It’s been a long week, though a fun week.  I really enjoyed visiting with all of the first through fifth grade classes this week, and especially enjoyed their reactions to the stories that I read them.  It’s not often that I get to read longer, more complex picture books out loud to kids, since my Thursday storytime at the library is primarily attended by 3 and 4 year-olds, so it was a true treat to dip into these more involved stories.  My personal favorite of the week is Mr. Maxwell’s Mouse, which I read to the fifth graders.  It was so fun to see these sophisticated fifth graders get totally wrapped up in the drama of the story, some girls covering their eyes and turning their heads in anticipation of the mouse’s death or the injury to the cat’s tail.  And then to experience the visible, audible relief in the room as the mouse escapes, and the cat clearly recovers from the cut to his tail.  (Thanks, Gayle, for reminding me about this book!!)

And I did a first this week:  I spoke to an assembly of 88 second graders, pretty successfully, too.  What nice kids, all of them!  I got such an incredibly warm reception from all of the classes I visited, and really enjoyed my week.

But, the work week is not over yet.  At 1 PM today, the H—- Puppet Players (a group of teenage volunteers “dedicated to the art of puppet performance”) will be performing “The Reluctant Dragon.”  These awesome creative volunteers have poured so much energy into the preparation for this performance, including creating a soundtrack and staying late at the high school’s art room yesterday to make scenery.  I can’t wait to see how the production goes today, and hope that they get a good-sized audience.

Before the show, though, all of the staff from the library will be attending the memorial service for Joanne’s late husband.  My thoughts are with Joanne and her family right now, as they prepare for the service. 

Coming in the fall…

I just received a confirmation email from Random House that Tad Hills will definitely be coming to visit the library in the fall (exact date yet to be decided).

For those of you who don’t know, Tad Hills has written and illustrated two great picture books, Duck and Goose and Duck, Duck Goose.  I absolutely LOVE these books, and have used Duck and Goose more times than I can count for storytime.  Duck and Goose, the two main characters, have so much personality, and the pictures are funny and the colors are fantastic.  The storyline alternates masterfully from pages with a lot of text to pages with very little text, making it a long story that is easy to read aloud, even to a young group. 

And I love hearing the kids tell Duck and Goose, with amused exasperation, “That’s not an egg!!  It’s a BALL!!!!!”

A new resource

I’ve discovered a great resource for locating new and fabulous children’s books.  While on Nantucket, I picked up a copy of the BookSense Autumn newsletter, children’s edition.  BookSense is an affiliation of independent book stores, and the newsletter contains reviews written by booksellers all over the country.  I took some time today and went through the newsletter book by book, looking up published reviews of each book in our library catalog.  Almost all of the books featured in the newsletter had received acclaim from journals such as Booklist, The Horn Book, VOYA, and School Library Journal.  And most of the featured books are so fresh to the market that almost no other libraries yet have them.

After considering all the reviews, gaps in our collection, and what consistently does well in our library, I ended up ordering about half of the books featured in the newsletter.  And I feel really great about what I ordered: some authors who are already favorites, some first-time authors who sound incredible, and, most importantly, I got a jump on these new books by following the advice of independent booksellers.  Definitely a powerful tool to learn about the best recent books.

More new books

Three more new books that I absolutely love:

The True Story of Stellina by Matteo Pericoli

This one has received rave reviews in many different journals, including Horn Book Magazine.  So I was expecting great things from this book, and it more than delivered.  It’s a very sweet, unsentimental tale of a baby finch in New York City that falls out of its nest and is taken in by a young woman, after she watches and waits for many hours for the finch’s mother to claim her baby.  The young woman and the finch live happily together in a NYC apartment, and eventually Matteo Pericoli and the young woman get married and the finch, Stellina, continues to live with the two of them.  Stellina lived to be eight, and Pericoli’s retelling of her life story is beautiful and touching.  His prose is spare and lovely, and his illustrations are absolutely gorgeous.  (I was very misty-eyed — runny mascara — when I finished reading this book at my desk in the library.)

The Art Book for Children by the folks at Phaidon Press

This isn’t a picture book (I’m cataloging it in the section of the library for third grade and up).  Art from many different eras and styles is represented in this book, and the authors do an amazing job discussing the background information on specific pieces of art, pointing out certain aspects of each piece of art, and then posing open-ended questions about that artwork.  I can see parents reading this along with their children, with ensuing lively discussions about art.  Wish I’d had a book like this as a kid…it wasn’t til my junior year of college that I knew how to look at art and feel confident in my own opinions about that art.

Built to Last: Building America’s Amazing Bridges, Dams, Tunnels, and Skyscrapers by George Sullivan

Admittedly, I haven’t spent as much time reading this book as I should, but my excuse is that it’s a fairly dense text and I have a LOT of books to process at the moment.  What I’ve seen and read, though, I like a lot.  This book is definitely intended for an older audience, probably fifth grade and up, and gives details about various construction projects throughout the US.  Being from the Boston area, I read the section devoted to the Central Artery (the infamous Big Dig project), and found the text well-written and the photographs informative.  At the beginning of each section, the main facts about the project are set apart for easy reference and comparison: cost, time to complete, etc.  In addition, there are boxes in each section with related interesting facts; in the Big Dig section, there is a discussion about a privy from the 1600’s that was uncovered in the course of the construction, and what was found in the privy (including an early bowling ball!).

These books, and many other new books, will be the books available for summer reading bookplates.  Any child who read more than 30 hours during the summer will be able to choose from these great new books and have a bookplate put into the chosen book with that child’s name and the total number of hours that child read over the summer.  Some kids have just reached 30 hours, others are aiming high and have already reached 120 hours.  I’m really impressed by their achievements, and I’m glad that I have a stock of such great books from them to choose from for this bookplate adventure!