Lions and Tigers (But No Bears)! Oh My!

 

20170330_122358

Fork-Painted Lion by Maia

It’s been a while since I wrote a post about one of my storytimes, but last night’s was particularly fun, and the kids loved all of the books.  Here’s what we read:

little red

Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion by Alex T. Smith

This book has been nominated for the Irma Black Award, and I had a blast reading it to two classes of second graders last week.  The storytime crowd loved it too.  When Little Red’s Auntie Rosie develops a bad case of spots, Little Red sets out through the jungle to bring her some spot medicine.  On the way, she meets a sneaky lion, who plots to shove Auntie Rosie in a cabinet and disguise himself in her clothes.  Unfortunately for the lion, Little Red is not fooled.  Before the lion has a chance to react, Little Red has given him a fashionable (and hilarious!) new hairdo, made him brush his disgusting teeth, and changed him into a lovely pink dress.  The kids laughed out loud at the illustrations!

tigerits

It’s a Tiger! by David LaRochelle; illustrated by Jeremy Tankard

I had the kids stand up and mime the motions to this one, because it takes the reader on a journey through the jungle, where the tiger pops up unexpectedly among vines, under leaves, and even in the uniform of a boat captain.  The kids loved spotting the tiger hidden in the illustrations, and running in place whenever I said, “It’s a Tiger!”

lessons

Lion Lessons by Jon Agee

I’m a big fan of Jon Agee, especially since he gave a wonderful presentation at my son’s school a few years ago.  This book was fun for the kids to act out as well, since they got to stretch, and roar, and pounce.  It’s the story of a boy’s effort to earn his “Lion Diploma” from a very hard-to-please instructor.

 

naughty

Naughty Kitty by Adam Stower

Another hidden tiger book.  This is a cute story about a girl named Lily, who blames her adorable gray kitten for some very destructive behavior.  The kids enjoyed spotting the tiger on each page, and the feeling of knowing more than the main character.  The surprise ending made them laugh too.

SONGS AND RHYMES:

We’re Going on a Tiger Hunt

Instead of the usual bear hunt, we went on a tiger hunt.  This is a great way to give the kids a chance to move around in between books.  I like to ham it up by pretending to get a grasshopper stuck in my shirt, wiping the mud off my feet, and shaking myself dry from the lake.  There are lots of variations, but this the script I use, with the kids repeating every line:

We’re going on a tiger hunt!
(We’re going on a tiger hunt!)
It’s a beautiful day!
(It’s a beautiful day!)
We’re not scared!
(We’re not scared!)

We’re coming to some grass.
(We’re coming to some grass).
Can’t go over it.
(Can’t go over it.)
Can’t go under it.
(Can’t go under it.)
Have to go through it.
(Have to go through it.)
Swish! Swish! Swish! Swish! (Rubbing hands together)

We’re coming to some mud.
(We’re coming to some mud.)
Can’t go over it.
(Can’t go over it.)
Can’t go under it.
(Can’t go under it.)
Have to go through it.
(Have to go through it).
Squilch! Squelch! Squilch! Squelch! (Clapping hands together).

We’re coming to a lake.
(We’re coming to a lake.)
Can’t go over it.
(Can’t go over it.)
Can’t go under it.
(Can’t go under it.)
Have to swim across it.
(Have to swim across it.)
Splish! Splash! Splish! Splash!

We’re coming to a cave.
(We’re coming to a cave.)
Can’t go over it.
(Can’t go over it.)
Can’t go under it.
(Can’t go under it.)
Have to go inside.
(Have to go inside.)
Tiptoe…tiptoe…tiptoe…tiptoe…
It’s dark in here…
(It’s dark in here…)
It’s cold in here…
(It’s cold in here…)
Two yellow eyes…it’s a tiger!

Run!
Swim across the lake!
Run through the mud!
Run through the grass!
Into the house!
Slam the door!
Lock it!
We’re never going on a tiger hunt again!

Fun with Scarves

Something I’ve been meaning to blog about is my recent addition of scarves to my storytimes.  Our library recently received a set of play scarves, and I found some fun, easy songs that we do each week with them.  It’s a part of storytime, along with the instrument play at the end, that the kids look forward to each week.  Here are the two songs I do most often:

Popcorn Kernels
To the Tune of Frere Jacques (Are You Sleeping?)

Popcorn Kernels, (hold scarf bunched up in one hand)
Popcorn Kernels,
In the Pot,
In the Pot.
Shake ’em, shake ’em, shake ’em, (shake hand)
Shake ’em, shake ’em, shake ’em.
Till they POP! (throw scarf in the air)
Till they POP!

Icky Sticky Sticky Bubblegum

(Click on the triangle to hear the tune)

Icky Sticky Sticky Bubblegum (stretching scarf between hands)
Bubblegum, Bubblegum.
Icky Sticky Sticky Bubblegum,
Sticking my hand to my nose. (put one end of the scarf on your nose)
1-2-3 UNSTUCK! (throw scarf in the air).

Repeat, sticking the scarf to different body parts: belly button, eyebrow, etc.

CRAFT: Fork Painted Lion

I found this fun and easy craft on CraftyMorning.com.  I put out plates with orange paint (along with other paint options for kids who wanted to do something different), along with googly eyes, markers, and plastic forks.  Some of the kids smeared the paint to make the fork prints less obvious.

20170330_122431

Fork-Painted Lion by Jade

20170330_122246

Fork-Painted Lion by Kiley

MORE BOOKS ABOUT LIONS AND TIGERS:

The Lion and the Little Red Bird by Elisa Kleven

This is one of my all-time favorite picture books.  A little red bird wonders why a lion has a bright green tail.  She follows him for the day, until he disappears into his cave, but the next day his tail is orange!  The reason for the lion’s colorful tail is a mystery until one stormy night when the lion rescues the bird, and brings her into his cave.  A sweet story with beautiful illustrations.

The Hungry Lion or a Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins

Another nominee for the Irma Black Award this year, this funny book lists a wide assortment of animals sitting next to a hungry lion.  On each page, there are fewer animals, although the reason for their disappearance will come as a surprise.

The Tawny Scrawny Lion by Kathryn Jackson; illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren

One of my favorite Little Golden books, this is the story of a lion who terrorizes all of the other animals, until a rabbit brings him home to enjoy some carrot stew with his large and entertaining family.  I used to read this book over and over when I was a kid, and I love it still.

What are your favorite books about lions and tigers?

My Favorite Picture Books of 2016

It’s that time of year again.  The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) will be announcing their Book and Media Awards on Monday, January 23 at 8am EST (5am, my time, unfortunately).

I’m very excited this year because my friend and former coworker, Ashley Waring is on the Caldecott Committee, although she doesn’t know who the winner is yet, and has been sworn to secrecy anyway.  So until the 23rd, I just have to look at my own favorite picture books published in 2016, and try to guess which one might win.

Admittedly, I have a different criteria for picture books than the Caldecott Committee.  As a children’s librarian, I tend to prefer books that lend themselves well to being read aloud to a large group of kids, so many of the beautiful wordless books or very wordy picture books don’t work as well for me.  There are also a few books on some of the Mock Caldecott lists that I haven’t been able to get hold of yet. But these are my personal favorites so far:

are

Are We There Yet? by Dan Santat

This is one of the most unusual picture books I’ve seen this year, and one that works well both as a read-aloud and a book for kids to pore over on their own.  The text is fairly simple, but describe a feeling that most kids can identify with: the endless tedium of a long car trip.  As the trip progresses though, the book flips upside down and backwards, and the scenery outside the car shifts, travelling back in time to the age of pirates, ancient Egypt and all the way back to the dinosaurs.  It then jumps forward into the far future, and the boy wonders if they missed Grandma’s birthday party altogether.  Santat already won the 2014 Caldecott for The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend, so it would be surprising if he won one again so soon, but between the two books, this one is my favorite.

king

King Baby by Kate Beaton

This one is fairly simple, and unlikely to win the Caldecott, but it’s been one of my favorite books to read aloud this year, because the kids love it.  Cartoony illustrations capture the pride and frustration of a baby who is King of all he surveys.  His parents are his loyal subjects, waiting on his every need and whim, although they don’t always understand what he is asking for.  So King Baby has to learn to do things for himself by growing into a Big Kid.  Whenever I read this one, the kids laugh out loud at the diaper change, the burping, and especially the last page, when King Baby is replaced by a new ruler, Queen Baby.

beautiful

Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Compoy and Theresa Howell; illustrated by Rafael Lopez.

I can think of several picture books about kids who have transformed a bleak city landscape into something beautiful that brings the community together (including City Green by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan and The Curious Garden by Peter Brown), but this is notable for being based on a true story.  A little girl who lives in a gray city hands out colorful pictures to her friends and neighbors.  Her drawings make people smile, and inspire a muralist, who picks up a paintbrush and begins to transform the walls into bright, beautiful paintings bursting with color.  The story is based on the Urban Art Trail Project in the East Village of San Diego.  The illustrations are truly vibrant and joyful, and the book as a whole is a wonderful testament to the power of art.

schoolSchool’s First Day of School by Adam Rex; illustrated by Christian Robinson

Adam Rex is one of my favorite children’s author/illustrators, and, although I haven’t had a chance to share this one at storytime yet, I am looking forward to it.  There are hundreds of books about kids facing the anxiety of the first of school, and even books about teachers being nervous, but this is the first book I’ve seen that personifies the feelings of the school building itself.  Embarrassed by the fire drill that empties the building, hurt by the kid who says, “I hate school!” and seeking reassurance from the school janitor, the school becomes a character that you immediately like.  Christian Robinson’s whimsical, colorful illustrations add to the humor and endearing nature of the story.  I expect to be reading this one a lot in the future.

cat

They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel

This is the picture book that has gotten the most buzz this year.  As a cat walked through the world, he is seen by different people and animals in wildly different ways.  Each page is vivid and thought-provoking.  The dog sees the cat as a skinny creature with a giant bell.  The bees sees it as a collection of multicolored dots.  This is one I would have spent a long time looking at as a child, and one I could see having lots of uses for art lessons or themes about different points of view.  Mostly though, it’s a fun and beautiful, unusual book, and I can see why it’s at the top of most of the Mock Caldecott lists this year.

thunder

Thunder Boy, Jr. by Sherman Alexie; illustrated by Yuyi Morales

As someone who hated her name as a kid (growing up with the name “Ashley” in Gone With the Wind country was no picnic), I identified with this book’s main character, a boy who hates being named Thunder Boy, Jr., after his dad.  Thunder Boy proposes several names he would rather have, including Mud in His Ears, Can’t Run Fast While Laughing, and Not Afraid of Ten Thousand Teeth.  Finally, he and his dad come up with a name that works for both of them.  This is a great, funny read-aloud with large, striking illustrations by Yuyi Morales.

 

Any other picture books I should have included?  Please share your favorites in the comments.

 

In the Night Kitchen: A Storytime in Honor of Maurice Sendak

Today, Friday, June 10, would have been Maurice Sendak’s 88th birthday.  So this week I did an all-Sendak storytime.

Here is what we read:

wild

Where the Wild Things Are

Of course, I had to include the story of Max and his adventures as King of All Wild Things. I was surprised by how many of the kids hadn’t read this book yet, but they were mesmerized.  They especially enjoyed roaring and gnashing their teeth like wild things, and the silly chant I threw in for the “wild rumpus” pages (something like, “Ung-ga-da, ding-ga-da, ding-ga-da.”  I made it up as I went along).  My copy was immediately snatched up.

pierre

Pierre

I remember the day my son’s teacher read this to the class in Kindergarten (unbeknownst to me), and how he came home saying, “I don’t care!” in reply to everything I said, until I could totally understand why Pierre’s parents left him alone in a neighborhood where hungry lions occasionally wander through.  For a long time this was my son’s favorite book.  The kids at storytime loved it too, eagerly chiming in on all the “I don’t cares!”  A couple of them looked shocked when Pierre (still insisting he doesn’t care) got eaten by the lion, then relieved when he emerged again intact.  But they were all clamoring to check it out in the end.

outside

Outside Over There

This story has always reminded me of the movie Labyrinth, although I’ve never actually checked to see if there’s a connection.  It’s the story of Ida, who is left in charge of her baby sister, but fails to see the goblins sneaking in through the window to steal the baby away, and leaving a baby made of ice in her place.  Ida has to use her wits and her wonderhorn to rescue her sister from becoming a goblin bride Outside Over There.  There is something so wonderfully bizarre and otherworldly about this book.  It makes me think of the old collection of Andersen’s fairy tales I used to read over and over, feeling equally disturbed and fascinated.  My storytime group was equally entranced, and there were quite a few hands reaching for it when it was over.

night kitchen

In the Night Kitchen

This was one of my favorite books as a kid: the story of Mickey, who falls out of bed into the night kitchen, and is nearly baked in a cake by the enormous bakers who cook there.  Instead he builds a plane out of bread dough and flies into the Milky Way to find the missing ingredient: milk!  I was wondering if anyone would comment on Mickey’s nudity, but no one did (I don’t remember noticing it when I was a kid either).  A couple of kids were arguing over who would get to check this one out too.

SONGS:

There was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly

I have an old lady puppet that the kids love to “feed.”  I do have her “die” at the end, but then we take her to the hospital and revive and pump her stomach, which always gets a laugh.

Home Again

I wrote this song a few months ago.  It’s based on several Sendak books, including Where the Wild Things Are, Outside Over There, and We are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy.

Home Again
Darling, when you feel afraid,
For you can plainly see,
The world is full of monsters
Who look just like you and me.

Just jump aboard your tiny boat
Follow the falling star.
And sail away through night and day,
To where the wild things are.

And you will dance and then
Let the wild rumpus begin.
But I will love you best of all
When you come home again.

And darling, when the goblins come,
And no one seems to care,
Climb out your bedroom window
Into outside over there.

Bring your horn, and play a jig,
And charm them with a song.
They’ll set you free, and you will soon be
Home where you belong.

And you will dance and then,
Let the wild rumpus begin.
But I will love you best of all,
When you come home again.

When the moon is in a fit,
And you are in the dumps,
Lost in the rye with one black eye,
And diamonds are all trumps.

I will come and buy you bread,
One loaf or maybe two.
And I will bring you up
Cause happy endings can come true.

And we will dance and then,
Let the wild rumpus begin.
And I will love you best of all
Until the very end.

CRAFT: Wild Thing Feet

20160608_194656

Wild Thing Feet by Evie

I stole this craft idea from AlphaMom.com: http://alphamom.com/family-fun/activities/where-the-wild-things-are-monster-activities-for-kids/

I precut the feet (in a variety of sizes to accommodate different kids), then gave them supplies to decorate them.

What are your favorite Maurice Sendak books?

 

 

UNDER CONSTRUCTION: Picture Books about Big Machines

It’s been a while since I’ve done a write-up about a storytime, but I just did two with a construction equipment theme that were both a lot of fun.  The first was a family storytime, for a wide variety of ages. The second was a preschool storytime, although most of the kids were actually under the age of 3.

Here are the books I read for both:

gogo.jpg

Go! Go! Go! STOP by Charise Mericle Harper

I liked this one so much, I actually read it for Musical Storytime as well.  Little Green knows only one word, “GO!”  When he shouts it out to the busy machines working on the new bridge, it motivates them to work faster and faster.  But then things get out of control.  Luckily, just then, Little Red rolls into town and shouts the only word he knows, “STOP!”  It takes a while for Little Green and Little Red to figure out how to work together, but when they do, they help the machines get the bridge built.  There are lots of opportunities for the kids to shout (and whisper), “GO!” and “STOP!” throughout the book, which they loved.  It also provides a great way to model to parents how to use prominent repeated words in the text to help kids make the connection between print and spoken words.  This would work really well for a color theme as well.

bulldozer

Bulldozer’s Big Day by Candace Fleming; illustrated by Eric Rohmann

Bulldozer is so excited about inviting his friends to his party.  But each time he rolls up to a big machine he knows and ask them what day it is, they answer that it is a scooping day, a mixing day, a scraping day, or whatever kind of day it usually is when they are working.  Bulldozer is sad, until the crane announces that it’s a “lifting day,” and lifts up an enormous birthday cake.  Fun book for kids to try to name each type of big machine, and demonstrate what each one does.  This would also work for a birthday theme.

build.jpg

Build, Dogs, Build by James Horvath

A crew of dogs tear down an old building and construct a new one from beginning to end.  LOTS of different types of construction equipment in this one, and funny details hidden in the colorful illustrations.  The kids especially enjoyed looking for Jinx the cat on each page.  Great for both dog fans and construction lovers.

construction

The Construction Crew by Lynn Meltzer by Carrie Eko-Burgess

Another picture book that follows the construction of a house from beginning to end, with rhyming text that asks kids, “What do we need?” for each step of the process, starting with the wrecking ball to tear down the old building and ending with the moving truck to help the new family move in.  Even the adults loved this one.

crane

What Can a Crane Pick Up? by Rececca Kai Dotlich; illustrated by Mike Lowery

I did this one for Musical Storytime as well.  It’s a rhyming book that describes all of the many things a crane can lift, including multiple trucks, a submarine, library books, another crane, boxes of underwear, and even you!  Quirky and fun.

dirty.jpg

I’m Dirty  by Kate and Jim McMullan

Another book by the team behind I Stink, this book introduces a mud-loving backhoe who cleans up a lot full of garbage and abandoned junk, counting what he picks up as he goes: including four cat-clawed couches, and two tossed-out toilet seats.  The kids enjoyed “eww”-ing at the pictures of trash and mud.

trucks.png

20 Big Trucks in the Middle of the Street by Mike Lee; illustrated by Kurt Cyrus

Cute counting book about an ice cream truck that breaks down in the middle of the street, causing a traffic jam of big trucks.  No one knows what to do, until the boy narrating the story suggests that the crane truck can save the day.  The kids liked the big truck illustrations, and of course, any book with ice cream is always a hit.

SONGS:

Twinkle, Twinkle, Traffic Light

I did this one to go along with Go! Go! Go! Stop! to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star:

Twinkle, Twinkle, Traffic Light,
Twinkle, Twinkle, Traffic Light,
Shining on the corner bright.
Red means STOP! (hold out hands in “STOP” motion)
Green means GO! (run in place fast)
Yellow means YOU’D BETTER GO SLOW! (run in place slowly)
Twinkle, Twinkle, Traffic Light,
Shining on the corner bright.

Bouncing Up and Down in My Little Red Wagon

This is a great song for babies on up.  Older kids like coming up with silly “tools” to fix the wagon, like a pickle or a rhinoceros.  The ukulele chords alternate between C and G7, so it is very easy to play too:

Bouncing up and down in my little red wagon.
Bouncing up and down in my little red wagon.
Bouncing up and down in my little red wagon.
Won’t you be my darlin’.

One wheel’s off and the axle’s broken… (lean to one side)

Joey’s going to fix it with his hammer…

Bouncing up and down in my little red wagon…

Repeat, asking kids who would like to fix the wagon, and what tool they would use.

CRAFT:

07-22-Crane-Craft

Sadly, it was too crazy on Wednesday night for me to get a picture of the kids’ finished crafts, but I did my own version of this Crane Craft I found from the DeKalb Public Library. Instead of popsicle sticks, I cut up drinking straws, and had the kids thread a piece of yarn through them to attach to the arm of their crane.  It was a bit tricky for the toddlers, who needed their parents’ help, but they all seemed to enjoy it.

 

HANDOUT

Our library system encourages librarians to create a handout for storytimes, listing all of the books and songs, as well as literacy tips for parents.  I don’t usually do one for my Family Storytimes, since I often have to adjust my book selections on the fly depending on what age kids show up.  But here is the handout I used this week for Preschool Storytime: May 25 Pre K Storytime (Larsen, Ashley)

 

Kid Picks

Since I’m always trying to find new books for storytime, I often test out new titles on my own kids.  My son, at 11, mostly wants to read books on his own now, although my husband and I still read aloud to him at bedtime when he’s not caught up in a novel (right now, my husband is reading The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy with him. I am anxious for them to finish, because then I will get to share The Restaurant at the End of the Universe).

My six year-old daughter has a love/hate relationship with having a librarian mom.  On the one hand, she loves books, so she likes when I bring them home.  On the other hand, she’s always been dismayed that she can’t keep them all.  With both of my kids, I have been guilty of returning books to the library before they were ready to part with them, so I understand why she gets upset.  Occasionally she’ll become so attached to a particular book that  I’ll buy her a copy of her own.  That was the case with her latest favorite, Gaston, by Kelly DiPucchio and Christian Robinson.

gaston

My daughter loves everything about this book: the illustrations (which she talks about at length), the story, the whole package.  She asks for it at bedtime every night.  She brings it in the car to read for herself.  She lies on her bed and pores over every page.  Rarely has she fallen so hard for a book.

And I get it.  It’s a great book.  I think I picked it up originally because it was on a list of the best picture books of 2014.   It’s about a family of puppies: Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo, Ooh-La-La, and Gaston.  They are all adorable, except Gaston does not look like his poodle siblings.  He also struggles to sip (never slobber!), and yip (never yap!), and all the other proper things their mother encourages them to do, although he always tries the hardest.

Then one day the poodles meet a family of bulldog pups at the park.  Or at least three of the pups (Rocky, Ricky, and Bruno) look like bulldogs (and a lot like Gaston).  The fourth, Antoinette, looks like a little white poodle.   Gaston and Antoinette realize there’s been a mix-up.  The two families reluctantly arrange a swap.  Now everyone looks alike, but no one is happy.  Gaston finds the bulldog family too “brutish and brawny.”  Antoinette can’t stand being proper.  The next morning they all race back to the park, where the two mothers announce that they have made a terrible mistake.  Antoinette and Gaston return to the families they love, and later, when they grow up and have puppies of their own, they teach them be whatever they want to be.

All in all, it’s a wonderful story about the true meaning of family.  The illustrations are adorable (there’s a reason my daughter loves them), and the writing is perfect for reading aloud. I always wonder which of the current picture books will become classics, like Corduroy or Harry, the Dirty Dog–books that my kids will remember fondly enough to want to read to their own kids.  I’m sure this one will be on my daughter’s list.

As for my son, his current book obsession is the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children books by Ransom Riggs.  He tore through them in less than a week, pleading with me to check them all out because he didn’t want to wait even a day between books.  I haven’t read them yet myself, although he’s told me enough of the plot that I know it’s a fantasy/sci-fi series about a group of kids with bizarre talents and attributes.  The author based the book and the characters on creepy antique photographs of children (I love that idea).  I’ve promised my son that I will read them soon.

peregrine

So those are my kids’ current book recommendations.  What current books do you think will stand the test of time?

You Be the Judge: the Irma Black Award and the Cook Prize

My friend Sue Beckmeyer, who is the instructional media specialist at the K-8 school my kids attend, recently told me about two children’s book awards that are voted on by elementary school students: the Irma Black Award and the Cook Prize.  Both of these awards were created by the Center for Children’s Literature at the Bank Street College of Education in New York.

I was excited to learn about the awards because I read to two classes of second graders every other week, and they LOVE to vote for their favorites.  Sue was especially excited about the Cook Prize because it focuses on STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) related picture books, which are a big part of the new Common Core curriculum.  She asked me to share the books with the third and fourth grade classes, and collect their votes.  Here are the books:

ada

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine by Laurie Wallmark; illustrated by April Chu

This is a fascinating story about a brilliant mathematician who was a century ahead of her time.  Ada Byron Lovelace was the daughter of the notorious poet, Lord Byron, although she barely knew her father.  Her childhood was devoted to math and invention, especially after a bout of measles left her crippled for several years.  As a teenager, she met the famous inventor, Charles Babbage, who showed her his plans to build a “Thinking Machine,” essentially the first computer.  Lovelace recognized that the thinking machine would need detailed instructions to run, and so she set out to write them.  Even though Babbage never built the actual machine, Lovelace’s code is still considered the world’s first computer program.  The two third grade classes I shared this with so far were intrigued by the idea of a computer program that predated computers, and this one got a large number of votes, mostly from girls.

horseshoe

High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs by Lisa Kahn Schnell; illustrated by Alan Marks

This was the favorite by far of both classes I have read to.  It describes the annual event in Delaware Bay, when millions of horseshoe crabs crawl ashore to lay their eggs in the sand, followed by millions of hungry sea birds.  The kids loved the diagram of the very alien-looking crabs on the inside cover, and seemed really intrigued by the radio tags, and the goopy green eggs.  Nature writing at its best.

mesmerized

Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled all of France by Mara Rockliff; illustrated by Iocapo Bruno

This was the most challenging of the three books in terms of the concepts it was trying to convey, but it’s a great story.  It describes Benjamin Franklin’s trip to Paris to garner the support of the French aristocracy during the American Revolution.  While in Paris, he found that everyone was abuzz with news of a man named Dr. Mesmer.  Dr. Mesmer claimed to possess a mysterious force that could make people experience strange sensations, or even cure them of various ailments.  But when Dr. Mesmer tried his powers on Franklin, nothing happened.  Franklin suspected that the force was in the patient’s mind.  In order to test his theory, he enlisted the help of Mesmer’s assistant, asking him to use his powers on people who were blindfolded.  As he suspected, when the patient could no longer see Mesmer’s assistant, they would experience sensations even when he was no longer in the room, or feel heat in a different part of the body than he was targeting.  Mesmer was disgraced, but Franklin’s experiments led to the discovery of the placebo effect, which has been an important tool in modern medicine.  The book design and illustrations are eye-catching, and the text includes side bars outlining the different parts of the scientific method Franklin employed.  This book got a number of votes as well.

The Irma Black Award

On Wednesday, I got to share the finalists for the Irma Black Award with two classes of second graders.  This award is chosen by first and second graders, and is for the best read-aloud picture books.  Here are the four finalists:

bert

You Can Do It, Bert by Ole Konnecke

This is the shortest of the four finalists: a cute book about a bird bracing himself to try something new.  He walks out to the edge of his branch, then back again, then has a snack, then finally jumps…down into the water.  The kids liked the surprise that instead of learning to fly, Bert is taking his first plunge from the high dive.  This one got several votes.

stanley

It’s Only Stanley by Jon Agee

I love Jon Agee, especially because he did an excellent author visit to the school when my son was in second grade.  My favorite books of his are My Rhinoceros and Milo’s Hat Trick.  In this rhyming story, the Wimbledon family keeps getting woken up by the antics of their dog, Stanley, who howls at the moon, makes catfish stew, fixes their old TV, and finally launches their whole house to the moon.  The kids loved that the space poodle Stanley meets up with showed up on the TV earlier in the book.  This one got several votes as well.

red

Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall

I was happy to see this one on the list, because it is one of my daughter’s favorites.  The kids were intrigued from the moment they noticed the discrepancy between the book’s title (Red) and the clearly blue crayon on the cover.  The story is about a crayon who is labelled “Red,” but somehow can’t figure out how to draw anything red.  Everyone has a theory: he needs to try harder, his label’s too tight, he’s not warm enough.  But nothing helps.  Until one day, a new crayon asks him to draw a blue ocean for her boat, and he discovers he is really good…at being blue.  This was the second most popular book in both classes.

ragweed

Ragweed’s Farm Dog Handbook by Anne Vittur Kennedy

This was the clear favorite for both classes (and my favorite as well).  Ragweed the dog explains how to be a farm dog by taking you on a tour of the farm.  Along the way, he explains the jobs of the other animals: the rooster wakes the farmer.  That’s his job.  That’s not your job.  You will really, really want to wake the farmer, but don’t wake the farmer.  If you do wake the farmer, you can get a biscuit just to go away.  Every animal has a different job that Ragweed finds appealing, but Ragweed’s job is still the best.  His job is: to get biscuits!  The kids especially love the part where Ragweed says if you eat grass, you won’t get a biscuit.  “But you will throw up a biscuit, and you can eat that one again.”  This one is a blast to read aloud, and a hit for all ages.

I really enjoyed reading both the Irma Black and the Cook Prize finalists to the different classes, and am looking forward to trying out the Cook Prize voting with fourth graders this week to see if they make different choices.  Voting for both awards ends on April 17.  There’s a convenient form for online voting on the Bank Street web site.

UPDATE: I finished reading the Cook Prize finalists to the third and fourth grade classes yesterday.  Although all three books got votes, the fourth graders seemed to prefer Mesmerized.  The third graders tended to prefer High Tide for Horseshoe CrabsAda Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine was a close second for both grades.  The teachers were impressed with all three books, and so was I.  Even though I read them to five classes, I enjoyed reading them each time.  They are a nice mix of science, history, and nature, and all three are very well written.  Kudos to Bank Street for their selections!

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: The results are in!  The winner of the Cook Prize was Mesmerized, the book that the fourth graders preferred.  And It’s Only Stanley won the Irma Black Award. This wasn’t the favorite of the second grade, but it did get several votes, and I’m happy to see Jon Agee receive a prestigious award.

 

 

Where the Wild Things Are: A Song for Maurice Sendak

 

wild

I’ve been thinking a lot about Maurice Sendak lately.

Years ago, I read a book by Alison Lurie called Don’t Tell the Grown-ups: the Subversive Power of Children’s Literature.  Lurie’s central point was that the best and most memorable children’s books are the unconventional ones, usually featuring mischievous characters who don’t follow the rules.  While the book focused more on older authors, like Lewis Carroll, Beatrix Potter, and Mark Twain, I think Maurice Sendak fits the bill.

As I kid, one of my favorite books was In the Night Kitchen, which I think was the only Sendak book I actually owned.  I couldn’t tell you exactly why I was so drawn to it.  (Oddly, I don’t even think I noticed or cared that Mickey was naked. I remember being surprised years later, when a coworker in my first library job mentioned that someone had drawn pants on him in one of our copies.)  The book was deliciously creepy (literally), with the three giant smiling cooks threatening to cook Mickey in the batter.  The text and illustrations had a surreal quality that both troubled and appealed to me, and so I read it over and over again.

Later on, I stumbled upon Where the Wild Things Are in our local library. I loved the idea of sailing away to that island of the wild things, which I found both frightening and fascinating.  I stared at those illustrations for hours.  And, of course, the idea that you could enjoy your time being “King of the Wild Things” and still come home for a hot supper was deeply reassuring.  (I love the story of how Sendak had to fight his editor to use the word “hot” instead of “warm,” because the editor thought “hot” sounded too dangerous).

From Sendak, I developed an appetite for Shel Silverstein, Roald Dahl, Ray Bradbury, and Hans Christian Andersen (whose stories were often grimmer than the Brothers Grimm).  While the message from the adult world at large was “There’s no such thing as monsters,” these authors delighted in saying, “Oh, monsters definitely do exist, and aren’t they awesome?” or even “Monsters definitely do exist, and the scariest ones are people.”  They provided a safe, often even funny way to confront the nightmares, which was far more reassuring than being told that there was nothing to be afraid of.

So, in honor of Maurice Sendak, and all of his weird, wonderful, terrifying, mesmerizing books, I wrote this song, which I’m calling Home Again.  I hope you enjoy it (click on the triangle to hear the song):

Home Again
Darling, when you feel afraid,
For you can plainly see,
The world is full of monsters
Who look just like you and me.

Just jump aboard your tiny boat
Follow the falling star.
And sail away through night and day,
To where the wild things are.

And you will dance and then
Let the wild rumpus begin.
But I will love you best of all
When you come home again.

And darling, when the goblins come,
And no one seems to care,
Climb out your bedroom window
Into outside over there.

Bring your horn, and play a jig,
And charm them with a song.
They’ll set you free, and you will soon be
Home where you belong.

And you will dance and then,
Let the wild rumpus begin.
But I will love you best of all,
When you come home again.

When the moon is in a fit,
And you are in the dumps,
Lost in the rye with one black eye,
And diamonds are all trumps.

I will come and buy you bread,
One loaf or maybe two.
And I will bring you up
Cause happy endings can come true.

And we will dance and then,
Let the wild rumpus begin.
And I will love you best of all
Until the very end.