I haven’t done a storytime write-up in a while, but the kids really enjoyed this one. There have been a number of fun picture books about knitting and yarn published over the past few years, and, with my Family Storytime group now including several elementary school-aged kids, I thought I would give them a try. Here’s what we read:
This is a simple, but adorable story about a cat whose owner brings home a new “friend,” named Yarn. Cat enjoys playing with Yarn very much, until one day his owner transforms Yarn into an unpleasant new shape, a sweater she expects Cat to wear. The illustrations made the kids laugh out loud.
Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett; illustrated by Jon Klassen
This is one of my favorite books to read aloud, because the kids are always held spellbound by the story. When Annabelle finds a box of yarn, she knits sweaters for everyone in her family, her class, and her entire town, but mysteriously still has extra yarn, until a devious archduke steals her magic yarn box. The colorful illustrations by Jon Klassen are whimsical and funny, and the text builds suspense until the end.
Sweet story about two penguins looking for love, until their animal friends hatch a plan to help them find their missing yarn, and each others. The kids got a kick out of the illustrations, especially the whale in a sweater.
A funny, rhyming book about a herd of sheep who go looking for the wool Farmer Brown has taken from them, and are shocked at the various ways it gets transformed. This is a clever way to teach kids the steps involved in turning wool into yarn, with hilarious illustrations. The kids loved the illustration of the sheep in their colorful sweaters.
CRAFT: Pulled String Art/Finger Knitting
I had planned to have the kids do Pulled String Art, based on this post from Artful Parent: https://artfulparent.com/pulled-string-art-is-mesmerizing-and-addictive/ . But since I’ve been having some second and third graders at my Family Storytimes lately, I thought I would also demonstrate some Finger Knitting, a favorite activity of my daughter’s (there are lots of online videos and instructions, but this one simplifies it a bit: https://www.thecrafttrain.com/finger-knitting-for-kids/). To my surprise, all the kids except for one toddler wanted to try their hand (literally) at finger knitting, with varying degrees of success. The all LOVED trying though, even if their finished product looked more like a ball than a scarf. I think I’ll bring the Pulled String Art back another time though, because it is also a lot of fun, if a lot messier than finger knitting.
Deliciously wry and beautifully illustrated story of a princess whose father keeps her locked away in a tower to keep her safe. When she is given a mysterious box of yarn for her birthday, she knits herself a red wolf suit and transforms into a red wolf herself, bursting from the castle to have a wide time out in the world. But when the suit unravels, she is captured and returned to her tower, where she knits her father a pair of rather mousy pajamas. Reminiscent of Maurice Sendak, but with a style all its own.
I couldn’t get by without mentioning this classic picture book by Jan Brett, about a lost mitten that serves as a shelter for an astounding variety of animals of different sizes. Kids love the pictures along the side, revealing which animal will appear on the next page. Jan Brett also has a wonderful web site (http://www.janbrett.com/index.html), full of activities and information for kids.
Do you have any other favorite books about knitting? Please share them in the comments.
Very sweet picture book about a bear who opens a box and decides that he has found a perfect gift for his friend Mouse. But the other animals who look inside are not impressed. Spoiler alert: The box is actually empty, but it turns out to be exactly the right size to be a cozy spot for Mouse. This one got lots of “Awww’s” from the group (especially the parents).
Sadly this book appears to be out of print, which is a shame because it has a lot of kid appeal. After her new vacuum arrives, Mom receives a new delivery on the doorstep, with something very special inside. The book features large flaps for kids to open as the contents of the box are slowly revealed. I love this book because my daughter used to love to hide inside boxes to surprise me.
The companion to Not a Stick, this picture-driven book shows all of the different ways a box is transformed by a rabbit’s imagination. The kids always like guessing what the box will turn into next: a rocket, a pirate’s ship, a mountain, etc.
CRAFT: Paper Box
Paper Box by Brandon
There are lots of templates online for making paper boxes. I used this one from Pinterest. I cut the template out ahead of time and gave the kids markers to decorate them before gluing them together with glue sticks (the parents helped with assembly). The kids were really happy to have their own little boxes.
I’m sad that this book is out of print, because it’s always been a hit with my storytime families. A young girl wishes she could package herself up and send herself to her loved one who is far away. Sweet, rhyming book with beautiful illustrations.
In honor of April Fool’s Day, for this week’s Family Storytime, we read books about jokes and tricks. This was a fun theme, and all the books were snatched up and checked out at the end. Here’s what we read:
A great introduction to knock knock jokes for toddlers and preschoolers, with comical animal illustrations. I love to read this book at storytimes because it’s so interactive. Even the parents enjoy saying “Who’s There?”
I first heard this book read by a children’s librarian named Mary Ann Schlitz when I was just starting out doing storytimes, and I was struck by how well she did the voices for each character. It’s been one of my favorite read-alouds ever since. When a little mouse warns a frog that “Big Bro is Coming!” it starts a panic that spreads throughout the jungle. Each animal makes Big Bro out to be rougher and bigger, until they are all cowering in terror. When Big Bro finally appears, he turns out to be…a mouse! The big, colorful illustrations and dramatic story make this book perfect for just about any age. I usually have the kids stretch their arms out every time a character says “THIS BIG!”
Yet another terrific Gerald and Piggie book, and one that worked perfectly for this theme. When Gerald and Piggie see two squirrels playing a game where they try to scare each other, they decide to try it on each other. This book always gets big laughs, especially on the page where Gerald and Piggie jump out at the same time and scream in terror.
Bob Shea is another favorite picture book author of mine. I learned about this new title of his from my friend Kerri’s blog, MLReads.com. Buddy the monster really wants to eat the adorable little white bunnies, but somehow the bunnies always manage to divert him onto something else: making cupcakes, going swimming, or going to the fair. Hilarious read-aloud that always gets groans and laughs at the punchline.
There were a number of wandering toddlers at storytime this week, so I ended up doing songs after each book to keep them engaged:
Shake My Sillies Out: My standard opening song. I always pretend to fall asleep in the “Yawn my sleepies out” verse, and the kids yell, “Wake up!” Here’s a video of the original version by Raffi.
Aiken Drum: I had the kids suggest different foods to make the parts of Aiken Drum’s face. Here are the lyrics with the uke chords in parentheses (If this key is too high, you can also play it in C with C, F, and G7). Click on the triangle below to hear the tune:
(D) There was a man lived (G) in the moon (D) In the moon, (A) in the moon.
There (D) was a man lived (G) in the moon,
And his (D) name was (A) Aiken (D) Drum.
And he played upon a ladle, a ladle, a ladle,
He played upon a ladle, and his name was Aiken Drum.
His eyes were made of meatballs, meatballs, meatballs,
His eyes were made of meatballs, and his name was Aiken Drum
His nose was made of cheese….
His hair was made of spaghetti… etc.
There’s a Spider on the Floor: I have a big spider puppet that I brought out for this one, and I carried it around to put lightly on each kid’s leg, neck, head, etc. I’ve changed the verses a little from the Raffi version. Instead of “There’s a spider on your stomach,” I do “There’s a spider on your tummy, on your tummy…Oh, you look so very funny, with that spider on your tummy.” And instead of “I wish that I were dead, I’ve got a spider on my head,” I sing, “Oh, it fills my heart with dread to see that spider on your head…” But otherwise I keep it the same.
Little Bunny FooFoo: Great song for getting the kids on their feet and jumping around. Here’s an animated video by Hannah Heller with the lyrics.
An incredibly simple craft based on the French tradition of sticking paper fish on people’s backs on April First as a joke (Poisson d’Avril). You can read more about the history on FranceTravelGuide.com. For the fish, I printed out a basic template from AllKidsNetwork.com, and gave the kids markers and crayons to decorate it, and tape to make it sticky. They had the best time trying to stick the fish on each other and on all the grown-ups.
One of the best examples of a trickster tale, featuring Anansi the Spider, the mischievous West African god. When Anansi discovers that a certain rock in the jungle knocks people unconscious when they say, “Isn’t this a strange moss-covered rock?”, he uses it to trick all the other animals and steal their food. But all the time, Little Bush Deer is hiding and watching, and planning a trick of her own. This is a terrific read-aloud. Kids love joining in on the “KPOM!’s” whenever an animal falls for the trick. Plus Janet Stevens has cleverly hidden Little Bush Deer on almost every page for kids to find.
A clever and hilarious parody of traditional riddle books. Each page uses rhymes, clues, and silhouettes to lead readers to an obvious answer, only to surprise them with something completely random. For example: Who’s furry, scurries, and has fleas?/Who climbs our counters and eats our cheese?/We’ve set up traps throughout the house/But still can’t catch that pesky…Viking!”
The classic classroom story about sweet Miss Nelson, who is mysteriously replaced by the evil Miss Viola Swamp. The best thing about this book is the way it leaves it up to the reader to solve the mystery. I also love that James Marshall based his depiction of Miss Viola Swamp on his own horrible second grade teacher who laughed at his drawings (you can read about it in this Horn Book interview). I have also read that Marshall gave up drawing for years afterwards. Thank goodness he regained his confidence as an adult! He certainly had the last laugh.
What are your favorite picture books about jokes and tricks?
This year, Chinese New Year begins on January 31, and it’s the year of the Horse (you can find a list of all the animal signs and dates on TravelChinaGuide.com).
I didn’t know much about Chinese New Year until we moved to the Bay Area, but it’s such a fun and colorful celebration. At my son’s school, each Kindergartner decorates a box in bright colors, with holes in the front so they can wear the box on their heads and still see out. One of the teachers wears a big dragon’s head, and the kids line up behind her, making a huge 60-person dragon that winds around the play-yard, while the first graders pop big sheets of bubblewrap behind them. It’s something the whole school looks forward to every year.
For storytime this week, I read books about horses and Chinese New Year.
This one was new to me, but the kids always love Lift-the-Flaps (although they argue over who is going to get to open them). It’s a simple rhyming book that explains the different parts of the New Year celebration: sweeping away the old year, buying fish and flowers at the market, getting red envelopes, and of course, enjoying the big dragon parade. The illustrations are warm and colorful. A good introduction to the holiday for toddlers on up.
This is actually a board book, and unfortunately out of print, but it’s a great horse book, especially for younger kids (I read it again today to both a preschool class, and a toddler storytime, and they all loved it). Mr. Horse offers a cat, a dog, a pig and a duck a ride on his back, but when he gallops too fast, and then stops suddenly, they all fly off into a haystack. The kids enjoy saying the repeated, “Clip Clop! Clippety Clop” lines.
Okay, I know unicorns are not horses, but I thought the kids would love this one, and they did. It was the clear favorite of the evening, for the 5 year-olds especially. Goat is jealous of Unicorn, and why wouldn’t he be? Not only can Unicorn fly, he makes it rain cupcakes! But when Goat finally meets Unicorn, he finds that he’s got some special talents of his own that Unicorn admires, and to Goat’s surprise, they end up becoming friends. I love all of Bob Shea’s books, especially I’m a Shark and Oh, Daddy!
This is the book for little girls who love horses. I would have been all over it as a kid. The little girl in this story wants a pony more than anything else in the world, but her parents say a pony is too expensive, and they don’t have room for it. So she draws a pony instead, a beautiful dapple-gray she calls Silver, and together they fly through the sky and meet lots of other ponies. The illustrations are gorgeous.
I do this one often as a bouncing rhyme for babies and toddlers. This time I had the kids gallop in a line around one of the bookshelves. They especially liked the sudden “Whoa!” when we would all stop short. You sing it to the tune of The William Tell Overture:
I adapted this craft from AHC Arts & Crafts, which has a tremendous number of craft ideas. I printed their template, but since I wanted the kids to be able to color their rocking horses however they liked, I traced the template onto white card stock and cut it out (I had to redraw the lines for the base). I folded the paper in half before I cut it, so it would make a mirror image of the horse. Then I folded it over, so the two horse shapes lined up.
I gave each child a pre-folded horse to color in with markers on both sides, and a paperclip to put on the back, clipping the two horse shapes together. If you bend the bottom of the two horses slightly apart, it will stand up. If you touch the tail lightly, it will rock just like a real rocking horse.
This is the book I usually read for Chinese New Year, and I still love it. It’s shows a family preparing for the New Year by sweeping their house, making get-rich dumplings, getting haircuts, and looking forward to seeing the dragon, which is presented on pages that fold out into a big spread at the end. In the past, I’ve brought bubblewrap for the kids to pop on the page with the firecrackers. Simple enough to work for toddlers as well as preschoolers and older kids.
I didn’t get this book in time for my storytime, but it’s a good one. A Chinese-Korean boy shares what the New Year means to him and his friends from other cultural backgrounds. I like that the story gives a sense of having a fresh start: a chance to clear away all the mistakes of the past and look forward to the future. A little too lengthy for toddlers, but I think this would work well for preschoolers and elementary school kids.
Sapphira writes, “Our daughter is a dragon, but this book describes a child who has a good trait from each of the signs. Then at the end it says how lucky the reader is to have this particular baby, and there’s a heart-shaped mirror on the last page, which is always a big hit.”
When Roy gets a saddle for his birthday, he sets out to find a horse. The problem is, he doesn’t know what a horse looks like. Kids like shouting out the names of the other animals he thinks might be a horse, including a snake, a crab, a lion, and a zebra. Plus it has a funny surprise ending.
What are your favorite horse or Chinese New Year picture books?
Every January, I try to do a series of storytimes related to the upcoming announcement of the newest winner of the Caldecott Medal. This year’s winner will be announced on Monday, January 27 at the Midwinter Meeting of the American Library Association.
This week, I read some of my favorite Caldecott Medal Winners from previous years, both for my Family Storytime, and to two classes of second graders. But before I get to those, it occurred to me that I had never thought to wonder who Randolph Caldecott was, and how the award came to be named after him. So I looked him up.
According to the Randolph Caldecott Society UK web page, Caldecott was a British artist, who lived from 1846-1886, and was known for his children’s book illustrations. Every year, he would select or write a collection of stories and rhymes, which he would illustrate and publish at Christmastime. The books were enormously popular, and brought him international fame. Like many of the best children’s authors and illustrators (Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, Margaret Wise Brown, and Beatrix Potter to name a few), Caldecott never had children of his own. Sadly, he suffered from heart problems and gastritis, and died a few weeks before his 40th birthday, while traveling in St. Augustine, Florida.
I haven’t been able to find an explanation for why the American Library Association in 1937 decided to name the medal after Randolph Caldecott. After all, according to the guidelines, the award-winning artist “must be a citizen or resident of the United States,” and Caldecott was British. Why not name it after an American illustrator like Johnny Gruelle, Wanda Gág or N.C. Wyeth? My only guess is that it had to do with the quality of Caldecott’s illustrations, and the seamless way he integrated them with the text. Maurice Sendak is quoted as saying, “Caldecott’s work heralds the beginning of the modern picture book. He devised an ingenious juxtaposition of picture and word, a counterpoint that never happened before. Words are left out—but the picture says it. Pictures are left out—but the word says it.” And that is the quality that defines the best picture books.
It amazing the range of reactions I get whenever I read this book aloud. I remember sharing it with some second grade classes last year where some of the kids were very nervous. In one class, every time the little fish bragged about his certainty that the big fish whose hat he stole would never find him, this one boy would say, “No! Don’t say that! He’s going to eat you!” This year, though, all the second graders laughed. The Kindergartners at storytime, however, looked concerned. The fish is so shockingly naughty and brazen (although, of course, most of the best and most memorable children’s book heroes are naughty). The beauty of the book, though, is that the ending is unspoken. Klassen leaves you with the image of the big fish wearing his hat, and leaves the rest to your imagination. So when I asked my storytime group what happened at the end, they said, “The big fish got his hat back.” The second graders, on the other hand, said, “The little fish got eaten.”
I think about this book every time I stand on a swivel chair, which I do often, in spite of this being in part a cautionary tale about that very thing. My only complaint about this book is that it’s really one you want to sit down with and pore over by yourself, to enjoy all the humor in the illustrations, and some of that gets lost in a storytime setting. But the kids love it anyway. At my family storytime, many of them exclaimed over it when they first saw me pull it out of the stack, so clearly they had heard it before (and hopefully had a chance to look at it up close). Officer Buckle’s safety speeches suddenly become a big hit at schools when he is partnered up with a new police dog named Gloria, until Officer Buckle discovers why. This is a wonderful story about a friendship and the importance of working together, and it has great safety tips besides.
I remember being surprised the first time I saw this book, because the style was so drastically different from Henkes’ other books like Chysanthemum and Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse. But since then, this has become one of my favorite read-alouds (along with A Good Day, which is perfect for toddlers). The language in this book is so simple, and compelling: ”It was Kitten’s first full moon. When she saw it, she thought, there’s a little bowl of milk in the sky. And she wanted it.” The story is funny because of all of Kitten’s mistakes and accidents, but you also feel her frustration, so it is deeply satisfying when she comes home wet and exhausted to find her own bowl of milk on the porch. There was a little tussle over who was going to get to check this one out after I read it.
I’ll admit, I hadn’t ever noticed the mouse and the red balloon that appear several times throughout this book, until one of the second graders pointed them out. And then I was instantly transported back to reading Goodnight, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann with my son when he was small, and trying to find the red balloon and mouse on every page. It’s a subtle reference, but I loved it. The kids loved the pictures of the zoo animals packed into the bus to visit their sick zookeeper friend, and the idea of the owl being afraid of the dark.
1,2,3,4,5, I Caught I Fish Alive
B-I-N-G-O To go along with Officer Buckle and Gloria, I brought out the library’s St. Bernard hand puppet (who likes to lick people’s faces), and we barked the missing letters.
For this craft, I cut out pieces for the kids to color and assemble the little fish from This is Not My Hat, and brought some plants from my yard for them to glue down.
I originally had a crazy idea for taping the fish to a piece of yarn, and cutting a slit in the paper, so it would look like the fish was disappearing behind the plants when you pulled the yarn. But I would have needed thicker paper, and it seemed to complicated for the short time the kids had to assemble the craft. Still, I mocked it up with my daughter, and even though we tried it with construction paper, which is flimsy, she still had a lot of fun playing with it.
I drew the fish shapes freehand, and they’re not great, but if you’d like the template, you can print it out here: fishtemplate
Along with A Sick Day for Amos McGee and This is Not My Hat, I read these four books to some second grade classes this week:
This is one of my absolutely favorite Caldecott winners to read aloud, although I usually share it with older kids. In 1974, Philippe Petit walked, danced, ran, and lay on a tightrope across the Twin Towers. It was an illegal act, so he and some friends disguised themselves as construction workers, then carried the 400 pound cable up the elevator, and then up ten flights of stairs to the roof. Getting the wire across the gap was a harrowing experience all its own, and at one point, the cable fell, pulling Petit’s friends in the other tower to the edge of the roof. And then he stepped out onto the wire, a quarter of a mile above the ground. The illustrations in this book are dizzying. The kids are always transfixed. And even though Petit broke the law (yes, another naughty character, but a real one!), he did so ready to face the consequences. After he stepped off the wire, he held out his hands for the cuffs. He was sentenced to perform in Central Park for free. There is one line at the end of the book that says, “Now the towers are gone,” and always, always the kids ask why. The first year I read it, I wasn’t prepared, and in the pause while I tried to frame my answer, I could hear a bunch of kids exclaiming to each other the bits of information they knew. Fortunately, I knew that this year on September 11 the principal at the school had spoken to all of the classes in the school, explaining about the tragedy, and telling the kids that they should “remember the heroes.” So this time, when the question came, I was able to remind them of that, and, while I’m sure they still had questions, they seemed to accept that. That question is the only reason I haven’t read this book at my regular storytime, since I’m not sure how comfortable my storytime parents will be with whatever explanation I give, and the inevitable questions that will follow. But otherwise, this is an exhilarating book, and one of the best examples of a nonfiction picture book I know.
I shared this book with the second grade because I wanted to show them that they all knew at least one Caldecott winner. This book is so much a part of our popular children’s culture now (most of the kids had seen the movie too), but I also wanted them to stop and think about how revolutionary the book and the art were when it first came out. Max is the ultimate naughty character, fulfilling that fantasy all kids probably have of running away and going wild. I like to mention how controversial this story was, even down to the last line. In an interview, Sendak once talked about an argument he had with his editor, Ursula Nordstrom, “One of the fights I had with Ursula—and her whole office—though it seems silly now, was with the last line of the book [about Max’s dinner]: “and it was still hot.” It bothered a lot of people, and they wanted me to change it to “and it was still warm.” Warm doesn’t burn your tongue. There is something dangerous in “hot.” It does burn your tongue. Hot is the trouble you can get into. But I won.” We were lucky Sendak was always a bit like Max.
This was one of my favorite books as a child, and I still love it. Sylvester the donkey is thrilled to find a pebble that makes wishes come true, until he has a run-in with a dangerous lion, and accidentally wishes he were a rock. Steig really draws out the drama of Sylvester, helpless and alone on the hill as the seasons pass, while his parents worry and mourn. Of course, it has a joyfully happy ending, where the family is reunited, and they decide to lock the magic pebble away, at least for a while, realizing that now that they were together again, “they all had all that they wanted.” Before I read this book, I usually tell the kids that William Steig wrote the picture book Shrek, which, oddly, most of them have never seen, although most of them have seen the movies.
I made the mistake of reading this book last to one of the classes, and it was a bit too long. Still, it’s a fun collection of facts about the presidents, both the traits that many of them shared, as well as the things that made each one unique. The illustrations by David Small are colorful and funny, and there are some great quotes scattered throughout the text. My favorite is from Ulysses S. Grant, about his own musical ability, “I know only two tunes: one of them is Yankee Doodle, and the other isn’t.” This is a great book to share on President’s Day or around Election time.
You can find the complete list of Caldecott Medal winners here. Please tell me your favorites, and more importantly, who do you think will win this year?
I had so much fun at this week’s storytime, seeing most of my regular families, and some I hadn’t seen in a long time. Auld Acquaintances! But if there are any publishers, children’s authors, or aspiring children’s authors reading this, please take note: there is a desperate shortage of books about New Year’s.
I had pulled or ordered over every book I could find in our system on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. There weren’t many, not even on Amazon, and the ones I found were mostly too long to read at story time. There are LOTS of books on Chinese New Year, which I’m looking forward to covering in a few weeks. But publishers appear to have dropped the ball on New Year’s Eve, and I don’t mean the one in Times Square.
I ended up resorting to an odd mix of books about babies (in honor of Baby New Year) and parties and the year in general. Luckily there are a fair number of these. These were the ones I ended up reading:
The only actual New Year’s book I read. It’s a rhymed book, and the meter is awkward in some places, but overall it meets my requirements for a good holiday book: it covers the major traditions without being dry, and tells a story in the process. In this case, it’s about a girl and her brother who want to stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve, but don’t quite make it. The kids enjoyed this one, and it was eagerly snatched up at the end. After the book, we all counted down from 10 and yelled, “Happy New Year!” It would have been fun to throw confetti too, except for the inevitable clean-up.
Okay, this was a stretch, but I justified it by mentioning Baby New Year. I had originally pulled this one because it was on a list of best picture books published in 2013 (a topic I will be covering soon). And the kids loved it! There was even a minor brawl over it at the end. When a baby is born with a mustache, the delivery nurse tells his startled family that they need to find out if it’s a good guy mustache or a bad guy mustache. The baby starts out taking on all kinds of good mustachioed roles: cowboy, Spanish painter, sword fighter, and man of the law. But then the mustache begins to curl on the ends… The illustrations are very funny.
I read the first story in this early chapter book, partly because it fit the theme of a new year, and partly because there’s an Arnold Lobel exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, including a concert of songs based on his works on January 12. I also thought it would fun for some of the Kindergartners in my storytime to get to know Frog and Toad, who were favorite characters from my old childhood. In the story I read, Frog drags Toad out on a cold winter day, and gets him to go sledding.
Another stretch, but I justified it because it was about a party. Xander wants to throw a panda party, but since he’s the only panda at the zoo, he reconsiders and invites all the bears. When he finds out the koala isn’t really a bear, he extends his invitation to mammals, but rhinoceros insists on bringing his bird. In the end, of course, he ends up inviting every creature at the zoo, including the people. Cute rhyming story that the kids seemed to enjoy. It got checked out immediately too.
CRAFT: Decorated Calendars
Calendars decorated by Alyssa, Jonas and Sarah
I happened to be at Michael’s the other day, and picked up a bunch of small picture frame calendars for 60 cents each. The kids had fun drawing, stickering, and collaging on them with pictures I cut from magazines. A cheaper way to go would be to print out calendars (or even just the month of January) from CalendarLabs.com and have the kids decorate those.
This is actually a really sweet book, that would work well for New Year’s, even for toddlers. It’s a lovely poem about all the nice things that will remain the same: “…this new year/the sky will still be there/the stars will still shine/birds will fly over us/church bells will chime…we shall have peaches/we shall have pie/we shall have ice cream three scoops high” The illustrations are soft, colorful, and peaceful.
This one was a bit too long for my storytime, but I liked that it addresses the idea of writing New Year’s Resolutions, which might have been a fun craft idea too. Squirrel is frustrated that she can’t come up with any resolutions of her own, but she ends up helping each of her friends keep theirs.
Shanté Keys and the New Year Peas by Gail Piernas-Davenport; illustrated by Marian Eldridge (Amazon.com link) Submitted by Lindsey Tear
Grandma has made all the lucky foods for New Year’s Day, but she forgot the black-eyed peas. So Shanté Keys sets out to find some. I haven’t seen this one yet, but I’ve requested a copy for our library system. As a kid, we always had kidney beans, cornbread, and collard greens for New Year’s Day, a tradition that I miss, so I can empathize with Shanté Keys.
This book is out of print, unfortunately, but it looks sweet. Winnie the Pooh and his friends are sad to see that the calendar has come to an end, until Christopher Robin tells them they have a whole new year ahead.
Another Frog and Toad book, but one that may be even more appropriate for New Year’s. It’s even referenced in this article on keeping your New Year’s resolutions. The two stories that fit best are “A List,” where Toad makes a list of things he plans to do, and “Cookies,” where Frog and Toad try to find the willpower not to eat all the cookies.
P. Bear’s New Year’s Eve Party by Paul Owen Lewis (Amazon.com link) Submitted by Neeru Penumella
This one isn’t in our library system either, probably because it’s only available in paperback, but it looks like fun. The book uses the arrival of each of P. Bear’s friends to demonstrate counting and telling time.
Are there any great New Year’s books I’m missing out on? Please share them in the comments.
This week we had a special guest for storytime: Esther Goldman from Chabad, a Jewish outreach organization in Daly City. She brought some of her favorite books to share for Chanukah, and we alternated reading them.
In the past, most of the Hanukkah books we had at the library seemed to be either too long, or too dry to hold the interest of the kids at my storytimes. Happily now there are a lot of fun stories for different age groups, but I was still really grateful to have Esther’s recommendations. These were the ones she chose to share:
A little boy whose birthday falls on the third night of Chanukah hopes to celebrate by making the biggest latke ever. Funny, rhyming story that the kids enjoyed. Esther brought her own copy of this book, which had a slightly different title, so there may be alternative versions.
An extended version of the traditional song describing a family Hanukkah celebration, with nice, large illustrations. I had the kids join in on the chorus, and I heard them singing it after the storytime too. Esther kindly brought little plastic dreidels to hand out to each child at the end.
This is a great CD with music in English and Hebrew. One of the moms said it was the best one she had found.
CRAFT: Craft Stick Menorah
Paper and Foam Craft Stick Menorah from Jonas
Initially Esther had wanted to make flame hats, which would have been fun, but we didn’t end up having enough time to coordinate, so I threw this craft together. I had picked up some colored craft sticks from Michaels, assuming they were the usual wooden ones. To my surprise, they were actually foam. They were super stinky when I first opened them, but they worked out great for the candles on the menorah because I could cut them in half.
For the base of the menorah, I just cut out strips of blue paper in three different sizes. The kids glued them onto white card stock with glue sticks, then glued on the craft stick candles. They made the flames with yellow dot paint, then decorated with stickers.
But OOPS! I just realized I never accounted for the Shamash candle in my craft, which was a huge oversight!! Wow! I apologize for that. I should have had a longer foam stick for each child. Here’s my daughter’s menorah with the Shamash candle in the middle.
This is still my personal favorite Hanukkah book. Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler) does a brilliant job of incorporating the history of Hanukkah into the story of a disgruntled latke who is sick of Christmas decorations who assume he’s part of their holiday. Plus the kids get to scream on every other page. There’s a funny twist at the end, and, unlike all the turkey stories we read last week, the protagonist of this book does get eaten. I’m looking forward to reading this to some second grade classes after Thanksgiving.
Bubba Brayna is an old woman whose hearing and eyesight are failing, but she still makes the best latkes. When a hairy visitor shows up at her door, she assumes it’s the rabbi. Bubba Brayna entertains him, feeds him, and sends him on his way with a new red scarf, never realizing that her guest is actually an enormous hungry bear. This is a funny story that I plan to share with the second graders too. Thanks to Sapphira for the recommendations and for pointing out that the book has recently been republished with new illustrations by Mike Wohnoutka under the title, The Hanukkah Bear(Amazon link).
This is part of a series of books where Sammy Spider learns about different Jewish holidays. In this one, Sammy envies Josh Shapiro, a little boy whose family gives him a different colored dreidel for every night of Hanukkah. He longs for a dreidel of his own, but his mom tells him spiders spin webs not dreidels. This is one of the shorter Hanukkah stories, and it also doubles as a book about colors and numbers. San Mateo County Library patrons can read and listen to an animated ebook version of Sammy Spider’s First Shabbat on Tumblebooks through the library web site (you have to search for the title. There’s a wonderful assortment of books there, including many by Robert Munsch, who does his own narration).
Esther had brought this one for babies and toddlers, but didn’t end up reading it. It’s a board book with colorful photographs to introduce very young children to the holiday. Unfortunately we don’t have a copy in our library system, so the link above goes to the Amazon page.
I’d love to get more recommendations. Please send me your favorite Hanukkah book titles and I’ll add them to my list.
Thanksgiving is a frustrating holiday for picture books. Sure, there are some entertaining books, but 90% of them seem to be about a turkey trying to escape being eaten. I don’t mind reading one or two of these, but too many gets a bit old. Also, I can’t help but wonder if it’s just going to make kids feel bad about their Thanksgiving Dinner, aka The One That Didn’t Get Away. That being said, I did read a couple of Turkey Escape books for this week’s Family Storytime (I did the Thanksgiving theme a week early because Chabad, a local Jewish outreach organization is coming to next week’s storytime to present a Chanukah theme). Here was my Thanksgiving line-up:
Every year, just before Thanksgiving, all the turkeys of Squawk Valley seem to vanish (actually they climb into hot air balloons and fly away to a tropical island). But this year the town has a plan: they will post fliers asking for a turkey to model for a turkey-themed Arts and Crafts Fair, and trick a bird into becoming their dinner. But of course, the turkey ends up being smarter than they thought. This is a longish rhyming story, but the kids loved the illustrations of all the turkey crafts: turkeys made of potatoes, and oatmeal, and even soap. There was a lot of clamoring to check this one out at the end.
I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie by Allison Jackson; illustrated by Judy Byron Schachner One of my Thanksgiving standards. A clever parody of The Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, about a woman who eats WAY too much: a turkey, a pot!, a ten-layer cake. The kids liked the twist at the end, when she becomes a big balloon float for the Thanksgiving parade. Great read-aloud for any age group.
My daughter loves this book. Old Mrs. Gumm is excited to find a freckled egg hidden in some leaves. She takes it home, and sure enough, it hatches into a baby turkey, who eats and eats and eats. My daughter especially loves the lists of what the turkey eats: caterpillars, inchworms, pea gravel, and cat food, among other things. In November, Mrs. Gumm is ready with her hatchet, but by then the turkey has become a good friend who ends up joining her for Thanksgiving dinner. Yes, this is another book vilifying the turkey dinner, but the writing is full of warmth and wonder, especially when the egg hatches, and the illustrations are sweet. The kids all seemed to enjoy it too, since several of them asked to check it out.
The Dumb Bunnies’ Easter by Sue Denim; illustrated by Dav Pilkey I am currently living with Dumb Bunnies. We own the first book, and have the other three checked out, and my daughter insists on hearing at least one of them every day. And yes, they are dumb. But funny. This book is a crazy mishmash of almost every holiday, which is kind of the way I feel this time of year. The bunnies chop down an Easter tree, hang up Valentines, and carve a turkey like a jack-o-lantern. I wasn’t originally planning to read this one, but I had to bring my daughter with me to storytime last night, and she saw it in my pile. I was happy I did though, because the book is shelved in the Easter section, even though it covers several holidays, and we happened to have 6 copies for the kids to check out. It felt like Christmas when I handed them out at the end.
SONGS:The Turkey Jerky (To the Tune of the Hokey Pokey)
You put your left drumstick in (left leg)
You put your left drumstick out
You put your left drumstick in
And you shake it all about.
You do the Turkey Jerky and you turn yourself around
That’s what it’s all about!
Repeat with right drumstick, left wing, right wing, waddle (chin), and tail feathers.
I Know an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly (with puppet)
We sing the song with the old lady puppet, and the kids take turns feeding her different animals. I have a big spider puppet I pull out for repeated line “It wiggled and jiggled and tickled inside her,” and I tickle the kids with it (usually they make a big game out of backing up out of reach, and saying, “It didn’t get me!”) At the end, our old lady dies, but we take her to the hospital and resuscitate her. Clearly, she needs counseling.
INSTRUMENT PLAYALONG WITH A CD:Rhubarb Pie by Laurie Berkner from her Under a Shady Tree Album
CRAFT: Paper Bag Turkey
Paper Bag Turkey by Ramona
I owe this craft to my coworker Gail Benjamin, who did it for a pajama story time at our other branch a few weeks ago. She had several turkey “kits” left, all ready to go (gotta love leftovers!), with instruction sheets and all the turkey parts in paper bags. Gail had pre-glued the googly eyes to the plastic spoons for the heads, and also glued the wattle to the bottom of each beak (these were made out of construction paper).
I handed out sheets of newspaper for the kids to crumple. They stuffed the paper inside their bag, then fastened the bag shut with rubber bands (the parents helped with this). Then the kids glued the construction paper feet and bowties on. We helped each kids poke their spoon handle head into the bottom of the paper bag. Then they glued the beak and wattle onto the spoon. The tail feathers were thin strips of colored paper.
Gail had recommended that the kids put glue inside the “tail” end of the bag, then arrange the paper feathers inside (she even gave me small containers of Elmer’s glue, which are perfect for small hands). That worked well, although if you want a slightly less messy approach, the mom of Ramona (whose turkey is pictured above) stuck her paper strips through the rubber band that separates the body from the tail.
This is actually one of my favorite Thanksgiving books, and I would have done it if I hadn’t read it to the same group for my firefighter storytime a few weeks ago (I was going to do it anyway, if my daughter hadn’t seen the Dumb Bunnies book). Firefighters at a busy fire station try their best to make Thanksgiving dinner, but they keep getting called away to fires. Luckily, while they are on their last call, people from the community bring dinner to the station as a thank you. The text is rhyming, and simple enough to hold the interest of very young children.
I didn’t get to read this one either, but it’s perfect for Thankgiving. With Todd Parr’s characteristic brightly colored, whimsical illustrations, this book lists many things to be thankful for every day: music, reading, bathtime, nature, and, of course, underwear!
Another runaway turkey book, but a funny one. Eight kids on a field trip to Farmer Mack Nugget’s farm are horrified to find out what he plans to do with his adorable turkeys. Luckily for the turkeys, the kids hatch a plan of their own. My daughter loves this one almost as much as the Dumb Bunnies.
BREAKING NEWS! I found the best Thanksgiving book for elementary grades! (Actually, I stole it from my boss, Thom Ball, who had been planning to read it at Musical Storytime but went with something shorter). I read it to two second grade classes and they loved it. They kept asking, “Is this a true story?” And it is! The book is Thank You Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving by Laurie Halse Anderson, illustrated by Matt Faulkner. It’s the story of Sarah Hale, the woman who wrote thousands of letters over the course of 38 years and finally succeeded in making Thanksgiving a national holiday. Anderson portrays Sarah Hale as a true superhero, who fought for lots of important causes like schools for girls and the abolition of slavery, and also wrote the poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” She explains the context of Sarah’s cause, and her hopes that Thanksgiving would help unite a country torn apart by the Civil War. The caricature-like illustrations are funny and eye-catching, and it’s an excellent lesson in perseverance, democracy, and the power of words to bring about change. Highly recommended for libraries and classrooms.
I decided to do a dog-themed storytime this week. For once I was faced with the problem of having too many great books to choose from! The kids loved the four I read, and they all got checked out at the end, but there were so many others I didn’t get to:
This is my daughter’s current favorite book, and one of my all time favorite read-alouds. Parents often ask me if it’s the full version of the original song (which actually hit #1 on the Billboard charts in 1953). It’s not. The original song is about a woman leaving on a trip to California, who wants to buy a dog to protect her sweetheart from burglars. The version in this book is by Iza Trapani (author/illustrator of the classic, The Itsy Bitsy Spider). It’s about a little boy who hopes to raise $60 to buy the adorable puppy in the pet shop window, but ends up spending all his money to help his family. The illustrations are adorable, and I still get choked up at the happy ending. This one is always a hit. Tonight it got snatched up immediately!
Poor Hally Tosis, a cute, friendly dog with horrible breath. When Mr. and Mrs. Tosis decide to find her a new home, their kids try everything they can think of to solve her bad breath problem. Nothing works, until two burglars creep into the house one night. Can Hally save the day, along with her place in the family? Filled with groan-worthy puns, and lots of visual jokes, this one appeals to both kids and adults. It was quickly claimed by one of the kids as well.
Jan Thomas is a master of storytime read-alouds, always finding some way to interact with the audience. In this one, several animal friends lose a ball IN THE DOGHOUSE!! One by one, they venture inside to get it…but never come out! The story is short, suspenseful, and funny, and the kids loved joining in on the phrase “IN THE DOGHOUSE!”
Bertie has always wanted a dog. A blue dog. He wants one so badly that he often pretends to be a dog himself. But then a real dog shows up: a perfect, beautiful, spotted dog who needs an owner. But the new dog isn’t blue at all. This is a sweet, funny story with Polly Dunbar’s characteristic quirky surprises. (I also love her book Penguin).
SONGS: I did B-I-N-G-O with a dog hand puppet, who licked all the kids faces. We barked the missing letters instead of clapping them.
CRAFT: Envelope Dog Puppets
Envelope Dog Puppet by Joaquin
I found this craft on the Twiggle Magazine web site, and was very happy because the instructions included a template you could print out for the ears, eyes, and nose. Basically you fold a business-sized envelope in half down the middle, then cut it along the fold (I found it worked better if I sealed the envelope first). Then you tape the inner halves of the cut envelope together (on the side where the seal is), so that you can slide your hand into the outer part of the envelope to make a puppet. I cut out the ears, eyes, and noses ahead of time, and the kids glued them on, along with some wiggle eyes. I gave them crayons to add spots and other decorations. It’s always fun to see how differently everyone’s craft comes out.
I wish I could have gotten hold of this one in time. When Sarah Ann brings home three adorable kittens, her dog Katie loves them so much she can’t help but howl, scaring the kittens and upsetting her owner. The illustrations in this book are priceless, and the howling makes it so much fun to read.
I remember my grandmother reading this to me, and I still have the copy she gave to me on my birthday when I was 3. Angus is a curious Scottish Terrier who wonders about a strange noise he hears on the other side of the hedge, until one day he gets the rare opportunity to explore. The illustrations are wonderful, and I’ve always loved the way Flack uses sound effects, capital letters, and pacing. Great storytelling.
One of many, many dog books about pets thwarting burglars, but this one is a lot of fun. Bertie is a Watch Dog, but not because he is big, or mean, or scary. It is because he is the size of a watch. But of course, he still finds a way to save the day when a nasty burglar comes to call. I can never read this book as well as my boss, Thom, who portrays the burglar with an hilarious heavy Cockney accent. But I still love it as a read-aloud because the kids get to join in on all the barking.
Love this one, and not just because my own black lab ate not only the siding of our house, but also my 11th grade teacher’s copy of The Epic of Gilgamesh with all of her teaching notes inside. As a puppy, Louie eats everything: sticks, toy trains, his dog dish. His family hires several trainers, but nothing seems to work, and they fear they’ll have to give Louie away. Of course, it all works out in the end. The wry sense of humor is what makes this book, but the illustrations are hilarious too.
Recommended by Thom Ball, branch manager of the Pacifica Libraries. I wish I had remembered this one, since it is also perfect for Halloween. Oscar the dachshund has enough problems with being called “Wiener Dog!” by the other dogs, and then his mother expects him to spend Halloween night dressed as…a hot dog. Filled with Pilkey’s characteristic puns and visual humor, this is one of my favorite October read-alouds.
Recommended by local Mom Ria Tajbl. When Walter ruins the family yard sale by driving away all the customers, his owner sells him for $10 to a clown with a secret plan to use Walter’s gas to inflate noxious balloons he plans to use to help him stun guards so he can rob banks. Gotta love Walter! Ria also recommended the classic easy reader Go, Dog, Go! by P.D. Eastman.
Recommended by school media specialist Linda Anderson. When Stanley the dog discovers that he can get away with lying on the forbidden couch while his people are out, he wonders what other liberties he can take. Soon he is throwing a wild party with all the dogs in town!
Recommended by Tanya Scoville. The Carl books are sweet, beautifully-illustrated, mostly wordless adventures about a baby and a kind Rottweiler. In this one they spend the day in the park together, riding on a carousel and going to a zoo.
This week’s storytime was lively and a lot of fun, even though I was fighting laryngitis, which always makes things a bit interesting. A coworker commented that I sounded like Peter Brady singing “Time to Change.” But the kids hung in there with me anyway.
The theme for this week was farm stories and farm animals. Here are the books we read:
This was an interesting read-aloud. An unfortunate duck is forced to slave away every day while the farmer lies in bed and eats chocolates, until the other animals stage a rebellion and scare the lazy farmer away. It’s basically Animal Farm without all that unpleasant allegorical aftermath, and I was amused to see that a couple of horrified reviewers on Amazon declared it was “dangerous” Communist propaganda. That interpretation would never have occurred to me (and all the other Amazon reviewers loved the book). My storytime kids enjoyed the repeated line, “How Goes the Work?” and getting to yell out, “QUACK!” each time.
Farm Flu by Teresa Bateman and Nadine Bernard Westcott
This one worked really well. It’s a rhyming book about a boy who is left in charge of his family’s farm when the cow comes down with the flu. He tucks her into bed and coddles her just like his Mom would do, but then all the other animals on the farm mysteriously come down with the flu as well. The kids love chiming in on the sneezes in different animals voices, and the pictures are colorful and hilarious.
I wasn’t sure how this one would go over because it was a bit lengthier than the other books, but the kids liked it a lot. Farmer Fred is always very serious, much to the dismay of his animals. They try everything they can think of to make him laugh: Edna the cow stands on the fence and tries to crow like a rooster; the pigs bark like dogs; and all the animals try on Farmer Fred’s clothes and dance around the farm yard. But nothing works, and the animals finally decide to seek out a more humorous place to live. In the course of their escape, they finally manage to make Farmer Fred lighten up, a little, but he still doesn’t think there’s anything funny about corn.
Cowlick by Christin Ditchfield; illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw
This is a funny book that works well for toddlers as well as older kids. It describes in rhymed verse how a sneaky cow invades a little boy’s bedroom and leaves him with an unexpected gift. Always a hit.
Old MacDonald: One of the kids requested that we choose animals in alphabetical order, like we did the previous week. Our farm included an alligator, a baby(!), a cat, a dog, and an Ella (one of the storytime participants).
If You’re Happy and You Know It: We did this as a follow-up to Serious Farm. We added other emotions, and I asked the kids what they do when they felt that way. We ended up with, “When you’re sad and you know it, cry ‘Boohoo!'” “When you’re angry and you know it, go ‘ERRRRRRRR!'” and “When you’re shy and you know it, hide your eyes…peekaboo!'”
Baby Bumblebee: As usual, I asked the kids to suggest other animals they might bring home, which is always a fun challenge. We came up with: “I’m bringing home a baby skunk. Won’t my Mommy fall into a funk?” and “I’m bringing home a baby killer whale. Won’t my Mommy turn so very pale?”
I Bought Me a Rooster: My CD player broke last week, so I had to play my uke and sing for our instrument play time. This is a fun cumulative song, where the kids suggest animals and the sounds they make. The trick is remembering all the animals in order, as the song gets longer and longer.
CRAFT: Construction Paper Farm
Construction paper farm by Jonas
I adapted this craft from the one on Lines, Dots, and Doodles. I cut out the barns and grass ahead of time, and gave the kids a choice of adding cotton ball sheep and feather chickens (see Joaquin’s example at the top of the page). It was cute to see all the different ways they each constructed their farms.
I had a stack of books to choose from, and let the kids pick the ones I actually read. Here are some of the ones we didn’t get to:
You can’t go wrong with David Shannon. When a curious duck decides to test out a little boy’s bicycle, the other farm animals are intrigued. The illustration of all the animals on bikes always gets a big laugh.
I’ve always been impressed by Joy Cowley. She’s a New Zealand author who writes literally hundreds of books for the very beginning reader, including many of the Story Box and Sunshine Books (we have these in the library, but they are uncatalogued, so you just have to look for the collection of tiny paperbacks near the Easy Reader section). The beauty of these books is that they have basically the same sentence structure on each page, so kids can easily learn the pattern and read the book, building their confidence and sight word vocabulary at the same time. But somehow Cowley still manages to make these incredibly simple books entertaining, by throwing in a little twist at the end. Mrs. Wishy Washy’s Farm is a more typical picture book, but it’s a cute rhyming story about some farm animals who get fed up with their owner’s constant bathing, and run away to the city. The illustrations are adorable, especially the cow in the washtub. It would also work well for a bathtime theme.
I couldn’t do a list of farm books without including the Click Clack Moo series about Farmer Brown and his scheming duck. I think Dooby Dooby Moo is my favorite. The humor in this one appeals to adults (who will understand the labor dispute references), as well as kids.
Two friends of mine, Neely Dean and Tanya Scoville, both pointed out a classic I forgot to mention: Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown (author of Goodnight Moon). A joyful, soothing poem about the sights and sounds of a cheerful farm.
Kim Day, a children’s librarian at the Burlingame Library, also recommended The Cow That Laid an Egg by Andy Cutbill, illustrated by Russell Ayto, an adorable story about Marjorie, a cow who wishes she had some special talent, and then one day appears to have laid an egg. You can watch the book being read aloud on Youtube here.