Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Storytime Anytime-Chugga Chugga Choo Choo

In my last post, Choo Choo Read, I reviewed two children's chapter books that are set on trains. Since I currently have "trains on the brain" what could be better than a railway storytime?

Before we head to storytime I want to talk about potty training. Every parent's favorite topic (NOT)!!!  Having successfully gotten three children out of diapers the most important piece of advice that I can give you is to keep your sense of humor. Especially with boys, because let me tell you they just do not seem to care if they are stinky and dirty (and does that ever really change?). What does any of this have to do with trains. Well, forget Everyone Poops and Once Upon a Potty, the best and most hilarious book for toilet training is The Potty Train by David Hochman and Ruth Kennison. All you have to do is look at the cover to know that it is going to be ridiculously funny. If my boys ever read this post they will be mortified, but I clearly remember the calls of "Chugga Chugga Poooooo Pooooooo" emanating from the bathroom.

Ok, from here on out it will just be trains without potties. Kate and Jim McMullen are the author and illustrator of multiple picture books about vehicles: I Stink, I'm Mighty, I'm Dirty, etc. I'm Fast is about a freight train that is determined to beat a speedy race car to Chicago despite cows, mountains, and even a blizzard. Jim McMullen's illustrations are bright, colorful, and captivating no matter what age you are. There is a wonderful rhythm to the text and, of course, it features lots of sound effects for preschoolers to join in on.

Freight Train by Donald Crews also features very bold and graphic illustrations, but it is much more simplistic. This Caldecott honor book only has a few words per page describing the the color and type of train car and where the train is traveling.
I am not one for "techie" things but Freight Train is available for the Nook complete with sound effects and there is also an iphone/ipad app.

You can make your own Freight Train cars using simple rectangles of colored construction paper and black circles for wheels. There are also lots of Freight Train printables available online.

My youngest son has never been one to sit and do crafts (or sit still for much of anything). He did love to act the story out using the Duplo train cars which we had a ton of.

We also had some of these little vehicle counters which you can buy in school supply stores or online. They are small so if you have little ones that like to put things in their mouths you will want to watch them carefully.

How can we make trains even more appealing to little boys (and girls for that matter)? Add dinosaurs of course! As you can see in addition to dinosaurs on trains, Lund has also written about dinosaurs on boats and planes (that sounds like a Dr. Seuss rhyme). All three of these are available on Tumblebooks. The link that I have provided goes straight to the page with All Aboard the Dinotrain, just scroll down and hit the read online button.

If you have young kids and have never looked at Tumblebooks, you need to check it out. Just go to the library website,, and click on the Tumblebooks icon.
This is a website that the library subscribes to for our patrons. There are oodles of children's ebooks: picture books, chapter books, fiction, and nonfiction. Kids can have the books read to them and follow along or they can read on their own. Many of the books also have related puzzles and activities.

After sitting still and listening to stories, many kids will be ready to move around. My favorite train song with motions is Pufferbillies. If you don't know this song, I love the Wiggles version. My daughter watched and listened to the Wiggles so much as a toddler (it was the only way she would ride in the car without crying) we were sure that she was going to start talking with an Australian accent. Here is the video of the Wiggles singing the Pufferbillies:

You will notice that I did not mention The Little Engine that Could which is probably the most famous train picture book. I'm sorry if you love this one but I always found the clown in that book to be petrifying.

Is that Pennywise riding that train?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Cujo and the Gilmore Challenge

Okay I want to start off with an apology I know I said I was going to read Carrie next but I couldn't get a hold of a copy.  I know weird huh? Our libraries copy disappeared and I could of swore I had a copy myself, but I didn't so I will read it as soon as I can get my hands on one. So instead I had a copy of Cujo on my shelf at home, so I decided since it is on the list too I would just read it.  Well I finished it already I guess that is the funny thing about thrillers or scary books you can't put them down, you have to know what happens.  I have seen the movie but you never know how close it will follow the book.  On that note the ending was horribly sad compared to the movie, (I prefer happy endings) I guess I shouldn't say why in case some of you out there haven't read it yet, but it definitely wasn't the same as the movie. One of the things I found most shocking was the language, even if this book wouldn't scare my 14 year old (which it would) I would not let him read it, the language was definitely R rated.  I am pretty sure Stephen King did this to develop the characters and don't get me wrong the story is really good, keeps you on the edge of your seat and I really enjoyed it. (obviously I read it over a weekend), but it was a little crass and some of the references were a little before my time so I didn't quite get them all. (But the story was still easy to follow).  I definitely had a few nightmares that followed. LOL.  To sum it up I would say this was a good read and a quick one, I would for sure read it again.

I am still planning on reading Carrie by Stephen King next but if I can't get a hold of it soon I may read Christine instead. (Apparently I don't want to sleep anytime soon) Just as a side note I am a big chicken. :)

Keep reading and comment and let me know how it is going! That is two down for me since I started the list (still listening to Huck Finn I think I prefer print, listening to it isn't going as fast as I thought)  I have read a few of the others on the list before I started the list, and figure I will blog about them as I go.

Cujo is mentioned in  Season Four in episode:

The Fundamental Things Apply

Luke: I'm just having a bad day.
Lorelai: Zzz.
Luke: What?
Lorelai: Days. You've been stomping around, barking at people for days.
Luke: I have not.
Lorelai: Yes, Cujo, you have.
Luke: I always talk to people like that.
Lorelai: No, Benji, you don't.
Luke: I'll be fine tomorrow.
Lorelai: Really, Lassie? Why is that?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Choo Choo Read!

I am constantly reading new middle grade fiction and there have have been some exceptional books published this year. Coincidentally, two of the books that I particularly enjoyed are mystery/adventures set on historic steam engine trains.

Going chronologically the first book, The Boundless, by Kenneth Oppel takes place primarily in the Canadian Wilderness during the end of the 19th century. Oppel is well known for writing the Silverwing trilogy, but you will not find any talking bats in this book.

Will Everitt had the honor of pounding the final spike into the Canadian transcontinental railway.  A few years later he is a passenger aboard the Boundless; the largest, longest, most luxurious steam locomotive ever built.  There are cars with swimming pools, restaurants, gardens, theaters, etc. The most important car, however, is the funeral car of, Cornelius Van Horne, the rail baron who designed the Boundless, but died before the train's inaugural journey. Loaded with gold bars, priceless art, and other treasures collected by Van Horne; the funeral car is a target for murderous thieves. It is up to Will and Miraculous Maren, a circus wire walker and escape artist, to protect the Boundless and stop the criminals in their tracks (ha ha you know I love puns!). 

One of the things that I love about The Boundless is how Oppel weaves a few threads of fantasy in with the historical fiction. Don't get me wrong, the historical content (the building of the transcontinental railroad, class division and inequality, steam engines, etc.) is fascinating and it makes a remarkable backdrop for the mystery and action. The inclusion of Sasquatch, wendigo, and some other mystical creatures makes The Boundless even more fun to read, though.

There is also a very intriguing homage to The Picture of Dorian Grey and that is all I am going to say, because I don't want to give anything away.

Now as a warning, the book does contain violence and some darker themes so I would recommend The Boundless for readers above the age of 11.

Lantern Sam and the Blue Streak Bandits by Michael D. Beil is also a mystery that takes place on a train, but it is more appropriate for younger readers. You could probably guess that from the cover since the title character is a talking cat.

It is the mid 1930s and Henry Shipley is returning home from New York City on the Lake Eerie Shoreliner train. Soon after boarding the train Henry becomes friends with the incredibly wealthy Ellie Strasbourg, Clarence the Conductor, and Lantern Sam, Clarence's cat. Amazingly Henry is one of the few people that can hear Sam talking much to Ellie's chagrin. When Ellie is kidnapped for ransom Sam and Henry work together to find her and stop the thieves from getting away with Mrs. Strasbourg's priceless jeweled necklace, the blue streak.

In alternating chapters Sam narrates the history of his previous lives with lots of amiable snarkiness (I am pretty sure that is not a word, but I hope you know what I mean by snark). Alternating narrators can sometimes confuse younger readers, but there is a change in font which helps differentiate the voices. I think that most kids will love hearing how Sam used up his early lives and how he came to live on the Lake Eerie Shoreliner train.

I found Lantern Sam and the Blue Streak Bandits to be lighthearted fun with a good dose of slapstick thrown in. It is perfect for kids who love funny books and/or mysteries. Lantern Sam could also be a great read-aloud for kids not quite ready to tackle it on their own too.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Gilmore Girls Challenge-In Cold Blood

So many books, so little time.
                                     Frank Zappa

I finally checked a few titles off of my perpetually lengthening "to read" list and managed to read a book for the Rory Gilmore challenge.

So, Truman Capote is one of those renowned authors whom I had read about, but had not actually read.There have been several biographical films about the flamboyant author who was known for throwing wild parties and hobnobbing with celebrities. The late Philip Seymore Hoffman won an Oscar for playing Capote in 2006 and his performance was truly spectacular, but I love Hoffman in all of his roles.

Side Note:  If you are a mystery buff I recommend the movie, Murder by Death, in which Capote makes his one and only acting appearance. It is a ridiculous spoof featuring all of literature's most famous detectives (Miss Marple, Nick and Nora Charles, Charlie Chan, Philip Marlowe, etc.) brought together on a stormy night in a musty mansion to solve a mystery.

Many of you may not be aware that Capote wrote the novella, Breakfast at Tiffany's, which I have not read, but I love the movie starring Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard! Yes, George Peppard played Hannibal in the original A-Team! Who knew that he had a romantic side?

According to Capote's 1984 obituary in The New York Times  '...the book that perhaps edified his claim to literary fame was In Cold Blood, his detailed, painstakingly researched and chilling account of the 1959 slaying of a Kansas farm family and the capture, trial and execution of the two killers."
When In Cold Blood was published in 1966 no one had ever read anything quite like it. Although it is considered a nonfiction book, In Cold Blood reads like a fiction novel and many literary critics consider Capote to be the pioneer of the "nonfiction novel" and the entire "true crime" genre. There are just as many critics, however, that challenge the complete veracity of In Cold Blood despite Capote's claims that his book was "immaculately factual".

Before I get into the book here is a brief account of the horrific events that led to the writing and publishing of In Cold Blood.
In Holcomb, Kansas on November 15, 1959  two ex-convicts on parole from the Kansas State Penitentiary broke into the home of Herb Clutter and murdered him, his wife, Bonnie, and their two teenaged children; Nancy and Kenyon. One of the parolees, Dick Hickock, had learned from a former cellmate that Herb Clutter was an extremely wealthy farmer who had a safe full of cash in his home.Believing he had found "the perfect score" Hickock enlisted the aid of another former inmate, Perry Smith, to rob the Clutter home and abscond to Mexico.  Tragically, Herb Clutter had never had a safe and in fact was well known for never paying for anything with cash. Hickock and Smith callously murdered four people for less than $30. Although, the two ex-cons did make it to Mexico, they returned to Kansas within weeks and were arrested in Las Vegas on December 30, 1959. After a one week trial the jury took 45 minutes to convict Hickock and Smith and the two were sentenced to death. Hickock and Smith remained on death row for five years until they were executed by hanging on April 14, 1965.

Personally, I do not doubt that Capote took some literary license with certain events and scenes in his book.  Even though Capote did a tremendous amount of research and conducted countless interviews, turning those notes and facts into a compelling narrative would require some imagination.

Whether or not In Cold Blood is completely factual there is no denying that it is superbly written. I think the fact that it was such a gripping read is what made me feel so sick at heart by the time that I finished it. Because In Cold Blood reads so much like a novel the people involved in the Holcomb tragedy become characters and the events become remote and unreal.

Also there is just something salacious about taking serious and tragic events and transforming them into a best-selling, page-turner. In Cold Blood and all of the true crime novels to follow turn us into the ghoulish kind of people that stand on the side of the road watching the aftermath of a car accident.

What  bothered me the most about In Cold Blood, though, was that Capote casts the Clutter family in the role of supporting characters to Hickock and Smith. Unfortunately this seems to be the case with most deplorable crimes. It is the criminals like Ted Bundy or Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris who garner the attention and interest of the public, not the victims. 

Certainly, Capote had time to interview and get to know Hickock and Smith, whereas his knowledge of the Clutters could only be gained through hearsay. This lack of intimacy and familiarity with the Clutters is apparent when Capote describes them in the opening chapters of the book. Herb Clutter, his wife Bonnie, 16 year old daughter, Nancy, and 15 year old son, Kenyon, come across as wooden and too perfect, too good, too conservative, too wealthy. Capote, known for being different (especially from small town, conservative Kansas farmers) and somewhat of an outcast, clearly identifies and sympathizes with Perry Smith.  In Cold Blood tries to transfer the reader's outrage from the helpless and innocent Clutters to the poor, abused, sensitive, and artistic Perry Smith who just craves love and recognition. In my opinion, this is an inexcusable travesty.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Gilmore challenge and Alice

Here are the ones I watched as a little girl. :)

Sorry it has been so long since I blogged.  I had a great time in Niagara Falls and I finished Alice in Wonderland.  For some reason it was a very slow read for me, I don't think I was very focused.  I have been thinking about what I might write about it, but the funny thing is when I finished it I didn't exactly have an opinion on it. It is a great piece of literature but when I read the first half of it all I could think about was the Disney version and how close it stays in line with the original story.  Then as I was reading the second part Through the Looking Glass it put me in the mind of another version that I loved to watch as a kid.  I guess that is the weird thing about a piece of literature that has been made into so many different movies and spin-offs, it makes it difficult to just enjoy the story and not compare it to every other version.  Of course it could just be me, my husband often tells me I watch too much T.V. Well anyway, I look at it I am glad that now I can actually say I have read the original. :)  I'm still listening to Huckleberry Finn my kids keep fussing when I turn it on in the car, so it is taking longer than expected.  I would love to hear how some of you out there are doing on the list. :)  My next book is going to be Carrie by Stephen King (I watched the movie on Netflix, the original one,  I hadn't seen it in a long time.) Hmmm maybe I do watch too much T.V. ;) Till next time.

Here are the ones I watched as a little girl. :)

I put up a display at the Portland District Library with the complete list and some of the books! Come in and check it out!  Anything we don't have we will be happy to order it for you.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Why Do Summer Reading?

As I mentioned in my previous post, Portland District Library kicked off summer reading last week with a presentation by the Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary. We are starting a bit late this summer since Portland's schools had a month of snow days this past winter.

In addition to offering fun, drop-in programs we give all of the kids take home reading logs. If they read so many books per week or minutes per day (we let them choose which goal works best for their reading level) they can earn prizes. Portland is very fortunate to have local businesses donate coupons for free ice cream, kid's meals, video rentals, etc.

The first big question is why do librarians work so hard to get kids coming to the library over the summer? After all, planning and prepping summer reading requires weeks and weeks of work. Once summer finally arrives it is stressful, hectic, and loonier than the Mad Hatter's Tea party.

Yep, this is me!
Well, I cannot speak for every librarian, but I believe that the majority of people who work with books have a passion for reading that they want to share. Summer Reading gives us the opportunity to instill this same passion in children and, hopefully, make them life-long readers and patrons of the library.

Personally, I get super geeked when kids come into the library with their reading logs. Sure, children are happy to get a prize, but they are also eager to talk about the books that they have read and proud of meeting their reading goal.  For someone like me who doesn't just love books, but is obsessed with them, seeing kids excited about reading is AWESOME!!!

So now that you know why librarians are doing back flips through the stacks about summer reading let's move on to the second big question. Why should you (parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and anyone else who cares about education in our country) be ecstatic about summer reading (and reading during those other three seasons too).

Many of you have probably heard the term summer slide, which refers to the loss of spelling, reading, and math skills that school aged children experience over summer vacation

The old adage "use it or lose it" seems to hold true, because unless kids are engaged in some form of educational activities over the summer they will fall backward.

The most disheartening fact is that  kids from lower income homes and areas are even more susceptible to summer slide.

In 2010 Time Magazine published an article called "The Case Against Summer Vacation" in which the author  discusses the issue of summer slide and it's higher impact on poorer children.  Much of this is believed to be because lower income school districts and families do not have the same resources available during the summer that wealthier families and communities have.

I highly recommend reading the article, because it is incredibly interesting and inspiring how so many groups are volunteering time and money to provide quality summer learning opportunities for disadvantaged youth.

However, I wish that the author would have mentioned that libraries in every state offer free and fun reading programs to all children, whether they are poor, wealthy, or somewhere in between.

As you can see from this graphic just having that access to books can make a huge, huge, huge difference in a child's potential. 

I am going to insert a plug here to encourage you to support libraries when you vote. It is so incredibly important for kids to have access to books and many libraries are hurting (especially in poorer areas).

If you are interested here is another great article on stopping summer slide and the National Summer Learning Association website is a boon of information too.

If you are thinking: My kids are not even school yet so why should I care about summer learning? Well, they will be in school someday so don't you want to start them down the right track now? There is so much information and research about the importance of early literacy. Put simply kids that grow up loving books and reading with parents and caregivers will do better in school and even beyond school. Don't believe me? Take a look at some of these websites: Reading is FundamentalGet Ready to Read, Zero to Three, or Reading Rockets (to name a few).

Reading should not just be about doing better in school, though. It is about children thinking, feeling and imagining and that is why I hope that all kids will participate in summer reading and continue to make reading an important part of their lives.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Storytime Anytime-Tales with Scales

A few days ago the Portland District Library kicked off  Summer Reading 2014 with a "scaly" presentation by the Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary.  Kids got to see, touch, hold, and learn about some amazing amphibians and reptiles. The owner, David Critchlow, was hilarious and educational, which is nearly impossible when you are dealing with over 100 children between the ages of 2 and 14.  All of the animals at Critchlow's were abandoned or rescued. It is staggering how many people think that having a pet alligator is a good idea (at least until it gets big enough to bite off your fingers).

Since I have slithering, hissing, creeping, crawling, snapping animals on the brain what could be more apropos than a reptile themed storytime?

Let's begin with snapping and gnashing Alligators and Crocodiles!

 Of course, my favorite picture book featuring an alligator or a crocodile is The Enormous Crocodile by Roald Dahl! (If you have not read any of my previous blog posts, let me just explain that I a revere, adore, idolize, and am completely enamored by Roald Dahl!)  The Enormous Crocodile is a longer picture book, but Dahl's writing and Quentin Blake's distinctive illustrations are sure to captivate the squirmiest of children.

For older children, this a great book to use for story mapping. You can go through and discuss the beginning, clever trick #1, clever trick #2, clever trick #3, and the ending in which the enormous crocodile is "sizzled like a sausage" when the elephant hurls him into the sun.

Maybe I just enjoy carnage (I know my boys love it when there is the chance of something being eaten). In this story an adorable little crocodile decides that he wants to eat a child. At first his parents laugh, but when he keeps refusing his bananas and even chocolate cake they grow worried. Will little crocodile eat a child or decide that bananas make a better meal? Kids are sure to laugh out loud when little crocodile finally gets his chance to "eat a child".

Okay, this is the last alligator book even though I can think of about a dozen more that I love. Mercer Meyer is the famed author and illustrator of the Little Critter books. There's an Alligator Under My Bed is similar to There are Monsters Everywhere and There's a Nightmare in my Closet. All of these are spectacular books for combating those childhood fears about strange and dangerous things hiding in dark corners. Each one features a child who conquers the monster or, in this case alligator, that they are afraid of.

I have actually led several "alligator/crocodile" storytimes and I even bought a special alligator puppet which I use to sing 5 Little Monkeys Swinging in a Tree (see I guess I really do have a thing about carnage). If you have never heard the song it is so much better than 5 Little Monkeys Jumping on a Bed. Probably because the monkeys get eaten! If you are not familiar with this version of 5 Little Monkeys just click on the link above. You do not need puppets or a flannel board. You can just use your hands to do motions and the kids will love that just as much if not more.

My favorite alligator craft was when I made shadow puppets with my storytime kids.This is the site that I got the idea for the alligator shadow puppet, but I thought that their finished puppet looked a little boring (see right). I added big teeth and a bumpy back and tail. One of my coworkers had a remote control desk lamp with a color changing bulb. I covered the windows and put a huge white sheet on one wall. The kids had a blast moving their puppets in front of the light. They were fascinated that they could change the size of the alligator by moving closer or further away from the screen.

On to Lizards!!!

I recently read I Wanna Iguana to several first and second grade classes that came to the library for class tours (advertising our upcoming reptile presentation).  What makes this book unique is that is written in a series of letters between Alex and his mother. In his letters Alex highlights all of the reasons he should have a pet iguana and his mother offers her objections and concerns. David Catrow is an amazing artist; I love illustrators that have a unique and recognizable style. Catrows illustrations are so colorful and always seem to express such joy.  I highly recommend I Ain't Gonna Paint No More, which is also illustrated by Catrow. It is just such a happy and funny story.

If you enjoy I Wanna Iguana Orloff has written a sequel, I Wanna New Room, in which Alex writes a series of letters protesting that the birth of a new baby sister will require him to share a room with his brother, Ethan.

I have used I Wanna Iguana in my young writers group to as a fun example of letter writing and also writing an argument.

Younger children may have difficulty following the back and forth letters between Alex and his mother. Some simpler books featuring lizards are A Color of His Own by Leo Lionni and The Mixed Up Chameleon by Eric Carle. Both are bold, graphic, and excellent for teaching colors. There are numerous printable templates for both books that are fun for kids to color or paint.

With my classes that toured the library I used this template for a lizard gift tag.I really like the way that you could bend it to make it look like it was walking. The kids colored them and then I had a variety of sequins that they could glue on if they wanted to.

SSSSS is for Snake!
Ophidiophobia: The fear of snakes  This is a pretty common fear, but I hope that these picture books are cute enough to help you get past it.
Janell Cannon is also the author and illustrator of Stellaluna, which is another stunning picture book. The colors in this book, the bright and vibrant yellow and the lush green of the jungle are mesmerizing. The story is super cute too. Verdi wants to play, play, play and so he dreads turning green and becoming heavy and lazy like the grown up tree pythons.  In the end he discovers that you are never too old to play.

When Mouse learns that Snake and Mice are not supposed to be friends he becomes so afraid that he falls in a hole. Who can help him get out? His friend, Snake, of course! Mouse learns the important lesson that you cannot always listen to gossip.

What makes this book unique is that the book is illustrated in collographs, which are printed collages. Snake's body is a mesh onion bag, the dirt is rumpled pager etc. It is fun trying to figure out the different items and as a added activity you can try painting with different materials. Sponges, paper, potato mashers, nylons, etc.

Snakes are so simple when it comes to crafts and activities. What could be easier than making snakes with playdough or you can make paper chain snakes. Spiral snakes are also incredibly easy and look cool twisting in an open window. Don't allow kids to glue too many decorations on it or it will sag really low. Obviously, I have made this mistake before.

I think that I will leave turtles for another post and I won't get started on amphibians yet (there are a lot of great frog books, though).