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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Storytime Anytime-Trucks

Recently our library hosted a Touch-A-Truck event during which kids of all ages had the opportunity to get up close and explore a variety of service vehicles. There were tow trucks, wreckers, a semi, fire truck, police car, electric company cranes, a city snow plow, and even a John Deere tractor. It was a fun, although, very noisy evening since every kid had to honk the horn of each vehicle that they sat in.

In the weeks before Touch-A-Truck story time revolved around trucks (of course). There are tons and tons and tons of truck books out there here are several that I love to share with kids and some easy activities to go with them.

Personally, I like this version much better than the original rhymes
First off, let's get rid of all of the gender biases. Trucks are fun for boys and girls.

1. If a breakdown has ever left you stranded on the side of the road
nothing is a more welcome sight than a tow truck.
Red Truck by Kersten Hamilton is the perfect little book to show preschoolers just how important tow trucks are. When a school bus breaks down on a wet, snowy day who comes to the rescue? Red tow truck, of course! The text and illustrations of Red Truck are simple, but sweet and bright. It is a perfect homage to an unsung hero.

With my my toddlers I printed off a simple outline of a tow truck that I found online and let them fill it in with squares of red tissue paper. I have found that toddlers and preschoolers love gluing anything to paper. Also, picking up small pieces as well as using Q-tips to spread the glue is great for building fine motor skills.

2. I grew up with a collection of Little Golden Books so when I think of truck books the first one that comes to mind is The Happy Man and His Dump Truck. This classic children's book was actually written by Miryam Yardumian when she was only five years old. Yes, the story of a man who takes a number of animals on a joy ride in his dump truck is a little corny but, hey, the author was only five. The illustrations in are by famed Hungarian artist, Tibor Gergely, who also illustrated Tootle, Scuffy the Tugboat, and The Little Red Caboose.

 3.   Duck in the Truck by Jez Alborough and Sheep in
a Jeep by Nancy Shaw also feature farm animals in trucks, but in these two books the animals happen to be doing the driving too. Wow, not only do both of these titles rhyme, the covers look remarkably similar. Oh well, Duck in the Truck and Sheep in a Jeep are cute and guaranteed to make any preschooler giggle.

4.  Kate and Jim McMullan are an author/illustrator team (as well as being husband and wife) that have created a whole series of picture books about various vehicles. I Stink, I'm Brave, I'm Fast, I'm Mighty, and I'm Dirty are playful, cute, but also very informative. I love the use of onomatopoeia (or maybe it is just that I really like saying onomatopoeia). The garbage truck ROARS and BURPS, the train goes CHOOKA CHOOKA CHOOKA CHOOKA, the firetruck wails EEEEEEOOOOOOOO, etc. The McMullans include details about the different parts of the vehicles and their function all while describing a typical day on the job.

5. What is better than trucks and dinosaurs? Dinotrux!!!  I have yet to meet a child, boy or girl, who does not love the Dinotrux books by Chris Gall. My family owns both and my son can recite them verbatim. Gall is such a brilliant illustrator and the concept of Dinotrux could not be more appealing to children. In August 2015 Dreamworks is releasing a Dinotrux children's show that will be available as a Netflix original series.

Anytime you read books about trucks, cars, or vehicles you have to sing The Wheels on the Bus. Which you can change to the Wheels on the Tractor or Semi or Firetruck (it is a pretty easy song to adapt). Yes, the song is annoying, but it is easy to remember and kids will love all of the motions. Let them sit in a cardboard box with some paper plates glues to the sides for wheels and it is even better.
I made 20 of these one summer for a toddler drive that I spent far too much time on. Kids are just as happy using their imaginations.

Another cute song you can sing is Hurry, Hurry Drive the Firetruck.

There are so many other books, songs, activities you can do related to trucks. Hopefully, the few books and ideas that I have provided here will give you a good starting point.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Weird Al: Beyond the Parody

So, recently my husband and I attended a sold-out performance of Weird Al Yankovic's Mandatory Fun World Tour. Mandatory Fun is Weird Al's 14th studio album and the first one to reach number one on the billboard charts. In fact, it is the first comedy album to debut at number 1 on the charts, which just proves how desperately we need laughter in our lives these days.


Over the last thirty years Weird Al has established himself as the incomparable wizard of musical parody. How can you deny the genius of the man who took the lascivious and crude lyrics of Blurred Lines and transformed the song into the witty and literate Word Crimes. Not to mention, Weird Al conquered the Herculean task of making polka music and the accordion cool.
Weird Al's talent and skill as a writer is not limited to lyrics. He has written for radio, television, the internet, and even wrote and starred in his own movie. Now I know that UHF, which came out in 1989, was not a huge financial success but that does not make it any less hilarious. In fact, I have owned it on VHS, DVD, and now I have it on blu-ray.  At the pre-party for the concert I actually got to spin a wheel of fish which was one of the highlights of the whole evening (even though I did not win the red snapper). The only way the night could have been better is if I had the chance to teach a poodle how to fly (just kidding: I would never toss a poodle out of a window). 

 So UHF may be relegated to cult classic status, but Yankovic's more recent foray into the world of children's literature has been much more popular. Weird Al's picture debut, When I grow Up, features his trademark giggle-inducing rhymes accompanied by bright and whimsical illustrations by Wes Hargis.

The topic for show and tell is "What do you want to be when you grow up?" and eight year old Billy is overjoyed when he is called on first. Unfortunately, none of the other students will have the opportunity to share, because Billy plans on being EVERYTHING when he grows up. Some of these vocations are more realistic than others, a chef compared to a gorilla masseuse, but Billy's enthusiasm will have you believing that anything is possible.

In My New Teacher and Me the ebullient Billy is back and it is the beginning of a brand new school year. What would the first day of school be without the teacher asking what you did during your summer vacation? What is less predictable, however, are the improbable tales spun by the wildly imaginative Billy.

My love for these two books partially stems from the fact that I currently have an eight year old little boy who chatters incessantly and is quite the vivid storyteller. When I Grow Up and My New Teacher and Me are full of charm and humor. Yankovic brilliantly celebrates creativity and all of those kids out there that march to the beat of their own drummers (or accordions in Yankovic's case).

Weird Al Yankovic has also flexed his writing skills as the first-ever guest editor of Mad Magazine. Now I know many people think that Mad Magazine is crude and only for pubescent boys, but I still read Mad and I am a thirty-something female librarian who majored in English Literature. I have always found Mad to be hysterical and, when you think about it, satire (good satire) takes a considerable amount of wit and intelligence. You do not even have to purchase a copy, you can check out Mad #533 at the library. Unless, of course, you want your own copy of this historic issue.

If after reading this post you find yourself wanting to learn all about the man, the mystery, the genius that is Weird Al Yankovic he has written an autobiography. Shockingly, the book is called Weird Al: The Book. I am pretty sure that publishing your own memoir and/or having a VH1 Behind the Music special made about you is a sure sign that you have made it is a music star. Honestly, though, the book is an incredibly interesting chronicle of Weird Al's career from his days on the Dr. Demento radio show to his more recent success with Mandatory Fun.

The greatest thing about Weird Al is that he is an artist that spans generations. My three kids are also huge fans (you should hear my youngest sing One More Minute, which is his favorite song). As a parent, Weird Al is a celebrity that I do not mind my kids emulating. He was valedictorian of his class at the age of 16, has a successful career that he loves, and seems reasonably down to earth despite being famous. I am just thankful that he finally got rid of the mustache, because if we are being totally honest, the only man who looks good with a mustache is Tom Selleck.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

What do you get out of a book?

I recently read the article The Worst Canonical Kids Books and What to Replace Them With by Emily Temple. My first reaction to this article was extreme offense. I love most of the books that were slated to be replaced according to the author. Like the author said a couple of the titles I do have attached fond memories from my childhood. For me, reading was a time that I could get one on one attention from my parents, sit on their lap and share with them. It didn't really matter what we were reading: the funnies, mom's text books (we heard a lot of law cases), or children's books. It was the fact that we were spending time with our parents.

So I took a minute to review the article again and reading the author's reasons for removing the books. While I understand where she is coming from with some of these titles, she and I had totally different perspectives from these books.

Here are my thoughts on the following books.

The Pokey Little Puppy
What Emily said: This book is profoundly boring and pointless. There’s no moral to speak of, or even internal logic other than lip-service repetition. Also, what kind of parenting is going on in this book? Anyway, it’s terrible.

What I said: Yes the story is long, so paraphrase it. One of the themes in this book is that it's okay to stop and look around. The pokey puppy saw so much more then his brothers. However, if you spend all of your time lollygagging you will lose out in the end so be sure to know when it is okay to take leisure time and when to be prompt.

Alexander and the Horrible, No Good ,Very Bad Day
What Emily said: What a whiner, this Alexander. The whole book is a chronicle of the small indignities of an average child’s life. In the end, instead of a lesson about personal responsibility Alexander’s mother gives him a shrug and a “some days are like that.” True enough, and kind of amazing in its nihilism, but…

What I said: Everyone has a bad day and no matter how hard you try, sometimes it just does not get any better. But don't worry because there is always tomorrow! And this is a really funny story.

Love you, Forever
What Emily said: Possibly the creepiest children’s book of all time. It starts off OK: the mother loves her baby. She loves him even when he’s a toddler and a pain. But then you realize she’s sneaking into his room every night, crawling across the floor and rocking him, even when he’s a teenager (shudder). Then, when he’s a grownup, she drives to his house, climbs in his window, and gathers him into her arms, singing to him. 1. Where’s his wife? 2. No. No no no. No. You don’t even get a happy ending when the stalker-mom dies, because you find our her son is doing the same thing to his daughter. The worst.

What I said: This is a very contested book. I have always loved it. I feel that it shows what a love a of parent truly should be. However, I never took it that the parent would literally drive to their child's house, sneak in their room and rock them in their sleep. Instead I took what the parent did to mean that as you grow older your relationship changes but that love you have for your child never does.

The Runaway Bunny
What Emily said: Admittedly, there is something lovely about the surrealistic images and illustrations in this book — the little bunny finding things to transform into to escape his mother, the mother finding things to transform into to catch him. I like it when he’s a boat, and when she’s a tree. BUT the moral seems to be anti-independence: you can never escape your mother, so why not just sit at home and let her feed you? Not exactly the message that the youth of America need right now.

What I said: The Runaway Bunny has never been one of my favorite books but again, I feel that it is saying that no matter where your child goes, what they become, or what they do as a parent you will always love them and be there for them.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar
What Emily said: Putting aside how boring this book is, there’s that message. If you give in to your gluttony, it’s fine. If you overeat until you’re in pain, don’t worry. One day you’ll wake up as a beautiful butterfly and everything will be fine!

What I said: I always took this book literally and thought it was about a caterpillar eating so it could become big enough and strong enough to become a butterfly.

The Ugly Duckling

What Emily said: Seriously, we need to stop reading this to children. The Ugly Duckling is born different, and is teased and persecuted his whole life, no matter where he goes. Finally, he decides to commit suicide by swan, but they won’t kill him, because he is pretty like them. Then he is SO HAPPY. So basically: if you’re ugly, don’t worry. You’ll probably grow up to be beautiful! If not, though, you should probably kill yourself.

What I said: I always felt that it was more about the inner struggle you have and triumphing over diversity. It didn't occur to me that it was saying you could only be happy if you look like everyone else. Also, for me personally, as I was going though tough times at school, I used think of this story to get me through.

The Princess and the Pea

What Emily said: Well, obviously, real princesses are SO delicate that they’d feel a pea under 20 mattresses. And only the most delicate ladies are worthwhile marriage material for princes. That all aside, there’s not even a twist to this one. Woof.

What I said: There is a strong backlash about being a princess and what that means. I personally think it is okay if a child wants to be a princess. Let them. Because the next day they will want to be the pirate or the prince. Why can't you switch the gender role and play the prince and the pea. Be creative talk about it! Share

If you Give a Mouse a cookie
What Emily said: Never be kind to anyone, kids. If you do, they’ll bleed you dry.

What I said: It is a cause and effect story and a fun tale to tell. If you think about it put yourself in the kids role and your kid in the mouses role. Don't you see the similarities.

Rainbow Fish
What Emily said: Don’t be taken in by the shininess. The message of this one is that in order to have friends, you have to pry off parts of yourself — in the case of the Rainbow Fish, parts of your physical body — and give them away. Because being popular is more important than maintaining your selfhood! Because in order to be happy you have to look just like everybody else and everybody else has to look just like you! Yay?

What I said: This is not one of my favorite stories, however; I feel that it teaches a very important lesson about greed and selfishness, which today's society is really struggling with. In the story the fish is lonely because he is prideful in his beauty and unwilling to share of it. He doesn't want to play with others, he just wants to be admired by them. Only when he realizes that friendship is not about one person admiring the other but sharing and playing together does he become happy.

Curious GeorgeWhat Emily said: Does it strike anyone else as kind of upsetting that Curious George was kidnapped from Africa by the man with the yellow hat? Then he gives George food and drugs and lets him get incarcerated and finally puts him in the zoo. Is curiosity bad or exciting? What about kidnapping? I don’t know.

What I said: I totally agree with the author! Except the new Curious George has been re-imagined and he is more of a child or pet than a specimen to be looked at and observed.

I am grateful that I read this article because I was able to look at these classics through different eyes and I am glad that she gave alternate books to read because I now have even more book titles to read to the kids. However, I believe that we sometimes think to hard about a story and that we should just lighten up and read to our children.

*Every thing that Emily said is copied and pasted from the linked article in the first paragraph.