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Tuesday, September 22, 2015


Fall has to be my favorite time of year. The wonderful crisp air, sweater weather, warm drinks, and Halloween.  I love Halloween next to Christmas it is my favorite holiday.  I guess the build up to the holiday has always been my favorite part.  First there is the decorating, I have an excuse to craft, make everything festive, and fill my house with scented candles.  My mom and I used to put on a Halloween movie and cover the house in jack-o-lanterns, ghost, goblins, and more.  I still carry on this tradition with my own kids though sometimes we listen to Halloween music instead.  Nightmare before Christmas is one of my favorite soundtracks. Second there all of the fun Halloween treats you get to make and enjoy.
Then last but not least there are the Halloween movies I love so many of them and yes I guess I'm a little old for some of them but I don't really care they remind me of all the great times I had with my mom and now my kids.   Here are a few of my favorites, of course I watch The Nightmare Before Christmas, but I also love:
A good ghost story this time of year
Monster House, I don't know what exactly to say about it except if you haven't watched it, you should, ParaNorman too.  Then throw in Coraline because it rocks.
Double Double Toil in Trouble for all of us who grew up on Full House.

Disney's Halloweentown  movies and other Disney original movies, which yes I know are totally cheesy but they are suppose to be, which makes it perfectly okay.
and of course no Halloween is complete without the Great Pumpkin, Winnie the Pooh, and Garfield


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Storytime Anytime: Bears

Since I have named my preschool storytime Book Cubs I figured that I should write a post about bears. 
Of course, the first thing that springs to my head when I think of bears is the Bill Swerski's  Super Fans saying "Da Bears", but I suppose a Saturday Night Live sketch is not quite appropriate for young children.

Keeping it kid friendly, there are a ton of adorable picture books featuring bears. Probably one of most well known bear books is Brown Bear, Brown Bear written by Bill Martin Jr. and illustrated by Eric Carle.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear is perfect book for toddlers who are just learning their colors as well as the names of different animals. I know that I have previously mentioned my admiration for Eric Carle. His brilliant animals are a beautiful complement to Martin's simple, repetitive text. The question and answer format of Brown Bear, Brown Bear will give little ones the opportunity to name the animal and color. You can also find countless printables and activities online that you can do before or after you read the book ( has several).
I created a flip book for my Busy Bees  ( which is what I call my toddler storytime) to color and take home.
Basically I printed two squares for each animal in the book on card stock. One with a black and white picture of the animal and the second with the words in color. To make the front and back of the book I printed print off a rectangle the length of the two squares.

Stack all of the animal pictures on the left and words on the right on top of the bottom rectangle and then put the title rectangle on top. Make sure that you do not line up the words to match the picture. The idea is that kids will have to flip through the cards to find the match.

To bind the book you will punch four holes along the top (two in the top of each square) and string together with yarn. I was going to use the metal rings, but they made the book too heavy and I imagined kids whacking each other with them. Just do not tie the yarn too tight otherwise you will not be able to flip the pages. Now, have the kids color the pictures of the animals to match the words. There you have it: A color matching flip book to go with Brown Bear, Brown Bear.

A newer author/illustrator who has quickly become a favorite of mine is Peter Brown. Brown's illustrations in Creepy Carrots written by Aaron Reynolds earned him a Caldecott Honor in 2013 and his book, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild was the recipient of the 2014 Mitten Award (Michigan's own version of Caldecott). This post is about bears, though, so I want to talk about Children Make Terrible Pets and You Will Be My Friend. The star of these two books is Lucy, who is a highly energetic young bear cub wearing a pink bow and tutu.
Children Make Terrible Pets is inspired by every child who has dragged home a frog, lizard, snake, turtle, stray cat, etc. to their mothers and begged to keep it as a pet. Lucy the bear finds a little boy in the woods and decides that she is going to hug him and squeeze him and love him forever and ever and ever. Of course, Lucy eventually realizes that Squeaker belongs with his family and decides to let him go.

In You Will Be My Friend Lucy is back and desperate to make a new friend. Unfortunately, Lucy's overbearing (haha bear pun) personality tends to push would-be-friends away. This story reminded me so much of my youngest son whose behavior often resembles that of an affectionate and disobedient puppy.  Peter Brown makes a lot of hilarious book trailers for his own books. The trailer for You Will Be My Friend features Brown being interviewed by an enthusiastic Lucy.

Karma Wilson is a prolific children's author who has a whole series of books featuring Bear and his woodland friends. These are sweet and feature a simple rhyming text that will appeal to young children.

Scare a Bear by Kathy-Jo Wargin is another rhyming book with vibrant and cheerful illustrations. I prefer picture books with humor and kids will laugh out loud as a young camper desperately tries to get a bear out of her cabin. If you like this one Wargin also has Moose on the Loose and Otter Out of Water, which are pretty similar.

Three bear books that I absolutely love reading are the Hugless Douglas books by David Melling. Douglas the bear is just so darn goofy and I adore the little sheep that always manages to stick to Douglas.

If you are going to read about bears you have to include We're Going on a Bear Hunt. Many of us learned this action song at summer camp or school, but there is also a beautiful book written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxbury. You can watch an animated version of the story narrated by Michael Rosen to the right. The book was first published in 1989 and continues to be an incredibly popular board book. A celebratory pop-up version of We're Going on a Bear Hunt came out in 2007 and it is stunning! It would definitely make a wonderful gift for any book-loving little one.

After reading story books, my book cubs made paper plate bears which turned out incredibly cute. Basically you cut a U-shaped piece out of the bottom of a large paper plate. You can use this extra piece to cut out little ears and a tale. The head is just a smaller paper plate. I stapled the head, ears, and tail to the body because I was unsure if glue would be enough to hold them together. The muzzle of the bear is just a brown circle with a black triangle on it for a nose and we used the round stickers you buy for garage sale tags for eyes. You could just let the kids draw their own bear faces if you do not have construction paper. I had the kids sponge paint the bears, but markers would be just as good (and less messy). I love to let the kids in storytime use paint, glitter, chalk, clay, and all of those messy materials that they might not get to use at home. I think parents appreciate that the mess stays at the library (haha).

I could go on with more bear ideas, but I don't want to overwhelm you. Notice, I did not even mention Teddy Bears. I will have to save those for another post.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Caught in the Undertow

What are you supposed to do when your 13 year old daughter begs you to read a book because she loooved it and she desperately wants to talk with you about it? Like any attentive mother who is eager to bond with her teen, I checked out Michael Buckley's first novel for teens, Undertow. Now, I realize that it was all a nefarious scheme on her part to make me share in her misery. Now we both have to wait MONTHS for the second book to come out. By then I will have to reread the first book and after finishing Raging Sea it will probably take another year for the final book, at which point I will have to read the entire trilogy from start to finish. Do you see the vicious path my depraved daughter has set me upon?

Many of you may be familiar with Buckley's  juvenile fiction series, The Sisters Grimm and N.E.R.D.S  If you have not read either of these truly exceptional series you should definitely give them a try (even if you are an adult). The Sisters Grimm follows Sabrina and Daphne, orphaned sisters who are sent to live with a grandmother that they didn't know existed, in a town inhabited by fairy tale characters. It turns out that all of those fairy tales were true stories. As descendants of the original Grimm brothers, it is the birthright of Sabrina and Daphne to police the magical city of Ferryport Landing. N.E.R.D.S. (which is the acronym for National Espionage, Rescue, and Defense Society) follows fifth grade spies Duncan "Gluestick" Dewey, Julio "Flinch" Escala, Matilda "Wheezer" Choi, and Jackson "Braceface" Jones as they use their nanobyte enhancements to save the world. Although wildly different, both of these series are hysterically funny and jam-packed with enough action to please even the most reluctant reader.

Speaking of wildly different, Undertow, is about as far from N.E.R.D.S. and The Sisters Grimm as you can get. Besides the obvious difference that Undertow is written for young adults, it is also serious and dark, without any of the lighthearted frivolity  present in Buckley's juvenile books. This may sound like a negative, but trust me when I say that it's not. Imagine District 9, Romeo and Juliet, and the true events surrounding Board vs. Education all taking place in a militarized Coney Island and you will have a general idea of what Undertow is about. Of course, instead of originating from an alien planet, the refugees in Undertow come from the earth's own oceans, but the general premise is the same. People respond to the Alphas with fear, derision, and violence. Although Undertow is a fantasy, the prejudice and vitriol human beings can spread is, unfortunately, all too real.

Now, if you look at Goodreads you will see a number of reviews that slam Undertow for being illogical and absurd. My response to those kind of comments is always: "Well, duh, it's fantasy." Personally, I can overlook some scientific inconsistencies if the story is good and I was completely engrossed after reading the first chapter of Undertow.

 I loved that the main character, 16 year old Lyric, is not your typical whiny, angst-ridden, teen novel heroine. If you have read The Sisters Grimm series you are aware that Buckley is capable of creating intelligent, interesting, as well as flawed, female characters. Since Undertow is directed at an older audience, Buckley is able to make Lyric and all of the characters deeper and more complex than the characters in his juvenile books. With many teen books the heroine begins the story as quiet and reserved and slowly comes into her own. Lyric is already confident and strong-willed, but a family secret is forcing her to "lay low" and go unnoticed. It was interesting to see these glimpses of Lyric's true personality throughout the book until eventually she cannot help but be who she is.
Just pretend that Tony has gills and no one is singing.

The supporting cast of characters in Undertow is equally appealing. Of course, it is a teen book so there has to be some romance. However, Lyric and Fathom, the prince of the Alphas, are not just two ordinary teens. Like Maria and Tony from West Side Story, they are facing racism, cultural differences, and familial pressure.

I will say that the ending of Undertow felt a bit rushed, but overall the book was exciting and thought provoking. Being the first in a trilogy, it ended on a total cliff hanger and now I have to wait all of the way till February to find out what happens next. To quote Charlie Brown: "AAUGH!" From now on I am not reading a series unless every book is available at the library.