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Monday, April 18, 2016

National Library Week

Happy Belated National Library Week!

So last week was National Library Week and what better way to celebrate libraries than by spending some time reading books about books. Here are just a few exceptional stories in which libraries, librarians, books, and reading play a significant role.

1. Matilda by Roald Dahl
I have been quite effusive in past posts about my Roald Dahl obsession and Matilda happens to be my favorite book by the splendiferous author. I was also a precocious reader as a child (even though I was not reading Dickens at age four) so I could relate to Matilda's weekly sojourns to the local library and her use of books as an escape mechanism.

  The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing  people who lived exciting lives. She went on olden-day sailing ships with Joseph Conrad. She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to India with with Rudyard Kipling. She traveled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English Village.

Now that I am a children's librarian I cannot help but admire the kindly Mrs. Phelps who helps Matilda on her path to becoming a reader. One of my favorite lines is when Mrs. Phelps tells Matilda: "And don't worry about the parts you can't understand. Sit back and allow the words to wash around you, like music."

2. Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein
Well, it is not really surprising that a children's book about the most fantastic library ever imagined is written by an actual children's librarian. You already know that I adore Roald Dahl and Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library is like a zany trip through Willy Wonka's factory if it was filled with books rather than candy.
Part mystery, part comedy, part treasure hunt, and all fun every kid will want Mr. Lemoncello to build a library in their hometown.

3. Bats at the Library by Brian Lies
There are oodles of picture books about libraries, but Bats at the Library is one of my favorites.  Using brilliantly detailed illustrations and a lively, rhyming text Brian Lies tells the story of a colony of bats that visit the library after closing time.

Readers young and old will get a kick out of identifying all of the literary references acted out by these bat bibliophiles. I particularly adore the bat as Blind Pew from Treasure Island.

Blind Pew

4. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
What reader has not fantasized about a beloved character stepping off the page and into the real world? The Inkheart trilogy proves that fiction coming to life may not be as wonderful as imagined.  When Meggie was just a toddler her father, Mo, read aloud from a fantastical book called Inkheart and miraculously brought several of it's characters, including the story's diabolical villain and his henchman, into their living room. Simultaneously, Meggie's mother was sent into the fictional world of the book. Nearly ten years later, Meggie learns the truth of her mother's disappearance and also that she has inherited her father's strange talent.  Now it is up to Meggie to banish Capricorn from the real world and rescue her mother from the pages of Inkheart.

5. Seven Day Magic by Edward Eager
Seven-Day Magic is actually part of the Tales of Magic series written by Edward Eager during the 50's and 60's. In this seventh and final book of the classic series five children quickly discover that the tattered library book they checked out magically brings to life anything that they imagine.

Obviously, I included Seven-Day Magic on this list because it revolves around a magical library book.  However, I highly encourage everyone, young and old, to read the entire Tales of Magic series. First of all, the books in the series are very much intertwined with recurring characters and references to previous adventures in each one. Most importantly, though, Eager's books are timeless and delightful fantasies that you will want to read again and again.

6. The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
Most of us have imagined ourselves as the main character of our favorite books, but young Bastian learns while reading that he really is the hero of The Neverending Story. Now if you have only seen the move let me tell you now that you are cheating yourself.  Don't get me wrong, I love the 80's classic and I had a huge crush on Atreyu as a kid but the movie only tells half the story.  The movie ends with Bastian riding Falkor, the luck dragon, after saving Fantasia from The Nothing. In the book, this is just the beginning of Bastian's adventures in Fantastica (which is what Fantasia is called in the book) as he uses wishes and imagination to restore the magical land.         

7. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
I debated including Fahrenheit 451 on this list just because Bradbury's bleak dystopian novel is a librarian's worst nightmare. Fahrenheit 451 was published in 1953 as a direct response to the threat of book burning during the McCarthy Era.  In the future Bradbury creates society decided to do away with books because they contained too many dissenting ideas. Since books are outlawed anyone caught with one has their home and all of their possessions burned by "firemen". Years of banning books has resulted in a society where the people do not read, write, converse, or even think.  Rather, their attention spans have shrunk to the point that they do nothing but watch wall-sized television screens or listen to "seashell radios" that attach directly to their ears.

There is no denying that the message of Fahrenheit 451 is still relevant.  Today we have computers, video games, cell phones, televisions, tablets, etc. all vying for our attention and as Bradbury stated: "You do not have to burn books to destroy a culture, just get people to stop reading them." Even though people are spending less and less time reading, I choose to be optimistic that books will always hold a place of reverence in our world.

8. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak 
Aahhh, more book burning! The Book Thief takes place in Germany during World War II when books were harshly censored and, yes, even burned. The story, which is narrated by death (yep, you read that right), revolves around a young foster girl, Leisel Meminger, sent to live with an older couple outside of Munich.  Leisel finds herself irresistibly drawn to books, sensing in them an intrinsic magic that can dispel even the worst of her nightmares.

There have been countless books written about World War II and specifically the Holocaust, but The Book Thief is exceptional. Oh, it will rip your heart out and make you cry buckets, but do not let that deter you from reading it. There is also hope, beauty, and compassion that will make The Book Thief an enduring classic.

9. The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie
Ok, the library really only serves as the location of the corpse but who cares I am a sucker for a good whodunnit. Let's be honest, Agatha Christie is the grand dame of mystery authors. Personally, I prefer Hercule Poirot to Miss Marple but The Body in the Library is an ingenious mystery that will have you bamboozled until the big reveal.

10. All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness
Sometimes you just need to read something that is a bit of a guilty pleasure. I must confess that I enjoyed every page of this paranormal romance. When history professor and witch, Diana Bishop, discovers an antiquated alchemical text it attracts the attention of other creatures including vampire, Matthew Clairmont. The two fall in love despite relationships between vampires and witches being forbidden by an ancient covenant. Yes, there are parts of the story that are a tad hokey (like when Diana and Matthew go to yoga class together), but there is plenty of action, steamy romance, and intriguing characters.  Not only do the two main characters meet in a library, there are oodles of historical and literary references throughout the entire trilogy. In fact, book two of the All Souls Trilogy, Shadow of Night, takes place entirely in Elizabethan England and there are appearances by Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, and Mary Sidney just to name a few.

11. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
Another Ray Bradbury book. Not really surprising if you know anything about Bradbury and his passion for books and libraries.

“I am a librarian. I discovered me in the library. I went to find me in the library. Before I fell in love with libraries, I was just a six-year-old boy. The library fueled all of my curiosities, from dinosaurs to ancient Egypt. When I graduated from high school in 1938, I began going to the library three nights a week. I did this every week for almost ten years and finally, in 1947, around the time I got married, I figured I was done. So I graduated from the library when I was twenty-seven. I discovered that the library is the real school.”

I spent three days a week for 10 years educating myself in the public library, and it's better than college. People should educate themselves - you can get a complete education for no money. At the end of 10 years, I had read every book in the library and I'd written a thousand stories.
Read more at:
I spent three days a week for 10 years educating myself in the public library, and it's better than college. People should educate themselves - you can get a complete education for no money. At the end of 10 years, I had read every book in the library and I'd written a thousand stories.
Read more at:
In Something Wicked This Way Comes best friends, Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, take on an evil carnival that ensnares the souls of its unsuspecting victims. With the help of Will's father, who is the custodian at the public library, the boys manage to resist the lure of the carnival and thwart its demonic proprietor, Mr. Dark. Bradbury's writing is absolutely bewitching and the story brims with stunning imagery of autumn, the carnival, and also the library which plays a pivotal role in the story and lives of the two young protagonists.

"Its was all so good, these blowing quiet October nights and the library waiting inside now with its green-shaded lamps and papyrus dust."

"Out in the world, not much happened. But here in the special night, a land bricked with paper and leather, anything might happen, always did."

"So when they talked again, it was still in whispers. Deep forests, dark caves, dim churches, half-lit libraries were all the same, they tuned you down, they dampened your ardor, they brought you to murmurs and soft cries for fear of raising up phantom twins of your voice which might haunt corridors long after your passage."

There you have it. Eleven books about libraries, librarians, books, and/or reading to make you realize just how important libraries are. I know that I could add more, but my posts tend to get long winded. Keep reading and don't forget to support your local library!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Storytime Anytime-Shapes

Books are an excellent way to introduce young children to important concepts such as shapes, colors, numbers, and ABC's.  I know that shapes may not seem like the most exciting theme for storytime. Especially if you are thinking that a story book about shapes is just going to be a series of simple pictures and the words "this is a circle", "this is a a square", "this is a rectangle", etc. written underneath them.  Fortunately for kids and parents, there are a number of picture books about shapes that are fun, beautifully illustrated, and do not resemble a set of flashcards.

Children's author/illustrator, Ellen Stoll Walsh, has written some of my favorite books to use during storytime. Her trio of mouse books (Mouse Shapes, Mouse Paints, and Mouse Count) teach simple preschool themes, but do so in a playful and engaging way.

Virtual Book Club for Kids, which always has fun book-related ideas, featured Ellen Stoll Walsh for a month and posted 12 activities inspired by Mouse Paints, Mouse Shapes, and Mouse Count. If you are looking to help your little one learn colors, numbers, or shapes in a fun way check out Walsh's books and give some of these easy activities a try.

Most children are captivated by bright colors. I guess that they are similar to sharks in that way (and also in their insatiable appetites). Michael Hall's bold and graphic illustrations make his books easy winners with young readers. In Perfect Square, Hall shows all of the ways a simple, construction paper square can be torn, wrinkle, cut, or folded to create a fountain, garden, or mountain. I don't know about you, but I am not always feeling creative and/or ambitious so I love it when a book basically spells out an activity for me to do with my child. All you have to do is take a bunch of colored squares and let your child rip, crumple, fold, cut, and glue to see what they can create.

Another one of Hall's books featuring a specific shape is My Heart is Like a Zoo. Since all of the animals in this book are created using hearts I usually save this book for around Valentine's Day. As with Perfect Square, coming up with a craft to go with My Heart is Like a Zoo is a no-brainer. Cut out multiple hearts in various sizes to create one or more of the animals. 

In Shape by Shape by Suse MacDonald and Go, Shapes, Go! by Denise Fleming a new shape is added on each page to create a mystery animal. I love picture books that encourage interaction and little ones will have a blast guessing what animal will eventually be depicted.

Most shape books are very simple since they are aimed at young children who are just learning their shapes. Circle, Square, Moose by Kelly Bingham is a quirky, humorous story that will have older kids laughing too. In this sequel to Z is for Moose Zebra's goofy best friend, Moose, has decided this time to invade a book about shapes (because he loves shapes). Of course, Zebra spends the entire book trying to repair the damage done by the over-exuberant Moose. If you want to learn more about Z is for Moose and Circle, Square, Moose check out the Moose page of Bingham's website.

The illustrations for both books are done by the spectacular, Caldecott winning artist, Paul O. Zelinsky. In case you could not tell, I love love love love Zelinsky. It amazes me how recognizable Zelinsky's artwork is, but at the same time each of the books he illustrates has a unique feel.

So, another really easy activity to go along with your shape books is to cut out a bunch of random shapes and let little ones create pictures. Each of the books I highlighted should give the kids plenty of inspiration. After listening to Shape by Shape by Denise Fleming most of my storytime kids wanted to make monkeys. However, there were also people, flowers, cars, and houses and a couple of kids just glued all of the shapes on the paper in a crazy hurricane of color.

Classic tangrams are a fun and easy way for kids (and adults) of all ages to play with shapes. If you have never heard of a tangram it is an ancient Chinese puzzle that uses seven basic shapes, called seven pieces of cleverness, that can be arranged and rearranged to make countless designs. There is actually a website called Tangram Channel that has oodles of tangram puzzles of varying levels of difficulty that you can do online.There are also tangrams that you can print and cut out and even instructions on how to draw your own tangram although you would probably want to save that activity for older kids. Below is a picture of a few simple tangram puzzles along with the seven pieces of cleverness that I printed and laminated. Sorry that the picture is sideways, but you get the idea. Some of my younger kids needed help from mom or dad, but all of them were fascinated by the tangrams. The best part is that tangrams are super cheap and easy to recreate at home.