STEAM activities for home

Our library closed on March 15 due to the spread of COVID-19, and will be closed through April 6, if not longer. Librarians have been working from home on professional development activities and creating content we can share online. We’ve been making lists of book recommendations (with links to e-books and digital audiobooks, of course), advertising our other online resources (such as access to newspapers), providing timely and accurate information about COVID-19, and bringing a little fun and entertainment to families with kids at home. Here are a couple booklists I’ve worked on:

Audiobooks for the Whole Family

March & April Adult Fiction Titles

Over on my personal blog (there’s some overlap…I write about books and early childhood activities in both places) I did a round-up of many of the online resources we’ve been using or planning to explore: Kid resources and activities for quarantine. One activity we had fun with was “Sink/Float,” which is a great activity for kids (mine is four and a half, but younger kids will still enjoy the sensory aspect, and older ones can make better predictions). All you need is a bowl of water and a dozen (or more) objects that can get wet. If you happen to have a copy of Hey, Water! by Antoinette Portis or Ice Boy by David Ezra Stein, those would be great companion books for this activity.

My kiddo hasn’t ever been the type to spend a lot of time drawing by herself, but we had a great time yesterday morning doing some mixed media art: we used crayons to color on watercolor paper, then used watercolor paint over the crayon (which resists the paint). It was colorful and fun, and we worked on them together for almost an hour. (You can also sprinkle some kosher salt on watercolor paint before it dries and observe the neat effect!)

Today we watched a couple of short videos by SciShow Kids about simple machines and “The Coolest Machine Ever!” a.k.a. a Rube Goldberg machine. (Shout out to the Portland (ME) Public Library, which had an excellent exhibit on Rube Goldberg a few years ago.) Then we raided our recycling bin and arts and crafts supplies to make our own Rube Goldberg machines. Great companion books for this activity are Izzy Gizmo by Pip Jones, and Rosie Revere, Engineer and Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty. (For older kids, Beaty has brought Rosie and Iggy into the chapter book realm in her Questioneers series.)

We’ve also been doing Cosmic Kids yoga every day: host/teacher Jamie takes viewers through a fast-paced half-hour routine, telling a compressed version of a story from a movie or book (e.g. Frozen, Moana, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland). I happen to have a beautiful 1946 edition of Alice (from my mother-in-law’s basement – thanks, Nana!) and we began reading that aloud as well. There may be a tea party in the near future…

Speaking of tea parties, baking is a great activity to do with kids. Wash your hands (we all have plenty of practice with this now, if we didn’t before), put on an apron, and pick out a recipe from a cookbook or one of the many sites online. (I’m partial to King Arthur Flour recipes.) Make sure to read the recipe all the way through first, and make sure you have all the ingredients you need before you begin. Even really young kids can be helpful in the kitchen, unwrapping sticks of butter or stirring eggs with a fork or whisk. When you think about it, baking is math (measuring), science (chemistry), literacy (reading a recipe), sensory/art, and, of course, nutrition!

And if you feel like growing your own food, now’s a great time to start a garden. Seed packets should have information about when to plant seeds, whether they can be started inside and transplanted or not, and how long before you can expect them to sprout (“days to emerge”), as well as what kind of care they need in terms of sunlight and water. You don’t need anything fancy – you can start seeds with potting soil in egg cartons. Many herbs, like chives and basil, are easy to start from seed.

Chives and basil seeds in egg carton seed tray

I do miss doing my weekly storytimes, and will be excited to return to those once it’s safe to do so. Luckily, the #kidlit world has really stepped up to make sure that kids still have access to books, and publishers have temporarily eased restrictions on public performance of copyrighted works so that authors and others can read books aloud to share. Two children’s librarians at my library put together a “virtual storytime,” and many other libraries and authors are doing similar things, so check your local library’s website and social media, as well as Storyline Online, Mo Willems Lunch Doodles (Dan Santat, author of The Adventures of Beekle, makes a guest appearance in the March 25 episode), and Story Time from Space. (Also, here’s B.J. Novak reading The Book With No Pictures.)

Do you work at a library? What have you been creating/sharing from home? Do you have kids at home? What are your go-to activities?

Bookmatching: Readers’ Advisory for Developing Readers

In January, the Youth Services Interest Group (YSIG) hosted librarian Rhonda Cunha to present on the topic “Understanding Literacy Acquisition for Targeted Reader’s Advisory” at the Woburn Public Library. Rhonda is the Early Literacy Children’s Librarian at the Stevens Memorial Library in Andover, MA, and her presentation was detailed and thorough. I’m going to try to condense six pages of notes into a coherent overview here, starting with an important definition:

Reading is making meaning from text.

In the public library, Rhonda often overheard misconceptions about how children learn to read; her presentation corrects some of those misunderstandings. As children’s librarians, we are ideally placed to promote literacy, help children love reading, and help parents.

Early Literacy Skills slide

Early literacy skills include print motivation, phonological awareness, vocabulary, narrative skills (storytelling), print awareness (how books work), and letter knowledge. Two major ways that public libraries help children develop early literacy skills are through storytime programs and readers’ advisory services: talking with readers and helping them find books they’ll love (ideally, talking directly with the kids; talking with the parents is second best).

Readers’ advisory is more complex for children than for adults, because they are still developing these literacy skills: the book’s content needs to be interesting to them, and the book needs to be the right level. However, we don’t “level” books in the public library, for several reasons. Part of helping kids see themselves as readers and develop a love of reading is supporting them, not labeling them. (Benchmarking is a teaching tool for teachers to evaluate what the kids know, determine the point of need, and enable them to teach to the child’s need. “Levels” – Lexile and Fountas & Pinnell are two common ones – should not be shared with the kids themselves, let alone their parents.) A young reader’s background knowledge might enable them to read a book more advanced than their designated “level,” or they might want to pick up a book that’s easier – and that’s fine.

How to Help Kids Choose Just-Right Books for Them:

  • Helping children develop independent reading identities requires respect, trust, and lots of patience.
  • Encourage kids to vary their reading diet, in terms of genres and interests. Give them what they want, and slip in a few extras.
  • Provide lots of choices.
  • Encourage them to abandon books that don’t “sing” to them: “Good readers abandon books!” If you don’t like it, don’t read it. (But give it a chance – start with 10-20 pages, and if you don’t like it, stop. This goes for adult readers, as well.)
  • Use the 5-finger rule. Open a book to a page and start reading; put a finger up for each word they don’t know. (1=easy, 2=still easy, 3=okay, 4=challenging, 5=too hard)
  • Knowing what they don’t like is as important as knowing what they do like.
  • Use the acronym BOOKMATCH: Book length, Ordinary language, Organization, Knowledge prior to book, Manageable text, Appeal to genre, Topic appropriateness, Connection, High interest

Self-efficacy is key! Children need to see themselves as capable readers and to believe they can succeed. There are four steps to self-efficacy:

  1. Mastery experiences (reading to themselves without difficulty)
  2. Social models (seeing adults reading and writing)
  3. Social persuasion (encouragement and cheerleading, “I know you can do it!”)
  4. Mood

“While children are learning the skills of reading, they must also develop a positive reading identity or they will not become lifelong readers.” –Donalyn Miller

Advice for Parents:

  • Reading aloud to children builds receptive vocabulary, which becomes expressive vocabulary. Additionally, kids’ listening comprehension level is usually higher than their reading (print) comprehension. Reading aloud is the most important thing parents can do!
  • Social modeling: Kids should see their parents reading and writing (writing grocery lists, to-do lists, thank you notes, etc.).
  • Read familiar books to keep success high. (“If they want to read Wimpy Kid sixteen times, let them!”) Read predictable, repeating texts and short books. Read the books they bring home from school to bolster confidence.
  • Make reading a special daily ritual – try for at least 20 minutes a day/night.
  • Keep it fun and positive. Balance corrections with story flow (focus on one thing each time). If the kid is reading aloud and gets stuck on a word, count to 5 (silently) and supply the word so they can move on.
  • Name the strategies they are using.* Reread the same sentence/book if decoding is slow. Use the language that the school uses when recognizing strategies.
  • Readers who self-correct are checking for comprehension (this is good!).
  • Be aware of cognitive overload** – it’s okay to take over. Make them happy about reading/being read to.
  • End on a positive note.

*Recently, I was reading Jenny and the Cat Club by Esther Averill to my four-year-old, and we came across the word “weary.” I asked her if she knew what it meant, and she said no. I read the whole sentence again, and asked her to guess what it meant. “Tired?” She got it! I was so excited. I explained that what she’d just done was figure out the meaning of a word from context – the words around that word. She was really pleased and proud.

**Cognitive capacity: you have X amount. How much are you using for decoding, how much for comprehension? Accuracy and fluency are important, so readers aren’t using all their cognitive capacity for decoding. Phonics will only get you so far; 40% of the words in English cannot be decoded.

Reading is making meaning from text, so how do we learn to do that? Here are some decoding strategies used in school:

  • Ask: Does that look right? Does it sound right? Does it make sense?
  • Get your mouth ready to say that word. Skip the word and read around it (to get context – see above).
  • Ask: What would fit there?
  • Break the word up into smaller known words or sounds (families, blends, compounds).
  • Look at the picture for clues (Cunha said, “There are pictures in books for a reason! There is no cheating in reading”).
  • Before you start reading:
    • Activate prior knowledge (e.g., “What do we already know about dolphins?” Look at the book’s cover – what do you see, what do you notice?)
    • Preview difficult or unknown vocabulary and/or take a picture walk.
    • Be present to notice behaviors, give support, and watch for burnout.

More advice and strategies for reading and reading together:

  • As books become more advanced, cognitive demands on the readers increase. The more a kid has in their head already, the less dependent on the text they are (top-down vs. bottom-up processing).
  • The way children acquire language is through a direct connection with people they’re conversing with (“serve and return” communication).
  • When a kid reads aloud, you hear their mistakes, which are informative; in order to teach, you have to hear the errors.
  • Monitor for meaning: Ask big-picture questions, not detail questions (e.g. “How do you think he felt?” vs. “What color was his shirt?”)

Want to learn more? See below for more resources.

Cover of Reading Picture Books With ChildrenRecommended reading:

The Reading Zone: how to help kids become skilled, passionate, habitual, critical readers by Nancie Atwell

Readicide by Kelly Gallagher

The Enchanted Hour by Meghan Cox Gurdon

The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

Reading Picture Books With Children by Megan Dowd Lambert

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease

BOOKMATCH: How to Scaffold Student Book Selection for Independent Reading by Linda Wedwick and Jessica Ann Wutz

Reading teacher newsletter from International Literacy Association: https://www.literacyworldwide.org/

“Learning, Interrupted: Cell Phone Calls Sidetrack Toddlers’ Word Learning,” American Psychological Association, November 21, 2017

“Thinking Outside the Bin: Why Labeling Books By Reading Level Disempowers Young Readers,” Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal, August 28, 2017

Step into Storytime, March 9

We had low turnout at storytime today – just three kids at the beginning, with two more joining them in the first few minutes – which could be due to coronavirus fears, but could also be chalked up to the gorgeous weather. Anyway, the show must go on…

Picture books in foreground, mouse house game in background

  • Welcome and announcements
  • “Hello Friends” with ASL (Jbrary)
  • Hand-washing song discussion
  • Song cube: “I’m A Little Teapot”
  • Name song (“___ is here today”)
  • How to Cheer Up Dad by Fred Koehler
  • Stretch: up, down, sideways
  • Shake A Leg, Egg by Kurt Cyrus
  • Song cube: “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” (regular speed, fast, slow)
  • I brought two books about dogs named George; I showed them at the same time and said we’d read both, and gave the kids a chance to vote for which one they wanted first, by raising their hands. Only one kid voted. And that’s democracy.
  • Bark, George! by Jules Feiffer: This one’s a hit. It’s got animal sounds and surprises; at this age, kids like discovering and pointing out things that aren’t right, e.g. when a dog says meow instead of arf!
  • Oh No, George! by Chris Haughton: It’s always interesting to hear their predictions about the ambiguous ending.
  • Mouse house game
  • Monkey and Me by Emily Gravett
  • Explanation of traffic light game and variation
  • “Goodbye Friends” with ASL (Jbrary)
  • Traffic light game #1: Essentially Red Light, Green Light, starting at one end of the room and getting to the other. Traffic light game #2: Unusual colors! Blue = clap, orange = hop, pink = twirl, purple = touch toes, and red = stop.

All of today’s books were relatively short, which meant more time for open-ended questions while we read them (e.g. “What did Little Jumbo do when he didn’t want to wear his overalls?” and “What do you think George did?” and “What is the weather like outside today?”).

Step into Storytime, March 2

song cube, books, tissue box

When I walked into the children’s room at the library this morning, two staff were already talking about recent infectious disease news. I decided to address the issue of how sickness spreads at the beginning of my storytime by sharing two tips: (1) Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice, and (2) when you sneeze or cough, bring your elbow up to your face, instead of coughing into your hand or whatever else happens to be in front of you. Fortunately, I had made a birthday cake felt board a while ago, so we counted out three candles (because March is the third month, and no one had a birthday today – I asked) and sang the happy birthday song while pretending to wash our hands.

felt birthday cake and three candles

  • Welcome and announcements
  • “Hello Friends” song with ASL
  • “Happy Birthday” song, miming hand-washing, with felt board cake and candles
  • Book! by Kristine O’Connell George and Maggie Smith
  • Stretch: hands up, hands down, hands to the left, hands to the right, repeat (faster)
  • A Fox Found A Box by Ged Adamson: How do you listen to music? (Most kids today wouldn’t recognize a radio as drawn in this book, so we talked about that first.)
  • Song cube: “Zoom, Zoom, Zoom, We’re Going to the Moon” and “ABCs”
  • “Bees” by Aileen Fisher, from The Beeman by Laurie Krebs, illustrated by Valeria Cis: I decided this book might be a little long, even as a lead-off book, but I shared the poem from the beginning.
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, with felt board fruit, caterpillar, and butterfly: I hand out the felt fruit first, and there’s always enough for every kid to have at least one piece. They come up and stick their fruit to the board when we get to that page in the book.
  • Song cube: “I Had A Little Turtle” (make a turtle with your hands by holding four fingers together, thumbs out, one hand on top of the other)
  • Pete’s A Pizza by William Steig: This is one of my Top Ten storytime books. It’s just the right length, it’s funny, and there are plenty of opportunities for motion/action (kneading dough, sprinkling cheese, etc.).
  • “Goodbye Friends” song with ASL
  • Craft: Decorate a pizza together (butcher paper, pre-drawn pizza, yellow and red paper circles, glue sticks, crayons)

Pete's A Pizza, The Beeman, Book!, A Fox Found A Box, The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Stay safe and healthy, everyone. Happy reading!

Step into Storytime, February 24

Song cubes and picture books

Eight kids and their caregivers came to storytime today. We read five books, sang some songs, did some stretches and wiggles, and used glue sticks.

  • Welcome and announcements
  • “Hello Friends” song with ASL (Jbrary)
  • Name song (“___ is here today”)
  • Stretch
  • Jump! by Tatsuhide Matsuaka: This board book opens vertically instead of horizontally, which is pretty unusual – but it has a good reason!
  • Bear Came Along by Richard T. Morris, illustrated by LeUyen Pham: A newly-minted Caldecott Honor book that I’ve read at home, but this was my first time reading it aloud at storytime.
  • Song cube: “ABCs”
  • “The Kookaburra Song”
  • Roly Poly Pangolin by Anna Dewdney: Many people are familiar with Llama Llama, but I love Dewdney’s shy pangolin just as much. We practiced rolling up into a ball by hugging our knees and tucking our heads down.
  • Perfect Square by Michael Hall: Thanks to Megan Dowd Lambert’s Whole Book Approach webinar, I took some time to examine the cover of this book with the kids: What shape is it? A perfect square, of course! One of the kids knew the book already and noticed little details throughout, like the kite in the park.
  • Song cube: “Zoom Zoom Zoom, We’re Going to the Moon”
  • Yoga: mountain pose, forward fold, crossing the midline by touching opposite toes. Some of today’s kids were closer to 2 than 3, so I also have the option of touching the opposite elbow.
  • A Parade of Elephants by Kevin Henkes: One of my favorite storytime books. I brought along my felt elephants, and the kids identified their colors, and we counted together. We also did plenty of marching, stretching, yawning, and trumpeting.
  • “Goodbye Friends” with ASL (Jbrary)
  • Craft: gluing paper elephants and paper stars to butcher paper.

I did a quick time check after our last round of yoga, and decided to skip Don’t Push the Button! and the Mouse House Game.

The same kid who participated during Perfect Square was also the only one to say her own name during the name song – and, this was the first time she’d used a glue stick (another point in favor of continuing crafts after storytime – not every kid is familiar with crayons, markers, glue, scissors, etc.). Her mom came up to me afterward and said how unusual this was for her; she’d been going to our storytime for birth-2 and always sat quietly without talking or singing at all. I love to hear that kids are coming out of their shells and feeling comfortable in the library!

 

An Introduction to the Whole Book Approach

Cover of Reading Picture Books With ChildrenMegan Dowd Lambert presented a webinar on the Whole Book Approach through the Massachusetts Library System last month; I heard about it from Rhonda Cunha, the speaker at January’s Youth Services Interest Group meeting (more on that soon), and carved out time to watch it recently. Megan’s presentation was excellent, and I’m planning to read her book as well (Reading Picture Books with Children, Charlesbridge, 2015). Here are some highlights from her introduction to the Whole Book Approach in the MLS webinar.

“The Whole Book Approach is a co-constructive model created by Megan Dowd Lambert in association with the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art that centers children’s responses to picture book art and design.”

Megan emphasized that it’s an approach, not a method or a script. “Co-constructive” means that the storytime is interactive: kids are making meaning during the storytime, it’s not a performance by the adult reader. We are reading with children (discussion), not reading to them (performance).

Main tips/takeaways:

Cover of The Very Hungry Caterpillar

  • Engage children with a book they know already (e.g. The Very Hungry Caterpillar).
  • Ask open-ended questions (“What do you see happening here? What do you see that makes you say that? What else can we find?”).
  • Use picture book design and production terminology (jacket, case, orientation, trim size, gutter, etc.) to empower children to become experts about books.

Don’t be “the sage on the stage,” be “the guide on the side,” Megan advised. The group makes meaning together; facilitate responses, don’t correct responses. Be alert to nonverbal responses as well. For those – librarians, teachers, or caregivers – who are concerned that this approach will make storytime too rowdy, Megan offered techniques to redirect children’s attention when necessary, and advice for what to say to adults who may have concerns about the Whole Book Approach:

  • Point to the book and say “Eyes on art!”
  • “1,2,3 page turns”: If discussion wanders too far/long, wrap it up by saying, “We’ve had such a great conversation about this picture, let’s see what happens next. Count with me… 1,2,3 [turn page].”
  • Broaden the frame for a successful storytime: “That was a really busy storytime, but there are lots of different ways to measure success about storytime. Kids were excited about books, wanted to talk about their ideas and their feelings – that’s successful.”

Megan said she did not use themes in her storytimes, but chose books that she loved and wanted to share. Here are a few (not all!) of the ones she mentioned: Saturday by Oge Mora, This Is Sadie by Sara O’Leary, All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold, This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen, and Nine Months by Miranda Paul.

A lot of content was packed into an hour-long webinar, and I can already tell that my next storytime is going to be a little different: more open-ended questions, more time spent looking at the cover art. Thank you, Megan and MLS!

 

Step into Storytime, February 10

Storytime books with bowls of crayons

There was a big group for storytime this morning, about 15 kids plus their adults, and many of them were at the younger end of our age group. I put out some extra colored sitting mats because I could tell not everyone would fit on the rug. Fortunately, most of my books today were relatively short and simple, and/or had an interactive component, and most of the group stayed through till the craft at the end.

  • Welcome and announcements (library is closed next Monday for Presidents’ Day)
  • “Hello Friends” with ASL
  • “The More We Get Together” with ASL
  • Mr. Scruff by Simon James: I adore this new book, which reminds me of Let’s Get A Pup, Said Kate by Bob Graham, but is much shorter and therefore perfect for two- and three-year-olds. There are person-and-dog rhyming pairs (e.g. Molly and Polly), and then there’s Mr. Scruff and Jim…who make a perfect pair, even though their names don’t rhyme.
  • Quick wiggle: Wiggle fingers up to the sky, down by our toes, out to the sides (if you can without hitting a neighbor), repeat.
  • Grumpy Pants by Claire Messer: One of my all-time favorite books to read at storytime. Everyone can identify with the grumpy penguin who washes away his mood by taking a nice cold bath.
  • Song cube: “ABCs” and “Itsy-Bitsy Spider.” The latter we sang three times: regular, slow, fast. This is a simple way to change it up and the kids are usually into it – it’s like a game.
  • My Heart Is Like A Zoo by Michael Hall: I explained that all of the animals in the book were made with heart shapes, and asked if anyone knew what holiday was coming up on Friday (Valentine’s Day). I pulled my felt animals out and the kids identified them (except the clam, which is a tricky one); once they were on the felt board, I asked them to point to them when we got to that animal in the book (clam, crab, owl, penguin, frog). They did great!felt board tickle monster
  • Tickle Monster by Edouard Manceau: There are a lot of pieces to this felt creation, so I asked the kids for help to put it together. I propped up the book cover so they could see what Tickle Monster was supposed to look like, then pulled the felt pieces out one by one and they told me what each one was and where to put it.
  • Yoga cube: Warrior one, forward fold, half lift, chair pose (with our invisible chairs, of course). Then some bilateral, cross-the-midline movement: touching right hand to left foot and left hand to right foot.
  • The Button Book by Sally Nicholls and Bethan Woollvin: This is a new book that invites the reader to take part in the story by pushing different colored buttons and making sounds or doing actions (beep, thbbbt, tickle, hug, bounce, sing, etc.). It includes two songs (“Wheels on the Bus” and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”) and is just generally fun and delightful – recommended for groups who like Don’t Push the Button! by Bill Cotter, Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson, There’s A Monster in Your Book by Tom Fletcher, Bunny Slopes by Claudia Rueda, etc.
  • “Goodbye Friends” with ASL
  • Clean up mats
  • Craft: color and glue paper hearts to butcher paper on the floor (or color hearts and take them home to give as valentines)

Step into Storytime *and* Preschool Storytime, February 3 & 4

 

Step into Storytime, February 3

  • Welcome and announcements
  • “Hello Friends” with ASL
  • “The More We Get Together” with ASL
  • Hello Hello by Brendan Wenzel
  • The Giant Jumperee by Julia Donaldson and Helen Oxenbury: A classic, and they can help count to three with Mama Frog.
  • Song cube: “ABCs” and “I’m A Little Teapot”
  • Yoga: mountain pose, forward fold/seated forward fold
  • Chicken Wants A Nap by Traci Marchini and Monique Felix
  • Mouse House game: Usually I save this for toward the end when the kids are getting wiggly and chatty, but in this case I moved it up because they were so quiet and I wanted to get them more engaged. (I know it’s possible to be engaged and quiet while listening to a book, but I felt like shifting gears would be helpful.) Needless to say, they were super into it, they love this game.
  • Please, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony
  • Song cube: “Itsy-Bitsy Spider” and “Zoom Zoom Zoom, We’re Going to the Moon” (I had the lyrics for the kookaburra song up, but decided not to sing it)
  • Lots of Dots by Craig Frazier: Our library copy was destroyed (every page scribbled on, some ripped), so I bought my own. It’s a simple but creative concept, nice and bright, and an easy tie-in craft.
  • “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” with scarves. I handed out two each and we practiced waving them, throwing and catching them, then sang “Twinkle” in star pose, leaning or rocking back and forth.
  • “Goodbye Friends” with ASL
  • Craft: coloring with crayons and gluing “lots of dots” to butcher paper on the floor

Talk, Sing, Read, Write, Play posters

Preschool Storytime, February 4

Due to the planned absence of another staff member, I got to do the preschool storytime this week! Attendance was lower than usual, just four preschool-age kids and one little sibling, and all five were boys. Two of them brought their own books that they looked through while I read the first two books, but all of them were responsive and engaged for songs and the mouse house game, and more interested in the last two books as well.

Stack of picture books

  • Welcome, introduction, announcements
  • “Hello Friends” song with ASL (2x)
  • The Very Last Castle by Travis Jonker and Mark Pett: I think at least two of the four were interested in this story, but it was hard to tell.
  • “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” and “Where Is Thumbkin?”
  • World Pizza by Cece Meng and Ellen Shi: This one felt a little long, especially after The Very Last Castle (which is also longer than I would do with 2- and 3-year-olds), but it’s got a big sneeze and some interesting pizza toppings (seaweed, spicy pepper, chocolate cherry), so we got to talk about pizza toppings afterward. And I only teared up the tiniest bit at the line, “And in that moment the world was filled with kindness and love and no fighting.”
  • Song cube: “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” “ABCs,” “Itsy-Bitsy Spider”
  • Princess Bess Gets Dressed by Margery Cuyler and Heather Maoine: Proof that boys can be into princess books! Especially if the book ends with underwear. We talked about our favorite outfits (costumes and pajamas, mostly).
  • The mouse house game: this has yet to fail. If you need a sure-thing felt board activity, this is it. (Hat tip to a children’s librarian in Belmont.)
  • There’s a Monster in Your Book by Tom Fletcher and Greg Abbott: As close to a sure thing as there is in storytime. Everyone had fun chasing the monster out of the book, and then luring him back.
  • “Goodbye Friends” song with ASL
  • Clean up mats and put out craft: A big castle outlined in black on butcher paper, with crayons, markers, paper animal cutouts, and glue sticks.

 

Step into Storytime, January 27 *and* ALA Youth Media Awards

Last Monday we were closed for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and next week I get to do a double storytime (2- and 3-year-olds on Monday as usual, preschool storytime on Tuesday), but this week was a regular Step into Storytime session. Attendance was on the low end to start with, about seven kids (all boys, coincidentally), but a few more came in during our initial songs and first few books.

Goose, Dragon, Pirate, Bear books on chair

  • Welcome and announcements (including “storytime is my favorite part of the week.” I borrowed this lovely phrase from a librarian at the library in Arlington said this at her storytime last week. It is 100% true for me as well, as long as we’re talking about the work week)
  • “Hello Friends” with ASL
  • Name song (“___ is here today”)
  • Goose by Laura WallPirate Jack gets dressed felt pieces and list
  • There’s A Dragon in Your Book by Tom Fletcher (this book encourages plenty of interaction: blowing out fire, popping a water balloon, etc.)
  • Song cube: “The Wheels on the Bus”
  • Pirate Jack Gets Dressed by Nancy Raines Day, illustrated by Allison Black: This is such a fabulous book to talk about colors (and getting dressed). I made a set of felt shapes to correspond to each item of Jack’s clothing and placed them on the felt board as we got to their page in the story. Before starting the book, we also took a look at what colors we were wearing.
  • Mouse house game (by request). “Little mouse, little mouse, are you in the [color] house?” Apparently this never gets old!
  • Song cube: “Zoom zoom zoom, we’re going to the moon” (twice)
  • Make A Wish, Bear by Greg Foley: I had A Parade of Elephants with me too, but decided to save that for next week and made Bear the last book of today’s storytime. We noticed the star shapes on the cover and in the book, to tie in to our craft project.
  • “Goodbye Friends” with ASL
  • Invited questions, and one boy raised his hand and said, “I have a question! Will you put the paper out now?” (Later, a grown-up came up and asked for books for her kindergartener who likes funny books like Elephant & Piggie and Pigeon, so I helped her find several funny picture books.)
  • Craft: Butcher paper taped to the floor, pre-cut colored construction paper stars, glue sticks, crayons.

And when I was finished cleaning up from storytime, the ALA Youth Media Awards had been announced! I was so excited to see that New Kid by Jerry Craft won the Newbery AND Coretta Scott King, and that Dig by A.S. King won the Printz, and Sal and Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez won the Pura Belpré. Many other winner and Honor titles were books I’ve liked or loved this year:

  • Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga (Newbery Honor)
  • Bear Came Along by Richard Morris and LeUyen Pham (Caldecott Honor)
  • Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds (Coretta Scott King Honor)
  • What Is Given From the Heart by Patricia C. McKissack and April Harrison (Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award)
  • The Silence Between Us by Alison Gervais (Schneider Family Book Award Honor)
  • Each Tiny Spark by Pablo Cartaya (Schneider Family Honor Book)
  • Dominicana by Angie Cruz (Alex Award)
  • The Swallows by Lisa Lutz (Alex Award)
  • Children’s Literature Legacy Award to Kevin Henkes
  • ALSC Children’s Literature Lecture Award to Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop (if you’re heard of mirrors, windows, and doors in children’s literature, she is why)
  • Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka (Odyssey Award for best audiobook, though I read the print edition)
  • We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorrell (Odyssey Honor; American Indian Youth Literature Picture Book Honor)
  • We’re Not From Here by Geoff Rodkey (Odyssey Honor)
  • ¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market by Raúl Gonzalez (Belpré Illustrator Honor Book)
  • Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré by Anika Aldamuy Denise and Paola Escobar (Belpré Author Honor Book)
  • Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard and Juana Martinez-Neal (Sibert Award; American Indian Youth Literature Picture Book Honor)
  • This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy (Sibert Honor)
  • Hey, Water! by Antoinette Portis (Sibert Honor)
  • Chick and Brain: Smell My Foot! by Cece Bell (Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor)
  • The Book Hog by Greg Pizzoli (Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor)
  • Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed (Asian/Pacific American Picture Book Honor)
  • Stargazing by Jen Wang (Asian/Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature)
  • Frankly in Love by David Yoon (Asian/Pacific American Young Adult Literature Honor)
  • Indian No More by Charlene Willing McManis with Traci Sorell, cover art by Marlena Myles (American Indian Youth Literature Middle Grade Award)

…and naturally I added several others to my to-read list this morning. Congratulations to all the authors and illustrators, thanks to the committee members, and happy reading to everyone! | School Library Journal ALA YMA announcement

Screenshot of SLJ tweet announcing Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz winners

 

Chunky Monkeys at Belmont Books

Tonight, seven of the eleven members of the Chunky Monkeys writing group spoke on a panel at Belmont Books. I’d seen Whitney Scharer, author of The Age of Light, speak once before (at the Arlington Author Salon) but hadn’t had a chance to hear the others speak, even though they’re all local (they meet in person) and many teach or have taught at Grub Street.

The group started in 2012 with Jennifer DeLeon (Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From) and Adam Stumacher, and expanded to nine members, then eleven. When the group started,  none of them had yet published a book; the goal was that, within a decade, all of them would. Grace Talusan (The Body Papers) said she believed in all of the others, but “I didn’t necessarily believe in myself – but all of you did.”

Grace, Jennifer, and Adam were on the panel tonight, along with Whitney Scharer, Celeste Ng (Everything I Never Told You, Little Fires Everywhere), Sonya Larson (who just won an NEA grant), and Calvin Hennick (Once More to the Rodeo).

screenshot of @bostonbookblog tweet and photo of panel at bookstore

They started by discussing tenets of an effective writing group (noting that, of course, the exact same rules won’t work for every group):

  • Discuss and agree on expectations and hopes for the group, and level of commitment, at the beginning
  • Rigorous feedback
  • Positive support
  • Specific systems in place (more rigid at first, more flexible now)
  • Deadlines!
  • Ongoing experiences together
  • Relationship with each other and each other’s work (“they know how to give feedback in a way that you can hear it”)
  • Inspiration and integrity; mutual admiration and “healthy intimidation”
  • Respect each other as readers and as human beings
  • Make decisions by consensus

Sonya described the “standard workshop”: a writer submits 20-25 pages, and receives a written letter and line edits. The group meets once a month for three hours on a Sunday, planned 5-6 months in advance (they use a Google calendar and a Doodle poll to set the dates). Hosting rotates, and they workshop three writers’ work each time, but there is not a strict rotation.

Sometimes, in order for the group to thrive, and to be useful to every member of the group, they do things differently. (“Ask the group for what you need on this project right now.”) In fact, the name Chunky Monkeys doesn’t come from the ice cream flavor – it’s because they referred to “chunks” of writing, sometimes asking for the group to review a “double chunk” (twice the usual length) or asking a few members of the group to form a “side chunk.”

They are also connected via e-mail, daily (though this isn’t a formal requirement for group membership). They share “yay-ables” and occasionally have family get-togethers. After many years together, they have a high level of trust, and Sonya said, “with high trust comes high freedom,” which is reflected in their feedback on each other’s work. And being in a group with other writers you admire makes you “up your game” in a way that is positive, not competitive. “All boats float.”

Celeste also talked about the high level of trust among group members: not only do they workshop each other’s writing, but they offer support in “meta-writing” activities, like practicing Q&As before a book tour, helping each other with book proposals, helping each other find agents (“and break up with agents”), and figuring out how to ask for an honorarium. Because they’re at different stages of their writing careers, and have different areas of expertise (fiction, nonfiction, memoir, short fiction), it’s useful to compare notes.

When bookstore employee and moderator Miriam Lapson asked, “How many of you are in multiple writing groups?” the reaction was almost comical, with everyone looking around at everyone else, asking, “Who’s cheating on us?!” (Only one admitted to being in another group, but others said they sometimes asked other people to read their work to get “fresh eyes.”)

Moderator Miriam asked the group how they manage conflict; Jennifer replied that there’s usually something underneath, but “there’s a level of maturity – it’s our passion, but also our profession.” Adam reiterated the group norm of decision by consensus, which means they have to talk through big decisions (such as whether to allow members who move away from the Boston area to stay in the group, or whether to add a new member). It can be a long conversation, but everyone gets heard. Celeste said, “All of us are very invested in making sure everybody’s voice gets heard.”

Once the Q&A time opened up, I observed that every member of the group had a background in teaching writing – how did that inform their workshop process? (At the beginning of the panel, they had said that any writing group could have their kind of success, which I thought was a tiny bit disingenuous, since all of them had taken and/or taught classes at Grub Street and some had MFAs.) Adam replied that when the group started, they’d had a facilitator/moderator for each session, and that, as teachers, they had a specific way of thinking about craft. Celeste added that their feedback is focused on the intent of the writer; they don’t read a piece and say, “You should do this,” but rather, “It seems like your intent is _____, here are some ways you can do that.” (As someone who hasn’t taken creative writing classes or done any formal workshopping, I found this particular piece of advice really helpful.)

Another person asked what the group members did when they had a complete draft ready for submission. Enter “side chunks”! Three or four people read the whole manuscript and critique it. This is also a point at which “fresh eyes” from outside the group may be helpful.

Thanks to Belmont Books for hosting, and to all seven of the Chunky Monkeys for sharing their time and expertise on a freezing Thursday night.