My Favorite Picture Book(s) Blogfest

Today is the “My Favorite Picture Book BLOGFEST!”  Click the blue button on the left for a list of all the bloggers participating.

Hmmm.  Asking a children’s librarian to choose a favorite picture book is like asking a mother to pick her favorite child.  Almost cruel!

So, instead I’ve chosen a couple; one that I discovered and fell in love with as an adult and the series of picture books that turned me into the crazy voracious reader I am today.

The One that Could Be the Subject of an Entire Graduate-Level Course:

The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales written by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith.

Stinky Cheese Man is one of my faves not just because it is insanely hilarious (which it is) or because it zany, kinetic illustrations are also beautiful and detailed (which they are) or because it is a collection of fractured fairytales (which I also love.)

It’s one of my favorites because it is a picture book about picture books.  It’s self-referential, post-modern, clever, and ingeniously designed.  There is no detail- no typeface or jacket flap or gutter- that is without thought.  It’s the kind of book that can be read, viewed, and discussed thousands of times and with each reading you will discover something new.  Besides that, kids adore it!

The Books that Helped Me Learn to Read (and Love to Read):

Little Golden Books

Oh, Little Golden Books.  My grandparents gave me a set for a birthday or Christmas when I was about four and I read them for what seems like years and years afterward.

I remember my grandfather (Pop Pop) reading the LGB Nursery Rhymes to me.  He would sing and chant the rhymes to me, bouncing me on his knee.  (And this was back before the research about phonological awareness.)  Over time, I memorized the lyrics to the rhymes and he would tap my finger on the words as we sang together.  One day, it just started to “click.” What we were saying and the squiggles on the page connected.  A reader was born.

These cheapy little dime store books were written and illustrated by some of the most popular children’s authors and illustrators, including Margaret Wise Brown, Garth Williams, and Richard Scarry.  For under 25 cents a book, Little Golden Books were accessible for families on a budget.  They helped me (and I’m betting thousands of children) start their own home libraries.  Mine were proudly displayed on a small shelf in the living room next to my toy box.  Sadly, after several moves, I no longer have my original set.  I still get a rich, warm feeling in my chest when I think about learning to read on my own and the pride I felt after reading a story to my Pop Pop.



Today, March 9th is World Read Aloud Day, a day to celebrate the power of written and spoken word.  People all over the world are celebrating by hosting reading marathons, creating videos, and doing special programs.

Today my library will be hosting an art-themed storytime using the helpful program plans from LitWorld and asking children to add their names and favorite book titles to an interactive display.  And, of course, lots of impromptu reading aloud!

How are you celebrating?

True Tales from the Children’s Room

It’s been an eventful few weeks in my library.  I’m not sure if it’s the incremental changes in the weather or barometric pressure or if odd and hilarious incidents are tied to the waxing and waning of the moon.  In any case, here are some of my favorite highlights from the past month:  

Fourth of July in February

A packed audience of about 100 children and parents were enjoying kitchen science experiments performed by two local high school teachers, known as “The Wizards of Chemistry!”  A particularly robust reaction set off the building’s fire alarm and the entire library (all four floors) had to be evacuated.  On top of the inherent cool-factor of having fireworks go off in the auditorium, the fire department and police showed up on the scene a few minutes later.

No Pants, No Shoes, No Story

Some kids are just free spirits.  The group may be listening to a story or doing a craft and I find little Annie or little Jimmy off dancing in the corner or humming slightly out-of-tune or trying to do a handstand.  And that’s OK.  Hey,  sometimes you just have to march to your own beat.  But I draw the line at disrobing in the middle of preschool storytime.  Granted, I may have inadvertently inspired one little free spirit to cast off his pants with my rather enthusiastic reading of Bear in Underwear.  Nevertheless, it is now a storytime rule: while our “listening ears” may occasionally fall off, our pants may not.

Lethal Weapon

A dad and his four-year-old son stop in to pick up some new books.  Dad turns to son and asks “Do you have your library card ready?”  Son replies “No,” while clearing holding said library card in his hand.  “This isn’t my library card. It’s a gun!  Ka-pow!”  Dad turns back with an apologetic shrug and says, “And I’m a democrat!”

Brown Chicken, Brown Cow

Girl, aged 3,  came to the library dressed in a head-to-toe chicken costume (awesome).  I leaned down to complement her superior fashion skills and tell her how much I loved her look.  She looked me in the eye and said, “Mooooo.”

The Flamingo or the Egg?

If you’ve taken the Every Child Ready to Read workshops, you know how important it is to practice dialogic reading.  That is, stopping every once in a while to engage the children and ask open-ended questions about the book you’re reading.  What the Every Child Ready to Read workshops don’t prepare you for are the surprising, embarrassing, confounding, and downright bizarre answers you will undoubtedly receive from a group of preschoolers who now have the undivided attention of an adult other than their parents.

Case in point: During a recent reading of Sylvie by Jennifer Gordon Sattler, I asked the children to look at the illustrations and tell me how they thought Sylvie was feeling.  (Sylvie is the story of a little flamingo who, after discovering that her pink color derives from eating pink shrimp, decides to eat all sort of interestingly-colored items to change her color.  She eats so much that her tiny stomach swells and she feels slightly ill.)  It was at this point in the story that I paused and offered what I thought was a rather well-formed dialogic question: “Look at that illustration of Sylvie.  How is she feeling right now?”

A few timid voices offered “sick” and “her tummy hurts” and “sad.”

Then, loud and clear rang out a different answer:  “pregnant.”

Huh.  “Well,” I began, “what makes you think so?  Is it because her tummy is big?”

“Yes.  And she’s pregnant.  And she’s going to have a baby come out.”

Huh.  “Well,” I began again, “do you think that perhaps her tummy is big because she just ate all that stuff?”

“No.  She’s pregnant.”

Huh.  “Well,” I began again, “Maybe Sylvie is going to lay an egg!”

“No.  She’s not laying an egg.  She’s going to have a baby.  Because she is pregnant.”

Now, it was at this point in the back-and-forth that I began to sense a deep resistance to reason on the part of my preschool debater.  I had to then ask myself, am I going to school this four-year-old in the reproductive system of the avian class?  Or do I just let it go?

Is it appropriate?  What if she goes home and regales her parents with descriptions of mammalian versus non-mammalian birth?  What if she tells her parents that the library lady gave her this wealth of new knowledge?

And what are my motivations for doing so?  Am I really interested in transforming this into a “teachable moment” or am I more concerned with winning this battle of wills?

I looked at my audience of wide-eyed preschoolers, their moist little eyes flicking back and forth between their spokesperson and myself.  They were waiting on my answer and I knew I could show no fear.

“Well.” I met her steely gaze, cocking my right eyebrow ever so slightly.  “That is a very interesting thought.  Thank you for sharing.”  And with that, I turned the page and continued on.

No.  Fear.

photos courtesy of Flickr users Victor Bezrukov and jenniferlstoddart.

Steal This Storytime: Spectrum Edition

Back in 2008 I began blogging over at ALSC about doing programs for children with autism. I felt then, and still do, that is is important for libraries to provide storytimes that are distinct from our usual preschool storytimes for children with sensory issues. Children’s Librarian Tricia Bohanon Twarogowski also did a fantastic series on the ALSC Blog in 2009 on Programming for Children’s with Special Needs.

Since 2008, when the rising number of children being diagnosed with various forms of autism began gaining national attention, few libraries were actively providing programs specially designed for these children.  Now, a Google search of “library storytime autism” pulls up over 80,000 results.  Yes!

It makes me so happy to think about the hundreds of children and parents who are being welcomed with open arms into libraries across the country because of this type of specialized programming.  Every single time I offer a Spectrum Storytime, I am bowled over at the gratitude and appreciation from parents and caregivers.  So many moms and dads of children with autism feel uncomfortable, judged, and nervous in most libraries.  Creating a time and a space just for them is such a small, easy step that can lead to a whole new community of users.

At my library, we’ve been offering Spectrum Storytime as a once-a-month program on a Saturday morning.  It’s a very laid back, low-stress environment in which we sing a few songs, read a story, and engage in a sensory-rich activity.  While I’m very proud of the work we have done together meeting once per month, I’ve been itching to do a weekly series for some time.  So, I am incredibly excited that my library will be offering a 5-week session this April in celebration of Autism Awareness month.  Since this will be my first opportunity to do cumulative projects that stretch from week to week, I’ve been rethinking my usual program plan.  I want to keep the basic structure that the kids and parents have come to know and rely on, but add some elements that build on each other throughout the session.  I’ve decided to keep the “storytime” part the same, but design the sensory activities to create works of art that will begin in week 1 and conclude in week 5.

Below is is my program plan for storytime itself and the sensory activities that will change from week to week.  As always, please feel free to steal it whole or in part.  I would also love any suggestions or ideas!   Continue reading

A New eBook Challenge: Can Publishers and Libraries Find Compromise?

Mere hours after posting some eBook buying guidelines for children’s librarians over on the ALSC blog, news broke that HarperCollins is renegotiating their lending terms with Overdrive to limit the total number of times an eBook can circulate.  Their proposal: 26 circs.

And people are pissed.  With good reason.

Before I heard the actual cap, I was not completely surprised.  After all, publishers have to pay authors, illustrators, designers, editors, and yes, even themselves.  The truth is, physical books do eventually fall apart.  And libraries often replace those copies.  Looked at from that perspective, I didn’t think it entirely unreasonable for publishers to be a little wary of a medium that never, ever needs replacing.

Then, I heard the terms.  26 circs.  Yowza.  And now I’m having a harder time justifying this in the name of paying hard-working authors and illustrators.  That’s just downright unreasonable, almost laughable in it’s absurdity, and frankly, a digital slap in the face to readers and libraries.

But I’m a peace-loving, middle-ground-seeking kinda gal.  I think the way through this current eBook crisis will be by finding better, smarter solutions that offer a compromise for all parties involved.

What’s this grand solution?  Well, let’s start brainstorming.

To start, Liz Rea has some innovative ideas.

What about a tiered lending model?

Think about how libraries purchase print books. For flash-in-the-pan hits, we might buy multiple paperback copies.  The idea being that they will get a lot of circ now and then die out, fall apart, and be weeded.  For works with staying power, we might invest in a library-binding edition that costs a little more, but will last better over time.

What if an eBook was available with limited digital shelf-life?  Rather than capping the number of times checked out, say they expired from our catalog after 1 year, or 3, or 5, or 10, depending on the price.  We could decide which type to purchase for our collections.  When the expiration date approaches, we would be given the option to “renew” it or we could let it die.

Some have suggested a boycott of HarperCollins books- digital and otherwise- until they relent.  I’m much more hopeful that HarperCollins, and other publishers about to make similar decisions, will come to the table and realize the importance of working with libraries.  Developing a fair lending model for libraries is in the interest of both parties.

photo courtesy of Flickr user Pen Waggener

Book Review: Betsy-Tacy

The Classics Crusade has begun!  After admitting my shame and detailing the various children’s classics I have never read, I have committed to reading and reviewing one per month for the next year or so.

First up: Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace, illustrations by Lois Lenski. HarperCollins, 1940.

Betsy Ray and Tacy Kelly are two best friends who are nearly inseparable.  They eat together, play together, and one fateful night on a dark road, a terrible accident will bind them in the keeping of a dark secret.  A secret so dark, so sinister, that it threatens to destroy them both.

Oh, wait.  That doesn’t sound quite right.  So sorry.


Betsy-Tacy is actually an incredibly sweet and lighthearted story about friendship and the magical power of imagination.

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2010 Cybils Winners

Yesterday, the 2010 Cybils Award Winners were announced!

Having had the immense pleasure of serving on the Fiction Picture Book panel as a first round judge, I was psyched to see that Interrupting Chicken, a hilarious and extremely clever story won the award.

Bravo and congratulations to all the authors, illustrators, and the hard-working Cybils judges!

Literary Love Matches

Being that it’s Valentine’s Day, and being that I am a huge sap, and owing to the fact that I met my husband “between the stacks,” I find myself contemplating love and literature this unseasonably lovely Monday morning.

Today I was planning on posting a booklist of great Valentine’s Day picture books, but Fuse has already put together a fantastic list.  So, it got me thinking: which fictional characters would make a great love connection?

(A few years ago, this line of thinking led me to organize a somewhat bizarre but rather festive event entitled “Babymouse Hearts Captain Underpants.”   In my warped, over-caffienated mind, I thought it would be fun to imagine an alternate reality in which the intrepid heroine, Babymouse, held a secret (and obviously embarrassing) crush on the famed potty-mouthed caped crusader.  Why?  Because Babymouse, like us all, experiences deep and sometimes contradictory feelings that cannot always be reasoned or explained.)

But, er…. onward!  Today sees me wondering about new (and ever curiouser) pairings.  Below are a few suggested literacy love matches.  Please add your own in the comments.  ;–)

Greg Heffley and Nikki Maxwell

Too obvious?  Well, nevertheless, I think these two self-deprecating kids with a knack for seeing the humor in even the most embarrassing of situations would grow up to make a rather awesome set of parents.

Chester and Max

Perhaps they may be too alike to find compromise, but I like to think their mutual flare for the arts and energetic personalities would combine in to make them a power couple.  I’d like to be invited to a cocktail party at their house, where I’d admire their enviable collection of modern and contemporary art.

Amos McGee and Miss Rumphius

Oh.  Can’t you see it?  Amos in a rocking chair on the porch, sipping lightly on some Earl Grey, the shy penguin at his knee.  Next to him sits Miss Rumphius, working on her crossword and sharing a bag of peanuts with the elephant.  Sigh.

Happy Valentine’s, everyone.


Steal This Storytime!

Looking to spruce up your preschool storytime with something fresh, diverse, and action-oriented?  Perhaps you may like to steal this American Sign Language (ASL)/Quasi-Valentine’s Day themed storytime :

(If you are interested more information and resources on using ASL in your programs, check out my other posts here, here, and here.)

Age Group: 3 to 5 year olds

Length of program: Approx. 30 minutes, give or take a few for the craft activity

Intro: Greet children by teaching them the sign for WELCOME.  You can also begin by showing them how to sign the first letter of their first name.  (Here’s a printable ASL Alphabet.)

Continue reading