Thursday, March 25, 2010

Meghan Reviews: Introducing Dinosaurs: Tyrannosaurus Rex

I don’t know if this is true for the majority of public librarians who serve children, but I have students in the first and second grade asking for non-fiction book all the time.  Recently, I had a teacher at a nearby school assign the kids to read five non-fiction books in one go.  Upon further questioning, both kids and parents insisted they didn’t care what the book was about per se; they just wanted a book their kids could read, one that would fulfill the assignment. Ultimately, parents wanted age-appropriate books that were interesting and easy-to-read.  That’s not necessarily a simple order when it comes to non-fiction, especially in my library where I have a lot of children who aren't strong readers or who are still learning English as their second language.

I think I found a winner with Introducing Dinosaurs:  Tyrannosaurus Rex by Susan H. Gray.  Gray adeptly explains what a Tyrannosaurus Rex is, what it probably (see Boy, Were We Wrong About Dinosaurs! for more on that) looked like, its habits, and how scientists came to these conclusions.  Robert Squier’s illustrations are clear and colorful and Gray also intersperses actual photographs of dinosaur bones and excavations, including Sue, the most complete, reconstructed T. rex skeleton at the Field Museum.  24 pages long, the book includes a table of contents, a world map indicating where T. rex bones have been found, a brief entry on fossil hunters, a glossary, and recommended books and a website (  The author should have included more on-line resources, as that’s where kids will inevitably look first. The Child’s World site requires the user to first input the book’s ISBN in order to go to their on-line resources.  No child is going to get over that barrier to entry, especially the target audience.  Publisher fail.

As my collection needs refreshing, especially for the younger grades, I will definitely order more in this series.  The Child’s World Introducing Dinosaurs collection features 12 titles: Allosaurus, Ankylosaurus, Apatosaurus, Compsognathus, Iguanodon, Maiasaura, Oviraptor, Spinosaurus, Stegosaurus, Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and Velociraptor.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Rachel's Program: The Less is More Rule of Programming

Last August I threw the requisite end of Summer Reading party at my branch.  It was an operation run with military precision, my cadets a troop of teenage pages who dutifully shepherded 70 odd children through snacks, gift bags, trivia games, and then back out the door.  As the teens and I cleaned up, we listened to music, and the kids watched us through the window of the programming room with their noses pressed against the glass.  I finally took pity on them and opened the door so they could come back inside.  It turned out to be a great idea.  We danced, sang, and took turns belting into a microphone that had been left behind after an earlier teen party.  I made an offhand comment about it being “phase two” of the party, and one of the kids shouted happily, “Phase two is WAY more fun than phase one.”  Phase two had no food, no prizes, no games, and most of all, had involved no planning. But he was right.  It was way more fun.  Not only were the kids having more fun, but I was too.

After that, I decided my new rule of thumb for library programming should be less is more.  Sure, we can’t always get out of finger-cramping stencil cutting and, with the increased emphasis on including science and math in our programming schedules, we’ve all become adept at creating tightly planned mini-lessons.  But when it’s time for non-academic, creative programming for school aged kids, I’ve found that that the less rigid the game plan, the more fun and less stressful the program will be. 

Here are some of my favorite low planning/high fun programs for school aged kids:

Draw Your Dream House
Ages: 6-12

Materials: Paper, pencils, erasers, markers.  You can include magazines, glue, and scissors if you want to add a collage element.

Instructions:  Ask the kids what their dream home would look like.  After brainstorming a bit, hand out paper, and have them sketch it out.  I always stress that even if you don’t like drawing, you can make squares for rooms and write what you’d like inside them.  Permission to fantasize is a great way to tap into children’s creativity.  A twist on this is a writing exercise where you ask kids what they would do with a million dollars.

Dress up your Snowman
Ages: 6-12

Materials: Markers.  A blank snowman for each child.

I use the draw function in MS Word to make the blank snowman, but if you aren’t comfortable with that, it would be equally easy to draw the outline and to photocopy the image.

Instructions: Snowmen may scream "winter", but you could easily do this craft in the summer under a “cool off at your library” theme.  To carry out the activity, simply tell the children to dress up their snowman! I find this activity works well as a contest.  Tell the kids that there will be prizes for the most creative snowman, and they really let loose!   The last time I did it, I got a cowboy snowman, a spaceman snowman, a mermaid snowman, and even a gangster snowman.  When it comes time to announce the winner, I would recommend the old, “they are all so creative, I can’t decide” route, and give a prize to everyone. While the thought of winning is a great motivator, there is really no need to crush their little egos over snowman drawing. 

Dance Party
Ages: 6-8

Materials: Ribbon, poster board, markers, music, and something to play music on.

Instructions: This program does require more prep than the above mentioned, but it shares the same relaxed vibe once the program itself starts. To prep, curl poster board into conical tubes, with a roughly 3 inch opening near the bottom, and a ½ inch opening at the top.  You’ll need one cone per child.  Next, cut 2-3 foot lengths of ribbon, four or five per child.  Tie a knot at the bottom of each piece of ribbon.  Once the program starts, have the kids decorate their tube with markers.  As they are doing this, hand out the ribbon, and show each child how to put the ribbon in the large opening of the tube, and pull it through the small opening in top, using the knot to anchor the ribbon in place inside the tube.  Once the craft is done, turn on the music, and let your teeny-weenie boppers dance around with their awesome, swirly ribbon accessories.  Throw in a little freeze dance, and you’ve got yourself a room full of sweaty, grinning children.  

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Meghan Reviews: All About Faces!

All About Faces! By La Zoo is an “everything but the kitchen sink” concept book about the face.  The book will appeal to parents who are already design conscious (think dooce, daddytypes or mightygirl) and are sure to like the adorable, distinctly Japanese illustrations. But from a librarian standpoint there's just too much going on to recommend it widely for libraries. 

Author Zoo uses the face as a mode of discussing shapes, facial expressions, and emotions.  Parents will want to read this one-on-one with kids since Zoo uses words like:  disdain, jubilation, and dissatisfaction. (They  might also want to have a thesaurus ready when trying to explain some of those listed emotions to little ones.)  Zoo then jumps to the anatomy of the face, with a lift-the-flap page showing bones (the general idea, not the Grey’s Anatomy version), eyes, ears, nose, and mouth.  On the next page readers get to check out some things that come out of ears (wax), eyes (tears), noses (boogers), and mouths (slobber).  This is sure to get some squeals and laughs.

And then we come to my least favorite part of this book:  the coloring page.  Zoo writes, “My mother’s face changes sometimes.  But my face doesn’t.”  What could the author be getting at here?  It turns out Zoo is talking about mothers who apply make-up and includes a page where the reader can draw "make-up" on a blank female child’s face with a crayon.  Instructions indicate that the crayon can be wiped off with a tissue from the slick surface of this particular page.  Frankly, I didn’t try because I can’t imagine crayon would be that easily wiped away.  From a librarian standpoint I really don’t want to order any book that invites readers to draw on even one page.  It’s pretty difficult to explain to kids why they can’t color on the rest…Thus, the coloring page is the single greatest reason I can't recommend it for the library.

After the coloring page, Zoo returns to facial colors (red with embarrassment); more emotions (smiling and frowning); ways to play pretend by changing your face (“Give yourself a mustache and pretend to be a grown-up.”) [Note:  I just waxed mine, but perhaps I’ll grow it out and see if the kids at the library will recognize me.]; expressions using the word “face” (A long face); the way a face changes as it ages; and, finally, a matching game (find the “twin sister” face in the crowd).  There is a lot of content and several concepts in All About Faces and some are more effective than others.  I think it would work for parents looking for a book about emotions and feelings, but young readers will want someone to read this with them to explain the big words.  It’s a terrific browsing book in terms of cool, funky illustrations and lots of bang for the buck – colors, feelings, shapes, patterns – but it just doesn’t hang all together effectively and, in my opinion, wouldn’t be a good fit on the library’s concept book shelf.  The perfect home for All About Faces! is probably with a sophisticated toddler with hipster parents and not the public library. 

If you sense some ambivalence, you're right.  I enjoyed flipping through this one and am so grateful Seven Footer was nice enough to give me a copy at ALA Midwinter, but...for many libraries this book just isn't a good fit.