Book Review: Restart by Gordon Korman

RestartBy Awnali Mills

Chase Ambrose fell off his roof onto his head, and lost his memory.  He doesn’t know who HE is, much less everyone standing around his hospital bed.  As he begins to return to his normal life, Chase has to figure out who he was—and it’s not looking good.  Most kids duck away from him in fear, and avoid his gaze.  The football team welcomes him as a conquering hero, but his doctor won’t let him return to play.  Slowly Chase is learning that the person he was before the accident isn’t the person he wants to be now, but has he really changed?  Isn’t he the same person inside, whether he can remember or not?  And when push comes to shove, will he be the same person after all, or can he really change his life?

I’ve loved Gordon Korman ever since I listened to The Twinkie Squad on a car trip with my kids and nearly drove off the road because I was laughing so hard.  Restart isn’t a funny novel, although it has funny parts.  It’s more about the topic of bullying.  What forces cause a kid to become a bully?  Is it intrinsic or extrinsic?  If you had a chance to wipe your mental slate clean, would you make the same choices?  Are our behaviors truly decisions, or merely habits?

Chase was a horrible person before the accident, but he was also a football hero, so he was well loved by a lot of people and hated by a lot for his bullying ways.  Chase struggles with the opportunity to remake his life, and remake his choices.  Korman handles the topic of bullying so well.  He doesn’t justify Chase’s actions, but he doesn’t vilify him, either.  The forces that shape Chase’s actions are undeniably strong, but Chase is always strong enough to make good decisions—whether he chooses to or not.

Told from several different perspectives, I think the book is thought provoking enough to make it a great classroom read.  Restart could lead to fantastic discussions, not just about Chase, but about the people he comes into contact with and their reactions to him.  Recommended for grades 4-8.

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Frog Storytime 5/31/17

By Awnali Mills

Today, our last storytime before a 3 week break, was all about the frogs, baby.  The books I chose were I Don’t Want to Be a Frog by Dev Petty, and The Wide Mouthed Frog by Keith Faulkner.

I Don't Want to Be a FrogWide-Mouthed Frog

I opened with my large bullfrog puppet.  He brought us the letter F, and I cheerfully asked if anyone knew any F words.

Yep.  That came out of my mouth.

I heard it.  I panicked.  I went right along as if I hadn’t done anything unusual, and we named frogs, flies, fish sticks, feathers, and some other things.  Nobody said it.

Thank God.

Moving right along.

Then I had some questions for my frog.
Do all frogs live in the water?
No—Some do, and some don’t.  We all breathe air.

What do frogs eat?
Bugs, and frogs, and fish.

Does anything eat frogs?
Snakes, raccoons, herons, and other things.

This last question stressed him out so much that he had to go take a minute to collect himself.

We talked about what sounds frogs make, then sang Mm-Ah Went the Little Green Frog.  And read our first book, I Don’t Want to Be a Frog.  I had debated about whether this would work in storytime, since conversation books can sometimes be a little difficult, and this is all about a little frog and an older frog talking about why the little frog can’t be another animal.  I was astonished at how well this went over.  The kids and adults were glued to the book.  You could have heard a pin drop except for my voice.  Maybe it was because I had an older crowd today instead of my usual younger ones?  I have no idea.  But it went well.

Then we did the flannel Five Green and Speckled Frogs.  After that, I handed out small black pompoms, and everyone got to feed Mr. Frog.  The kids were utterly delighted.  Well, mostly.  There were some that had no intention of getting near the business end of a frog, and mommy had to feed the frog.  He was very happy and burped loudly.

Then we did the little flannel Polly Wog.

There once was a Polly Named Wog
Who wanted to change to a frog.
So he dropped off his tail
Grew legs without fail
And croaked all day long on a log.

I read The Wide Mouthed Frog which is always a funny crowd pleaser, and we have a pop-up of it, so that was fun.  Then everyone stood up and we sang All the Little Frogs.

 (Tune: Wheels on the Bus)
(Act out the motions of the song)
All the little frogs go Hop! Hop! Hop!
Hop! Hop! Hop!
Hop! Hop! Hop.
All the little frogs go Hop! Hop! Hop!
All around the pond.
(splash, swim, sleep)

The kids really got into this song, hopping madly and even laying down to go to sleep at the end.

I finished up with the flannel Five Funny Frogs.
(use 5 frog shapes on board.  Remove one with each verse.)
Five funny frogs fretting on the floor.
One jumped away and that left four.

Four funny frogs fooling in a tree.
One jumped down and that left three.

Three funny frogs, just a funny few.
One flipped out and that left two.

Two funny frogs having froggy fun.
One hopped away and that left one.

One funny frog thinking he’s a hero.
Left to tell his tale and that leaves zero.
by Susan M. Paprocki

We sang our closing song and pulled out the toys.

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Science and Stories: Fingerprints

By Awnali Mills

This week was another Science & Stories adventure!  Our theme was Hide and Seek to go with our science stations on fingerprints.  The books I chose were Daisy Plays Hide-and-Seek by Ellie Sandall and Hide & Seek by Il Sung Na.

I started off with my hedgehog stuffed animal who curls into a little ball and looks just like a big puffball until you uncurl him, and talked about how some animals like to hide.  Then, he brought us the letter H.  We talked about the sound it makes and words that start with H.  Then I did the fingerplay Open Shut Them.

I read Daisy Plays Hide-and-Seek, and some of the kids assured me that they saw Daisy every time.  That’s pretty good.  She can be hard to see, but I pointed her out several times during the book.

Then we did Where is Thumbkin a few times (he was good at hiding behind our backs), and rolled my song cube to sing Hickory Dickory Dock and This Is the Way We Take a Bath.  Then, I flipped my flannel board around to display my already prepped flannel Little Mouse, Little Mouse.  That little dickens was hiding in a red house, but it took the kids a while to find him.

I read Hide & Seek next, and at the end, pointed out that the chameleon was hiding on almost every page (although we didn’t go back and look for him, because that’s hard with a big group, and I had a BIG group.)

Finally, we did Here Is the Beehive, and after the bees flew all around, I asked the kids to look closely at their fingers and see if they could find their fingerprints.  We talked about how fingerprints are unique to each person and how scientists use fingerprints to figure out where people have been, and identify who was there.  I explained the stations and set families free to explore.

Station 1: Matching Fingerprints

I had taken a chart of 7 basic fingerprint types and made 10 copies of it.  I cut each fingerprint square and mounted it on a square of black construction paper.  Then I put two copies of each fingerprint into a set for a total of 5 sets.  The station was about examining the fingerprints and finding the pairs.  I provided magnifying glasses (although they weren’t really needed), and for extra credit, the whole chart with the names of the fingerprint types that children could compare their matching pairs to.

Station 2: Dusting for Fingerprints

I set out trays that each had a square of aluminum foil, a small container of cornstarch, a square of black construction paper, a soft small paintbrush, and Scotch tape.  I provided a bottle of lotion for the whole station, and instructions that I simplified from here.

Station 3: Fingerprint Animals

For a little fun, I copied and posted some instructional pages from Ed Emberley’s fingerprint drawing books (because I didn’t want kids handling them with inky fingers, and I wanted everyone to be able to see at the same time) and put the books on display on the table.  I set out trays, scrap paper, washable ink pads in assorted colors, colored pencils, and baby wipes.

Station 4: Fingerprint File

Because authorities recommend that parents keep their child’s fingerprints on file, I downloaded and printed the fingerprint file in both English and Spanish from the child safety kits from the Polly Klaas Foundation.  This one was for parents to keep on file.  I also printed one from Buggy and Buddy for children to keep for themselves.  I set out washable black ink pads, pencils, and baby wipes.

Both kids and parents were very engaged with this program.  It didn’t lead to a whole lot of play, but kids seemed fascinated by what they were doing.  One mom came up afterwards and told me that the whole program was right up her alley because she had a degree in forensic science.  She was delighted, and the kids were all excited to show me what they had done.

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Book Review: Apartment 1986 by Lisa Papademetriou

Apartment 1986By Awnali Mills

Callie is leading a double life.  At her Manhattan private school, people think she knows Beyonce and swaps recipes with Taylor Swift.  At home, her father has lost his job, her mother is losing her mind over her soap business, and her brother is being bullied.  And why does her grandmother seem so enamored of the year 1986?  And why does no one talk about her Uncle Larry?  And why are her parents whispering about a lawsuit? Callie is keeping so many secrets that she can’t always keep them straight.  Sometimes, a girl just needs to stand on a roof and breathe.  Unfortunately, she can’t hear the bell from the school roof, which makes her late.  Any more tardies, and they’re going to call her parents.  So when Callie accidentally falls asleep waiting for her grandmother one morning, she decides that she’ll just skip school.

Then Callie meets Cassius, a prickly unschooled kid, at the Metropolitan Museum.  And Callie decides that, like Cassius, she’ll just get her education from museums—at least for now.  But can she keep lying to the school, her parents, her friends, and her grandmother? Or will everything fall apart?

I enjoyed this book.  Callie is a typical sixth grade girl who just wants to blend in and be happy.  She’s in a difficult situation, and instead of coming clean, she just…leaves.  Unfortunately, she can’t seem to get back on track, and escaping is just easier than dealing with her problems.  I know that a lot of kids will sympathize with Callie’s desire to make things easier for herself, and will enjoy her quirky, funny narration.  Be sure not to skip the chapter titles—I particularly enjoyed them.  Recommended for grades 4-5.



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Book Review: Revenge of the Happy Campers by Jennifer Ziegler

Revenge of the Happy CampersBy Awnali Mills

Triplets Dawn, Darby and Delaney are on spring break, and Aunt Jane has taken them camping.  They’ve never been camping before, and they have definite mixed feelings about the experience.  They want to be happy for Aunt Jane’s sake, but stuff keeps happening that’s not, well, happy.  Then, they meet the three boys at the next campsite and suddenly find themselves in a competition to prove which set of siblings are the better campers.  Will the siblings pull together to win, or will everything fall apart?

I thought this book looked funny, and it does have some funny parts, but it’s mainly about taking care of each other, and compromise.  It also has some important things to say about leadership, and how leading isn’t about power so much as compromise and doing what’s best for the group.  This is the third book in the Brewster Triplets series.  I haven’t read the other two, but would be happy to recommend the series to children who like stories about families and sisters.  For grades 3-5.

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Bug Storytime 5-10-17

By Awnali Mills

Today was all about the bugs for storytime.  The books I chose were Bug Bear by Patricia Hegarty, and Bring Me a Rock! By Daniel Miyares

I started off with my bumblebee puppet, and introduced the letter B.  Then I taught the kids the baby bumblebee song.

Bzzzzz (act like there’s a bee buzzing around and then trap it in hands)
I’m bringing home a baby bumble bee (cup hands together as if holding bug)
Won’t my mommy be so proud of me?
I’m bringing home a baby bumble bee
Ouch!  He stung me!

I’m squishing up a baby bumble bee (squish hands together)
Won’t my mommy be so proud of me?
I’m squishing up a baby bumble bee
Yeck! (show dirty hands)

I’m cleaning up a baby bumble bee (wipe hands on clothes)
Won’t my mommy be so proud of me?
I’m cleaning up a baby bumble bee
See?  All clean! (show hands)

Then I read the book Bug Bear.  This is a delightful book about a bug who will not leave a bear alone until owl solves the problem.  I made a finger puppet to wear while telling the story.  Which is absolutely adorable, if I do say so myself.

Bug fingerpuppet

Next we did the flannel story Bug Hunt, which is a take on We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.

Then I used a ladybug finger puppet and taught the kids There’s a Ladybug.

(tune: Oh, My Darling)
There’s a ladybug, there’s a ladybug, there’s a ladybug on me.
On my finger, on my shoulder, now she’s crawling on my knee.

She is tickling, she is tickling.  She is tickling me.
On my finger, on my shoulder, but especially my knee!
by Heather Tekavec

Then I did another flannel, Little Ladybug where we give a ladybug her spots.  Our last book was Bring Me a Rock!  A (locust? Grasshopper?) king demands that his subjects bring him rocks to build him a huge throne.  But when the throne starts to totter, the little bug that brought a rejected pebble saves the day and makes everyone equal again.  I love the art in this book, and the story is very simply told, which makes it great for my group.

Finally, I handed out some bumblebee finger puppets that I made by gluing bee clipart to paper rings.  I wore the big bee again, and we danced to Laurie Berkner’s Bumblebee (Buzz Buzz).

Bee Puppets

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Book Review – Army Brats by Daphne Benedis-Grab

Army BratsBy Awnali Mills

It’s difficult moving from place to place because your mom’s in the military, but it’s easier when you have your siblings beside you.  The Bailey kids are excited about their mom’s new posting because they get to live on the military base for the first time, and their parents say that they’ll get more freedom because it’s safer.

But it’s never easy to fit into a new school, and Tom quickly runs afoul of the school bully, Charlotte accidentally falls in with the mean girls, and little sister Rosie discovers that dogs have gone missing, making her worried for their family dog.  Will they figure things out together, or will the new school pull them apart?

I grew up next to a huge Marine base, and have lived on an Army base, so I enjoyed this story of Army brats starting over (a term some of my friends despised while others embraced it).  Not everyone has to move to a new place, but there are all kinds of starting over—transitioning between schools, beginning new things, joining new groups, etc.  Starting over is always difficult for kids, but this book might make things easier for them. One of my adult friends was an Army brat, and she told me once that coping skills made all the difference.  Each time they moved, she embraced the opportunity to make new friends while her sister refused.  In the story, each of the Bailey kids uses different coping mechanisms to try and fit in, but it isn’t until they pull together that things begin working out.

Army Brats has a lot of good family interactions and some important lessons on being true to yourself and respecting other people’s feelings and on making friends.  Recommended for grades 3-5.

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