Book Review – Moo by Sharon Creech

mooSo, you may have been wondering where all the book reviews have gone.  Well…since I took a trip to Iceland, I used the trip to make tiny inroads into the enormous pile of e-books I have downloaded to my Kindle, chiefly a 5 book series called Gone to Green by Judy Christie.  I’ve also been reading through an old series by Mercedes Lackey (Bardic Voices) that I picked up at 2nd and Charles (do you have one of these used bookstores?  They’re fabulous!)  But I did manage to download and read two children’s books, Dragonbreath by Ursula Vernon and Moo by Sharon Creech.  Since the Dragonbreath series has been around for a while, I won’t review it here.  Suffice it to say that I’ve been recommending this book for years based on appearance and popularity, but hadn’t actually read one for myself.  I now have, and can confidently recommend it.

Moo was new to me, and I downloaded it based on Ms. Creech’s previous books.  I wasn’t expecting to find that it was a novel in verse—not that I object, but it surprised me.

Reena’s father loses his job, and the family decides, based on a chance remark from Reena, to relocate from New York City to Maine.  When her mother strikes up a friendship with a crotchety neighbor, Mrs. Falala, she volunteers Reena and her brother, Luke, to help with Mrs. Falala’s menagerie of animals, including one mean cow named Zora.

Reena and Luke are less than thrilled to put it mildly.  They are afraid of the animals, and Mrs. Falala is mean to them.  Gradually, though, the three form an unexpected friendship, and Reena learns the tricks to getting a cow to cooperate with you.

Moo was a fast read (that tends to happen when you’re stuck in an airport for hours), and made me teary.  Reena, Luke and Mrs. Falala all learn from each other, and grow in good ways, and there’s a tiny hint of romance for spice.  Death is a part of the book, too, making this a good recommend for kids learning to cope with unexpected loss.  I would hand it to kids in grades 4-5.

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Science and Stories – Pendulums

Today was Science and Stories.  Our storytime was about Things that Move, and our exploration stations were about pendulums.  The books I chose were And the Cars Go by William Bee and That’s How by Christoph Niemann.

And the Cars GoThat's How!

I started with a stretch and a peek in my magic bag which had things in it which move in different ways—a pinwheel, toy car, ball, slinky, and a paper airplane.  We talked about the different ways that things move, and I read And the Cars Go to them.

We got up and sang all three verses of Zoom, Zoom, Zoom.  Then, we read That’s How.  One little boy kept saying, “That’s not right!” when the little boy in the book “explained” that all the different vehicles run by animal.  It was great!

Next, I handed out different colors and types of vehicle pictures to my gang, and then called for them to bring them up, “If you have a red truck, red truck, red truck, If you have a red truck, please bring it up to me!”  Our last song was The Wheels on the Bus, and then I handed out strings with paperclips attached.  The kids were supposed to hold the plain end of the string, drop the paperclip end, and count how many swings until it stopped, then add another paperclip and try it again.  This didn’t work as well for me as it did for The Show Me Librarian.  I’m assuming because she had older children than I did.  The kids who turned up for this program this time were really young—including an infant who attended last week.  They tried, but didn’t really get it.  So, I didn’t make a big deal out of it, but moved on to the exploration stations.  We had five stations this time:


Pick ‘em Up: Magnets were the pendulums.  As the children swung them, they picked up paperclips which had been scattered underneath.


Swing ‘em High: Sturdy paper plates were the pendulums, with three points of attachment to a length of yarn. These were taped to swing underneath a table.  The kids were given a pile of Beanie Babies and instructed to give them a swing.  Did the Babies slide?  Stay still?  How was this different than or the same as the swings the children use at home or the playground?

Newton’s Cradle: I love Newton’s Cradle. It can keep me occupied for quite a long time.  I could not find one on short notice for love or money (this was a fill in for another pendulum station that I couldn’t get to work (a harmonograph, in case you were wondering).  So, I made two from materials I had on hand, using the instructions from Rainy Day Mum. (Sorry, I didn’t get a picture of them, but you can see them sitting on the ledge in some of the photos.)

Knock ‘em Down: Plastic cups with three point of attachment were strung from yarn, and taped to swing under a table. Dominoes were used as weight.  The children were instructed to build a tower out of wooden blocks, then fill the cup with dominoes.  Then, swing the cup at the tower to knock it down.  Does it always work?  Why or why not?

Pour ‘em Out: I suspended and taped down a 2×4 between two tables. On the floor underneath were two plastic tablecloths. I suspended three funnels (purchased as a set from the dollar store) using clothesline from the 2×4.  I narrowed the bottom of the two largest funnels using doubled painter’s tape (so there were no sticky sides) so that the salt we would add wouldn’t run out as fast.  Underneath each funnel was a large aluminum roasting pan.  I had tape and a small cup of salt sitting by each pan.  The children were instructed to put a piece of tape on the bottom of the funnel, fill the funnel with salt, take the tape off, and give the funnel a little push.  What happens?  Does the salt make a pattern?  Does the pattern change?  This station actually worked better than I expected.  Almost all the salt stayed in the pans, and what didn’t was captured handily by the tablecloths which were gathered up and shaken out outside after the program.  The parents who were working with the children didn’t have any trouble with taping up the bottoms of the funnels and then removing the tape.  I didn’t see anyone sticking salt into their mouths, and I was able to use the funnels to return almost all the salt back to the container after the program—handy for the next time we need salt!

Altogether I was a bit disappointed by the turnout, but it was a half day for the schools and pouring rain, besides.  The children who attended were so young that we’re going to be evaluating this program to see if it still meets the needs of our demographic, or if we need to change to something more age appropriate for toddlers rather than preschoolers.

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When the World Doesn’t Cooperate

By Awnali Mills

Around here, we plan programming 6 months in advance, if not more.  And sometimes, especially with my crafts program, I don’t always carefully consider the ramifications of such extended planning.  For example, in March it seemed perfectly reasonable to plan for a popped bubble art program.  It’ll be August, man!  We can do it outside!  It’ll be warm, it’ll be fun, and it’ll be bubbles!  Huzzah!

Yeah.  Not so much.

As the time to do the program approached, I played with it to determine just exactly how to instruct children to do this craft.  When I carried my materials out, I learned to my dismay that the program just cannot be done when there’s a breeze—at least not with the materials we were using.  And then, since we’re in an area that is actively being developed, new construction started across the street.  Clouds of dust frequently waft across the road.  I didn’t dare risk moving it indoors, as the bubbles carry food coloring, and our building manager would not appreciate food coloring on the walls.  This craft was looking more problematic all the time.

The day before the craft, I looked at the weather forecast.  Wind at 9 miles an hour, possible storms.  RATS!  So, I did what any good children’s librarian would do.  I dropped back and punted.

I scanned my Pinterest boards and picked a game craft, which fits into our summer reading theme.  It’s the old ball-and-cup game, only this one was a toilet paper roll that was made to look like a frog, and the “ball” was a fly.  There was no pattern, but we had the materials.  I tried to mock one up, and quickly realized that it was going to be too complicated for the 3-5 year old crowd.  So, I simplified it.

Scrap the frog.  They would just color the toilet paper tube.  We would staple the bottom when they were done, and staple the yarn to the end.  Tie the yarn in a knot around the staple.  Tape the other end of the yarn to the center of a smallish piece of aluminum foil, then crumple the foil around the yarn.  Be sure the aluminum ball is small enough to fit easily into the tube.  Done!

We ended up with about 50 people, our biggest craft in our new library so far.  We used stuff we already had on hand—even the yarn was pre-cut and left over from another craft, and there was almost no planning or preparation.  It wasn’t what people were expecting, but when I explained why we’d had to switch, everyone was very understanding.  There were some very intense faces as kids tried to get the ball in the cup, and I think it will be wonderful for hand-eye coordination.  So, a win all around.

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Shape Story Time – 9/14/16

By Awnali Mills

Storytime today was about shapes.  The books I chose were Round is a Tortilla by Roseanne Thong, Go, Shapes, Go! by Denise Fleming, and Color Zoo by Lois Ehlert.

We started off with a check of the weather, a stretch, and my magic bag in which I had hidden a ball, my song cube, a rectangular block, and a hanger.  We talked about what each of the shapes was.  Then, I skipped Round is a Tortilla, because I only had two children who were over 2 in the group.


The rest were obviously younger, even a 6 month old whose mom had asked if they could come in.  I explained that the storytime was designed for ages 3-5, but that she was welcome to come in.  I directed her to our storytimes designed for that age, but they came in anyway.  And the baby was the best behaved of the group.

It was one of those days, folks.  One little boy was engaged, but they were also in and out of the storytime (I’m guessing a bathroom emergency), and the rest were in and out as well.  It felt like there was a revolving door on the storytime room this morning.  There was also one boy who wanted to sing and dance throughout the group, and wanted to take everything off of my board and cart.  His caregiver just smiled at me, but she did respond when I pleasantly asked her to come and get her child.  They came in after my opening and were disruptive the whole time.  But, since the whole group was restive, talkative, and moving around, I didn’t really feel like I could single him out for correction.

So anyway, I went right to Go, Shapes, Go!  This book went over as well as anything else did.  My early literacy tip was that shapes are the basis of writing, so when we talk about shapes with our children, we are getting them ready to be writers.

We rolled our song cube and sang Row, Row, Row Your Boat.  Then we did a take on Baby Bear, and did Blue Rectangle, Blue Rectangle, what do you see?

Then, I handed out some new wooden building blocks that we got, and called for different shapes.  As I called the shapes, the children came forward and added their blocks to the large rectangular block that I set down.  Together, they all built the structure.

Then we rolled the cube and sang If You’re Happy and You Know It.  I pulled out Color Zoo, which I hadn’t originally been planning to use because it’s so simple, but I knew that simple was what the morning called for.  After that, I pulled out the parachute (a large circle!)

I almost skipped it.  It was such a crazy morning that I just wanted storytime to end.  I had other things that I had planned, but the children were so young that they wouldn’t have been able to do them. I thought that they might at least enjoy and engage with the parachute.

But, we didn’t do all the parachute things that I had planned, either, because the kids, although enthusiastic, just weren’t following directions, and the littlest ones were having difficulty keeping up with the older ones.  Altogether, I’m just glad this storytime is over!

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Good Signs are Friendly


Sunset over New York City from JFK airport.


Hi!  Did you miss me?

Well, I had a really good reason for not posting anything.  I was getting a first-time-ever stamp in my passport.  The hubby and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary (which happened in June) with a trip to Iceland (because you can’t see the Northern Lights there in June).

Why Iceland?

  1. Flights were relatively cheap.
  2. It’s a European country.
  3. Most people there speak English.
  4. They drive on the right side of the road.
  5. They have a plethora of wonderful sights and activities including one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights, which happened to be on my bucket list.

After a co-worker enthused about the country, I investigated it, then I enthused about it to my hubby, and after HE investigated it, we agreed that it sounded like a good place to visit.

So, we booked an Airbnb apartment in Reykjavik, got our passports, booked our flights, booked a tour and a car, and went on a crazy shopping spree for all the stuff we might need.

(And then I had a surprise surgery 3 weeks before leaving, so effectively got out of hauling my own luggage.)

We had The. Best. Time.

We got to do and see everything we wanted—whale watching (we saw whales!), the Northern Lights (from our balcony, nonetheless!), did the Golden Circle, and did lots of shopping and wandering about Reykjavik.  My favorite thing was seeing Gullfoss waterfall.


Gullfoss Waterfall

My second favorite thing was the view from the balcony and living room of the apartment where we stayed.  We could see two of the three famous landmarks of Reykjavik from our balcony, as well as the harbor, and we cuddled up on the leather couch each evening and watched the city lights, the changing clouds, and the fading sunset.


View from our balcony

And while I was in Iceland, I learned something that I’m going to bring back to my library (oh, yeah, I naturally visited the Reykjavik City Library, too).  Signs are important.  GOOD signs, that is.  Signs are friendly.  If you want people to feel comfortable and secure and happy in your establishment, provide good signage.  If you have a clientele that speaks many languages, then be sure that your signs contain good non-verbal cues as well as words (think the international signs for men and women’s restrooms).  This is something that Iceland seems to do particularly well (and the JFK airport does NOT.)  I could tell where the bathrooms were, the food court, where the family restrooms were, where to change a diaper, and where the duty-free shops were just by a quick glance at the signs—which were also in Icelandic and English.

Places that didn’t have good signage were a source of great frustration and caused me a lot of stress and fear.  I wanted to go to the right places.  I wanted to do the right things.  I didn’t want to get in the wrong line, or have to ask stupid questions.  At JFK, there was nothing to tell me where to go after clearing one part of customs.  Then, nothing telling me where to go after the second part.  Did I need to go to “Departures” or “Connecting flights?”  One would assume that because I was catching a connecting flight, that I would follow the signs for connecting flights.  Not so.  According to the airport personnel (whose station was not labeled), it all depended on which airline I was coming from (and where was that on a sign?)  My particular airline required that I follow the “Departures” sign.  And nobody told me that we would need to go through security a second time.  And, “All Gates” does not mean all gates—we got in the wrong line and had to switch to a line several yards away with the exact same signage!!  And, going through security—are you kidding me??  After getting in the line I was told to get in, I was curtly ordered into a second line, and a few minutes later, irritably waved back into the original line—by the same person.  My blood pressure is skyrocketing just thinking about it.

Which leads me back to my original proposition.  Good signs are friendly.  Yes, patrons will miss signs, or not bother to read them, but I think that the majority of people don’t want to waste their own time, or ours, by asking directions when a good sign will tell them the answer quickly and efficiently.  Does your library have good signs?  Do visitors know where to find the computers or the bathrooms without having to ask you?  Can someone who doesn’t speak English find your meeting room without a problem?  If you’re often being asked the same question, then perhaps your signage is the problem.  I have heard the position that we don’t want to have obvious signs, because they are unfriendly, making people think that adults aren’t wanted in the children’s area (for instance).  After this trip, I most strenuously disagree.  Good signs—big, obvious, well designed signs are the friendliest thing we can do to help people feel secure and confident as they navigate through our sometimes confusing buildings and collections.  And I have to say that, next to JFK, the place with the worst signs on our trip was the Reykjavik City Library.  In a six story building where the library was contained on the 1st, 2nd, and 5th floors, the only signage was a small printed paper next to the arrows in the elevator, and on the ends of the stacks.

It figures.

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The People Who Work in Libraries

By Awnali Mills

Person with book

Photo from

Have you ever noticed that life never seems to happen the way that you expect it will?  After several medical tests recently, I got some news I didn’t want to hear.  I thought I could deal with the situation on my own time, but ended up having emergency surgery—as in, I got up for work and ended up in the emergency room instead of the library.

My co-workers were fantastic.  They stepped right in and took over my storytime and a class, as well as my scheduled desk times.  I’ve spent a week and a half in recovery, and all I heard was, “We miss you.  Get well.”  There were no complaints about the extra work burdens placed on these lovely people, and even though my illness coincided with two vacations, nobody made me feel guilty for taking the time I needed to heal.  They even sent me notes, and videos, and encouraged me when I called to check in (even though I was very grumpy at one point—pain makes me grumpy.)

I am so very grateful for these wonderful people.

When I started this entry, I wanted to say something about how important it is to be able to fill in for others at a moment’s notice, but I find myself instead simply overwhelmed with gratitude for the attitude.  Sure, my co-workers could have filled in for me, and have done so on different occasions with aplomb and style, but it was the sheer generosity of spirit and the concern for my well-being with which they did it that has me floored.

Of course, they may very well have grumbled among themselves, but I wasn’t here to hear it, and I doubt it took place.  I’ve heard them deal with other people’s absences with the same grace and kindness.

It’s good to work in a library, with books and quiet, and all the lovely things libraries hold.  But it’s even better to work with the people who work in libraries.  They are the true treasure, and a gift to their communities.

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Ribbet! Frog story time 8-10-16

By Awnali Mills

Today’s storytime theme was frogs.  The books I chose were Beware of the Frog by William Bee, and The Wide Mouthed Frog by Keith Faulkner.

Beware of the FrogWide-Mouthed Frog

Sometimes, it takes a while for a storytime to gel for me.  There’s been a lot going on at the library, and some personal stuff, and I didn’t have a lot of time to devote to planning this storytime.  I had all the pieces pulled together, but just couldn’t think of the right introduction that would spark and grab kids’ attention.  When I was griping about it to a co-worker, she suggested that I use the large frog puppet that I had already pulled out for my magic bag, give the kids little black pompoms, tell them they were flies, and let them feed the pompoms to the frog.


Yes!  (This was much better than the idea I’d been playing with of having the kids throw ping pong balls at the frog to see if he could catch them.  I DO try to avoid encouraging children to throw things at me, but I was getting desperate.)  This worked magically.  I handed out the “flies” to the children as they entered the room, and after they had all fed their flies to the frog (shrieking with delight when the frog “accidentally” grabbed their fingers), the children were in the palm of my hand.  Bwah-Ha-Ha!

The frog next helped us to do our weather flannel, grabbing the flannels off the board that didn’t match today’s weather.  There were shrieks of laughter and happiness every time he grabbed one of the pieces.

Then we did the flannel Ten Little Froggies, which is basically 10 clipart pictures of frogs.  I put them all on the board and then said the rhyme.

10 little froggies on a lily pad
1st one said, “Let’s catch a fly”
2nd one said, “Let’s hide.”
3rd one said, “Let’s swim.”
4th one said, “Look, I’m in!”
5th one said, “Let’s dive.”
6th one said, “There went 5.”
7th one said, “Where did they go?”
8th one said, “Ho! Ho! Ho!”
9th one said, “I need a friend.”
10th one said, “This is the end.”

Each time I said a line, I asked the kids which frog had said it, and they told me which one to take down.  Very few of the frogs seemed to go with the lines (I didn’t make this flannel—it was an old one), and so I let the kids decide which one seemed to be saying what.

Next we read Beware of the Frog.  I really enjoy William Bee’s books for the most part, and especially love finding the snails that he hides on each page.  We didn’t take the time to find the snails, but I did point one of them out.  This book just lends itself to funny voices, and the kids were absolutely glued to me while I was reading it.  It seems a little long when you first read it, but the funny voices really make the book worthwhile for storytime.

One of the children helped me roll the song cube for our first song, which was Old MacDonald.  We stood up and acted like the animals when we were singing, and I would point to a child who seemed to be paying attention to have them call out the next animal.  They looked like they could continue for quite a while, but we only did about 6 verses before moving on to Five Green and Speckled Frogs.  I made a big deal about making the kids rub their tummies to say “Yum! Yum!” and “Glub, glub”  (while nodding their heads) for each verse.   They were so funny to watch rubbing their tummies, lowering their voices and growling “Yum! Yum!”  We really hammed it up.

We rolled our song cube again and then sang Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.  I threw in Zoom, Zoom, Zoom because I didn’t think the kids hade moved enough.  Then I did the flannel I Kissed a Frog.  This is another old flannel with only three pieces—a princess, a frog, and a princess turned into a frog.  The verse goes:

I kissed a frog because I’d heard
That it would turn into a prince.
That’s not exactly what occurred,
And I’ve been croaking ever since!

Our next book was The Wide-Mouthed Frog pop-up book.  This one also lends itself to good voices.  I had a sassy, Southern growly voice for the frog, and then did various other ones for the other animals.  The children loved the alligator, and after storytime, during our play time, two boys used LEGOs to build an alligator and used a frog pull toy to re-enact the story without any prompting from adults.  I was thrilled!

The last thing I did was ask children what color a frog was.  Naturally, they replied, “Green!”  I said, “Really?” and then pulled out a picture of a blue and black frog and put it on the board.  I did this over and over with different color frogs.  I even pulled out a pink one!  Finally, I pulled out a frog that is mostly green with several other colors on it.  These are all poison arrow frogs, who come in amazing different colors, and we talked about what all those crazy colors mean in the animal world.


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