Book Review – A Pup Called Trouble by Bobbie Pyron

A Pup Called TroubleBy Awnali Mills

Trouble is insatiably curious, and this gets him in endless amounts of trouble.  One day, he decides to investigate the inside of a human’s van and winds up in the middle of New York City.  He makes his way to Central Park, making friends with a crow named Mischief and an opossum named Rosebud along the way.  Once there, he befriends a fox, an owl, and a poodle named Minette.

At first, Trouble misses his home and family terribly, but has no idea how to get back to them.  Gradually he becomes used to the city and becomes less afraid of being seen.  His friends know that it’s only a matter of time before Trouble finds himself in some real…well, trouble.  Can they get him back to his family, or will Trouble decide to stay with his friends?

Trouble is certainly true to his coyote heritage and mythology, and I loved him despite his penchant for doing stupid stuff.  I think that kids will enjoy reading about Trouble on their own, but I think this book would shine as a class read-aloud.  It would open the door to learning about the different animals depicted in the book, as well as discussions about animal adaptations, camouflage, etc.  I can also see creating journals to keep track of the animals that kids see in the area around them.  As a (current) city girl, I know there are lots of animals that hang around the city.  Once, outside another library, my husband and I happened upon a bunch of raccoons (I think the collective noun should be a posse, but that’s just me)—no kidding, there were at least 20 of them—raiding a dumpster.   That sighting would totally go in my journal.  This could lead to birding expeditions, other books on animals in the city, etc.  The possibility for extension activities is endless.

At any rate, read singly or to a group, I would recommend it for grades 2-4.

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Farm Storytime – 3/14/18

By Awnali Mills

Happy Pi Day!

So, evidently snow makes preschoolers crazy.  Or, at least having snow sometime during the week makes them crazy.  That’s all I can figure, because my group today had lots of trouble focusing, no matter what we were doing.  The books today were Splish, Splash Ducky by Lucy Cousins and Farmyard Beat by Lindsey Craig.

We started with a stretch, and then my hen puppet brought us the letter B and a barn.  I had a basket full of barnyard puppets, and did the rhyme Who’s in the Barnyard? from Jbrary:

An oink, a moo
A cock-a-doodle-doo
Who’s in the barnyard playing peekaboo?
The kids seemed to enjoy guessing, and were very proud of themselves.

I taught the kids to say “quack, quack, quack” and then they helped me read Splish, Splash Ducky.  Almost every page is a two sentence rhyme followed by quack, quack, quack.  I pointed to the words and the children said them with me.  They started drifting a little at this point, although they participated until the end.  Then I did the song If You Want to Be a Farm Animal with them.

If You Want to Be a Farm Animal (If You’re Happy and You Know It)
If you want to be a cow, chew your cud. (Make chewing motions with mouth)
If you want to be a cow, chew your cud.
If you want to be a cow,
If you want to be a cow,
If you want to be a cow, chew your cud.

If you want to be a hen, flap your wings. (Put hands under armpits and wave elbows up and down)
If you want to be a pig, roll in mud. (Make rolling motions with arms)
If you want to be a sheep, stamp your feet. (Stamp your feet)
If you want to be a horse, trot along. (Prance in place)

This only seemed to add to the crazy, as kids were running all over the room, doing the motions.  But it was still doable.  I mean, they were participating, so that’s good.  Our next activity was the flannel Baa Baa Colored Sheep.  I had enough different colored sheep for all the kids to participate, and each one brought their sheep to the board in turn as we said the normal rhyme, substituting a color for the traditional black.  Now, I say “in turn,” but it was more of a mob scene than that.

Next, I handed out shaky eggs, and this is where things really went off the rails.  We danced to Laurie Berkner’s I Know a Chicken, and kids ran wild.  I kept trying to get them back to the carpet, parents were struggling with children right and left—it was crazy.  I made everyone come back to the rug and sit down (except for one little girl who evidently NEEDED to roll around on the floor), and they helped me keep a beat for the book Farmyard Beat.  One little boy started throwing his egg and I had to threaten to take away the eggs.  I hate having to do that.

I skipped the last flannel and brought out my uke.  That seemed to settle them down a bit.  I asked them to name animals that we’d learned about this morning, and then we sang about them to Are You Listening?

Are You Listening (tune: Frere Jacque)
Are you listening, are you listening
To the cow, to the cow?
Hear the cow calling,
Hear the cow calling.
Moo, moo,moo.  Moo, moo, moo.

Pig, horse, hen, duck…
by Gayle Bittinger

Then we sang our closing song and I happily closed the doors on this storytime.  Phew!
What do YOU do when storytime goes off the rails?

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Book Review – The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya

Epic Fail of Arturo ZamoraBy Awnali Mills

Arturo’s family has run their restaurant his whole life.  It’s the center of his extended family, and his mother’s career.  Now it’s being threatened by a developer who wants to put up a high-rise in place of the restaurant.  This slick developer has the neighborhood convinced that all kinds of wonderful things will happen if the restaurant is replaced, but Arturo knows better.

Somehow, he has to figure out how to save the family restaurant and win the heart of his friend Carmen.   His dead grandfather has left him a clue how to do it, but it involves poetry and a lot of courage.  Can Arturo pull it off?  Or will it be an epic fail?

I enjoyed this story of strong family ties and traditions.  Large extended families all coming together over food in places filled with love make me very happy.  Arturo is trying to find his way through his first love while taking care of his family and fighting for what he believes in.  Cartaya skillfully weaves the poetry and courage of José Martí throughout the story.

My one real gripe with the story is the title.  There were some events that might seem like epic fails, but it doesn’t feel like the title rings true once you’ve finished the book.  Sometimes we learn more from our epic fails than we do from our successes, and based on the title, that’s where I was expecting the book to go, but it doesn’t.  Whether that’s a problem for you or not is a matter of personal taste.  Despite the title, the story has a lot of family truths in it and will resonate with young people experiencing their first crush, or dealing with the death of a family member.  I’d give it to kids in grades 3-6.

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Turtle Storytime 3/7/18

By Awnali Mills

Today’s storytime theme was turtles.  It was an unfortunate set of circumstances that led up to this storytime.  I had the flu, I went on vacation, and then went to a conference.  I didn’t have much planning time, but I had ordered some books, put together my flannels, and planned fingerplays and a game.  I had one day to put everything together.

And only one of the books worked.  Aack!

I totally wouldn’t have minded switching things up, but darn it, I had already put all the time and effort into everything else for the storytime!  So, I went with Turtle Island by Kevin Sherry and In a Small, Small Pond by Denise Fleming (which has one page of turtles in it).

turtle-islandIn a Small Small Pond

We sang If You’re Happy and You Know It, and then I brought out my turtle puppet.  We coaxed him to come out of his shell and he brought us the letter T.  We talked about the sound that T makes and then did the fingerplay I Have a Little Turtle.

I have a little turtle (put hands on top of one another)
He lives in a box (make box)
He swims in a puddle (swimming motion)
He climbs on the rocks (climbing motion)
He snapped at a mosquito (clap)
He snapped at a flea (clap)
He snapped at a minnow (clap)
And he snapped at me (clap)
He caught the mosquito (cup hands together)
He caught the flea (cup hands together)
He caught the minnow (cup hands together)
But he didn’t catch me! (shake finger “no”)
Credit: Childhood

Then I read Turtle Island and we talked about how big turtles really are.  I showed a picture of the smallest turtle, the Stinkpot Common Musk Turtle, and we talked about how big they grow (3”-4”), and how old they get (50 years!).  Then I showed a picture of a baby leatherback turtle, and we talked about how she would fit in their hands.  I asked them to guess how big they got.  After they guessed, I showed them a picture of an adult leatherback.  They’re huge!  They get to be as big as our storytime carpet (6’-7.2’)  I had planned to measure it out with the kids, but totally forgot my ruler.  Fudge!  At any rate, they can weigh as much as a cow or a small car—2000 lbs.  And, they live to about 45 years.  Pretty amazing facts!

We rolled the song cube and sang This Is the Way We Take a Bath, then did the flannel Five Little Turtles. that I got from Storytime Katie.

Five Little Turtles

One little turtle, feeling mighty fine
Sitting by the pond in the bright sunshine
Here’s another turtle that wants to play.
Now how many turtles do we have today?

2 happy turtles, feeling mighty fine
Swimming in the pond in the bright sunshine.
Here’s another turtle ready to play.
Now how many turtles do we have today?

3 slow turtles feeling mighty fine!
Blinking their eyes in the bright sunshine.
Here’s another turtle that’s come to play
Now how many turtles do we have today?

4 green turtles feeling mighty fine,
Resting by the pond in the bright sunshine.
Here’s another turtle ready to play
Now how many turtles do we have today?

5 tired turtles feeling might fine
Taking a nap in the bright sunshine.
They had fun together with their turtle play
Now how many turtles slowly walk away?
(count down as you remove each turtle until they’re all off and then wave “goodbye”)

5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Goodbye turtles!

Next we read In a Small, Small Pond.  This was my Hail Mary book; it’s only saving grace is that it has one page of turtles in it.  I asked them to call out when they spotted the turtles, and then we counted them together.

Then we did the fingerplay My Little Turtle.
This is my little turtle.(Make fist)
He lives alone in a shell.
He likes his little home.
He thinks it’s really swell. He pokes out his head(Poke out thumb)
When he wants to eat.
Then he pulls it back in.(Hide thumb in fist)
When he wants to sleep.

Next I did the flannel I Had a Little Turtle that goes with the song.
I had a little turtle, his name was Tiny Tim.
I put him in the bathtub, to see if he could swim.
He drank up all the water, he ate up all the soap.
And now he’s sick in bed, with a bubble in his throat!
Bubble, bubble, bubble, bubble, bubble, POP!
Bubble, bubble, bubble, bubble, bubble, POP!
Snapping Turtle Game

I wanted an activity to go with this theme, so I created a Snapping Turtle Game.  I used turtle clipart, put the numbers 1-10 on their shells, and then laminated them.  I clipped each turtle to a sturdy piece of cardboard with a clothspin, and the children got to “snap” the turtle off the cardboard.  I started off by asking for volunteers to snap the turtles off in numerical sequence, then changed it up by giving them different numbers.  I had two sets of 1-10, and two lengths of cardboard ready to go.  The kids loved this game.  My plan had been to have them try to put the turtles in line on the floor according to their number after they had snapped them all, but they were so jazzed up by the snapping part that I just collected them.

Since we’d done the flannel with the bubble in the turtle’s throat, I pulled out the bubbles and blew them around.  But nobody got them stuck in their throats—thank goodness!

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Book Review – Smart Cookie by Elly Swartz

Smart CookieBy Awnali Mills

Frankie hasn’t felt like her family is complete ever since her mom died.  Don’t get her wrong, she loves her dad and her Gram, but someone is missing.  Now the Winter Family Festival Parade is coming up again, and, once again, there’s no Mom to help out.  No Mom to hold her other hand.  Just, well, no Mom.  So Frankie decides to remedy this situation, and builds an online dating profile for her father.  But it’s not easy to sift through the responses to find good Mom material.  And now there’s maybe a ghost hanging around and chasing away customers from her family’s B & B, creditors are threatening, and Dad and Gram are fighting about Gram’s stuff, which keeps trying to take over all the space.  What’s a Smart Cookie to do?

With all the plot elements going on, you would think that Swartz couldn’t keep them all going, but she does an admirable job.  There’s family drama, friend drama, and even supernatural drama to keep things interesting, and all of the threads are drawn neatly to a close at the end of the book, which is very satisfying.  Frankie is smart, and she cares deeply about her family.  I’d give this to 3rd – 5th graders who enjoy good family and friendship stories.

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Book Review – The Problim Children by Natalie Lloyd

Problim ChildrenBy Awnali Mills

There are seven children in the Problim family—each born on a different day, and each with their own unique gifts and talents.  Toot, for example, (born on Tuesday) has different scented farts, which he uses to communicate with his brothers and sisters.  Sal (born on Saturday) has a gift with growing things, and the twins Wendall and Thea (born on Wednesday and Thursday respectively) have gifts with water (Wendall) and locks (Thea).

Their adventurer parents have left them alone, and somehow their house in the swamp has blown up (it was probably Mona, born on Monday).  Sister Sundae (born on Sunday) remembers that she has the deed to their grandfather’s house, and the children take up residence.  Unfortunately, the town doesn’t want them there, especially their new neighbor, Desdemona O’Pinion.  She’s sure that a treasure resides in the house, and she knows she can find it if she can just get rid of the kids.  But their grandfather has planned for the children to find the treasure, and he has left clues for them to find.  Only if they work altogether can the seven Problims locate the treasure and keep their house.

I love Natalie Lloyd’s work, and was so excited that she had a new book coming out that I put a hold on it before the library even got it.  But, truthfully, I didn’t enjoy it as much as her previous books.  I felt that her previous books were more reality with some magic thrown in for wonder, and The Problim Children was more magic with some reality thrown in.  I had a hard time sorting all seven children out to start with, and couldn’t put them into a time frame to give my mind’s eye something to visualize.  References to things like Velcro felt very jarring.  Okay, so it’s modern day—and the community isn’t fussing about seven children very visibly moving into a house with no adults in evidence?  I was sorely tempted to put the book down (nuanced farts really aren’t my thing), but I continued in hopes that it would get better.

Finally, the children sorted themselves out, and I just had to lean hard into my suspension of disbelief.  The story didn’t resolve satisfactorily, and there are more books in the works.  I’m invested a bit in the storyline now, so I may or may not pick up the others—it all depends on how I’m feeling when they come out.

That said, I can see how children would enjoy the book.  Crazy children living without grownups are a long-standing trope in children’s literature (Pippi Longstocking, anyone?), and everyone knows that children find farts hilarious.  And it’s not all hilarity—Thea and Wendall are trying to figure out who they are without one another, and Thea struggles with how to be brave when she’s by herself.  Children will relate to her struggles.  Recommended for grades 3-5.

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Bedtime Storytime 2/7/18

By Awnali Mills

Today’s theme was bedtime—you know, childhood’s favorite activity!  The books I chose were Goodnight Already! by Jory John and Benji Davies, and Go to Sleep, Monster by Kevin Cornell.

I opened with a teddy bear who’d brought us the letter N.  We talked about N words, and finished with “nap” and “nighty-night!”  The children assured me that they Did Not Like Bedtime, but we read our books anyway.  Goodnight Already! started us off (one of the mothers laughed so hard she snorted, which I found hilarious), and then everyone got up and danced and sang to Five Little Monkeys from Bouncy Blue while I danced around with my five little monkey puppets.  Each time one fell off the bed, I pulled the velcroed monkey off the end, and tossed him over my head.  (I did have to climb a chair after storytime to retrieve one that was hiding in the back of one of the cubbies behind me.)

We settled down to do the fingerplay Here is Baby, which the children did with great solemnity.

Here is a baby       (index finger)
Ready for a nap
Lay her down in her mother’s lap.     (place finger in palm)
Cover her up so she won’t peek.        (curl fingers around index finger)
Rock her till she’s fast asleep.            (rock)
Credit: Library Village

Then we read Go to Sleep, Monster.  I made up a new song, I Put Myself to Bed, set to the tune of Farmer in the Dell.  The children got to tell me what they did to get ready for bed, and I made up the words for the verse.  The only one I hadn’t thought of ahead of time was turning on their nightlight.

I Put Myself to Bed
Tune: “The Farmer in the Dell”
(Suit actions to words)
I put myself to bed
I put myself to bed
F              C
Hi-ho, I’m growing-o
C    G7    C
I put myself to bed

More verses:
I put my pjs on…
I’m brushing all my teeth…
I kiss my parent’s cheeks…
I read my storybook…
I’m turning off the light…
I pull the covers up…
I turn on my nightlight…
I’m drifting off to sleep…

We did the flannel Sleepy Cow, and then I handed out scarves and turned on Brahms’s Lullaby.  We all danced slowly around the room, and one little girl curled up on the floor.  I think she was ready for bed!

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