Book Review – Grandma’s Purse by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Grandma's PurseBy Awnali Mills

This little girl adores her grandmother, Mimi.  And when Mimi comes for a visit, the little girl is enthralled by her purse, which is full of all the things that make her grandmother herself.  As she pulls things out one by one, Mimi relates each thing back to her granddaughter and their family.

I loved this book.  It reminded me so much of sitting with my grandmother and talking about the things she had stashed in her purse (and my best friend, whose grandmother had a purse full of nothing but Kleenex!)  The illustrations are bright and happy, and filled with sparks of humor.  There was so much love evident between the characters, and the illustrations made me so happy that I immediately started telling my co-workers about it and trying to figure out how to use it in a storytime.  It’s perfect for a preschool storytime, but might be a stretch for toddlers.  Because it’s about a purse, I think it would work for a clothing storytime, but definitely would work for grandparent or family themed storytimes.  Also dress-up.  And anywhere else you can put it.

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Book Review – Toby Goes Bananas by Franck Girard

Toby Goes BananasBy Awnali Mills

Toby is your typical underachiever.  He’s bad at school, his friends aren’t too bright, and his mom is smarter than his father—but he’s happy to tease them equally.  Toby Goes Bananas is a snapshot of one school day that Toby narrates for you with all the aplomb of a born comedian.

I haven’t been a fan of joke books since about 3rd grade.  I was expecting a “graphic novel” and got a joke book in graphic novel form.  Each page was a new joke, and I could almost hear the rim shot at the end of each page.  And almost every joke required that an adult gasp and fall over backward.  So…I was less than impressed.


Kids hit that joke book phase between 2nd and 3rd grade, and then no silly joke is too much.  It might seem old hat to us adults, but not to children.  Generally, when kids ask for joke books in the library, I run them back to the 800s and let them loose, but this will give me a graphic novel to point them to as well.  So, if you have a kid who’s hit that stage, you’ll want to give them Toby Goes Bananas.  Nobody else will probably appreciate it.

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Book Review – The Last Gargoyle by Paul Durham

Last GargoyleBy Awnali Mills

Penhallow is the last of his kind.  He is a grotesque (you would probably call him a gargoyle, but he does NOT spout water) who guards his domain fiercely.  Imps and Netherkin have no chance against him.  But when Hetty and her family move into an apartment in his building, suddenly there are Netherkin everywhere, and they’re not playing around.  There’s a new bad guy they’re answering to called the Boneless King, and who knows what evil he’s cooked up?  And oddly enough, there’s a girl, Viola, who can actually see his spirit form (a young teenage boy in a hoodie), and wants to be friends with him.  What’s that about?  Penhallow doesn’t need any friends, and certainly not one who insists on calling him Goyle (he is NOT a gargoyle, darn it!).  Viola insists on coming along with him as he tries to put a stop to the Boneless King and his hordes of Netherkin.  But she has secrets of her own.  Can Penhallow trust her?  And will his trust cost Hetty her life?

I loved Paul Durham’s Luck Uglies trilogy, and between my fondness for the author and the great cover, I didn’t hesitate to pick this book up.  I was expecting a sarcastic fantasy, but I’d put this more firmly into the “scary story” category (but I would be willing to discuss).  The book is dark and lonely, even though Penhallow is bold and confident.  Very different from The Luck Uglies’ strong friendships, this story is mostly about Penhallow trying to fight evil by himself.  He’s torn between his longing for friendship with Viola and his need to protect her from what he does.  There are some pretty intensely dark scenes that might be a bit much for tender younguns’, but scary story enthusiasts will lap them up.  Recommended for grades 4-7.

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Book Review – Just Like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard

Just Like JackieBy Awnali Mills

Robinson was named after the great Jackie Robinson, but she’s lousy at emulating him.  She is angry all the time, and can’t seem to help getting in fights, especially with Alex Carter.  Alex is the golden haired bully that grownups adore and children hate.  He is merciless in his teasing of her, especially about her name and her grandfather.  Robinson has blonde, curly hair, and white skin—so why does her beloved grandfather have black skin?  Grandfather is all she has in the world, and she will fiercely defend him against anyone.  And she will never, never tell anyone that he is forgetting things, putting his coat in with the pots and pans, and doesn’t know the way home.  Because it’s just her and Grandpa against the world, and she’s tough enough and strong enough to take care of Grandpa forever.  Or is she?

Robinson is so different from me that it was fascinating to see into her world.  She has zero regard for what anyone thinks of her, and she sees sentimentality and friendship as weakness.  She is an unreliable narrator who keeps telling us how tough she is, without ever admitting that she’s terrified.  Her teachers see through her, but they can only help her as much as she will cooperate—even if she can’t see that.  Even Alex, whom you really want to hate, is shown to be a kid carrying an inordinate amount of pain and suffering.

Bi-racial kids and those being raised by their grandparents may find much to identify with in Robinson’s story—painful family relationships, questions about how she and her grandfather can be related, and feeling misunderstood by the world.  Kids dealing with a family member who has Alzheimer’s will also find connection here, as will kids who have trouble with anger issues.  Just Like Jackie is an important book on many levels, and I know you’ll find lots of people to recommend it to.  For grades 4-6.

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Egg-citing Storytime 1/24/18

By Awnali Mills

Today’s storytime was about….eggs!  The books I chose were Except If by Jim Averbeck, and Whose Chick Are You? by Nancy Tafuri.

We sang the Alphabet Song to start, then I pulled out my big E.  We talked about the sounds it makes (when I see a spider, I say a loud long e sound.  The kids found that amusing.)  We looked at some pictures of E things, and I finished with the picture of an egg.  And I had brought some eggs with me!  They were from the Egg Hatching Activity Kit from Lakeshore (which doesn’t seem to carry them anymore).  The kids guessed what was in each egg, and then I “cracked” it open, and we talked about what sorts of things come in eggs.  If you thought it was only birds, you’re wrong!

Then I read the story Except If, and the kids helped me say the refrain “except if.”  Then I handed out egg shakers, and we danced to Laurie Berkner’s I Know a Chicken.  That’s a great song for following directions.

I used a flannel, and we said Humpty Dumpty together, then counted the pieces.  I read Whose Chick Are You? and then we rolled the song cube.  That had us singing the Alphabet Song again, but no one seemed to mind.  I followed that with the flannel Three Eggs in a Basket, and the kids helped me unite the newly hatched critters with their mommies.

Then, for the grand finale!  I asked the children how strong eggs were.  Were they hard to break, or easy to break?  I told them that we were going to do an experiment to find out!  I spread a plastic table cloth on the floor, and then put half of an 18 count egg carton on that.  I put an egg in each of the four corners, after letting the kids touch them to see that they were real eggs.  I covered the eggs with saran wrap, and then pulled out a cart LOADED with the heaviest hardback books I could find in our donations bin (all 1 ½ to 3 inches thick).  I asked the children how many books they thought it would take to break the eggs.  Then, one by one, each child helped me place a book gently on top of our eggs.  Some children were scared to get near our tower, so I took over near the end.

How many books do you think it took?


More than that!

Steven King’s Insomnia finally broke the eggs.  It was the twelfth one.

There was a great big “Oh!” when the eggs finally broke.  It was glorious!  Huzzah for science!  The parents all told me how cool that was, and everyone guessed many books less than it actually took (I guessed more, having seen a video).

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Dinosaur Storytime 1-17-18

By Awnali Mills

Today’s storytime was all about dinosaurs, and the books I chose were Saturday Night at the Dinosaur Stomp by Carol Diggory Shields, and Dini Dinosaur by Karen Beaumont.

Today’s storytime was sad.

Pitiful, even.

It’s snowing to beat the band here, but the library hasn’t closed.  One father showed up to Toddler storytime with his 2 year old daughter, and stayed for Preschool (ages 3-5).  I let them stay.

It was just the three of us, after all.

Turns out, the little girl?  Yeah.  She doesn’t really like dinosaurs.  My T-Rex puppet scared her, and she rapidly lost interest in Saturday Night, and we stopped reading halfway through.  She enjoyed dancing to The Dinosaur Dance from Playhouse Disney’s Let’s Dance album.  She helped me put up flannel pieces for One Dinosaur Went Out to Play, but refused to call the other dinosaurs, or pat her knees to simulate them running up.

We skipped the second book, and rolled the song cube.  I played my ukulele and we—or rather, Dad and I—sang The Alphabet Song while daughter stared at me.  Once again, she helped me put up and take down the flannels for Five Enormous Dinosaurs, but she didn’t really care about the rhyme.  She was more interested in the Velcro on the back of the flannels.

Finally, I pulled out some magnetic dinosaurs, and she helped me put them on the board, but dinosaurs (just so you know) do NOT roar.  They say Ta-Da!

I’m glad we got that cleared up.

We tried sorting them by color, but there weren’t any pink ones, so she pretty much lost interest almost immediately.

I thanked them for coming.

What else could I do?

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Construction Storytime 1/10/18

By Awnali Mills

This week’s storytime was all about construction.  The books I chose were Old MacDonald Had a Truck by Steven Goetz, and Big Dig, a pop-up book by Paul Stickland.


We started with the Alphabet Song, and then I introduced my puppet Gulp.  He likes to smash things!  He brought out our letter T, and tried to hammer things with it.  We talked about T words, and then sang The Construction Worker Song.

This is the way we pound our nails, pound our nails, pound our nails
This is the way we pound our nails, so early in the morning
(saw the wood, turn the screwdriver, drill a hole, stack the bricks, stir the paint, paint the walls)

Credit: Everything Preschool

Then we read Old MacDonald Had a Truck.  I really love this book, but wasn’t sure how it would go over in storytime.  Well, it went over just fine.  As a matter of fact, one little lady with an infectious giggle thought it was hilarious every time Old MacDonald had something that wasn’t an animal, and that got everyone else to laughing.  I love when that happens!

Next, I got out my toolbox—adapted from the one at Storytime Secrets.  The kids got to choose the tools, take them out of my toolbox and put them on the flannel board.  Then we would sing the verse and do the motions.  My version adds a tape measure, and deletes the screws and nails.

Toolbox (Tune: Oh, My Darling Clementine)

Here’s my toolbox, here’s my toolbox
This is where I keep my tools
Here’s my toolbox, trusty toolbox
Take a look at all my tools.

Here’s my hammer, here’s my hammer
See the hammer pound and pound
Here’s my hammer, trusty hammer
Watch me as I pound and pound.

Here’s my screwdriver, here’s my screwdriver
See the screwdriver twist and twist
Here’s my screwdriver, trusty screwdriver
Watch me as I twist and twist

Here’re my pliers, here’re my pliers
See the pliers pinch and pinch
Here’re my pliers, trusty pliers
Watch me as I pinch and pinch

Here’s my wrench, here’s my wrench
See the wrench turn and turn
Here’s my wrench, trusty wrench
Watch me as I turn and turn.

Here’s a saw, here’s a saw
See the saw go see-saw
Here’s my saw, trusty saw
Watch me as I go see-saw.

Here’s my tape measure, here’s my tape measure
See it stretch out so long
Here’s my measure, trusty tape measure
Watch me as I stretch it out.

Then we rolled a song cube and sang Hickory Dickory Dock.  We then read Big Dig.  I adore the gasps I get when I open the book and the pages spring to life.

I next played The Hammer Song.  No, this isn’t the pop culture version, but it’s a variation of Johnny Works with One Hammer.  I wish I could tell you who sings it, but it’s on a compilation CD that I inherited.  It was great when all the parents engaged and did the motions along with the children and helped them figure out what to do.

For our grand finale, I announced that storytime was over, but the play portion was just starting, and I had a special treat.  I pulled out cardboard tubes, wooden ramps and blocks, ping pong balls, and toy cars, and let the kids go to town constructing.  Of course, the kids were immediately engaged, but what was fascinating to me was how quickly the parents engaged.  One dad was immediately on the floor helping his sons construct (he’d been kind of off to the side during storytime).  One mom was supervising her daughter, when dad wandered in, stood for a minute watching, and then got on the floor and started making suggestions.  (What was privately funny to me was that he couldn’t figure out why two of his additions to the construction wouldn’t work.  Mom fixed one, and I gently explained why the other wasn’t working—learning for everyone!)  One mom was playing right alongside her daughter and said to me with a bright smile, “This is amazing!  I could do this all day!”

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