Wednesday, June 13, 2018

New Research on the Value of Picture Books and the Way Kids' Brains Respond to Screen Media

A new study by Dr. John S. Hutton shows how children's brains respond to hearing stories told in three different formats, and may lend support for the idea that the best format for sharing a story with a child is reading a picture book to them! Kids's brains were imaged while hearing a story with no pictures, hearing a story with pictures, and hearing a story that is completely animated, and the findings show that hearing a story with illustrations (but not animated ones) promotes the most interconnectivity among brain regions.

This could have fascinating implications for makers of tablet storybook apps, most if which tend to be a little too heavily animated to be encouraging of a child's imagination. At the very least, it should be good news to everyone who promotes illustrated books for kids, because the pictures give a child "limited visual scaffolding assisting the child while still encouraging active imagery and reflection." Basically, the pictures should give a child something to focus on while developing their listening skills, but don't have too much going on to take away from hearing the story.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Rewriting Fairytales

A couple weeks ago (right before I left for my vacation) we had a fun Kids' Writing Workshop all about rewriting fairytales. I always try to keep my workshops rooted firmly in books in the library's collection, so for this workshop I had fun gathering up all of the Jack and the Beanstalk retellings I could find, and putting them on display! There were several Old West retellings, including one where the Jack character is a cowgirl and one where the Jack character is a really badass Native American gunslinging bandit, two science fiction ones taking place on other planets or in outer space, a few told from the point of view of the giant, a few longer novel-length works where Jack's character and motivations are much more developed and in which Jack interacts with other fairytale characters from other stories, and more, more, more!!

The kids and I talked about what makes a good rewritten fairytale--that it helps to have some sort of "twist" on the story, either by changing a character's gender, age, cultural background, setting, or even the genre of the fairytale (like those Western and sci-fi versions of Jack). 

Then I had the kids draw slips from three envelopes. One envelope had slips of paper with fairytale characters' names. Another had papers with problems or plot elements. And the third had suggestions for how to make the fairytale different with a "twist." Kids drew two character slips, two problem slips and two twist slips, so that nobody was "forced" to write about any specific character or concept but had options to choose from and could go where the inspiration took them! I took pictures of each child's slips:

This child wrote about Rapunzel's witch trying to make amends by helping Gretel, who was blind.

This was mine--I wrote about the son of the Big Bad Wolf being a nerd who is bullied by the sons of the Three Little Pigs!

This child wrote about Red Riding Hood's Grandma and set the story in a different time in history.

This child told a story about Rapunzel's child and had another character turned into an animal.

It was really fun to see what the kids brainstormed for their rewritten fairytales, and also how they managed to tell their stories with interesting first-person points of view! I know I'll be doing this workshop again and am sure I will once again find lots of inspirations in the books here at the library.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Community Helpers storytime for 2nd graders

Today a class of 2nd graders came to my library for a visit, and I was filling in for the person who normally has this class. They are doing a unit on community helpers, so I did a jobs-and-the-economy-themed storytime for them. And since they're 2nd graders, I was able to involve them in many ways as volunteers reading things and acting things out. We sang, read two books, acted out a play, did a reading and guessing felt board game, and watched a video. Read on if you would like to see these ideas for your next Community Helpers storytime!

First we sang the Button Factory song. It's a great song to get kids singing, moving, and laughing! I usually skip the part about the wife and kids and get right to the point, with the boss asking Jo/Joe to press another button. They loved it.

Next we read the book Weasels by Elys Dolan. In it we see that it takes a lot of weasels working in different roles, doing problem-solving and thinking up plots, in order for the weasel species to successfully take over the world!

Then we did an activity where I took out some felt envelopes and told the class, "I was supposed to help my mail carrier friend deliver her letters today, but they got all jumbled up in the bag and the labels came off. Can you guys help me figure out whom each one is for?" Five volunteers lined up and each one read the short letter that was inside the envelope--things like: "Thank you for healing my ear infection and giving me medicine"--and decided whether it was for a Doctor, a Teacher, a Janitor, a Bus Driver or a Plumber.

We read a West African/Caribbean folktale called Don't Leave an Elephant to Go and Chase a Bird by James Berry and illustrated by Ann Grifalconi. In it Anancy makes a series of trades, starting out with a corn cob and ending up with an elephant, but he lets the elephant escape when he gets distracted by a bird he wants to bring home for his son. I like this story for the theme of jobs because it helps the kids understand and explore what it meant to do a job in the ancient days before money was the typical payment. 

Then we acted out a play! It's one of the activities in my book 36 Workshops to Get Kids Writing, from the chapter on folktales. 

Now, if I had more time, I would have involved the kids in actually writing the script of this play, but since our time was limited I wrote out the scripts in advance. There were five actors, including myself. Each person had an object that they didn't need and wanted or needed something else. I played the role of an alien who had crash-landed here and needed to fix my spaceship. The kids played other roles. 

The props I used were simple: a spoon, a bag, a rubber band, a stuffed toy and a roll of duct tape. I numbered each one and then gave the kids number stickers to wear. I told everyone that I needed to fix my spaceship and only had a spoon. I asked the first kid to act like he was slobbering out of a bag. I asked him why he was slobbering like that, and he said, "I wish I had something to eat with." Then I gave him the spoon, and he gave me the rubber band he was holding. 

I next came to a girl with long hair who was trying to dance but her hair kept getting in her face. I offered her the rubber band and she offered me a toy.

I next came to a boy whose child (played by a girl from the class) was crying. I gave the boy the toy and he gave me the roll of duct tape. Then I announced, "Hooray! This is just what I need to fix my spaceship! I guess it's my lucky day."

They did a great job with it and had fun hamming up their roles!

You'll find this activity and the handouts you can give kids to write their scripts in my book in "Lesson 10: Small Actors Folktale Theater."

Last, I showed an old movie from Reading Rainbow, and it was a big hit with the kids. We watched Fox On the Job by James Marshall. The story is funny and it shows kids that getting a job is no joke--you're expected to do what is needed and not get lazy or careless. Fox doesn't seem to be a very good fit for many of the jobs he has to do, but in the end he finds something suited to his talent for laying around.

Community Helpers storytimes are always in such high demand when you have classes coming to visit you or taking field trips to the library. So I hope these ideas will serve you well!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Congratulations to the winners of the 36 Workshops giveaway!

Over 50 people entered my Rafflecopter giveaway for a free copy of 36 Workshops to Get Kids Writing! I loved reading everyone's entries and answers and seriously wish I could give all of you a free copy. You are great parents, teachers and librarians who clearly care about doing creative writing with your kids. So I'm working with ALA Editions to get you a discount off the retail price of the book and will be in touch as soon as I have it.

And, as it turns out, I decided I could afford to choose two winners, sort of a "first place" and "second place" which were just randomly chosen by the Rafflecopter site. Their names are:

1st Winner:

Marissa S.

Marissa is a school librarian who started doing creative writing around 7th grade, but hopes to expose her students to it much younger! She will be sent my book and three of the picture books used in my workshops:

  • one copy of my book 36 Workshops to Get Kids Writing
  • one copy of How to Eat an Airplane by Peter Pearson
  • one copy of President Squid by Aaron Reynolds
  • and one copy of The Pigeon Needs a Bath by Mo Willems

2nd Winner:

Selenne O.

Selene is an elementary school teacher, and I can't wait to see what she'll do with this in her classroom. She will be sent my book and two picture books:

  • one copy of my book 36 Workshops to Get Kids Writing
  • one copy of How to Eat an Airplane by Peter Pearson
  • and one copy of The Pigeon Needs a Bath by Mo Willems

Once again, a big thank you to everyone who entered to win, and although I could only pick two, I wish I could send you all something. I will be getting in touch with everyone else who entered to email you a $5 off coupon as soon as ALA Editions has them available!

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Poetry Creation Stations Recap and Templates

Sometimes I'll be reading a post about an elaborate or complicated library program and wonder, "Gee, how did he/she manage to have all those things going on at the same time?" So today I'm going to do a recap of my Poetry Creation Stations program last week in our Kids' Writing Workshop, and start with how I set up the room.

We had four tables set up with the four different activities: Paint Chip Poetry, Reverse Poetry, Haikubes and Blackout Bookmarks.

Near each table, I put up a poster with instructions for what to do:

I created template handouts for the kids sitting at the Paint Chip Poetry and Reverse Poetry tables:

The kids had so much fun! Cleanup took a while, but I would definitely do this program again. The games and activities inspired a lot of great images from the kids. One child wrote a reverse poem about killing in self-defense:

Another wrote a reverse poem about telling the truth:

There was a Paint Chip Poetry poem about boundaries being a challenge "like a seedling" that has not ceased to grow:

Kids got a lot of great imagery from the games Haikubes and Paint Chip Poetry, including "red velvet tears" and "a pool of simple riches:

They had a harder time with blackout poetry. Some thought you were just supposed to find interesting words and others had trouble making their lines coherent. That's always been a challenging style for tweens and may be more ideal for teens. But they had fun doing it. I really liked this kid's poem:

Visit to see more photos and videos of kids reading their poems!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Poetry Creation Stations

This Friday, I'll be trying something a little different for my obligatory National Poetry Month session of our Kids' Writing Workshop. I purchased a few cool items that I want to share with the kids:


These are cubes or dice that have a variety of words you can choose from to make a haiku. The game is that you are supposed to roll a red cube that will give you a prompt, but I might leave it more open-ended for the kids. I liked exploring what words were available to me and tweaking them until I felt I had made a satisfactory haiku.

moonlight dripping, shines
her precious fire, licks the
surface of your heart

Paint Chip Poetry

This works even more like a game: first, each player draws twelve paint chips from the deck, and then draws a prompt card. Then you use as many of those paint chips as you would like to make a poem that responds to the prompt.

Blackout Bookmarks

In a twist on blackout poetry, we will be trimming our blackout poetry and laminating them to make them into bookmarks. The bookmarks are larger than standard bookmarks, but still a great size for using with even a small paperback book.

When I prep this for the kids, I grab a few of my favorite middle grade novels and photocopy a few pages from each. I look for pages with a lot of dense paragraphs and rich diction. I always try to encourage kids to scan the page and simply circle a few words that jump out at them. Just make connections, and you don't have to find a relevant word or phrase on every line.

Once they've done their circling in pencil, and tweaked it until they feel they'll have a strong poem, they are ready for the black markers!

Here's my sample. I was so jazzed to find a page that had lots of references to books, stories, and even a library! (This was page 394 from Marvels by Brian Selznick.)

Kids will be moving from one station to the next. I don't have a room with tables to work with tomorrow but we'll use clip boards and try to make it comfortable. I hope the kids have as much fun with this stuff as I did!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Newly Discovered Music for Storytimes

Do you ever feel like once in a while you are just desperate to change up your storytime music? I get that way once every few years. So this year, in January 2018 I went through my library's CD collection looking for some new songs that would inspire me. The result was this list--maybe you'll find some cool new songs to try here!

Vamping Music

(these are the kind of things I play when families are arriving):

"Baby's Boat" from Baby's Boat by Kathy Reid-Naiman

"Listen to the Water" from More Tickles & Tunes by Kathy Reid-Naiman

"Sing" (Sesame Street cover) from Shining Like a Star by Laura Doherty


"Bubbles" from Bon Voyage by Jazzy Ash

Movement/Dance Songs:

"We Are the Dinosaurs," "Rocketship Run," "Boots," "The Goldfish," "Song In My Tummy," "Monster Boogie" from The Best of the Laurie Berkner Band

"The Tempo Marches On," "Toe Leg Knee," and "My Ups and Downs" from Jim Gill Sings Do Re Mi On His Toe Leg Knee

"Your Face Will Surely Show It," "Tickle Toe," "The Sound Effects Song" from Jim Gill Makes It Noisy In Boise, Idaho

"Razzama Tazzama" from More Tickles & Tunes by Kathy Reid-Naiman

"Put Your Little Foot," from Dancing Feet by Carole Peterson

"One Two Three Whee!" from Groovy Green by Mr. Eric & Mr. Michael

"Leap Frog," "Tandem Bike," "Firefly" from Bon Voyage by Jazzy Ash

"Quiet as a Mouse," "Hula Hoop," "Vegetable Party" from Shining Like a Star by Laura Doherty

Scarf Songs:

"Dancing Scarf Blues" from Dancing Feet by Carole Peterson

"Popcorn" from Shining Like a Star by Laura Doherty

Shaker Egg Songs:

"I Know a Chicken" from The Best of the Laurie Berkner Band

"Wake Up" from Chips and Salsa by Rolie Polie Guacamole

"The Shaker Hop," from Dancing Feet by Carole Peterson

Goodbye Songs:

(I don't necessarily have everyone sing these. But it's really effective to have them playing in the background when it's time for people to go)

"Goodbye in the Bayou" from Bon Voyage by Jazzy Ash

"Goodbye Song" from Shining Like a Star by Laura Doherty

If you're reading this and have a favorite scarf song or shaker egg song you'd like to share--or anything about storytime music--please comment below!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Announcing a Giveaway for Educators and Librarians!

Starting April 1st, I will be hosting a month-long contest giveaway for a free copy of my new book 36 Workshops to Get Kids Writing: From Aliens to Zebras, full of a school year's worth of weekly lesson plans for engaging primary-grade students with great picture books, using writing exercises and activities to spark their own creativity. I want to give a free copy of my book to one hardworking teacher, librarian, homeschooling parent or educator who works with kids under 10 years old. I'm thinking I will include a few other freebies, like a few copies of some of the picture books that the activities are based on!

Despite the plethora of writing workshops aimed at young teens and tweens, research has shown that children can write much sooner than that, and that kids as young as kindergarten feel the desire to tell stories or make up characters on paper. Kids learn to read and write by doing it, and by being exposed to it and surrounded by it from a very early age. So when I am working with kids between the ages of 5 and 8 years old, I start with a good book and use that to inspire kids to think further than the book--"What happens now?" or "How could you write a story like this?" Kids start with a concrete example or mentor text and then create their own. They start out listening to a story, and end as storytellers.

So if you are a teacher, librarian, or educator and you'd like to try some new ways to excite your students or patrons about reading and writing, enter my rafflecopter giveaway or visit 36 Workshops to Get Kids Writing for more information and a free sample of the book!

Giveaway for 36 Workshops to Get Kids Writing

Sunday, March 4, 2018

How to Make 3D Seussian animals

One of the workshops in my book involves creating a Dr. Seuss-inspired animal with a name that is a combination of different names from Dr. Seuss books. The handout gives kids a prompt to draw their animal, but if you want to get more crafty, you could also try making them in 3D!

You will need:
Pipe cleaners
Pom poms
Googly eyes

Show the kids how to wrap a pipe cleaner around a pen or pencil to create a "body" that has more substance (and spring!) to it than a straight pipe cleaner would. It also allows for lots of ways to tuck in feathers and other features you might want to use to decorate your animal.

In my example of a birdlike Seussian animal, I also used a short segment cut from a straw, for bringing all the different colored pipe cleaners together, for giving my animal a clear separation like a "hip" for her legs and back, and for giving me an easy way to insert a tail.

I used liquid glue to glue the pom pom balls and googly eyes on.

I think it's important to infuse these writing programs with craft activities, as time allows. For the outreach I was doing where families were coming and going, it was a fun way to get everyone involved and engaged.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Adoption and Families Storytime

Last night I had the pleasure of being a guest at Kidspace Children's Museum in Pasadena, and doing a storytime at their Free Family Night:

They asked me to do a storytime about adoption and forever families. So I chose a few classic books that are wonderful on this theme, and one recent book that has a relevance to this theme or to the theme of a new baby.

Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by Zachariah OHora is a fun story about a bunny rabbit named Dot whose parents adopt a baby wolf, despite her protests that he is going to "eat them all up." She eventually develops a bond with him, though, and even risks her life to protect him from a bully. I love the character of Dot. She is a girl with a lot of spunk, brains, and courage!

Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born by Jamie Lee Curtis and illustrated by Laura Cornell is a beautiful, funny and touching book about a family's adoption story.

We Belong Together by Todd Parr just says it all, so simply and so perfectly. In this book parents (who are represented as diverse types of couples or single parents) tell their adopted children that they belong together because, for example: "You needed someone to kiss your boo-boos and we had kisses to give."

I found a lovely flannelboard idea on Story Time Secrets which I modified for last night's adoption storytime:

Who is knocking at my door, at my door, at my door?
Who is knocking at my door?
Look! It’s Mommy.
Let’s give Mom a great big kiss, great big kiss, great big kiss.
Let’s give Mom a great big kiss.
Goodbye, Mommy!

Who is knocking at my door, at my door, at my door?
Who is knocking at my door?
Look! It’s Daddy.
Let’s give Dad a great big hug, great big hug, great big hug.
Let’s give Dad a great big hug.
Goodbye, Daddy!

Who is knocking at my door, at my door, at my door?
Who is knocking at my door?
Look! It’s Grandma.
Let’s give Grandma a great big smile, great big smile, great big smile.
Let’s give Grandma a great big smile.
Goodbye, Grandma!

Who is knocking at my door, at my door, at my door?
Who is knocking at my door?
Look! It’s Grandpa.
Let’s give Grandpa a great big wave, great big wave, great big wave.
Let’s give Grandma a great big wave. Goodbye, Grandpa!

I also played some of my usual favorites on CD and sang and danced to "Clap Your Hands" and "I Was a Bird" by the Old Town School of Folk Music, and "Shake Your Sillies Out" by Raffi.

The storytime was packed! There were around 80 people in that celebration room. I think everybody had a good time. I hope to do something with Kidspace again in the future.