Thursday, December 24, 2015

A-maze-ing winter crafts

     First, before I say anything else I must give props to my colleagues in the Children's department of the Denver Public Library and in particular Amy Forrester. She was the mastermind behind a huge family friendly Harry Potter-themed maze made of cardboard. After the event she generously allowed staff at other branches to recycle the maze however they wanted.

     My colleagues and I jumped at the chance and we decided to make the maze winter-themed. The timing was right since area schools are on winter break until the first week of January and we are also on a story time break. Whenever we are on a story time break we usually try to have other events for families to do when they come to the branch.  This maze could never have come together without the help of a small army of coworkers, volunteers and helpers. Thank you!!

Here are some of the crafts that my colleagues Melody and April came up with.

This bird feeder uses chenille sticks and cheerios. Kids can twist the sticks into whatever shape they want. We saw some wacky shapes!


 Kids will use a penguin template, cotton balls, googly eyes and other little pieces to make their own creation.

This activity was actually on the back of the maze itself. For some reason it reminds me of the old Price is Right game Plinko. I know my own sons enjoyed it very, very much.

 These last few crafts were some simple things that I may use this year after we take the maze down or use next holiday season. I am blessed to have a very artsy teen volunteer, the reindeer came out looking even better than the picture online!   (She also drew the Yeti in the maze)

Last week I had my volunteer make some example tree ornaments for me to use with our weekly craft hour.

Finally here is a short vid that I put together of the maze itself. Enjoy!  Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

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I have a passing knowledge of spiritual lore and can usually tell a jumbie from a douen and a la diablesse from a soucouyant. With that said it is always good to see new twists on old themes and yfic novels featuring minority characters. The cover image on the book features a proud Latina and that will definitely attract some readers (and  perhaps turn off others).

Sierra is a homegirl from around the way in Brooklyn who loves to draw and do murals. Her family is cool although her aunt's casual racism gets on her nerves. Her abuelo is a kindly old man who is not in the best of health but then one day he begins telling Sierra a bunch of stuff about the past and about powers that she can barely believe exist much less use.

As if things on the home front weren't complicated enough, Robbie is a Haitian American kid who comes into Sierra's life. He introduces her to new spots in the city where the patrons sweat to the rhythms of Caribbean music. The problem is that when the weird stuff starts happening he always disappears. Sierra is caught between catching feelings fro him and wondering if he is not good for her.

Like many other novels aimed at teens the story is as much about adolescence and making your own decisions as it is about dealing with magic powers. The book is also a commentary on something that I have heard before from talking to academics- cultural appropriation for personal gain. The novel's antagonist tries to use powers that he barely understands in order to gain even more power.

Here's why I think you should read this book:
-Sierra is as good a protagonist as any that I have seen in the dozens of novels I've read this year.
-Magic and mystical powers are not confined solely to European or European-American characters, the Caribbean has its fair share of those as well.
-Murals that actually change appearance!

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Canciones para storytime

 At my library we have to do read alouds and since I speak Spanish I am responsible for a class of Spanish-speaking students. Prior to doing this I did a Spanish (not bilingual) storytime and over time I developed a repertoire of engaging songs, rhymes and finger plays to use. I will share some of them in this blog.

A classic in many languages is the Itsy Bitsy spider. This is a cute version and I like how the singer is very engaging as she sings the song, with silly sounds and hand movements galore.  For a bit of a twist on the song I could see one using a spider puppet or prop to really provide a good visual.

Jose Luis Orozco has cd after cd replete with songs for every occasion. Los elefantes is one of my favorite rhymes for children and I like it because you can use it as an action song to get kids up and moving around. Feel free to use some of these elephant prop masks or make some yourself with paper plates for example.

Another action rhyme that never fails me is El chocolate. Use the cd version or sing it yourself. I like to do exaggerated movements for the songs as the kids really get into it. The version I linked to is just one version and I know that Mr. Orozco has several. It is good to be able to switch things up as necessary so try to learn as many versions as possible.

 Back in my teaching days one of my colleagues swore that her older students would ask her to do this song that they learned back in kinder and 1st grade, such was their affection for the song.  Juguemos en el bosque is a good song in that it builds suspense, can be used to teach various vocabulary words (clothes, body parts etc.) and is just plain fun. The version here is a bit slower paced but as usual feel free to modify and adjust.

This next song is called El loro Tico Tango and to me it is more appropriate for preschool aged kids especially if you are going to use it as a flannel board as I have done. The actual cd (which comes as part of a book) has the song. The song may be a bit long so feel free to modify, skip parts etc. I found an excerpt here.  I like how the overall message of the song is sharing and caring for ones friends.

I will finish this blog with my personal favorite, Mi cuerpo as done by my namesake Josh Levine. It is a simple song to get kids up and shaking their hips and is a good break especially if you are in a storytime an the kids have been sitting for a while. Here is another bilingual version of the song. I find however that the English part lacks a little bit of the catchiness but it is still good nonetheless.

Hasta luego!!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Bilingual books and books in Spanish for children

As the holidays draw near, some of my friends have asked me about books in Spanish or bilingual English-Spanish books that are suitable for children. It is always hard to find good books that fall into that category so I have spent the last few weeks browsing the catalogs of various library systems here in the Denver metro area to see what I could find. Here I will highlight some of the better ones that I found.

Elephant and Piggie are always hilarious, heartwarming and tender (sometimes on one page) and I was glad to see that this transferred into Spanish. Debo Compartir Mi Helado by Mo Willems centers around Gerald the Elephant's hardest decision ever- whether or not he should share his ice cream.

What if there was a cute dog who was made even cuter when he put on a sombrero and then lived the most fantastic life imaginable? That is the premise of Derek Taylor Kent's El Perro con Sombrero: A Bilingual Doggy Tale. Pepe is adorable but just when he thinks he has it made in the shade he has to look out for the age old enemy of dogs- cats. This is a really fun book that is very family-oriented and culturally appropriate as well.

René Saldaña Jr is the author of books such as and in this  book, Dale, dale, dale, Una fiesta de números we are transported to a birthday party that could be taking place in any Spanish-speaking country (or in anyone of a thousand barrios across the U.S. for that matter) and at the end of the book we see the kids getting to crack open the pinata. What fun!

Another counting book that also manages to incorporate the cultural phenomenon known as lucha libre is written and illustrated by Xavier Garza and is called The Great and Mighty Nikko. In it a young boy imagines that his toys are real life luchadores and he then goes on to count them as they tussle with each other much to his mom's chagrin. The illustrations in this book arent the most professional but they lend a certain charm to it. It is a bilingual book so there is the Spanish and English text side by side.

At times I feel that the beauty of curly or kinky hair is not as appreciated as it should be and so I was happy to see a book called Dalia's Wonderful Hair /El cabello maravilloso de Dalia by Laura Lacamara. This traces the adventures of a young Cuban girl whose hair magically sprouts one night attracting a plethora of insects and other creatures. This book is as much a Cuban Alice in Wonderland as it is an ode to the beautiful land of Cuba and a celebration of the unique cultural heritage of Cubans and by extension Latinos.

This next book is perhaps better suited as a read aloud in a classroom or for a parent or caregiver to read to a little one.  Franciscos' Kites/Las cometas de Francisco by Alicia Z. Klepeis  is a story about missing home, moving away and is a book that can help a child deal with moving away from people and places that they love.  Other themes such as social responsibility and the entrepreneurial spirit are also touched on as well.

Some of these books can be read in story times and read alouds and some of them cannot. Mango, abuela and me by Meg Medina is in the latter category as I think it is a tad bit too long for a story time. It can though be used as part of a lesson to talk abut a variety of topic as it manages to cover topics such as family, migration and language. We see a little girl who lives in a land far way from her grandmother but one day the older lady comes to live with the girl's family and she bonds with her despite them both not having enough language to communicate well.

Adivinanzas con beso para las buenas noches by Sofia Rhei is the first nonfiction read on this list. Riddles are a great way to develop language fluency and these can be read by a parent to a child or by an older child on their own to help practice fluency. These riddles are a great way to teach culture as well.

This last new book by Julie Paschkis is called Flutter & Hum Animal poems and it is one that I like not only because I love introducing kids to poetry but also because unlike a lot of bilingual books the Spanish translations are excellent. (Read the first poem about the snake and you will see for yourself). It also has a gorgeous cover image that just draws you in.

Till, next time, hasta luego!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

House Arrest by K.A. Holt

 Sometimes when a book gains popularity other books written in a similar style are quickly published. With the immense success of last year's The Crossover by Kwame Alexander it is no surprise that House Arrest by K.A. Holt has come to the forefront as it is written in a flowing, free verse style.

We know from the title that the main character Timothy, through whose eyes we see the novel's events, has done something wrong. As I read the book and discovered what exactly he had done I found his tone to be unrepentant and slightly cocky but as the novel progresses I understood why. His overworked mother burns the candle on both ends in order to make ends meet and his baby brother Levi was born with a serious birth defect.  In an attempt to help him deal with his complex emotions and the turmoil in his life, his probation officer James tells him to write his thoughts down in a journal.

Much of the book revolves around the family's search for a good in-home nurse and Timothy's attempts to get a doctor to help with the complicated surgery his little brother needs. This is not the only aspect of the narrative however as Timothy also finds himself developing a crush. His descriptions of the feelings he experiences when in his crush's presence are some of the lighter moments in the book.

This book is a testament to family, friendship and triumph in the face of adversity. A large part of the story revolves around decision making and the consequences of poor decisions. With such a tangled narrative a book like this can have no happy ending and this one does not, however it leaves the door open for future installments. I recommend it for ages 11+.

Some read alikes to this book are My Brotherś Keeper by Patricia McCormick and Fallout by Ellen Hopkins.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Bubble Wrap Boy by Phil Earle

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By day, Charlie Han is a regular kid who despite his best efforts is rather clumsy. By night he is a delivery boy for his parents' Chinese takeout restaurant. He does have one secret however; and considering that his mom is a helicopter parent like no other (he's fourteen years old and there's still a baby gate at the top of his stairs) this secret could land him in big trouble- Charlie Han loves to skateboard and is actually quite good at it.

There is something else going on however. Charlie's mom is getting increasingly tired and Charlie suspects that it may be because those night classes that she signs up for may not be classes after all. What he finds out however may be more than he can handle.

Every family has secrets and skeletons in the closet but of course some are more serious than others. Secrets in and of themselves aren't bad but usually people are more annoyed that they haven't been told things. Charlie falls into this category and he must learn how to cope.

Coming of age novels can sometimes be very dark and heavy reading. Earle gets around this by starting off the book very lightly. I almost thought it would be one of the books with lots of shenanigans and cheap guffaws throughout and yes there are light moments but Charlies life definitely changes irrevocably by the novels end.

This book was written in England and has two covers, one for overseas and one for North America. I was amused when I saw the blue cover as it actually had a boy wrapped in bubble wrap. This book would be appropriate for ages 11+ as I think children of that age would be able to make sense of the many complicated emotions Charlie experiences and his evolving relationship with his parents and in particular with his mother.

Monday, October 19, 2015

All-American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kelly

Recent events in our country have shown that despite the election of the country's first African-American President, the spectre of race still has not disappeared. The police are an important and necessary public institution but perhaps some of the methods used to police poor and minority communities need to be reexamined. One wonders also how many instances of police brutality would go unpunished if there were no such thing as camera phones. It is no wonder that police departments nationwide are adopting body cameras.

 All-American Boys is co-written by two authors, one African-American, one White and I think this lends some authenticity to the narrative. Cover images are so very important in attracting readers and this book does a good job in that regard with the novel's title in red and blue and a young man standing with his hands raised.

Told from two viewpoints, the young African-American youth Rashad is for all intents and purposes an All-American teen. He is active in sports, is gregarious and is enrolled in ROTC. His dad was both a former soldier and police officer and firmly believes in both institutions. The young white teen Quinn could also be described as an All-American kid as he also plays sports (on the same team as Rashad), is a dutiful older brother to his pesky brother Will and is a good son to his widowed mom.  Those similarities are the only things they have in common however.

In many senses this is a coming of age story because Rashad is forever changed (physically and mentally) and Quinn's relationship with his own friends and with Rashad is altered dramatically. The authors give a very accurate portrayal of the inner torment both characters experience as they begin to change their world view and alter their beliefs.

Some of the language and situations described are a tad graphic and for this reason I would recommend this novel for ages 13+. Some read alikes are How it Went Down by Kekla Magoon and Tyrell by Coe Booth. One quote from the novel resonated very deeply with me "If you are neutral in times of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor." Very true indeed.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Graphic novels for kids and tweens

There are some great reads out there with just enough action, heart and sensitivity to keep kids enthralled.  I searched various blogs and religiously checked the new books cart at my branch in order to find some of these. The books down the list are a little older but are still great reads.

Gene Luen Yang is the man behind some great graphic novels such as American Born Chinese, Shadows and Saints and The Shadow Hero. The book Secret Coders functions in two ways. First it is a classic story of middle school angst (fitting in, bullying etc.) but it is also a mystery story and the young protagonists have to use coding skills to figure it out.

Ben Hatke (Zita the SpaceGirl series) has come up with another book that sees people of different backgrounds working together for a good cause. Little Robot  sees a little girl encounter a strange, small robot who communicates with weird sounds. The two soon find themselves on the run from a huge, scary robot intent on recapturing the little robot.

The New York City subway is one of the largest in the world and can be crazy to navigate at times. Imagine if you have never done it before and you were on a class trip and got lost.  That is the premise of the book Lost in NYC: A Graphic Adventure by Nadja Spiegelman. Two classmates are separated from the rest of their class and must make their way back to the group or else they could find themselves in big trouble.

Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick is another new book that caught my eye. I love the fact that the two earthlings are both minorities, that is very refreshing to see in a graphic novel.  A kid called D.J. finds a strange boy one day and then discovers that the boy is from another planet. Not only that but he has some strange powers. Life is not going to be boring any more.

Bird and Squirrel: On the Run by James Burks. Scholastic, 2012 ...Road trips are always cool especially when the road trippers are at opposite ends of the spectrum personality wise. When they are different species the trip can get really interesting and that is the basic premise of Bird & Squirrel: On the run by James Burke. Squirrel always wears his helmet and diligently stores food for the winter Bird on the other hand is a free spirit who soars around the forest without a care in the world. When Cat gets on their trail the two animals will have to cooperate or else...

His Amulet series is a masterpiece and Japanese writer Kaza Kubuishi's name has been placed on a variety of works. This compilation of short stories is called Undersea Explorers and all seven stories have something to do with the ocean in some form or the other. Many of the stories use various mythologies from around the world as a starting point and some of them have great lessons about friendship, conservation and teamwork.

As long as there are kids there will be bullies and conflicts with those of their ilk. Frank Cammuso explores this topic in a light-hearted way in his Knights of the Lunch Table series. A group of friends are knights, not in a sword and shield way but more in a band together, make good choices, save the day kind of way. There are some clever references to mythology (the main character's name is Artie King) and the teacher that helps them out is called Mr. Merlyn. These kids aren't the brawniest so they will have to use their smarts to save the day. I like this series a lot.

These are just a sampling but you can check here and here for more picks and reviews. Feel free to leave your recommendations in the comments section. Til next time!

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall

Book JacketHistorical fiction reads for younger reads aren't always the most popular or entertaining reads I must admit. I can't remember the last time a young customer has requested one of them in the library. However, when one does find a book that is not only based on historical events but is also a transcendent story then it must be lauded. Shelley Pearsall's The Seventh Most Important Thing is one such book.

Set in a grittier part of Washington DC we meet young Arthur T. Owens just after he threw a brick at a man known as Young Man. Arthur's life changes after this not only because he has to work for the Junk Man (collecting various materials) but also because he has to report to a no nonsense probation officer called Officer Billie. Arthur's life at school changes as well when he befriends a strange kid called Squeak. True to his name, Squeak is small, mouse-like in his demeanor but he also proves to be a loyal and devoted companion.

The central theme of the book however is Arthur's relationship with the Junk Man. The latter harbors no ill will toward Arthur and instead is glad for assistance with his project which is complex in its execution and grand in its scope. Arthur's view of the world will never be the same after his experience with the Junk Man.

I recommend this book for ages 10+ due to some language and the content. It is a well-written book and one that made me feel very positive after reading it. I say this because there was no superhero or deus ex machina to save the day. Instead, introspection, personal growth and accountability were the powers used to solve problems.

Some read likes for this book are The Paper Cowboy by Susan Levine, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass and Kizzy Ann Stamps by Jerry Hanel Watts.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Stonebird by Mike Revell

Book JacketIn the late nineties there was an excellent cartoon series called Gargoyles featuring some gargoyles that came to life at night, helped a police detective solve crimes and made light-hearted banter with each other. I remember that the excellent Keith David voiced the lead gargoyleś voice.

As creatures that had lived for hundreds if not thousands of years the gargoyles were very noble, principled beings. Gargoyles on the whole are supposed to represent fierce protectors whose very appearance is enough to deter those who wish to do evil.What if however a kid could control them by simply saying a few words.

The novel Stonebird by Mike Revell deals with a young boy called Liam whose parents are divorced. On top of that his older sister is going through a phase, he's just moved to a new school where he knows no one and to top it off his dear grandmother is ill in the hospital. Then one day he discovers a diary his granny kept when she was his age and his opinion of her changes. What really excites Liam is that a strange stone creature seems to be his protector He just needs to find out why.

Many tv shows and more than a few novels often portray bad guys or antagonists as people who deserve what's coming to them. That way, when the hero socks them one we can jump and cheer. Reality is often quite the opposite and this novel shows just that. Liam finds that his nemesis has his own reasons for acting the way he does and this knowledge makes him question his own behavior.

Though the book does not have a happy ending, the conclusion is satisfying. I will say that his book is written by a British author and although it seems that some of the references have been modified so that American readers will not get lost there are some words in the book that some parents may not approve of. Also the subject matter is very emotionally intense so for this reason I recommend the book for ages 10+.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Stormstruck by John Macfarlane

Book JacketAll through junior high and high school I was a member of a Boy Scout troop- A Sea Scout troop to be precise. We learned a lot about knots, basic navigation, clouds and we bonded through camps and other adventures. More than anything though, the life lessons have stuck with me all through life. There is something about leaving the confines of land in a small craft at the mercy of the elements that builds teamwork, character and camaraderie.

Stormstruck is written by John Macfarlane, an ex-Navy serviceman. In it a headstrong boy called Sam determines to save his faithful pooch Pogo from a certain death by making a sea journey. As you would expect. things soon go awry and they have to help each other survive. There are other elements to the story as well- Sam constantly references the wise sayings of his older brother Steve and later  in the novel we discover why.

 I remember reading The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in college and the line "twas water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink" has always stuck with me as being perhaps the worst thing about being lost at sea. The book is told in a first person viewpoint and on more than one occasion the search for water and his burning thirst are Sam's major predicaments.

Macfarlane's knowledge of sea survival is astounding and he is able to transmit that through Sam's voice. Sam, for his part is a very capable young seaman. As you would expect there are lots of twists and turns in the story and just when we think he is safe some other calamity befalls him making for a compelling read indeed.

This story has echoes of classic survival reads such as The Call of the Wild and The Old Man and the Sea but with a youthful exuberance of books such as Down the Yukon by Will Hobbs. I recommend it for ages 9+.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Some cool library blogs and websites

A good rule about blogging is that you should read other blogs both to see how people structure their posts but also to see what other professionals in the field are thinking and doing. So today I will highlight some blogs that I ether follow or check from time to time .

I am very pleased to call this lady a colleague. Not only is Mary extremely passionate about early literacy but she is also an accomplished ukulele player and her blog has great tips for parents and caregivers of little ones, several story time staples as well as videos of cool activities you can use in a story time or read aloud. Check her out!

Abby the librarian is another wonderful (and very pink) blog that I found online.   She gives tidbits about her life as a librarian, provides highlights of conferences she attends and I really dig how she does book talks and she also includes some read alikes, something I will try doing myself on this blog in the future.

STEM and STEAM are all the rage now and this librarianś blog is devoted to exploring all things science. This is a good site to get programming ideas, see what's going on in the STEM world or get ideas for things you can do at home with your own children. I confess that I have done all three with this site. Ms Koester also provides many other resources for more information about STEM, books to use etc. Excellent resource.

I can't ever remember talking to librarians when I was in library school (apart from my darling wife) and I wish that I had done so some more. The name of this blog drew me in and whilst on the site I was amazed by the many and varied posts she has about a variety of topics. Of particular interest to me was a post directed at prospective children's librarians,  a post about mentoring and one about burn out . It is good to see people reflect on things and it is also great to see that there are other people with the same issues, questions and thoughts about the profession as yourself.

The library where I work is in a residential neighborhood and there are at least ten schools (and more under construction) within a five mile radius. I interact with a lot of teachers and students and I think it is good to see what school librarians are up to. I found this blog and as you would expect it has a large amount of book reviews that are listed by reading level and interest. I like that there are lots of HILO books (high interest low reading level) and many diverse books as well. I firmly believe that people across the spectrum need to see themselves represented in literature.The author also includes some tips on how not to plagiarize material as well as a link to the school's catalog and links to databases.

Finally this isn't a blog at all but rather two magnificent librarians uploading dozens of songs-some with props and some without. The Jbrary ladies have saved me on on many occasions when I have to do read alouds at nearby schools and have run out of songs to sing. Check them out, it is well worth it!

Monday, September 7, 2015

National Hispanic Heritage Month crafts

National Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15th through October 15th and during this time we recognize the many and varied accomplishments Hispanics and Latinos have made to American culture, politics and life in general. If your city has school groups that do folkloric dance I bet those groups would be willing to perform at community events or at libraries and other community places. Such a program would be excellent and a craft would be the icing on the cake. If no such group is available then crafts are an excellent way to celebrate the month.

Some of these crafts I have done and some I am yet to try. This first craft is one of my all time favorites because it is easy and it allows for an explanation about the tradition of lucha libre in the Spanish-speaking world.

Mexican wrestlers

I like recycle crafts because I can teach the kids a simple lesson without being too preachy. This particular craft involves using old paper grocery bags to make sarapes.  Kids can be as creative as they want too and I usually have some made before hand as well as pictures of some so the kids can get an idea of what they're supposed to look like.

Another cool craft that is easy to make and that can be part of a craft/music program is a shaker or maraca. These can be used in a small ensemble and kids usually enjoy shaking the life out of them. Toilet paper rolls, empty tin cans, plastic cups and paper plates can all be used to make these.

Image result for make shaker crafts 

Learning a language is learning a culture and part of that is knowing what certain words are and their significance. A small picture dictionary is a fun way for kids to increase their vocabulary as well as solidify their letter knowledge. 

Ojo de dios are classic crafts and kids of all ages can complete them with a little help and a short demo.

Addtional resources:

Scholastic's Hispanic Heritage Month site has games, information about famous Latinos as well as a teacher's guide.

Time for kids is another excellent site with crafts, activities, printables and profiles of influential Hispanic Americans.

Here are some fantastic books to share with children about Hispanic Heritage month.

The National Education Association (NEA) has a trove of lessons, activities and other ways to celebrate the month.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart

The Honest Truth,9780545665735After reading R.J. Palacio's Wonder I thought that I would be hard-pressed to find a middle grade novel that would affect me as profoundly as that one did. Boy was I wrong. The Honest Truth moved me to tears on a few occasion and is a fine debut novel indeed.

It is always terrible to read about someone suffering from an incurable disease.. When the someone is a kid however it is many times worse. Books such as Wonder feature the protagonist having to deal with the quotidian effects on their family. Where Gemeinhart's novel differs from those is that the protagonist takes his destiny into his own hands.

Mountains symbolize so many things for different people. Some folks like the peace and serenity. Others ponder their life and still others think of the sense of accomplishment. For Mark, the protagonist of the story, climbing Mt. Rainier will perhaps be all of those things as well as being one of the few things that he will have control over.

Running away is not advisable even if one were a healthy kid much less one suffering with a serious illness. For Mark, a young boy travelling in harsh terrain in the dead of winter, the journey is even more treacherous. Armed with meager supplies, his trusty pooch Beau and an unshakable will he presses on. As a parent, I could well understand how worried his parents were but at the same time after learning about all he had gone through in his short life I was definitely rooting for him to complete his quest.

This novel is a good story in that it does not have a happy ending in the true sense of the term. Also readers of different ages may derive differing meanings from the text. The novel made me ponder my own life and my many responsibilities. I admire Mark for throwing caution to the wind because sometimes in life one must take risks in order to achieve great things. The Honest Truth  is a fine read for grades 4 and above.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Fire Children by Lauren Roy

The Fire Children by Lauren Roy (new YA fantasy) 1 day 13 hours ago #1Throughout history people have worshiped different faiths and carried out acts such as human sacrifice and temple building to appease their gods.  What if a god actually came to earth?  What if you could talk to the god or dance with him?  Lauren Roy explores just this in The Fire Children.

    Set in an ancient civilization in what I am guessing is somewhere in the Middle East, Yulla lives with her older sister Kell and their loving parents. The girls work hard to help their parents with the many chores. There is another reason too...the Darktimes will soon be upon them.

True to its name during this time the people go below ground after leaving offerings for the gods. Yulla gets tired of living in utter darkness and begins to explore the underground caverns. She discovers something she is not meant to see and she meets a fire  child called Ember. They don't get long to make pleasantries for they soon find themselves working together to rescue the rest of his siblings from an evil force.

The teenage years are usually when we begin to look at the world differently so I think it is no coincidence that Yulla meets Ember at this stage of her life. She is too old for the stories her elders tell but she is still a firm believer in the codes of conduct. Thus at first she is unsure of just how to interact with this being who is made of heat.  He is a child of the sun but he is not invincible however for there are some evil people who want to annihilate all of his kind.

When I picked this book up I was wondering if a story about children made out of fire could go well and I was pleasantly surprised. Roy does a fantastic job of creating a world that draws you right in and the mythology is entirely believable. This book is not as action-packed as some others but it is still a very good read. The Fire Children is a story of redemption, forgiveness, family and first love. I recommend it for tweens and above.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Learn español with music!

I used to be a Spanish teacher and I was fortunate to have a smartboard with huge speakers which I would use to blast tunes for my kids. Over the years I found that kids of all ages liked to listen to and sing along with music. The younger kids like bright, funny videos with simple lyrics while the older students, especially after studying the language for a few years could handle slightly more nuanced songs.

Some Spanish teachers start by teaching every one the alphabet. If you are looking for a good vid for that I recommend this one by PreRaph. The singer's voice isn't the most melodic but this song is extremely catchy and I also like that it also breaks down the vowel sounds as well.

There are many ways to say Hello in English and just as many ways to do so in Spanish. This video from Plaza Sesamo (a version of Sesame Street set in Mexico) introduces many ways to say hello with a catchy song that little ones are sure to be singing for a while. With older students you can talk about the ways in which the phrases differ and the context.

Many young ones are kinestehic learners and let's face it, Spanish class has to have a little fun every now and again right?  A good way to teach verbs in a way the students are sure to remember is through a song where the singers or characters do the actions. I am yet to meet a child who did not engage with the vid below. It is a winner.

For the basic greetings and daily phrases I like this video. It shows the words on the screen which is always a good thing.

For other vocabulary I like this video because not only does it show the body parts but the song is also catchy. There is also a karaoke version on Youtube.

In terms of conversation and dialogue between characters this next set of videos are fantastic. This one is created by PBS and features a tween called Noah who has many zany adventures due to his inability to fully comprehend Spanish.

This series was featured on HBO Latino several years ago but thanks to the interwebs it has gained new life. Perro (dog) y gato (cat) are two friends who speak in English and Spanish to each other as they go on zany adventures. Each episode teaches a variety of vocabular (verbs, nouns, adjectives) and the words are shown in English and Spanish so that is good.

That's all for now, I will post some more of my favorites in the next few months.  Hasta luego!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Back to School crafts

Believe it or not summer is over and the kiddos are going back to school. For the little ones, the first few days are usually spent teaching the rules, getting to know each other and practicing routines.

Some teachers incorporate crafts into those first days because it helps build hand muscles that will be used to practice writing letters and numbers later on. I have scoured the web to find some crafts that will appeal not only to teachers but also to homeschoolers, librarians and those of that ilk.

I did the pencils below last week at craft hour and they were delightful. Parents and kids alike found them to be very cute and of course they can be personalized to suit individual desires. In the pic below the pencil tip is drawn on but I glued a piece of construction paper onto the pallet stick and used a sharpie to color the tip and it looked just fine.


For tomorrow's craft I plan to decorate pencils and pens with yarn, here are two of the samples that I have to show. I added the pom poms as a pièce de résistance!

Pencil toppers are always a nice idea and you can use chenille sticks and any number of materials. But I found these pretty simple crafts using craft foam, scissors, glue and some markers.

Crafts aren't only for little ones however and for this craft you can get older kids to help out although I think that when they see the colorful duct tape they will want to dive right in. I have seen duct tape wallets, pouches, bracelets and such but this duct tape lanyard is perfect for kids who may have to have keys, school ids and such within easy reach (somehow putting things in bookbags doesn't always work). These simple duct tape lanyards are useful, colorful and original.

Often on social media I see parents post pics of their little ones holding signs saying "I'm a 4th grader" etc so I wanted to find some cool signs since I myself am thinking about doing that this year with my two sons. This link has a ton of  them in all colors and some can be customized as you like. Be careful however as it is easy to spend an hour or more just browsing. Until next time, happy crafting!

Friday, August 7, 2015

My Brother is a Superhero by David Solomons

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Any serious comic book aficionado can probably tell you the backstory of most of the main superheroes and probably a few of the other lesser known ones as well so well known is the mythology behind these fictional characters. The proliferation of summer blockbuster films has also helped propel the characters into the zeitgeist.

In some of the superhero-themed novels I have read, the main character acquires some sort of superpower and then has to learn to use it but My Brother is a Superhero however is different because, true to the title, the main character's older brother is the one given powers.

Luke is an ordinary kid who likes comic books a whole lot. He hangs out with Serge, a French kid who is always hungry. Life is normal for him until one night when while hanging out in their tree house his older brother Zack is given super powers.  As if that wasn't bad enough, Zack gets really cool powers and he soon turns into the city's hero despite the fact that (in Luke's mind anyway) his chosen name of Star Guy is kinda lame.

Soon however two things derail Star Guy. One is a mysterious force called Nemesis who he must defeat and two, he may have super powers but in school he is just a regular fourteen year old kid who is tongue-tied when it comes to talking to girls.  Luke, though younger is able to one-up his brother in this regard as he soon starts hanging out with their junior reporter neighbor.

Solomons does a good job of balancing the superhero stuff with the other story threads. The result is a book that has it all-action, laughs, sibling rivalry and a generous sprinkling of superhero trivia. This was a great little read and I recommend it for ages 9+.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Foam Crafts

Last week in our craft hour I decided to do a simple foam craft with various foam shapes glued on to foam rectangles that I cut. I decided to make them small so the kids would have to maximize  their effort and also because I knew that a large surface would have taken longer to fill. I wanted to strike a balance between the kids having just enough fun without being overwhelmed and getting frustrated.  I kept it simple and used:
1. foam shapes   2. foam squares  3. glue  4. scissors                                                                         

My son made this creation to show his love for all things ninja turtle. He did way more cutting than I thought he would; he actually cut a piece of another larger foam bit to make the bo staff and he cut the TMNT letters as well.  I love how he made the shell out of a circle and then wrote Donatello on some small foam pieces.  I don't expect a younger child to be able to do this craft without some serious help but I just wanted to show what can be achieved with just the right bit of ingenuity. Bear in mind too that he is right at that age where he is still interested in doing crafts; I know that soon he will begin to view them as ¨baby stuff¨.

Here are some other simple designs we came up with. These are all things that can be done by a smaller child with perhaps just a small bit of grown up help for the gluing part. Remember that crafts such as this one are a good way for preschoolers and young kids to build fine motor skills.  Notice that the creations below are made with shapes; there were foam animals and other creatures but I deliberately used shapes because I think that doing so forces little ones to use their imaginations more.

Until next time, happy crafting!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Galgorithm by Aaron Karo

    Imagine that there was a formula that you could use whenever you had a crush on someone that was almost guaranteed to work. Imagine if there was a list of techniques that, if followed faithfully would eventually make the cutie you were eyeing start to like you back. Now imagine if a high school senior was the one who had devised such a strategy. What do you think he would do with it? Galgorithm by Aaron Karo explores what could happen if such a scenario were to occur.

 Shane is a high school senior in a cushy middle class  suburb in California. He makes good grades, stays out of trouble and is generally well-liked. He hangs out with his best friend Jak (Jennifer Annabelle Kalkland) mostly but he has a secret that even she doesn't know- he is a dating consultant sought out by lovelorn students throughout the school.

   Shane's methods seem to be very effective however- he has hooked up the most unlikely couples. Balloon and Hedgehog, Reed and Marisol to name a few. But soon things start getting weird. A staff member at school seeks Shane out desperate for help with a colleague and Shane must decide if he wants to help a grown up.Then one of the most attractive girls at school falls for Shane but he can't shake the nagging feeling that he likes someone else. He will have to make some hard decisions.

If you are looking for a book that analyzes teen problems and tries to find a cause for their angst then this book isn't for you. This was a breezy read filled with beautiful, high-achieving kids. Although I don't usually read books like this I admit that I enjoyed it very much. I highly recommend this book for readers aged 13+.