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Realistic Fiction Booktalks Part 1

This month’s theme for the 3rd/4th grade book talk is Realistic Fiction. A huge genre and a with a broad range of reading levels in this group makes this a challenge. I am going to include some classic titles, some newer titles, and some so new I had to call down to cataloging/processing to ask if they could rush it for the program! I plan on bringing a whole bunch of books, with a book list, but only focusing on a few highlights.

I think I’ll start with one of my favorite picture books, which I think this grade level will appreciate, plus is applicable. It’s Not Fair by Amy Krouse Rosenthal covers all the ways that life is not fair, from your brother getting the bigger half of the cookie, to the babies in bassinets complaining about how unfair they’ve gotten it in life. In some ways this is realistic fiction: all the things in life that are unfair in one way or another.

Zelly in When Life Gives You O.J. thinks life is pretty unfair, not only did her family move to Vermont, but her loud obnoxious grandfather Ace has moved in–and to top it all off her parents still wont let her get the one thing she wants more then anything–a dog! One day her grandfather tells her he has a plan to solve her problem and get her that dog she wants, Zelly just has to agree to do EXACTLY what he tells her to do. Of course she agrees–she wants that dog! But then he gives her an empty O.J. jug and tells her it is the answer–but what does orange juice have to do with dogs? Ace tells Zelly it will be a “practice dog,” and that if she can show her parents she can take care of it, then they might relent on the real dog issue. Zelly is skeptical–how can she treat the O.J. jug like a real dog, it is nothing alike! Ace tells her she has to feed it and water it (put food and water inside the jug) and take it on walks three times a day (twice to empty out the food and water and once for exercise) and she has to pick up the pretend poo. While Zelly really wants a dog, she is not sure that anything is worth the embarrassment of walking down the street dragging an orange juice carton. But she gave her word she’d do whatever her grandfather told her to do to get the dog, so she agrees. To find out what happens when Zelly takes on her practice pet, and to see if she ever gets a real dog, read When Life Gives You O.J. by Erica Perl.

Unlike Zelly, Peter in Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing already has the pet of his dreams Dribble, that’s not his problem. His mom isn’t his problem either, even though she is convinced that Dribble stinks, and makes Peter wash up a million times before she’s satisfied he’s clean. No, Peter’s problem is his brother Fudge. In Peter’s own words:

If you’ve ever had an annoying little sibling, or been one, you might enjoy reading about the crazy things Fudge does that Peter has to put up with–especially to poor Dribble.

While Peter makes no secret of the fact his brother drives him crazy, Jack in Small as an Elephant keeps his family problems hidden. When he wakes up on the first day of vacation in Maine and his mom is gone–along with all of the camping equipment, the car, and the food and money–he knows he can’t tell anyone. If he does they’ll never have the chance to be together again, so Jack sets off to find his mom. Relying on his wits and luck, Jack has to survive on his own, while looking for his mom, and keeping the fact that she is missing at all a secret. How long do you think you could survive with no money, no food, no parents, far away from your home and the people you know? To find out how Jack survives, and if he finds his mom, and what the big secret is, as well as figuring out about the small elephant Jack carries with him read Small as an Elephant by Jennifer Jacobson.

Zitally’s father also had a secret–he wasn’t in the country legally–and when the cops pulled him over they sent him back to Mexico. She’s worried about him, far away, alone, and wonders if he will try to rejoin them, and if he does will he be safe. One day, as she’s wandering in the junk yard behind the trailer park where she lives, she finds a beautiful dog chained to a rusted out heap of junk. Starved, wounded, and afraid, the dog seems to have been left for dead. Zitally slowly befriends the dog, nursing it back to health. Right as she receives news that her father has been kidnapped while trying to return to them, Zitally finds that her dog has also mysteriously disappeared. Will she ever find her missing dog? Will her father be safe? To find out read Star in the Forest.

Ruby Lu’s life also changes due to immigration–when her aunt and uncle and cousin move from China to stay with them. But for Ruby it is pretty much a party every day–she gets to show her cousin Flying Duck off to all of the neighborhood kids, and be a smile buddy at school. But not everything goes right, even for the self proclaimed “Empress of Everything.” Ruby has a list of tasks to conquer this summer, including dreaded swimming lessons, and getting along with her grumpy neighbor. But if she’s lucky it also might include a new furry friend. To find out all about Ruby Lu’s adventures read Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything.

Like Ruby hated swimming, Jack in Love that Dog started out hating poetry. As he wrote:

I don’t want to

Because boys

Don’t write poetry.

Girls do.

But he finds that boys can write poetry, and that while some poems might not ring any bells for you, sometimes a poem can help you express your feelings better then just plain words. And while it takes a while for Jack to get around to it, he finds he can write about his dog where he could not speak about him. To find out about Jack’s dog, and how poetry can be cool for boys and girls, read Love that Dog.

While Jack wasn’t sure if he should listen to his teacher and write poems about what he was feeling, Tommy in The Strange Case of Origami Yoda isn’t sure if he should listen to one of his classmates. See Dwight has what may be called the most unusual pet of all the kids in these books–stranger than a small elephant, or even an O.J. practice dog–he has an origami Yoda. That’s right, he has a piece of paper folded in the shape of Yoda that he carries around with him. And what is worse, it talks. Well, Dwight talks for it, but Yoda says stuff, and when people listen, sometimes good stuff happens. So Tommy needs to know if he should take the origami yoda’s advice. In order to figure this out, he gets all the kids he can find who had a origami yoda experience write down what happened to them. He hopes that by looking at all the evidence he can decide if he should take the advice. To find out for yourself if Origami Yoda has wisdom that Tommy should follow, read The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger.


Favorite Standby Booktalks

As a librarian, I am always trying to find new books to entice kids to read, something fresh to lure kids into picking up a book. However, I have my favorite books that I pull out to recommend, ones I read as a child, or even that my parents might have read when they were young. While I discard old copies, with dated covers, I gladly plunk down money over and over for new versions, with fresh covers. Today I’m going to tell you two of these books I pull out regularly to recommend for kids who ask for scary stories.

The updated cover is really nice and spooky, but it is only paperback and inexplicably the prebound edition is the 1980's verson.

Vintage 1980s cover

Another classic cover

Ghost stories are perennially popular, and my first recommendation is usually Wait Til Helen Comes, by Mary Downing Hahn, mistress of spooky tales.

When Molly and Micheal’s mother gets married they, along with their new step sister Heather, move into the countryside into an odd old house. Not only is the house way out in the countryside, leaving them stuck with their bratty new stepsister, but it is super creepy–a converted church, with all kinds of surprises, such as a graveyard in the back yard. If that’s not enough, Heather starts talking about her new friend Helen, a ghost. Molly and Micheal are not sure what to make of this, are ghosts real? Maybe in a spooky place like their new house. But the biggest question of all is: if Helen is real, a real ghost, what does she want from Heather, and how far will she go to get it?

Now many of the kids have already read this one, and if they liked it (most kids still really love it) I recommend another spooky classic, by another master of the children’s gothic genre. The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. There are some similarities between these two, and both have had an assortment of different covers. This one actually has more as it is older and a Newbery honor award winner.

We still have this one on the shelf--kids do check it out even with this cover!

We also have this one on the shelf, I'm not sure if it really conveys the mood of the book.
Like in Wait Till Helen Comes, this book features a spooky old house, a new step sister and possible ghostly going guests. When the Stanley children’s father remarries they gain a new step-sister and move into a spooky old house. Amanda, the step-sister, is a 12 yr old who seems mysterious and who claims to have studied witchcraft and have powers. She wants to teach the four children, but when the cupid’s head in the hall is removed the children have to face the fact that these powers might be real or there might be other forces at work. Is Amanda a witch, or is there some other force at work in this spooky house? Read The Headless Cupid to find out!

I’d love other spooky recommendations, whether old or new to share with my ghost loving patrons.

Meya Monday Returns

With the end of the Summer Reading Program it is back to programming as usual, and here is our Meya ready to go. She’s got some pink glasses to protect her eyes, and is excited to be back to blogging!

Worst Case Scenario Teen Program Day

So you plan, you prepare, you pull books, you promote, and your perfect program is ready to go! Teens are tricky, but you’re sure they’ll come, and they do–in droves! Yay! A success, but wait… First one thing, then the next goes wrong and soon all your plans are to the wind. This is sort of what happened today with my food program.

The day got off to an inauspicious start–forgotten ingredients, absent forks, tables mysteriously vanishing, and went downhill from there. While the tables turned up, it required contacting different staff members, sending out email, and consulting with the manager–taking up a lot of time. Which may have led to me adding the wrong vinegar, which meant I had to scrap four pounds of carrots I’d grated yesterday. Worried about the salad and whether I could get more carrots ready for the program, I did comically fall on the floor. Take one rolling chair, one distracted librarian, and a very busy morning short staffed after someone called in sick, and you end up with me on the floor, laughing patrons, and a concerned boss.

That was when the fun really started. After falling on the floor, I knew it would be an AWESOME day, and boy howdy did it deliver. The power went out–and not just flickering–it was out from noon to 5:45. Scrambling to call the alarm company, help patrons half of whom didn’t seem to notice the power was out, the other half didn’t care and wanted to know what would happen to their computer reservations and could they still print, I didn’t even realize what this would mean for my program. Well it turns out you can’t cook rice or make crepes with out electricity or a gas stove, neither of which we had. The second we finally had another staff member show up I took off for lunch, or more likely to figure out what the crap we were going to have for our much advertized food program. A taste of the world was turning into a very small taste of melted ice cream from India.

Fortunately, I found shredded carrots for the salad, and picked up the only exotic looking fruit in the whole grocery store–some melons that didn’t all have labels, and got back to work in time to try to figure out where this food program should take place. No windows in our meeting room or storytime cove, and no food allowed in the other parts of the library meant outside was the only option–except (and there always is one in this story) it was alternating between drizzling, thunder, lightning, wind, and the occasional scorching burst of sunshine. Summer is FUN!

Well rain is better then darkness, so I sent our pages to set up tables outside, threw together another carrot salad, and started chopping melon. Fortunately, we have a great volunteer and she came to help, and was willing to schlep our rice cookers home to cook the rice with her electricity and bring them back for the program.

At this point I’m kind of sure what we’re going to serve, but the structure of the program is all out the window, since I don’t have a good place to demonstrate cooking. It is quarter to program starting, I’m chopping melon outside, trying to direct two pages and hoping the volunteer returns with the rice and that my parent’s malfunctioning rice cooker doesn’t burn her house down. And this girl shows up to set up a proctored test–I literally have melon everywhere, am trying to keep the sample cups from blowing away, while trying to salvage a program that is one lighting strike away from a melodrama (we were under a tree in a thunderstorm). She is persistent, and I finally ask her to please ask me later because I do not have time to talk about this now. (not to spoil the ending, but her and her mom do return later in the story, I’m sure you saw that one though)

Eventually it has to start, and we hope for the best, encourage the teens to try the melon and I give this little speech, as far as I can remember because it was a long day and I’m not sure of what I said at any given moment. Travel is like today’s program, you set out with plans to visit and experience amazing things, but the one constant is that things will NEVER work out how you plan, but that doesn’t mean it is bad, it just means it will be different from what you expect. Today we are going to have a very informal trip around some parts of the world and the food you might find there. It may be messy and chaotic, but so is travel!

As we started teens gathered round a few at a time, a car load at a time, a whole gaggle of girls, until we had probably a hundred. We ate melon, we served mango ice cream–which I gave the recipe and a few directions. The carrot salad came together, as rain was coming down and the wind started blow our sample cups around.

It would be an understatement to say that it was chaotic. Our volunteer showed up about ten minutes into the program with the cooked rice for our Onigiri, so we were scrambling to get it ready. Only one of the plastic wrap containers had made it out to the lawn.

Of course without any demonstrations of cooking or book talks (totally forgot and wouldn’t have wanted to take the books out in the rain) the program wrapped up about twenty minutes early. Some kids stayed for the last half hour to eat all the left overs and enjoy bananas and Nutella (purchased for the unmade crepes).

After scrambling to clean up and gather up all the food outside, I was met with my boss who said there was an angry parent and her mom who said I had told her I was too busy for her and that I wanted her daughter to fail.

Let’s just say that I’m glad I survived that day–as my boss said, this tops the list for program disaster brag rights.

How We Live–Summer Reading Theme Three

Personally, this is one of my favorite Summer Reading Themes–gaining an understanding of how different and similar other childrens’ lives are around the globe is instrumental in creating empathy and perspective on the world. The downside, as with many of these themes is that there is so much to the theme that an entire SRC could be planned around each weekly theme.

This week we are having a special guest speaker, who has been to all seven continents and who probably will have been to 100 countries by the time she gives her presentation. While she is a traveler, a tourist, and not an expert on other cultures, she has an amazing ability to speak to the differences and similarities of countries around the world. Plus one of her favorite pastimes in other countries is to visit markets and shopping centers to buy food from locals and see what is there. (I should say I know this because she is my mother)

So this week our theme will focus on how one gets food in other countries, on going marketing, and on different kinds of food eaten in different ways around the world.

We’ll open with welcoming the participants and asking them if they’ve signed up for the Summer Reading Program, if they’ve been doing their reading, and if they’ve claimed their prizes if they’ve been reading. It is amazing how many kids come to programs, but haven’t signed up yet. I also like to remind kids when the next activity will be, since they are alternating weeks.

After making announcements, I want to plug a few books on the topic, to encourage kids to keep reading and learning.

Because it is my mother giving the presentation, I promised her I’d help get the talk together. In order to introduce the theme, I think I’ll read a story on Markets and then introduce my mother as a world traveler who has been to many, many markets.

First, I’m going to have her talk about a few of her favorite places she’s been. Tell them how she’s been to every continent, and show a map and some pictures of these adventures.

Next she’ll talk about how in many countries people don’t all have electricity, refrigerators, or enough money to buy much food at once. This means a couple of things, people have to buy things as they need them, even every day, and that they may eat more things that are dried–like dried fruit or meat.

Just like families eat different foods around the world, they also shop in different types of places. Some have open air markets, some have stalls, small shops, or others just trade with neighbors do get what they need.

Then I’m going to have her focus on four or five different countries and the markets she visited there.

After her presentation, I want to have a little activity, where kids make simple origami cups and then can bargain with pretend money for dried fruit snacks and other little prizes. This sort of depends on if I can get enough volunteers to help with acting as store keepers.

Away We Go!

Traveling is something I enjoy in principle, though the logistics and finances of getting out the door can be tricky. It should be a fun theme for a program.

We’ll open with welcoming the participants and asking them if they’ve signed up for the Summer Reading Program, if they’ve been doing their reading, and if they’ve claimed their prizes if they’ve been reading. It is amazing how many kids come to programs, but haven’t signed up yet. I also like to remind kids when the next activity will be, since they are alternating weeks.

After making announcements, I want to plug a few books on the topic, to encourage kids to keep reading and learning. Travels with My Family, Safari Journal: The Adventures in Africa of Carey Monroe (Aspca Henry Bergh Children's Book Awards (Awards))

Following these book talks, we’ll send the toddlers and younger kids off for their own storytime. The older kids will stay and we’ll start our adventure!

We’re planning a trip around the world, and all the kids are invited. Taking Trains, Plains, and automobiles, we are going to see the world. While encouraging kids to think of their own adventures, I’m going to share some details of a world adventure I went on as an example.

First we have to decide where we’re going to go–what stops should we make, what we should see there, how long we should stay, and how we are going to get there. It is possible to circle the globe in many ways, stopping at lots of different countries, or just a few.

On my world wide trip, I stopped in Boston, USA; Milan, Italy; St. Petersburg, Russia; Moscow, Russia; Ekaterinburg; Russia, Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia; Beijing, China; and San Francisco, USA. When planning your trip, you need to know how long it will take to get from one stop to the next, as well as how long you want to stay in each place. For instance it is a 7 hour flight from Milan to St. Petersburg, traveling 1318 miles and a two day train ride from Moscow to Ekaterinburg covering 879 miles. You might get there faster by plane, but on the train you can see the countryside, meet people, and go to places where flights are not as easy to come by!

Photobucket View from the train.

After we’ve determined where to go, we need to make reservations at hotels, tickets for trains, planes, and ships. Should we stay at a fancy resort, a bed and breakfast, a hostel, or even with a local family.

Photobucket Staying in a ger in Mongolia.

Photobucket Inside the ger.

Next we’ve got to pack. What should we bring? Will we need swimsuits, parkas, hiking gear? How much should we bring? Can we carry everything we need?

Photobucket This is the actual bag all packed for my trip–we were gone for a month and I fit all I needed in it.

Once we’ve got the plan in place, we can head off on our adventures! Of course we’ll want to create a journal to remember our travels, so we can show people where we’ve been and what we’ve done.

After we go through our travel plans, we have a couple of activities and crafts to continue our plans. Children will put together travel plan books, where they can create their own itinerary, record places they want to see and things they want to do, create packing lists, and have pages to describe their adventures. Each of these things will be on a different station and will go along with an activity–

  •   A globe, maps, and travel books to create the itinerary.
  • Packing lists will be handed out as kids attempt to pack all they need in a suitcase in a suitcase relay.
  • National Geographics will be on hand for kids to cut out pictures of places they want to see and go. I’m also going to get some travel magazines from my mother to use. Kids can also draw pictures of where they want to go–books will be provided for inspiration.
  • Kids will learn useful phrases in foreign languages, and add this and pages to record their adventures.

All the pages will be three hole punched, and kids can tie them with yarn to make their own books. I’m hoping to borrow the scrapbook I made for my mom of the trip we took around the world. Then kids can get some ideas for their own crafts.

Booktalks You are Here: Self

For each of our programs we want to include book talks, so that teens and kids know there is more they can learn and have fun with what we’ve talked about. This first teen SRC program was about finding yourself and being true to who you are. Many, many teen books are about discovering who you are, but like an idiot, at least a busy idiot, I didn’t start this until about 7 p.m. the night before, so I was limited on what books I could get.

Dairy Queen (Dairy Queen, #1) Dairy Queen Catherine Gilbert Murdock, What do you do if you love football, know everything about it, and think you might just be good at it? Try out for the team, of course! But what if you are a girl, and responsible for your brother, have to take care of the farm since your dad can’t work, and maybe more since your mom is working two jobs? D.J. has some decisions to make, should she be true to herself, even if it means finding out things about her family that may be hidden?

Ten Things I Hate about Me Ten Things I Hate About Me Randa Abdel-Fattah, My assistant booktalked this one, and used the booktalk from scholastic here. We had two copies of this check out, since this was on our Teen SRC recommended reading list.

Incantation Incantation, Alice Hoffman. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition, especially Estrella, who discovers something important about her past, something that transforms her life and changes her life forever.

Summer Slowdown

It would be nice to say that my slower posting has been because I’m enjoying warm summer days at the beach. But to be honest the only slow thing this summer is this blog. Summer is the season all the kids come to the library, which is AWESOME, but means I spend most days helping kids and doing programs. Time at home, when I usually work on the blog, is now spent preparing for programs, ordering books, and planning. So I may be more sporadically posting during the remainder of June and July, but will be back in August after the Summer Reading program is over!

Origami Round Up

Origami is very popular around here, or at least books on how to do Origami. We made paper cranes in Anime Club once, and we’ll do some Origami again this week as part of the You are Here Self theme.

I’m not a paper folding pro, so I rely on good instructions to tell me what to do. A while back I wanted to learn how to fold a paper lily, and looked through many instructions and videos until I could figure out all the folds.

A good origami book combines shapes kids want to do, with instructions they can actually follow. Many times there is a fold or turn that isn’t included that means the difference between success and frustration.

Not-Quite-So-Easy Origami (Snap) This series goes from very easy through moderate and to difficult. I like that the book covers projects of a lot of different difficulties.

Origami on the Go: 40 Paper-Folding Projects for Kids Who Love to Travel Origami on the Go: 40 Paper-Folding Projects for Kids Who Love to Travel

The Stories We Tell

For the first official week of the Summer Reading Program, we have a special guest presenter from the local Center for the Performing and Cultural Arts. She will be performing Native American Stories and teaching about Native American cultures. Because this was organized by the staff at the Main Library, I’m not completely clear on what this will involve, but I am planning some activities around the performer. They haven’t told us yet if she will speak to all ages, or just the older kids. We get birth to 11 years old participants, I’ll have my assistant plan a storytime/craft for the toddlers just in case.Some of these will be similar for each week, as we go over the same information.

We’ll open with welcoming the participants and asking them if they’ve signed up for the Summer Reading Program, if they’ve been doing their reading, and if they’ve claimed their prizes if they’ve been reading. It is amazing how many kids come to programs, but haven’t signed up yet. I also like to remind kids when the next activity will be, since they are alternating weeks.

After making announcements, I want to plug a few books on the topic, to encourage kids to keep reading and learning. When Turtle Grew Feathers: A Tale from the Choctaw Nation Muskrat Will Be Swimming The First Strawberries

Following this short book talk, we’ll send the toddlers over to the storytime cove for their stories, and then I’ll introduce our guest performers. I’m not sure how long they plan on taking, but probably no more then 30-45 min.

Depending on what exactly our guest performers plan, we’ll wrap up with a craft for the older kids in the auditorium, while the younger kids are outside finishing their craft. Right now I’m saving cardboard to make simple flannel boards. Kids will select a cardboard square, and glue flannel on one side. Then they can color card stock story pieces, we’ll have contact paper and velcro to allow kids to take home their own tools to tell a story on their own.