Sunday, April 23, 2017

Let's Try This Again...

Last fall I had the opportunity to challenge myself and give an early literacy presentation for child care workers and preschool teachers, along with my manager. I am always looking for opportunities to expand my repertoire and gain new skills and experiences, so I was glad to do it. Unfortunately, it didn't quite go as well as I'd hoped.

To start with, we only had 2 weeks to put it together, and with me being only part-time and my boss being a very busy outreach manager, that amounted to very little time! We did the best we could, but it just really wasn't enough time to prepare adequately. I knew the material well, but I did not have the actual presentation of it down. Plus, I got a little nervous, and when I'm nervous I tend to talk too fast. I forgot to pause and show examples, and realized it was too repetitive, and the slides were way too text heavy. To make matters worse, two of the attendees blatantly put their heads down on their desks and went to sleep! 

Fast forward to this spring, and we were asked to do a similar presentation for another early childhood "summit" by another group, which is this coming Saturday. This time around I hope I have learned from the mistakes the last time. The slide presentation is shorter, much less text, and larger fonts, and is more focused. Also, we fortunately were asked to focus on just preschoolers, whereas last time we covered birth through age 5. We've also had more time, so hopefully I will know the presentation much better. I'm really hoping I'm more relaxed, too! I am not afraid of public speaking, and right now the idea of doing it doesn't make me anxious in the least. But then when the time comes, the nerves start to kick in!

But one really good thing is that my manager is much more accustomed to public speaking and does a great job. The other great thing is that our session is not until 10:15am, versus 8:00 am the last time! So I can get a little more sleep, and get there early enough to have time to set up without feeling rushed, and have a chance to relax. I am just not fully functional at 8:00 in the morning!!

So, anyone have any advice for keeping the nerves at bay and keeping the audience awake? Short of an air horn, that is 😈

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Mirror, Mirror - STEAM Program

Today I did a relatively simple, low-cost STEAM program for a group of kids ranging in age from 6 to 12 years old, using mostly items you probably already have on hand, making homemade kaleidoscopes. I'll admit, when I first saw this on Buggy and Buddy I was skeptical, but it really does work surprisingly well, as you can see from the photos of my test model above. I did make a couple of changes, substituting a cheaper and more readily available material for the reflective surface, and covering with paper rather than painting. 

I also started the program with some seriously cool demos also using mirrors (I'll describe these at the end of this post, be sure to check them out!). Click on any picture to see a larger image.

Recommended Ages:  5 to 12

Time: 1 hour, including demonstrations

Budget: Approximately 35 cents/scope (not counting items purchased for demonstration)


  • Mirrored Scrapbook Paper (also called "mirror board," basically foil covered cardstock), see picture and label above
  • Cardboard tubes, recycled or can be purchased as "craft tubes"
  • Flexible Straws
  • Colored Paper 
  • Cardstock
  • Markers
  • Assorted stickers
  • Tape
  • Glue Sticks
  • Scissors
  • Pencil
  • Ruler


First, determine the size the reflective inserts need to be by measuring the length and diameter of the cardboard tubes you are using (any length tube can be used; just keep in mind the longer the tube, the more mirror paper used and the greater the expense). The reflective insert will be 3-sided, in the shape of a triangular prism. I'll save you the geometry involved in determining the length of each side of the triangle and tell you to just multiply the diameter of your tube by 0.866 😉.

 I *highly* recommend cutting these out ahead of time so the expensive mirror paper doesn't get wasted. Though it will vary, our tubes were 100mm long and 42mm in diameter, so each face of our insert was 36mm X 98mm long (just to be sure no sharp points were sticking out).

Our sheets were 12"x12" ($2 ea) and I got enough for 8 scopes out of each sheet, with only two thin strips left over. I measured and marked it off on the back with a ballpoint pen, with firm pressure to score the lines to be folded, then cut out all three sides together as one piece when possible. The remaining pieces had to be cut by two's, then simply taped together. (The extra sliver leftover on the end pieces can be left on to make a handy flap to fold over and tape, or trimmed off so they are all the same). Below is one of the precut pieces, mirrored side up, showing the visible lines where it will be folded (and the grid of our ceiling tiles!).

Next, pre-cut colored paper to the size needed to cover the tubes, and cut out circles from cardstock. We used the template Buggy and Buddy provided, which are about 3.75" in diameter, and found them to be just a bit too small, so I would recommend cutting 4" diameter circles. Have enough for each child to do 2 or 3 if they wish and time permits.


1. Give each child one cardboard tube, one mirrored piece (although the one pictured is pre-folded, let them do the folding), one piece of colored paper, one straw, two paper circles, scissors, and a pencil. Provide markers and assorted stickers as well.

2. Tell the kids to do any drawing they wish to do on the paper to decorate their kaleidoscopes first, reminding them there will be some overlap at the ends. Then when they are ready to apply it to the tube, to tape one end to the tube to secure, and also apply some glue (use gluesticks) to the underside as well, then roll up tightly, and secure the other end with tape. Stickers can be applied now if desired (this avoids waste by having stickers on the overlapping part).

3. Now, take the piece of mirror paper, and fold along the scored lines, MIRRORED SIDE IN, and tape together at the top. Carefully insert into cardboard tube; it should fit snugly.

4. Trim ends of straw so that there is about 1/2" past the flexible portion of the straw on one end, and 2-3 inches preceeding it on the other. Extend the flexible part, then tape the straw to the outside of the tube so that the flexible portion extends just past the end of the tube.

5. Make designs on the cardstock circles using markers (some kids also embellished with stickers). Experiment with different patterns, either dividing the circle into sections with different patterns, or doing the whole circle in the same pattern (you can utilize both sides, too). They really can't go wrong with this, the only caution I would give is to use at least two colors, the monochromatic patterns weren't as impressive. 

6. Poke a hole in the center of the circle with a pencil, and carefully thread it onto the flexible portion of the straw (The accordian folds help keep it in place; you could also put tape around the end of the straw, but then you could not interchange discs).

7. Stand in well-lit area, and hold kaleidoscope up to your eye with one hand, look through while turning the circle with the other. 

Here are pictures I took looking through some of the kids' kaleidoscopes. They made some impressive and interesting patterns! 

I love how everyone's turns out totally unique, and they all made some really cool patterns, regardless of whether they were the child who put lots of thought and meticulous drawing into it, or the child who rushed through with random scribbles and dots! This is a great activity for a fairly wide range of ages and abilities. The kids really seemed to enjoy making them, particularly once they got to see how neat their patterns were and liked looking at each others' as well. Only the youngest needed any assistance, and that was minor. Here are the kaleidoscopes themselves:


I was looking for something else to show using mirrors and reflection and found out about a couple of neat items: an infinity mirror, which creates an endless tunnel effect; and a mirascope, which uses two parabolic mirrors to project a 3D image. I found incredibly inexpensive versions on Amazon, and though I was a bit skeptical, they really worked!

Here is the mirascope I bought from Amazon for about $9 (though the price tends to fluctuate):

This thing is seriously cool! Look closely at the second and third pictures....would you believe me if I told you that frog and that ring are NOT really there, and neither is the mirror they appear to be sitting on? It is really just empty space over a hole, as the last picture shows! The mirascope is two curved pieces with an inner mirrored surface. When you put a small object inside, on the bottom, the reflections bounce around and end up projecting a 3D image above! It is so convincing, you cannot resist the urge to touch it, even when you KNOW it's not real. Kids and adults alike will be amazed!  To really see how well it works, check out this video, demonstrating several different objects:

The infinity mirror is from a DIY kit for kids that I found on Amazon for $12, though supplies are extremely limited. There are other tutorials online for making them, but I didn't have time to hunt down supplies, and I thought this would be much cheaper in the long run. It is basically a shadow box with a regular mirror on the bottom and a two-way mirror on top, with a string of LED lights around the perimeter in between.

When the LED lights are off and the room lights are on, it just looks like a mirror. But when the room lights are dimmed, and the LED lights are on, it looks like an endless tunnel. Unfortunately, the photograph really doesn't do it justice. I jokingly told the kids it looks like a mirror, really a portal to another dimension! One precocious boy figured out how it worked right away, and explained that the reflections just keep bouncing back and forth between the mirrors, creating the effect, and we can see it because the top glass is only partially mirrored.

I explained that mirrors could be used to make these and other kinds of illusions and special effects, and that they are sometimes used in magic tricks and used to be used for special effects in television and movies before CGI, and are still used for live stage performances.

The kids really seemed to enjoy the program, and I came across a couple of other special effects using mirrors I'd like to incorporate in the future. The demos did add about $25 additional expense, but can be used again. I bought them personally, because I wanted to be able to keep them myself. Excluding the demonstration items, this is still a great low-cost STEAM program that uses readily available materials, most you probably already have on hand.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

And The Winner Is...

How do you feel when it's time for the Youth Media Awards? Or when you read any of the award and "Best Books" types of lists?

I know some librarians get excited about it and look forward to seeing if their picks won, but I'm always left feeling a mixture of frustration, inadequacy, and WTF?? when I see these lists. I always find that even though I read quite a bit (never as much as I'd like!), I've only read about 3-4 of all the winners and honorees, and I'm only familiar with probably another half-dozen or so. This is what makes me feel frustrated and inadequate. As an almost children's librarian, I feel like I should be more "in the know" and in sync with what others in the profession think are the best books. While I do try to read books if several people mention it, usually I just grab what interests me off the "New" shelf when we get them. Clearly, the people on these awards committees and I have very different tastes! 

So for the next couple of months, I'm playing catch up and trying to read (or at least flip through) as many of the winners and honorees as I can. Some of them I find I really like a lot and see why they were chosen, but then many others I look at and and I'm completely underwhelmed and baffled why it was chosen. I often wonder what am I missing here? Am I out of touch? Or am I just more focused on what kids would like while the committees are more interested in prioritizing diversity, promoting alternate formats (free verse, graphic novels, wordless books, etc.), and leaning more towards what appeals to adults??

This is often particularly true of the Caldecott winners and honor books. I rarely like them! I can sometimes appreciate the artwork and the story and find it appealing to adults, but usually I can't imagine them appealing to a child. I haven't even seen the winner (Radiant Child) because my system doesn't even own it because it was felt it wouldn't circulate (and I'm sure it won't after all the librarians and teachers have seen it). They All Saw A Cat was okay, but seemed like a good idea that could have been executed much better. I found the text dull and awkward, and the artwork sloppy. 

Du Is Tak? was cute at first, but went on too long, and I feel like this kind of thing has been done before. Plus the illustrations were very small. I wouldn't use either of these in storytime. Freedom In Congo Square is one I don't know would particularly appeal to kids, though something a teacher might select. I know storytime use certainly isn't the only purpose for picture books, but it does tend to be the metric I'm interested in, and I don't think I've ever been excited to use a recent Caldecott book in storytime. I am also very disappointed that Ida Always was not at least an honoree!

I tend to fare a bit better with the Newbery's, though sometimes I still think they are just ok, and nothing special. I did like all of last year's honorees, and though fantasy and magical realism aren't my thing, I did find The Girl Who Drank The Moon to be a very well-written and beautifully told story and I enjoyed it quite a bit, and think it will appeal to some kids, but not others. 

I haven't had a chance to read the honor books yet except for Freedom Over Me (also a Coretta Scott King honor book), which I thought was ok, but I'd rather know real stories of slaves, rather than fictitious ones, and I wasn't impressed with the artwork. As Brave As You (Coretta Scott King honor book & Schneider winner) was pretty good, reminded me a bit of Gone Crazy In Alabama.

I was pleased to see Girl Mans Up as a finalist for the Morris award for first-time teen lit authors, though disappointed it wasn't in the finalists for the Stonewall award for LGTBQ literature. I did think the Stonewall winner for YA LGBTQ literature, If I Was Your Girl was also a very good book. It was a very well-told story, and while it might be a little unrealistic in a couple of points (which the author addresses in the endnotes) I think it sends a needed positive and hopeful message to transgender teens, though I think it's a good story for anyone to read. I was, however, a bit surprised that the Hammer of Thor was the middle-grade winner. 

The Printz winners and honorees are almost always too bizarre or depressing for me, but I was pleasantly surprised to see The Sun Is Also A Star as a Printz honoree and King/Steptoe Newcomer Award winner, as I enjoyed that one quite a bit. I love how it tied up all the loose ends and had an ending that gave closure, yet was still open-ended. I hate loose ends and unfinished storylines! 

Well, that's it for what I've had a chance to read so far. I've included links to my reviews of any books mentioned that I've reviewed, and you can also go the the SLJ article to get the complete list, with covers and links to SLJ reviews for most of them.

So how did you fare with this year's winners? Were you left feeling vindicated and confident in your librarian skills, inspired to read some great books you had missed, or left feeling like you're a bit off the bubble and struggling to catch up like me?

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard

Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard. September 6, 2016. Harper-Collins. 384 pages. Teen & up.

Sixteen-year old Pen (short for Penelope) has always been different from other girls. She prefers to wear her brother's clothes, cuts her hair short, and is just one of the guys with her friends Colby and Tristan. But though she may prefer to look more like a boy, and is attracted to other girls, she doesn't want to be a boy. She knows who she is and how she wants to be, and doesn't think of herself as "lesbian" or "queer" and definitely not "transgender". She doesn't really understand why other people feel the need to question her about her sexuality or gender and try to label it.

Unfortunately for Pen, her parents are very "Old World" Portuguese, all about outward appearances, traditional gender roles, and showing respect for ones elders by always doing what you're told. They are embarrassed by Pen's appearance and behavior, and try to force her to bend to their will and become a princesa, a girly-girl who is obedient to her parents and will grow up to be a wife and have babies like she is "supposed" to. At the same time things are coming to a head with her parents, Pen's relationship with her friend Colby begins to disintegrate, as he also becomes more and more controlling, pushing the bonds of friendship and loyalty to the breaking point.

Pen's older brother Johnny is a constant source of support, and she begins to develop two new relationships that finally help her realize that to be the kind of person she wants to be, she is going to have to "man up" and push back against those who want to control her.

My Thoughts 
At first I wasn't really quite sure what this book was about, but from reading the jacket summary, Pen sounded like a badass, and that combined with the conflict with old world Portuguese values intrigued me. This is not a "coming out" story or a LGBTQ romance (thought there is an element of romance in it), but really about the conflict between what one person wants for herself verses what everyone else expects, or rather demands, of her. It's also about friendships, loyalty, and recognizing when relationships have become toxic and realizing it's time to distance yourself. I think many people could relate to these themes, regardless of sexuality or gender.

I thought this story was very well-written and relatively fast paced, with characters that are well-developed and believable. Pen is tough and gritty and flawed, but also cares about other people, and has her friends' backs. I loved the relationship between Pen and her brother Johnny; without his love, acceptance, support, and running interference with their parents, Pen probably would have had a much harder time accepting herself and being comfortable in her own skin, and the story might have ended very differently.

I really enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to anyone looking for good books with LGBTQ characters, those who like characters that are somewhat tough and gritty, yet sympathetic, and anyone who can relate to having to deal with reconciling the expectations others have for them and what they want for themselves. 

About The Author
This is M-E Girard's debut novel, though she has written a couple of short stories that have been published in magazines or included in anthologies. Ironically, in addition to writing, she works as a nurse, which is what Pen's mother kept pushing her to do.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Magnus Chase: The Hammer of Thor

The Hammer of Thor (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #2) by Rick Riordan. October 4, 2016. Disney-Hyperion. 480 pages. Ages 10-18.

After preventing the release of Fenris Wolf and stopping the beginning of Ragnarok (great battle leading to the end of the world), Magnus Chase is back at Valhalla, concerned about the recent disappearance of his friends Blitzen and Hearthstone and the fact that Thor's hammer, Mjolnir, is still missing, while the giants are threatening to invade Asgard.

Magnus and his friends are joined by a new einherji, Alex, who turns out to be another child of Loki, and is gender fluid. At first Alex is angry about being an einherji and lashes out at the others, but soon becomes part of the group and develops a friendship with Magnus.

Magnus is upset to learn that as part of his latest scheme, Loki has promised Sam's hand in marriage to a giant named Thrym, despite the fact she is already happily betrothed to Amir. After discovering that Thrym possesses Mjolnir, the group decides Sam must pay the dowry and pretend to go through with the wedding in order to retrieve Thor's hammer.

Can Magnus retrieve Thor's hammer and put a stop to Loki's nefarius plan before Sam ends up married to a nasty giant, or worse??

My Thoughts 
I did not find this second installment of Riordan's Norse mythology-inspired series nearly as engaging as the first one, and had a hard time getting into it at first. Part of it was the beginning seemed a little thin, and just didn't draw the reader in as well as the first book, and I think part of it was that it had been so long since I read the first book, plus I had read several others based on Norse mythology in between, so I had trouble remember past events and characters, and confusing parts of the various storylines. I wish I had read a summary of The Sword of Summer first to refresh my memory.

This book is pretty fast-paced, with many of the same characters returning from the first, as well as a new gender-fluid character who I wasn't really sure what to make of at first, and wondered if the character was really going to be integral to the story, or window dressing. I did find I grew to like the character of Alex the relationships she/he (the character seems to prefer gender-specific pronouns) began to form with Magnus and Sam. Like the first book, this story has a great deal of humor, from the character of Magnus' dry wit, and from the way the gods are portrayed. This is definitely not your classic mythology!

I was a little surprised that Annabeth Chase did not have a role in this book as I had expected. We don't see more than a brief mention of her until the end of the book, but she does drop a line that hints we may see a certain other character from Riordan's first series in the next book, The Ship of the Dead, which will be released on October 5, 2017, concluding the series.

Other Works By This Author
This book was preceded by the August, 2016, release of a companion book for the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series, titled Hotel Valhalla Guide to the Norse Worlds, which is written in the format of a guidebook commissioned by Helgi, manager of Valhalla, in order to help orient new arrivals and answer common questions.

Rick Riordan has written many books based on Greco-Roman mythology and Egyptian mythology, including the series Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Percy Jackson and the Heroes of Olympus, The Kane Chronicles, The Trials of Apollo, numerous companion books, graphic novel versions of some of his books, and short story crossovers of Percy Jackson and the Kanes.