Storytime Recap: Apples

Last week’s storytime focused on apples. We sang songs, read books, and did an activity that involved picking and sorting colored paper apples.  Here’s how it went:

duckingDucking for Apples by Lynne Berry: A cute story about a bunch of ducklings who ride bikes and pick apples. It ended up being too long for my wiggly kids, so we ditched it halfway through, which is new territory for me.  It might work better with a smaller group, because it’s actually a very cute

Orange Pear Apple Bear by Emily Gravett: This silly book features the same four words over and over again in different combinations with pictures to match. It’s cute, pretty, and fun to do with kiddos, who want to point out what is happening on every page. This one was a hit.

applespumpkinsApples and Pumpkins by Anne F. Rockwell: This one is about a little girl who goes with her family to pick apples and pumpkins at a local farm. It’s got bright illustrations and minimal text, and it ends with trick-or-treating, which makes it a good choice for Halloween, too.


Action Rhymes:

“Way Up High in the Apple Tree”: We did this one twice so that the kids could get the hang of it.

“Apple Roll”: We also did this one twice. It was fun to have the kids help with the countdown.

“Applesauce” chant: This is a longer one that had mixed results. There’s lots of reptition, but it also takes forever to get through all the verses. I might want to revisit this one and see if there’s a way to make it smoother.


Apple Sorting: Before storytime started, I went into the meeting room and taped different colored apples made out of paper to the walls at toddler-height. When it was time for them to “pick” the apples, I set up three baskets and told them to come and put the right colored apple into the corresponding basket. It was chaotic but fun!

How did it go?

It went okay-ish. The kids were antsy and I had to give up on a book halfway through. They liked the action rhymes and the apple sorting, but I didn’t love the books I selected as much as I was hoping to. I continue to grow in confidence about storytime, so I’m hoping that it will get better as I have a larger arsenal of themes, books, and songs.


Book Review: El Deafo by Cece Bell


Cece is about to start a new school, one where all the other kids aren’t deaf like she is. She’s got her Phonic Ear to help her hear her teacher during class, but she’s sure everyone is staring at the wires that come with it. When she discovers that the Phonic Ear allows her to hear her teacher no matter where she is in the school building, she realizes she’s been granted a rare, special power. She hopes this will be the thing that will help her make a real, true friend.

Cece Bell’s graphic novel is part fiction, part memoir, and it’s full of humor and heart with tons of kid appeal. Bell’s book features brightly colored illustrations, smart text, and a fast-paced plot that will keep readers turn the pages as they travel along with Cece as she navigates the hearing world.

There’s lots of issues explored within the pages of this novel, including finding friendship, being lonely, feeling different, and navigating the painful process of growing up.  Tons of kids will relate to the insecurities Cece faces, and she provides smart insight into the issues without ever crossing over into didacticism.

The graphic aspect of the novel allows her to play around with how she experiences the world as a deaf person, and how she might mishear those around her.  The result is a successful visual exploration of Cece’s deafness, and one that hearing kids will be able to grasp more fully.

Recommended. It’s an award winner and runner-up for a reason.

El Deafo by Cece Bell. Amulet/Abrams: 2014. Library copy.


Book Review: It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover


Lily and Ryle are young and beautiful and totally driven by their respective careers. Lily has fulfilled a childhood dream of opening her own florist shop, and Ryle is on the fast-track to becoming a world-renowned neurosurgeon. Ryle doesn’t date; he’s not a relationship guy, and he makes that clear to Lily from the first time they meet.  But then he changes his tune, and the two begin a whirlwind romance that has Lily reeling.  When her first love–Atlas–resurfaces from her past, she starts to question everything about her seemingly perfect life and realizes that her relationship with Ryle might be more fragile than she realized.


It’s hard to be critical of something that is clearly not only a labor of love for an author but also a deeply personal book–the author’s note at the end helps expand on this–but the fact of the matter is, there are more problems here than good things, which made for a frustrating and uneven reading experience.  Fans of Hoover’s other works might devour this one and forgive its faults, but as a first-time reader of Hoover, there were too many things I couldn’t get past.

One of the book’s major weaknesses are its characters, who feel underdeveloped and often don’t speak like actual human beings.  More than once, I stumbled over something a character said because it just didn’t feel authentic in any way.  But what’s also surprising is that for a book that is largely character-driven, there’s very little investment in creating characters with fully-realized personalities. It’s not just the secondary characters, either: it’s the main stars. Lily isn’t developed. Ryle never comes off as anything other than an arrogant garbage monster, and that’s before his darker secrets are even revealed.

There’s also a lot going on in the novel, and it often feels like a bit too much. It tries to tackle a variety of serious, complex issues, and while some of the ruminations on the cycle of abuse are fairly well done, much of it feels half-baked. Maybe more editing would have helped; it’s certainly long enough.

And yet? I couldn’t stop reading, even though I knew where much of the narrative was headed. I felt compelled to finish it, even as it filled me with frustration. It’s not the character’s actions that felt frustrating: it’s the fact that in a stronger writer’s hands, this could have been something truly great.

Best for fans of Hoover’s other works, but this is not nearly as good as it could have been.

It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover. Atria: 2016. Library copy.


Series Review: Aurora Teagarden Books by Charlaine Harris

Recently, I checked out the Aurora Teagarden series by Charlaine Harris. I’ve read many of Harris’s other series and generally like them, and I’m trying to read more genre fiction in an attempt to step up my readers’ advisory skills. Reading about a small-town public librarian seemed like a fun way to do so.

real-murdersI read the first three books in the Aurora Teagarden series: Real Murders; A Bone to Pick; and Three Bedrooms, One Corpse.  Each one focuses on Aurora Teagarden, her small town on the very outskirts of Atlanta, and the murder mysteries she keeps finding herself embroiled in. They’re murder mysteries, but they’re largely cozy ones: there’s very little graphic violence, virtually no sex, and very little swearing. Although the books follow a general narrative thread of Aurora’s personal life, they don’t need to be read in order, as each one has a separate mystery that is resolved within the confines of the novel.

On the whole, they’re pretty charming, and work as great readalikes for mystery fans who like cozies, who like novels about small towns with vivid casts of characters, and who are looking specifically to read Harris’s backlist (which is extensive; she’s a prolific writer who has been at this for decades).

What was interesting to me as a reader of Harris’s work is how far she’s come in her three-bedroomswriting, specifically when it comes to sexual content and to diversity.  Comparing this series (her earliest series) to her most recent (Midnight, Texas), it’s impossible not to see how deliberate Harris has been in increasing the amount of diversity, not only in the racial and ethnic backgrounds of her characters, but also in their sexual orientation and socioeconomic statuses.

The first novel in this series was published in 1990, and it feels a little dated (not just the clothing styles referenced in the book, but in other ways, to). But it’s still a largely enjoyable mystery that mystery readers are likely to gobble up. The most recent book in the series is being released this month, so expect an uptick in the series backlist, too.

All copies borrowed from the library for review.

Read-alikes: Books About Ghosts, Pumpkins, and Skeletons

It’s the time of year when everyone wants a good scary read. Of course, not everyone defines “scary” the same way. I’ve had a lot of people come up to the desk lately asking for good scary reads, and I’ve had to help them narrow down exactly what they were looking for.

One elementary school kid came up and said he wanted “scary books” about ghosts, pumpkins, and skeletons.”  After some creative searching, I helped him find a couple of things, and then I set about to making a list of possible resources for elementary age readers looking for Halloween-y thrills.

bunnicula.jpgBunnicula by James Howe: Narrated by Harold the dog, this humorous take on a possible vampire-bunny is sure to keep kids glued to the page to find out if Bunnicula is really a vampire or just a normal rabbit. This one has been around since I was in elementary school, but it still sees a fair amount of circulation because it’s clever and timeless and who doesn’t love a good vampire mystery?

A Good Night For Ghosts by Mary Pope Osborne: Part of the good time ghosts.jpgsuper-popular Magic Tree House series, this one features the kids traveling to New Orleans where they discover jazz and also some real ghosts. Great for fans of the series as well as younger readers looking for a good ghost story.

Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carman: Strange things are happening in the town of Skeleton Creek, and Ryan and Sarah are on the case. But Ryan is housebound after an accident, and so the two communicate via written notes and recorded footage on a video camera. The book’s format allows readers to login to designated webpages to see Sarah’s footage, which makes for a mixed media approach to the story.

coralineCoraline by Neil Gaiman: Coraline has always wondered what’s behind the locked door in her house. When she finally opens it, a secret passageway appears that brings her to an apartment that looks just like hers, only different. Here she finds an alternate-universe version of her life, and she realizes things are more sinister than she originally thought. Full of thrills and chills and a bit of humor, Gaiman’s book holds massive appeal to readers–and there’s a movie, too.

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand: At the Cavendish Home for Girls and Boys, kids learn lessons in a hard way. It isn’t long before Victoria notices that children are either coming back different or not at all. Spooky, smart, and will keep readers up late into the night.

Anything great that I missed? Let me know.




Toddler Storytime: Opposites

Last week’s storytime focused on opposites. I wanted to have a looser theme this week after last week’s theme being solely about owls, and this one afforded me some flexibility. This was also the first week that I instituted rules at the beginning of storytime, and that seemed to help immensely with classroom management.  Here’s some of what we explored:


oppositeThe Hueys in What’s the Opposite? by Oliver Jeffers: This short book takes a humorous look at many opposites and features great cartoons that have a stark contrast, making it easy for kiddos to see it from across the room. They loved it, and it was a great length that kept their focus.big or little.jpg

Is It Big or Is It Little? by Claudia Rueda: Another short book
exploring the concepts of opposites with stark contrast
drawings. The kids liked helping me answer the question of whether or not it was big or small, short or tall, etc.

Which is Round? Which is Bigger? by Mineko Mamada
: Very similar to to Rueda’s book, but the kids love shouting out the answers, so it works for the purposes of this storytime.



Action Rhymes: 

We did “Little Birds, Little Birds” which worked well to get the kids to sit down. This is one to use for transitions in the future. (source)

“I Say Fast, You Say…” I just did a number of these to help fill the time.  The kids loved guessing what I wanted them to say.


“Open, Shut Them” was a huge hit. We did it twice and I’d like to start incorporating it into lots of the storytimes so that we get practice singing the words and doing the actions. We did it twice for repetition and practice. (Source)

“This is Big, Big, Big” was another one that was fun. Many of the kids already knew it and helped me sing and do the actions.  It was fun and I would definitely do this one again. (Source)

How did it go?

This was by far the best storytime I’ve had this season. The rules at the beginning helped, and the books were short enough to keep attention on the story until it was finished. The kids loved the rhymes and the songs, so overall it was very successful. I’m still looking for ways to have the storytime become more interactive, but that has to come with time, practice, and experience.

Book Review: The Leaving by Tara Altebrando


Eleven years ago, six kids in kindergarten went missing without a single clue as to where they went. The town called it “The Leaving.” Today, five of those missing kids returned. They’re teens now, and they don’t remember a single thing about where they’ve been. But they seem okay. The only missing kid who doesn’t return is Max, and his little sister Avery is desperate for answers.

Tara Altebrando’s mystery about missing kids returning to a place they no longer fit into should have been a stay-up-late, absolutely riveting read. But despite the captivating premise and strong start to the story, the execution as a whole fell very flat. An overly-long narrative, an overly-complicated premise, and a stagnant middle make for an uneven reading experience.

One thing that does work well here is Altebrando’s multiple narrators. Told from the perspectives of Scarlett, Lucas, and Avery (the still-missing Max’s younger sister), each voice is distinct enough to keep them straight, and the different structures of each narrative helps separate them further.

The eventual reveal is fairly satisfying, but it takes so long to get there that it feels like a bit of a letdown. Some readers will still find this whole story captivating, but those looking for a super-fast-paced thriller should look elsewhere. The middle of this drags on, and a tighter editing hand could have done a great service.

Twisty and complicated.

The Leaving by Tara Altebrando. Bloomsbury: 2016. Library copy.