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Princess Storytime

I knew when I asked the storytimers for theme suggestions at the end of winter session that I might get some suggestions I couldn’t accommodate, but also that I might get some I did not want to accommodate. Princesses combined a bit of both. First, finding princess books that are both preschool appropriate and equally interesting to the “pink and frills are for losers” set can be a challenge. Second, I don’t identify with the princess camp. Too often, it celebrates things that keep women down, and I’m not even talking about waiting around for Prince Charming to save you. Before you even get to the relationship distortion aspect, you’ve got the impractical clothing and appearance obsession aspects. Still, I took it as a challenge: Design a princess storytime that all of the storytimers would find palatable and that would not make me feel like I was pushing an anti-feminist agenda to 3-year-olds.

We read:

Not All Princesses Dress in Pink by Jane Yolen

Emphasizes the wide variety of activities princesses (read: girls) can do, including sports, gardening, and more, all while wearing a sparkly crown.

Concept: Rhyme.

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch

A dragon burns up everything a princess owns and kidnaps the prince she’s supposed to marry, so she puts on a paper bag (all she can find) and goes to rescue him, which she does by using her wits. The prince then tells her to get lost and come back when she’s properly attired, and she tells him off. The end.

Concept: Knowledge and wisdom is the true power! Also, don’t waste time with people who only care about your looks, an important message for both genders.

Lovabye Dragon by Barbara Joose

A little princess wants a dragon for a friend, and vice versa, and finally they meet. Super sweet, and the inclusion of the dragon made it more palatable for those who aren’t nuts about princesses.

Concept: Rhyme.

Action Rhymes:

There Was a Princess Long Ago

I got the idea for this one from Storytime Katie, but you should check out this video clip from Fun Song Factory if you’d like to learn the tune.

Curtsy Like a Princess (Tune: Skip to My Lou)
Curtsy like a princess just like so

Curtsy like a princess just like so
Curtsy like a princess just like so
Curtsy like a princess!
Bow like a prince just like so…
Juggle like a jester just like so…
Fly like a fairy just like so…
Roar like a dragon, just like so…
Source: Story Time Secrets

Flannel Board:

The Princess Wore Her Red Crown

Sing it to the tune of Mary Wore Her Red Dress. To make the set, I used our crown die and ran five different colors of felt crowns.

Source: Story Time Secrets


Princess Castles

We made toilet paper castles similar to these from Crafty Morning. Over the holidays, we had a teen volunteer looking for projects, so I had her cut the battlement notches from a ton of cardboard tubes, then the storytimes and grownups taped the tubes together and decorated them with crayons and sparkly stickers.

How It Went:

I felt a little tense going into this one because of the book Paper Bag Princess, in which the princess calls the prince a bum. I wasn’t sure how the grownups would react. We all know Munsch is controversial in general. However, my audience tends to run to the more liberal end of the parenting spectrum, so I took the leap. Most of the grownups clapped at the ending! Overall, I think I pulled this off. We did have one boy come in midway through and start furtively whispering to his mother when he realized we were talking about princesses, but when no one attempted to force a tutu on him, he settled down. I am in no great rush to take on this theme again, but I’m glad I rose to the challenge.


Cars Storytime

When I polled the storytimers about future themes they’d like to see, one little boy yelled, “Cars!” In today’s society, we’re hyper-conscious about driving and the pollution caused by vehicles, or if we aren’t, we should be. Without even touching the topic of global warming, I think we all at least know that vehicle exhaust pollutes the air we breathe and contributes to that disgusting brown miasma we see hanging over major cities. Yeah, I see that brown cloud, Dallas. And Houston. And Seattle! You’re supposed to be full of greenies! Why did I see sludgy air hanging over you from the ferry deck last summer?

In other words, yes, I felt a ping of conscience while celebrating the automobile. On the other hand, the car is so much more to the American family than a smog machine, or even a mode of transportation. I just had a phone conversation with my mother a couple of weeks ago about what a shame it is that so many parents now let their kids watch television in the car, whether by portable DVD player, built-in TV, tablet, or phone. We agreed that some of our best memories and conversations happened on road trips, and Mom said she always felt that time in the car gave her a chance to talk to us without distractions like homework, television, or phone calls. (I didn’t bring up that time when I was 16 and she almost got us T-boned because she was on her cellphone, because bygones.) The car is a bonding zone.

Cars also offer a great opportunity to talk about colors, shapes, and size. You can read the names of models and talk about what they mean–provided you have some clue; I mean, Impala is one thing but what’s a Camry aside from a small sedan? You can even talk about whether cars are clean or dirty, old or new, though probably not with the owners in earshot. Of course, don’t forget all the wonderful sounds! Engines roaring, purring, or putt-putting. Brakes screeching. Wipers squeaking.

So, we’ll worry about the environment in some other storytime. It’s not like 3-year-olds have much to do with emissions control anyway.

We read:

Speed by Nathan Clement

The text is more on par with K students than preschool, so we mainly did description/discussion here and pretended to wave race flags. I wanted the kids to learn a little about car racing for the next story.

Concepts: Colors and patterns.

Number One Sam by Greg Pizzoli

Sam’s Number One at everything: speed, turns, and most importantly, winning! One day, Sam loses a big race and his confidence, too. He worries incessantly about the next race, but when it finally comes around, he finds his mojo is back. Then 5 hipster chicks (as in baby chickens, not women) wander onto the track, and Sam decides to throw the race so he can get them to safety. However, everyone celebrates his decision more than they would have celebrated a win, because saving the lives of children is way more important than winning a race. (Side note: The chicks’ parent appears to have taken part in the race. Why didn’t s/he take steps to keep the kids safe? Somebody call the authorities on that fowl.)

Concepts: Friendship. Life priorities. Anxiety.

Night Light by Nicholas Blechman

Goes like this: You see a number of lights (one through ten, natch) on a die-cut black page, with some white printing about what kind of vehicle has the lights. Then you turn the page and see what it is: a taxi, a tanker truck, a helicopter, a train, and so on. You guess based on the hints and also the color/configuration of the lights. Well, mostly the hints, because preschoolers don’t recognize the light pattern of an airport tanker truck. Neither do I. Strictly speaking, not everything in this book is a car, but there’s a conversation you can have, right there!

Concepts: Counting. Vocabulary.

And the Cars Go… by William Bee

Honorable mention. We didn’t have time to read it. Plenty of great car noises to make in this traffic jam, although some of the vocabulary will need explaining or dumbing down. If you don’t live near a lot of kids who know what a Rolls Royce is or that it’s famous for its quiet engine, you’ll either have to tell them or just call it “the fancy car.”

Concepts: Car sounds.

Flannelboard: Lots of Cars

Song and flannel template both came from Nancy Music. Click through for the rhyme and tune!

Lots of Cars flannel set

“Big cars! Little cars! Beep, beep, beep.”

Action Rhymes

“Drive, Drive, Drive Your Car” (Tune: Row, Row, Row Your Boat)

Drive, drive, drive your car,
All around the town!
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Up the hills and down.

Turn, turn, turn the key,
Make the engine roar.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Let’s go to the store.

Press, press, press the pedal,
Give the engine gas.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Now we’re going fast.

Turn, turn, turn the wheel,
That is how we steer.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Let’s just park right here.

Adapted from King County Library System

“Windshield Wiper”

I’m a windshield wiper (bend arm at elbow and hold fingers up)
This is how I go (swing arm back and forth)
Back and forth, back and forth (continue motion)
In the rain and snow.

My modification: After we sang the song twice, I encouraged everyone to make annoying squeaky wiper sounds while we changed our wiper settings from high/fast to medium to low/slow to intermittent/every couple seconds. Fun!

Source: Storytime Katie

Craft: Letter C Cars

car craft

It’s a paper plate C with a paper car shape glued on. The storytimers colored theirs. You might wonder why mine has holes. To put it briefly: Summer reading. Underground theme. Hobbit party. Dwarf beard craft. You get the picture.

Source: Tip Junkie

How It Went: To quote Goldie Hawn in Overboard, “Buh buh buh buh buh.” For no apparent reason, I had twice my usual number of storytimers. One mom said, “It’s the nice weather,” which is also what everyone says when no one shows up on a nice day. Another mom said, “I guess word just got out.” Whatever the reason, I was happy to have such a big group, but a little sad because a bigger group means a slower pace as your questions suddenly have twice as many answers, so we had to cut a book. But we made so many car noises anyway!

This week: F is for Senses…Five, that is.

Readers Advisory: Story Thieves by James Riley

I’m adopting a new review policy: only mentioning books I think merit special notice, rather than trying to review everything I read. This decision is part of a larger New Year’s resolution about my ratios of reading time to writing time, reading time to life time, reading time to professional development/reflection time… Basically it’s a whole thing you don’t want to read about. Anyway, first mention-worthy book of the year!

Aladdin, ISBN-10 1481409190, January 2015

Life is boring when you live in the real world, instead of starring in your own book series. Owen knows that better than anyone, what with the real world’s homework and chores. But everything changes the day Owen sees the impossible happen—his classmate Bethany climb out of a book in the library. It turns out Bethany’s half-fictional and has been searching every book she can find for her missing father, a fictional character. Bethany can’t let anyone else learn her secret, so Owen makes her a deal: All she has to do is take him into a book in Owen’s favorite Kiel Gnomenfoot series, and he’ll never say a word. Besides, visiting the book might help Bethany find her father…Or it might just destroy the Kiel Gnomenfoot series, reveal Bethany’s secret to the entire world, and force Owen to live out Kiel Gnomenfoot’s final (very final) adventure.

Holy Harry Potter, fanfolks! This rib-tickling series opener features a half-fictional heroine who can jump in and out of books, which attracts the attention of naive classmate Owen who uses her power to “fix” the ending of a volume in his favorite series, Harry Potter knockoff (the text says so) Kiel Gnomenfoot. He saves the life of a Dumbledore-like character called the Magister without knowing that the soon-to-be-released last volume would reveal the Magister as a villain. When the Magister escapes into the real world and drags young Kiel Gnomenfoot with him, Owen has to fill in for Kiel while Bethany rounds up the Magister. The Kiel Gnomenfoot story line that follows Owen and Kiel’s fictional cyborg sidekick Charm Mentus might appeal to Potterheads (that’s the correct term, right? it’s what I’m calling us) with its battle between magic and science. However, the most fun part of the story comes from watching Bethany try to contain the fictional characters and elements the Magister unleashes on the real world as well as her interactions with Kiel, who lends a hand and a couple of wands. Kiel, in typical action hero fashion, is brash, egotistical, overly optimistic, and brave to the point of idiocy, but he’s also so charming in a wink-nudge way that the reader has to laugh at him. Bethany is smart, but she’s also a worrier who stays safe in the fictional world through strict adherence to a set of rules (like, stay out of horror books, don’t change anything, et cetera.) Through her partnership with Kiel, she learns to step out of her comfort zone and own her powers, and the ending gives hope that their relationship will continue in the next volume.

Recommend to: Harry Potter fans, fantasy fans, possibly younger fanfic fans might find this funny




Readers Advisory: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, $18 hardbound, ISBN-10 0316213071, January 2015

Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for. Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once. At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking. Until one day, he does…

Black is back with a dark and eerie fairy tale reminiscent of her early works Tithe and Valiant but shining with a definite patina of artistic maturity. She’s moved past simply pointing out that the faerie world is full of darkness, backstabbing, and shady deals and gone on to explore what that means for humans who live in proximity to magical, amoral creatures. A great deal of the plot and Hazel’s characterization focus on the fallout from making deals with otherworldly beings. In that respect, it reminded me of the show Supernatural–you think you’re prepared to pay the price of your deal, but you always find out you didn’t fully understand the promise you made, and the human always gets the short end of the stick. Anyway, mystery, romance, powerful writing, and a dramatic declaration of love near the end all roll into another winner from Black. Although it’s a standalone, Black leaves plenty of room for future stories in the same setting, and I hope she will write a few.

Recommend to: Fans of fantasy and of the author

To buy or not to buy: A general purchase

Readers Advisory: Monkey Wars by Richard Kurti

Delacorte Books for Young Readers, $17.99 hardbound, ISBN-10 0385744412, January 2015

When rhesus monkeys are brutally massacred on the dusty streets of Kolkata by a troop of power-hungry langur monkeys, Mico, a privileged langur, becomes entangled in the secrets at the heart of his troop’s leadership and is shocked at what he discovers. He feels compelled to help the few surviving rhesus, especially Papina, a young female he befriends, even though doing so goes against everything he’s been taught. As more blood is spilled, Mico realizes that choosing between right and wrong won’t be easy.

My initial reaction: Wait, a YA novel about monkeys? Not about kids saving monkeys like Endangered or Threatened, but actually about the inner lives of monkeys? That’s insane…which means that either the editor who said yes to it was high at the time, or the book is, in reality, something special.

As it turns out, the “something special” option is correct.

I think the first instinct everyone has when discussing a novel with animal protagonists is to trot out the Watership Down comparisons, most notably “Does for (insert species here) what Watership Down did for rabbits.” May I just say that as far as I can tell, Watership Down did precisely beans for rabbits? Our species is still wearing their species and selling their species quartered and frozen in the aisles of select grocery stores. (Full disclosure: I had a pet rabbit called Basil and loved him very much, and if you wear or eat rabbit voluntarily, I will think less of you and probably tell you so.) I think the compliment is poorly phrased. However, if used to mean that whatever new animal-centered novel is comparable to Watership Down, I don’t think it’s ever true. I cannot think of a single novel with animal protagonists that approaches Watership Down in scope and mastery. Heck, I can’t think of many novels about human protagonists that match up to the adventures of Hazel-rah & Co.

Another comparison I’ve heard in the case of Monkey Wars is that it compares to Animal Farm. That’s a fairer parallel because it does deal with a totalitarian regime. However, Animal Farm is satire. Monkey Wars is serious. It’s genocide. It’s the Holocaust. It’s tyranny and resistance and false flag attacks, families torn apart and innocents tortured at the drop of a hat, or in this case, a mango. It’s the corruptible seeking the corruption of absolute power, and the strong trying to fight their way to the truth. Blood, intrigue, romance, murder most foul… Perhaps the most accurate comparison to make is with Shakespearian tragedy. Getting readers to pick it up may be a challenge, but once they’re in, they’ll stay with it.

Recommend to: Anyone interested in stories of conspiracy, action, and conflicted heroes. Be aware that although the protagonists are animals, this book is on a teen/adult level of interest, and it contains quite a bit of graphic violence.

To buy or not to buy: A first purchase for YA collections and high school libraries.

Cookies Storytime

For our last storytime before Christmas break, we shared stories about Cookie. C is for Cookie! And I backed that up with an actual cardboard letter; I’m not just stealing a line from Cookie Monster.

We read:

Mr. Cookie Baker by Monica Wellington

A simple picture book about how bakers make and sell cookies.

Concept: Factual book.

The Duckling Gets a Cookie!? by Mo Willems

The ducking gets a cookie (with nuts) and the Pigeon is predictably upset.

Concept: Print awareness (word bubbles!)

The Cow Loves Cookies by Karma Wilson

The farmer feeds his animals the appropriate items except the cow, who loves cookies. Cumulative rhyming text, a refrain, and plenty of farm animals to encourage noise-making.

Concepts: Rhyme and animal noises (phonemic awareness). Sequencing.

Cookie Count by Robert Sabuda

Mice sample a variety of tasty treats in this pop-up delight.

Concept: Counting


Five Little Cookies

Five little cookies in the window today,
Along came (child’s name) with money to pay.
(S)he picked the (color of sprinkles) cookie and took it away!


The cookies across the top of the board in this photo are the pieces for this set. The photo is of all three sets I made for the Food storytime kit.


Who Took the Cookies from the Cookie Jar?

We played the classic game with its classic rhyme using a felt cookie from the flannel set. If you don’t know it, you can hear the lyrics in this video. I decided my group was too young to handle the entire “Who, me? Yes, you” part on short notice, so I improvised that part a little and just said, “Not you? Then who?” when a child denied having the cookie.

This is the Way the Cookies Bake (“Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”)

This is the way we sift the flour, sift the flour, sift the flour,
This is the way we sift the flour, all day long.

Stir the batter…melt the butter…shake the sugar…sprinkle the nuts…the cookies rise…we eat them up


Die Cut Gingerbread House


Always a hit: yarn for icing and sequins for “candy.”

How It Went:

Everyone likes to talk about cookies, so this program went perfectly. Poll results reveal the leading favorite cookie is chocolate chip.

Readers Advisory: The Boy with the Hidden Name by Skylar Dorset

Sourcebooks Fire, $9.99 trade, ISBN-10 1402292562, December 2014

Selkie Stewart has just saved her quasi-boyfriend, Ben, from a fairy prison run by the Seelie Court. If they weren’t the two most-wanted individuals in the Otherworld before, they definitely are now. Along with Ben and the rest of their ragtag group of allies-Selkie’s ogre aunts; a wizard named Will; Ben’s cousin Safford; and Kelsey, Selkie’s best friend-Selkie is ready to embrace her destiny and bring the Court down. Until she hears the rest of her prophecy: Benedict le Fay will betray you, and then he will die. 

Skylar Dorset closes out her Otherworld series (at least, this storyline) with a grand adventure to stop an apocalypse of Fae proportions. Dorset hits all the right notes for an urban fantasy featuring faerie creatures, from a magical clock that keeps its own time to an Unseelie Court visit to cursed objects. Of course, the big question is not so much whether Selkie will save the world but whether Benedict Le Fay will actually betray her and die, and more importantly, whether they’ll wind up together either way. After Ben ditched Selkie at the end of the first book (The Girl Who Never Was), she’s learned not to trust a Le Fay.

As in the last outing, shades of Doctor Who and Alice in Wonderland give the proceedings a delightfully screwball cant. Dorset has a gift for illogical logic and for snappy dialogue. Although the plot is a bit jumpy and the resolution comes out of left field, the characters and pacing more than make up for it, as does the romance. While it’s not conventional these days to write a two-parter–trilogies being the norm with quadrilogies increasing in occurrence–the length feels perfect, and hopefully Dorset will return to the same world with new characters.

Recommend to: Urban fantasy fans, readers who like a bit of silliness

To buy or not to buy: A good choice where the genre is still popular