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A Word from Pat Scales

May 30, 2014

June: A Whopper of a Tale

by Pat Scales

Most young readers study tall tales and folklore at some point in school. Even those who haven’t actually studied the genre may be familiar with stories about Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, Blackbeard, Davy Crocket, Daniel Boone, Annie Oakley or Buffalo Bill. Most of these stories have a tall tale element. Since June 28 is Paul Bunyan Day, libraries may take the opportunity in June to have some fun with tall tales. Discuss the following elements of the genre:


• Hero is larger than life and stronger than real people
• The hero has a specific task
• The problem is solved in a humorous or outrageous way
• The details are exaggerated
• The story is difficult to believe

1. Read aloud a Paul Bunyan story (http://americanfolklore.net/folklore/paul-bunyan/). Apply the characteristics of a tall tale to the story read aloud. How do the exaggerated details make the story humorous? Why is the story unbelievable? Discuss why the stories called “tall tales.”
2. Discuss symbolism with readers. Ask them to discuss how Paul Bunyan symbolizes “might,” “a willingness to work,” and “a resolve to overcome obstacles.”
3. Libraries should have books that include many different Paul Bunyan stories. Display them and encourage readers to borrow them for their own personal entertainment.
4. Introduce other tall tales such as American Tall Tales by Mary Pope Osborne and illustrated by Michael McCurdy (all ages). Allow readers to work in small groups and read aloud a tall tale other than Paul Bunyan. Have them consider the following questions:

a. Why is the story considered a tall tale?
b. Is the story based on a real person?
c. How is the person a hero?
d. What is the exaggerated element?


5. Have readers read about a hero or heroine of their choice, and write a tall
tale about the person. Encourage them to illustrate their story, placing emphasis on the exaggerated part of the story. Suggestions from Random House include:

The Bravest Woman in America by Marissa Moss & illus. by Andrea U’Ren (picture book)
The Daring Nellie Bly by Bonnie Christensen (picture book)
Dust Devil by Anne Isaacs & illus. by Paul O. Zelinsky (picture book)
New York’s Bravest by Mary Pope Osborne & illus. by Steve Johnson & Lou Fancher (picture book)
The Mighty Lalouche by Matthew Olshan & illus. by Sophie Blackall (picture book)
Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming (middle grade)

6. Encourage older readers to create a tall tale from a work of fiction. Let them know that tall tales are traditionally short and often grew out of the oral tradition. For this reason, they should use a specific scene from the book, and plan to tell the tale to the group. Allow them to make the larger than life hero or heroine either the main character or a secondary character from the novel. Ask them to think carefully about the details to exaggerate. What is the outrageous resolution? How does the hero of their story embody the symbolism of Paul Bunyan? Suggestions from Random House include:

All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel by Dan Yaccarino (picture book)
Chompby Carl Hiaasen (middle grade)
Holes by Louis Sachar (middle grade)
Johnny Swanson by Eleanor Updale (middle grade)
Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool (middle grade)
May B. by Caroline Starr Rose (middle grade)
One Came Home by Amy Timberlake (middle grade)
The River by Gary Paulsen (middle grade)
Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm (middle grade0
Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel (young adult)
North by Night by Katherine Ayers (young adult)
Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larsen (young adult)
Nature Girl by Jane Kelley (young adult)
Roy Morelli Steps up to the Plate by Thatcher Heldring (young adult)
Shackleton’s Stowaway by Victoria McKernan (young adult)

May 01, 2014

May: Awards Galore

By Pat Scales

Most schools have an Awards Day at the end of the school year, and some public libraries grant awards to children and teens that have been active in their programs.  And, later in the summer most public libraries recognize kids that have participated in their summer reading programs.  Since May marks the special celebration of Young Achievers Leaders of Tomorrow, it seems appropriate to have young readers focus on what it means to be a good leader, and how working hard in school leads to greater opportunities in the future.  This international and national recognition considers students in grades 5-11, and the focus includes: Positive Role Model; Success in a Variety of Areas; Good Citizenship; Competent Scholar. These criteria are often used for single awards granted by schools.  For example, there is usually a Good Citizenship Award; Outstanding Scholar in each grade; Top Scholar Award in the school; and Best All Around Student.  In addition to these awards, there are ones in the area of sports, art, music and drama, specific academic subject areas, perfect attendance, and there is usually An Outstanding Student Award that is based on multiple criteria.  There is a perfect opportunity here for school and public librarians to engage young readers in some “critical thinking” about the characters in the books that they read.

  • Begin by asking readers to name the awards granted in their school.  Start them off by suggesting such awards as Good Sportsmanship, Outstanding Science Students, etc.  How many different awards are granted? What are the criteria for selection?  Who makes the decision about the recipient?
  • Allow them to work in groups, and ask them to name criteria for a set of specific awards. (Each group may deal with three or four specific awards like Science or Math). Display the Awards and Criteria so that readers can refer to them as they read. Then have them think about books they have read, and decide in which school subject might the main character receive an award.  Such main characters may include:

Brendan in Brendan Buckley’s Universe by Sundee Frazier (ages 9-12)

Deza in The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis (ages 9-14)

Harriet Welsch in Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (ages 9-12)

Hollis Woods in Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff (ages 9-12)

Macey Clare in Burning Up by Caroline Cooney (ages 12-up)

Mena in Me, Evolution and Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande (ages 12-up)

Zach in Road Rash by Mark Huntley Parsons (ages 14-up)

  • Talk about what it means to be a good citizen and serve the community.  Then have readers write a citation for an award called Best Citizen and Most Caring about the Community to present to a main character in a book.  Suggestions from Random House:

The boy in A Chance to Shine (picture book) by Steven Seskin

The young girl in Something Beautiful (picture book) by Sharon Dennis Wyeth & illus. by Chris Soentplet

Autumn in Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different by Kristin O’Donnell (ages 9-12)

Juli Baker in Flipped (ages 9-12)

 Nick and Marta in Scatby Carl Hiaasen (ages 9-12)

Leon in Pirates of the Retail Wasteland by Adam Selzer (ages 12-up)

Nina Ross in The Summer I Saved the World…in 65 Days by Michele Weber Hurwitz (ages 12-up)

  • Discuss the definition of courage.  As a group develop the criteria for a Most Courageous Award.  Then grant the award to a main character in a novel.  Write a presentation speech that states all the reasons why the character is getting the award.  Suggestions from Random House include:

The boy in Fish by L.S. Matthews (ages 10-up)

Brother in Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry (ages 9-12)

Brian in The River by Gary Paulsen (ages 9-12)

Clare Silver in Laugh with the Moon by Shana Burg (ages 9-12)

Ivy June Mosely in Faith Hope and Ivy June by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (ages 9-12)

Shabanu in The House of Djinn by Suzanne Fisher Staples (ages 12-up)

Armpit in Holes by Louis Sachar (ages 11-14)

Jerry Renault in The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier (ages 14-up)

  • Finally, have readers pick a favorite character from a novel and create a new award to honor the character.  Introduce the award to the class or group, and then state why this award has been created for the character.  Suggestions from Random House include:

Brian in The Invisible Boy (picture book) by Trudy Ludwig & illus. by Patrice Barton

Rosie in Rosie Sprout’s Time to Shine (easy to read) by Allison Wortche & illus. by Patrice Barton

August in Wonder (middle grade) by R. J. Palacio

George in Liar and Spy (middle grade) by Rebecca Stead

Janie in The Face on the Milk Carton (ages 12-up) by Caroline Cooney

Simone in A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life (ages 14-up) by Dana Reinhardt




April 01, 2014

April: Spring Break

By Pat Scales

It’s about time for spring break and readers of all ages are making plans. Some may head to warm climates and sandy beaches to surf the waves and hunt for sharks’ teeth or perfectly shaped seashells. Others may hike the trails of national parks, or climb to the peaks of some of the nation’s mountain ranges.  Some may choose to cruise the islands of the Caribbean, or travel to Europe, Asia or South America.  Most will simple stay at home and enjoy very late nights and lazy mornings.  And if libraries plan exciting programs, then many will elect to spend spring break reading a good book.  Here are some ideas to engage readers:

  • Ask readers to become a character in a book, and give a 3-minute presentation about why spring break should be spent with them in their city or state.  Consider these characters:

Naomi in Just Plain Fancy by Patricia Polacco (picture book)

Tulip Jones in Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch by Anne Issacs & illus. by Kevin Hawkes (picture book)

Bone in Precious Bones by Mika Ashley-Hollinger (young readers)

Calvin Coconut by Graham Salisbury (young readers)

Oz & Lily in The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop by Kate Saunders (young readers)

Miami Jackson series by Patricia & Frederick McKissack

Woohoo Cray in Chomp by Carl Hiaasen (middle grade)

Turtle in Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer Holm (middle grade)

 Zeeta in The Ruby Notebook by Laura Resau (young adult)

Virginia in The Queen of Water by Laura Resau & Maria Virginia Farinango (young adult)

bSami Ames in Hot Scots, Castles & Kilts by Tammy Swoish (young adult)

Torin Sinclair in The White Gates by Bonnie Ranthun (young adult)

  • Be a travel agent and plan a spring break trip for a book character.  Consider what is revealed about the character in the novel.   Readers should justify where they are sending the character, and prepare an itinerary. Suggestions from Random House include:

Young Readers

Lucy Rose, series by Katy Kelly

Gooney Bird, series by Lois Lowry

Junie B. Jones, series by Barbara Park

Babymouse, series by Jennifer Holm

Grk, series by Joshua Doder

Nate, Nate the Great series by Marjorie Weinman Shamat

Middle Grade Readers

Harriet from Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

Mr. Juniper from The Fabled Fifth Graders of Aesop Elementary School by Candace Fleming

Georges & Safer from Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

Chuck & Ales in Racing the Moon by Alan Armstrong

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

Young Adult Readers

Lonnie Jackson from Hoops by Walter Dean Myers

Teenie by Christopher Grant

Hailey Tarbell in Banished by Sophie Littlefield

Brett in Brett McCarthy: Work in Progress by Maria Padlan

Sammy Keyes by Wendelin Van Draanen

  • Tell readers that a very rich person has given money for someone to take a special spring break trip.  The donor needs a letter that explains why the person deserves a trip.  Ask readers to pick a deserving main character from a book they’ve read and write a letter in their support.  Plan a panel of judges to select the character for the trip.  Book suggestions from Random House include:

Middle Grade Readers

All the Way Home by Patricia Reilly Giff

Flush by Carl Hiassen

One Year in Coal Harbor by Polly Horvath

Heart of a Shepherd by Roseanne Parry

Holes by Louis Sachar

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Paperboy by Vince Vawter

Young Adult Readers

The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin by Josh Berk

The Lost Songs by Caroline B. Cooney

Ball Don’t Lie by Matt de la Peña

Last Exit to Normal by Michael Harmon

Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard

The Decoding of Lana Morris by Laura & Tom McNeal

Surface Tension by Rent Runyon

Sparrow by Sherri L. Smith

What They Always Tell Us by Martin Wilson

March 03, 2014

March: Women’s History Month

by Pat Scales

I love independent main characters in children’s fiction.  Nancy Drew was the closest such character that was available to me.  But I did read about a few strong women in the Childhood of Famous American’s biography series.  They were highly fictionalized, but nonetheless paved the way for me to search for more information about these women.  Since March is Women’s History Month, I thought this a good time to check young readers’ knowledge about women who have made their mark on history.  I suspect that many young readers may know the accomplishments of women like Susan B. Anthony, Lizzie Stanton, Clara Barton, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Amelia Earhart.  But do they know Ida B. Wells, Jane Addams, Alice Paul, Anne Morrow Lindberg, Bessie Colman, Lucretia Mott, Margaret Sanger, Dorothea Lang, Shirley Chisholm, and Barbara Jordan? They may know the names of a few contemporary women who have made a great difference in our society.  Women like Hilary Clinton, Madeleine Korbel Albright, Michelle Obama and Ophrah Windfrey, Sonia Sontomayor, and Ruth Bader Gingsburg.  But do they know Gloria Steinman, Diane Von Furstenberg, and Lilly Ledbetter?   These women may be introduced by leading reader to the following website:  http://www.greatwomen.org/welcome.

  • Suggest that they created trading cards about some of the great women honored on this website.  Help them download a picture of the woman for the front of the card (or have them make an illustrations that best represents the woman) and on the back of the card include 5 facts that made her great. Sponsor a trading day.
  • Tell them that the First Women’s Rights Conference was held in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848.  Have them take a virtual field trip of the Women’s Rights Historical Park (http://www.nps.gov/wori/index.htm) in Seneca Falls, and now a part of the National Parks Service.
  • Have them visit the online exhibits at the National Women’s History Museum (http://www.nwhm.org).
  • Tell them that the theme for Women’s History Week in 2014 is “Celebrating Women of Character, Courage, and Commitment.”  Find out about this year’s honorees (http://www.nwhp.orgWoman’s_
  • Then introduce strong, independent fictional girls.  Sponsor an essay contest called  Female Fictional Characters: Character, Courage, and Commitment.”  Suggestions from Random House include:

Counting on Grace (MG) by Elizabeth Winthrop

Harriet the Spy (MG) by Louise Fitzhugh

The Hope Chest (MG) by Karen Schwabach

Laugh with the Moon (MG) by Shana Burg

The Mighty Miss Malone (MG) by Christopher Paul Curtis

Sylvia and Aki (MG) by Winifred Conkling

Hattie Big Sky & Hattie Ever After (YA) by Kirby Larson

Sarny (YA) by Gary Paulsen

  • Have readers locate biographies about women in history. Suggestions from Random House include:

Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart (MG) by Candace Fleming

The Story of Harriet Tubman (MG) by Kate McMullan

The Story of Sacajawea (MG) by Della Rowland

  • Include the youngest readers by introducing picture books about famous women.  Suggestions from Random House include:

The Ballot Box Battle (PB) by Emily Arnold McCully

Only Passing Through (PB) by Anne Rockwell & illus. by Gregory Christie

They Called Her Molly Pitcher (PB) by Anne Rockwell & illus. by Cynthia Von Buhlee

Nothing but Trouble: The Story of Althea Gibson (PB) by Sue Stauffacher & illus. by Greg Couch

Sky High: The Story of Maggie Gee (PB) by Marissa Moss

The Daring Nellie Bly (PB) by Bonnie Christensen

The Bravest Woman in America (PB) by Marissa Moss & illus. by Andrea Wren

The Watcher (PB) by Jeanette Winter


February 04, 2014

February: Celebrate Freedom

by Pat Scales

There are many times in a calendar year to celebrate America’s freedom, but February is an especially fitting time.   Schools and libraries commemorate the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington by sponsoring special activities on President’s Day. These activities need to go beyond the clichéd stories of Washington chopping down the cherry tree, and Lincoln walking three miles to return 6 ¼ cents to a woman.  Most children are fascinated by Washington’s legendary wooden false teeth, and Lincoln’s stovepipe hat, but they need to know what these men stood for.  Tell them that it was on February 1, 1865 that Lincoln signed a resolution that led to the 13th amendment which abolished slavery.   This is why our nation has declared February 1 as National Freedom Day. Here are programming ideas for celebrating Washington and Lincoln, and Freedom Day:

  • Ask readers to jot down what they know about Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.  Have them work in small groups and use books in the library or sites on the Internet to find additional information about the two Presidents.  Such books may include:

George Washington’s Birthday (picture book) by Margaret McNamara & illus. by Barry Blitt

Meet George Washington (Landmark easy readers) by Joan Heilbroner & illus. by Stephen Marchesi

Meet Abraham Lincoln (Landmark easy reader) by Barbara Gary & illus. by Stephen Marchesi

The  Lincolns:  A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary (middle grade) by Candace Fleming

  • Take a virtual field trip of George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon (http://mountvernon.org) and Abraham Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Illinois (http://www.nps.gov/liho/index.htm).  What do you learn about the men by visiting their homes?
  • Take the information learned from the virtual field trip and write a one-page story about Washington and Lincoln for a book like The American Story:  100 True Tales from American History (all ages) by Jennifer Armstrong & illus. by Roger Roth.
  • Older readers may enjoy researching places named for George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  Is there a place in your state named for one of the men?
  • Take a virtual field trip of the Lincoln Memorial (http://www.nps.gov/linc/index.htm) and the Washington Monument (http://www.nps.gov/wamo/index.htm).   Have readers make a set of 10 trivia cards about each monument.  Test classmates or family members.  How well did they do?
  • Ask readers to prepare an annotated list of books that would be appropriate to sell in the gift shop of George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon and Lincoln’s home in Springfield.  Suggestions from Random House include:

I Have a Dream (picture book) by Martin Luther King, Jr. & illus. by Kadir Nelson

My Dream of Martin Luther King (picture book) by Faith Ringgold

Only Passing Through (picture book) by Anne Rockwell & illus. by Gregory Christie

Escape North: The Story of Harriet Tubman  (early reader) by Monica Kulling & illus. by Teresa Flavin

Crow (middle grade) by Barbara Wright

Toliver’s Secret (middle grade) by Esther Wood Brady

Anthony Burns: The Defeat and Triumph of a Fugitive Slave (young adult) by Virginia Hamilton

North by Night (middle grade) by Katherine Ayers

Trouble Don’t Last (middle grade) by Shelley Pearsall

Stealing Freedom (young adult) by Elise Carbone

Storm Warriors (young adult) by Elise Carbone

Woods Runner (young adult) by Gary Paulsen

  • Sponsor an essay contest for older readers called “Washington & Lincoln: Fathers of Freedom.”  Instruct them to use and cite five sources to support their ideas.


January 08, 2014

January: Fresh Start

by Pat Scales

The New Year is a time when people look for a fresh start.  It may mean a move, a major decision, an improvement in behavior, or a vow to do better in school.  Sometimes a fresh start is necessary because of a change within the family, or emotional needs within a person.   No one’s fresh start should be considered frivolous because any fresh start comes from the need to change.

  • Ask readers to make a list of their own New Year’s Resolutions.  Then have them make a written plan for accomplishing their goals.  Which “Resolution” is the easiest to change?  Which is the most difficult?
  • Have children and teens read about the immigrant experience and discuss how coming to this country was a fresh start for them.  Such books from Random House include:

All the Way to America (picture book) by Dan Yaccarino

The Name Jar (picture book) by Yangsook Choi

A House of Tailors (middle grade) by Patricia Reilly Giff

Nory Ryan’s Song  & Maggie’s Door (middle grade) by Patricia Reilly Giff

The Red Umbrella (middle grade) by Christine Diaz Gonzales

The Tia Lola series (middle grade) by Julia Alvarez

Enrique’s Journey (young adult) by Sonia Nozario

After reading one of the above books, ask readers to write a letter from the main character to someone in their homeland that describes their first few months in the new land.  Begin the letter with “My Fresh Start Began…”

  • Suggest that readers select books about main characters that are struggling to make a fresh start. Books from Random House include:

The Invisible Boy (picture book) by Trudy Ludwig & illus. by Patrice Barton

Child of the Mountains (middle grade) by Marilyn Sue Shank

Gingersnap (middle grade) by Patricia Reilly Giff

Flightsend: A Summer of Discovery (middle grade) by Linda Newbery

Laugh with the Moon (middle grade) by Shana Burg

Liar and Spy (middle grade) by Rebecca Stead

The Great Trouble (middle grade) by Deborah Hopkinson

The Mighty Miss Malone (middle grade) by Christopher Paul Curtis

Navigating Early (middle grade) by Clare Vanderpoole

Pictures of Hollis Woods (middle grade) by Patricia Reilly Giff’

Whittington (middle grade) by Alan Armstrong

Wonder (middle grade) by P. J. Palacio

Orchards (young adult) by Holly Thompson

The Language Inside (young adult) by Holly Thompson

Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature (young adult) by Robin Brande

Hattie Ever After (young adult) by Kirby Larson

It’s Not the End of the World (young adult) by Judy Blume

            Revolution (young adult) by Jennifer Donnelly

            Small Steps (young adult) by Louis Sachar

            The Beet Fields (young adult) by Gary Paulsen

Suggest that readers write a paper that discusses who or what helps the character make the journey toward a fresh start.

  • Have readers write a plan for a fresh start for the following main characters:

Daniel in Gone From These Woods (middle grade) by Donny Bailey Seagraves

Mickey in Feels Like Home (young adult) by E.E. Charlton-Trujillo

Jason in My Chemical Mountain (young adult) by Corina Vacco

Shavonne in Something Like Hope (young adult) by Shawn Goodman

Boaz in The Things a Brother Knows (young adult) by Dana Reinhardt

  • Finally, suggest that readers write a monologue  from the point of view of a main character that has experience a fresh start.