Nonfiction Wednesday – April 6, 2016

Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2016 is a weekly celebration of imaginative children’s nonfiction materials hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy.

Title: Chalk on the Wild Side
Author: Lorie King Kaehler

My Two Cents:  Chalk. You use it to write on the blackboard or play hopscotch (is that still a thing kids do?). According to Kaehler, though, that’s just the beginning. Chalk is a cheap and easy way to get kids excited about art and creativity, and the author shares 25+ ideas for using chalk in new and different ways.


What I enjoyed most about this book were Kaehler’s recipes for making different kinds of chalk, including scented chalk, chalk spray (which apparently works great on snow, perfect for those of you back East….), color-changing sizzle paint, and scented chalk ice pops for hot summer days. The directions are simple and easy to follow, and the ingredients are generally inexpensive and easy to source.


For schools, libraries and other organizations trying to get the most bang for their programming buck, these art activities would definitely be worth a look. The recipes for true chalk involve plaster of paris, which requires careful adult supervision while handling, making them better suited for programs with older children. Still, several of the recipes call for safe, non-toxic ingredients like vinegar and food coloring, and younger children could easily be involved in making these kinds of outdoor paints.

The warmer days of spring and summer will come again some day, so why not try getting the kids making some art outside? Following recipes helps kids learn to follow directions, measurements are great math practice, you can mix colours together to create new ones, and there are so many great picture books about art that you can use to tie it all together. Because as we all know, some of the best learning opportunities are the messiest.

Origami Madness, or, Why It’s OK to Suck

I facilitated an origami program as part of the spring break programming at my branch this week. Let me tell you, in no uncertain terms – when it comes to paper folding, I am the absolute worst. I am too clumsy, too impatient, too easily frustrated, not nearly detail-oriented enough, and far too easily distracted to be able to master something as fiddly as origami.

In the weeks before the program I was sweating. I looked at every origami book I could find, watched all sorts of Youtube tutorials, and scoured Pinterest trying to hone my paper folding craft.

In the end I managed to make a rather spiffy miniature Samurai helmet.


And that was it.

When my origami program finally rolled around, things went from bad to worse. Not only was I still unable to fold anything other than Samurai helmets, there wasn’t a single child in the branch over the age of 9. Most of the kids in my program were 6-7 years old, with manual dexterity skills and attention spans to match. One instructor and a group of eager but impatient little kids. Not the ideal origami program scenario.

But you know what?

It all turned out alright in the end.

Sometimes, being absolutely rubbish at an activity can actually make you the best person to teach other people how to do it. You know that old saying, “those who can’t do, teach”? Turns out there’s some sense to it after all.

When something comes easily and naturally, it can be difficult to understand why other people find it so difficult or incomprehensible.

Because I found origami so difficult, I could empathize with the struggles of my participants. I focused on simple projects with limited steps – if I could do it, an impatient six-year-old could likely do it. No one felt stupid or unaccomplished at my program, or struggled to keep up with the instructor. Everyone worked at their own speed and at their own level, and everything any child made was a real accomplishment.


Everything that’s not a samurai helmet was made by our librarian technician, Marianne. I can claim no credit for this adorable whale.

The children got to work with a grown-up who accepted her limitations with a smile and a complete lack of embarrassment. If I screwed up a project, I laughed, unfolded the paper, and started again. We learned to follow the different steps together.  I freely admitted that I wasn’t naturally talented, and made sure that everyone saw my many failures – failures are just a part of the learning process, after all! It was a fun afternoon, and I felt like a big weight had been lifted from my shoulders. It was OK to suck at something after all.

So, whether it’s singing, coding, crafting, paper folding, or any other kind of activity, don’t worry too much about your natural ability or skill – being rubbish at something can actually be a blessing in disguise, allowing you to mentor your participants, empathize with their struggles, revel in their successes, and reinforce the importance of not taking life too seriously, and being able to laugh at yourself.

Winter Craft – Snow Globes

Sometimes an activity works out so well that you just have to shout about it from the rooftops, so that all might share in your joy.


I shared this craft with a group of kids aged 6-9, and it was a major hit. One of the group leaders commented that she’d never seen the kids as quiet and involved in a project before (keep in mind that I was doing this activity on Christmas Eve, no less. I would’ve been satisfied just to get the kids to stop bouncing off the walls for a moment or two….)

All of the supplies can be purchased at a dollar store, and there’s very little mess, making this a quick and easy craft to whip up. It’s also a good craft for a mixed-age group, as kids can do as little or as much decorating as they’d like.


There are a number of different paper plate snow globe crafts out there – some use paper plates and plastic sheets, while others use plastic plates and construction paper. I took this popular craft idea and put my own little spin on it (of course!) to make it even easier for both kids and facilitators (I’m nothing if not practical).


1 plastic plate and 1 paper plate (of similar size) per child

Coloring and decorating supplies

Scotch tape

Mini marshmallows and/or small candies for snow!

  1. Decorate the paper plate
  2. Place mini marshmallows on the paper plate (delicious, edible snow!)
  3. Tape a plastic plate on top of the paper plate
  4. Stand back and admire your creation!


Using tape to attach the two plates together means no waiting for glue to dry, and no sticky, messy glue on fingers and desks. Using mini marshmallows and small candies for snow means excited, sugar-fueled kids. 🙂 You don’t need to use scissors, either, which means you can easily do this activity with toddlers or preschoolers, though you can make the activity more challenging by encouraging older children to draw more detailed or specific scenes on their plates.

Quick, easy, relatively inexpensive and edible, this is definitely an activity to add to your craft arsenal, and because it’s a winter craft, rather than a Christmas craft, you can pull out it anywhere from November-March, depending on where you live. 🙂


Early Readers Book Club – “Elephant and Piggie”

This week we celebrated the awesomeness that is Mo Willems and his “Elephant and Piggie” series of readers. The children picked their favourite Elephant and Piggie title to read – we had plenty to choose from!

As a craft, we made Elephant and Piggie paper bag puppets, using this template. The kids coloured in their Elephants and Piggies, cut them out and pasted them onto paper bags for an easy and cost-effective craft that worked on a number of different skills. Colouring and cutting help children develop their fine motor skills, and are a lot of fun.


Once our puppets were complete we took turns acting out some of the different E&P stories! The kids really got into their roles, putting on different voices for the different characters.

Only one more book club session to go! 😦

Passive Activity – Elephant and Piggie

Kids at the library love colouring. I wanted to put out a passive activity that would encourage even more creativity, so I printed this “make your own Elephant and Piggie story” template and spread copies out on a table with a box of pencil crayons.

The response has been adorable, as kids eagerly make their own Elephant and Piggie stories. I didn’t put out any instructions or prompts – I wanted kids to use their imaginations and put their own unique spin on the activity.


One little boy pulled the entire Elephant and Piggie collection to use as reference!


The fun never stops at the library, even when there aren’t any structured programs running.

Early Readers Book Club – “Moo!”

Sometimes all you need is one awesome activity to keep the kids engaged all hour long.

This week we read the hilarious Moo! by David LaRochelle.


Then we made our own versions of Moo featuring animals of our choosing!

This must be the easiest, budget-friendliest kids activity there is – all you need is a stack of plain paper and various colouring implements. We simply folded our papers in half to make rudimentary booklets, which we then stapled together.


We worked on this craft for the entire hour, and the room was so quiet you could’ve heard a pin drop. The level of concentration was impressive.



This week’s activity was so much fun and so popular, I don’t know how I can top it next week! I highly recommend trying an activity like this with school-aged kids – their creativity is always a thing of wonder.

Robot Puppet Craft

For our Summer Reading Club wrap-up party this week I wanted the kids to make something they could take home with them as a souvenir of the summer. Because our theme was “Build It” and featured several robotic mascots, I came up with these easy CD robot puppets!

Robot2You’ll need:

  • Discarded CDs
  • Robot coloring page (I used this one)
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • Pencil crayons / crayons
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Googly eyes (optional but highly recommended) and glue (if the eyes aren’t self-sticking)

The assembly couldn’t be simpler:

  1. Color the robot
  2. Cut the robot apart
  3. Tape the robot body pieces to the CD, using the shiny blank side of the CD as the body
  4. Tape a stick to the back of the CD to make a puppet
  5. Add googly eyes and other decorations as desired.
  6. Enjoy your shiny CD robot!


Felts for the Artistically-Challenged

I’m rubbish at making felt stories. I’ve tried all the tips and followed all the guidelines, and my felt animals always come out looking like they’ve barely survived a shark attack. Not pretty.

I never thought I’d be able to make my own felt stories, until I discovered this!

laminatorThis $29.99 bad boy and the corresponding laminating sheets have made my felt story dreams come true!

I simply find colourful clip art images ( is one of my favourite resources), print them out in colour, and run them through the laminator. Then it’s just a matter of cutting out my laminated characters!


I attach a bit of self-sticking “hook and loop fastener” (aka no-name brand Velcro) to make everybody stick to the felt board. I bought mine in a roll at the dollar store.


I recently discovered that my library has a label maker, and it made my organization-loving heart skip a beat. I store all my felt stories in clear plastic sleeves for easy viewing, then label each sleeve with the label maker. When I’m feeling energetic I’ll even layer the characters in the order I’ll need them.


So, if you’re as rubbish at crafts and artistic pursuits as I am, fear not – you too can now make professional-looking stories that are long-lasting and will survive the occasional trip inside a toddler’s mouth.

Rec and Read – July 16, 2015

24 seven-year-olds descended on the library for the second of three “Rec and Read” summer camp visits.

The week’s theme was “Outer Space”. We started off by reading two stories – the kids really enjoyed the picture book we read last week, so I thought I would try my luck and read two stories back-to-back.

The first was Mousetronaut by astronaut Mark E. Kelly. It’s a pretty simple “small character becomes a hero through hard work and ingenuity” story about a little mouse that saves the day on a space mission. Space, cute animals, positive moral, check, check, check.


The next book isn’t really about space at all, but our weekly craft was alien-themed, so I turned the story’s little monster character into an alien. Don’t Push the Button! by Bill Cotter is an interactive picture book that the kids found pretty hilarious. Who doesn’t love doing what they’re not supposed to do?


For our craft, we made “namelians”. I found this craft online and it was perfect. The children wrote their names on folded pieces of construction paper, cut out around their names, then unfolded the paper to reveal their aliens  – it’s a twist on the familiar snowflake-making craft. The printing and cutting helped develop those fine motor skills.

To decorate, I collected an assortment of bits and pieces from around the workroom, including googly eyes, pipe cleaners, buttons, sparkly glue, and more construction paper, which helped keep the craft budget-friendly.

I wish I’d take pictures of the kids’ finished crafts because they were so creative, but here’s an idea of what the craft can look like (find the original image here).


Next week’s theme is “under the sea”, and it’s the final group visit!