Tales of an Elementary School Librarian

2019 Mock Caldecott

It has been a few years since we’ve done a Mock Caldecott here at STJ. My committee work made it to where I couldn’t talk publicly about current books the past few years, and I thought it best to play it on the safe side, and not have a Mock Caldecott during that time. It’s back, though, and I’m excited.

Over the next few weeks I will be reading eight 2018 picture books to 2nd-5th grade, and we will be weighing the merits and discussing how the books, specifically the illustrations, fit the Caldecott criteria. When we are finished, the students will vote, and in the end, there will be one winner. Here are the books I’ve selected for our Mock Caldecott discussions.


I’m really interested to see which book they choose, and whether it will be one the actual Caldecott committee honors.

May the best book win!


The Hallo-Wiener Song

I have an obsession with a picture book. Every year, on the week of Halloween, I read it to every student in my preschool/elementary school. Next year, when the current 4th grade class is in 5th grade, a lot of them will have heard it eight years in a row.

They don’t complain, though. Quite the opposite. They love is as much as I do. Last week, when I read Space Case to a 3rd grade class, one of the students complained because she thought I wasn’t reading The Hallo-Wiener this year. Pssssh. As if.

I wrote a song about The Hallo-Wiener. I hope you like it.

Ukulele Games!


I’ve mentioned a few times, probably more, that I’m giving ukulele lessons to kids this school year. It’s been great, we learn lots of chords and songs, but I’m always trying to come up with ways to keep it fresh and fun.

One of the things I’ve recently kind of become obsessed with is finding games that we can play during ukulele lessons. I am looking for games that will help my students improve as players, but will also keep them having fun and looking forward to their lessons. So far, I’ve found three games that the kids and I love. I hope to come across more soon.

Here are three three we play:

Simon Says

Ages: 5 and up

The leader asks the group to play a certain chord. “Simon says play ‘C’. Great job! Now Simon says play ‘G.” This game gives the group a chance to review the chords they have learned so far, and gives the leader a chance to gently help them correct errant chord shapes if there’s a need for it. The group has to pay attention to make sure the leader says “Simon says” first. It’s always funny when I don’t say “Simon Says” and they okay it anyways. I like to trick them.

Once the group is more confident with playing, you can take turns letting the students be the leaders. They love doing trying to trick everyone.

Soft and Loud (Hot and Cold)

Ages: 5 and up

One of the group goes out of the room. The rest of the group hides a stuffed animal (or some other object) somewhere in the room. The group decides together what chord progression they will play. (This will vary based on the age/skill level of the group. For very young students, I’ve had them simply play one chord over and over again. For older students, we usually play a simple progression like C Am F G.) The student in the hallway comes back in the room and starts walking around. As they get closer to the hidden object, the group plays louder. As they get farther away, the group plays softer. This continues until the object is found. No one is allowed to talk about or give hints about where the object is. They must “tell” with their ukuleles.

This one has been the crowd favorite so far. They almost always ask to play it as soon as they get into the classroom. It gets them playing chord progressions, but it also helps them realize they they don’t have to hammer on their ukulele all the time. They can control the volume with how hard or softly they strum.


Ages: 1st grade and up

The group sits in a circle. The first person plays a chord and announces what chord they are playing. The second person repeats the chord, and adds one of their own. The third person must remember the first two chords and add another. This keeps going around the circle. Whenever someone forgets the order or plays the chords out of order, they are out. This keeps going until there is one player left who is crowned the winner.

I just started using this one this week, but it’s been a lot of fun so far. It gets pretty crazy once the chord progression gets long. I struggle myself, sometimes, to remember the order.

This one is good for chord review (the older students always want to trip everyone up by throwing a Bb or something like that in there) but it also helps develop their memory for remembering chord order, which will come in handy, as they become talented little musicians.

That’s what I’ve developed/discovered so far. If you know of any ukulele games, or music games that are adaptable for ukulele lessons, PLEASE SEND THEM MY WAY! I AM HUNGRY FOR MORE!

Thanks, and happy uking!



Book Review: H is for Haiku by Sydell Rosenberg


A few weeks ago, I received a message from Amy Losak, a new Facebook friend, about her late mother’s book, H is for Haiku. She offered to send me a copy, and asked if I would be interested in reviewing it. I agreed. I enjoy reading new poetry for kids, and haiku is a form of poetry I am especially fond of. (Fun fact: When I first joined twitter, my username was Benjihaiku, and I made it a point to only tweet in haiku form. That lasted like three weeks, probably) I’m glad that she approached me. Haiku is a difficult form to write in a way that is pleasing and interesting for kids, and Rosenberg put together a thoughtful, but also very fun collection.

It is arranged as an alphabet book, but I didn’t even notice that until about halfway through. To me, it felt we were taking a stroll through the city with the narrator, as she pointed out things that amused or interested her. The expressive font is part of the artwork, and the great cartoon illustrations do some of the heavy lifting when the haiku isn’t always clear. The illustrations and the text work together to make a really good book.

If you are teaching a haiku unit to your class, or are just looking for something new to read to the kids in your life, this book is perfect for that. Lovers of children’s poetry should definitely check it out.

It is published by Penny Candy Books, and is available now!

Ambidexterity for the Win!


Funny anecdote time. Because sometimes you need to step back and laugh at yourself.

This school year I have been giving ukulele lessons to students after school. I wasn’t sure how it would go or how much interest there would be, but the response has been amazing. At the moment, I’m teaching twenty-two kids. That’s about the most I can teach at once.

This past Friday, I started a brand new student. He was enthusiastic, and energetic and seemed really eager to learn, so we jumped right in with the beginning basics. I taught him how to hold his uke and how to strum it, and pretty soon he was attempting his first chords.

Immediately, we both knew something was wrong. It just didn’t sound right. I thought maybe it was his ukulele. It was a cheap, plastic one, which is usually fine for learning, but I had never seen this particular ukulele before, so I thought maybe this one wasn’t fine. I took it from him and tuned it up again and played it myself.

It sounded ok.

I gave it back to him and showed him how to make an F chord again. I made sure he was pressing down on the strings hard enough.  He tried to strum it again.


I honestly did not understand. I was starting to get flustered. I took his ukulele and tuned in again (for the third time in 15 minutes) and played it. Again, there was no problem.

I was at a loss. This kid obviously had some sort of curse on him that made a ukulele sound terrible even when played correctly. I didn’t know what to do.

I just sat there for a moment like


Not knowing what else to do, I asked him to pluck the chord out instead of strumming it, so we could see which string was causing the problem. It sounded ridiculous. It was almost like he was playing his ukulele up……..side……down.

Upside down!

“Wait a minute! Are you left handed?”

“I can use both hands,” he replied.

“Try flipping your ukulele around. Yeah, use your right hand to strum.”

“There we go! Doesn’t that sound better!”

He smiled and agreed that it did.

Turns out, he was holding it upside down, and since he was sitting directly in front of me, it looked like a mirror image of how I was holding it.

The rest of the lesson went much better.

I can’t believe that this is the first time I’ve run into the left-handed/right- handed issue. I am thankful that the first time was with a ambidextrous player, so I didn’t have to restring his ukulele in the middle of a lesson to make it left-handed.

Now I know to talk to parents about which hand their child plays with, so we can set up the ukulele properly before the first lesson.

I’m such a dummy sometimes.


The Most Checked Out Books of September


It’s also time for me to pull the circulation stats, and see which books my students checked out the most.

#1. We Are in a Book– 11 check outs


I gotta say. I don’t really get it. My students love all of the Elephant and Piggie books, but for some reason, this one circulates the most, by far, on a regular basis. It’s been the most checked out book of the entire school year, three years in a row. Any ideas as to why this one in particular is so popular? Is it the “bananas?” The characters breaking the 4th wall? Is it Gerald having to accept that his story will one day end, and staring his own mortality in the face?  Who knows. Either way, this book rules this school.

#2. Dog Man: Lord of the Fleas- 10 check outs

Lord of the fleas

I predicted last month that this one would be on the list soon, and I was right. It quickly zoomed up to the number 2 spot. It is very rarely on the shelf.

#3. The 78-Story Tree House- 8 check outs

78 story

No surprise here. This series is wildly popular.

#4. Dog Man: Unleashed- 7 checkouts


#5.Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy- 6 check outs


This was the biggest surprise this month. For some reason, a lot of kids checked out this particular Fancy Nancy book.

#6. I Broke my Trunk-6 checkouts


#7. Dog Man: A Tale of Two Kitties-6 checkouts

dogman tale

#8. 91- Story Tree House- 6 checkouts

91 story

This one also wins the award for “Book that generated the longest hold list.” Seriously. Like 15 kids wanted this book at once.

#9. Who Was Albert Einstein- 5 check outs


This one was kind of a surprise, but not really. I’ve often wondered when a Who Was book would grace the list. Who Was is one of the most popular series in our school.

#10. Elephant and Piggie Biggie- 5 check outs


What’s better than an Elephant and Piggie book? 5 Elephant and Piggie books in one. I got this one last year, but it stayed checked out by one kid for a really long time. It’s back, and it’s very popular.

That’s it! What are the kids in your life reading right now?

The Most Asked Question of the Month


This month I have been asked one particular question several times. It wasn’t students asking me, but adults. I’ve been called and emailed about it. People have stopped by the library to ask me, and people have messaged me on Facebook. They all want to know, “DO YOU HAVE THE WONKY DONKEY?” The answer was unfortunately, no, and the follow up question was always, “WHERE CAN I GET IT?” And the answer was, “You can’t right now, but you will be able to in October.”

You see, this hilarious video of a Scottish grandma reading the book to her grandchild went viral. The publisher was not prepared for the sudden demand for the book, and did not have enough copies printed. Never fear, though. October is here, and you can now purchase the book, so you can read it to your children in your fake Scottish accents.

Seriously though, Internet, more content like this needs to go viral.

While you are putting in your order, here are a few books you can add that came out today, or  in the last few weeks that are sure to please the young readers in your life.



Also, go ahead and preorder Travis Jonker’s new book. The Very Last Castle. It comes out in a week, and I am very excited to read it.



#ukulelesongFriday The Wheels on the Bus


Happy Friday! This is a well-known, pretty easy one that I play for my preschool classes. I also play it a lot with my elementary ukulele students when they’re first starting and only know 2 or 3 chords.


The Wheels on the Bus go round and round

C                                 F

round and Round, Round and round


The Wheels on the Bus go round and round

C                       F

All through the town.

Of course, there are many more verses. The horn goes beep, beep, beep. The wipers go swish, swish, swish. The doors go open and shut. The people bump up and down. The babies go WAAAHH! WAAAAHH! WAAAAHH! The mommies go shhhh! shhhh! shhh! and the wheels go round and round again.

A bonus is that the kids pretty much already know the motions, too! It’s a win-win for everyone.

strong>Previous #ukuleleSongFridays

Everybody Stand Up (original)

Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed

Apples and Bananas

The Washing Machine Song

Head and Shoulders Knees and Toes

There’s a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea

Elephant Song (original)

Bumping up and Down in my Little Red Wagon

Ants on the Ground (original) 

Bop Till You Drop

The Hokey Pokey

Brush Your Teeth

The Silly Dance Contest

Shake My Sillies Out

Hands are For Clapping

Book Review: Grow up, David


Ok, I’ll be the first to admit that in the past, I’ve been critical of authors getting into a rut and sticking to their formula. I rolled my eyes when the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie books kept coming and coming and doing the exact same thing. Same thing with the Jane Yolen How do Dinosaurs books. I even got annoyed when Rick Riordan hit up all the major ancient mythology systems and milked them for all they were worth, though as the books went on, he did some great things with his characters

When I saw that this one was coming out, I almost didn’t order it. I mean, how many times can you tell David, “No?” (there isn’t really a limit, I guess. Ask the Pigeon.) I mean, I thought the author had moved on and wrapped it up when we started scolding David’s dog.


I knew that my students would check it out, though, so I got it. I’m glad that I did. Not only did I enjoy it, but I immediately added it to my kindergarten and preschool lesson plans.

Yes, Shannon is still sticking to his formula, but this one is a little different as it’s the older brother doing the scolding. I won’t go so far as to call it new or original, but the illustrations, you guys! They are hilarious.

I’ll show you.

I like this one a lot. I can feel the brotherly love.


I’m not sure any of my younger students got that big brother was dropping a loogie on David’s face, but I got it, and I could feel David’s frustration/helplessness.


Yep. I can relate to a little brother stealing Halloween candy.


This is my absolute favorite. David running around with a photo of his brother’s girlfriend. I still laugh every time I see it.


And it ends with these next two. David’s brother finally lets him play football with his crew, and David gets creamed.


But then, David pops back up to celebrate the catch. It’s really a perfect ending.


I still want to know why David’s teeth have always been filed to razor-sharp points, but I guess we will never know.

All in all, it’s a fine addition to the David books. It improves the series as a whole, and I think kids will love it.

It’s pretty obvious that David Shannon had either an older or a younger brother, or at least examined a pair of brothers very closely. He totally gets the brother/brother relationship.

This is one is available now wherever hilarious picture books are sold.


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