To Be Continued

to be continued in cotsenI get lots of questions about my programs, but the program that consistently generates the most inquiries from Youth Services Librarians is To Be Continued, our chapter book story time for kids ages 6-8. I invented the program in 2007, when I was looking to bridge the gap between Tiger Tales (our weekly story time for 3-5 year-olds), and Cotsen Critix (our literary society for 9-12 year-olds).

Here’s how the program works. Over a series of weeks, I read from a chapter book. At the end of the book (typically 6-8 weeks, depending on the length of the book) we celebrate with a hands-on project, activity, or field trip that is somehow related to the book.

coconut experiment smaller versionIn addition to listening to books and doing fun projects, kids can also earn books. Each time kids participate in the program, they earn 1 foil star sticker. When they reach 5 stickers, I buy them whatever book they want (up to $12.99 in value). I keep track of their stickers by tracing their hands on sheets of paper. All the sheets are kept in a binder, which I bring out at the end of each session.

sticker binderWhen it comes time to order the reward books, kids and parents can shop locally and put something behind the register for me to purchase, or they can send me a link to the book on Amazon. And by “book” I mean anything with pages! I’ve purchased Sudoku puzzle collections, bird watching guides, comics, blank writing journals, and the sheet music to Frozen. I’ve also purchased used books, out of print books, and books in other languages.

Oh, and I always wrap the books up like presents before I give them to the kids. Because who doesn’t want to get a present? Especially when it’s a BOOK!

So, how does To Be Continued go over? Fantastically. We have some really dedicated attendees that I’ve read to (and grown up with) for 3 years! There’s nothing more magical than opening a book and reading to kids. And to put a book they’ve earned into their hands and see them get excited about it? Man. Sometimes it brings tears to my eyes.

Over the years, I’ve answered lots of questions about To Be Continued. Here are some of the more frequent ones, in no particular order. If you have any additional questions, e-mail me and I’ll add them to the list!

When do you have the program?

It’s every Wednesday from 3:45pm to 4:45pm year-round (with the exception of major holidays and the month of August). So it’s essentially an after-school program. Depending on when your school districts let out, you might want to hold the program earlier or later in the day.

This is after school! Most kids just want to run around and blow off steam! How do you keep them listening instead of wiggling?

Oh, let me count the ways!

I have a cache of enormous floor pillows I bring out 15 minutes before the program begins. As the kids arrive at the library, they pounce, drag, stack, and pummel the pillows. That definitely helps them blow off some steam. After about 10 minutes they settle down and the pillows become giant mattresses for them. I’ve actually had kids fall asleep when I was reading!

I also keep the kids engaged by reading the books like they’re radio plays. I use different voices for the characters, pause at dramatic moments, sometimes I even make sound effects. I’ll stop sometimes and talk to the kids about what’s happening in the story – get their opinions, ask them how they feel about something, or ask them to make a connection to something in their lives, etc.

Approximately 30 minutes into the program, we take a 10 minute break so the kids can stretch their legs, use the bathroom, talk, play with their friends…within reason of course. If they are acting totally out of control during the break, that’s not good for anyone.

Do you have any rules for the program?

There are two rules at To Be Continued. The first is “Listen or Leave.” If you’re not listening to the story, if you’re jumping on pillows when everyone else is settling in, talking loudly while I’m reading, or if you’re pestering someone, you must leave the area until you feel you can listen.

The second rule is “During the break, there is NO running, NO screaming, or NO stickers.” Getting the wiggles out after 30 minutes of concentrated listening is fine. But pounding around the gallery and shrieking at the top of your lungs is not.

And I always, always give kids a warning before I enforce either rule. That gives them a chance to regulate themselves. And it works! Especially rule number two. Losing a sticker is a big deal for the To Be Continued kids. In 9 years, I’ve only had to take away 2 stickers.

How did you come up with the title of the program?

The title is a nod to all those cliffhanger radio plays and television shows that ended with a suspenseful “To Be Continued!” In fact, when we reach the end of my program, I always close the book and say “To be continued!” and all the kids invariably shout “Noooooo!” But they perk up when I tell them it’s time to do the book-earning stickers. Sticker earning (and book awards) always come at the end of the program.

Do you serve snacks?

Our library doesn’t allow food or drink (we have rare books sharing the gallery with us), so we don’t serve snacks.

I would love to do the book earning thing, but we don’t have room in our budget for it. Any suggestions?

I award a 1 book for every 5 stickers earned. And I cap the purchase at $12.99. On average, kids order books that are $7 – $8. You could always expand the book-earning time frame to say, 10 weeks instead of 5. Or you could cap the purchase at $8. You could have them choose an inexpensive little toy from a prize box instead. I considered doing that (or giving out fun bookmarks). But I decided that my ultimate goal was to get as many books into the hands of kids as I can. And I’m very fortunate that my budget allows me to do that.

How many kids attend the program?

We’ve had as few as 2 and as many as 26. Typically, attendance is between 10-12 kids.

What do you do with siblings who come to the program?

Younger and older siblings are absolutely welcome to sit and listen to the story (and many do!). If we’re doing a hands-on project, they can join in. However, only 6-8 year-olds can earn books.

What happens when new kids join the program when you’re in the middle of the book?

I always begin the program by welcoming the kids, briefly explaining the program, and reminding them of the rules. Then I recap the entire book for them (not just what we read the previous week). When that’s done, I start reading. If there’s a new kid and something in the story needs a little more explaining, I’ll stop reading and quickly supply more backstory. From what I can tell, it only takes a few pages for new kids catch on to the story.

What’s your biggest challenge with this program?

The biggest challenge is finding books to read. You want a book that is appropriate for 6 years-olds, but intriguing enough for 8 year-olds. Additionally, our community is steeped in literature, so most of the kids have already heard “the classics.” There’s no way I can read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at To Be Continued. Everyone already knows it!

In my experience, the best To Be Continued books have some action and a story that moves forward quickly. A little spookiness, adventure, or mystery doesn’t hurt either! The Books of Elsewhere: The Shadows was one of my personal favorite. It was so much fun to read aloud, and the kids LOVED it. Once girl loved it so much she requested all the sequels for her award books – all the way to the end of the series.

Here’s a list of all the To Be Continued books and projects I’ve posted on the blog thus far (to scan them visually, see our Pinterest board):

Nim’s Island: Coconut experimentation (and bowling!)
The Books of Elsewhere: The Shadows: Shadow puppets
The Mysterious Benedict Society: Kate Wetherall bucket game
Measle and the Wrathmonk: Rubber cockroach magnet mazes
Igraine the Brave: Swords and shields
Charmed Life
: Herbal amulet and dragon’s blood identification
Horton’s Miraculous Mechanisms: Rube Goldberg-esque mechanism
Horton’s Incredible Illusions: Magic show in a box
The Imaginary Veterinary: The Sasquatch Escape: Sasquatch search and certification
Floors: Box of puzzles, riddles, optical illusions, and ducks
Lily Quench and the Dragon of Ashb
y
: Tin foil black light dragons
Missing on Superstition Mountain: Visit to Dept. of Geosciences, pyrite, and singing rocks
Castle Hangnail: Gothic castle votive

Do you read entire series of books at the program?

Generally speaking, I’ll read the first book in a series, and then encourage kids to follow up on the other books on their own (and many do!). However, there was one exception to this rule. The kids unanimously voted to have me read Horton’s Incredible Illusions, which is the sequel to Horton’s Miraculous Mechanisms. They really, really wanted to find out what happened to Stuart and April!

If, by the way, you’d like to hear my interview with Lissa Evans, the author of those fabulous books, follow this link. Another author I’ve interviewed from the above list? Mr. Trenton Lee Stewart, puzzle master extraordinaire.

Do you think the program is effective?

I do. I can see the kids listening, I hear them discuss the books as we’re reading them. I watch them become wrapped up in the characters and the plot. Also, I’ve also seen kids change from distracted non-listeners to very intent listeners. The change doesn’t necessarily happen overnight, but over the course of a few weeks (or sometimes months) the change does happen. Best of all, I’ve had parents tell me that the program has inspired more reading at home. YES!

I Am Kitten, Hear Me Snore

i am kitten, hear me snoreGet ready for bed with a cozy nightcap and flickering lantern. You might, however, want to bring some earplugs…someone out there is snoring to beat the band, and it’s going to take some searching to find out who (hint: think furry and very, very cute)!

We read Roar of a Snore, written by Marsha Diane Arnold, and illustrated by Pierre Pratt (Dial Books, 2006). It’s night, and the household slumbers peacefully. Except Jack. He’s wide awake, being treated to a roof-lifting, floor-rumbling, full-on ROAR of a snore. Who is disturbing the peace? Jack systematically awakens the residents of the house, who join the investigation. Eventually, the entire family find themselves in the barn’s hay loft, where the culprit is revealed. Who knew a tiny little kitten could make so much noise?

You’ll need:

  • 1 strip of poster board (approximately 1.75″ x 22″)
  • 1 sheet of tissue paper (mine was 20.5″ x 30″)
  • A selection of self-adhesive foam shapes
  • 1 rectangle of yellow construction paper(approximately 2.75″ x 8″)
  • 1 piece of ribbon (approximately 4.75″ long)
  • A selection of colored masking tape
  • 1 9oz plastic cocktail glass
  • 1 square of circle of white poster board or mirror board (mine was 4″ x 4″)
  • 2 mini tin foil pie plates (mine were 2.75″ in diameter)
  • 1 sparkle stem (or regular pipe cleaner)
  • 1 LED votive
  • A selection of foil star stickers (optional)
  • 1 snoring kitten (more on this below)
  • Stapler, scissors, and tape for construction

We’ll begin with the nightcap! Lay a sheet of tissue paper (in landscape orientation) on a table. Place a 1.75″ x 22″ strip of poster board at the bottom of the tissue paper.

nightcap step 1Fold the bottom edge of the tissue paper halfway up the poster board strip. Secure in place with multiple pieces of tape.

nightcap step 2Now roll the poster board strip upward, once. This is the “hatband” for your nightcap.

nightcap step 3Trim the excess panels of tissue paper off. The excess panels are the sections that are not attached to the hatband (the cuts are demonstrated below with dotted lines).

nightcap step 4Circle the hatband around your head, and secure the ends together with staples.

nightcap step 5Decide how tall you’d like your nightcap to be, then bunch the tissue paper together at the top. Secure with colored masking tape (I used purple tape). Regular tape works as well!

nightcap step 6Trim the excess tissue paper off the top of the hat.

nightcap step 7Set the hat aside for just a moment…it’s time for the tassel! Fringe a 2.75″ x 8″ rectangle of yellow construction paper, then tape a 4.75″ piece of ribbon to one end. Roll the paper around the ribbon, and secure the paper roll with tape. Tape the tassel to the top of the hat (I used purple masking tape once again – regular works too). The final step is to decorate the hatband with self-adhesive foam shapes!

finished nightcapThe hat is done, now for the lantern! My lantern consists of a plastic cup, 2 mini tin foil pie pans, a circle of mirror board, a sparkle stem, and an LED votive. However, if you don’t have these supplies (or if you’d like to construct a simpler lantern) I recommend this super easy one. Otherwise, read on…

Begin by tracing the mouth of a 9oz plastic cocktail cup onto a square of poster board (or silver mirror board). Tape the circle to the top of a mini pie pan. This forms the base of your lantern.

bottom of snore lanternTo make the lantern’s handle, punch both ends of a sparkle stem through a second mini pie pan. Twist the loose ends together. Tape the pie pan handle to the bottom of the plastic cup like so:

top of snore lanternPlace an LED votive in the center of the lantern’s base, then put the plastic cup handle on top of the base. Since you want to be able to open the lantern to get to the LED votive, use tape to create a “hinge” on one side of the cup, and masking tape to make a “latch” on the other side (you can see my latch below, in purple). Finish by adding some (optional) foil star stickers to the plastic cup.

finished snore lanternWhen your nightcap and lantern are finished, it’s time to play the “Find the Snore” game, starring THIS fantastic snoring kitten!

snoring kittenI drew the kitten on a small poster board facade, then taped it to a hand-held tape recorder. I bought it back in 2003 when I needed something inexpensive to record and transcribe my dissertation interviews. A quick Google search led me to a snoring sound track, which I recorded right out of my computer’s desktop speakers.

snoring tape recorderWhen it came time to play “Find the Snore,” we darkened the gallery, and asked the kids to cover their eyes while I hid the kitten and pressed “play” on the recorder. Wearing their nightcaps and carrying their lanterns, the kids had to follow the snore to find the kitten!

searching for snoresThe first few times, I kept the kitten fairly low to the ground, or just above eye level.

kitten on the hearth

But the final time, I stuck it waaaay up high, and watched them dash around for quite a while. They heard it, but couldn’t find it! Eventually, however, they spotted the kitten, snoring away overhead.

kitten up high

If you don’t have a tape recorder, a smartphone would work too. Or get a staff member to brush up on his/her comic snoring and hide (bonus points if he/she wears cat ears).

The Ultimate Road Trip

the ultimate road trip Hit the road in a totally stylin’ pull string truck. Your mission? To deliver produce to the city market. But first, you have to navigate a 12 foot obstacle course packed with trees, animals, buildings, water, and bridges!

We read Little Blue Truck Leads the Way, written by Alice Schertle, and illustrated by Jill McElmurry (Harcourt, 2009). Little Blue Truck is heading to the city to deliver some fresh country produce. But the city is a lot bigger, faster, and unfriendlier than Little Blue  expects. A bus bullies, a grocery truck shouts, a police car wails, and a street sweeper hollers. Suddenly, the limousine carrying the mayor breaks down, creating a terrible traffic jam. But when conscientious Little Blue offers to give the stranded mayor a ride, the traffic jam turns into a delightful procession through the city, ending at the grocery store just in time for Little Blue’s delivery!

You’ll need:

  • 1 box (mine was 4 ½” X 4 ½” x 6” – a small tissue box works too)
  • 1 pickup truck template printed on 8.5″ x 11″ card stock
  • 4 circles of black construction paper (approximately 2.5″ in diameter)
  • A piece of string (approximately 24″ long)
  • 1 mini craft stick
  • 2-4 toilet paper tubes
  • 2-4 rectangles of green tissue paper (mine were 9″ x 12″)
  • 1 roadway obstacle course (more on that later!)
  • Scissors and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating

finished pickup truckFirst, the pickup truck! I used a craft box with a lid, but I’ll also demonstrate how to use a small tissue box. If you’re using a craft box, begin by cutting the lid and tabs off the box. If you’re using a small tissue box, turn the box on its side and cut the side off.

tissue box cutSet the box aside for a moment. Cut the front of the truck from the template. There are 5 folds you’ll need to make on the template. Each fold is marked with a dotted line. First, fold the 2 tabs on either side of the hood.

truck template fold 1Next, fold the 2 panels on either side of the truck’s headlights.

truck template fold 2Finally, fold the hood down to meet the side panels, and secure it with tape.

truck template fold 3Tape the front of the truck to the front of the box like so:

attached truck hoodHere’s the tissue box version. As you can see, this results in a slightly shorter (but still very serviceable) truck.

tissue box truck alternativeNext, cut the roof piece from the template. Fold along the dotted lines and tape the roof to the top of the box.

attached truck roofDraw some lines on the grill template, then tape it to the front of the truck. Finish by taping black construction paper wheels to the sides. Make sure the wheels don’t extend past the bottom of the truck!

finished template truckThat’s the basic construction, but there are a couple variations on it. You might, for example, want to wrap the box with construction paper first. Also, we traced roof and grill templates onto different paper. Our roof was blue construction paper, and our grill was silver poster board. We also added some dot stickers to the wheels for hubcaps.

finished pickup truckUse red and gray construction paper to add tail lights and a rear bumper.

truck tail lights and bumperOf course, you can also skip these variations and just use the template pieces and markers! If you decide to go that route, have the kids decorate the template pieces with markers before they tape them to their boxes.

The final step is to make the truck’s pull string. Knot a piece of string around a mini craft stick, then attach it to the bottom of the box with tape:

craft stick attached to truckTo make your “produce,” stuff the tops of 2-4 toilet paper tubes with green tissue paper. Place the tubes in the back of the truck. We didn’t secure the tubes down with tape. We wanted them to wiggle and wobble while the trucks navigated the obstacle course.

truck produceAnd what an obstacle course it was! We used two, 6′ plastic tabletops to create it. These tables have shown up on the blog before – once for sled runs, and again for snail races.

the courseOne of the tables was (securely) propped up on a cushioned stool to add a challenging hill to the course. You can also see how we made the buildings…facades taped to tissue boxes, which were then secured to the tabletop with packing tape.

propped up courseThe building facades were Marissa’s handy work! Out in the country was a big red barn…

red barnAs well as an ice cream stand, a gas station, and a windmill…

ice cream standgas stationwindmillThere were ducks by a river bridge, and a trio of raccoons near a pond…and how do you like those towering conifer trees?

duck bridgelakeThe entrance to the city was marked with a big bridge. I made it out of a strip of cardboard, tin foil, tissue boxes, and silver poster board.

big bridgeOnce in the city, there’s a bank and a couple of skyscrapers…

bankskyscrapersAnd finally, at the veeeery top of the course, was “The Leafy Lettuce.” This is where you delivered produce to your eager customers.

the leafy lettuceWhile constructing the course, we taped the buildings down first, and then added the road. We considered using long strips of black paper, contact paper, or masking tape outlines (similar to what this clever person did). But then I found this glorious stuff at our local toy store. I had to give it a test drive:

playtape road tapePlayTape is basically masking tape with road printed on it! The 30′ rolls came in 2 widths (2″ or 4″). I went with the 4″ size, which was $13 a roll (the 2″ size is $9). I found the tape on Amazon as well (in different colors, with special curved pieces, as train tracks, and there’s even a “Mud Madness” version!). The tape was awesome. My only complaint is that at times, the ends curled up off the plastic tabletop. The tape did much better on the rugs and hardwood floors of my home. It peeled easily off all surfaces, and left no residue behind.

With the road in place, the course was ready! Drivers started at the bottom, then tugged, steered, turned, and yanked their cars up the course.

truck en routeMake sure you tape everything firmly in place (even the animals) because there will be plenty of hilarious crashes. Oh yes, there will.

crashHere’s one of my favorite trucks on course. Look at that fantastic rainbow roof!

rainbow truckEventually, all the trucks found their way to The Leafy Lettuce. We left the course open for a good 20 minutes after story time. It was very busy. A few Hot Wheels cars even showed up to take a drive…

hot wheels test drive