Category Archives: fun things to do

Battling it out again with the Super 64

B3 logoMy favorite 5th grade teacher is now working with kindergartners, so while I still work with a 5th grade class, my Super 64 battle of the books is not B3 – B cubed – Mrs. B’s Book Bracket – anymore.  Still fun, still full of great books.  I still like the logo, too, so darn it, I’m keeping it.

But somehow I blew past the first few rounds without writing anything about it, and here we are, down to the Final 4 already.  When I visited the day before Spring Break, the kids were in the middle of a party with their younger buddies, so we didn’t vote while I was there, which means I don’t know who’s made it to the semi-finals.  Here are the final eight with the winners:

Wonder vs. Swindle – WINNER: Wonder

The Giver vs. Holes – WINNER: Holes

I Survived (series) vs. The Lightning Thief – WINNER: The Lightning Thief

Escaping the Giant Wave vs. Diary of a Wimpy Kid – WINNER: Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Doing a book bracket, even with kids who don’t see themselves as big readers, has been a great way to get discussions going about books.  I gave out bookmarks with the covers of the final eight on them, and I know at least a few kids might use those for future reading selections.

In the past, the fifth graders I’ve visited have been big readers, with a lot to say about their favorites and the match-ups.  The school has a real culture of reading, and the fifth grade teacher did a lot of extra things to promote interest in books and reading.  This year’s group is quite a bit less enthusiastic about books in general, which may be due to the change in teaching staff or to a dynamic within the class rather than the more apocalyptic “kids never read anymore.”  In the past, I’d often have quite a few kids with strong opinions about anything I talked about it. This year, it’s always the same one or two kids who speak up.  When we started voting, quite a few kids wouldn’t even vote for more than one book.

Now, however, we’re to the point in the competition where they cheer whether they’ve read the books or not.  It’s not much, but maybe it’s a start.

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Pigeon. Pete the Cat. Llama Llama. The election is over.


So here we are.  It’s happened.  Pigeon has won the presidency.  Hide the keys to the Presidential bus.

Pete the Cat was just too laid back.  “It’s alllllll good,” he kept saying.  Llama Llama just couldn’t overcome the drama drama.  Pigeon, meanwhile, was racking up a number of questionable votes — why did that whole stack have EXACTLY the same X in exactly the same spot?  Why did unmarked ballots keep disappearing off the end of the counter?

Still, it’s a democracy, people.  Good luck, Pigeon, with all that messy governing you’ll have to do.  Good luck.


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Circus Mirandus – B3 Winner!

Our Super 64 was whittled down to two the week before spring break – The Lightning Thief vs. Circus Mirandus.  It was a long road for both, past favorites like The One and Only Ivan, The Terrible Two, Smile, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Calvin & Hobbes.

The winner, finally, was Circus Mirandus, by four votes.  New pencils and a fun bookmark marked the occasion, and I talked with the kids about a brief email exchange I had with the author, Cassie Beasley, the day before.  They had talked about loving her book because of the depth of the characters and the great story, although I’m sure they also loved that it was something their teacher read aloud, so they experienced it together.  Without that added boost, it might not have made it to the finals.  As their teacher noted, classmates might have voted for or against books they’d never read.  Everyone knew and loved Circus Mirandus.  I mentioned some of this to the author, who commented on the great list of books and being excited about winning.  She promised there were books on the way from her.  Yay for all of us!

I wasn’t much of a fangirl when I was a kid, but as an adult, I’ve occasionally written authors to let them know how much their work means to me.  Authors spend a lot of time alone with their work before editors, agents, critics, and regular people ever get access to it.  I wonder sometimes how it feels to have your words picked apart, even when reviews are good.  Does the work even feel like your own at that point?

I look at things I wrote years ago, and it can sometimes be strange to imagine that I was the person who wrote it!  Hmm, I’ll think, that really was pretty good, even if it doesn’t seem like I could have come up with it.  I have to think that most writers appreciate the feedback when it comes from people who truly love their work, and if they don’t, well, they just won’t respond, will they?   Enough said.

Well done, Cassie Beasley.  Thank you for Micah, Grandpa Ephraim, Jenny, the Lightbender and even Aunt Gertrudis.

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The Talented Two – Mrs. B’s Book Bracket finally reaches the finals

B3 logoSo, I’m a little behind in reporting on our 5th graders’ book bracket…

Like I mentioned in the last post on our book bracket, I was sick. Then Mrs. B was sick. Throw in a field trip or maybe a family emergency to mess up the schedule and you’d have a typical month of Thursdays during the school year, right?

But here we are.  After a second vote between Circus Mirandus and The Terrible Two because of a tie, Circus Mirandus won, with several kids apparently switching their votes. The Lightning Thief was the big winner against Holes. So for our final two, we’ve got:

Circus Mirandus vs. The Lightning Thief

A newcomer against an old favorite? A stand alone versus a series? Magic versus myths? What could be better? I can’t wait to hear the kids try to convince each other to choose their favorite. Ah, the joy of reading!

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The Final Four — Mrs. B’s Book Bracket

B3 logoSometimes getting a really nasty virus is a good thing. Well, sort of. I spent the better part of a week fighting something awful, so by the time I made it to Mrs. B’s room yesterday, I felt physically better, however, my brain was mush.

After telling the kids about the new match-ups, I encouraged them to come up and give their favorites in the Excellent/Elite 8 a boost. The verbal battles began. The Lightning Thief was ok, even good, but it didn’t match the fun factor of Big Nate, which was kind of similar to Diary of a Wimpy Kid, a book which had narrowly missed moving on. Big Nate was fun, but really didn’t have the great characters and action of The Lightning Thief. Choosing between The One and Only Ivan and Circus Mirandus was tough, but  Ivan created such strong characters that it had to win out.  I want these kids on my side when I run for office!

Oh, the fun! And when the votes were counted, here’s the Final Four we ended up with:


The Lightning Thief

The Terrible Two

Circus Mirandus


We’ve come a long way…

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The Excellent and Elite Eight (Mrs. B’s Book Bracket)

B3 logo

We’re down to eight, after a nail biter coin toss between Big Nate and The Graveyard Book.  The other match-ups were within a few votes, too, although not quite that close. Several of the students have started writing “I can’t choose!” or “I like them both too much!” on their ballots when the choice is just too tough.

So our excellent final eight books in the 2016 B3 are:

Athlete vs. Mathlete


Big Nate

The Lightning Thief

The Terrible Two


The One and Only Ivan

Circus Mirandus

See the bracket below for this week’s match-ups. I can’t wait to see what happens next!





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March Madness, February Fervor and a book bracket…

B3 logo

It’s already started. A few weeks ago, I surveyed the fifth graders and came up with a list of more than 64 books. Some of them had heard about the B3 (Mrs. B’s Book Bracket) from kids last year; rumor has it that one even asked specifically to be put in Mrs. B’s class because of it.

This time of year, everyone starts talking about brackets and the Sweet 16 and basketball, of course. Last year, I came across ideas for getting kids excited about reading by using bracketology, and I thought it could be fun in my volunteer book talks.

My son and I came up with more than 100 books and randomly paired them to create the first bracket. In the end, last year’s initial 64 was winnowed down to a final two of Peg Kehret’s Escaping the Giant Wave vs. Raina Telgemeier’s Smile. Peg Kehret won, buoyed by fan loyalty; her books are much loved by the third grade teachers in the school. Fifth graders have fond memories of listening to and reading her books, and she managed to hold off Timmy Failure, Amulet, Belly Up, Hoot, and The PS Brothers before beating Smile. When I messaged Ms. Kehret about her big win, she very kindly wrote a short note back thanking her Iowa readers. It made the win even more fun for the kids to actually hear back from such a gracious and kind victor.

This year, we started with a slightly different 64. We’ve already had the first vote, and it’s been winnowed to a TERRIFIC 32, which you can see below. Once we hit the SWELL/SWEET 16, I’ll give the kids an opportunity to advocate for their favorites, which brings a whole different level of fun. Books, fun. That’s what it’s all about, people.

b3 terrific 32

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5 things to love about leading library storytimes – for people who aren’t in youth services

picture booksWe have one youth services librarian at my branch — a wonderful, energetic, creative woman who does toddler, preschool, and family storytimes every week, as well as teen activities, tween book clubs and a bunch of other things, too. She’s really just amazing, but she can’t be there absolutely every time, so occasionally I fill in for her at storytime. It doesn’t happen that often, but it’s just the right frequency to remind me how stunningly good she is at her job and how much I like seeing kids light up about stories. It’s not something I’d love as much if I had to do it all the time, I don’t think, but it’s almost always fun in the moment.   So in honor of my most recent, slightly disorganized family storytime, here are 5 things I love about it all:

  1. Chaos! At family storytime, you never know what you’re going to get. Sometimes, like the other day, there are infants, toddlers, preschoolers, elementary kids, and adults of all ages, too. I don’t mind the babies who get a little fussy except when the music’s on or the toddlers who spend most of the storytime wandering around the room. Even the older kids might spend a few minutes staring at the walls instead of following what I’m doing. I remind myself that there are all kinds of learning going on there, and learning how to be in storytime and participate is one of them. Not everyone arrives with the same skill set, but everyone can still find something to enjoy.
  2. Music! Will I ever get tired of Laurie Berkner? I don’t think so. I am amused by These are my glasses every single time I use it with kids. There is so much great kid music out there – Dan Zanes, Justin Roberts, Elizabeth Mitchell, and pretty much anything from the Putumayo Kids collection. I’m a fan of traditional songs, too. Although not all parents and grandparents remember them, enough do that it works out. Singing and music are great for your brain, whatever age you are.
  3. Classic stories and nursery rhymes! I don’t do it every time, but I like to include classic stories or nursery rhymes, especially when there are actions that go with them. If you’re comfortable with storytelling without the book in front of you, kids also love stories without the pictures if you have puppets – even stick ones are fine – or flannelboard figures or even simple figures drawn on a whiteboard. While they might not realize it, kids start picking up the verbal cues for transitions and building excitement in stories, and they also develop their listening skills.
  4. Drawing! Cutting! I love doing draw-and-tell stories like the ones you can find in Richard Thompson’s books and at There are also some fun cut-and-tell stories out there. Once you’ve done a few of them, you might even start creating your own!
  5. Parents and Grandparents! Sure, the kids are great – funny, silly, shy and all. But I also love seeing the parents and grandparents who come to storytime. After all, the little ones can’t get there without them. And it could be a great way to talk about our adult programs or some of our online options with them while they’re trapped in the meeting room. (I don’t usually remember to actually do it, but it’s a thought!) Sometimes we can connect for a few minutes over a story or the weather or some odd thing their kid is doing right now. Sometimes they are more focused on their phone or checking their email.   It’s nice if they are interactive, too, and some are, but I try to remember that they also might need a mental break from that little one for a few minutes, and having some goofy lady tell stories, sing songs, and dance completely out of rhythm might give them that. So it’s all good.
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The Super 64 B3 — THE WINNER!

finals super 64 b3

My March Madness of books started out in late February, and each Thursday as I’ve stopped in to volunteer with Mrs. B’s class, they’ve voted on a new bracket. This Thursday was the last, with a big winner to be chosen and announced.

The final two were Escaping the Giant Wave by Peg Kehret and Smile by Raina Telgemeier. A lot of the kids have been reading or listening to Peg Kehret’s books since third grade, so her book blew through a series of tough competitors, including Timmy Failure, Amulet, Belly Up, Hoot, and The PS Brothers. Smile, a graphic novel by Raina Telgemeier, had an equally tough journey to the end, taking down Athlete vs. Mathlete, Divergent, Tom Sawyer, and Calvin and Hobbes. Along the way, Harry Potter, The Diary of a Wimpy Kid, I, Funny, Big Nate, N.E.R.D.S., The Lightning Thief and many others also lost.

When it came down to counting the final votes, it was Escaping the Giant Wave by just a few. The kids also answered a short survey. (They often have really good ideas, and I might want to use a few for next year’s bracket.) Some thought the books should be grouped more by genre or by putting classics in one bracket and new books in another. Others liked the randomness of our original 64. Several mesuper 64 (2)ntioned that they liked the excitement of finding out the new winners and voting each week. One noted that I could up the excitement factor if I worked on my presentation skills. Ha! Another though we should vote on a losing bracket, too, which might be fun to add. Only one kid admitted to despising the whole thing, and I actually loved his resistance to admitting that any of this was fun, since he included a drawing of a toilet and still answered the question about his favorite book of the year at the bottom.

The list for next year is already started.

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The Super 64 B3 reaches the finals!

super 64 (2)What started with 64 wonderful books has now been narrowed down to just two.  Smile survived a battering from Calvin and Hobbes, and Escaping the Giant Wave won on the second vote — the first was a tie! — against The PS Brothers.   There have been a lot of surprises (for me) in this whole thing, but it’s a good reminder that not everyone loves the same books for the same reasons.  The PS Brothers held on for so long because the kids had heard it this year as a read-aloud, and I think read-aloud books take on a special place in the hearts of the listeners.  Peg Kehret’s body of work, including Escaping the Giant Wave, is also loved by most third through fifth graders at the school, so I think she had an added boost.  Raina Telgemeier’s books, Smile and Sisters, along with Calvin and Hobbes,  dominated their brackets, mirroring the great growtfinal 2 super 64 b3 (2)h in graphic novels for younger readers in the past few years.

We’ll vote on the final two to determine a winner later today, and I’ll also have the kids fill out a survey to see if they have ideas for what I could do next time with it.  The big winners in this whole thing?  Reading!  Books!  Fun!

The final two:

Escaping the Giant Wave (Peg Kehret) vs. Smile (Raina Telgemeier)

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