Sometimes, One Crayon is All You Need to Get Out of a Predicament

After reading the 2014 Caldecott Honor Book, Journey, about a bored girl who creates a daring and dangerous adventure for herself using a red crayon, I was reminded of a far simpler version about a footed pajama-wearing, pointy-nosed, wide-eyed, almost hairless little graffiti artist named Harold.

Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson, has timeless appeal, as he wields his one and only crayon to both create and solve one problem after another, until he draws himself to bed, and the crayon slips from his sleepy hand to the floor.

I enlarged a b&w picture of Harold from the book, and copied him in various random positions all around 12 X 18″ pieces of white construction paper, and set out purple crayons.

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I read the book to students, then after book checkout, they were able to sit down at the tables and create a picture of Harold drawing an adventure of their own choosing.  After seeing Harold’s imagination run wild with his purple crayon on the pages of the book, the students were excited to let their own imaginations take Harold someplace too.

But don’t forget the moon.  The moon always followed along.


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Tag on the back:

Today we went to the library
and Mrs. Foote read
Harold and the Purple Crayon
by Crockett Johnson



Speedy Book Check-out with Personalized Shelf Markers

How do you quickly check out books to students, and avoid having a long line of noisy, wiggly students waiting?

How do you make them use shelf markers when taking books off the shelves?

Here’s an option that, in my opinion, is the most efficient, least expensive, and — full disclosure — most labor intensive start-up method.

I use Destiny, and there are a number of options for checkout, that I am aware of:

1)  When students say their name, type it in Destiny.

2)  Print bar codes, by classroom, and keep in a 3-ring binder in page protectors.  When students say their name, scan their bar code from the sheet.

3)  Print labels, put on plastic library cards and cover with a clear label.  The plastic cards were $.10 each from Demco.  They are reusable year-to-year, as student bar codes/numbers don’t change.  At the beginning of each year, I printed the incoming kindergarten name/bar code labels and put them on top of the outgoing 6th grader cards.   (These were often lost in the classroom, or in student desks, so I kept them in the library.)

4)  Combine the name/bar code label with the shelf-marker!

Number four is the option that I’m currently using, and I love it for these reasons:

1)  It forces students to use shelf-markers.  No shelf-marker, no check-out.  Books go back where they belong.

2)  It solves the problem of not being able to hear the student say their name, or not entering it in Destiny the unique way their parents decided to spell it (Rylie, Rilee, Riley, Rylee).

3)  Students can scan their shelf marker and books — they love this — under my supervision, and I don’t have to handle every book that gets checked out.

I found the inspiration to do this here.

I approached my favorite local paint store, Vista Paint,  and asked for a donation of paint stir sticks.  I went back several times, because the sales person said they could give me about 50 at a time.  I have 750 students, so this looked like it was going to take some time.  After 3 visits, they just handed me a box of 1,000!  Thank you, Vista Paint!

One of my lovely daughters, who has spent too much time on Pinterest, exclaimed that I could NOT just use bare paint sticks, and that she would help me spray paint them all, so they would be pretty for the students.  (I’m going to prove she doesn’t read my blog, because she would hate this picture being posted.)


We started with solid colors, but when we got down to the bottoms of the cans, we started splatter painting.  My original intent was to make one entire class the same color(s), but later discovered that Destiny had not been updated yet with the current year of classes when I printed the labels, so I had to re-sort all of them, and they were no longer color-coded by class.  (Let that be a lesson to you.)  As it turned out, having uniquely painted stir sticks made it easier for students to quickly find theirs on the table when they enter the library.

Her cat helped by supervising.


I had a cupboard of miscellaneous acrylic paint, leftover from various craft projects, and I used these up as well.  I painted spots, dots, stripes, splatter, and every other combination I could think of.

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I purchased magazine holders from Ikea, and keep them stored by class.  I set them out on a table before a class comes in, and I put the empty container at the circulation desk.  After students use their shelf marker to check-out, they put it back in the container.

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Additional labor I didn’t anticipate:  The paint stir sticks are two-sided, and needed two coats of paint, in addition to a primer layer.  The labels had to be cut down to fit on the sticks.  The label adhesive didn’t stick to the wood, nor would clear tape hold them on, so I used two coats of Mod Podge to adhere them.  It was a major time investment, but I was too far gone to stop.

If you are ambitious enough to try this, I recommend not painting them like I did.  I did not want students to decorate their own using markers, because I planned to reuse them for their entire elementary school career, and the drawings a kindergartener puts on a shelf marker are not ones they will appreciate having on their shelf markers as a 6th grader.  Collaborating with an art teacher to do a directed painting project using the stir sticks, and allowing them to paint their own in a separate area would be one possible solution.

This was a huge, summer-long undertaking, and had I known the extent of time involved, I’m not sure I would have attempted it.  Having done it, however, is AWESOME!  I never, ever have to say, “Use a shelf marker!” to students, they never get left in the shelves for me to collect later, and I don’t have to stress about remembering all the students names.  That’s worth a lot to me.

In hindsight, I might have purchased the plastic shelf markers, and added the name/bar code label to one end, with a clear label on top.  This would be more costly than donated paint stir sticks, but spray paint isn’t free, and neither is your time.  (Well, technically, mine was.)

I’d love to hear how you handle check out and shelf marker use in the comments.

Here are more helpful resources for using shelf markers.


Where’s Waldo in the Library?


Waldo pictures

As part of my elementary  library orientation at the beginning of the year, I take advantage of the irresistible, universal childhood need to find Waldo, wherever he may be hiding.

I printed and laminated multiple Waldo pictures in a variety of poses, Waldo’s dog, and Waldo’s girlfriend.  I tape them with blue carpenter’s tape around the library in different sections, hidden in plain sight.

I hand out cards to random students, and ask them to stand up one at a time, and locate Waldo in the Fiction section, or locate Waldo in the Picture book section, etc.  Everyone helps out with “You’re getting warmer/colder” comments, and it gets everyone’s attention, because, of course, everyone wants to visually locate him before the student who is actually charged with pointing him out.

I have also worn a red and white striped shirt with blue jeans, to add to the fun.


Where do you think I taped Waldo’s dog?   In the 636 section, of course!

Ready for more fun with Where’s Waldo at the Library from Candlewick Press?

No Worries About Back to School!

Worry Stones

Who doesn’t get the jitters about the beginning of school?  Not just students, but parents, teachers, administrators, and support staff too!

I read back-to-school favorite, Wemberly Worried, by Kevin Henkes, with two Special Ed classes, and we read about all of Wemberly’s concerns.  Then we talked about things we might worry about; I went first to break the ice.  I confessed to worrying about whether I would remember teacher and student names (my first year at the school), and if students would like the books I read aloud.  I didn’t know if any students would want to share their own worries, but I was surprised at how candid they were, once we got started.

Worry stones are typically a smooth, hard, polished gemstone with an indentation for rubbing the thumb across, used to relieve anxiety.  They were used in ancient Greece, Tibet, Ireland, and in Native American Tribes.  (What do you suppose they worried about?  I’d love to know!)  Read more about the history of worry stones here.

This website shows excellent pictures on how to make worry stones using Fimo Clay.  Fimo Clay is inexpensive at Michael’s (you never go without your 40% off coupon, right?), and it takes very little.

I divided the clay into small segments in advance, and students selected three colors to make their unique worry stones.  Students carved their initials on the bottom using an opened paper clip.  I brought my little toaster oven from home (perhaps your staff lounge has one already), baked them for 20 minutes, and delivered them to the classrooms later.   When we made them at the hour-long public library story time, children made the worry stones first, and I baked them while I read a few back-to-school books, so they were able to take them home with them right away.

Tip:  You may want to have a few extras made, so students who are absent are able to have one, even though they weren’t able to make their own.






If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

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This engaging, popular story, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, by best-selling children’s author Laura Joffe Numeroff, practically insists readers predict what the mouse is going to ask for next–a glass of milk, a straw, a napkin, and on it goes, until it comes back to needing another cookie.  Many of the students had already heard the story, and were only too happy to pipe up with what the mouse would ask for next.  A good book is like having dessert–it’s just as enjoyable the second time!


tan construction paper or white paper plates
brown construction paper, cut into “chocolate chip” triangles
(you can decide if you pre-cut, or let kids.  I sprinkled pre-cut triangles in the center of the tables, since the transitional kindergarteners weren’t ready for scissors yet)
glue sticks

Sticker on the back of the cookie:  (see explanation at the bottom of the page here)

Today we went to the library,
and Mrs. Foote read,
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
by Laura Joffe Numeroff

Reading this book to K’s and 1’s IS a “Good Idea!”

That is Not A Good Idea!

Mo Willems.  Need I say more?  There isn’t a kid alive who doesn’t love the sense of humor of this three-time Caldecott Honor winning author and illustrator.  That is NOT a Good Idea! is my new favorite book by Willems, thanks to a wonderful kindergarten teacher who shared her copy with me last year.

In the illustrative style of an old silent film, the hungry wolf proceeds to lure the sweet, demure mother duck for, er, to dinner.   The students wanted so badly  to warn the mother duck that her choices were NOT NOT NOT a good idea!  She just kept right along making obviously bad choices, page after page, to the increasingly frantic warnings from her ducklings, and Willems shamelessly leads us all to believe she is going to meet an awful end.  Spoiler alert:  It turns out, the sneaky wolf is actually the one making all the wrong choices.  Nail-biting anticipation culminates in a thigh-slapping, surprise ending that makes one want to go back and read it again, to see how one could have missed the signs.  Feel free to give in to the urge to do this.  It’s a quick read.

The adorable ducklings are so easy and fun to draw, using a guided drawing technique.   I explained that everyone is going to stay together for the entire drawing, and that it will be very hard not to go on ahead, but please wait for me to show how to add each new part.

This drawing is so simple, I apologize for insulting you by including the steps below.  You can go in whatever order suits you.  I demonstrated on a big yellow sheet, as I walked the students through it.

I only set out the colors of crayon that I wanted used.  Personal expression is for another day, and another project.  I wanted these to all turn out looking like the ducklings in the book, no pink eyelashes or purple dresses added.  Call me a control freak.  I don’t think you can give a kid a tray full of colorful crayons and expect them not to use them all, so I often sift through the crayon bin and pull out only approved colors.  (Go see my post for Harold and the Purple Crayon, if you don’t believe me.)

Supplies:  Yellow construction paper, black crayons, orange crayons, blue crayons

1)  Draw an oval.

2)  Draw two legs.

3)  Add wings.

4)  Add two little motion lines near his wings.

5)  Draw two dots for eyes, and add some eyebrows.

6)  Give him a tail.

7)  Draw three loops on top of his head.

8)  And now, the only tricky part–the mouth:  Draw two small horizontal ovals, and connect them with two black lines.  Fill in the middle area with black crayon.  Fill in the upper and lower beak with orange crayon.

Then kids can add their own personalization, like the ducklings in the book, by adding a hat, a bow tie, or a clinging eggshell.  Many went on to add more ducklings on the front and the back.   Most students can’t draw just one.  They’re just that fun to draw!

I think every one of those students can imagine themselves illustrating a children’s picture book now.





A Black Dog with White Spots, or a White Dog with Black Spots?

Harry the Dirty Dog

This storytime practically does itself.  The classic tale of Harry the Dirty Dog, by Gene Zion, published in 1956, is just as appealing to kids today as it was then.  What child can’t relate to not wanting to take a bath, and going to great lengths to avoid it?  Harry’s antics are illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham, and their simplicity lends itself perfectly to this successful project.

Supplies:  Black construction paper, white construction paper, black Crayons, white crayons.

Prep:  I cut out 4 shapes at a time, using a pattern made from photocopying the book cover.

Set up:  Each student chose a place setting at the table with either a black or a white dog, and the opposite color crayon, and could make them as dirty or clean as they wanted.

All of the classes made a small Harry, which can be used as a bookmark, but I asked one class to also make a large Harry that I could keep and display on a bulletin board, and they were happy to oblige.  It generated some conversations, as students, parents and teachers walked through the library.

“Can our class make those too?”  (No, sorry, you’re in 5th grade, and I won’t be doing this with your class, but you are welcome to come back at recess and make yourself one.)

“Oh!  I grew up reading Harry the Dirty Dog!”

Sometimes, it’s just nice to have a storytime with no glue to scrub off the table, and no paper cuttings on the floor to pick up.

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Have I mentioned I always put a tag on the back of anything we make in the library?  I learned this technique during an art docent training years ago.  The trainer told us to always put a note on the back of any artwork done by the students, so that parents can read what they’ve done, and it can be a conversation starter.  Otherwise it can just get lost in the jumble of backpack detritus.  It’s also an effort at library promotion — I would like parents to have the opportunity to see that their students are doing something fun and engaging in the school library.  The parents are on the PTA board, the PTA pays for part of my salary, and the PTA is the sole source of the library book and supply budget.  It’s just my way of communicating, “Here’s what your children are getting for your generous contribution.”

I use an Avery label template, 30 per page, but I use regular printer paper, cut it out and glue it on the back with glue sticks, because it’s less expensive.  Sometimes, I can give the job to some upper graders who are happy to help at recess.

Today we went to the library,
and Mrs. Foote read
Harry the Dirty Dog
Written by Gene Zion

Illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham
Listen to Betty White read the story at

The Magic of “Press Here”

Press Here Photo1a

“Did you see that?” she whispered to her teacher sitting next to her in the back row.  “I’m making that happen!”  That’s truly the magic of this simple book–letting kids feel a part of the magic.  Actually, not merely a part, but the source!

Press Here

Press Here Book Trailer

The charm of this book, Press Here, by Hervé Tullet, shines brightest when you read it to a group of kids, who can immerse themselves in the joy of discovery, and the delightful illusion of an interactive book.

Each page invites the reader to press, tap, rub, blow, shake or tilt.  The ensuing results of the action are revealed when the page is turned.  I held the book out to the seated students, and asked them to perform the actions directed on each page.  I moved through the rows, letting each child have a turn.

Everyone watched intently as their classmates took their turn, sometimes helping to count the number of taps out loud, or offering help with which is left or right.  Then everyone was invited to predict (buzzword) what would happen on the next page.  Of course, the number of pages didn’t coincide with the number of students in each class, so with some classes, a few had several turns, and in other classes, I let a few students redo a page we had already done, so everyone was satisfied with their participation.  Students were then able to make their own Press Here books to take home.

I planned to do this storytime with only the kindergarteners, but it was such a success, I repeated it with 1st and 2nd grades as well.  We did this in September as our very first storytime of the school year.  In January, one boy sought me out and told me excitedly that he had received this book as a Christmas present!  (Nice going, mom and dad!)

Prep:  Cut and fold white paper into square cards.  Write in blue marker “PRESS HERE” on the front cover.  Punch out way more red, yellow and blue circles than you think you’ll need, and sprinkle them in the center of the tables,  set out glue sticks.  I was punching circles til my hands ached every night before school to resupply for the next day of classes.  If you don’t have the patience for this, and want to spend the money, you can purchase round stickers at Office Depot.  Consider limiting the number of dots children are allowed to use, as some got a little carried away with the fun of sticking them on.

 Press Here

Student Instructions:  Stick one dot in the center between the words PRESS and HERE.  Add dots to the inside in any pattern or combination desired.

Press Here

Be prepared to be asked to press the dot
on everyone’s book when they finish,
and exclaim with delight when the book is opened
and the magic is revealed!

Just a few of the many awards:

American Library Association Notable Children’s Book 2012

California Young Reader Medal Winner 2014