Happy Birthday, Mo Willems!

Mo Willems is a beloved, best-selling children’s author and illustrator, whose silly sense of humor hits kids right on their funny bone. He gives adults a few chuckles as well.  His books are some of my favorite read-alouds.

Mo Willem’s birthday is February 11th, so I hosted a birthday party story time at the public library in his honor.  We had a great turnout:  60 kids and parents/caregivers!  We started by learning about him from this biography.  Did you know he used to be a writer for Sesame Street?

Mo Willems Biography

It wasn’t easy to pick just three of his books to read, but I settled on That is Not a Good Idea!, Knuffle Bunny:  A Cautionary Tale, and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.  By the way, if you’ve ever wondered if you are pronouncing Knuffle correctly, here’s the scoop:

Q. How do you pronounce “Knuffle”?

 A. You can pronounce Knuffle however you like, but I pronounce it the Dutch way (it means “Snuggle” in Dutch) with a hard “K” like “Krackle”.

That is Not  Good Idea  Knuffly Bunny   Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus

Our elementary school-age patrons have informed me that they love story times that include food, which is admittedly not my favorite story time activity to shop for, prep, host and clean up after.  Still, I couldn’t resist this super cute food craft, that can be found on the Juggling with Kids blog.  A pigeon driving a bus that kids can make and eat!

Pigeon Graham Cracker Bus

I made it just as described in the blog, except I used frosting instead of cream cheese, and just broke a little piece of the Oreo off to make the pupil of the eye instead of buying a bag of mini chocolate chips.

IMG_6946I made these instructions and left copies on the tables.


Graham crackers (the bus)
White frosting
Yellow and blue food coloring
Chex or Life cereal (bus windows)
Mini vanilla wafers (the pigeon)
Mini Oreos (wheels)
Yellow Starburst candy (beak)
Mini chocolate chips (eyes)

Plastic knives for spreading frosting
Clear plastic cups for frosting
Paper plates

For those who finished early, I left these drawing pages and crayons out.  They can be downloaded here, by selecting Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! 10th Birthday Celebration Activity Kit.  (These are also great to have at the elementary school library for after book checkout, when I read Mo Willems’ pigeon books.)


Here are two very special, regular story time attendees showing their creations, just before they ate them.


This was one of my favorite story times to host, and I would definitely do it again.
I’m even willing to rethink my feelings about story times with food.

Ninja Storytime

Ninja! by Arree Chung

From the moment I finished reading, Ninja! written and illustrated by Arree Chung, I knew I had to create a story time using this picture book about Maxwell, a boy obsessed with ninjas. He silently sneaks around the house, surprising unsuspecting family members, surreptitiously thieving snacks, abruptly ending his dad’s couch nap, and earning both the outrage of his little sister and disapproval from his mother. In the end, he invites the little sister to join him in the ways of the ninja, and one is left to imagine the amusing havoc they will wreak together. The spare narration of Maxwell’s ninja thoughts amusingly contrasts with the illustrations, which show the true picture of what is really happening.

I had a much younger group than usual at the public library storytime, which ranges from K-5, so I highly edited the excerpts I had planned to read from two non-fiction books, to give background information about real 14th century ninjas, not just the ones kids are accustomed to seeing in cartoons and action movies.

Ninja, by Jason Glaser and Don Roley.


You Wouldn’t Want to be a Ninja Warrior!  A Secret Job That’s Your Destiny, by John Malam, and illustrated by David Antram.

You Wouldn't Want to be a Ninja Warrior

First Lessons in Ninjutsu, on page 10 of, You Wouldn’t Want to Be a Ninja Warrior, was the inspiration for creating an obstacle course for little ninjas-in-training. The challenge was to create an age 5-10 appropriate, kid-appealing, non-injury-producing, collateral-damage-avoiding, indoor-space-confined way to practice beginner ninja skills. My creative co-workers chimed in with great ideas and supplies to use, and it took many hands and weeks of planning and prepping materials.

After reading, we adjourned to table stations with craft supplies that children rotated through at their own pace, before starting the ninja training course.

Craft Activity Tables:

1)  Assemble a jointed paper ninja puppet

Ninja Puppet1Ninja Puppet2

2)  Color a pre-made origami ninja star (to use on the training course and take home)


3)  Assemble nunchucks, using painted cardboard tubes, yarn and hole punches



Ninja Training Course:

1)  Disguise:  I had new, donated t-shirts leftover from past athletic events (thank you City Parks & Recreation Department!) to make ninja masks. YouTube has many videos on how to turn a t-shirt into a ninja mask.  Alas, the group was young, and none of them wanted to wear a ninja mask.

Our amazing teen volunteer demonstrated the course.

2)  Balance:  Walk on rocks and a narrow piece of cardboard over water. Participants could make each subsequent trip more challenging for themselves by walking forward, backward, sideways, etc.


4)  Kicking:  Kick over boxes covered with wood-grain printed paper. We started with one box on each stool, and then stacked them three-high later. Some of our little ninjas were too short to kick them, so they punched them instead.


 5)  Escape:  Crawl through tunnel


6)  Weaponry:  Throw paper origami ninja star at target (hula hoop taped to the wall).

7)  Stealth:  Maneuver through a series of laser beams (red yarn tied between two rows of chairs).



8)  Agility:  Jump over bushes made with large, crumpled sheets of green butcher paper.

Repeat as many times as possible, until a parent/guardian insists it’s time to go
for at least the third or fourth time.

Online Resources

Be sure to check out the website, www.arree.com, which has a wealth of fun things to do, including Ninja coloring pages, an activity guide that includes instructions on how to make an origami ninja star, and a hilarious book trailer.

Visit www.ninjefyme.com to upload a photo of yourself, and add a ninja costume.

A few more photos from a shorter 30-minute Ninja Storytime at the elementary school for the transitional kindergarten classes, which included the Ninja! book by Arree Chung, the ninja training course, and no crafts (definitely no ninja stars or nunchucks).  I was able to make the red yarn laser beam section twice as long–and twice as awesome.


Mind Your Manners


With Thanksgiving around the corner, it seemed like the perfect time to brush up on (or learn) good manners.  I held this story time at both the public library for K-5’s, and the elementary school library for two classes of transitional kindergarteners, omitting the pumpkin craft at the school due to time constraints and skill level.

.Yes Please, No Thank YouSuppose You Meet a DinosaurNo Slurping, No Burping

Students enthusiastically participated in the story, “Yes, Please!  No, Thank You!” by calling out the polite way to answer together throughout the story.

They also were very engaged in guessing well-mannered ways to respond to situations (“thank you,” “excuse me,” “I’m sorry,” “you’re welcome,” etc.) posed in Suppose You Meet a Dinosaur, A First Book of Manners, by Judy Sierra.

No Slurping, No Burping, by Kara LaReau, is a hilarious new picture book, published this year, with a role reversal twist that makes kids giggle.  A brother and sister have to help their father with his mealtime etiquette, and then a special surprise guest comes for dinner.  The students were so eager (and a little nervous, too!) to see if he could remember all the manners he had learned when grandma arrives.  When it’s time to have dessert, it became clear that she could use a little refresher on her manners also, and everyone dissolved into laughter.



We reviewed a picture of a simple place setting, and then had a relay race with 3 teams, each with a bag containing everything needed for one place setting:  plate, cup, fork, knife, spoon, napkin, place mat.  Students had to run up to the table with the bag, one at a time, quickly set a place setting, and once it was correct, put everything back into the bag and run back to the end of the line.  The teams livened up the race by supporting each other, calling out encouragement, chanting names, and chiming in with helpful pointers.  “Put the place mat down first!”  Who knew setting a table could be so exciting?

We finished up this story time by making a paper pumpkin to use as a Thanksgiving table decoration.  The most exciting part of making the pumpkins seemed to be the novelty of getting to use the hole punches.






orange card stock, cut in 12 strips, 1 1/2″ wide  X 10″ long

green pipe cleaner

pumpkin leaf outline copied onto green card stock


hole punch


Punch holes at each end of all the orange strips, and in the leaf to put the pipe cleaner through.  Crunch up a small section of the pipe cleaner at the bottom and top of the pumpkin, so the orange paper holds the desired shape.  Spread out the strips of paper in a circle.  Finish by curling the top of the pipe cleaner.


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.