Back to School Reading

This time last year was tough for me. My first born was getting ready to start kindergarten and every night I laid awake in bed wondering where the years had gone. I bawled my eyes out after she got on the bus and I even hightailed it to the school to watch her walk in the doors for the first time. Slowly we found a rhythm and while there were a few bumps in the road she had a good year.

This August, as the new school year (and first grade) approaches, I am still a little sad to be sending my baby off to school but also excited for her to head back to class, make new friends, and learn even more about herself and the world around her.

If you are getting your kids ready for kindergarten (or 1st or 2nd grade) here are some fun picture books we have been reading around my house that may help you with the transition from summer to school!

bookcover11 Experiments That Failed by Offill & Carpenter

This book is the literary embodiment of my daughter. Crazy science experiments that make big messes? Perfect. If you have a budding scientist on your hands they will love seeing their own crazy experiments mirrored in this picture book. Better for slightly older kids.

Mom, It’s my First Day of School by Hyewon Yumbookcover.php

I loved this book last year, and I still love it this year! Mom, It’s My First Day, takes the first day jitters and gives them to Mom, instead of the kid. The little boy reassures his mom that everything will fine and before she knows it he will be back home!

bookcover.phpAmelia Bedelia’s First Day of School By Herman Parish

I loved Amelia Bedelia as a kid, and I love the newer kid version too. Amelia makes some silly mistakes on her first day of school, but that is okay: school is for learning and with a brand new teacher to help her she is sure to make lots of fun memories this year!

Dinosaur Vs School by Bob Sheabookcover.php

The Dinosaur vs. series is a favorite in our house. In this installment Dinosaur heads off to school for the first time and the day is broken into segments that any pre-schooler or kindergartener would be familiar with; storytime, music, snacks, and, of course, clean up! Perfect for younger kids who are wondering exactly what they will do in school.

bookcover.phpSchool for Bandits by Hannah Shaw

Mr. and Mrs. Raccoon are worried about their son Ralph. His behavior is awful: he is thoughtful, clean and polite! How will he ever fit in at Raccoon Bandit School? Turns out it is okay to be yourself and being polite can be very good! Longer text.

Marshall Armstrong is New to Our School by David Mackintoshbookcover.php

Marshall Armstrong is very different from everyone else at school but that doesn’t mean you can’t be friends! Worried about making new friends? This is a great book to remind kids that everyone is different, and that’s okay, its our differences that make us special.

Firbookcoverst Grade Stinks by Mary Ann Rodman

Haley is worried about first grade because it is so different from kindergarten. But with a caring teacher and new friends she begins to love first grade as much as she loved kindergarten.

Ally-Saurusbookcover by Rich Torrey

Ally is a loud, happy dinosaur but she is nervous about the first day of school. She wonders if she will fit in and if the other kids will like her, since she is a dinosaur. Things don’t go smoothly at first but Ally realizes that everyone is a little different and a little nervous. This is a great book for independent kids to help them see that everyone is a little nervous on the first day, but that making friends is easy if you be yourself.

Let the count down to the first day BEGIN!

By Natalie, CLP-Southside

This post was originally posted on The Eleventh Stack. See it here!

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Let’s Make Music!

When thinking about early literacy development in young children, music may not be the first thing to come to mind.  But music plays an important role in developing the six early literacy skills that will later help children become great readers.  Music, especially singing, is a wonderful way to introduce phonological awareness and new vocabulary to children.  When we sing songs each syllable has its own note, making it easier for children to hear the smaller sounds in individual words.  Plus, singing a song like “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” introduces children to the magic of making animal sounds.  What toddler can resist a musical moo?

Many songs and nursery rhymes use vocabulary words we may not encounter on a daily basis.  And the more words young children hear, the easier it is for them to understand and sound out those words when learning how to read.  Music is also a great way to bond with babies and inspire a family dance party!

Last week during our Kids Create program at the Squirrel Hill branch, children in kindergarten through 2nd grade explored basic musical concepts such as pitch, rhythm, beat, and volume.  Stations were set-up around the room featuring a different musical activity at each station.  Children and their grown-ups made craft stick kazoos and bean tambourines, and experimented with a variety of real and homemade instruments including box zithers, sandpaper rasps, and spoons!  To learn how to make your own homemade instruments, check out the book, Making Musical Instruments with Kids by Bart Hopkin.


Children explore homemade sandpaper rasps at CLP – Squirrel Hill.


Playing the triangle at CLP – Squirrel Hill.

Another station featured two different iPad apps–Musical Me! by Duck Duck Moose, and Toca Band by Toca Boca.  Musical Me! is composed of a variety of games that focuses on teaching young children pitch recognition and musical notation, as well as rhythm and beat.  The Toca Band app lets children explore sounds and mix beats to create unique silly songs.

If you’d like to try your hand at making your own instruments or would like to explore music through stories, check out these great books!

-by Jessica, CLP – Squirrel Hill

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What Have You Learned This Summer?

As part of the library’s summer reading program, we encouraged everyone to dream up a learning goal, alongside a reading goal. Setting a learning goal gets to the heart of what summer reading programs are about: combatting summer learning loss while school is out of session.

During these last few weeks of summer, ask yourself what you have learned. It is never too late to set and tackle a goal! You can be sure that the staff at your library will be excited to help along the way.

I had two favorite learning goals from summer readers at the library.

One summer reader said, quite readily, “I want to learn about women who did great things.”

Some picks that offer starting points on this topic include:


The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency: The Case of the Missing Moonstone written by Jordan Stratford and illustrations by Kelly Murphy, Grades 5 & Up

History, mystery, and science collide in a new series for middle-grade readers, perfect for fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society and Lemony Snicket! Jordan Stratford imagines an alternate 1826, where Ada Lovelace (the world’s first computer programmer) and Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein) meet as girls and form a secret detective agency!


Rad American Women A-Z written by Kate Schatz and illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl, Grades 5 & Up

There are artists and abolitionists, scientists and suffragettes, rock stars and rabble-rousers, and agents of change of all kinds.

wangariWangari Maathai, the Woman who Planted Millions of Trees written by Franck Prevot and illustrated by Aurelia Fronty

Wangari Maathai received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her efforts to lead women in a nonviolent struggle to bring peace and democracy to Africa through its reforestation. Her organization planted over thirty million trees in thirty years. This beautiful picture book tells the story of an amazing woman and an inspiring idea.

My second favorite summer learning goal was also delivered without hesitation. It was as if this summer reader was simply WAITING to be asked.

The reader proclaimed, “I need to learn about chicken blinking. I mean, do they blink, I think they blink up and down. I don’t know. But I’m going to figure it out!”

For this, and other “Why” and “How” queries, I found a few handy tools.

chickenfollowedA Chicken Followed Me Home! Questions and Answers About a Familiar Fowl by Robin Page

Celebrated author-illustrator Robin Page leads a step-by-step, question-and-answer-style journey through the world of chickens. Along the way you’ll explore different breeds, discover different types of coops, and learn everything there is to know about chicken reproduction and hatching.

howHow? The Most Awesome Question and Answer Book About Nature, Animals, People, Places – And You! by Catherine Ripley

Bright, playful illustrations from Scot Ritchie complement the clear text and set the scenes for the common questions that kids ask.

scienceonlineThe Science Online database offers science fair project ideas for caregivers and educators to browse, and articles about a wide range of topics in the sciences. I dug around using keyword searches in Science Online and learned about the nicitating membrane. This translucent fold helps birds and reptiles clean and moisten the eye. And it looks really cool!

But really – Do Chickens Blink? And How?

Happy reading!

By Angela Wiley, CLP – Squirrel Hill

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What can I read this summer?

Did you know you can read anything you want to for summer reading?!?  You don’t have to read books that follow the theme (Every Hero has a Story), however there are some you’ll want to read just because of the theme!

Take a look at these . . .

hoot owl

Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise

Author Sean Taylor and Illustrator Jean Jullien have paired together to write this hilarious, mischievous, and even ridiculous story about an owl who disguises himself to catch his prey.  Somehow they all get away.  Will he ever get anything to eat?  Beware if you are an animal of the night!



There are lots of important trucks in the city, but the garbage truck?!?  All he does is collect the trash . . . until one evening it snows and snows and snows, and the garbage truck sneaks into a garage and comes out as . . . SUPERTRUCK!  He plows out the entire city.  The next day all the other trucks wonder, who could that truck be?!?

shake to assemble

Shake to Assemble

Avengers fans, this one is for you!  You tap, shake, blow, push, swipe and more to assemble this popular group of superheroes.  When they are finally together, you help clap and cheer their mission . . .  Avengers Assemble!

       timothy    Timothy and the Strong Pajamas

Timothy loves his raggedy, patchy pajamas!  When his mother suggests that he get a new pair, he protests.  The stores only sell NEW ones, not FAVORITE ones.  So his mother fixes them for him–she uses the strongest thread, sturdy patches and adds on six red buttons.  He trots to bed and as he opens his bedroom door, he pulls it right off the hinges!  His mother fixed his pajamas so well that they are now Super Strong Pajamas and he has super strength!  He decides to use his power to help people, so he rescues an elephant, a princess, some sailors, a zookeeper and even a kitten.  But when HE needs help, who can he turn to?  Keep a good eye on your pjs!


Fortunately, the Milk

The kids needed milk for their cereal and since Mum was away at a conference, it was up to Dad to get the milk.  This hilarious adventure is just the kind of thing that might happen to any parent making a run to the grocery store, or at least you might be able to convince your kids like this father did!  The story is expertly told by Newbery Award winner Neil Gaiman and illustrated with cartoon-type drawings by Skottie Young.  You’ll want to read this more than once just to catch all that happens.

Happy reading!

By Kathy, CLP –  Main, Children’s Dept.

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Be a Hero: Fight the Summer Slide!

Sign up for Summer Reading!In the long, muggy months of summer, a grave danger lies in wait, lurking behind the lull of picnics and swimming pools and fireworks.

Who is this nefarious villain, waiting in the shadows to sap the smarts from the brains of kids?


The Summer Slide is the alias of the dreaded SUMMER LEARNING LOSS, which chips away at children’s hard-earned skills during idle months away from the classroom. Research has steadily shown that students score lower on standardized tests at the start of the new school year than they do on the same tests just before summer vacation begins. To make matters worse, kids from low-income families are more susceptible to the effects of summer learning loss because of lesser access to engaging learning opportunities during the summer months.

How can we fight the threat of this fearsome foe? What’s the best way for kids to resist the effects of the summer slide?

You guessed it: READING. Reading alone. Reading together. Reading anything, anytime, anywhere.

Reading in the summer helps children retain the literacy skills they’ve built during the school year, keeping their minds sharp and strong, ready for the challenges ahead. All parents want their kids to enjoy the carefree summer days of childhood, but it’s all too easy to underestimate the power of the summer slide.

Super Summer Reading heroes fighting the summer slide at the library.

Super Summer Reading heroes fighting the summer slide at the library.

Luckily, the public library is an awesome ally in the battle against summer learning loss. The Summer Reading program encourages readers to log the books they complete in exchange for cool prizes all summer long. Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh offers Summer Reading programs for kids, teens, and adults. And as always, the Library is packed with learning opportunities for people of all ages. Check the events page to find activities at a library near you to keep your brain engaged in HEROIC learning.

There’s not a moment to lose…be a hero and sign up for Summer Reading today!

– Maggie, CLP- Carrick

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What’s the buzz? Fun books about bees and butterflies!

On May 19, 2015, President Obama announced a federal initiative to protect and promote the health of honey bees and other important pollinators.  The National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators plans to turn federally owned open spaces into feeding sites for bees and butterflies.  By planting a variety of flowers in these open spaces, Obama and the Pollinator Health Task Force hope to see a resurgence in bee and butterfly populations.

Through a federal survey, beekeepers reported a loss of more than 40% of hives this past year.  Many scientists believe honey bee decline is caused by a variety of factors including parasites like the Varroa mite, pesticides, and habitat loss.  This is big news because honey bees and native bees like the bumble bee, pollinate many of the foods we enjoy. Imagine your plate without blueberries, apples, broccoli, tomatoes, almonds, and more! Dinnertime suddenly seems a little less colorful and really boring!

As a beekeeper, I love to share my admiration of the bee with children and their families whenever I get a chance.  During storytime we count felt bees and read Sergio Ruzzier’s Bear and Bee.  While watering and harvesting herbs during our Little Green Thumbs programs, I try to point out the colorful pollinators we find in the Library garden.  Here at CLP – Squirrel Hill, we’ve had school-age programs featuring silkworms, as well as butterfly rearing.  Incorporating the natural world into programming is fun, easy, and inspiring for both children and grown-ups alike. So what can you do to help our bee and butterfly friends?  Plant native wildflowers (including milkweed–the only source of food for Monarch caterpillars!) and read these great books!

          -By Jessica, CLP – Squirrel Hill

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STEM: All Hands on Tech!

iPads, Apps, Bee-Bots, Squishy Circuits and more!  The Library is a wonderful place to explore technology.

ipad photo

iPads are being used in a variety of ways inside libraries around the city.  Through programs like Storytime, Super Science and Kids Club, children and families have the opportunity to interact with carefully chosen websites and apps. Librarians often share apps that reinforce STEM learning by encouraging curiosity, observation skills, matching and memory.

You don’t have to be a computer programmer to learn how to code through our STEM Super Science: Robots program. Kids in grades K-5 have the opportunity to problem solve and practice sequencing and estimation skills while having fun interacting with Bee-Bots.

beebotKids can learn about electronics through the exploration of Squishy Circuits.  By using a special Play-doh-like material, Squishy Circuits empowers kids to create circuits and instantly see the results through colorful lights.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh features technology learning opportunities like these in many locations around Pittsburgh. Visit our Events page to find more STEM programs at the library!

By Mary Beth – Children’s Services Coordinator

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What do you do, dear? (Or how my research changed from books on manners to chapbooks)

This is a little different type of post here on Story Pockets, less about working with children and more about messing around with books. I hope you enjoy reading about my adventures in historical children’s literature.


“There once was a boy named Pierre, who only said, ‘I don’t care.'” (Maurice Sendak, Pierre) Words to music so often stay in our minds long after mere words go away. This is the first line of a song from the television show Really Rosie,” which was aired in February of 1975. I never saw the show, but my grandmother sent me the soundtrack album, and it soon became the soundtrack to my life. I could probably sing all of the songs by memory to you right here, if pressed. rosiesdoor In all of my imaginings, I never would have guessed that a record album sent to me by my grandmother would be so important to me almost forty years later. Let me tell you a little bit more. “Really Rosie” is based on five books by Maurice Sendak. The first book is The Sign on Rosie’s Door, and the remaining four books make up a set called the Nutshell Library: Pierre, One was Johnny, Alligators All Around, and Chicken Soup with Rice. The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh does not own the Nutshell library in one set, but if you type the phrase “Nutshell Library” into the Classic Catalog as a title, all four books come up, and you can order them one by one. The set by itself is adorable, let me tell you, and its adorableness got me in a lot of trouble, by and by. chicken soupone was johnnyalligatorspierre In 2013, I received the Bechtel Fellowship from the American Library Association’s Children’s division, ALSC, to study historical children’s literature at the University of Florida. I thought I was going there to study books about manners, since that is what I wrote on my research proposal. To prepare for the fellowship,  I did research on such contemporary manners books as, What do you say, dear? and What do you do, dear? Undoubtedly, it was those two irreverent titles, both illustrated by Maurice Sendak, that got me on the track I followed instead: writing about Mr. Sendak and his connection with chapbooks. I can hear you now, asking me, “What’s a chapbook?” Let me give you a quick definition:  Chapbooks, cheap pamphlet type books, were made in the 18th and 19th centuries and sold from town to town by chapmen, who were traveling peddlers. These are not to be confused with poetry chapbooks, which is a whole other kettle of fish. what do you saywhat do you do One day while I was in Florida, I looked at the chapbooks about manners that I’d been studying in one hand and The Nutshell Library in the other, and a light bulb went off. You can read more about the ensuing hijinks in my article that was published last month in Children and Libraries. by Suzi, Downtown & Business

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BAM! POW! READ your way into Kids Summer Reading with these great books!

Heroes and heroines come in a variety of shapes and sizes–from community helpers to Batman, you can find a hero with a story to tell (and a book to share) almost anywhere you look!  This year, Summer Reading is all about the heroes and heroines that inhabit our everyday lives and imaginations.  Check out these heroic books at your Library while you sign-up for Kids Summer Reading.

Supertruck by Stephen Savage

For the youngest Library goers, Stephen Savage’s new book, Supertruck  (Ages 2-6), tells the story of a city garbage truck with a heroic super power all his own.  When the city is hit by a blizzard and buried deep under the snow, Supertruck plows in and saves the day!  With its simplistic text and charismatic illustrations, Supertruck makes for a great read aloud.

Ten Rules of Being a Superhero by Deb Pilutti

In Ten Rules of Being a Superhero (Ages 4-7) by Deb Pilutti, a young boy lists the most important rules of being a superhero when he plays sidekick to his beloved Captain Magma action figure.  Filled with humorous illustrations and insightful advice, this guide is a must-read for any superhero in training.

Not all princesses wear pink all of the time.  Meet Princess Magnolia; part pretty in pink, part Princess in Black!  The Princess in Black  (Ages 5-8) by Shannon & Dean Hale is a story about a not-so-ordinary princess with super powers and super skills.  For example, she can stop nasty monsters in their tracks with ninja moves like the Princess Pounce!  Turning the princess genre on its head, The Princess in Black stars a strong, smart, and adventurous young heroine capable of saving her kingdom.

The Princess in Black by Shannon & Dean Hale

The 2015 Newbery honor award winner, El Deafo (Ages 8-12) by Cece Bell, explores many common themes of growing up, but with a twist.  The graphic novel is based on the author’s own experiences of losing her hearing at a young age, and what its like to live with the Phonic Ear (Cece’s not-so-easy to hide hearing aid).  Cece Bell poignantly describes what is feels like to be “different,” with humor and spunk.  Read El Deafo to find out how Cece uses the Phonic Ear to transform herself into a superhero.

El Deafo by Cece Bell

Every hero has a story–what’s yours?

by Jessica, CLP – Squirrel Hill

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Summer Reading EXTRAVAGANZA!

As May turns to June and another school year comes to a close, public libraries are preparing for the busiest season of the year. The annual Summer Reading program fills Pittsburgh libraries with readers tracking books to win prizes and participating in extra-special library activities. As we prepare to launch another awesome summer of reading, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh kicks off the fun by hosting a giant outdoor festival at CLP- Main in Oakland.

This year’s 15th Annual Summer Reading Extravaganza will take place on Sunday, June 7th from 12-5 PM. Kids, teens and adults can enjoy this super outdoor festival with music, crafts, games and… books!


Here’s a sample of some of the great things you can do at this year’s Extravaganza:

  • Sign up for Summer Reading and get your materials that day
  • Enjoy live performances, interactive storytimes and puppet shows
  • Rock out with The Labs and play fun CLP Readers Games
  • Learn about the exciting things you can do all over town this summer with Pittsburgh City of Learning
  • Browse the annual book sale
  • Try your hand at science experiments
  • Personalize a Smiley Cookie with Eat ‘n Park
  • Support your Library by purchasing food from the featured food trucks
  • Try your hand at gardening, cooking, robots, learning a new language and so much more!

Extravaganza is held rain or shine and no registration is required. Don’t miss one of Pittsburgh’s best family festivals of the year. Join us on Sunday, June 7th and help us kick off an awesome summer of learning.

-Maggie, CLP- Carrick

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