Category Archives: Articles

Middle School: Explore!

middle_school_explore_web_square_artWe are excited about the library’s third annual Summer Reading Program for middle schoolers: Explore! This year, we have even more in store for you! It’s time to Explore summer reading. With all new programs like a henna art workshop and a chance to join the circus, we’re looking ahead to a fantastic summer. Come kick things off with us on Friday, June 17 for our Middle School Mash-Up Concert. We have a terrific lineup of teens and tweens who can’t wait to perform. There will be refreshments to eat and door prizes to win. Bring your friends – it’s going to be a blast!

Of course, it’s about more than just Summer Nights @ the Library. We want to encourage kids to read, Read, READ. This year you can participate online or with a paper reading log. Either way, for every book you read this summer you can earn an entry in our end-of-summer raffle. Register here and read to win gift certificates to local businesses, iTunes gift cards, Giants tickets or even a GoPro. The more books you read, the better your chances to win!

Want to earn more raffle tickets? Come in to the library and complete an Explore Challenge, or volunteer to help out at a children’s event or with program prep. Come on in and fill out an application, or give us a call at (415) 389-4292 x4.

Throughout the summer we’ll have fantastic programs just for middle schoolers. You can learn to make (and eat!) vegetarian sushi, get a fabulous henna tattoo, craft a wallet or wristband out of an old bicycle tire, program Lego Mindstorms robots, and dine and discuss Masterminds by Gordon Korman at our Pizza & Pages Book Club. Finally, we’ll draw raffle winners at our Star Wars Trivia Night and End of Summer Party.

We can’t wait to see you this summer! Download full the brochure here (pdf).

Volunteers, download an application here (pdf).


A Thief, a Prankster, and a Class Clown: New Books for Older Readers

A Bandit’s Tale: The Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket by Deborah Hopkinson
bandit's taleFrom the author of A Great Trouble comes another fascinating historical novel set in 1880s New York City. A Bandit’s Tale follows Rocco, a clever young boy who has been sent to America in order to earn money for his family back in Italy. Little did Rocco or his parents know what kind of life was in store for him on the streets of New York; hunger, cold, and appalling living conditions lead Rocco to make very difficult decisions in order to survive. The presence of famous historical figures such as Jacob Wiis and Henry Bergh, vintage photos, and background information bring a authenticity to the novel. Even though child labor, cruelty to animals, and immigration are major themes in this story, Rocco’s unbreakable spirit lends an optimistic light to his narrative. (ages 9-12)

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste
jumbiesMost people in Corinne’s village do not go near the forest, for terrible creatures called jumbies are said to live there. Corinne is not scared, but when she sees a strange pair of yellow eyes watching her one night she begins to suspect some of the old stories she has heard are real. When she uncovers the truth about herself and her island’s history she must make a terrible decision: risk her own life for her that of her village or join the jumbies in their quest to take back their island. Loosely based on a Caribbean folktale from the author’s childhood growing up in Trinidad, this story adds new flavor to the fairy tale/folklore genre dominated by Grimm’s Brothers and Andersen’s tales. The Jumbies is a fast-paced, action packed story great for any reader breaking into middle grade fiction who enjoys magic, adventure, and scary creatures. (ages 10-14)

The Last Boy at St. Edith’s by Lee Malone
last boyOne by one, 24 of the 25 boys that attended St. Edith’s transfer to other schools, leaving Jeremy stuck with more than 400 girls and no hope of escape since he receives free tuition through his mom’s job. While Jeremy wasn’t particularly good friends with any of the other boys, he desperately wishes to go to a school where he is not the minority. He and his best friend Claudia concoct a plan to pull “harmless” pranks until Jeremy is expelled. The humor throughout the first half of the book gives way to a more thoughtful, emotional story as Jeremy’s pranks start to go wrong and he realizes the consequences of his actions are further reaching than anticipated. Practical jokers who have enjoyed Frindle or The Tapper Twins Go To War should like reading about Jeremy’s escapades in this solid coming-of-age story. (ages 8-12)

Jacky Ha Ha by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein
jacky hahaClass clown Jacky Ha Ha Hart loves to crack jokes at all the wrong times, maybe to distract others from her stutter or distract herself from the crummy stuff going on at home. With a mom deployed to Saudi Arabia and a father that is never home, Jacky channels her frustration into acting out at school, gaining her many, many detentions. The new English teacher recognizes Jacky’s potential and comes up with a plan for Jacky to get rid of her detentions while channeling her creative energy into joining the school play. Fans of Patterson and Grabenstein should enjoy this humorous story, but it isn’t either one’s best work. While Jacky is a relatable character just trying to navigate through the ups and downs of pre-pubescent life, the references to 90’s pop culture will not register with most readers and some of the humor falls flat. (ages 8-12)

-Sarah Beth

Beautiful Birds and Dynamic Dogs: New Books for Younger Readers

Bilby: Secrets of an Australian Marsupial by Edna Wignell
bilbySet in the dry and unforgiving Australian desert, a mother bilby gives birth to a baby. Nestled in a burrow deep underground, she cares for her little one. Soon he must grow up and learn to survive in this harsh environment. Nature-loving readers can follow the story of this elusive marsupial, learning its secrets even as it burrows out of sight. (ages 5-9)

Get Out of My Bath! by Britta Teckentrup
get out of my bathEllie the elephant loves to have fun in the bath, but she’s not the only one. Her fun is interrupted when a crocodile decides to join her, followed by a flamingo, then a mouse and even a tiger! Poor Ellie’s bath is ruined. What can she do? This boldly illustrated and textured book is designed to encourage readers to get involved in the story through tilting and shaking the book itself. (ages 3-7)

Monkey: Not Ready for Kindergarten by Marc Brown
monkey kindergartenKindergarten is only a week away, but Monkey is not ready! What if he gets on the wrong bus? What if they don’t have any red crayons? What if he doesn’t like the snacks? What if he doesn’t make new friends? So many things could go wrong! With the help of his family, his worries are eased, and he gets ready and excited for the big day. (ages 3-7)

Sweep Up the Sun by Helen Frost, photographs by Rick Lieder
Sweep Up the SunRobins, mallards, chickadees, sparrows and more are all featured in this book as they are in their tranquil natural settings. Through the use of photographs and lyrical storytelling, this book evokes images of play and flight, perseverance and trust. At the end, readers will find descriptions of the featured species. This stunning book is ideal for bird lovers of all ages, or anyone looking to embark on an adventure. (ages 2-5)

My Dog Bob by Richard Torrey
My Dog BobLike all dogs, Bob likes breakfast, riding in the family car, and digging for bones. But unlike other dogs, Bob cooks breakfast for himself and his family, drives the family car, and digs for dinosaur bones with a paleontologist. One day, the girl next door challenges Bob’s owner to a contest to see whose dog is best. What could go wrong? Readers will enjoy the silly storyline and dry humored text alongside the understated illustrations. (ages 4-7)




Mindfulness for Children

In this world of constant motion, over scheduling, homework, organized activities and media overload, it is hard to stop your mind from racing. “Monkey mind” is a term we use for thoughts rushing in and out, keeping us either in the past or the future. With so many distractions, it is very hard to stay present and appreciate the moment. We need to bring back into focus what young children do naturally, being aware of the moment by calming the mind and connecting with our five senses, inner thoughts and feelings. By teaching your children these skills, they will have a heightened awareness to their surroundings. Everything is fresh as a young child experiencing a new sensation for the first time. Here are some books that will help your child bring mindfulness into their life.

Meditation Is an Open Sky: Mindfulness for Kids by Whitney Stewart, illustrated by Sally Rippin
open skyMeditation is an Open Sky defines a bad day as “wobbly” and offers creative, sweetly illustrated meditations to assist children in quieting their mind and redirecting the wobbly day they are having into a thoughtful joyous day. Protection Circle for Security is one meditation that this book offers to your scared or anxious child a meditation for building a protective circle of colored light around their bodies using their imagination.

A Handful of Quiet: Happiness in Four Pebbles by Thich Nhat Hanh
handful of quietThis book takes a different approach to teaching children the art of being mindful. By using four pebbles to hold in your hand, each representing an element in nature, the child has a concrete tool as a focal point for bringing the mind and body into the moment. Using something like a pebble, bell or any small object can aid your child in bringing the wondering mind back to the moment.

Anh’s Anger by Gail Silver, illustrated by Christiane Komer
anh's angerA boy becomes angry with his grandfather, and that anger reaches deep into his belly, eventually appearing to him as a bright and beautifully illustrated creature. Anh sits with Anger and begins to breath deeply. Eventually, Anger dissipates and it and the boy exchane smiles. Anh is now able to use kind words to express his feelings of frustration to his grandfather.

Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and Their Parents) by Eline Snel
eline-snel-sitting-still-like-a-frog-mindfulness-eThis in-depth look introduces children to bringing the mind and body into the moment. With a companion CD, this is a “must have” tool in the teaching of mindfulness. Activities like Laughing is the Best Medicine, Accepting the Weather and a How Do I Feel Thermometer will set your child on a pat to mindfulness creatively.

Take the Time Mindfulness for Kids by Maud Roegiers
take the timeThis lovely tale can help children move away from feeling “Topsy Turvy” by using their senses to experience the present world immediately around them. Though written for the young child, this book offers an universal message of being in the moment for children of all ages. “Take the time to listen to silence.” How beautiful!


Moody Cow Meditates by Kerry Lee MacLean
moody cowThis charming tail of a very naughty cow is called Moody because of his disruptive behavior. His grandfather takes a fist full of glitter and adds it to water creating a mind jar. Spinning around he names the sparkles his anger thoughts. As Moody Cow sits and begins to meditate, the spinning sparkles begin to settle as well. What a lovely analogy of changing your thoughts. In the back of this book are directions for making your own Mind Jar.


Robots and Foxes and Girls, Oh My! New Books for Older Readers

The Key to Extraordinary by Natalie Lloyd
keytoextraordinaryIf you travel to Blackbird Hollow, Tennessee, listen closely to the telling vines that whisper old messages on windy days. Go to the local bakery and savor a cup of boneyard brew to mend your broken heart. You’ll likely meet 12-year old Emma Casey there, the graveyard docent, who happens to have an extraordinary destiny. For centuries, the women in Emma’s family dream a clue to their destiny. Emma has had the dream, just in time for the money grubbing Warren Steele to cast hungry eyes over her family’s land. Is she destined to defeat Warren Steele? Or is her family meant to move on? Natalie Lloyd’s follow up book will suit fans of her Snicker of Magic. With a great cast of small town heroes, this book celebrates the magic of family roots and land. This is an ideal book for transitional readers and kids who favor magical realism. (ages 8-12)

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown
wild robotThe otters are the first to notice the shattered crates wash ashore. Only one crate remains intact. When a shiny monster unfurls, otters scurry for their lives! The shiny monster is Roz the robot, who opens her eyes for the first time on a wild island. Will a robot designed for domestic tasks find purpose among animals? With a little help from a newborn gosling, she just might. Known for his award winning picture books, Peter Brown makes his debut into middle grade fiction, and he is sure to sweep readers away! Peppered with his signature illustrations, The Wild Robot is a fantastic mix between science fiction and animal fiction. (ages 8-12)

Pax by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Jon Klassen
paxPeter must find his fox, and Pax must find his boy. A looming war and a half hearted father force their separation. But that is not enough to keep them apart. Boy and fox enlist in the mighty adventure to reunite, and it is not without injury or casualty. Shifting perspectives between boy and fox, this novel documents their struggle to find each other, in the midst of wilderness, conflict, and survival. The somber tone will suit fans of Dicamillo’s Because of Winn Dixie and Appelt’s The One and Only Ivan. Jon Klassen’s illustrations make this story especially wonderful. (ages 8-12)

The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly
land of forgotten girlsIf you were uprooted from the serene Philippine islands to a junky apartment complex in Louisiana, you would naturally be upset. Meet Sol, a 12-year old girl with a younger sister to look after, in a world where fathers leave you in America with evil stepmothers. Sol may bully rich kids and get into mischief, but she preserves her tender side for her sister Ming. In this land of forgotten girls, they will need each other to survive childhood. Authentically told, Kelly does not sugarcoat the effects of poverty on children’s behavior. Because Sol is a victim of circumstance and abuse, she can be cruel to others too. The character development is so well done, readers will be rooting for these flawed kids. It is exciting to see a middle grade novel starring a Filipino protagonist, written by a Filipino author. (ages 8-12)


Oops! Birds and Butterflies! New Books for Younger Readers

Oops Pounce Quick Run! An Alphabet Caper by Mike Twohy
oops pounceMike Twohy takes an interesting twist on an A-B-C book presenting the alphabet in story form. This is an exciting tale of a mouse and dog who encounter each other by mishap. Each page has one or two words that start with the next letter of the alphabet, but that continue the story. The narrative reaches its climax with the letters “O, P, Q, and R.” With a thoughtful “Safe” resolution, this book will entice children’s interest.

Amazing Animals: Hawks by Kate Riggs
hawksIf your young child loves raptors, then this book is for them. With beautiful photographs, readers can get up close and personal with these birds. Interesting and unique facts with clear simple explanations, your child will be well on their way to becoming an early member of the National Audubon Society.

Traveling Butterflies by Susumu Shingu
travelling butterfliesThis beautifully illustrated book has a lovely informative and lyrical text. Traveling Butterflies tells the metamorphic tale of one Monarch Butterfly from tiny egg to her great migration over thousands of miles. This book is candy for the senses.


Personalized Reading Lists for Kids

It’s April, and the thoughts of a Children’s Librarian turn to SUMMER! Later this month we will be visiting public school classrooms of the fourth and fifth grades to let them all know about our popular PeRL program: Personalized Reading Lists for kids in grades 4 through 8.

PeRL logoHere’s how it works: Call the library (415) 389-4292 x4 to set up a 30-minute appointment for your child to chat with Children’s Room staff. We’ll talk about books they love, books they hate, and everything in between. The more we know about what a child has already read, the better our suggestions can be.

The interviewers take copious notes, and then pass those notes off to the rest of the Children’s staff. We all give our suggestions, and after about 10-14 days, we have created a list of ten books or ten series of books that we think your child will love.

This is a fantastic program for those voracious readers who can’t find enough great books to read. But it’s also truly wonderful for reluctant readers! According to research done by Scholastic, “Nearly three-quarters of both boys and girls (73%) say they would read more if they could find more books they like.” Kids want to choose books themselves, but so often need a few suggestions to get them going. This is where librarians, and our PeRL program, can come in.

Last year, more than 100 kids participated in our PeRL program. Whew! It’s a very popular program, so get your appointment request in soon. I know summer seems ages away, but it’ll be here before you know it!


March (Program) Madness

It’s been a fantastic month of programming! On Monday, we finished our preschool music series, Music & More with Emily Bonn, this Tuesday and Wednesday we’ll finish our popular first and second grade series Picture Books & More: Mystical Magical Mayhem, and on Thursday, Stories and Science for Kindergartners and Garden Club both wind down.

Music & More with Emily Bonn (Monday mornings)
IMG_1828Thirty children ages 2 to 5 and their caregivers came ready to boogie with Emily every Monday morning this month. Emily sang and danced and kept the lively crowd engaged with music and movement for forty-five minutes. This program was so popular, many parents asked if we could do it every Monday! We’re looking in to whether we could offer it weekly throughout the school year, but we’ll definitely offer a music series again in October.

Mystical Magical Mayhem (Tuesdays and Wednesdays after school)
IMG_1552Mystical Magical Mayhem brought twenty-five enthusiastic first and second graders together to hear stories, make crafts, and enjoy a delicious snack. Kids made dragons, trolls, fairies, and their own Foggy, Foggy Forest book. We always hear how much kids love this series, and we know that they feel more connected to the library and to library staff when they finish the series. We’ll be offering this program again in October with a new theme and activities.

Stories and Science for Kindergartners (Thursdays at 2pm)
IMG_2299Twenty-five kindergarten scientists joined us each Thursday afternoon to learn about light, chemical reactions, building structures, and compost. Kindergartners listened to The Three Little Pigs, and then we challenged the group to build houses that would withstand the wolf’s breath (simulated by a hair dryer). We showed how vinegar and baking soda react when they are combined, made “gak” with glue, borax, and water; and learned about bugs that are good garden bugs and ones that are not so good. Kindergartners are curious, ask wonderful questions, and are always ready for the next activity. We’re looking forward to our new group of kindergartners in the Fall!

Garden Club (Thursdays at 3:30pm)
IMG_1635Garden educator Kier Holmes lead our newest series bringing kindergartners through third graders together to learn about their natural surroundings with a story and activity. Garden Club met in our new SmartGarden. In March, junior gardeners learned about seeds, the redwoods, patterns in nature, and so much more. Mill Valley children are already on their way to being young environmentalists, and we’re proud to be a part of it. We’ll offer another four-week series of Garden Club beginning April 28, and again this summer.


Picture Books on Death and Dying

How do you talk about death and dying with kids? Adults may not know where to begin. Kids need honest, concrete conversation about loss, or they may misunderstand the situation and become exasperated by fears and sadness.

Picture books can provide the articulation and bibliotherapy to help children and their caregivers during loss. While the words are important, it is the illustrations that draw children in and ultimately spark empathy. Within this space, children can relate to the story, connect with the character, and learn to cope with difficult emotions. Because children under the age of five initially view death as a temporary separation, parents can use picture books to guide their child’s understanding of death as a permanent event. The literary place gives kids and grown ups the opportunity to ask questions, talk, and clarify.

At the Mill Valley Public Library, we have several picture books that discuss dying and bereavement:

Explaining Death

61ym35QjodLWhen Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death by Laurene Brown
In simple language, When Dinosaurs Die discusses the ways people die, feelings thereafter, reactions to grief, and perspectives on the after life. Illustrated by Marc Brown, the artist for the Arthur books, the characters are anthropomorphic and cute, making the material digestible for kids.

Death of a Pet

The death of a pet appears to garner the most picture books for children. Perhaps this is because the event of a pet dying is more common in a young child’s life.

61nwrF+1jdLSaying Goodbye to Lulu by Corinne Demas
This picture book follows the story of a girl and her beloved dog Lulu. Lulu is becoming more feeble in her old age. When she dies, the young girl is heartbroken but learns to say goodbye with a meaningful burial. The illustrations in this book are soft and pretty, and the text is accessible to first grade and up.

166786The Old Dog by Charlotte Zolotow
Featuring an African American family, this picture book is ideal for very young readers who are new to the concept and permanence of death. When a young boy’s basset hound won’t wake up, Dad checks him and declares he is dead. The family explains to the young boy that because the dog died, he won’t come back. The young boy is sad, grieves, and reflects on old memories.

Here are some other titles about the death of a pet:

Big Cat Pepper by Elizabeth Partridge

Cat Heaven by Cynthia Rylant

The Best Cat in the World by Leslea Newman

Goodbye, Max by Holly Keller

The Tenth Good Thing about Barney by Judith Viorst

Death of a Friend

41gGhqDjYSL._SY358_BO1,204,203,200_Remembering Crystal by Sebastian Loth
When Goose’s friend Turtle dies, she denies that he’s gone forever, and goes looking for him. While she discovers that he is not coming back and experiences sadness, she accepts the transition and relishes their memories.


501033Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley
Among a community of animals, the old badger feels he has lived a great life and is ready for death. In a metaphorical way, he walks along the tunnel in his home towards the light and does not come back. His friends are sad, but recall the great memories they had with Badger.

Death of a Grandparent:

TA16-lNana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs by Tomie dePaola
This fantastic book is based on the author’s own childhood. A young boy visits his great-grandmother and grandmother who live in the same house: Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs, respectively. He spends the most time with Nana Upstairs, who has sweets and stories for him. When Nana Upstairs dies, the boy doesn’t understand what dying means, and experiences bereavement. He accepts that she will live in his memories.

61oUEHGFO9L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Beyond the Ridge by Paul Goble
A young girl grieves and partakes in traditional funeral customs with her community for her deceased grandmother. Based on Plains Indian culture, this classic book is spiritually oriented, and very connected to nature and the cycle of life. Since the text is longer, this is a better choice for kids who are in 3rd grade and up.

More Books about the death of a grandparent:

Ghost Wings by Barbara Joosse

Zayde Comes to Live by Sheri Sinykin

Death of a Parent:

51qbLeDZdbL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Missing Mommy by Rebecca Cobb
A young boy narrates his experience following his mother’s funeral. In minimalist sentences, Cobb captures the grieving process and confusion that young children experience, while focusing on the positive, such as leaning on your support system. The illustrations mimic a child’s style of drawing, to further relate to them.

More about the death of a parent:

The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers

The Scar by Charlotte Moundlic

Books for kids who are dying:

There are not many picture books on this topic. This is an area that I hope to see expand with more books.

5102YY26PCL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_The Purple Balloon by Chris Raschka
This short and tender picture book admits that dying is hard. It also shows how family, friends, and community help you through it. Raschka’s characters are balloons, which he explains that kids with terminal illness often draw balloons in art therapy.


Additional resources for adults

Tender Topics: Picture Books About Childhood Challenges by Dorothy Stoltz

American Psychological Association’s Magination Press


Odds and Secrets: New Books for Older Readers

The Odds of Getting Even by Sheila Turnage
odds of getting even
The trial of the century has come to Tupelo Landing, NC. Mo and Dale, aka The Desperado Detectives, head to court as star witnesses against Dale’s daddy, confessed kidnapper Macon Johnson. Dale’s nerves are jangled, but Mo, who doesn’t mind getting even with Mr. Macon for hurting her loved ones, looks forward to a slam dunk conviction — if everything goes as expected. For everyone who’s already fallen for Mo and Dale in the Newbery Honor book Three Times Lucky or its sequel, The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, and for anyone who’s new to the series, The Odds of Getting Even is a heartwarming story that perfectly blends mystery and action with more serious themes about family and fathers, all without ever losing its sense of humor. (ages 10 and up)

Binny in Secret by Hilary McKay
School has started and Binny can’t stand it, even though and adventures await her and her family in this delightful novel. Binny has a horrid hand-me-down uniform and the kids make fun of her “posh” city accent. Watch this feisty, fiercely loyal, and totally charming, girl make a transition into her new life. Binny will have readers rooting for her through every twist and turn of this surprising and hilariously moving tale. (ages 8-12)

Bayou Magic by Jewell Parker Rhodes
bayou magicIt’s Maddy’s turn to have a bayou summer. At first she misses life back home in the city, but soon she grows to love everything about her new surroundings: the glimmering fireflies, the glorious landscape, and something else, deep within the water, that only Maddy sees. Could it be a mermaid? As her grandmother shares wisdom about sayings and signs, Maddy realizes she may be the only sibling to carry on her family’s magical legacy. And when a disastrous oil leak threatens the bayou, she knows she may also be the only one who can help. Does she have what it takes to be a hero? A coming-of-age tale rich with folk magic, set in the wake of the Gulf oil spill, Bayou Magic celebrates hope, friendship, and family, and captures the wonder of life in the Deep South. (ages 9-12)

Firefly Hollow by Alison McGhee
Firefly. Cricket. Vole. Peter. Can four creatures from four very different Nations help one another find their ways in the world that can feel oh-so-big? Delve into this lush, unforgettable tale in the tradition of Charlotte’s Web and The Rats of NIMH. Firefly doesn’t merely want to fly, she wants to touch the moon. Cricket doesn’t merely want to sing about baseball, he wants to catch. When these two little creatures with big dreams wander out of Firefly Hollow, they find themselves face-to-face with the one creature they were always told to stay away from: a giant. Firefly Hollow is nothing short of enchanting, reminding us all that the very best friend is the one who wants you to achieve your dreams. (ages 8-12)

The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
curious world
Callie Vee, Travis, Granddaddy, and the whole Tate clan are back in this charming follow-up to Newbery Honor-winner The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. Travis keeps bringing home strays, and Callie has her hands full keeping the wild animals — her brother included — away from her mother’s critical eye. Whether it’s wrangling a rogue armadillo or stray dog, a guileless younger brother or standoffish cousin, the trials and tribulations of Callie Vee will have readers laughing and crying and cheering for this most endearing heroine. (ages 9-12)