As a history buff, I wanted to find a way to get kids excited about learning about the past. I came up with the idea of a Time Travel Program in which children could interact with a famous historical figure in person. Audiences would actually witness me, as a Time Traveling Mad Scientist/Librarian, travel to the past using a spray painted refrigerator box as a “time machine.” I would then bring the famous person back to the present day where audiences would be able to ask them questions about their lives and times before they were returned to their respective historical periods.
The “back in time” scenes would be done by projecting a video on a large screen at the program to be shown after I crawled into the “time machine.” This would give the illusion of time travel.
These Time Travel Programs have been very successful and I have managed to kidnap such figures as Henry David Thoreau, Lewis and Clark, the aviator Richard Byrd, and Patrick Henry. View the below video to see me bring the writer Edgar Allan Poe to my library!
One of the programs that I do for school aged children at the library is a “Build It” program. This is an event in which children construct a hands-on project that is fun and functional. Ideas include marshmallow shooters, two liter bottle rockets, and balloon cars.
I was inspired to do a “Build It” program out of sheer frustration with being inept at crafts. I have tried for years to do crafts programs at the library. While many have been successful, I can say that I honestly do not have the enthusiasm for crafts that some of my coworkers do. Early this year, I decided to throw in the towel and start focusing on constructing things with kids that had a purpose. PVC pipe, screws and 2X4’s, would trump glitter, pipe cleaners, and pom poms!
One of my “Build It” programs focused on building medieval siege weapons! Kids constructed a mini catapult using popsicle sticks, rubber bands, and bottle caps. We played some games with the mini catapults–knocking down cups, who can shoot the farthest, etc.
Then we went outside and I introduced them to the trebuchet that my coworker and I had been building for the past week. Below are some pictures of it under construction. Our trebuchet was about 5 feet tall by 3 feet wide. I used the plans that some high school girls had posted on line at this Instructables site.
During the Build It program, I did not allow kids near the trebuchet. This is important because of safety. The counterweight that we used was a 45 lb kettlebell that can hurl an object about 150 feet. We used our trebuchet to launch water balloons at the kids out in a field. This was perfectly safe and the kids had a blast trying to catch the balloons. It was a great time at the library! Please see the below video that I made for some early childhood educators to see how our trebuchet works.
The Plot in Five Sentences or Less: Clem lives in the mining country in the Ozarks of Missouri. After his 13th birthday, he must leave school and join his father in the mines to make much needed money for the family. Clem detests mining and is tempted to join his friend Linda Jean in her family bootleg business. A string of family tragedies, however, reinforces the need for Clem to work the mines and he subsequently wonders if his life will ever change.
My Take: This was a convincing and compelling account of families caught in the economic trap of lead mining in Missouri in the 1920’s. Through the characters of Clem and his family, we appreciate how awful that life was and how few choices people had in that area of the country. Long’s writing is plain and never devolves into sentimentality. I applaud her for using the 3rd person point of view, rather than the more common first person. Towards the end there are a few plot points that tie things up perhaps a bit too nicely, but overall this is a pleasant and educational read for ages 10+.
One Interesting Note About the Author: As a child, Susan had the interesting habit of rating her days along a spectrum of 1-10. Her rating was based on the requirements of “doing [her] homework, eat[ing] well, exercis[ing], practicing the flute, and doing something nice for someone.” She no longer rates her days, but you may find out more about her at her website.
The Plot in Five Sentences or Less: Recounts the experience of one middle American family during the nuclear standoff of 1963. The plot alternates in time between the family preparing a nuclear fallout shelter and then actually using it during a nuclear strike. 9 people make it into the shelter and tensions run high as time passes. The story is told from the point of view of a teenage boy whose father constructs the shelter.
My Take: Fallout is enjoyable and also educates readers on the widespread fear during the early sixties of a nuclear strike. Strasser does an excellent job of building up the anxiety and claustrophobia in the fallout shelter. He also does not dodge the difficult topics of burgeoning teenage sexual feelings nor the bathroom issues involved with 9 people trapped in a room. This cannot be considered strict historical fiction as there was never a nuclear strike on American soil during the 1960’s.
One Interesting Note About the Author: Fallout is based on Strasser’s father constructing a bomb shelter in the family’s backyard in 1962. Strasser revisits this in the author’s note at the end of the book.