Harold And The Purple Crayon Party

Synopsis: Preschool aged program based on Crockett Johnson’s 1955 book Harold And The Purple Crayon.

Budget: Less than $50

Supplies: Basic craft supplies including: Construction paper, toilet paper tubes, googly eyes, large roll of white paper

Directions: We set up several stations in our Children’s Department. We opened the program with a reading of Harold And The Purple Crayon. Children and parents were then free to move from station to station at their own pace.

Station 1: Purple shape art. Children could place basic, pre-cut shapes, onto a black piece of construction paper to create imaginative scenes.

Station 2: Create your own story in a book. We handmade many small books out of construction and art paper, even using twine for the binding. I referenced this video for the binding. Children were invited to write and illustrate their stories on the inside. They could also paste pre-printed name plates on the front of the book. This station was meant mainly as a take away activity.

Station 3: Create A Group Story. We hung large pieces of white paper on a wall and on the floor. Children could use purple paint to decorate and create whatever they wanted. It was interesting to see the final large scale masterpiece at the end of the program.

Station 4: Make A Purple Crayon. This one was pretty on the nose, but children enjoyed the activity. I found instructions for this activity here: https://www.thebestideasforkids.com/toilet-paper-roll-crayons/

Conclusion: This program was well received by young people. The variety of crafts and allowing everyone to self direct proved to be a good choice. I am proud that we were able to bring the community together to celebrate a children’s book published 78 years ago.

“The Last Mapmaker” by Christina Soontornvat

Title: The Last Mapmaker

Author: Christina Soontornvat

Publication Info: 2022 Candlewick Press

The Plot: Sai lives in the kingdom of Mangkon and works as an assistant to the famous mapmaker Paiyoon Wongyai.  Unbeknownst to her master, Sai comes from the troubled underclass of Mangkon society and has little room for advancement in life.  When the Queen of Mangkon announces a voyage to map the unknown lands of the southern ocean, Paiyoon and Sai find themselves part of this dangerous expedition.  Sai hopes that this maritime adventure will be her way to a better life, but she must keep her true identity guarded even as she comes to question the true intentions of the voyage.   

My Take: With a light does of fantasy and adventure, Soontornvat paces this novel in such a way that it sweeps the reader along with Sai in her dangerous journey.  Soontornvat also does an excellent job presenting the complicated questions of advancement in a morally compromised society. Recommended for ages 11-14

One Interesting Note About The Author:  According to her website, Soontornvat “spent a decade working in the science museum field, where she designed programs and exhibits to get kids excited about science.”  She is passionate about STEM. 

Boats That Float Program

Synopsis: Using basic materials, children crafted small boats that actually float.

Prep Time: If you have the materials on hand, prep time is pretty negligible.

Budget: Around $20 – $40 depending on how many materials you would like to include

Supplies Needed:


toothpicks or popsicle sticks or some type of small wooden dowels (these will serve as your nails to connect Styrofoam together)

craft foam material

kiddie pool or some type of large container to hold water

chenille sticks

box fan

sponges (optional)

aluminum foil (optional)

rubber duckiees (opitonal)

Other craft supplies as desired


This is the type of program that I truly enjoy running, because the children can dive right in from the beginning and begin to tinker and play. Preparation for the program was gathering the materials and placing them out for the children to use. I also filled up two kiddie pools with water. The building blocks for the program were large pieces of Styrofoam (whenever I hear of anyone tossing out a large amount of Styrofoam, I try to snag it because I know that I’ll eventually use if for a library program.).

I did build a couple of boats ahead of time to give children some ideas of what they could create. I showed them how to connect blocks of Styrofoam together using popsicle sticks and tooth picks as ‘nails.’ I also demonstrated how to construct a ‘sail’ using pieces of craft foam and turned on the fan to show how it would push the boat across the water.

The children took over from there and, as you can see from the pictures, they came up with some fantastic boats!

Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

Title: Hello, Universe

Author: Erin Entrada Kelly

Publication Information: 2017 by Greenwillow Books/Harper Collins

The Plot: Virgil Salinas is a shy boy who is overshadowed by his older brothers and pushed around by the neighborhood bully Chet. He longs to talk to the pretty girl in school Valencia Somerset. To overcome his shyness, he seeks the help of local child psychic Kaori Tanaka and her sister Gen. When an accident occurs, Virgil must rely on the team of Valencia, Kaori, and Gen to help him.

My Take: This Newbery Medal winner has gentle characters and a straightforward plot but lacks narrative momentum. Even a major accident that befalls the main character does not stir enough urgency into the plot. Erin Entrada Kelly definitely surpassed this work with her more recent novel Lalani And The Distant Sea. For those looking for a middle grade realistic fiction, I would recommend other titles.

One Interesting Note About The Author: According to her website, Erin Entrada Kelly is of mixed Philippine descent. She was raised in a household in which people spoke the Philippine dialect Cebuano (as opposed to Tagalog).

LEGO Car Program

Synopsis: We built motorized LEGO cars powered by small DC motors and 9 volt batteries.

Age Group: Elementary Aged

Prep time: several hours

Budget: around $50 for a program with 12 children attending

Supplies needed:

small DC motors with gear boxes

9 volt batteries

small switches

9 volt battery clip connectors

3D printed axels (to connect gearbox to LEGO axel)

Lots of LEGOs (especially wheels and axels)

Soldering tool

glue dots


I wired and soldered all of the electronics ahead of time, because this process is not safe for children. Begin by soldering the wires to the motor leads. Then solder one motor wire to a lead on the switch. Solder another motor wire to the battery clip connector. Solder the other wire from the battery clip connector to the other switch lead. Refer to the picture for the final result.

Next insert your 3D printed axels (mine are blue in the picture) onto your gearbox axels. Then insert LEGO axels into your 3D printed axels. Connect the 9 volt battery and turn on the switch to see if it all works. Refer to the picture for reference.

Now use glue dots to place a couple of LEGO pieces on top of the gearbox, on top of the battery, etc. These LEGO pieces will serve as the starting point for kids to build and connect other LEGO pieces to make their car. Also make sure to use glue dots to position the battery. Refer to the picture for my final outcome. Yours may look a little different and that’s fine.

When the program began, I placed all of the wired motors and batteries on a table, so that children could grab one and get building.

Encourage children to be as creative as they want. Many of the kids in my program built some interesting looking cars! We even set up some ramps using cardboard and wooden blocks, which was a big hit.

Conclusion: This program was a hit. I would grade it as a B+/A- based on the enthusiasm and interest level of the children. I allowed each child to take their pre-wired motor, battery, gearbox, etc. so that they could continue to build at home. The only downside of this program is the expense of materials and the time spent soldering, 3D printing, and putting things together.

Dead End In Norvelt By Jack Gantos

Title: Dead End In Norvelt

Author: Jack Gantos

Publication Info: Square Fish 2013

Plot: Norvelt is a small town in western Pennsylvania that has seen its best days, but the long time residents are too stubborn to let it die. With the arrival of summer, Norvelt resident Jack Gantos (the character, not the author) is hoping to spend it playing baseball and sneaking peeks at the war movies at the drive in theater. Jack’s plans are disrupted when his neighbor Ms. Volker requests his assistance typing up obituaries for the local paper. On top of that, his father ropes him into a scheme to construct a fallout shelter and airfield in their backyard. Throughout this strange summer, Jack learns a good deal about his hometown and its quirky residents.

My Take: Author Jack Gantos writes excellent realistic fiction (or perhaps historical fiction in this case, if you consider the early 1970’s history!) and has a talent for bringing the quirks of characters and locations to life. He also writes humor very well and I found myself laughing in many parts of this book. As I got deeper into the story, I began to wonder what was the point of it all. I don’t mean this as a criticism, but rather as a strength of the novel. Gantos captures the slow summer days and strangeness of a dying town in the early 70’s, something he could not do if he had a heavy agenda for his characters. I appreciated this book, but younger readers with shorter attention spans may find it a slog. Recommend this book to seasoned readers looking for some funny realistic fiction.

One Interesting Note About The Author: According to his website, Gantos really grew up in Norvelt. In school, he was “in the Bluebird reading group, which he later found out was for the slow readers.”

The Sea In Winter By Christine Day

Title: The Sea In Winter

Author: Christine Day

Publication Info: 2021 by Harper Collins Children’s Books

The Plot: 12 year old Maisie has done ballet for as long as she can remember. Her free time and social life all revolve around ballet and she dreams of one day becoming a famous dancer. When she tears her ACL on the eve of auditioning for a major production, her dreams are crushed. Months of physical therapy follow along with a family vacation to the coast of Washington. During this time Maisie must come to grips with her new life and identity.

My Take: This book was a slog for me, but I’m not the target reader. A tween girl would no doubt better appreciate this story of self discovery and healing. I was distracted by Day’s heavy exposition of the ethnic background of some of the characters. Their native heritage, while interesting by itself, always seemed tangential to the main plot. To be fair, Maisie’s struggle with her injury and loss of identity are convincing. I would certainly recommend this title to any young readers looking for a book about mental health struggles.

One Interesting Note About The Author: According to her website Christine Day is an enrolled citizen of the Upper Skagit tribe.

“Pony” by R. J. Palacio

Title: Pony

Author: R. J. Palacio

The Plot: 12 year old Silas lives with his father and a ghostly friend named Mittenwool, whom only Silas can see, on a farm in the west. Their peaceful life together is shattered when a gang of counterfeiters kidnaps the father in the middle of the night. Silas and Mittenwool embark on a journey across rugged country aided by several lawmen and a spirited pony to find the gang. Silas eventually realizes that he is searching not only for his father, but for answers to mysteries from his past.

My Take: Palacio has another homerun on her hands here. The author of the mega-popular book Wonder proves that she is a master of her craft in this western. The characters are complex and the kidnapping plot draws the reader in while cleverly shifting towards a deeper narrative towards the end of the book. For any young readers looking for a good story filled with fully realized characters, this is your ticket.

One Interesting Note About The Author: According to her website, Palacio “invented a baby toy called The Bobo Glove, a portable, wearable, washable activity toy for infants.” Pretty neat!

“Ophie’s Ghosts” by Justina Ireland

Title: Ophie’s Ghosts

Author: Justina Ireland

Publication Info: 2021 by Balzer + Bray (Harper Collins0

The Plot: In 1920’s Georgia, Ophie and her mother experience traumatic racial violence and decide to start a new life up north. Ophie realizes along the journey that she is able to see and interact with ghosts. After arriving in Pittsburgh, they procure jobs as housekeepers for a well off family named the Caruthers. Ophie soon befriends a ghost named Clara who met a tragic end at the house. Ophie decides to use her ability to commune with the supernatural to solve the mystery of Clara’s murder against the wishes of the Caruther family.

My Take: I felt that this book was slow for almost the first half. When we finally become fully engaged in Clara’s tragic story, the pace picks up and the story becomes much more interesting. By the end, I was won over and felt that the effort was worth it. Author Justina Ireland does an excellent job portraying the racial divisions of the time period. Those readers seeking a historical fiction mystery with a heavy dose of the supernatural will most likely enjoy this book.

About The Author: Justina Ireland has also written several books set in the Star Wars universe.

“The Last Cuentista”

Title: The Last Cuentista

Author: Donna Barba Higuera

Publication Info: 2021 by Levine Querido

The Plot: In the late 21st century, a world ending comet approaches Earth. Petra and her family are fortunate enough to take passage in a massive spaceship bound for a planet in another star system. They are placed in a type of cryo-sleep during the long journey. When Petra wakes up almost 400 years later, she finds that the ship has been taken over by a political group with radical ideas about social assimilation. To save the few people who still remember the old ways of Earth culture, Petra draws on the Mexican folk stories of her childhood.

My Take: The Newbery Medal winner of 2022! I was impressed by author Donna Barba Higuera’s blending of science fiction and folktales. She neatly balances life on a futuristic space ship with old Mexican stories in a way that enriches the story. This creates a narrative that is driven less by physical action sequences and more by Petra’s slow understanding of her situation and her persuasive efforts to awaken the other people from earth. I had to smile when she mentioned rebuilding society after the pandemic of the 20’s. I highly recommend this intelligent handling of a dystopian storyline to middle grade readers and teens.

One Interesting Note About The Author: According the her author website, Donna Barbara Higuera’s favorite hobbies growing up “were calling dial-a-story over and over again, and sneaking into a restricted cemetery to weave her own spooky tales using the crumbling headstones as inspiration.”