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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Not All Superheroes Wear Capes by Alecia R. Heffner

On 21, Sep 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

SuperheroesNot All Superheroes Wear Capes written by Alecia R. Heffner

From Goodreads: Not All Superheroes Wear Capes is a children’s book designed to teach African American students the opportunities available to them in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers. This inspiring book combines positive images of African Americans engaging in exciting careers with a powerful message of how these individuals help others in their daily life.

Kids always love superhero books and this one will give some new superheroes to admire. Not All Superheroes Wear Capes showcases everyday heroes from doctors to dentists to chemists. I love that this book covers STEM careers. I love that it shows women in some of these careers (and not just as a nurse). And I love that it’s a really different mix of STEM professions. There is a chiropractor, a nurse practitioner, and a pharmacist, as well as your typical doctor.


In calling these doctors and scientists superheroes, I think the book really encourages children to look around at the real people in their lives doing extraordinary things in ordinary circumstances. They’ve all been to a doctor or a gotten a shot or visited the dentist. Normally those experiences are mundane (or menacing, depending on how they feel about shots), but Not All Superheroes nudges kids to realize that their doctors and nurses have worked hard and are committed to helping people, like them, and that makes them super.

While all children can be inspired by the book, all the characters are black and will speak directly to children of color, showing them they can be these things. That kind of representation, while on the rise, is still rare. There are even few nods to HBCUs in some of the illustrations. The text also emphasizes the hard work ahead of kids who may want to pursue a career in a STEM field, but assures them it’s within reach.

The one issue you might run into with it is length. It covers a lot of territory and might need to be split into more than one reading for your youngest storytime patrons. But it’s a trade off, right? You wouldn’t get all these great careers covered if you don’t have a longer book. The book would be perfect on a classroom shelf or in a school library, but public libraries would also do well to ensure the representation seen in this book is included on their shelves too. Not to mention it would make a great book to share at a superhero themed storytime.

Disclosure: I was sent a review copy by the publisher, Melanin Origins, in exchange for an honest review.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links):

On IndieBound: paperback and hardback

On Amazon as an ebook.

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.



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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Picture Book Review: Taylor’s STEM Adventures: Hawaii by Mary Payton

On 06, Jul 2018 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Taylors STEM HawaiiTaylor’s STEM Adventures: Hawaii written by Mary Payton, illustrated by M. Ridho Mentarie

From Goodreads: Taylor’s STEM Adventures Hawaii is the first in a series of stories about the young son of two military members from STEM career fields. As his family moves to various duty locations, Taylor guides you through his adventures in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at each military base. Taylor gives military children the insight into the STEM adventures and activities that await them in their next military move.

I tested this one out on my in-house book tester (i.e. my six-year-old daughter) and we absolutely loved it! STEM is a hot trend in education and while I tend to hate things that become wildly popular as they rarely measure up to the hype, I do love STEM and STEAM. Not only are they important for our kids to become well versed in, but they are interesting and encourage children to be inquisitive, something that’s been really lacking in traditional education for awhile.

Taylor’s parents both work in the U.S. military which is why they live in Hawaii. Books with military families are not particularly easy to come by. Even less so are books with military families where deployment isn’t the main focus. Here Taylor has two parents involved in STEM careers in the military and from them he has had a love of these subjects fostered.

Taylor’s STEM Adventures is part Hawaiian tour, part conversation starter. The book does a couple things with the things Taylor introduces the reader to. First, he gives a broad swath of ways STEM can be found in Hawaii and in everyday life. Second, it creates interest around the concepts and ideas. We stopped at many different points and talked more about volcanoes, observatories, coral reefs, architectures, and history. It was particularly apropos because of the volcano that has been erupting in Hawaii that’s been in the news. Taylor shows the reader how Hawaii was formed and the role volcanoes played. He takes you to historical and scientific points of interest. He also discusses oceanography and a couple famous buildings on Oahu. It’s not unlike the Snippet in the Life series also published by Melanin Origins in that these topics are introduced, but not discussed at great length, allowing readers to take interest and then pursue the ones they find most relevant to themselves. This will help hold the interest of younger readers while guiding older readers to new subjects and ideas.

If you’re looking for some good nonfiction titles to pique interest and encourage curiosity make sure to add this to your collection! Also be sure to hand it to Moana fans that want to get a little more serious about learning about the part of the world she came from. I can’t wait to see more STEM adventures with Taylor.

Disclosure: I was sent a review copy by the publisher, Melanin Origins, in exchange for an honest review.

Purchase the book here (not affiliate links):

On IndieBound: paperback and hardback

On Amazon as an ebook.

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

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In Remix

By Elizabeth Wroten

Notes From the Makerspace: Making in the Library

On 12, Mar 2015 | In Remix | By Elizabeth Wroten

So part of my goal with the Makerspace has been to get out of our space and into the library and the classroom. I have also mentioned in other posts that I volunteer in the Lower School library. I have now combine the two and the librarian and I have planned a week of making in the library for all the grades of the Lower School (except Pre-K)!

The program won’t be complicated, a few tables and stations set up with various Makerspace activities, provocations as I like to call them. While I run the after school Makerspace as a pretty free-wheeling place with snacks, loud noises and free making this is going to be a little more tightly controlled because of the number of students (I have a limit of 10 students after school and these classes will have closer to 22) and because these kids haven’t had a year to learn what makerspace is all about. If it works well, maybe it can be a regular event and/or have a maker station out every week as an option for the library.

Each station will have materials set out with a question, an example, and an inspiring, related book. In this post I thought I would share what the stations will be. They will run in the second week in March and after that I will share thoughts on how to improve and how it went. I broke the activities down into groups for Kinder and 1st, 2nd and 3rd, and 4th and 5th. This limits the variety of supplies we would have to obtain and cuts down on set up.

Kinder & 1st:

  • water color & salt
  • paper tube marble runs (back of shelves)
  • foam bead necklaces
  • building with recycled materials
  • exploring lines (wire, markers, string, glue, paper strips)

2nd & 3rd:

  • gumdrop structures
  • marker explosions
  • building with recycled materials
  • plastic marble runs with blocks & recycled materials (Rube Goldberg-esque machines)
  • squishy circuits (
  • rock painting

4th & 5th:

  • Take-apart table (essentially a table with e-waste and screwdrivers for the kids to deconstruct)
  • Snap Circuits
  • Drawing with circuits (using copper tape and LEDs to embellish drawings)
  • Hand sewing bean bags, finger knitting & spool knitting
  • building with recycled materials

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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Notes From the Makerspace: Provocations

On 20, Nov 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

One place my makerspace struggles is keeping the kids engaged when they are in between projects or, especially, when they are waiting for help or materials. Part of this has to do with the ages of the kids in the makerspace. They’re young (second and third grade primarily) and while I wish they could be totally independent they can’t be. A second grader sometimes needs help sawing or setting up the drill.

I found an inspired solution to this problem in one of the makerspace presentations I went to at the CUE fall conference. The presenter said she sets up little activities for the kids (more on your role and curriculum in the makerspace in next week’s post), but that the instructions should fit on a post-it if you need them at all.

In Reggio classrooms teachers set up what they call provocations. These are little set-ups with materials and context that hint at what kids can do with the materials, but still allows for some interpretation and individual exploration. Drawing on this, I decided to start this practice in the makerspace. Kids can go there if they are bored, if they are waiting, if they need inspiration, if it looks interesting or I may send them there if they are off task (I haven’t actually done that yet and I don’t want to make it a punishment, but there are a couple friends that may need some specific redirecting).

I came across this article on the Inquire Within blog about how creativity and passion can’t happen on demand. It’s a lot more organic than that. I totally agree with this article and how it advocates for having creativity and passion built into the day in all lessons, however, sometimes you only have the allotted time to build and work with materials, as we do in the makerspace. I like to use the provocations to expose the kids to ideas and concepts and help get them into a maker mindset.

Some provocations we’ve done so far:

  • Take apart: old laptop, set of tiny screwdrivers
  • Hammering & Drilling: table full of wood scraps clamped down, bowls of nails and screws, drills, hammers, and drill bits
  • More exploring buoyancy: Can you make boat that will float? Supplies: tub of water, bin of Legos
  • Exploring buoyancy: Can you make a boat that will float? Try different shapes and sizes. Supplies: tub of water, bowl of tiny aquarium stones, roll of aluminum foil
  • Markers and graph paper
  • Marshmallow challenge: Build the tallest, most stable structure you can in 18 minutes. You can make teams or work together. Supplies: 1 marshmallow, 20 spaghetti noodles, 1 yard tape (masking), 1 yard string, kitchen timer
  • Slime Kitchen Recipes: Here’s my list, recipes, and planning for this one. The link will open a pdf in a new window. It’s a little longer and more involved than the others and was driven by the kids starting out using up all our glue, glitter, and some cornstarch and water.



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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Kidlit Review: Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies

On 26, Sep 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Tiny CreaturesFrom GoodReads: All around the world — in the sea, in the soil, in the air, and in your body — there are living things so tiny that millions could fit on an ant’s antenna. They’re busy doing all sorts of things, from giving you a cold and making yogurt to eroding mountains and helping to make the air we breathe. If you could see them with your eye, you’d find that they all look different, and that they’re really good at changing things into something else and at making many more microbes like themselves! From Nicola Davies comes a first exploration for young readers of the world’s tiniest living organisms.

Tiny Creatures has so much going for it. Gross factor, interest factor, and charming illustrations. Charming isn’t exactly what I would have expected, actually but while the text is wonderful, it’s the combination of the illustrations and the text that make this book.

The illustrations have this vintage quality to them that actually makes them feel very modern. It might be the colors and technique that feel vintage, but the sparse background and detailed foregrounds are distinctly modern. Each picture really gets to the heart of what the text is saying and gives kids a visual cue to help with understanding what is being said. Sutton very cleverly illustrates the microbes, showing them in little circles as if you were looking at them through a microscope. My only wish would be that one of the children shown in the book was a different color.

In terms of subject matter, I think microbes certainly hold a lot of interest for kids. They love learning about the world around them and this part is a bit mysterious because it’s difficult to see without special equipment. Despite (most likely) not having seen microbes up close, they are familiar with them. All kids have been sick a few times and many have seen a compost heap or eaten yogurt. All these processes occur because of microbes. And don’t be surprised if your kids want to start washing their hands more regularly, the visual of a microbe dividing is pretty powerful.

Tiny Creatures is a wonderful book for curious kids. The text is fairly simple to understand so the book may appeal to young audiences as well as older ones. A lovely glimpse into an otherwise hidden world and another addition to the burgeoning collection of appealing new nonfiction.


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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

Notes From the Makerspace: Getting Started

On 25, Sep 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

Things are going really well so far in the MakerSpace. The kids have really surprised me with their ability to just walk in, pick something up and see its potential. This is especially true for the younger kids. In some ways I’m sure this kind of place attracts those types of kids, but I expected to need to do a little more prompting. I also just want to note that one of the middle school students wants to build a soapbox derby car! That is so awesome!

So today I wanted to talk a little bit about getting the space set up just to give anyone who might be thinking about doing this some thoughts on how I went about it. Of course your funding and space will be a big determining factor in what you can have, but we did this fairly inexpensively. I highly recommend hitting up school supply sales and the Dollar Store when you actually need to buy materials.

One of the first things I did when I was initially planning was to determine what kinds of general activities I wanted to have available (art station, recycled materials, etc.). I decided until we had our own space I wanted large plastic bins to corral everything and that the supplies really shouldn’t exceed what could fit in those bins. Then I made a list of the supplies I wanted in each of those bins (I will share those below).

Next I determined what I should buy and what we could ask the school community to donate. I bought mostly office supplies, a couple tool kits, the bins, and a couple sewing kits. The rest was donated (with the exception of the electronics, although we got a few of those for taking apart). I will warn you, you will probably get a fair amount of junk that people just want to get out of their house. I cleaned through it and tossed a number of things that were just not going to entice a child to use them (a rusty pick axe, for example). We got TONS of fabric and not a single kid has gone near any of it. We even got a couple sewing machines donated. I really highly recommend hitting up your community, be it the library community or the school community, for donations. People are often willing to give this stuff away and it will save you a boatload of money and time. They may also become a good resource for guest speakers and guest experts.

One last thought about supplies. Don’t go overboard initially. Get some of the stuff and then step back and see what the kids are drawn to. In our case it’s been the recycled materials. They haven’t touched the fabric or even the craft supplies much (except for the glitter, oh my, the glitter). You can always add more supplies as you go along and expect to not have something a kid is looking for. Those are teachable moments where you can help them find a sufficient substitute or tell them you will get it and have it the next time they come. I’m still filling requests for pie tins and wire and Q-tips. That’s pretty much how we supplied the MakerSpace. A combination of purchased materials and donated materials. It was relatively simple once we had a space so don’t let the idea of needing a 3-D printer or CNC machine daunt you, you don’t need a complicated set up.

In one of my upcoming posts I will talk about the structure of the hour the kids are there (there isn’t much of one) and how I’m working on getting the kid to explore some new materials.

  • Deconstruction Box


    • screwdrivers of various sizes
    • small hammers
    • pliers
    • trays
    • toys, electronics to deconstruct


  • Sewing Box


    • sewing machine
    • fabric remnants
    • thread
    • needles
    • pins
    • sewing scissors
    • ipad for tutorials


  • Art Box


    • blank paper
    • construction paper
    • graph paper
    • markers
    • pencils (drawing and colored)
    • crayons
    • Sharpies
    • stamp pads
    • doodle books (Ed Emberly)
    • scissors (several sizes)
    • tape (several types)
    • glues (various types)


  • Recycled Materials Box


    • paper towel and toilet paper tubes
    • boxes
    • pie tins
    • bottles
    • cans
    • bottle caps
    • milk jugs
    • berry baskets
    • cardboard
    • jars


  • Studio Box


    • digital camera
    • disposable camera?
    • video camera (Flip?)
    • microphone
    • digital voice recorder
    • headphones
    • iMovie

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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

ALSC Institute Reflections

On 23, Sep 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

Last week I was lucky to be able to attend the ALSC Institute. I absolutely love going to conferences. I am such a introvert and am happy living in my own little land here on the blog and in my MakerSpace, but conferences really force me to get outside that shell. Despite being introverted I also love to collaborate and even though conferences don’t exactly facilitate collaboration, they do give me the opportunity to hear other people’s thoughts and perspectives. Even if they aren’t solving a problem I have or aren’t working on a project exactly like mine, I can often find tidbits that I can apply to my projects and problems.

I was especially excited during this conference to see so much information and enthusiasm for STEM and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math). Beyond creative, flexible thinking, makerspaces are often a lot about STEAM. I found a lot of ideas to take back to my MakerSpace. I also found a personal connection. I always enjoyed science and math (okay, maybe not in seventh grade, but that was an anomalous year) and now that I’m home with my daughter I’m really making a concerted effort to expose her to STEM concepts.

Seeing the authors speak was also a treat. I love when they share their personal experience with libraries, librarians, and reading. But they always offer insight into a lot of other subjects. Steve Sheinkin spoke directly to my distaste for the traditional model of teaching seen in schools. He worked as a text book contributor and was always having to cut what he found to the most interesting tidbits of information from the historical stories. This ultimately led to his career as an interesting history book author. The first panel examined how hard it is being a tween and how awkward they were at that age. I think most people feel that way and it’s always reassuring to hear that these people who we admire felt just as ridiculous as we did at that age. I was especially taken with Andrea Davis Pinkney’s talk on Saturday. She gave me an entirely new appreciation for how the art in a picture book works with the text. I kind of knew they were supposed to work together, but that was a whole new level. And it dovetailed nicely with a comment Mac Barnett made at the talk the previous evening about how he wished more reviewers paid attention to the interplay between art and text in picture books. Duly noted.

As a mostly stay-at-home mom, it’s also nice to have an opportunity to really think about and be involved with my career. Going to these conferences isn’t cheap and it means being away from my daughter- something I don’t necessarily want to do. But every time I go I am glad I have done so.

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In Redux

By Elizabeth Wroten

The Makerspace Is a Go!

On 11, Sep 2014 | In Redux | By Elizabeth Wroten

So last Wednesday I officially started running a makerspace! The opportunity popped up and I jumped on it and it all came together pretty quickly. I wrote a post about ten months ago about makerspaces, what they are and what their potential is and why I think they’re important. You can go here to read that piece.

I’m running it at the school where I used to work. Sadly the MakerSpace is not connected to the library (yet, some plans are in the pipes, but I need to get into the swing of things first). Space is really tight, especially this semester as they are building a new science and math building, so we’re currently based out of the art room. Last year, after going to several conferences that had sessions about makerspaces my husband and I tried to get one up and running. We just dropped the ball as life got busy (as it does), but we had laid a lot of groundwork and planning with both the art teacher and the after school enrichment administrator. So when the middle school head propsed talking to my husband about makerspaces he brought me, and our pre-planning, along. The art teacher is amazingly supportive and incredibly generous to let us use her space and the MakerSpace is being run through the after school enrichment program. It’s a drop-in alternative to study hall for middle school students and lower school kids can sign up for it as a class which means they will be there every Monday and Wednesday afternoon.

I’m still ironing out some things, like missing supplies, but the kids were so incredibly engaged. I’m really excited about this whole thing. It has a lot of potential. Now to get the kids circulating through! I’m going alternate updates on the MakerSpace with my Throwback Thursday posts, so hopefully you can see how it’s going.

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Throwback Thursday Review: Outside Your Window by Nicola Davies

On 28, Aug 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Outside Your WindowFrom GoodReads: The buzz of bees in summertime. The tracks of a bird in the winter snow. This beautiful book captures all the sights and sounds of a child’s interactions with nature, from planting acorns or biting into crisp apples to studying tide pools or lying back and watching the birds overhead. No matter what’s outside their windows — city streets or country meadows — kids will be inspired to explore the world around them.

I decided to include this title in my throwback series for a couple of reasons. First, I really love to use poetry to encourage kids to become readers. Second, I’ve been reading this with my daughter for more than a year now and we just love it.

As you probably already figured out, this is a collection of poems about nature. But what I have loved about is that the poems are organized around the seasons. There is a section each for spring, summer, fall and winter. This is the kind of book you can leave out in a classroom, on a nature table, or in a bedroom. You can pick it up whenever you have a few spare minutes and select a poem or two for your current season.

The poems themselves are really lovely and evocative. Not every child is going to have experienced all the nature in the book, but there is something for everyone from a window box on an apartment balcony to a farm. The illustrations are a mixture of collage, watercolor and probably a few other media thrown in. They really do a wonderful job complementing each poem. They are bright, cheerful with seasonally appropriate color palettes. The animals are all very charming and a nice enticement for many children. It’s a large book which I think encourages kids to open it out on the floor and pore over it. The paper is heavy and thick which adds to the sensorial experience of reading it.

The nice thing about a collection of poems like this is that you can dip in and out of if, like with a lot of nonfiction. Kids whose attention spans are short or who are having a hard time reading can choose a poem or two, look at the illustration and move on to something else. Reading doesn’t have to be torturously long. Very young children, who may not want to sit still for an entire picture book or story, are often willing to listen to a poem or two and the use of language and vocabulary in poetry is especially good at getting little ones to listen to spoken words. An all around great book for all ages (parents included!).

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In Review

By Elizabeth Wroten

Kidlit Review: Animal Science

On 11, Aug 2014 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten

Animal Science

Eye to Eye: How Animals See the World by Steve Jenkins: This is an incredible book. Jenkins has taken an ostensibly boring subject (the evolution of the eye), and using the layout, the illustrations, and the selection of information, made a book that will capture your interest. It would be more useful as a title to browse and pique interest or as a resource for a report on the evolution of the eye than as a resource for any specific animal. But kids are naturally curious about the world around them, so it’s the type of book that will keep their engagement in tact instead of boring it out of them. I even read this one (in very small sections) to my three-year-old. With some interpretation and extra explaining, mostly to define words she didn’t know, even she was able to enjoy the book. The animals a certainly familiar, but the context is very fresh.

Unusual Creatures: A Mostly Accurate Account of Some of Earth’s Strangest Animals by Michael Hearst: The slightly off colors of this book give Unusual Creatures a throwback quality.  The format and small tidbits of information are reminiscent of the Guinness Book of World Records books that I loved as a kid and know are still popular. More importantly, I think, this book was funny. From the ridiculous title, to the introduction, to the Did You Know facts. It’s a good way to get kids reading nonfiction. The format would even allow more reluctant readers with high interest to dip in and out of the book.

Bone Collection: Animals by Rob Colson: This is another one kids can dip in and out of. Although this is more like visiting a natural history museum. The skeleton illustrations are amazing. What really struck me about the book, though, was the presentation of the information. Each skeleton is on a two-page spread that primarily has information about the specific animal. The next two-page spread moves out to a broader set of animals. So for example from the cod to fish. What I think is important about this is it shows kids how to make observations about things in their world, a specific animal in this case, and make generalizations and connections to broader ideas. Albeit this is subtle, it is still a good example of how science often works and makes their own natural thinking processes a little more explicit.

All three of these books have higher reading levels (upper elementary), but I think that’s due in large part to a complicated vocabulary. However, they are also pretty high interest subjects so this could motivate lower readers to tackle them and the context of the vocabulary really aids the reader in understanding it. They are also broken into small chunks of information which any reader can move through at their own pace.

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