Book Review: The Story of Silk by Richard Sobol

This gorgeous book for grades 3-6 does what the best non-fiction books and films always do, engage me in a subject that I knew little or nothing about.

Readers will learn that silk worms aren’t actually worms at all, but a kind of caterpillar. The eggs of this caterpillar are so small that 40,000 of the eggs fit on a single sheet of paper when they are delivered to the village at the beginning of the dry season. Readers will see how the tiny eggs grow into a caterpillar that is extremely picky about what it eats and that must be fed constantly.  As the caterpillar grows, it keeps out growing its skin and must shed its skin several times in a process called molting. Finally, about a month later, the fully grown caterpillar begins the process of wrapping itself in a silk thread, the long awaited result for the village. Then the real work begins to turn the strong, golden-colored thread into the silk fabrics that the Thai are famous for.

There is a lot in this book to engage kids. The author shows how kids in the village are responsible for cleaning the caterpillar poop off of the cocoons. He also does a nice job explaining the caterpillars are killed in hot water so that the silk thread can be extracted. This could certainly be used to initiate a class discussion on the life cycle and/or the morality of killing animals for their meat, fur, tusks or silk. I also like the inherent community nature of the project; every child and adult in the village has a role to play in harvesting and weaving the silk for the benefit of all.

Richard Sobol fills each page with his own, vivid photographs of the silk harvesting and weaving process in a small Thai village. There is added value in beautiful end page world maps that highlight Thailand, a page of additional “Silk Facts” and a glossary at the end of the book. This book could be used in thematic units about Southeast Asia, insects, harvests, communities, textiles and materials.

Germs, Soap, Bubbles for ages 7 and up

Had a great class today on the topics of germs, hygiene, soap and bubbles. Here are the highlights of the class…

When the kids came in, I gave them each one squirt of the Steve Spangler Glitter Bug Lotion, which I call the germ gel. I did not explain anything about this at the time; I just asked the kids to rub it into their hands.

Germs are microorganisms. They are alive. They are very, very, very small! You can only see them through a microscope. There are 4 types of germs: bacteria, virus, fungi and protozoa. Bacteria can cause ear infections, cavities, and the salmonella poisoning that I had last week! (Ugh, by the way!) However, there are many types of bacteria in our bodies that help us! Some help us break down the food that we eat, others are on our skin and keep it soft. We should not overuse antibacterial soaps and antibiotics because those don’t know the good bacteria from the bad and will kill all of them! Bacteria are so small, 1,000 of them can fit on the head of a pin. Viruses are even smaller! 10,000 can fit on the head of a pin! Viruses can cause different illnesses like chicken pox and the flu. Fungi don’t hurt people who are healthy, but they can cause things like athlete’s foot. Finally, protozoa are the most simple of all of these organisms. They are very small and simple, only one cell, but they can cause some really awful illnesses. They cause a lot of intestinal illness and tummy problems.

At this point, I told the kids to wash their hands and come right back.

When they returned, I asked the kids if their hands were clean. They said yes. I turned off the lights and the two black lights that I had showed the Glitter Bug lotion. I said that even though their hands looked clean, they really weren’t since the kids didn’t wash long enough or with enough soap. This started a very funny, long process where all of the kids rushed back to the sinks to scrub at their hands and fingernails to try to get all of the glow in the dark lotion off. They would come back to me to check how they did and then run back to the sinks to get what they had missed.

We talked about how we always need to keep our hands off of our faces (Glitter Bug lotion found there) and to wash between our fingers and around our fingernails. After petting a dog, don’t put your hands in your mouth! Cover your cough, etc.

Along with germs, I like to talk about soap and bubbles. What shape is a bubble? Why is it a sphere? (most efficient shape to hold that amount of air/ smallest shape to hold that amount of air)

I gave each table a different recipe for bubble mix (found on the website) and provided measuring cups as well as all of the supplies on their lists. It was a bit chaotic while each of the tables mixed up their solutions, but I let them try to figure them out on their own.

This recipe was the winner, without question:

National WIldlife Federation Bubble Recipe
from NWF Backyard Buddies

1/4 cup liquid dishwashing detergent (like Dawn)
3/4 cup cold water
5 drops of glycerin 
(available in pharmacies or chemical supply houses)

We used pipe cleaners to make bubble blowing hoops, and after a few minutes of high-energy bubble blowing, I gave each of the kids a bubble “catching” glove which I got from the website.

Clay Boat (aka: why does it float?)

This is a great demo for younger kids, but is best as an activity for 2nd grade and up.

Clay, when kept in a ball or block shape, will sink heavily to the bottom of a container of water. When that same small block of clay is shaped like a boat, however, it will float. In this experiment, we even counted how many pennies our little boats would hold before they sank.

Here’s how I explained it to the kids:

(handed a kid a gallon of water) Is that heavy or light? (kid says heavy) Yes! Water is actually pretty heavy. So here’s the secret for why a penny sinks, but a big ship can float… When you put something in water, it is going to push some water out of the way. If the item weighs less than the amount of water that it pushes out of the way, then it will float. So if you want something heavy to float, it needs to push a lot of water out of the way. You have to spread it out so that it pushes a lot of water out of the way.

I gave all of the kids (between 7-9 years old) a small block of clay, and we all dropped that clay in water to confirm that it would sink. Then I gave the kids time to try what I had demonstrated about the boat shape. A few kids struggled to get a boat shape, but all were ultimately successful. The more advanced students started trying on their own to create different boat shapes, like a canoe.

We all added pennies to our little boats to see how many they would hold. For the older kids in the room, I gave them quarters and dimes with their pennies and challenged them to find the highest monetary value that their boat would hold.

This was such fun and required very little set up. It works various skills including introducing science concepts of density and buoyancy, working on dexterity and hand control (for writing skills), math skills of counting the change, and classroom skills of following directions and sharing materials with classmates.

Loved this one; hope you do too!

Bats Story Time

Bats have such a bad reputation, but they are really beautiful and helpful animals! I made up the following poem; feel free to use it in your Bats Story Time!

Bats are peculiar things.
They’re mammals, but they fly with wings.
Nocturnal creatures, they fly at night.
They come out of caves in the bright moonlight.
Most eat insects, but some eat fruit.
A mosquito or a mango is their favorite loot.
They might look scary, but they won’t eat you!
They pollinate our flowers and drink midnight dew.
Beautiful bat, will you visit me?
I’ll be sleeping while you fly free.

Also try:

These bat poems at I have used Douglas Florian’s poem “The Bat” for years in my story times. I have it written on a large sheet of paper. When I get to the last line, “the batty bats sleep upside down”, I flip up the bottom of the paper to show a hanging bat on the backside of the poem.

Miss Katie’s Story Time Wiki’s Flap, Flap, Flap Little Bats

The Reading Lady’s bat rhymes and poems are wonderful! Several of her rhymes speak to the science of bats and how wondrous they are–these will definitely make my list.

If you’d like to learn more about bats, here are a couple of great websites.

In the Northwest:

Bat Conservation is one of the largest and most active bat organizations around. Their website is: They also have a “Kid’s Section” that includes bat coloring pages!

Washington students show math and science improvement?

I have mixed feelings about the article “Washington Students Show Math and Science Improvement” that was published today in the Seattle P-I. The article was written by Donna Gordon Blankinship of the Associated Press.

As glad as I am to hear of improvements in science proficiency, I recently found the statistic that in 2009/2010 my local elementary school had only 3% science proficiency among their 5th graders. So this article raises a lot of questions for me. How much did the lowest performing schools improve? How many local schools have less than 25% or 50% of their students passing minimum proficiency in each subject?

The article also states that 2014 graduates took a Biology Proficiency exam this year, which they passed at 61%. That sounds pretty good (with much room for improvement), but I wonder how many struggling students had dropped out by this point. This would raise the average scores by leaving the strongest students in the schools.

Although I’ll always welcome good news for our science and math proficiency, this article raised more questions than it answered for me. I’m left with the reinforced feeling that science education, as well as student retention, needs full community support and engagement if we hope to improve the sad (but improving?) statistics in our state.

Honeybees and Honey!

What a sweet story time to teach kids a bit about honeybees and honey!

Honeybees are fascinating insects and local beekeepers are often happy to come in to story time to talk about their craft.

Here are a few of my favorite facts about honeybees:

  • Honeybees create a hive of perfectly formed hexagon (6-sided) cells made of beeswax
  • Worker bees have various jobs: some are foragers that collect pollen and nectar from flowers, guard bees protect the hive, nurse bees take care of the developing newborn bees, house bees clean the hive, and court bees take care of the queen
  • The average honeybee makes 1/12th teaspoon of honey in her lifetime
  • The queen bee is bigger than the other bees and lives for up to 5 years–much longer than most honeybees

There are lots of great books about honeybees for preschool and early elementary kids. Two of my favorite are The Honey Makers by Gail Gibbons and Honey in a Hive by Anne Rockwell, illustrated by S.D. Schindler.

There are lots of bee-themed songs and rhymes. Here are two of my favorites:

Here is the beehive, but where are the bees? (hand in fist) Hidden away where nobody sees! Watch, and you’ll see them come out of their hive. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5! (fingers lift one at a time.)

Also try…

BUZZ! goes the bee, hour after hour. BUZZ! goes the bee from flower to flower.

Sucking out the nectar, and flying it home. Storing up the nectar in the honeycomb.

BUZZ! goes the bee making honey so sweet. The bee makes the honey that I love to eat!

Lesson plans for Slime & Science presentations


Science & Slime at the Library!


Create a set of “Science in Story Time” kits.

Each kit contains: lesson plan with safety notes, explanation of the science concept (handouts), story time books, and materials needed for experiments.

At each presentation, the librarian will have a selection of fiction and non-fiction materials on display that relate to that day’s theme.

Check outs will be encouraged and short book talks will be part of the wrap-up of the day.


Book: Let’s Try it Out in the Water by Simon; A Drop Goes Plop

Discussion: What is density? Explanation of float or sink.

Activity: Does it float or sink? (Graph it)

Discussion: Ball of clay vs formed into a boat shape? Why?

Activity: work with clay to see what shapes will sink and what shapes will float, adding pennies, how many can you get it to hold?

Demonstration: Floating Egg experiment (egg will sink in plain water, but as you add salt to increase the density of the water, the egg will start to float)

Activity in groups: Density layers—layering liquids by density (honey, karo syrup, dish soap, water, oil…)

Wrap-up and book talking

Sign-ups for library cards if needed/ Fill-out evaluations

Bases and Acids

Book:Epossomondas Saves the Day by Salley

Discussion: Explanation of what is acidity. How is it measured?

Demonstration: vinegar and baking soda release carbon dioxide

Activity: Vinegar and Baking Soda to blow up a balloon

Demonstration: Ph testing. Using cabbage juice as an indicator, I make an acid/base rainbow

Activity: Make sparkling lemonade

Wrap-up and book talking

Promote online homework help/ Fill-out evaluations

Germs/ Soap/ Bubbles

Book: A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon

Discussion: What are germs? How do we stay clean?

Demonstration: lead explains germ gel, makes a salad after putting some on hands, all evaluate result

Activity: Germ gel (with blacklight) for hands

Try washing for 15 seconds in cold water, no soap, and look at result under blacklight

Then wash for 30 seconds with warm water and soap, look at result under blacklight

Book: What you Never Knew About Tubs, Toilets, and Showers  by Lauber, Patricia

Discussion: Now let’s move to bubbles, what do you know about them?

Sphere, full of air, soap “wall”, dry out=pop faster (in sun)

Can be made in other ways—milk, soda pop carbonation

Demonstration: try to blow square, triangle bubbles

Activity: Small groups make bubble mixture and blow bubbles—let the kids create different shapes using pipe cleaner to blow the bubbles.

Demonstration: bring all back together to show Raisins in Soda demo, encourage try at home

Wrap-up and book talking

Feature database use/ fill-out evaluations


Book: Follow the Water from Brook to Ocean by Arthur Dorros

Discussion: Puget Sound Watershed

How do we use water? What happens to the water we use?

Introduce Storm Drains—water from storm drains go to Puget Sound/ Pacific Ocean

Demonstration: Small Aquarium with plastic fish—things from storm drains go to Ocean

(add “car oil”, “dog poop”, “house paint”, plastic, car wash soap to water to show how fish’s environment is contaminated

Activity: Purification using water from Alki

Create a water filter using your choice of materials

Wrap-up and book talking

Intro to catalog searching/ fill-out evaluations