Alien Autopsy Craft at the Library #Fizzboomread

Gross Alien Autopsy for kids!

Here’s a cool program that involves gross stuff and aliens, two things that kids love.  They examine an alien corpse and make scientific observations.  The “corpse” is a jello mold full of strange objects.


I got this idea from Catherine Brenner of Bethlehem Public Library, who made a presentation for our summer reading workshop.  She did a whole series of programs centered around “grossology”.


The gelatin mold above is actually a British import for a “giant jelly baby”.  Other options would be a gingerbread man cake pan.

The recipe I used has about a half-bowl extra, which was fine with my family.

  • 2 6 oz. packages of gelatin mix (orange or lime)
  • 1 3/4 cup boiling water
  • 3/4 cup cold water
  • small plastic toys, jiggly eyes and boiled spaghetti

Pour the boiling water into a large bowl with the gelatin mix, stir for two minutes, add cold water.  Spray the mold with oil.  Pour the gelatin into the mold along with the weird objects.  Refrigerate for at least 3 hours.


To un-mold, run a knife along the edges of the mold to break the seal.  Put mold in a bath of warm water (do not submerge).  I used plastic shoe boxes to store the aliens.  Moisten the inside lid of the box and carefully flip the mold onto it, peeling it off.  Aliens should either be stored in the fridge or a cool, dark place.

For the program, make your kids into scientists.  I recommend plastic aprons and plastic gloves.  Remind the participants not to eat their specimen (to avoid accidentally ingesting toys, and also, ew).  Before they begin dissecting, have your scientists make observations, notes, and drawings.  Ask them to use their senses to describe what they see without using emotional words like yucky or gross.

WARNING: this consistency of gelatin is as sticky as glue- it can stick the fingers of your gloves together if you get too covered.


Great tools to have for the autopsy would be plastic knives and tweezers.


My exuberant five year old demonstrated to me why this program is best for ages 8 and up.  He was all about the texture of the jello and mashing it between his fingers, sending it everywhere.  For his age group, an ooblek project would work better (non-newtonian fluid).

Pair this project with nonfiction and fiction books about aliens, and possibly some about surgery or anatomy.  P1100120

The Dreaded Summer Reading List- a Librarian’s Perspective


Librarian’s Summer Reading List Challenge

I’ve decided to take on a challenge, to go over the school’s recommended summer reading list, read at least two from each grade, and blog about it.

Every year I, a public library director, chase down teachers and school librarians for their summer reading list.  I have to track down leads, hound sources and twist arms, and still, I sometimes get a redacted list!

I have found that 6th grade fluctuates the most, those poor in-betweeners not quite ready for YA, but so done with kiddy stuff.  I’ll think I’m ready to help students come in and get a book for their optional assignment, only to find the list has changed without being notified.  Then instead of calmly purchasing books in spring, I’m scrambling to buy books, catalog them and get them on the shelf, or doing lots of inter-library loans.  I hate that- I want to be able to get the right book in their hands immediately.  On the other end of the spectrum, some grade’s lists haven’t changed since I was in elementary school, which was …quite a while ago.  With that I have to contend with out of print books and books that aren’t great enough to become classics and have lost their relevancy.

Every year some ambitious parent marches their child into the library to read everything on the list.  They don’t understand that these titles are examples.  If one book in a series is on the list, another can replace it.  There are wonderful books coming out each year, heck each month, that are excellent for your child and would be approved by the teacher if asked.

I have a big concern with assigned reading.  It should be presented as “here are some ideas”.  My goal is to increase the number of people reading for pleasure.  We want kids coming in and finding the book that fits them, that appeals to them.  The book they stay up late at night reading, and continue while chomping down their cereal in the morning. I love reading, but I remember some assigned books with horror- tedious, out-of date, mother dying and Nazi death camp stuff that made me miserable.  There are some great literary classics out there that should be discussed in class, ones that shaped culture, that have deep meaning.  Some kids would happily read these on their own during the summer, and that is wonderful.  Other kids need support reading such difficult books, and definitely do not derive pleasure from reading them.

ANY READING IS GOOD READING!   Let kids read what they want.  Gently encourage them to discover new series and authors, suggest read-a-likes for their favorites that are slightly higher in reading level, but most of all, put books in front of them that they can choose from.

This week I’ll be going over the Kindergarten list.  Each grade list is by the grade the child is going into in the fall, so the Kindergarten list is for preschoolers who are age 5 before September.


Getting Kids Interested in Science #fizzboomread

Stand back, I’m going to do SCIENCE!

We had a science expo at our library to kick off summer reading.  This year’s theme is Fizz, Boom, Read!  Instead of just focusing on encouraging reading, libraries want to get kids into S.T.E.A.M. (science, technology, engineering, art and math).  The way to do that is to make it hands-on, fun, and allow room for creativity and play

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Our library system lent us a Makey Makey kit, which is a controller that uses everyday objects to complete circuits.  So we could play Tetris using a banana, cucumber, tomato and orange.

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I am loaning my son’s snap circuit kit, which allows kids to create different configurations to power devices- a fan, a siren and a light.

We are fortunate to have two parent volunteers who are great at doing science demos.  The most popular experiment was making a “fake shake”, a foaming colored substance that becomes hard.  (I need to get the information on how it was done!)  My daughter’s example was a little over the top.  (heh)

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Elements of a great book series

What makes a great series?

I just read an article by Elizabeth Spann Craig about keeping a series fresh while meeting your fan’s expectations.  She was talking about mysteries, which as a genre often run long series, but it prompted me to think about what makes a great series in my genre of choice, fantasy.

In a mystery series, you start with the character, the mystery solver.  In each book, the character investigates and solves a murder.  This is why the genre works so well for series, because while the character can and should grow and change, the adversary is different in every book.  Fantasies often lend themselves to trilogies because the main characters are struggling against one huge adversary.  Often the story hinges on the hero coming of age.


The Belgariad

The Belgariad by David Eddings is a great example of an epic fantasy series.  Garion, the young reluctant hero, starts off as a little boy swept up into a global struggle of good against evil.  He is surrounded by powerful people who effect change, and travels across the world.  
Garion grows to become the hero, a powerful sorcerer, and a ruler.


Another way to keep The Colour of MagicSir David Jason as Rincewind©RHI/Bill Kayea series going is to tell many different stories on one world.  Terry Pratchett started
out by telling the story of Rincewind, a very (very!) reluctant hero of a wizard, but he has gone on to tell many character’s stories set on Discworld.  Some stories run into multiple books, some stand alone.  He has developed many characters and many adversaries in a complex, well developed world.

Dresden Files

927979Jim Butcher’s Dreden series combines the mystery and fantasy genres to create a reluctant hero strugging against evil while also solving a problem brought to him.  He has gone from solving simple cases involving one monster to dealing with world-shattering problems.  In gaming terms, in each book he has leveled up to the point where he is now at epic level (20th level in classic D+D).

I would say that all great fantasy series have strongly developed characters and settings. They are consistent in tone.  As characters gain power and experience, the level and
scope of their problems increase as well.

Some more of my favorite fantasy series:

  • Lord of the Rings By J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey
  • Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander
  • Graceling series by Kristin Cashore
  • Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
  • Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb
  • Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson
  • Sun Wolf series by Barbara Hambly
  • Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

What’s your favorite fantasy series? What makes it great?




Book Launch

Name Quest launched

My book is now up and available for Kindle, Nook , Kobo  and iBooks for $2.99.


Flying ships, wild magic, a land in trouble and a toy duck.  Three women and a shapeshifter accidentally save their world.

Long ago, it used to be easy for pilgrims to journey to the northern temple and get a new, adult name.  Now wild magic is flowing like lava across the land, cutting off the route.  A nameless girl hires a guard named Brynn, and they venture into the cursed dreamlands, guided by a mad sorceress and her shapeshifting companion.  They fight their way past monsters, dangers and frightening wonders to reach the temple, where they will be tested to see who they truly are.

Anything can happen in the dreamlands, and there is more at stake than the three women realize.  Their actions will not only effect the rulership of a country, but the fate of their whole world.


Interested in reviewing?  Let me know!

Looking for input

Preparing for launch: covers and beta readers

I am about to launch my next book, please let me know if you are interested in being a beta reader.  The great thing about self publishing ebooks is that you can create a second edition at any time.

I’m trying to put together a cover that looks professional, but my artwork is um, well, primitive is a nice word for it.  I now understand why most DIY is done with photographs.

drawing name questcovernamequesttrialcoverThis last one is cleaner looking, but doesn’t explain the book enough, even if I add in a pirate ship floating in the distance.  I’ve got to pick something, but if I start earning money on this I am going to get a real cover designer.

Update 5/9/14- I combined the two covers together (using Gimp).



Work in Progress

Paintingpainting in progress

I pulled out a canvas I’ve been meaning to use for years and gave myself permission to use it.  “But I’m not good at this.  I’ll ruin it.”  Right.  How is a blank canvas helping anyone, and who is going to cry if it’s been painted on?

The first face came out the way I wanted it to, the second one has the perspective wrong, especially for the eyes.  But, it was fun to make, and I’m not angry for “wasting a canvas.” Instead I’m thinking of how I will finish it, what I need to learn about perspective, pre-sketching, and color balance for noses.  I’m thinking about getting real paints instead of the 50 cent bottles of acrylic I got (blue, red, yellow, white, and black).  I’m thinking about brushes and techniques, books to read and artists to study.

Creativity is often about giving yourself permission to take risks and mess up.

Egg Dye Art

Recycled Egg Dye project


My son and I decorated eggs using a basic dye kit.  When we were finished, we had all these cups of dye. On a whim, I made a design on a piece of paper with a white crayon, taped it to a cutting board, and poured the dye over the paper into the sink.  My son really enjoyed making one himself.  Anyone else have ideas for recycling egg dye?

eggsdye art