Family Storytime: Heroes, Flight & Gravity

This summer, we’re celebrating heroes in our summer learning program along with many libraries across the US. It’s quite a fun theme because it incorporates superheroes and comics on the one hand while also providing a great backdrop on which to celebrate the hero within. Many of the books and ideas I plan to share this summer during storytime will encourage kids to do great things. This week was no different.

I have been using letter cards at the beginning of storytime as a welcome activity to support letter recognition, to get kids physically stretching, and to break the ice, so to speak. My pack of letters has 26 cards (plus some duplicates) and each one has an uppercase letter and the picture of a child forming the shape of the letter with their body. I keep the cards in a bag and, one at a time, kids pull out the first card they touch. I hold it up so all can see and we say the letter’s name and then make the shape with our bodies. The cards include a diverse group of kids which I appreciate.

This week I decided to only have the letters that spell AIRPLANE in the bag. After we played the game, I organized the letters into the word as a hint for the storytime theme. I was glad that I simplified things because kids kept pouring into the room and I never would have had enough letter cards for everyone to pick a letter. Frankly, we would have been there all day playing just this one game if we went through the entire alphabet. During some storytimes in the Winter I can get away with every child who arrives at the start picking a letter because the crowds are smaller, but not in the Summer.

Once everyone was settled down on their storytime mat (with a little help from the song If You’re ready for a Story), it was time to read.

Violet the Pilot by Steve Breen (Photo source:

Violet the Pilot by Steve Breen (Photo source:

I recently came across the book Violet the Pilot by Steve Breen (Dial Books, 2008) and knew I had to read it at storytime for a couple of reasons:

  • Violet is a “maker” and designs her own airplane,
  • She stands up to bullies,
  • Her parents support her creative passion,
  • The story has several historical references to innovators, and
  • She is recognized as a hero when she rescues a group of boy scouts stranded in a river instead of competing in the airplane competition she was headed to when she discovered them.

The book also gave me a great opportunity to talk about flight and gravity, the focus of this storytime. Too technical for storytime and the 3-7 year olds who attend, you say? No way! I infuse STEAM in my storytimes every week and have found that breaking down big concepts, like flight or electricity, into bite size pieces can work. Kids may not be ready for rocket science, but everyone starts somewhere. Why not at the library storytime? We do that with reading, why not with science, technology, engineering, art and math?

Before I shared this book, I asked the group what we needed to fly. I was delighted when a girl said “lift and thrust.” The adults were blown away! Over the course of storytime I explained the ideas and what parts of a plane handle lift and thrust using the two books I read, the books’ illustrations and the experiments we did in the second half of storytime.

One thing I would do differently if I wrote this book is make sure the boy scouts are wearing life jackets in the rescue illustration. Drowning is a significant problem in Alaska (many families spent a lot of time on the water) and we are always driving home the idea that everyone needs to wear a life jacket when they are on a boat or dock (young kids). I took a moment to talk about life jackets when we got to that part of the story, but it would be nice to have the book model this important practice.

Kids were wiggly by the time I was finished with Violet’s story, perhaps in part to the large number of people, so we got moving. I had my phone and a portable speaker on hand with the storytime playlist ready to go. I also had my collection of shakers to use with Laurie Berkner’s The Airplane Song. I actually ran out of shakers for the first time ever, but the kids without them handled it well. The song is full of action and the movements work with or without shakers.

Flight School by Lita Judge Photo Source:

Flight School by Lita Judge Photo Source:

We then read Flight School by Lita Judge (Atheneum Books for Young Readers (2014). It’s the story of a penguin who desperately wants to fly, but can’t so he goes to flight school. While his body is meant for swimming and he can’t get airborne on his own, the other students get him off the ground, demonstrating heroism on a smaller scale and helping penguin fulfill a lifelong dream.

Time for experiments! I like to refer to this storytime as Physics for Preschoolers.

Boy, did I miss my summer assistant this week! With three stations going and over 60 people, I could have used an extra hand. She is on vacation so we made do without her…just barely. Designing multiple stations lets me offer a variety of activities and most kids will find at least one that appeals to them. It also helps to spread out the crowd a bit.

Gravity Painting

Station: Gravity Painting
I love painting during storytime. I can handle the mess and so can the families who come. Kids know to wash their hands as soon as they are done at the painting tables (there is a sink in the kids’ room) and caregivers often help clean up. I make t-shirts available, but they never get used. I stick with washable tempura paints to make things easy. Gravity painting was an easy leap for me. I modified a project I found at the Artful Parent, a great place to find ideas that can be adapted for storytime.

Gravity Painting ExampleBefore storytime, I built 12 stands for this activity. I used aluminum trays I have stored away and book ends. I taped the back of the tray to the book end to keep them upright. To paint, kids used eyedroppers to suction watered down tempura paint out of bowls on the tables and then squeezed it on to the 1/2 sheet of cardstock paper in the upright tray. The paint slides down the paper, thanks to gravity, and creates beautiful designs. Some families taped the paper in the tray until painting was complete. We talked about gravity in a very basic sense, remembering again, that we’re introducing big ideas in bite sized pieces.


  • aluminum roasting trays (1 per painter)
  • tempura paints in various colors (I had 4 colors at each table)
  • eyedroppers (1 per color)
  • bowls or containers for paint
  • book ends (1 for each tray)
  • packing tape (to attach tray to book end)
  • white cardstock (1/2 sheet)
  • pencil (for writing names on paper before painting)

Straw paper airplaneStation: Straw Paper Airplanes
We’ve made these airplanes at the library before and I love them. They seem ridiculous, but always fly. I got the idea from the DIY Network. The materials are minimal and I have a nice spot for creating an airstrip where kids can measure how far their play goes and practice throwing the plane. Some kids ended up adding wings and other decorative pieces and then tried to fly them again. Pretty cool.




  • Paper straw
  • 1″ x 10″ strip of cardstock for large circle (plane’s tail)
  • 1″ x 5″ strip of cardstock for small circle (plane’s nose)
  • Scotch tape (to attach circles to straw)
  • Blue painters’ tape for marking distances on carpet airstrip

Balloon PlaneStation: Balloon Planes
I spent the most time at this station since it it was the least self-explanatory. I used a similar experiment at a Maker Monday: Forces of Flight program for older kids last summer and thought it would be fun to show the younger kids. it was a hit! The idea is that a blown up balloon provides the thrust to push the straw it is attached to along a string. One end of the string is tied to a chair  and I held the other end. Kids or adults blew up balloons and we taped them to the straw. I talked to them about Isaac Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion and explained that the air escaping the inflated, but untied balloon would cause the balloon to go in the opposite direction. This helped them position the balloon with the tail towards me and the round, or top part of the balloon, int he direction they wanted it to go- towards the chair. I held the one end of the string so we could see if holding the string up higher or lower changed the speed at which the balloon and start traveled. Many kids tried this experiment over and over. Here is the balloon airplane in action.


  • Paper Straw
  • String (like kite string)
  • Scotch tape
  • Balloons
  • Chair
Robot Factory by Tinybop

The Robot Factory by Tinybop (Photo Source:

As a nice compliment to the storytime activities, we offered the app The Robot Factory by Tinybop on our children’s library mounted iPad. While the app isn’t useful during storytime, it’s a nice sandbox style app that extends the tinkering and learning we did during storytime. The app was available throughout the week. (For more about my library’s mounted iPad and the curated apps I feature see this related post.)

The Robot Factory app is a design studio for young inventors & lets kids build robots from more than 50 parts that can be placed on a robot body in a variety of configurations. Once the robot is built, inventors can test the creation & its physics-driven movements. The design can then be modified as needed or added to a robot gallery. Individual profiles can be created for multiple builders. The app includes a parent dashboard w/tips & settings. :: $2.99 :: For ages 5+. (Source: Homer Public Library’s Kids App of the Week Pinterest Board)


Superhero Training Camp

Superhero Training Camp Photo Source: homer

Superhero Training Camp Photo Source:

During the first week of our summer learning program, we hosted a Superhero Training Camp in our kids’ library for kids 11 and under. About 30 people came to experiment, fly, design and maneuver. With three adults and my daughter, we offered nine stations. Families explored them at their won pace over an hour and everyone left with smiles. I finally got a chance to show off my cape and my illuminated mask! (The mask was a Tinker Tuesday program project using conductive thread). A reporter from one of the local newspapers stopped by and wrote an article about our Summer@HPL program.

The Stations
A quick note about the stations- all of the materials for this program cost about $55. I scavenged many of the weird materials and had others on hand.

Spider ScienceSpider Science (in honor of Spiderman)
This may remind you of the classic volcano experiment. Kids also were familiar with the bubbling volcano which helped them hypothesize about what was happening. I made 8 baking soda spiders out of baking soda, water, liquid watercolor and colored pipe cleaners the night before so they were frozen when the camp began. The spider thaws as it reacts with the vinegar. (Source: Fun at Home With Kids via What Do We Do All Day? which has a nice post about superhero science projects.)


  • Baking soda spiders (made the night before)
  • Rubber totes (We used 2 and had the spiders reacting at alternating times)
  • Vinegar (Because of the tote size we used quite a bit. For 8 spiders we used 3 large bottles of vinegar.)
  • Liquid Watercolor (darker colors worked the best.)
  • Dish soap (Just a few drops is needed for each spider.)

Laser CourseLaser Course
We strung green yarn between two of the stacks in the kids’ library. The idea is for kids to maneuver their bodies down the row over and under without touching the yarn. Small bells on the yarn let kids know if they touched it and when they heard the sound they instantly returned to the start for another try! My Summer@HPL assistant worked at this station and started with a simple course, gradually adding more yarn as kids mastered the course. This was a popular station and some kids spent the whole hour here.


  • Yarn
  • Bells
  • Masking tape

Superhero StrengthSuper Strength
At this station I had some fake weights for kids to lift. From afar, many of the kids thought they were real and were surprised to find they were easy to lift, even for the younger ones. What a great opportunity to talk about mass! The large “weight” was made with blue board (sprayed black) and a dowel. I glued the “weights” on to the dowel so they would stay put with the all of th rough housing. The smaller weight was made with a smaller dowel and two styrofoam balls sprayed black. I also glued these “weights” on to the dowel. I needed these weights to last an hour and they did, with just a bit of life to spare!


  • wood dowels (two different diameters)
  • 2 large styrofoam balls
  • blueboard
  • black spray paint


Super SnacksSuper Snacks
I offer healthy snacks at many of our summer programs and included a variety  of super snacks at the camp. Most of the food was eventually devoured.


  • Apple slices
  • Carrots
  • Cheese cubes
  • Crackers
  • Water pitcher and cups
  • Red paper for table

Mask and Wrist CuffsCostumes

I offered two different costume crafts to get our little superheroes outfitted. The mask template I found online at First Palette last Halloween and the wrist cuff idea I adapted from the blog Piper Loves the Library. These two stations were right next to each other so my daughter, who is quite crafty and works well with kids, could oversee them both. Several kids spent the entire hour moving between the three crafts.

Mask Materials:

  • Masks on cardstock (cut out before event)
  • Yarn (to tie the masks)
  • Markers and crayons
  • Scissors
  • Sparkly decorations
  • Colored pencils

Wrist Cuff Materials:

  • Coffee cup sleeves (50 were donated by two coffee shops, but we only used about 30)
  • Construction paper to cover the sleeves
  • Tacky glue
  • Letter or star stickers
  • Plain paper for designing own emblems
  • Markers/crayons
  • Scissors

Superhero Paper DollsSuperhero Paper Dolls

I found this superhero paper doll template and thought it would be a nice addition to the program. I printed out templates on yardstick and put them on a table with the usual supplies plus brass fasteners to attach the limbs and a variety of scrapbook paper for some fun color. The superhero was easily customized.


  • Superhero doll template on cardstock
  • Markers, crayons and colored pencils
  • Brass fasteners
  • Yarn (for hair)
  • Scrapbook paper in a variety of patterns
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Tape

Superhero Photo BoothPhoto Booth
Without the lovely young woman who was hired as a Summer@HPL assistant, I could not have pulled off the backdrop for the photo booth! It took a couple of hours to design, cut and glue. I saw this on a Storytime Underground Facebook conversation and knew we had to have a photo booth like this one!
Kids laid down on the backdrop so it appeared as if their were flying over the buildings. The tie dye cape is something we made at home a couple of years ago and was one of a few props we had on hand for booth. Most kids had made a mask by the time they came to this station and wore if for the photo. Caregivers took photos if they had a camera/phone or we sent a photo to them.


  • Backdrop for floor (made in advance)
  • Superhero Signs (words like Pow! attached to craft sticks)
  • Capes (made out of sheets, etc.)

Leap Over a Tall BuildingLeap Over a Tall Building
I found some cardboard boxes and we covered them with the paper used for bulletin boards. The boxes were a huge hit both as hurdles and stacked as a singular building which was punched with superhero fists over and over again.


  • Cardboard boxes in various sizes
  • Paper

Kryponite Sensory PlayKryptonite Sensory Play
Green painted rocks were buried in rubber tote of beans and our little superheroes used their hands and x-ray vision to find the kryptonite. This was another idea from the Storytime Underground Facebook conversation.

Thanks to all of the librarians who shared their ideas!

Toddler Storytime: Animal Heroes

Monty's Magnificent Mane by Gemma O'Neill (Photo source:

Monty’s Magnificent Mane by Gemma O’Neill (Photo Source:

To continue this week’s storytime theme, I read a book about animal heroes to the toddlers and babies (and caregivers). I held on to Monty’s Magnificent Mane by Gemma O’Neill (Candlewick, 2015) after the the family storytime and read it again today. Not all books about heroes resonate with this younger audience, but this one did. I think part of its appeal is the artwork, which is beautiful, colorful and nicely expresses the text of the story about friendship and courage in a very whimsical way. Using mixed media and collage, O’Neill produces a crocodile, for example, just scary enough to create a mood without being the stuff nightmares are made of. This double page spread offers an interesting perspective:

Monty's Magnificent Mane: at the watering hole (Photo source:

Monty’s Magnificent Mane: at the watering hole (Photo Source:

The book’s text also played nicely with the early literacy tip of the week because words like magnificent, mane and meerkat are fabulous words not often included in day to day conversation.

Weekly Early Literacy Tip:
Having a rich vocabulary will help growing readers decode words and to understand what they will read. Reading books helps grow young children’s vocabulary because books often include words we don’t use in everyday conversation. If you come across a word that is new to your child explain it. When talking with your little one, use the real names of things. Avoid replacing unfamiliar words with familiar ones.

Several of the songs and rhymes I chose are familiar and work well with the diverse group I often have. Babies to toddlers can join in. I chose a couple songs about opposites to go along with the large and small opposite represented by the lion and meerkats in today’s story.

Welcome: The More We Get (Read) Together (with ASL)

Action Song: Dance Your Fingers
Dance your fingers up, up high
Dance your fingers down, down low.
Dance your fingers side to side and dance them all around.
Dance them on your shoulders.
Dance them on your head.
Dance them on your tummy,
And put them all to bed!

Action Rhyme: I am Big
I am big, big, big (stretch hands far to sides)
I am small, small, small (crouch down)
I am short, short, short (stay low)
I am tall, tall, tall (reach for the sky)
I am fast, fast, fast (roll hands or march quickly)
I am slow, slow, slow (roll hands or march slowly)
I say yes, yes, yes (nod head)
And sometimes no, no, no (shake head)

After our story (or stories depending on the length and audience attention span), we always pop and play with bubbles. Bubbles is often a little one’s first library word!


Action Song: Going to Kentucky (with shakers)
We’re going to Kentucky.
We’re going to the fair,
to see the senorita with the flowers in her hair.
Oh, shake it, shake it, shake it.
Shake it all you can.
Shake it like a milkshake,
and do the best you can.
Rhumba to the bottom,
and rhumba to the top.
Turn around and turn around until I holler stop!

Closing (Action) Song: If You’re Happy and You Know It (with shakers)
If you’re happy and you know it give a shake.
If you’re happy and you know it give a shake.
If you’re happy and you know it and you really want to show it.
If you’re happy and you know it give a shake.

If you’re happy and you know it give a clap.
(Clap shaker against palm.)

If you’re happy and you know it give a tap.
(Tap shaker on the floor.)

If you’re happy and you know it do all three.
(Shake, shake, clap, clap, tap, tap)