this week at the FPL


We are at low ebb at the Front Porch library, just five kids, but with these five kids we were still going full bore!

Today’s read-aloud was read with an eye to how a story works. Who are the main characters? What do the main characters have in common? (The answers were things like, they’re both mammals). What is the setting? What is the problem at the heart of the story? What might happen next?

We are a shouty bunch. The twins, Harper and Danny spring from their chairs (they are spring-loaded). Klark is right there with the twins–boys stick together. Vivienne has strong and really interesting opinions. Only Olivia raises a hand.

After, we went outside to “get the squirrels out.” We played games like “dragon’s tail.” The last guy in the line has a bandanna in a back pocket, everyone holds each other by the waist, then the lead guy tries to snatch the dragon’s tail.

And we played “stiff as a board.” A kid lies flat and stiff and everyone else lifts the board and carries it around. Then we upped the ante, putting a cup of water on the board. We did fine, but Klark couldn’t stand not upsetting the cup on his belly. In a deliberate wiggle, the board got drenched.

We played telephone. Needless to say, nothing made it to the end of the line without morphing into something as unlikely as a burping purple monkey.

The squirrels out, we worked on story murals. The kids invented characters. Vivienne created a star (the pointy kind). Olivia a gymnast who was shy but met a great coach. Klark created a dark collection of superheroes, Harper, a guy who lived in a cave, and Danny a sadly box-like guy who drank a magic potion. “Five casual minutes later” he became a muscular dude. Both of the twins set theirs up as a comic strip–great action! Great drawing!

We had a great and hilarious time. Miss Jennifer did the cake decorating, “Snow Bear cake” in honor of the book we’d read. Our recent volunteer, Razan is so good with the kids. Her smile alone is enough to encourage kids to put forth their best effort.

Twilight was falling as we broke up for the day. Next week, new hours, 3-5, and maybe some new kids, but if not, this group is sufficient!

Another fine day at the FPL.

this week at the FPL


It was seed day at the Front Porch Library–a quick walk around the neighborhood this morning showed me there were seeds everywhere (’tis the season).

The read aloud was about seeds (not as funny as our usual fare). Then we talked about foods we ate that contain seeds, then foods that are seeds. We tried various seeds we use to flavor things: caraway, poppy, celery seed. They all evoked an active spit response.

We looked at seeds I’d collected and considered the various strategies seeds use to get themselves distributed. My favorites were the ones I got to stick to shirts with a light tap–good old Spanish Needle. And then there was the Hearts-A-Bustin’–a small tree with bright red seed pods that burst and scatter their bright red seeds. After looking at examples we broke up into foraging groups, each team equipped with a collecting tray and a pair of scissors. Our goal? To collect seeds from as many different species as we could.

My group was Danny, Vivienne and our new volunteer, Razah. We found everything from palm seeds, to dogwood, to milkweed. On our walk back Vivienne circled us and announced, “I am orbiting you!”

Collectively we gathered seeds from 48 species of plants. We did ourselves proud! We’ll plant a few and see what happens–just not the ones that stick to your shirt.

Then we carved pumpkins, unleashing the mother load of seeds.
They’ll be baked and ready for snack next Sunday.As opposed to growing them, it saves time.

Another fine day of wandering in the weeds at the Front Porch Library.

this week at the FPL


I never guess right! I thought, yup, this’ll be a slow day at the FPL. Wrong! The first three kids arrived an hour early. They haven’t been to the library for a while and they’d walked a long way, so I opened up. We decorated the cake. Boy did we ever! The last time Shameecia and Ta’Quan were with is we were doing Book Bank, the kids getting paid for reading (a quarter a book) but encouraged to bank the money and earn interest at the Great Front Porch Library Bank. We dug out the old chart and settled up.

Vivienne brought her “friend since she was two” Lauren. Then Klark rushed around the fence saying he would have been there earlier but he had to clean his room–and still we hadn’t hit the official start of library.

We made puzzles and bead bracelets and ate the healthy snack. The twins rolled in, and Ariana, and Leyla, and Joe. It finally hit the start time and I did my program on how sound works–we considered sound waves in vacuums, sound waves in air, sound waves in water. We did another unsuccessful experiment from the internet, this one involving a straw and blowing really hard. I think the internet likes to make me look bad.

Then we took a glass and bet whether the pitch would go up or down when we added water. We tried to make a glass harp. My thinking was faulty. I figured as long as the empty glass was pitched higher than the note on the scale we were shooting for we were fine. Let’s just say that many of the glasses were not big enough to hold the necessary water to drop the pitch to the desired note.

So we improvised. I got out my guitar. Vivienne made up a song about the sky and I sang harmony. She has a very sweet voice and a real ear for melody–and she is six. Then she instructed me to “play minor” while she told a scary story.

At the table with the big umbrella Ta’Quan and Klark did melty beads. The problem came in the melting. Both of our trusty irons seem to have gone kaput–when we got one working Mr. John handled the melt. By the time all the beads were melted enough to stick together they were impossible to get off the backing boards–believe me we tried.

It sounds, perhaps, like most of our activities failed, but Danny and I had an “ugly face drawing contest.” I think I won–he disagreed. Klark rode around on Joe’s shoulders, Vivienne distributed her leftover cake to all the ant hills in the area, Leyla velcroed herself a puppet.

Thanks to the volunteers who kept things from catching fire: Mr. John, Miss Vikki, Isaac and Sam. We are quite an enterprise!

Another fine day at the Front Porch Library.

this week at the FPL


It was music day, two, at the Front Porch Library. My music partner, Craig had the kids build simple one-string instruments (well, not that simple–nails and screws were involved).

Let me see if I get this right. The sound was amplified by a jar. The string was stretched the length of a board. Playing? It was a little like playing slide guitar. The slide was a length of PVC pipe. The string was plucked. A ruler came in handy when looking for the octave.

The kids decorated their instruments and created songs.

The twins, Harper and Danny (the boys are back!) created a memorable song: “dog, dog, cat…dog, dog…cat…” Yes, it was simple, but catchy.

We had an incredible abundance of volunteers from Leon High’s Key Club, and they all came in handy. We got all the shelves reorganized, books added to the collection and those instruments got built with plenty of help.

It was a busy, busy and somewhat tuneful day at the FPL.

this week at the FPL


Today we of the Front Porch Library quit it with the Body Shop projects (no human digestion simulations, no more reflex tests by amateurs with rubber hammers) and moved on to music.

I had never thought about it, but musical notation is a form of reading too. So, we learned to read in 4/4 time. After looking at the way the notes: quarter, half, whole and sixteenth look, each kid wrote a measure or two, rhythm only, then we lined them up end to end, and counted each out: one, two, three, four, and clapped the rhythm by reading the arrangement of notes in each measure. And the kids got it!

Then we passed out rhythm instruments and played the rhythms with assorted shakers, tambourines and bells. After that Olivia sang a song she wrote and Miss Jennifer sang “Mares Eat Oats” Vivienne sang the same song twice, making the words sad in one version and then declaring that meant it was “minor.”

After that we messed around with beads and did some MadLibs. The main gain there was that we got to hammer home the meaning of noun, verb, exclamation!, adverb, proper name.

It was a small turnout again: Olivia, Klark, Vivienne, two Jennifers, me and Kary, who shot a few photos of our doings. Our population is tidal. Sometimes high, sometimes low. I hope the tide comes in again soon!

Still, a fine day at the library.

this week at the FPL



It was nervous system day at the Front Porch Library, featuring that perennial favorite, the wrinkly 3 pound mass that floats between our ears, the brain.

As always we did some vivid demonstrations. Firing synapses? We sat in a circle, eyes closed and held hands and passed the squeeze–make that nerve impulse.

We did a test to see which eye was dominant–we were a pretty mixed group. I don’t think anyone was right handed, right eyed and right footed. Peering through the triangle isolated by hands, watching the image shift when looked at by the non-dominant eye caused quite a stir.

We squatted to feel the balance provided by the good old brain stem and whacked knees to check our reflexes.

We talked about how the brain builds memory using all the senses. then passed around objects, touching, smelling, and generally squeezing. Then each of us hid an object while everyone watched. The trick was to remember, at the end of the session where each object was hidden. The kids did great.

After the nervous system, art. We made banners using stencils. Kennedy did a beautiful fruit banner, each neatly labeled. Olivia did an image called “Fiery Heart.”

Kids and adults kept coming throughout library hours. It ended up being a great neighborhood gathering. Johannes brought Lexi and his Mom, who will make the 30 hour trip back to Indonesia tomorrow.

Miss Jennifer, as always, provided great snacks–man did we snack! And we all left with a banner and a greater respect for the under-appreciated nervous system. Perhaps you take it for granted too…

This was week 4 of our Body Shop project. Next week? We’re thinking about moving on to music. Thanks to Goodwill we have a fine array of small instruments. Plastic recorders anyone?

Another very fine day at the Front Porch Library.

this week at the fpl


It is time to leaflet the neighborhood again and gather the new kids into the library–our kids come and go so fast–but the days when we are a small group are a different kind of fun.

The read-aloud was “Matthew’s Dragon,” which included “every dragon ever imagined.” They ran the gamut from Chinese dragons to traditional green dragons. We had a lot of fun creating their various vocalizations, wondering why some of them had no legs, and sharing what we knew about this rarelyobserved species.

Then we went on with our study of human anatomy. It was heart day. We did an experiment with a tennis ball, a sharp knife, a funnel and a glass of water. Cut an X in the ball, insert the funnel and fill the ball with water. Squeeze the ball and you can simulate the action of a heart valve. It gushes in a satisfying way and then closes.

The other trick–also from the internet–was a TOTAL FAILURE. Do not fall for the old Play Doh pulse meter. You know, the one where you put a glob of Play Doh on a pulse point,put a toothpick in it and then watch the toothpick jiggle and count the jiggles to get your heart rate. The tooth pick doesn’t even budge!

We also used a stethoscope that belonged to my sister-in-law Norma. I have terrible news. They don’t work either. That looking serious and concerned doctor’s do while “listening to your heart”? It’s all an act!

We then lapsed back to last week’s lesson, the human skeleton, and assembled the EASY TO ASSEMBLE plastic human skeleton. All I can say is, hah! Even with Klark, our master puzzle kid, at work knees seemed intent on bending the wrong way.

Jorge, who insists on going back to college before our next meeting, made a mobius strip for all to admire–a rather abstract farewell.

Miss Jennifer made sensational snacks, Olivia and Vivienne drew thank you cards.

The best line of the day was Vivienne’s. “I counted to infinity once.”

A quiet but fine day at the library.

this week at the FPL


An hour ahead of FPL opening time Joe, Killian and Anola were at my door. What the heck, what’s an hour? The program today was Body Shop 2: Them Bones, but I couldn’t start that until real library time.

Anola began building with Duplo Blox, Joe drew and Killian did the cool Killian-at-rest-thing, slouching in our aged and sagging Morris chair.

Olivia and Klark came early too–as soon as they’d finished cleaning their rooms. Olivia and I decorated the cake–a dirt cake (her idea). The crushed thin mints on top were perfect when it came to mimicking dirt.

Then Jorge, our longest-running volunteer who will be heading back to college in Chicago after next Sunday’s gathering, arrived. Vivienne breezed in and drew the hind quarters of a bobcat, then declared herself bored.

Isaac came next–and it was time to launch the bone lesson. I had a huge whale vertebra that was a great intro to the concept of the spinal cord. We found where bone ended and cartilage began in our noses. I showed them the hollow center of a fossilized bone. We discussed red blood cell production. We found hinge joints in our bodies and ball and socket joints.

And then we exploded in a frenzy of parallel play.

Joe had a fond memory of tower building so a massive tower building project got underway on the living room rug. Anola, Jorge and I made floor puzzles in the kitchen. Vivienne concentrated on serving plastic food.

There are still two huge puzzles on the kitchen floor: pirates and a coral reef scene, and the dirt cake was downright excellent! I drove Joe, Killian and Anola home. The rest of the dirt cake went with them.

Another fine, chaotic day at the Front Porch Library.


Hurricane Hermine leaves FPL without power for a Sunday


Fortunately, there was no damage to the library,  Here’s Adrian’s note of thanks when we were connected again:

“I want to thank Mayor Gillum and all the tireless, exhausted workers who have put in incredible hours to bring our city back to life after Hermine. It is easy to complain about the discomfort of heat and darkness, but the task of returning Tallahassee to normal was monumental and I am so grateful to those who made–and are still making–it happen. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

this week at the FPL


Today at the Front Porch Library we took a leisurely cruise down the alimentary canal–or as the sandwich board in the driveway advertised, “From Food to Farts.” Hey, you gotta bring ’em in.

We simulated the digestive process starting with a slice of bread. By the time we’d added the artificial bile and stomach juices and were squeezing it down the leg of a pair of tights (I mean, the small intestine) everyone was fairly grossed out. Which is a testament to the human imagination since the ingredients were bread and water in various colors.

But boy, did we get down with the process. Then we took out my yarn visual aide. There was a length of colored yarn for each of the following: mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine–each cut to the correct length and tied together. That sucker stretched all the way down the driveway.

We also did a very bad tracing of Olivia, then cut out all the digestive organs from colored paper and glued them to her silhouette.

And then we celebrated my birthday–I have FB to thank for that. I think I would have snuck past the fact the odometer had rolled over again, but the end-of-library party was so nice. I was led out to the driveway (party site) by Jorge, who isn’t due back at college in Chicago for a while. When he told me to open my eyes I beheld the driveway, which was a little disappointing until he turned me around to face THE PARTY!

Miss Jennifer got me a cake and chrysanthemums–enough for everyone to give me a stalk of flowers adding up to a colossal bouquet.

There was an informal conga line on the lawn dancing to the banana boat song. And then Olivia did an incredible dance she’d choreographed–and when I turned around I saw that her mother, Donna, was doing it too. Among the celebrants not already mentioned were Klark, Mr. John, Kary, Leyla and Sam, Isaac, Heather and Hanna. What great neighbors, volunteers and book buddies I have. Thanks guys!

this week at the FPL

I have been away from the Front Porch Library for three Sundays, depending on the kindness of wonderful volunteers, Miss Heather, Miss Donna, Miss Penny, Mr. John, Miss Kary, and always Miss Jennifer–and if I left your name out it is because we drove for two days straight to get home.

Today we had a happy/sad gathering. One of our big families is leaving the neighborhood so this was probably their last Sunday at the FPL. It seemed like the right day to cover important things like, who has more bones, babies of adults? (babies) How many farts does the average person manufacture in a day–I’ll leave you to speculate. These are just a couple of the highlights as we launched into our in-depth study of the human body, How many hairs do you lose in a day? If you touched your brain, would you feel it?

After that, we did a blind scavenger hunt. Each searcher was led around blindfolded and had to perform various tasks, like find all the rocks scattered on a table, count them then put them in a glass. The sighted kids quickly discovered how easy it was to mess with the searcher by moving the rocks around as they were felt for.

We all had a great time being both the stumbler and the guide.

Mr. John made brownies that were served hot with ice cream. In order to get served each child had to memorize the definition of an unfamiliar word. This is my latest tricky discovery. WILL WORK FOR FOOD can be restated: WILL LEARN FOR TREATS.

We will all be sad to see Elleina, Nalani, Connor and Keith leave the house at the end of the street. The hardest thing about having a library is watching our patrons throw their bikes in the back of a family truck and go. I miss every one of them–even the ones who quit coming because they had the audacity to grow up.

Another fine day at the FPL.

this week at the FPL


What a great day at the library! It was Mystery Day (which could have been called many other things, but Mystery Day sounded the best).

I set up stations like the tool table. Kids had to say what each tool was used for. The offerings ran the gamut from a prehistoric ax head to a railroad spike.

The animal table had a manatee vertebra, a cow skull, some armadillo armor, a hawk feather, and coral. The manatee vertebra caused the most confusion.

The kids also had to identify objects by feel, read sentences written backwards, find words in the dictionary that they didn’t know and write out definitions, find the non-bean items in a jar of dried beans without opening the lid, and memorize the opening line of a book to be recited before they would get the usual end-of-library piece of cake.

As for the cake, they had to find it by following a trail of written clues like: look in a very small room with a flag and a door (the mailbox).

As an added bonus our volunteer Jorge, back from college in Chicago, showed up (after a shaming note from me asking where the heck he was). Jorge holds the record, volunteering with us all four years he was in high school.

In addition to Mystery, we all read, kids and volunteers alike and reported on what we had read, in case anyone else might want to know “Ten Ways To Make Your Sister Disappear.”

It was a good send off for me. The next three Sundays while I teach creative writing and be a grandmother others will be baking the cakes, coming up with the activities and setting the reading timer (and watching eyes roll at the thought of compulsory reading). And hopefully I will come back refreshed and with new wacky ideas for library programs.

this week at the fpl

maybe something beautiful

Of course it poured right before Library yesterday. The usual “bill of fare” I post on the chalk board at the end of the driveway became a ghost of itself and the kids stood in front of it trying to figure out what we were going to do by reading what was left. “Vanilla Cake” was the only part that was still really legible.

The read-aloud is usually something funny, but today the read-aloud was “Maybe Something Beautiful’ by Isabel Campoy, the story of a gray inner-city neighborhood brought to life by the spontaneous painting of murals. It gave us a chance to talk about our own neighborhood and our efforts at The Front Porch Library. One thing I want to give the kids is the feeling that they are important and that they are part of something big, that we are a community.

We had our individual reading time. Many kids read aloud to a listener. Our reading time is anything but silent.

Then we took turns pulling letters out of a Bananagrams game and acting the letters out while everyone guessed what the letters were–sometimes with the help of a partner. Try acting out an M on your own.

Then each kid pulled a letter and made a poster using only things that started with that letter. Dictionaries were deployed.

We do the organized activities each week and then the disorganized activities take over. Klark found the package of water balloons left out from last week when we filled a few and then it rained so hard anything involving water seemed redundant. We played water balloon catch and blew some up with good old air and stuck them to our hair with static electricity. We ate that vanilla cake, and then all the bikes lying in the driveway were stood up again and the kids scattered out into the neighborhood to bike around, visit each other’s houses and eventually eat supper.

Another fine day at the Front Porch Library.