Stem Book Clubs

As a librarian, I write a lot of grants. The problem with grants is that often I actually get them. And then I have to do all the work I proposed doing. This year, I received a grant for the library’s book clubs. We run book clubs for 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders, as well as Jr. High and Teens. In this year’s grant, I proposed doing some STEM activities with the summer book clubs. So, along with reading and discussing a book each month, we had science experiments, art and writing projects, and cooking. Here’s something to know before you consider doing this – some books lend themselves to science projects and some do not.

Flunked by Jen Calonita is a great book, which we used with the 4th grade book club. But until someone writes a book on Fairy Tale Science, it can be a little hard to come up with STEM activities to go with it. We did do invisible ink, which might have been a little bit of a stretch. But, really what’s a fairy tale land without secret messages?


My favorite book and STEM book club this summer was The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E.K. Johnston, which we read with the Jr. High students. The Story of Owen takes place in modern day Canada, but there are dragons. And they are not friendly, wise dragons, with people as dragon riders. They are mean, hungry, carbon loving dragons. So, along with eating the occasional person, they love to attack anything that produces carbon, from cars to oil refineries. The chapter on learning dragon avoiding maneuvers in driver’s ed is one of my favorite parts. The book also has a lot of environmental themes, so it lends itself to alternative energy science projects.

As part of our book clubs then, we made water wheels. p1000961

We got the idea from DK’s Maker Lab: 28 Super Cool Projects by the Smithsonian. It’s a great reference for any library with a Maker Space or wanting to add a little Science to other library programs.

For a craft we made dragon eggs, of course. To make the eggs wp1000962e used plastic Easter Eggs. We decorated them with strands of hot glue. Once the glue dried, they were spray painted with a dark color; mostly black, although some of the kids chose to use red or purple. When the spray paint dried, we dabbed a little silver spray paint gently over the painted egg using a paper towel. This gave it a mottled aged look.


Finally, we needed a cooking project; something Canadian. We opted against poutine- french fries slathered in gravy and cheese curds and went for Nanaimo bars. I first had Nanaimo bars in graduate school, because one of my fellow graduate students was from Alberta and it was her go-to-dish for potlucks. I hadn’t had them since, but these bars with a chocolatey nuttey crunchy layer, a custard layer, and melted chocolate on top, were as good as I remember. Here’s a recipe.

I have to say, despite how much work each of these book clubs were – they were so much fun. We read a lot of great books, made a lot of cool treats, and did some fun hands-on science.

Writing Material

I write a column in each of the local papers. One column is about dogs, the other about the library where I work. At least that’s what they are supposed to be about. But life being life and columnists being columnists, pretty much anything that happens, any person or animal who crosses my path, or is in my life, is fair game. Still, there are days I’m scratching my head for something to write about. My own dogs, apparently, are only willing to provide so much fodder. And I can only mention my husband Bruce, so many times.

I had been flying under his radar for quite a while, until his brother, Roger, brought one of the papers to a family dinner.

“Look at the article Priscilla wrote about Bruce,” he said.

“You wrote about me?” Bruce said.

To be honest, I couldn’t remember what the column had been about at all.

“No,” I said, “it’s not about you. I just mentioned you.”

I grabbed the issue from Roger to refresh my memory. “In the first sentence. I mentioned you in the first sentence.”

I kept reading. “And the second paragraph… and the third…. And the last line. But it’s not about you. It’s not like I wrote about the time…”

“Don’t even think about it,” he said.

“Or the time….”

He just gave me a baleful look.

But really, there is a difference between mentioning someone and writing about them.

It’s hard to talk about anything in life and not mention Bruce. After all, I’ve been married to the guy for going on thirty-seven years. (We were babies when we wed.) In all those years, every time I’ve moved, he’s moved. Every house I’ve lived in, he’s lived in. He knows every boss I’ve had, visited every college I’ve attended, and co-owned every dog. There’s not much that happens in my life that doesn’t involve Bruce. I can’t tell any story about something that happened without including Bruce.
Other than reading, that is.

In our house, we have Bruce’s book shelves and my book shelves. And never the books shall meet. For fear of cross contamination. His shelves are filled with only books on the Shakers, Quakers, Mennonites, and Amish, their history and religion. My book shelves contain dragons, shapeshifters, assassins, and Death. I am, after all, a librarian and a fantasy writer. Maybe he’s right to fear cross-contamination.

Death is one of my favorite characters. There’s Markus Zuzak’s Death in The Book Thief or Christopher Moore’s Death in A Dirty Job. But the best Death by far is Terry Pratchett’s in the Discworld series, a grim reaper with occasional feelings of conflict over his job. But mostly I love Susan, Death’s granddaughter. Susan has a certain irritated temperament I can relate to. As Susan says, “don’t get afraid, get angry.”

So what is this post really about? Its proof that I can write something that isn’t about Bruce, no matter what my brother-in-law Roger says, that I can ramble on about nothing of consequence, and that I can always end up talking about books. Because, like I said, I am a librarian and a writer.

Reality isn’t all it’s cracked up to be



Ben – my Golden Retriever

I have a friend who’s writing a memoir about the early years of her marriage. It was the 1950’s and she and her husband lived in Paris. I have another friend whose early married years were in the 1960’s in San Francisco. Of course, if I wrote about the early years of my marriage, it would take place in the 1980’s in Idaho, which definitely lacks the allure of Paris in the 50’s or San Francisco in the 60’s!

When Bruce and I got married, we packed our few possessions (a set of towels, a pair of sheets and a toaster) and headed to the United States Sheep Experiment Station (USSES) in Dubois, Idaho. Dubois is the county seat of Clark County Idaho, which consists of 1,765 square miles, three towns, 900 people, 4,000 cows, and 10,000 sheep. As the county seat, Dubois had two churches, a general store, a school, a post office, an extension office, a bank, a liquor store, two diners, and three bars.

The general store carried everything from lettuce to saddles. The post office was operated by the same woman who ran the liquor store. So, you could get your mail from 8 am to noon and your liquor between 1 pm and 5 pm. The extension agent, an ex-rodeo cowboy, did everything from agriculture, to 4-H, to the women’s koffee klatch.

The librarian worked at the school library, so the town library didn’t open until 3 pm. And I was always there waiting for her. The library was an old store front. It only carried paperbacks, lined neatly on rough-sawn, white washed book shelves. I read my way through Georgette Heyer, regency London being as far removed from Dubois Idaho as I could imagine. That of course was back in the days when I read romance. I eventually switched to fantasy, romance being just a little too unreal for me.

I really marvel when people tell me they won’t read fantasy, because they want to read something real. Because in my not very humble opinion, romance is the most fantastical literature there is.  Even mysteries are rather unreal, as reality is never as neat or easily solved as writers make them seem. You might think that reading non-fiction will give you something real, but I’m not sure that’s true. Memoir after all, isn’t so much what really happened, as what the writer remembers. And as any of us that have reminisced about childhood events with siblings know, even living through the same event is no guarantee that we know what “really” happened.

So, if fiction and biography aren’t real, than what about “real” non-fiction. Well personally, I love the 636’s (animals), but I’m pretty sure that if Marley and Me were told by Marley and not John Groghan, it would be a totally different story.  And I’ve never cooked something from a recipe in a cookbook and had it end up looking like the pictures in the book. And don’t get me started on gardening books, which never show pictures of gardens overcome by weeds, which are what mine look like!

No, I’m convinced that “reality” and what’s “real” is pretty hard to pin down. It’s all a matter of perspective and there are as many perspectives as there are people. More maybe, because some of us can hold opposing viewpoints all at the same time. There are only two things you can do. Read widely, to get as many different perspectives as you can. And tell your own story, because it maybe your version, but you’ve got a right to it.

So, here’s my reality. It’s a little bit about writing (fantasy, mostly), a lot about reading (fantasy, mostly), some stuff about being a librarian, including programming (some fantasy, but mostly, fortunately or unfortunately true), and a great deal about animals, because they keep me sane.