Eye of the Storm

Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner is a juvenile fiction book for 4-6th graders.

In the near future, massive storms systems devastate the world. People no longer ride bikes, go for long walks or play outside. Every home has a storm shelter and a devastating tornado could hit at any second.

In this world of fear is a tiny community called Placid Meadows, built right in the heart of the tornado belt and yet no storms ever touch it. Jaden has been sent to spend the summer at Placid Meadows in order to attend the prestigious Eye of Tomorrow summer camp and to get reacquainted with her MIA father, the creator of the community and all Storm Safe technology.

Here, Jaden makes friends and learns more about her father’s work. But something isn’t right. Observant and quick-witted, Jaden can tell that things don’t add up. Why don’t tornadoes hit this sleepy community? She knows her father is hiding something but will Jaden be brave enough to uncover the secrets that might break her family forever?

This is actually the second book I picked for my STEM Book Club, which started in September. We will be discussing this one in October.  I will admit, perhaps this one is a little tough for fourth grades but I really enjoyed it and I can definitely see the kids getting into it.

The pace of the book was great. It was slower as we were gaining background and it picks up speed as the plot does. By the time our characters are running from storms you start to feel the excitement too. Messner does a great job of getting you to feel like the characters do, through her writing.

For this STEM club we have 10 discussion questions and then we are going to do a few experiments. We’ll see how it goes!

Discussion Questions:

1. What is this book about? What are the main themes?

2. What is Meteorology? A major part of the book was this idea of weather manipulation. What do you think about this?

3. This book takes place in 2050. What makes this book “futuristic?” Can you see us getting any of this technology in the next 30+ years?

4. Page 18 – Jaden’s dad would always say that, “pretty words never protected anybody from a storm.” What do you think about this? Let’s think of other situations where words might be stronger than actions…

5. What did you think about The Eye of Tomorrow? If you were put in charge of a science camp where kids try to solve the world’s biggest problems, what would you choose to work on?

6. On page 33 we learn that storms literally never hit Placid Meadows. Why did you think this was? When did you realize what was really going on?

7. Page 147 – “If you don’t look, it won’t hurt.” When Jaden and Risha get stuck in the storm, Jaden shuts her eyes tight. Is it easier to face something scary or hide? Why?

8. One of Jaden’s biggest internal conflicts in this book is deciding between family and doing the right thing. Why do you think this is so hard?

9. Page 219 – How did you feel when Alex and Jaden looked up and realized that the three storms were merging into one? Did the narrative get you excited, scared, etc.?

10. Did you think Jaden’s dad’s punishment was fair? Do you think Grandma Althea is alive?

For my experiments we are going to create our own mini tornadoes and do an electricity experiment.

Create Your Own Mini Tornado

Supplies: Glass Jar; Water; Dish Soap; Glitter; Food Coloring


  • Fill your glass jar about 2/3 with water.
  • Add in a drop of dish soap, a drop of food coloring and some glitter.
  • Tightly put the lid on your jar.
  • “Shake” your jar in a circular motion, you should begin to see a funnel form. The glitter, soap and dye are all meant to help you see the funnel as it forms.
  • Try out different methods. What happens when you swirl the water before flipping, etc.?


  • What do you see?
  • What is happening to create this vortex in the bottle?

The Science:

  • A vortex is a type of motion that causes liquids and gases to travel in spirals around a centerline. A vortex is created when a rotating liquid falls through an opening. Gravity is the force that pulls the liquid into the hole and a continuous vortex develops. If you swirl the water in the bottle while pouring it out, it causes a vortex to form. That vortex looks like a tornado in the bottle. The formation of the vortex makes it easier for air to come into the bottle and allows the water to pour out faster.
  • Look carefully and you’ll be able to see the hole in the middle of the vortex that allows the air to come up inside the bottle. If you don’t swirl the water and just allow it to flow out on its own, then the air and water have to essentially take turns passing through the mouth of the bottle, thus the glug-glug sound.

Create Your Own Lightning

Supplies: fluorescent light bulb; rubber balloon


  • Turn all of the lights off in the room. (The darker the better!)
  • Rub the balloon on your hair for several seconds.
  • Then hold the statically charged balloon near the glass end of the light bulb.
  • Without touching the bulb, swish the balloon (the end your rubbed your hair with) just over the end of the bulb. This should illuminate the bulb.
  • Repeat the demonstration as many times as desired.


  • What is happening? What is making the bulb light up?
  • Having trouble? Maybe the room isn’t dark enough. Maybe your hair is too dirty. You can try rubbing the balloon on a wool blanket instead of your hair. Troubleshooting is part of science!

The Science:

  • When you rub the balloon on your hair, the balloon builds up an electrical charge (static electricity). Touching the charged balloon to the end of the fluorescent light bulb causes the electrical charge to jump from the balloon to the bulb. This is what illuminates the light bulb.
  • Lightning is an electrical discharge within a thunderstorm. As the storm develops, the clouds become charged with electricity. Scientists are still not sure exactly what causes this, but they do know that when the voltage becomes high enough for the electricity to leap across the air from one place to another, lightning flashes! Lightning can spark within a cloud, from one cloud to another, from a cloud to the ground, or from the ground to a cloud.

How’d it all go: This was a much more successful STEM activity then the last one. Everyone thought the lightbulb experiment was neat and we had a pretty good discussion. I think I need to do a little get-to-know you activity next time because it took awhile for the kids to warm up to each other. Other than that, a success.

That’s all for now!



Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab

Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab by “Science Bob” Pflugfelder is a middle grade read for 4th-6th graders.

Nick and Tesla are extremely smart 11-year-old twins who like inventing and find trouble fairly easily. When they are shipped off to spend the summer with their eccentric Uncle Newt–an inventor and goofball–they expect to be bored out of theirs minds but find they are anything but.

When Nick and Tesla lose their rocket and the pendant their parents gave them, the twins are determined to get it back. Little do they know they are about to embark on a mission that includes dangerous dogs, Christmas light alarm systems, kidnappings and other makeshift contraptions. As the plot thickens will Nick and Tesla be able to use their inventor smarts to save the day?

This is an older middle grade series and one I just happened to overlook. I’ve known about it but I never actually read any of them. After taking a peek, I thought this one would be perfect for my STEM Book Club as a night and easy December read.

Ultimately I enjoyed the book. It was a quick read but still had all that STEM-y goodness I was looking for. The story move quickly and the characters are entertaining. Especially Uncle Newt; you just know there is more going on there then meets the eye.

This one also made choosing a STEM activity to go with my book club really easy, as there were about 4 or 5 different “how to” projects based off of what Nick and Tesla did in the book. And I also enjoyed the mystery of the book and how the rest of the series is setting things up for Nick and Tesla not only to help other people but where they will eventually have to help themselves.

I think this one is going to be perfect for my 4th-6th graders as a light, easy, fun read before the holidays. This one get 4.5 stars from me.

That’s all for now!



The Jamie Drake Equation

The Jamie Drake Equation by Christopher Edge is a 4-6th grade science fiction book.

Jamie Drake is your average boy with one big exception, his dad is an astronaut on the international space station and he is part of a big mission to find life in outer space. Jamie is very proud of his dad but he misses him a lot, especially with his birthday coming up and his dad missing it.

When Jamie stumbles upon a rouge scientist at a dilapidated space observatory, he accidentally downloads something to his phone and starts receiving weird signals. Where could this signal be coming from? Could it really be aliens?

With his dad gone, Jamie doesn’t know who to turn to and decides to investigate himself. But when something goes wrong with his dad’s mission, Jamie knows it is up to him to save his dad from space and all of it’s dangers.

The Jamie Drake Equation was one I was considering for my 4-6th grade STEM book club. It was a good read and would have given us a lot to talk about but I just didn’t think we had enough copies in our library system to make it work.

That being said, this book was full of fun STEM-iness. We learn about the Jamie Drake Equation, we learn about the fibonacci sequence and more space science. But there is also the sci-fi element of the alien’s and Jamie’s interactions with them.

This book is very emotional for a middle school read. That’s not a bad thing, but there’s this almost Armageddon feel to the end and I really don’t want to make the kids cry! We also deal with serious themes like divorce and separation, moving, fear and more.

This is a read I would recommend a caregiver reading with their child. But I think any 5th-6th grader could get through it alone. In terms of being full of STEM goodness, this one rocks!

I think this one gets a 3.5 from me. Good but not quite what I was expecting/looking for.

That’s all for now!



Fuzzy Mud: Book Club

Fuzzy Mud again! Yes, ma’am! Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar is the first book I chose for my 4th-6th grade STEM Book Club.

Once a month I am going to be hosting, at the library, a STEM themed book club. This club is for 4th-6th graders as we will be reading challenging, yet fun, elementary school reads. The book we read each month will have some sort of STEM theme–weather, coding, geology, etc. The meeting will consist of 30 minutes of guided discussion about the book, including the STEM theme. And then we will do 30 minutes of a STEM activity that goes along with the theme of the book.

I chose Fuzzy Mud as my first book because it’s a fun read and a solid 4th-5th grade level book. I also chose this one because many of the elementary aged students might have read this book last year. It was a nominee for the Maryland Black Eyed Susan Award and a lot of the elementary schools read the nominees. This way, any last minute sign-ups might already be exposed to the book. Figured this would be a good thing for a first meeting.

I decided to create a hand-out with guided discussion questions. This way the kids have something to take home to further think about the book and we also have some things we can go off of if we have trouble getting started. Here are the discussion questions I came up with:

1. What is this book about? What are the main themes found throughout?

2. Why would we consider Fuzzy Mud, a fictional book with STEM themes?

3. On page 15, Tamaya remembers something her teacher once said, “Courage just meant pretending to be brave.” What does this mean? Do you agree?

4. Ecology is a main theme of this book. What is Ecology? How does this book incorporate/involve Ecology?

5. On page 131, Tamaya says, “No one’s all bad.” Do you agree? Can someone who does bad things be a good person?

6. Although, Biolene isn’t real, scientists are looking for clean, renewable energy sources. What is renewable energy? What are some examples?

7. When Marshall and Tamaya were lost in the woods, Marshall kept scolding himself for saying things he didn’t mean. Why do you think Marshal was doing that? Have you ever taken your feels out on someone who didn’t deserve it?

8. (Page 62) – Professor Alice Mayfair was more concerned with population control then the potential danger of Biolene. Let’s talk about this. What are some ways we can replace the resource we consume?

9. (Page 68) – “The worst part was the waiting.” Why is this? Why do you think waiting for something to happen is worse than the thing itself?

10. On page 144, Tamaya starts to lose her sight. What would you do if you suddenly lost one of your sense?

11. Page 177 – What was Hobson’s Choice? Why does the Committee on Energy and the Environment thing they’ve been presented with a “Hobson’s Choice?” What are the choices and can you think of another that might be better?

Also on the handout is an outline of the activity we are going to do. This week we are going to make out our fuzzy mud but creating magnetic slime.

Supplies: 1 (4oz) bottle of school glue; 1 tbls of baking soda; 1 tbls of contact solution; 1 tsp+/- iron filings; Neodymium magnets; big bowl; craft sticks.


  • Combine the glue, baking soda and iron filings in a bowl and stir until well mixed.
  • Once mixed, add contact solution. Mix well.
  • Once you start to see a slime-like consistency—it will be less sticky now that the contact solution is added–remove the slime and knead it with clean, dry hands. **Wash your hands immediately after playing with slime or wear gloves**
  • Your slime should be ready! Grab a strong magnet and see what happens!

Observations: Imagine our slime is a living thing and the magnet is the environment or an outside force acting upon it (remember the definition of ecology!). What observations can you make about the slime itself and the changes that occur when the magnet is introduced?

How’d it go: We had 13 kids show up for the book club and I think it went really well. The discussion part pretty much went like I thought it would. The kids needed to be prompted with questions but once I started asking questions, they really responded well. Our slime “experiment” was another story. I swear the experiment worked at home!!! But only two of my kids got their slime to be actual slime. But it was fun and we got to experiment with different binders. Hey, scientists don’t always get it right the first time!

It was, however, really messy. Even the kids were like wowwww. The parents came in at the end and were laughing. But fun was had and I think this is going to work out really well!

That’s all for now!


Drop-In STEAM Fun!

Hi Guys,

This summer we are running two separate drop-in STEAM programs. For those who don’t know, STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Math. Basically, we plan fun crafty or activity activities for the kids that are about an hour long. We target these programs toward elementary aged students.

For this one, I decided to go with the Engineering theme but you could definitely make a case for the other STEAM elements as well. I adapted this program from FamilyVolley.com. Broadly, we are going to be working together to build “shelters” out of news paper and masking tape. But don’t worry, there’s a catch!

Give your attendees a few minutes to show up. Once you have a nice sized group of kids, split them up evenly into groups of four. You may have to make bigger groups depending on the number of kids you get. In my case, I have enough masking tape rolls for between 6-8 groups. Once you have your kids grouped nicely, you give them their prompt…

Imagine, you are trapped on a deserted island. There are no trees, no big rocks, nothing but sand and ocean. The sun is beating down on you! You need to build a shelter. Good thing you were shipwrecked with a boat full of newspaper and masking tape, right?!

Along with your fellow castaways you must use the newspaper and the masking tape to build a shelter that has a roof and everyone in your group must fit in it. You have ten minutes to build your shelter using the supplies in front of you. 

BUT WAIT!!! You’re on a deserted island with NOO water. You are thirsty. So thirsty! You’re so thirsty, in fact, that you can’t speak. You and your group must build your shelter without talking. If you talk, a typhoon –in the form of Ms. Maranda’s watergun– may come and destabilize your shelter. 

Are you ready? GO! 20180726_191625

Yes, you read that right. The kids have ten minutes to build a fort out of news paper and masking tape that MUST have a roof and the all have to fit under it. AND they have to build it all without talking or I will shoot their fort with a squirt gun. Best, STEAM activity ever!

You definitely want to reiterate the rules. The fort must have a roof and everyone must fit inside.

After the first ten minutes if no one is successful you can mix it up by telling the kids they can talk or if they really need help, that they can build off of their first shelter.

How’d it go: 20180726_191342

This program was an example of going with the flow. I started everything just how I said and I never had to use my water gun!! Seriously, I said they couldn’t talk for 10 minutes and they didn’t! I was literally shocked. After 10 minutes though, no one was even close to building their shelter, so I gave them another 10 minutes where they could talk and the adults could help.

By the end of the twenty minutes, I had one group make it and just barely. I never specified that their whole bodies had to be in the shelter did I? This helped a lot of the groups and by the end of the hour all the groups had shelters that could stand on their own for 30 seconds, had a roof and they fit in, in some way.

This was a lot of fun and took literally no prep!

That’s all for now!


DIY Spinners

Hi Guys,

On days the kids in our county have off from school, my library plans No School Activities. These can be movies, crafts, game days, activities. Today’s No School Activity was actually planned to coincide with the Maryland STEM Festival.fun-spinners-craft-for-kids-to-do-this-summer-900x1359

The Maryland STEM Festival is a ten day long collaborative effort by schools, science
centers, libraries and more to provide science, technology, engineering and math based activities to Maryland communities. This is my library’s second year being part of the STEM festival.

This year we did a STEM craft incorporating force, motion and optical illusion. Thanks to makeandtakes and agirlwithagluegun we made our own DIY spinners.

First thing I did was gather my supplies: cardboard, paper, glue sticks, scissors, hold punch, rope cording (knitting string will work), and crayons. For my kids, which tend to run younger no matter how high you put the age limit, I pre-cut and pre-hole punched the cardboard.

20161107_135514I created my own circular patterns on different colored paper so that the kids would have bright fun colors to work with. They created their own patterns, cut out their circles and put the whole thing together. Then the fun began.

We experiments with the length of rope, how fast to pull and release, pre-spinning for longer and more. The goal was to keep our spinners spinning and if you could make a zzoomm sound, you were really an expert!

How’d it go? We had a nice sized group today. Not too many kids but a fair amount. Everyone was successfully able to create spinners, even if some struggled with getting started. Overall, this was a successful and fairly easy program. A good one to keep in the back pocket.

That’s all for now!


The Best Laid Plans…

Sometimes, the best laid plans go awry.

During the summer, across the nation, libraries of all sizes begin planning their summer reading activities. Many, if not all, libraries schedule STEM or STEAM programs. These are craft or activity based programs with an emphasis on: Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and/or Math.

My library is no different. We try to plan STEAM programs that are both educational and fun for the kids. If it shoots, flies or floats it’s a winner. Yesterday was our first STEAM program of the summer and although it ended well, the prep had us shifting gears at the last minute.

Originally, we intended on making pom-pom poppers using cups and balloons.


But we quickly realized we didn’t give ourselves enough time to experiment with materials and techniques. The day before the program we found out that mini cups don’t shoot, Styrofoam cups crumple when you put on the balloons and plastic cups left too many sharp edges. Yikes! Given more time we would have found a way to smooth the edges or reinforce the cups, but time was not our friend so on to Plan B!

As a librarian you have to be flexible. You have to be ready to shift gears at a moments notice. So that is what we did. Taking an inventory of the supplies we had on hand and doing some very quick Pinterest searches we decided on a floating ball activity:


This was the perfect back up plan. It was quick, easy and we were able to make it our own. The kids had a blast decorating their funnels and hypothesizing what would float higher and how long they could get their items to stay in the air.

Overall, fun was had and we made it through the day!