Drop-in library activity blends imagination, math

EIGHT-YEAR-OLD John Hilbelink plays Who Would Win? with children's librarian Lisa Martin after crafting his imaginary animal with clay at Monday's drop-in activity for children.

Summer fun is winding down at the Madison Public Library as the reading program and related activities draw to a close. However, on Monday afternoon, the children's area was filled with nearly two dozen children using both their imagination and math skills.

"It was a lot of fun," said children's librarian Lisa Martin, delighted to see her brainchild succeed.

The theme for the reading program this summer was "Tails and Tales," challenging her to develop animal-related activities. She began in June with Park Pals, a series of activities in three of Madison's parks which included stuffed animals.

In returning to the library in July, she chose a different focus. Last Monday she had children dissect owl pellets. Next week, they will play with slime. This week, though, she found inspiration from a popular book series.

"When I was looking around, I thought of the `Who Would Win?' books," Martin said.

With this series, author Jerry Pallota and illustrator Rob Bolster teach children about animals, their habitats, diets and uses by pitting animals that could not or rarely do cross paths in the wild against each other. Alligator vs. Python. Tarantula vs. Scorpion. Hornet vs. Wasp. Jaguar vs. Skunk.

"In the end, he has a mock battle. Then, he chooses who will win," Martin explained. However, Pallota doesn't insist that he has arrived at the correct and only conclusion. Instead, he asks readers how they would write the ending.

"I love that open ending," Martin said.

On Monday, children first crafted their imaginary animals considering both of what they needed to prey on other animals and what they needed to protect themselves from other predators.

"Most predators are also prey," Martin observed.

Using clay to shape their animals, they added beads, feathers, straws and pipe cleaners to craft their protective adaptations. With that, the fun was just beginning, though.

After crafting their animals, the children held their own mock battles using dice to determine which would win when their adaptations were pitted against each other. After each battle, they would seek out new opponents.

"I'm so glad they went for it," Martin said. "It really did bring in an important math element."

Younger children had the opportunity to learn which number was greater. Older children also had the opportunity to practice addition.

This year's "Finisher's Party" at 5 p.m. on Aug. 9 will be even more fun than originally planned. In addition to having the Zoomobile from the Great Plains Zoo, the party will include a popcorn bar with popcorn from Gaylen's Gourmet Popcorn.

For a family to attend, at least one child must complete the 10-hour challenge. However, only the 10-hour finishers will get to take home one of Gaylen's popcorn balls. Martin said that she wants to highlight the achievement of the serious readers.

"Weird and Wild," the final drop-in event which will include a pistol shrimp shoot-out, bowling with a pangolin and making eel slime, will be held on July 26 from 4-9 p.m. It will be the final event of the summer.