Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 in Reading

During 2012, I read a total of 143 books--chapter books, for lack of a better term, although they run the gamut from beginning chapter books to adult books. That represents quite an increase from the 79 I read in 2011. Here's how my 2012 reading broke down:

I am interested to see just how skewed my reading is in 2013, when I'll be reading for the 2014 Newbery Award Committee. Anyone want to hazard a guess just how much of my 2013 pie chart will be children's books?

As we head into 2013, I will leave you with my personal favorite reads of the year (that I haven't talked much about on the blog). If you're looking for something to read in the few weeks before the 2013 Youth Media Awards are announced, try starting here!

Favorite non-fiction I read in 2012:
House of Stone by Anthony Shadid
     I actually listened to this audiobook and reviewed it for Library Journal; I found Shadid's ability to blend his home renovation struggles in Lebanon, his own family history, and the cultural history of this area of the Middle East captivating.

Favorite adult fiction I read in 2012:
Prepare to Die! by Paul Tobin
     I enjoyed the grittiness of this non-traditional superhero story far more than I would have anticipated. The book follows Steve Clarke, also known as Reaver, during the two weeks his arch-nemesis has given him between his defeat and his death. The book prompted some great discussions of superheroes in our culture in general.

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
     I was completely taken by surprise by the beauty and melancholy of this novel. The story follows Julia, a middle school girl in California, in the first year of the Slowing--when the earth's rotation inexplicably begins to slow and to affect all life on the planet. My book club had a terrific discussion of this book, and I'd recommend it for book clubs in 2013.

Favorite YA fiction I read in 2012:
Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley
     It's no secret that I fell in love with this book this year. I still don't feel I have words to adequately describe just how masterfully Whaley can weave together seemingly disconnected and odd storylines into a single story that is profoundly moving. This is a quiet book for sure, and it deserves your attention.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
     I read an ARC of this story after picking it up at ALA in June, and I've been listening to the audiobook again--that's how much I enjoy the story. It's kind of coming-of-age, kind of paranormal, kind of realistic, kind of boarding school... Really, it defies easy classification. Give it a try.

Favorite children's fiction I read in 2012:
Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage
     I was enchanted by the rich setting and characters in this mystery story. The small town of Tupelo Landing is a quaint, quirky sort of Neverland--minus the murder, that is--and the narrator, Mo, is a wonderfully drawn young girl with spunk, imagination, and an energy that makes her jump out of the page and into your brain. This book was a pleasure to read.

Ivy + Bean Make the Rules by Annie Barrows
     I got on something of an Ivy + Bean kick this year. What can I say? I love those characters! Their personalities capture so well what it is to be children, and their friendship is a great model for children of all ages. I shared the Ivy + Bean series with many, many library customers this year, and they've all thanked me for it.


What were your favorite reads of 2012?
What are you most looking forward to reading in 2013?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Resolve to STEAM in 2013

I love STEAM programming. I love the curiosity inspired by science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics, and I love offering programming the allows children to explore the "mysteries" of the world around them. And you know what? They love STEAM programming, too.

I want librarians to resolve to STEAM in 2013, and I've added a new page to this blog--All Things STEAM--to help you do so. Visit the page for some ideas, then set a goal of integrating STEAM into your programming calendar. Maybe that means including a non-fiction title in every story time; maybe it means adding more of a building/engineering slant to your craft programs. Maybe it means you offer a full-blown STEAM program once a quarter, or once a month. Set a goal to STEAM in 2013.

Offering STEAM programming at your library doesn't need to be a difficult thing. Worried because you weren't that great at science/math/etc. in high school? No problem! Offering STEAM programs for children doesn't require in-depth subject knowledge. All it requires is a bit of curiosity, a few supplies, and a willingness to ask questions and experiment in a group program setting. You can STEAM with Legos; you can STEAM with baking-soda-and-vinegar volcanoes; you can STEAM with building gingerbread houses. You can add a STEAM aspect to just about every program you offer to your customers, and your kiddos will be all the better for it.

How will you STEAM in 2013?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Update Those Awards Shelves!

Last week I unpacked a very welcome box of books at my library: replacement copies of past Caldecott and Newbery Award books. My branch strives to keep a display of the Caldecott and Newbery winning titles for easy browsing, and every year we add pristine new copies of the most recent winners to our collection. These new copies are great, but some of the older winners? Frightful! Take a look:
New copies on the left, old on the right.

So many of our older Caldecott titles are permabound copies. Yes, they've stayed firmly together since the 1970s. But they've also become dirty as all get-out. I recently went on a replacement-purchasing binge so that the cover artwork of these books with award-winning illustrations is a positive representation of the beauty inside.

Then there are the Newbery winners. Have you looked at your Newbery books lately? Please tell me: what do the covers look like? Do any look as dated and culturally confusing as our copy of the 1951 winner Amos Fortune, Free Man?
New copy, old copy.

Do any boast awkwardly-illustrated dogs that make readers think it's a book about a dog rather than an epic fantasy story, like our copy of 1976 winner The Grey King?
New copy, old copy.

How about a cover that is completely blank, like our copy of 1921 winner Smoky the Cowhorse? Yikes!
New copy, infinitely worse old, blank copy.

As a librarian, I have no idealized notions about how readers choose books. They absolutely judge books by their covers; everyone does it, especially kids. And these covers dissuade readers from ever giving these titles a chance. Say what you want about the books that have won awards, but they did win their honors for a reason. Yet very few children will electively pick up one of these books with disgusting, ridiculously dated, or blank covers. I'm hoping that our updated replacement copies will boost interest--or at the very least, shelf appeal--for the titles that have won some of children's literature's biggest awards.

Fun link: Travis Jonker at 100 Scope Notes has been recovering the Newbery winners, creating updated covers for each of the books that have won the award since 1922. Take a look at some of his fun designs!

How often do you update your collections of award-winning titles? What's the worst award winner on your shelves right now? Please share.

Monday, December 24, 2012

App Review: Bridge Constructor

There are many conversations going on in the youth services world right now regarding tablet technology and apps in library services. The way I see it, it's my job to select great books, audio, and audiovisual content, and I use these exemplary materials in my programming--great apps should be no different. With that in mind, I am debuting app reviews on this blog. I aim to share apps that I have found to be entertaining, engaging, educational, and well-designed. Without further ado, the first review!

Bridge Constructor App Review

I've built a stable bridge!
App: Bridge Constructor from Headup Games
Platforms: iPad, iPhone (3 or higher), iPod Touch; Android; PC
Content Area: Physics
Age Recommendation: 6+
Premise: Players build bridges to span rivers, valleys, and canals in a fictional landscape. At the beginning of play, only wooden beams are available; the building materials available grow to include cables, concrete, and steel beams as players progress. Players must build each level's bridge on a limited budget, but there are no time limitations to the app. When players are ready to test a bridge design, they can tap icons to test the structure using cars or trucks. An unstable bridge will collapse during the test--the simulated bridge collapses are an enjoyable aspect of the app and do not discourage users.
     Players are able to earn points for their bridges based on cost, structural soundness, and test success; achievements can be shared via linked Facebook accounts, but this aspect is not required. Bridges increase in difficulty as players progress through the 30+ levels; hints are available.
Potential Library Uses:
  - Recommending in reference interviews
  - On library-owned devices for customer use
  - In programs to introduce the topic of bridge-building
Lite Version Available?: Yes


Looking for more app reviews and recommendations? Try these sources!

Where do you go to find out about great apps for use in your library? Or do you just try them on your own?

Friday, December 21, 2012

Gingerbread House Workshop: A Holiday STEAM Program

We all know how much I enjoy adding STEM aspects to my craft programs--to offer STEAM programs for the children who visit my library. This week we were able to offer a five-hour drop-in Gingerbread House Workshop for the kiddos. It was flexible, so families with varying schedules could attend as it suited them; it was festive and helped to celebrate the holiday season; and it was, at its core, both an engineering and an art activity.

Remember how I mentioned rinsing out all those milk cartons the other day? Those milk cartons served as the framework for the children's gingerbread houses. A colleague and I created plates with all the major building materials: milk carton frame, graham cracker bricks, and embellishments in the form of Necco wafers, candy corn, pretzels, peppermints, mini marshmallows, and licorice bites. These items were ready for gingerbread house assembly on all of our six covered tables. The construction glue--white icing--was set out on every table within easy reach. All these supplies may sound expensive, but the program ended up coming in at $0.74 per participant.

This program worked remarkably well for a few reasons. First of all, because we had the program room open for five hours, we never had an overwhelming crowd--people came as it fit their schedules. Thus each child was able to get individual attention and praise from a library staff member while they constructing a gingerbread house. We were even able to have some great book chats during our slower stretches. Our final attendance count was 112; a high number for our program room, to be sure, but when spread out over five hours, very manageable.

The program also worked well because children could succeed in making their creations regardless of their overall skill levels. We had fifth and sixth graders taking their time to make intricate houses, and we had two-year-olds focusing quite hard to wield the icing knives properly. Children at all ability levels were able to make their very own gingerbread houses, a point of pride.

Additionally, this program is a great example of a basic STEAM program--the engineering and art aspects blend wonderfully. Children engaged their minds to figure out how to construct stable structures (the STEM side), and then they were able to add the sweet and savory embellishments to serve whatever purposes they chose (the creative, art-y side). Both sides of the brain were engaged in creating these gingerbread houses, and all the children were really cognizant of was how much fun they were having.

Clean-up was very easy for this program, especially considering its overall stickiness and the large scale. We wrapped all our leftover materials in our disposable tablecloths at the end of the five hours, and after throwing them away, all we had left was a bit of vacuuming crumbs off the floor. We did have wet wipes and paper towels in the program--after all, as every children's librarian knows, if the potential for stickiness exists, at least 95% of the children will become sticky by activity's end. A little bit of sticky was a small price to pay for such an engaging, enjoyable program.

Do you create and decorate gingerbread houses at your library? Had you ever thought of the program as a STEAM program?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Day in the Life of a Children's Librarian

Did you see Abby the Librarian's "Day in the Life" post on the ALSC Blog a few weeks ago? I love getting a glimpse into the workdays of other children's librarians, and I enjoyed clicking through on the links she shared to see what my peers are up to. I figure it's about time I share a new Day in the Life, too; here's what I did on a recent Monday.

8:20 a.m. - Arrive at the branch and look over the program schedule for the day.

8:30 a.m. - Get our circulation and reference desk money drawers set up and count the money from yesterday's fines and fees. Lots of people want to start the new year with clean slates, and it seems we've been getting more fines paid off than usual.

8:50 a.m. - Ten Minute Meeting with the opening staff. My branch manager instituted these brief daily meetings after our recent staff development day; they're a great, informal way to bring everyone up to speed on what to expect for the day, what programs to talk about with patrons, etc. We rotate who leads the meeting and who writes what we discuss on a giant sticky note in the staff room. Staff who aren't present at the morning meeting initial that they've read the notes when they start their shifts. Communication about all aspects of the branch has improved--messages don't get lost or garbled between shift changes anymore!

9:00 a.m. - Open the branch, then meet with my branch manager to go over what's been happening since we last worked together.

9:15 a.m. - Head to my desk to check my e-mail and gather things for my outreach story time visits. This includes reading over the books I'll be sharing and reviewing the chords I'll need for songs on my ukulele.

9:45 a.m - Head out for Preschool Outreach Story Time!

10:45 a.m. - Back at the branch, I head to the sink in the staff room to rinse out 100 milk cartons. A local elementary school saved them for us to use in an upcoming craft program (more on that later this week...), and even though the extremely kind lunch ladies had rinsed them at the school, they were getting a bit stinky. Aside: no one in library school ever mentioned I might find myself rinsing out dozens of milk cartons.

11:30 a.m. - The director of the library district called to chat about a proposal I'm working on, so I spent some time on the phone with him and then filled my branch manager in on the proposal's progress.

12:15 p.m. - Lunch.

12:45 p.m. - More preschool outreach!

1:45 p.m. - I hurry back into the branch to print off some agendas for a two o'clock meeting. I also get updated on what I've missed while I was out of the branch.

2:00 p.m. - Early Literacy Task Force meeting. We talk about potential early literacy idea-sharing workshops for staff and assess the success of our recent early literacy initiatives. We agree on what we'll report to our colleagues at the upcoming children's meeting.

3:10 p.m. - Work the reference desk. In between reference questions from customers, I'm able to put the finishing touches on an eReader flow chart for reference staff; we anticipate an increase in eReader questions after the holidays, and the flow chart is to help staff keep the devices and their specific set-up steps straight. I also finish formal letters to our teen volunteers informing them of scheduling changes in 2013.

5:10 p.m. - Head home after a busy start to the week.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Monday, December 17, 2012

Time to Hibernate! A Story Time Plan

I offer one evening story time every month in an attempt to make story times available to children whose caregivers work or who attend preschool during our regular morning sessions. Attendance at these evening programs has been spotty at best, so I tried something new this quarter: advertising the program theme on our events website and in our quarterly program guide. That means I needed to select my program themes several months in advance--something I don't normally do. We had a decent turn-out for our recent hibernation-themed story time. Here's what we did:

Time to Hibernate! Story Time

Opening Song: "Open, Shut Them"

Talk: We spent a few minutes learning what it means to hibernate; several kiddos chimed in with what they knew about hibernation. We also practiced saying the word: "Let me hear you say 'hibernate.'"

Story: Old Bear by Kevin Henkes
     This beautifully illustrated book has simple, brief text and invites plenty of opportunity for dialogic reading. On every season's spread, we talked about what we could see in pictures and what we remember seeing in those seasons here in Missouri.

Song: "Where is Brown Bear?"
     I used stick puppets with images of a brown bear, a groundhog, and a chipmunk to add a visual to this song (see photo above). The children really loved it--they especially enjoyed seeing the animals go to sleep, which I mimed by setting the puppets on the floor.
"Where is Brown Bear?"
(tune: "Where is Thumbkin?")

Where is brown bear*?
Where is brown bear*?
Here I am!
Here I am!
How are you this winter?
Very tired, thank you.
Go to sleep.
Go to sleep.
*can be repeated with different hibernating animals

Story: Hibernation by Margaret Hall
     This non-fiction title introduces young children to the concept of hibernation. It talks about different animals that hibernate and why; how they get ready; and how they find places to spend the winter months. The children were fascinated to see all the different animals that hibernate; they knew about bears and groundhogs, but the bats and frogs took them by surprise. The big photos are great for sharing.
Matching Game: Colored Bears
     I spread out lots of different colored bears on the story time carpet and, one color at a time, I encouraged the children to take the bears to our felt board cave to hibernate. It just so happened that my story time audience was pretty knowledgeable and confident regarding their colors, but they still enjoyed the interactive aspect.
Craft: Making hibernation caves
     Each child received a white die-cut bear and a blank white sheet of paper. Bears could be decorated however they wanted, and the white sheet of paper was the bear's cave; I encouraged the kiddos to draw the things their bears might want when they wake up in the caves. I saw berries to eat, a radio to listen to, leaves for a bed, and plenty of other great, creative ideas. The last step of the craft was to staple a black sheet of paper over the cave, thus closing the cave door until spring. One child asked his mother if he could hang his cave on his bedroom wall so it was ready for him to open in the spring. Adorable!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Give the Gift of Story Time

I don't want to take much of your time today--I know how hectic things can get around the holidays. I just want to suggest a really great, totally free gift idea for the kids in your life.

This holiday season, give the gift of story time.

Sharing stories is one of life's great pleasures. Reading together helps build strong, positive relationships; it also allows sharers to bond over the stories they read together, whether the stories are funny, sad, touching, scary, or full of adventure. What we share with others becomes a part of our common experience, a touchstone for our future interactions with one another. Stories help us to find our best friends.

Sharing stories is also one of the best things you can do to help prepare a child to succeed in life. Children who are read to frequently and with love are usually better readers and better overall students than those who don't have stories shared with them regularly. Children who experience stories have higher vocabularies and better general understanding about the world; they are often more imaginative than children who did not hear stories, and they are better able to weave their own lives into narrative format, too. Who wouldn't want to give a gift with that sort of lifelong impact?

So this holiday season, grab a few of your favorite books from the library or a bookstore (indie if you can). Sit down to share those books with the children in your life, and plan to spend at least 20 minutes reading together. Go ahead, you can even be indulgent and make this story time a habit. Add songs and rhymes, finger plays and puppets, even silly voices; anything that helps stories jump off the page and into the memory and the heart.

Story time is a gift that can make a big difference--both for the child you read to and for you. Consider giving the gift of story time this year.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

December Outreach Story Time: Wrapping Up the Building Block Books

I've been making my December outreach story time visits, and with the end of the calendar year comes the time to vote for a favorite Building Block Picture Book Award nominee. My December story times include the last few nominees, a holiday book, and voting for favorite Building Block.

Opening Song: "Open, Shut Them"

Story: Mitchell's License by Hallie Durand
     Remember all those times you sat on a caregiver's shoulders and felt absolutely on top of the world? That's what Mitchell likes to do, and whenever he sits on his dad's shoulders, he becomes the driver of a really great car. Kids love the silliness and whimsy of this title.

Song: "The Wheels on the Bus"
     You guessed it: I whipped out my ukulele for this one. I took crowd suggestions for the different parts of the bus, and we sang a few rounds before hitting the brakes on this song.

Story: Hugless Douglas by David Melling
     Poor Douglas! He's just woken up from a nice, long, hibernation nap, and all he wants is a hug. Getting that hug seems to be rather difficult, though, as he can't seem to find the perfect hugger. He tries a boulder, a tree, a shrub, and a rather displeased owl before finally finding the person who gives perfect hugs.

Story: Pete the Cat Saves Christmas by Eric Litwin
     Pete is a perenially favorite among my outreach story time crowds, and since all the centers I visit confirmed that they do celebrate Christmas, I opted to share this fun holiday story with my groups. Ever wonder what would happen should Santa be unable to handle Christmas? Never fear--Pete the Cat is here, and he's got a song to help him bring joy to all the little girls and boys!

Voting: With the help of the teachers at the child care centers I visit, all of the children get the chance to vote for their favorie of the ten Building Block Picture Book Award nominees that we shared over the course of the fall. I have the cover of each book printed on a sheet of paper; voting for a particular book means going to stand by that picture (this is the only way I've found to keep the kids from voting for more than one title--they can only physically be in one place, so the vote by proximity). I tally the votes and say I'll report back with the big winner in January.

Song: "Jingle Bells"
     I had a child request last month that I learn "Jingle Bells" on my ukulele, and that's what I did. There's nothing like finishing off a story time with a favorite tune to which everyone knows the words.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Show Me Librarian on Teen Librarian's Toolbox!

I'm excited to share the news that my blog has been included in the Teen Librarian's Toolbox's 12 Blogs of Christmas! For twelve days this December, the wonderfully talented ladies over at TLT have been profiling their favorite library-world blogs. I am humbled that they've included me.

The write-up is pretty hilarious, too--and I'd expect nothing less from Stephanie, one of the TLT bloggers and a teen librarian from Louisiana. (She's not as much of a "kiddie-hater" as she claims, I promise!)

Thanks for profiling your favorite library blogs, ladies! I strive to continue providing material you can use in 2013.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Return of the Stuffed Animal Sleepover Story Time

When I hosted my first Stuffed Animal Sleepover and Story Time last spring, I didn't know what type of response to expect. Would families find it too logistically difficult to visit the library in the evening and then again the next morning? Would young children be traumatized at the prospect of leaving a beloved stuffed animal at the library overnight? My concerns, as it turned out, were unfounded; plenty of families loved the idea of the stuffed animal sleepover. They loved it so much that we recently offered another.

The basic format for our most recent Stuffed Animal Sleepover and Story Time was very similar to our spring program. Caregivers brought their children to the library on a Wednesday evening with their stuffed animal friends in tow. As each child brought his or her stuffed friend to the reference desk, I asked for a few details: the stuffed animal's name; the child's name, for the back of each animal's nametage; and any special instructions for taking care of the animal. I learned which stuffed friends needed help brushing their teeth, which enjoyed dancing before bedtime, and which needed a hug before being tucked in. Adorable. (And pro-early literacy! Those kids were all about talking about bedtime rituals!)

A teen volunteer was at the library that Wednesday night to help photograph the stuffed animals doing library sleepover activities--ordering pizza for dinner, playing at the train set, having story time... Having a volunteer on hand to assist with the photos was a HUGE help. Whereas during the last go-round I felt frantic on the evening of the drop-off, this time I was able to get things done at a reasonable clip. I had all of the photos taken on my iPad for easy creation of a slideshow for our story time the next morning; everything felt much more seamless this time around.

On Thursday morning, I woke up the animals and got set up for our story time. The formal program included four main components:

1. Viewing the slideshow of the animals' sleepover antics. Kids and caregivers both love this portion of the program--I had a couple of moms snapping pictures of the projected slideshow before I mentioned I would share the link with them. I used the Haiku Deck app to make this simple slideshow.

2. Sharing a few stories and songs. I read some books that the stuffed animals had "read" the night before: Maisy Goes on a Sleepover by Lucy Cousins; Let's Sing a Lullaby with the Brave Cowboy by Jan Thomas; and Waking Dragons by Jane Yolen. We sang a few songs while I played the ukuklele; the favorite was "If All the Raindrops."

3. Enjoying a small breakfast-y snack. I had juice boxes and mini doughnuts set out on a table for everyone. Tests indicate that powdered sugar trumps chocolate, FYI.

4. Getting crafty to create sleepover souvenirs. I printed out a picture of each of the stuffed animals friends doing something at the library. Children were able to cut out that picture and then attach it to a cardboard picture frame that they had decorated. Caregivers particularly love these keepsakes. Each child could also draw and/or write on a small poster to show what their stuffed animal's favorite part of the sleepover was. Funny moment: When I asked one child what her dog Clifford said was his favorite part of the night, she replied, deadpan: "You do know they can't talk, right?"

Children were able to finish their crafts at their own pace before heading home with their stuffed animals. I did share the slideshow with all the caregivers who shared their e-mail addresses, and I got a lot of positive feedback after I sent that message. Already I've heard from families asking when we'll offer the program again--some really enjoyed it, and some weren't able to attend this time. I think it's safe to say we'll be giving this program a permanent spot in our special programs rotation.

Questions? Recommendations? Stories about your own stuffed animal sleepoevers? Share in the comments!

Friday, December 7, 2012

YA Friday: Teen Volunteers in the Library

I've talked before about using teen volunteers to support our annual summer reading program. Now, for a bit of a change, let's talk about using teen volunteers during the academic year. Because that whole shebang is a horse of a different color.

When I started my position at my branch in August 2011, I took on the responsibilities of the volunteer coordinator as well as the children's librarian. That fall, I had a volunteer corps of about 7 teens, totaling an average of 10 hours of help each week. Fast forward to today, when I have a group of 11 volunteers putting in 17 hours each week. That's seventeen hours each week when volunteers show up at my library in order to help us get things done. They come to me looking for their tasks. And I increasingly don't have much for them to do.

You see, in our library, volunteers help with small tasks that are not at the core of any staff person's job description. Our regular volunteers do any and all of the following:

  • Alphabetize carts of returned items
  • Prepare items reserved by customers to go on our reserve shelves
  • Prepare craft components for programs
  • Withdraw items that have been weeded by staff
  • Cut scrap paper
  • Help set up the program room for events
  • Pull items on lists prepared by staff
  • Check in books that were recently used in programs
  • Stock materials displays
  • Assist with special one-time projects as directed

Now let me ask you a question: would your library (considering it is medium-sized like mine with an average of 5 programs per week) have seventeen hours worth of these tasks each and every week? I think you can start to see my problem: I have lots of volunteers, and not enough tasks to keep them all occupied.

That's why I'm reorganizing how we work with our teen volunteers. We're shutting down volunteer operations for the weeks of Christmas and New Year's. Then, when volunteers start to come around again the second week of January, a new schedule will kick into place. Volunteers will have one shift every other week instead of weekly. Ta-da!

I know that modification doesn't seem huge, but it will cut in half our weekly job of frantically organizing volunteer tasks. The demands on staff will be fewer as we have reduced weekly volunteer traffic. Also, by reducing the ratio of volunteer hours to volunteer tasks, we'll be able to give each of our volunteers more substantial and meaningful work. Whereas under our current schedule the weekly Friday afternoon volunteer always gets stuck helping us wrap our reserves, in the new schedule she'll get more variety in her assignments. It's a win-win for everyone.

Or at least I hope. I'm interested to hear what volunteers have to say about the overall reduction in their volunteer hours; after all, some of them volunteer in order to fulfill service requirements for honor societies and youth groups, and spreading out their shifts means it will take longer to reach a volunteer hour goal. I am trying to take that concern into consideration, however, by providing opportunities for interested volunteers to earn extra hours. Many of our children's programs throughout the year benefit from having a few volunteers in the room to help things run smoothly; I have started sharing these program volunteer requests on our library's volunteer Facebook page and at Teen Advisory Board meetings. Additionally, volunteers are welcome to work as much as they want during our summer reading program. Thus, if a teen needs 30 hours of volunteer service, he or she can get those hours no problem with a bit of planning.

I'm looking forward to debuting this new volunteer scheduling in January--I think it will really make for more enjoyable interactions for both volunteers and library staff. I'll be sure to report back.

In the meantime, do you have volunteer tips, tricks, or stories to share? Sound off in the comments.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man's Canyon

Taylor, S.S. The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man's Canyon. illus. by Katherine Roy. McSweeney's McMullens. 11 Dec. 2012. p. 384.

When The Expeditioners opens, young Kit West is in the Oceania marketplace with hopes of getting some food for himself and his siblings. Ever since Kit, Zander, and M.K.'s father died while on an exploration, the three children have had to fend for themselves. But when a mysterious man gives Kit a package from their father, the children learn that they may not know the full story of their explorer father's expeditions or his mysterious death. Codes, maps, and a few fortuitous interactions lead the West children to Arizona in search of the legendary Drowned Man's Canyon and its gold, and the trio hope they'll also discover why their father left them a secret quest to follow. Throughout their journey they encounter danger and adventure quite unlike anything they were expecting.

This solid steam punk adventure borrows from dystopian fiction in its setting: after technology was shown to have manipulated and stifled human discovery, explorers learned that the world on the map we all know wasn't an accurate picture of our planet. With the discoveries of new lands and resources, however, came a shady, totalitarian government unafraid to use brute force to preserve its power. Not only do the West children have to face uncharted territories and unknown creatures in their adventure, but they must deal with a regime with unchecked control as well. Taylor provides a well-constructed, believable world for her young heroes. The story moves at a thrilling pace, and the adventure will capture the imagination of readers. Roy's illustrations add another terrific element to the story; the jacket, endpapers, and cover of the hardcover book are stunning. I hope this title marks the first in a series, as I can see many readers developing a fondness for the characters and a desire to see their adventures progress.

I'll be suggesting this title to older middle grade readers who love adventure and steam punk, and I'll also hand sell it to readers who enjoy stories and non-fiction of exploration and geographical discoveries.

Check out the book trailer!

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Monday, December 3, 2012

More Books with Beat

When I ended up covering a colleague's story time for a local moms group last week, and I opted to replicate a recent successful program: a sort of toddler story-and-dance extravaganza. I used many of the same songs in this program as I did in the previous program; the audiences don't usually overlap, so I wasn't worried about seeming repetitive. I did, however, select some new stories to keep my own enthusiasm as fresh as possible. Here are the three great books with beat I used. They're perfect for story times with a bit more song and dance than your usual offering.

Busy Busy City Street by Cari Meister, illustrated by Steven Guarnaccia
     This story combines simple, rhyming text with lovely illustrations. Whenever I've shared this book, kids are really into the fun images on the pages that correspond with the story itself. The repeated chorus of "Honk! Honk! Beep! Beep! Busy, busy city street" catches the attention of listeners, and by the end of the book they are quick to respond to my honks with beeps of their own.

The Croaky Pokey by Ethan Long
     This amphibious version of the Hokey Pokey is a lot of fun. Lots of young kids haven't really heard the Hokey Pokey before, so they are excited about discovering a song that is so interactive and silly (you put your backside in!). I sing the text of the book to get things going, and I jump around with my tongue stuck out to catch flies in the appropriate parts of the story.

Farmyard Beat by Lindsey Craig, illustrated by Marc Brown
     This book has so many great applications. It introduces a variety of farm animals and the sounds they make, it includes great sounds for promoting phonological awareness, and it boasts a great, consistent rhythm. Animals in the story cannot sleep because "they've got that beat," and every listener quickly catches the beat, too.


What are some of your favorite books with beat to use in story times?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Volcano Science on the ALSC Blog

I'm on the ALSC Blog today talking about Volcano Science, a school-age STEM program we recently offered at my library.

Head over there for full details!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Scavenger Hunts for Library Visits

Last week on the ALSC listserv there was a thread (no, not that thread) of messages on the topic of library games for group visits. The question was posed in the context of a first grade boy scout visit--what sorts of activities do libraries offer for such a group visit? I shared a few examples of what we do here at my library, and after getting a some questions and requests to share details, I opted to expand here on the blog. Most of our scout groups and some school groups opt to visit the library as a means of introducing children to how the library is set up--the idea is to make them familiar with the library to encourage its use. We happily assist in this pursuit with scavenger hunts that get kids moving around the library.

One such scavenger hunt (and I cannot take credit for it; a version of it was in use before I took my job) operates both as an exploration of the library and a decoding exercise. Library familiarity and literacy reinforcement rolled into one, hooray! This coded scavenger hunt involves a clue sheet with numbered clues; each clue prompts children to go to a specific section of the library, e.g., the juvenile graphic novels or the reference desk. When children make their way to each specified area of the library, they search for a small sign. These signs have a number and image that correspond to the clue on the kids' code sheet, and they also include a large uppercase letter. Children are prompted to write down that letter on their code sheets by the clue number; thus, if the sign for Clue #9 leads to the Wii games, and the Wii sign has the letter "W" on it, "W" becomes associated with #9. When children have found the letters that go with all twelve of our clues, they are ready to decode the message of the game. See the above images of our clue (left) and key (right) sheets to better visualize the setup.

Another scavenger hunt uses the same sort of seek-and-find format albeit without the decoding aspect. I've written on this blog about our summer seek and find, where children look for an image of a book character who is mentioned at the library's entrance. During the academic year, we modify this premise to be a little more engaging. Children are given a sheet of paper with images of five or six children's book characters, each with a line next to it. Those same images are posted somewhere in the children's area of the library, and children are instructed to locate each of them. When a child locates an image, he or she is meant to write down (or dictate to a grown-up) the section in which the image is posted; for example, if Clifford is on a shelf with audiobooks, the child would write "audiobooks" or "CD books" on the sheet. This variation on the scavenger hunt works well for younger groups of children who may not yet have great reading skills--they are able to look for visual clues instead of trying to follow written ones.

Mix in STEM!
Our last scavenger hunt model features a bit of STEM mixed into the exploration. The hunt handout includes instructions like "Go to the juvenile magazines. How many magazines for children does the library subscribe to?" Each instruction includes a line for children to fill in; in this example, kids would write down the number of different magazines they count in the children's area. These activities include counting, measuring, reading a book list, and navigating Dewey, all of which support STEM skills as well as library knowledge. The one potential downside of this scavenger hunt is that it is text-heavy, and thus it often requires a larger number of adult "team captains," if you will, to help the kiddos navigate the different activities. It's been a hit in the few times we've used it since creating it this fall, however, so it's a model worth trying out.

All three of these scavenger hunts work for larger groups as well as small ones, although when there are lots of kids going on a hunt, I like to divide them into teams and stagger the starting place for each team. I also emphasize that the scavenger hunt is not a race--every participant gets a prize (usually a library pencil or a small piece of candy) for completing the hunt regardless of how quickly they do so. Things don't usually get too crazy during the hunt once kids know they need not rush around the library.

Those are our three go-to activities for acquainting kids with the library when they come for a group visit. What do you do to entertain and inform children who visit your library?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Spy Club! A School-Age Program

Navigating the Laser Field
After I read two great 2012 middle grade novels featuring spies as a theme, I decided I needed to offer a Spy Club program at my library. After a bit of planning and recruiting teen volunteers, we offered the program to great success last week. Here's what we did:

Spy Club

When the program room doors opened, kids were able to find a seat at a table set out of with supplies for creating disguises. No spy is ready for duty without an assortment of disguises, right? The end results of this station were varied, with some kids donning monocles and handlebar mustaches while others were rocking multicolor glasses and beauty spots that were really communication devices.

During the disguise creation, I book talked two of the books that inspired the program theme: Sophia's War by Avi and Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead. I emphasized that there are books with spies for all readers; these two books represent realistic fiction and historical fiction. Both were checked out after the program, as were a number of other spy-themed books we'd pulled for display in the program.

Once disguises were in place, kiddos were able to rotate among four spy skills stations:

  • Sharpshooting -- The Nerf guns from our Star Wars Jedi Academy were repurposed for shooting at traditional targets. A volunteer taped two lines to the floor as guides for the sharpshooters: one at an easier distance, and one more difficult.
  • Laser Field -- I set up a station for navigating a laser field using tables, duct tape, and red crepe paper. Spies took turns working their way through the maze of laser beams. This station was by far the most popular, with children going through multiple times in an attempt to discover different paths through the field. (see picture above)
  • Invisible Ink -- Tables were set up with cups of invisible ink (a mixture of lemon juice with a bit of water), cotton swabs for writing, and plain white paper. Messages needed to dry before they were completely invisible, so the reading of the secret messages took place at home with the assistance of a hair dryer or warm lighbulb.
  • Cryptography -- I had created a code key and secret message using a pictograph font in Word, and the young spies spent a bit of time decoding the message. Once decoded, it instructed them to go to the reference desk for a reward (candy).

With just a few minutes left in the program, I announced that spies should be finishing up at their current stations. We ended with a reminder that books were available for check-out; both fiction and non-fiction accounts of spies went like hot cakes. Lots of children were spotted leaving the library in disguise, too--an indicator, I think, that they'd enjoyed themselves.

Friday, November 23, 2012

My Black Friday Book Recommendations

It's that time of year again--time to buy lots of books for everyone on your holiday list!

In the interest of making your holiday shopping perhaps a bit easier, I'm sharing the children's books that I'll be recommending to friends and family this holiday season. Whenever you buy books, please support indie booksellers if you can!

For the babies in your life:

  • If you're buying books for the teeniest, tiniest newborns, choose board books with clear, simple illustrations, preferably in few colors, like I Kissed the Baby! by Mary Murphy; and board books with pictures of other babies, like Global Babies.
  • If you're buying for slightly older toddlers, look for board book titles that include brightly-colored illustrations and a minimal amount of text and story, like those by Sandra Boynton or the board book version of The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.

For the pre-readers in your life:

For the beginning readers in your life:

For the middle grade readers in your life:

Happy holiday book-shopping!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Reflection on the Importance of Talk

One of my favorite things to come out of the revised Every Child Ready to Read is the emphasis on talking to and with young children. Hearing and engaging in talk helps children to develop a sense of the rhythm of fluent speech. Talking about objects in the world around us and pictures in a story help to build vocabulary and an understanding of how the world works, too. Without engaging in plenty of talk before they start school, children begin their attempts to read with a massive conceptual deficit. They just don't make as many connections between words, what they mean, and what describes them.

That point--the relative advantage given to children who talk and are talked with--was recently emphasized to me in a series of outreach story times all featuring the same book. The book in this example: I Spy with My Little Eye by Edward Gibbs. The book is a series of "I Spy" games: a two-page spread allows the children to spy an animal's color while a speech bubble gives a hint what the animal is; and the following two-page spread displays the animal for children to see in full. A sample spread would be as follows: "I spy with my little eye something that is white. [speech bubble: I live in the Arctic.] / I am a polar bear!" Simple enough from the reader's perspective.

What I've noticed in sharing this book with a variety of groups is that some story time audiences are quick to shout out what animal they spy while others need the page turn to really know what's going on. One preschool, when the children spied red, immediately guessed "fox"--and another preschool only knew it was a fox after seeing the full illustration; not even the hint "I have a bushy tail" gave away the animal's identity for the latter group.

What's my point? Obviously both groups know what a fox is. The kids in the first preschool, though, were able to guess "fox" using context clues--at some point in their lives, they have talked about foxes, which are often red and which have bushy tails. The can connect "fox" and "red" and "bushy tail" in a sort of concept map. The kids in the second preschool, on the other hand, weren't able to piece it all together using concept knowledge; they know a fox when they see one, but they have to see it to know it could be a fox.

This discrepancy really illustrates the importance of talking with children all the time. It's important to talk about foods we see on the table, at the grocery store, or in a restaurant; it's important to talk about the clothes we see when we're shopping, the clothes in our closets, and the weather we wear them in. It's important to talk about everything a child encounters in life and in books because that talk gives kids the ability to name and understand things they'll see later on in life or in books. And if they understand it now, they've got a better chance of being able to read about it later. Talking can give such an advantage to children from any background. I cannot overemphasize the importance of talk.

Have you encountered any situations that really emphasized for you the important of talk in developing early literacy? How do your express the importance of talk to caregivers?

Monday, November 19, 2012

ALSC Grant Deadlines are Approaching

Every year, ALSC supports libraries and librarians across the country through a number of grants. The deadline for many of these grants is approaching; have you looked into how an ALSC grants could support the work done by you and your library? I've pulled the grant descriptions and deadlines from ALSC, so below is all the basic info you need to know to apply. Dream big, aim high, and make a case for why you, your library, and your patrons deserve one of these terrific grants!

Each year the ALSC office receives almost 3,000 newly published books, videos, audiobooks and recordings from children's trade publishers for award and notables consideration.  At the end of the year, after the awards have been given out, ALSC selects three libraries to receive a Bookapalooza collection of these materials (estimated to be worth $10,000 each) to be used in a way that creatively enhances their library service to children and families. Deadline: December 1, 2012.

This $3,000 grant provides financial assistance to a public library for developing an outstanding summer reading program for children. Deadline: December 1, 2012. 

This $4,000 award was established with funding from Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, in honor of Maureen Hayes, to bring together children and nationally recognized authors/illustrators by funding an author/illustrator visit to a school or public library that has not before had the opportunity to host one. Deadline: December 1, 2012. 

This award provides a $600 stipend, provided by Penguin Young Readers Group, for up to four winners to attend their first ALA Annual Conference.  Applicants must have fewer than 10 years of experience as a children's librarian and work directly with children. Deadline: December 1, 2012

This award honors an individual member who has made significant contributions to and an impact on, library services to children and ALSC.  The recipient receives $1,000 and an engraved pin at the ALSC Membership Meeting during the ALA Annual Conference. Deadline: December 1, 2012.

This fellowship provides a $4,000 stipend to allow a qualified children's librarian to spend a month or more reading at the University of Florida's Baldwin Library of Historical Children's Literature, which contains a special collection of 85,000 volumes of children's literature published mostly before 1950. Deadline: December 30, 2012. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

The "What We're Reading" Wall

When I recapped the 2012 YALSA YA Literature Symposium last week, one of the conference ideas I mentioned liking was the "What We're Reading"board. I'm excited to say that, with just a small amount of supplies and staff time, we have a version of the board up in our children's area.

I have a relatively open wall above a table that will (in the next few months) feature my branch's early literacy computers. Until then, the table houses a rotation of things. Previously it was where you could find some play dishes and food. Now it is home to a bin containing markers and colorful Post-It notes. These are the only supplies necessary for the "What We're Reading" Wall.

I made a title for the wall using those same Post-Its and markers (use washable!), and I also put up a few demo Post-Its to give customers the idea of how to add to the board. In just a few days, the number of What We're Reading notes multiplied significantly. I love the reader response; not only are they reading socially, something I always think libraries can seek to facilitate more, but they are also showing me, the librarian, what they like to read--at least in the branch. I knew Dora and Dr. Seuss were popular, but I appreciate seeing that other less-obvious titles, like some of our horse books and past years' state award nominees, are still being enthusiastically enjoyed.

A "What We're Reading" wall has already proved to be a simple, engaging reading activity in the branch. It's beneficial for readers and library staff. Grab some markers and sticky notes and give it a try!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

November Outreach Story Time: A Selection of Funny Books

I'm well into the second half of my fall outreach season, which means I'm making steady progress through the 2012 Missouri Building Block Picture Book Award nominees as a visit preschools for story times. This month I grouped together some of the stories that have humorous elements to them, then I rounded things off with a new title from one of the nominated authors.

Opening Song: "Open, Shut Them"

Story: Is Everyone Ready for Fun? by Jan Thomas
     I think I've mentioned before how much I love Jan Thomas. Those books are always a delight to share with audiences of any age children--they always find the stories engaging and, often, hilarious. This title is no exception, as three cows get up to all kinds of mischief in the name of fun, much to Chicken's chagrin.

Song: "Chicken Won't Allow"
     This song is an adaptation of a perenially popular camp song, "Mama Don't Allow." I figured that Chicken in our first story had lots of rules--why not break some with a song?

Chicken won't allow any hand clappin' 'round here. (clap hands)
Chicken won't allow any hand clappin' 'round here. (clap hands)
We don't care what Chicken won't allow, clap your hands any old how!
Chicken won't allow any hand clappin' 'round here. (clap hands)
*repeat with different actions, like foot stompin', bottom bouncin', and yee-hawin'

Story: The Wonderful Book by Leonid Gore
     I preface this quieter read-aloud with the question of whether a dog would know what to do with a book if you gave one to him. In this story, an assortment of animals encounter a book and, not knowing its purpose, use it in different and sometimes silly ways. When a boy finds the book and begins to read, however, they all enjoy what the book has to offer.

Rhyme: Books
     This rhyme helps reinforce opposities. Use your hands to illustrate the different sizes of books.
Big books
Small books
Short books
Tall books
Skinny books
Thick books
I love them all!

Story: Press Here by Herve Tullet
     I'll admit I was skeptical of using this book as a read-aloud title. After all, a room full of preschoolers cannot all "press here" when instructed to do so. With a few small modifications--the reader presses while the audience helps count dots, report on color changes, and perform small actions when asked--this book is a surefire hit with preschool crowds. They always seem genuinely enchanted by how doing what the book says causes the dots to behave in funny ways. I would not have expected this book to be such a hit, but I am now glad to have it in my story time arsenal.

Story: Let's Sing a Lullaby with the Brave Cowboy by Jan Thomas
     I mentioned that I love Jan Thomas, right? This newest title is no exception, especially because it involves using a cowboy voice and some pretty funny discussion of what it means to be brave. Kids enjoy the lullaby aspect of the book, too, and that device serves to make the book a perfect calming end to story time.

Song: "If You're Happy and You Know It"
     In what has become a sort of standard closing for my outreach story times, I broke out the ukulele to accompany our singing of this song. Instead of doing the ordinary clapping, stomping, and shouting, we reviewed our stories by making the noises of some of the animals characters we'd met throughout the program. During our last verse, we all waved goodbye.