Friday, June 29, 2012

Mad Hatter's Tea Party

A child made this hat
specifically for the program!
Alice in Wonderland always seems to be a perennial favorite with kids. It's got fun, nonsense, book-to-movie goodness (both cartoon and live action!), rhymes, imagination, curiosity...all things, in my experience working with children, that draw kids to a story. So why not, I figured, offer an Alice in Wonderland-themed program for the summer preschool and school-age crowd? Our own golden afternoon, as it were?

Why not, indeed. It was certainly apparent that kids were interested in a Mad Hatter's Tea Party--within about 30 hours of registration opening for the initial program, our roster was full with a substantial waiting list. I opted to open up a second session of the program on the same day; same snacks, same games and craft, but twice the happy attendees. This decision ended up being a good call, as the second session filled up pretty quickly, too. The high demand filled both the programs, which made them extremely high-energy and lots of fun. It's an easily replicable and adaptable program plan:

Mad Hatter's Tea Party

I had the tea party drinks and snack components all set up at tables before children arrived. Our library has a stash of old china saucers, and I used these as serving dishes for watermelon and a variety of cookies. I pre-portioned everything for easier handling by attendees of all ages. I asked a few moms who came in the room to help me pour the drinks--Sunny Delight, in a variety of flavors--and within a few minutes of starting the tables of funnily be-hatted kids were all achatter. Some came with friends, some on their own, so I encouraged them to turn to a neighbor to say "How do you do?" and shake hands (get it?!). I then prompted them to share what they've been reading for summer reading. As I went around each table playing hostess, I was able to greet everyone and get an update on SRP progress.

After about 15 minutes of snacks and chat, all of the stragglers had arrived, so we segued into some Alice-themed nonsense. We had tongue twister races, and lots of kids offered their favorite tongue twisters for group trial. I also recited my favorite Alice poem ("How doth the little crocodile"), which they seemed to get a kick out of.

Then, games! We had a caucus race (musical chairs, albeit played with sit-upon cushions instead of chairs for easier use with such a large number of kids), and I used an Alice soundtrack to source the game music. Next we played The Queen of Hearts Says (Simon Says), which needed a bit of initial explaining for some of the youngest program attendees. A few of them struggled with the concept of the game, so in my second program I opted to let an older girl play the Queen of Hearts. Lots of the girls giggled at how bad I am at the game (which I was not faking), and once Miss Amy was sitting out, not winning didn't seem quite as big a deal.

With about 20 minutes left in the hour-long program, we all moved back to our tables for a craft. I had the children clear their tables in exchange for their craft supplies--a tip I learned working meals at summer camp--so the tables were an open canvas for craft creativity. Our mission: to create an army of mome raths. I adapted the linked craft to use rainbow-colored popsicle sticks (instead of painting our own), and we also used pipe cleaners in place of feathers to cut down on a sticky feather mess. All ages of the children got really into the creation of their mome raths--some made theirs hats, some appendages, some clothing... I always love how the simplest crafts promote the most variety of creations among children.

As the kids finished up their mome raths, I thanked them very much for coming to the program. Everyone who left the Mad Hatter's Tea Party was all smiles. And there's nothing curious about that.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Looking Back on #ala12

I write sitting in the Phoenix airport, waiting to catch my flight back to Missouri. I head back to the library tomorrow, and I'm fairly certain that with summer reading, programs, outreach, etc., it'll soon feel as though I was never away.

Except for all of the ideas, of course.

It is a bit difficult for my brain to as yet fully comprehend how much I learned at the 2012 ALA Annual Conference. I feel confident that over the coming weeks--as I reread my notes, talk with colleagues and friends, start putting small ideas into action--I'll get a sense for the true potential of all I've heard in Anaheim. Right now my plan is to think more about play and toys in the library (watch for details on a play initiative that's been in the works since way before ALA!), how accessible my collections are to young customers, more engaging book talks on new titles with child and teen readers, and science programming options. I think that should keep me busy for a bit, right?

I want to end my #ala12 posts by saying how inspiring I found not only all of my new librarian friends--you do some amazing things!--but each and every author I spoke with during the conference as well. These talented men and women value the written word and the worth of a story...that much should be obvious, given their line of work. But so many authors spoke strongly about the value of libraries in bringing words and stories to people. They talked about the power of libraries to help form young people into interesting, well-spoken, thoughtful, and dedicated citizens of humanity.

I would be lying if I said I didn't appreciate these words from such amazing, influential people. When Corey Whaley ended his Printz speech with an entreaty to #SaveALibrary, because they matter so much? Powerful. And I am so glad to see just how many folks share that sentiment.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

#ala12: Rethinking Your Picture Book Shelves

Sunday evening just before the Newbery-Caldecott banquet, I attended a program called "I WANT A TRUCK BOOK! Reorganizing Your Picture Book Collection to Meet the Needs of Young Patrons and their Caregivers." The three fantastic presenters were Gretchen Caserotti of Darien Library (CT), Deborah Cooper of Stark County (OH) Library District, and Tali Balas Kaplan of the Ethical Culture Fieldston School in NYC. All three have recently converted some of their children's collections to a non-Dewey, broad category organization.

How does your library organize the books for children? Dewey for nonfiction, alphabetical order (perhaps with some age ranging) for fiction? That seems to be the default for almost every American library that serves children, be it public or school. But does it need to be? There are some good arguments for reevaluating how you organize your materials, books for young readers in particular:

  • People don't really understand library coding systems. What does that "J" stand for? What is going on with the Dewey Decimal System? Studies show that most people never really learn the way libraries traditionally organize their collections, and they instead just memorize where in the building and on the shelf they can find what they like. Too bad if the library rearranges things.
  • Libraries have two types of users: seekers and browsers. Seekers will be able to find what they want no matter the organizational scheme. Browsers, on the other hand, have a very hard time finding what they want on their own when using traditional systems. Why not employ a system that promotes findability and discoverability?
  • Asking kids in particular to use traditional library organizational schemes to find books is massively developmentally inappropriate. Alphabetical and numerical order are very abstract concepts to kids, and that's once we've already assumed the book-seekers in question can read. Then there's Dewey--kids don't learn decimals until the fifth grade. We're making it rather difficult for our target audience to get their hands on the books we purchase for them.
  • Having books organized in a fashion that makes sense to kids facilitates the development of their own categorization skills. Figuring out how to put things in the appropriate bucket, as it were, is a key step in intellectual development.
The librarians who presented in favor of reorganizing children's collections all decided that the complications of traditional systems made finding books much too difficult for kids, and as a result they developed their own organizational schemes. Some are comprehensive, some comprise just certain aspects of their collections. Whatever specific methods they employed, the recategorized books saw huge increases in circulation. Kids and caregivers both overwhelmingly reported that it was now so much easier to find what they wanted. Isn't that part of the point of providing library services for children? When we're working with kids and often-frazzled grown-ups, shouldn't one of our customer service goals be to make finding things easier?

What are your thoughts on non-traditional and homegrown organizations of kids' books?

#ala12: Designing Library Spaces for Children

Sunday morning started with a program titled "Where the Wild Things Are: Children's Learning and Discovery Spaces." The program featured Kimberly Bolan Cullin of Kimberly Bolan and Associates, LLC; Kathleen Deerr of Family Place Libraries; Terri Raymond of Norfolk Public Library; and Kim van der Veen of Burgeon Group, LLC. All these ladies are basically rock stars of library design.

Think about the community where you live. How many spaces are there in the community for adults? Starbucks, shopping centers, restaurants, theaters... Now think about how many spaces there are specifically for children. Maybe the YMCA, the play place at McDonald's, a park or two. How awful is that, that kids don't have more spaces in which they can play? Why not make the library one such destination?

It's true that not all libraries can afford to completely revamp their children's spaces. Luckily, there are some simpler, cost-effective strategies for redesigning the kids area right now. Tips I'm taking to heart:

  • You already have space in your library for toys and interactives. Can't find it? WEED! Weed everything that doesn't circ, everything that's gross, everything that doesn't fit the collection... If you weed discriminately and deliberately, you'll end up with space for play and a more customer-friendly collection.
  • Make sure to include seating options for kids and adults. Without adult seating, parents don't engage with their kids. They also feel like they can drop their kids off and go elsewhere in the library when there is no obvious place for them to share the space.
  • The simpler the toy, the more complex the learning. Bring out the blocks or play food, which can be used in a myriad of ways by all ages of children. More complex toys often take up more space and only have one mode of use, thus promoting more limited learning outcomes.
  • Observe your children's space from a child's perspective. Kneel or sit on the ground and see what a two- or three-year-old would see when interacting at the library. Put age appropriate things at an age appropriate level. Add color and interest where they'll see it.
I learned a lot more in this session, and I'll be spending some time in the next few days processing all of my thoughts about how I can enhance the children's space I currently have at my branch. What works for engaging children's spaces at your library?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

#ala12: Science in the Stacks!

Have you seen all the amazing photos and articles about the Discovery Center in Queens, NY? It's a library that is all science, all the time. Amazing! I agree that cultural institutions like libraries do children a service when they offer science programming and activities, and it's a personal goal to make science a fundamental part of kids' experiences at my branch. And while we're not all lucky enough to have a space like the Queens Discovery Center, that doesn't mean we can't mix science into the bunch! A few ideas from today's session:

  • Connect hands-on science stations or science activity sheets in the branch with the Dewey stacks. For example, with a butterfly activity, have a sign leading to the 595s. Similarly, have a sign by the butterfly books suggesting the activity.
  • Focus on doing science with the kids as opposed to instructing them. It's not school! Be hands-on.
  • Reinforce skills associated with science: observation, measuring, estimation, etc. For example, have kids describe or draw the development of a growing plant over the summer.
  • Get teens to help--children are excited by young people who enthusiastically share science with them.
  • Need ideas? Look to educational standards for topics and the internet for hands-on activities.
My library has an airplane science program coming up later this summer, and in the meantime I intend to think of informal ways to add science activities in the branch. What are some of your successes and/or ideas?

#ala12: Toys in the Library

Saturday morning I attended an ALSC-sponsored program entitled "You Want Me to Circ WHAT?! or How to Best Utilize Toys as a Literacy Tool in Programs and as a Fun Part of Your Lending Collection."

Mr. Rogers is credited with the phrase "Play is the work of childhood." A grand statement, and one libraries can use to inform programs and collections--especially in light of the revised Every Child Ready to Read, which includes play as one of the five practices to promote early literacy. Toys are a great, child-approved way to integrate play into the library, and this session had quite a few ideas for making that happen:

  • No space is too small for incorporating toys into the library. Whether you have a room, a playhouse, a closet, a table, or just a bit of room under some shelves, you can add toys successfully. Wall panels work, too.
  • A small selection of toys is just as beneficial as a huge variety. A child engages with one toy at a time, so a box of puzzles is just as satisfying to a child as a roomful of different items.
  • Have programs that highlight play and give plenty of opportunities for kids to play with the library's toys. Start off with a short book and a song, then spend the rest of the program letting kids and caregivers go to play stations. Ideas include playdoh, blocks, letters, etc., all with brief instructions for interacting with the toys.
  • Adapt activities for older children, too; they also benefit cognitively from play, and making play a family affair does more to ensure play will continue outside of the library. Supporting play outside of the library is another great reason to have toys in the library, as families can take home new things they might not get to play with otherwise.
How does your library bring toys and play into the library?

#ala12: Boys and Reading

Friday evening I attended a Booklist session titled "Men at Work: Guy Writers Talk Guy Readers." A panel of speakers shared some of their thoughts on getting boys reading.

Boys read. As librarians, we know that's a fact. Research does indicate, however, that boys typically don't read as much or as well as girls the same age, and as a result they can start to fall behind in competency. Some great male writers, whom readers of both genders love, gave their perspectives on why getting more boys reading is necessary and how we might accomplish that goal. Here are the highlights of what Jon Scieszka, Michael Grant, Andrew Smith, and Daniel Handler had to say.
  • Start by asking boys what they want to read. Listen to what they say, and note what are the heavy circ-ing titles.
  • Escapism has value in encouraging reading. Is the book one they'd be willing to spend time with?
  • There are a few dirty words when it comes to encouraging reading: "appropriate," which casts judgment; and "for," which excludes potential readers (e.g., books FOR boys, books FOR teens).
  • Speaking of dirty words, teen boys in particular like their books to have racy and dirty bits. To the young male reader, these parts are value-added, but censorship-happy adults view even short instances of language and sex as rendering the whole book objectionable.
  • Some boys don't read, but there are plenty of clandestine male readers, too. The prevalence of readers who hide their enjoyment of reading suggests there's something fundamentally wrong with our reading culture. This fact could shed light on the whole issue of boys and reading.
How do you engage young male readers at your library?

Friday, June 22, 2012

#ala12: Intellectual Freedom, and how it impacts children's librarianship

My first session of the 2012 ALA Annual Conference was Intellectual Freedom 101, an informational program put on by ALA's Office of Intellectual Freedom. The program hit the highlights of what the OIF does to support the fundamental freedom for folks to read, view, think, and express whatever they want: there's the annual Banned Books Week, an annual Choose Privacy Week, a database on book challenges, policy and procedure best practices... All sorts of initiatives and information to support libraries who support customers' library rights.
In my experience, the biggest intellectual freedom issue when working with children is censorship, or the potential for censorship. It can take many forms: the parent or teacher who won't let a child read a particular book because they deem it inappropriate or unsuitable for some reason, sometimes without having read the book themselves; a person who wants particular items removed entirely from the collection so that no child has access to them, again sometimes without having read said items; from library staff who may hesitate to recommend or check out a particular item to a young library customer because of their personal views or experience with the item; and even from library materials selectors who refrain from purchasing certain materials in order to preemptively avoid potential challenges. Hopefully your library has policies in place to deal with formal materials challenges and to inform staff behaviors with regards to library materials and young readers--but what about those parents who voice their "is this appropriate?" concerns in the library? How do you preserve intellectual freedom on the spot?
I'm interested to know how you respond to these situations, and I'll go ahead and share my most common responses. First and foremost, I come right out and say that I believe a child has the same freedom to read as any other library user--if a kid wants to read it and we have access to it in the library, I will give it to the kid. I state this without judgment, as it is the parent's position, not mine, to monitor a child's reading. Then I give the parent the power to decide how they want to support the child and his or her interests:

  • Does the parent think the material is too thematically mature? Violence, relationships, language, etc.? I cite that stories with elements that challenge children have been found to benefit them and develop their understanding of the world, but not promote the behaviors themselves. Is the parent concerned the child can't work through the elements on his or her own? Then read the book together! So many families have come back to tell me that, after reading a book together that they had thought would be inappropriate, they had great family discussions and strengthened both their relationships and their love of reading.
  • Does the parent think the material is too scary? I point out that research shows encountering frightening situations within the boundaries of a story helps children to work through their fears in a safe, non-threatening setting. And again, discussion after reading a story can do wonders for ensuring that story leaves a positive impact.
  • Does the parent have concerns because of what they've heard about an item from friends, religious groups, television, etc.? In these situations, I have found that my opinion doesn't count for much--why should a parent trust me, a relatively unknown person, over a voice whom they trust? Instead I provide some options for finding out what people in the know have to say. What age range does School Library Journal recommend as the readers? Has Booklist cited any potential red zones? I am careful to use only reputable library resources--the same ones we use when deciding what materials to purchase for the collection. A critical opinion can do wonders for putting a parent's mind at ease.
How do you repond to parent concerns? How have intellectual freedom and serving children overlapped in your library?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Looking Forward to #ala12

I'm heading out to Anaheim today for the 2012 ALA Annual Conference. When I attended in New Orleans last year, I was actively looking for a job. As a result, I spread out the types of sessions I attended to make myself more marketable (some kids, some teen, some adult), and I went to quite a few networking events and resume/interview workshops. I loved ALA last year--LOVED it. So many interesting people, so many great ideas, so many fabulous authors and events... This year, though, I'm very excited to be experiencing #ala12 from my position of a children's librarian who is in charge of all things children's at a branch.

In no particular order, here are the top five things I'm looking forward to at this year's conference:
  • The sessions and workshops -- I have already gotten lots of enjoyment out of perusing the session and workshop offerings for the conference. So far I've scheduled myself to attend a handful of science programming sessions, an Every Child Ready to Read program, and a session on maximizing volunteer contributions. I am ready to learn a LOT, and I plan to bring tons of ideas back to my branch and my colleagues.
  • Live blogging the conference on the ALSC Blog -- I'm going to be one of the folks live blogging the conference this year! Once or twice a day, I'll post some shorter pieces on the ALSC blog that mention highlights of the conference and the sessions I attend, etc. I love following live blog postings for conferences I can't attend, and I'm very excited to contribute to the live blogging this year.
  • The Newbery/Caldecott Banquet and the Printz Reception -- I love the whole idea of award-winning books; I read tons of Newbery winners when I first got into chapter books, and those shiny medals really draw a lot of young readers to some great titles. I'll be attending the Newbery/Caldecott Banquet, where Jack Gantos and Chris Raschka will speak, as well as the Printz Reception, where the 2012 Printz Award and Honor winners will share some words of wisdom and humor. These events are like the Oscars of the conference for children's and YA librarians, and I am psyched to attend.
  • Meeting authors -- Lots of authors are at the conference to promote their work, do signings, and participate in panels and sessions. I am most looking forward to meeting Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket) and saying "hi" to Peter Brown, who did an author event at my library last September.
  • The exhibit hall -- The exhibit hall at this conference is beyond crazy, folks. Crazy in a very, very good way. There are exhibits of publishers, library vendors, furniture folks, and everything you could possibly imagine as related to libraries. It's fun to get some of the advance reader copies (ARCs) of forthcoming books from publishers, but I also look forward to exploring some of the furniture and supply options that I could add in my branch. Also, I'm on the hunt for a really great animal puppet. Fingers crossed I'll be successful.
It's going to be a great conference, I can feel it! I hope you're looking forward to following along.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Jump Into the Sky

Jump Into the Sky, an historical fiction novel for middle-grade readers by Shelley Pearsall, tells the story of the summer that everything in Levi's life changes.
Levi's mother left the family when he was young, and with his father enlisted in the military during World War II, Levi has been living with his aunt in a small apartment in Chicago. After his aunt gets a feeling about the end of the war nearing, she sends Levi on a train to the South to meet up with his father on his military base. The rural South is a much different place than urban Chicago, and Levi comes face to face with the harsh realities of racial prejudice. While he does not find his father at the base, his does meet up with one of his father's fellow soldiers--and Levi learns that his father's claims of jumping out of airplanes are in fact true. His father is one of the Tuskegee Airmen.
Throughout this thoughtful, moving historical novel, Levi travels the country, becomes acquainted with the kind and not-so-kind characters in the world, and learns the true meaning of honor. Levi's young, developing voice makes for compelling and interesting narration, and the reader really gets a feel for what Levi goes through emotionally during the summer his life entirely changes course. Readers of historical and military fiction will love the rich detail of the novel, but all young readers who enjoy developing a relationship with a character will find this a captivating read.
Jump Into the Sky will be released by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, on August 14, 2012.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Thinking Outside the Book: Summer Seek and Finds

Tons of kids come through the library over the summer. Sometimes, they are literally running around the library--the children's section in particular. Lots of librarians have great ideas on how to capitalize on this captive summer audience of library kids. At some point in the past, one of the women who held my job before me decided that if the kids are going to be running amok in the library during the hot summer months, they may as well acquaint themselves with where things are located. Thus was born the Summer Seek and Find, now a much-loved summer tradition at my branch.

During each of the nine weeks of summer reading, families who come into the library are greeted with our Summer Seek and Find sign. On that sign, a large picture of a children's book character is displayed. The goal, then, is for kids to find the corresponding small picture of said character somewhere in the children's area of the library. When they find the character, they report its location to the reference desk for a small prize (a piece of candy, a Dream Big READ tattoo, etc.). Keep in mind that my branch doesn't have a huge children's section; we've got a 15'x15' area with picture books on three sides, four aisles of juvenile fiction, an aisle of juvenile audiovisual, and three aisles of juvenile nonfiction. What I'm saying is, there aren't too many places that these characters can hide. This activity is not meant to be particularly difficult.

It is, however, meant to introduce kids of all ages to the various collections housed in the children's area. For our first week this summer, Kipper was hiding out in the juvenile biographies. Last week the Man in the Yellow Hat was hanging out by our holiday picture books. That's two collections kids might not have known about! And, after completing the Summer Seek and Find, now they do. Bam! Library skills.

This week kids are searching for Martha the dog, and while you can see she's hiding amidst the chapter books, we don't let kids get the prize just for sharing that general piece of information. We ask for a more specific description--what books are nearby? what are some of the authors around her? what does the aisle sign read for that row of shelves? The goal is for kids to become more acquainted with the library's set-up and variety of resources, and we try to encourage seekers to look at their surroundings as they seek. Sure, a few kids grumble as we send them back into the stacks to take more notice of a character's location, but plenty more kids end up choosing a book from the area around a hidden character. There are even more young pre-readers who are thrilled to look for a much-loved character somewhere in the library. Everyone who participates in the Summer Seek and Find gets something out of it.

I highly recommend giving the Summer Seek and Find a chance at your library. It doesn't take a whole lot of work--print the signs and pictures, create tally sheets if you want to keep statistics, and change the character and hiding place every week. Ta-da! Now you've got 400+ kids who learn something new about the library each week. Add that to all the reading they're doing for the SRP, and the library is definitely keeping kids' brains engaged during these hot summer months.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Mark Twain Reviews: The Familiars and Twenty Gold Falcons

I finished the last two Mark Twain Readers Award nominees, you guys! Now I can vary my reading for a bit! I must say, though, that while I'm glad to be able to pick up some other books for the next few weeks, this batch of a dozen titles is really great--there's something for every older elementary reader.

The Familiars by Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson is the story of Aldwyn, a stray alley cat who, through a series of evasive maneuvers and a bit of luck, finds himself chosen as the familiar of a young wizard. Despite his total lack of magical ability, Aldwyn has quite a bit of skill--which comes in handy when it appears the sorceress queen of the land has taken a turn toward evil. After the three young wizards whom they accompany are kidnapped, Aldwyn and his new friends go on an adventure of their own in order to rescue the children. And hopefully they'll thwart some evil along the way. This story is fast-paced, has characters with strong personalities, and takes place in a world ready for an imaginative reader. I'll be recommending this title to readers who enjoy fantasy, adventure, and animal tales.

Twenty Gold Falcons by Amy Gordon follows Aiden Farmer, who after the death of her father has recently relocated from her farm in Minnesota to the city in which her mother grew up. Aiden isn't a huge fan of this move--she's met some bratty kids at her private school, her mother seems too occupied with returning to her previous city life, and she misses the comforts of her familiar farm life. Everyone at the Ingle Building is friendly to her, though, and soon she finds out about some gold coins--twenty gold falcons--that are likely still hidden in its walls. Aiden thinks that finding the coins can allow her to buy back her farm, so she enlists the help of a classmate and a cousin to try to discover their secret hiding place. Along the way, she makes a few friends, gets into a few sticky situations, and learns a lot more about herself and her family than she could have expected. This book would be great for readers who don't quite feel like they fit in, as Aiden thoughtfully narrates how she feels about being in a new place where she feels alone. I'll be recommending Twenty Gold Falcons to readers who enjoy a bit of mystery as well as those who are looking for a soft-spoken character to relate to.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Father's Day at the Library

Let me confess something: I love when dads bring their kids into the library. Of course, I love it when anyone brings kids into the library. Since dads joining their children for a library outing happens much less frequently than, say, outings with moms or grandparents, though, I really love seeing kids' excitement as they get to share the library and their favorite stories with their dads. For this very reason, I try to encourage male role models to bring their children into the library. I always mention moms and dads when talking about interacting with little ones in my baby programs, and I offer programming that kids and dads tend to enjoy: science, for one; a monthly Lego club; and Star Wars. The possibilities are many, and the benefits of involving all members of the family at the library are even greater.

Even when dads can't make it to the library, though, I've noticed that kids LOVE talking about them. After many a story time and craft, children have come up to me to report how excited they are to tell Dad what they did at the library. Dads are a part of the library no matter what. Thus, in this week leading up to Father's Day, we're giving kids ways to celebrate their dads at the library. One fun, secretly-educational way to celebrate: our June take-home activity. Like our Mother's Day activity, it is a connect-the-dots/coloring/writing activity. The goal, besides being fun, is to reinforce some pre-reading skills: sequence, writing, holding a writing/coloring implement, expressing one's ideas in words, etc. Plus it makes for a nifty little card to give to Dad on Sunday!

On the story side of things, my colleague is offering a whole Father's Day-themed preschool story time this week. And while I'm not sure of all the details of her program, I want to share one of my favorite books to celebrate Dad. My Dad, My Hero by Ethan Long is a brightly-illustrated picture book, narrated by a young boy, that enumerates the many ways in which his dad is decidedly NOT a superhero. He can't leap over buildings (blocks, of course), or open the tightest pickle jar lid--as demonstrated both by the text and, hilariously, by the illustrations. Despite Dad's lack of superhero powers, though, the boy concludes that his dad is still his hero. This book really touches on a feeling that is true for so many children: Dad is awesome and heroic.

How will you be helping kids celebrate dads at the library this week?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Summer Reading Volunteers: The First Week

It was a busy first week of summer reading at my library! It's looking like this may be a blockbuster summer--tons of kids and teens signing up for and participating in the reading programs, lots of half-full displays from so many books circulating, and high demand for our variety of programs. I've been able to observe the enthusiastic chaos and interact with excited kids for one primary reason: I have great volunteers handling the bulk of the summer reading program workload.

The children's side of our
summer reading station.
I'm happy to say that the first week of summer reading sign-ups (and, toward the end of the week, prize distribution) went very well overall. As each volunteer arrived for his or her shift, I gave a "tour" of our mobile summer reading station--during volunteer-staffed hours, it has its own location and table in the library, and during non-volunteer hours it gets wheeled behind the reference desk. I made the tour a bit of a training refresher, and I noticed that many of the volunteers already felt comfortable with the program even before their first shifts. That May training really paid off!

I tried to make sure the volunteers had everything they could possibly need at the summer reading station: book logs, stickers to give to kids who signed up, prizes, program calendars, bookmarks, a stamp to mark when prizes are given... Does your summer reading station at your library have this much stuff, too? I felt like I was surrounding my volunteers with a mountain of Dream Big READ and Own the Night paraphernalia. They proved, though, that they were more than up to the challenge.

Despite the volunteers' level of knowledge and confidence, I made sure to emphasize that the reference desk was only ten feet away should they need anything or have questions. Knowing they weren't totally on their own helped put many first-time volunteers at ease. After the first fifteen minutes of each shift, though, I witnessed all of the volunteers settling into their roles and getting kids excited about the program. It was a beautiful sight.

I did make a few adaptations to my method and to the summer reading station as the week progressed, and I'm making notes to utilize the following tools next summer:

  • I printed out a slideshow handout cheat sheet explaining the core stages of the program (registration, halfway prize, completion prize), including a breakdown describing the exact items a participant of each program should get at each stage. I put these cheat sheets in some magnetic sign holders in front of each volunteer's chair. They all mentioned how helpful they found this sheet.
  • I hung around the summer reading station for the first few customer interactions of each volunteer's shift. That way I could coach and correct them as necessary, and I was able to point out any aspects of the program that I may have forgotten to mention earlier. (There's something about repeating the same information forty-five million times that makes me miss a small but important fact every once in a while...)
  • I encouraged volunteers to immediately sign themselves and their siblings up for the program. Turns out there's nothing quite as motivating as making sure you know how to earn your own prizes!
I'll be interested to see how things continue to develop as the high numbers of registrations turn into high numbers of kids collecting their prizes. I anticipate that these future interactions will involve less explanation on the part of the volunteers, but more time will go into making sure the correct prizes are given, encouraging continued reading, etc. I think my volunteers are ready!

The first week's stats:
  • Total program registrations (children and teens): 897
  • Total volunteer hours worked: 51
  • Number of volunteers helping with summer reading: 27

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Mark Twain Reviews: Palace Beautiful, Hide & Seek, and Out of My Mind

I'm making good progress in getting through the rest of the Mark Twain Readers Award nominees. After this batch, I only have two more left to read.

Palace Beautiful by Sarah DeFord Williams is a thoughtful historical fiction novel about Sadie and her sister, father, and step-father as they move from Houston to Salt Lake City. Set in 1985, the story documents Sadie's befriending the neighbor girl and discovering a secret attic room in her new house. Together with her younger sister Zuzu and her neighbor Bella, Sadie discovers the journal of one of the houses WWI-era residents. The girls make a pact to read the journal together a few entries at a time, and as the story of the journal's owner develops, they start to sense impending trouble in the writer's life. The journal writer's struggles mirror some of Sadie's own fears about her life, and she becomes comfortable in her new surroundings as the girls seek to find the journal's owner. This story is somewhat gentle and richly historical, and many young readers--girls in particular--will delight in the descriptions of life in WWI and the lovely friendship story between Sadie and Bella.

Hide & Seek by Katy Grant follows middle schooler Chase, an avid Arizona biker and hiker, as he encounters an interesting message while out geocaching. On his first solo geocaching adventure, Chase notices a strange message in the geocache's log: "HELP WE NE." Intrigued, Chase returns several days in a row, and he learns that the message has come from two young boys. Despite how much he enjoys spending time out in nature with these two youngsters, Chase starts to worry that they might be in some sort of trouble. What results is a captivating story, part adventure and part heartfelt, as Chase struggles to help his new friends while also keeping himself safe in the Arizona desert. This book will be a great read for sports-minded readers, young boys in particular.

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper is narrated by eleven-year-old Melody, who has never spoken a word as a result of her cerebral palsy. Confined to a wheelchair and dependent on caretakers and family, Melody is bored out of her mind--everyone assumes that since she cannot communicate she is also mentally impaired. On the contrary, Melody is incredibly bright. When she finally finds a way to communicate with the people around her, Melody has lots to say. Despite her ability to assert her intelligence and unique personality, Melody struggles with her fellow fifth graders, not all of whom seem willing to accept her as a regular elementary school girl. Out of My Mind is a wonderful, wonderful story documenting just how frustrating Melody can find her life--and how, when push comes to shove, her frustrations, challenges, and fears aren't really that different from those of any other child. I'll be highly recommending this novel to readers who enjoy realistic fiction and school stories, and I'll be booktalking it along with Lord's Rules and Erskine's Mockingbird.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Bouncing Babies: Programming for the Littlest Library Kids

In my library, we strive to offer programs for children at every age. My entire department shares responsibility for the requisite school-age programs and preschool story times, and one of my staff offers regular two-year-old story times as well. That just leaves the littlest library-goers: babies and toddlers. Happily, the job of offering a twice-monthly babies and toddlers story time falls to me.

In creating a program plan for my Bouncing Babies program, which serves children 1 month through 23 months and their caregivers, I try to keep a few key ideas in mind. First, it's never too early to start developing crucial pre-reading skills (ECRR--need I say more?). Second, I believe it is also never too early to start forming positive associations with the library. I strive for all of the little ones to have a good time so that the library becomes a comfortable, loved place. And lastly, I believe that the grown-up caregivers of children under age two can sometimes feel starved for a bit of interaction with other grown-ups. My programs should be an opportunity for them to destress, too.

With all of those points in mind, I have created the following program format for my Bouncing Babies programs. The program lasts about 30 minutes plus some time for free play, and I don't deviate from that format very much--really, the fundamental components stay the same from week to week, which allows for a sense of routine that is comfortable to both babies and grown-ups.

(A few things to keep in mind: I print out a sheet with all of the songs and rhymes and pass it out as folks arrive; that way no one feels unable to sing along if they want to. Also, I start every session by mentioning that the door to the program room, while closed, is unlocked, so if anyone starts to have a meltdown, child and caregiver can step out for a few minutes and return when calmed down. I also stress that it's okay if a child doesn't want to stay by Mom but instead wants to run around--different learning styles and all. Finally, I pepper the program with little child development factoids about the importance of animal sounds, why nursery rhymes are so important, why "practicing" holding books is a good story time activity, etc. Parents have said they really appreciate learning these little bits of information, and it helps them realize why continuing early literacy activities at home is so important.)

Enough of the background. Here's what I do:

Bouncing Babies

Songs and Rhymes
     I start every session with a welcome song that I most definitely copied from the library at which I interned in grad school: "Hello, Everybody, and How Are You?". The song, below, provides a definitive sense of the story time starting, and it usually goes on long enough to allow for any stragglers to make their way into the program room before things really get going. Also, in repeating the song for each child, the little ones get to hear their names--one of the first sounds they really tune in to. It's like magic for calming down even the crankiest of toddlers.

Hello, Everybody, and How Are You?

Hello, everybody*, and how are you?
How are you? How are you?
Hello, everybody*, and how are you?
How are you today?

*repeat with each child's name

     I always emphasize that bouncing and clapping along to the rhythm of the opening song, as well as the rest of the songs and rhymes, is really beneficial to babies and toddlers. Not only is the movement fun, but it starts to introduce little ones to the idea of rhythm--a fundamental component of language and reading.
     We spend the next ten-ish minutes as a group singing the songs and saying the rhymes on the handout. These include nursery rhymes (Hey, Diddle Diddle), traditional children's songs (Baa, Baa, Black Sheep), and bounce and tickle rhymes (Round About, Round About). I repeat each one at least twice, as the first time around is usually a demonstration and folks don't always chime in until the second time. Admittedly, sometimes the mood of the group prohibits us from getting through all the rhymes. That's another reason I make the handout, though--caregivers can take it home and do the rhymes there.

     I always share a short, easy-to-see book with the group--it's a great way to start modeling story time behavior for future story time participants. I choose books that have fun interactive components, peek-a-boo flaps in particular. Since these books inevitably fall apart when they are circulated, it's a treat to enjoy these books in a program. All of my copies are staff copies for the program only, so they stay in good condition. Some of my favorites: Peek-a-Moo!Good Morning, Toucan; anything Spot; and Moo Baa La La La.
     Next comes time for booksharing between child and caregiver. I have a basket full of fun, age-appropriate board books that are wonderful for exploring how books work. Again, none of these resources is used for anything except my Bouncing Babies programs. Since I control their use, I'm able to include some great interactive books. Think Usborne Touchy-Feeling Books, Dwell Studio's great Touch and Feel or Circle books, any anything else with manipulable elements. Oh, and I also include lots of Sandra Boynton because they're just so much fun!

     After we put away our books, I break out our hand bells. I was able to purchase some baby-safe musical bells with a grant from our Friends of the Library, and they've been a hit ever since. Despite my initial worry that the noise of the collective bells ringing would be too much for some babies, EVERYONE loves this part of the program. Depending on the mood of the group, we'll sometimes have a little parade, shaking our bells along to some classical music. Other times we stay where we are and try ringing our bells high, low, fast, and slow. Lots of investigation into how bells work happens at this point.

Books, Bells, and Tactile Balls!
     Play is so important to the development of little ones, and I would consider myself horribly remiss if I didn't include time to play into our program schedule. Right now I offer two Bouncing Babies programs per month, and I alternate toys from session to session. Some weeks I break out some foam building blocks--plenty for everyone to play and build. Other weeks I dump out my box of tactile balls--some with ridges, some with bumps, some with holes, etc. From this point on, the rest of the program is free play. Little ones are free to explore and experiment with the toys available to them, and it is wonderful to see them figure out how to manipulate what they've got in their hands. It's important to me that all the toys be different bright colors--that way the almost-twos in the program can get a bit of color reinforcement out of playtime while their younger counterparts are chewing on whatever they've got. Everyone's happy! (I always emphasize to caregivers that the toys are cleaned after each program, so exploring with one's mouth is okay by me--after all, it's developmentally appropriate!)

That's what I do at my Bouncing Babies programs. Attendance has steadily risen since I started at my library last August, and at this point I offer two sessions each program day--10 a.m. and 11 a.m.--in order to accommodate all the families who want to attend. What better confirmation of a good program is there than a room packed with happy parents and giggling babies?

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Mark Twain Reviews: Drizzle, Ghost Dog Secrets, and Half Upon a Time

I've been making progress toward my goal of reading all of the 2012-2013 Mark Twain Readers Award nominees. Here are the synopses and recommendations of the last three I've finished:

Drizzle by Kathleen Van Cleve is the story of Polly Peabody, who lives on her family's magical rhubarb farm. You don't think rhubarb farming can be magical? Well, it is on this farm, which grows giant rhubarb and chocolate rhubarb, and where it rains every Monday at exactly 1 p.m. despite the farm's location in a drought-prone area of the country. Things start to seem much less perfect and magical, though, when Polly's beloved aunt decides she wants to sell the farm despite the protests of Polly and her family. When her aunt leaves town, that much-needed rain suddenly stops--and all sorts of chaos breaks out. Polly must determine if she's the sort of girl who can reverse the bad luck while her family and their livelihood seem to be headed for total disaster. This fanciful yet heartfelt story deals with such ubiquitous topics as bullying, feeling afraid, the trials of friendship, and the difficulty in living up to your potential. I'll be recommending this book for some of my more self-conscious readers who may need a bit of literary encouragement to come out of their shells.

Ghost Dog Secrets by Peg Kehret is a lovely story about doing the right thing and fighting for the underdog--literally. When Rusty sees a dog chained to a tree day after day without food, water, or shelter, he and his best friend decide to try to help. Their class at school has been focusing on addressing problems in their community, and Rusty takes this message to heart as he "rescues" the dog, who he names Ra. It turns out Ra's owner very much wants his dog back--and he's willing to intimidate and threaten Rusty in the process. To make matters even more interesting, Rusty can see a ghost collie who seems to want him to protect Ra at all costs. Ghost Dog Secrets mixes the realistic themes of a boy and his pet, school difficulties, family dynamics, and animal cruelty with some supernatural elements and a bit of thriller suspense that will hook almost any young reader.

Half Upon a Time by James Riley is a fantastic fractured fairy tale. Jack has never been keen on his hero training--all the princesses are spoken for, so why risk his neck with adventure? When a princess literally falls from the sky, however, Jack finds himself engaged in a quest beyond anything he could have imagined. He and the princess, May, don't quite get along, but Jack is willing to put up with her, a slightly annoying prince, and a good deal of danger to help May find her kidnapped grandmother. Along the way we meet a giant, some dwarves, the Wolf King, and all manner of characters from fairy tales of old. There is plenty of adventure and humor in this tale to appeal to the average school-age reader, but the wonderful spin on fairy tale classics and some great fairy tale puns make this novel an above-average addition to the genre. I'll be recommending this title to readers looking for adventure, humor, and a bit of fun, and I'll probably read aloud from it at some summer programs, too.