Monday, July 30, 2012

Pete the Cat

Pete the Cat is a rock star.

You've met Pete the Cat, right? The uber-cool feline creation of illustrator James Dean and writer/musician Eric Litwin? Since Pete the Cat appeared in Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes in 2010, my oh my has he become a bona fide celebrity.

Example: I visit a daycare/preschool group once a month, and after I first shared Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes with them last November, they have asked me repeatedly if I'll bring the story to read again. Every month they ask if Pete is in my story time bag, and on more than one occasion we've told the story together by heart--words and songs!--without the help of the print book. Kids love Pete the Cat.

Librarians, teachers, and parents love Pete, too, because his books are fun, catchy, and educational. Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes is all about colors and cause and effect. Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes gives kids the confidence and comfort to go off to school/preschool/etc. And the most recent book in the series, Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons, tackles counting and losing things with Pete's signature mellow attitude and catchy tune. See the book trailer below to see what I mean--the concept and song are great!

I'm waiting until the school year kicks off and I start making my regular preschool and daycare story time visits to share Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons with library audiences, but I got a copy for my cousin's two-year-old daughter --and all signs indicate she's already hooked. Suffice it to say that Pete the Cat passes pretty much all tests: regardless of age, attention span, language ability, concept knowledge, or anything at all, every kiddo who's met Pete the Cat has loved him.

Grab a Pete the Cat story for a program and, as Pete himself would say: It's all good!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Bulk Book Reviews: Middle grade novels that will take you places

Loftin, Nikki. The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy. Razorbill. Aug. 2012. p. 304.
     Lorelei's life hasn't been so great lately; her mother died a year ago, her father has just gotten remarried to a superficial and deceptive woman, her brother is being mean to her, and her school has burned down. Luckily there's a new school in the area, and the kind principal of Splendid Academy seems like a fairy godmother after all Lorelei has been going through. Lorelei and her friends are completely in love with this new school, with its amazing playground, lax classroom rules, and divine food--breakfast, lunch, snacks galore... But everything might not be as wonderful as it seems. When Lorelei and her new friend Andrew team up to find out the truth about Splendid Academy, they end up having to use their wits and their wiles to overcome the witchy magic that threatens all of the unsuspecting students. This adventure tale has a steady pace and intriguing plot, but it goes deeper than the average fairy tale-esque adventure. The story also explores a child's guilt after a loved one's death, bullying, and obesity in a fashion that does not feel heavy-handed.

Dashner, James. The Infinity Ring: A Mutiny in Time. Scholastic. Aug. 2012. p. 192.
     Dak and Sera, two genius pre-teens, live in an alternate present in which a nefarious group called the SQ is in control of everything across the globe. History, Dak's favorite topic, is noticeably different from what readers know; for example, Christopher Columbus was thrown overboard during a mutiny on his momentous voyage, and the mutineers were credited with the discovery of the Americas. It turns out that Dak's parents have been working on a time travel device called an Infinity Ring, and a secret group called the Hystorians have an large interest in the device. Each major break from the historical timeline as readers know it, it seems, has done damage to the fabric of time, resulting in horrible natural disasters as Earth barrels toward destruction. After Dak and Sera find themselves in the secret headquarters of the Hystorians, they learn just how important the Infinity Ring is to righting the wrongs in history--and the fate of the world falls to their hands. This first title in a new, multi-author series has a definite 39 Clues-style look and feel, and the well-plotted adventures of the dynamic leading pair have a captivating amount of humor and intrigue. Sure to be a hit with fans of The 39 Clues series.

Bachmann, Stefan. The Peculiar. Greenwillow Books. Sept. 2012. p. 384.
     Bartholomew is a changling in an England totally unfriendly to those with human and fairy blood. He and his sister need to stay hidden for their safety--especially now that changlings have been turning up murdered in the Thames. When an MP stumbles upon the horrendous plot behind the murders, he goes to great lengths to try to thwart the malicious intentions of a fellow parliamentarian. The stakes become even higher for everyone once Bartholomew's sister is kidnapped and the clock begins to tick ever nearer to a cataclysmic event. This narrative-heavy debut looks to be the first in a series, and its combination of steampunk, fantasy, and science fiction elements will appeal to readers in a variety of genres.

Avi. Sophia's War: A Tale of the Revolution. Beach Lane Books. Sept. 2012. p. 320.
     It is 1776, and Sophia and her family are in New York City, hiding their American Patriot sympathies from the British who are occupying Manhattan. When a British officer comes to board in Sophia's house, the family must even conceal the existence of Sophia's brother William, who is off fighting under George Washington. Sophia has always considered herself as strong a Patriot as her brother, but living with this British officer--with fine manners and flattering words--has left her feeling conflicted about her sympathies. Conflicted, that is, until something horrible happens to Sophia's family and solidifies her feelings toward the British forces. The second half of the book flashes forward to 1780, when Sophia decides to do something to support her Patriot beliefs and agrees to work in a British officer's household as a spy. Sophia uncovers a massive military secret--but it comes from the pen of the officer who once lived in her family's house. Suddenly all the events in Sophia's life are matters of life and death--and her life is not the only one at stake. This engaging historical novel excels with Sophia's strong voice, and her struggle reconciling her political beliefs with her personal feelings comes across as nothing but genuine. Rich with historical detail, this novel will be a great read for fans of Dear America and like series, and its superb writing gives it something more than most books in the genre.

All four novels were reviewed in their galley formats. The final published books may differ from the review copies.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Read Alouds for an Older Crowd

As part of my library outreach, I visit a fair number of year-round daycares. My daycare numbers increase in the summers, since many school-age kids find themselves in these programs once school is out of session. To accommodate this wider age range, I've been asked to provide multiple story times when I visit daycares in the summer: one for the younger kiddos I've been visiting all year, and a second one for the older school-age kids. I'm happy to oblige, even considering the extra planning involved.

These visits do take extra planning--I wouldn't dare read the older kids the same books that I read to the little ones! For one, the older kids would complain about being read "baby" books. And secondly, these kids' school experiences have equipped them for longer, more complex stories. They are able to think at least somewhat abstractly, to recognize themes and morals, and to understand cause and effect with more depth than their younger siblings. Older kids also have more nuanced senses of humor, a fact that makes reading with them all the more enjoyable. I try to keep all of these things in mind when I select stories to read aloud with a school-age group. Here are some of my go-to book categories when planning these outreach story times.

Folk Tales and Fairy Tales
     I'm always surprised at how many kids don't know classic folk and fairy tales these days. Sure, they've got traditional tale references in popular culture (think the Shrek films, kids' tv shows, everything Disney, etc.), but more often than not kids are unfamiliar with the actual story of a folk or fairy tale. Thus I always try to bring at least one such book to my school-age read alouds. Knowing classic tales like Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, and Hansel and Gretel helps kids grasp some of the most common themes in life, and it also prepares them for the allusions they'll see in everything else they read in their lives. Once kids have a basic understanding of common fairy tales, they can get greater enjoyment out of variations, too (e.g., Princess Furball as a wonderful variation on Cinderella). And folk tales have been passed down through the generations for centuries because they impart something true about life to everyone who hears them. Sure, lots of folk tales can be a bit scary--my favorite, Heckedy Peg, included--but kids gobble that up. These older kids are of an age that they enjoy testing their limits, and study after study demonstrates that books and stories are the optimal forum for doing so. If your audience turns out to already know the stories you've selected, you need not fret. These books are almost always beautifully illustrated, and I've known a ten-minute story to take twice that long because everyone wanted to admire the pictures.

 Narrative, Illustrated Non-Fiction
     School-age children have ever-developing understandings of fiction versus non-fiction, and I always love to highlight some amazing true stories in my read alouds to help reinforce this difference. Imagination is important in sharing stories with kids, but the fascination prompted by a true story can often reach that hard-to-please young listener. Luckily for us librarians, there are more and more fantastic non-fiction picture books published every year, and many of these make terrific read alouds. Some of my favorites: Pierre the Penguin, about a penguin who, I am sad to say, has a major problem in that he has no butt feathers (Oh my gosh! The librarian just said "butt!"); and Librarian on the Roof!, an account of one Texas librarian's advocacy for young readers at her library. Sharing true stories like these allows kiddos to not only see the world they know reflected in the pictures of a book, but to also see themselves and the things they care about most.

Proven Favorites
     I probably don't need to make much of an argument to encourage librarians to include their favorite stories in school-age read alouds. After all, we are well aware of the enduring popularity of such titles--maybe we even have fond recollections of having them read aloud to us when we were youngsters. My short argument, then, is this: don't assume just because a book is a proven favorite or classic that kids have read it; and even if they have already read it, don't assume they don't want to read it again. These favorites are like a rite of passage: once a child has read the story, he or she is part of the group that is "in the know." Some perennially popular titles that come to mind are Purple, Green and Yellow and Miss Nelson is Missing! Both of these stories have great endings--one silly and laugh-inducing, one that feels like being let in on a secret. Kids love knowing that they are part of the club that "gets" these books after they've experienced them; and I love that I get to initiate them into that club whose members love books. With titles like these, we all win.

So there you have it, my three most-used categories of read aloud material for older children. What titles do you share with your school-age crowd? What are your go-to types of books?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Where's Waldo? That's a great question.

During my first semester in library school, I took a course called "Representation and Organization." We spent two evenings a week talking about Ranganathan, discussing Library of Congress vs. Dewey, making our own thesauri and indexes...

Oh, my. How to find
the book I want?
UGH. I am putting myself to sleep. To simplify: library organization is really about one single question.

How do people find the library materials they want?

That is a big question, especially when you consider the unique challenges of youth librarianship. How do pre-readers find the books they want when they're not yet able to read spine labels? How do lower elementary students navigate Dewey non-fiction when decimals aren't taught until the fourth grade? How do middle grade and young adult readers find what they want to read when they tend to notice plot points and pacing more than authors and titles? How easy is it to browse versus search the library stacks?

Historical Fiction! Dogs! Humor!
Science Fiction! Mystery!
Do genre stickers help?
I am curious to know what different librarians have to say in response to this major question of how young patrons find what they want. Do you instruct children on the traditional alphebetical and Dewey organizations? Do you adapt your organization schemes like Darien Library, who reorganized their children's picture books, or school librarian Tali Balas Kaplan, who created a homegrown system to replace Dewey? Do you use genre stickers? Color-coding? Theme displays? What do you do to make sure kids can find what they want, regardless of whether they come to the library knowing what that item might be?

I'd love to hear from a bunch of librarians from a variety of libraries I want to know what works for you and your kids.

Friday, July 20, 2012

YA Friday: Fall YA Fiction Releases

For the inaugural YA Friday--a new, semi-regular feature on this blog--I have reviews of some YA fiction that will be released this fall. All three of these titles are sure to be hits with your teen readers as well as mine. Pre-order for your library now!

Bray, Libba. The Diviners. Little, Brown and Company. Sept. 2012. p. 578.
     Evie has a gift: when she holds an object, it tells her the secrets of the person to whom it belongs. This gift makes for a fun party trick, but after she tells the scandalous truth about the wrong golden boy, Evie finds herself sent from Ohio to Manhattan to live with her uncle. But even the fact that her uncle curates the "Museum of the Creepy Crawlies" cannot detract from Evie's excitement at living in prohibition-era Manhattan. She's determined to thoroughly enjoy herself--and who cares that a series of horrible murders is taking place? Evie eventually finds herself caught up in the strange case, however, and things only get stranger as spiritualism, a religious cult, and a terrible prophecy intersect to wreak havoc on the city, Evie, and other people with gifts like hers. As expected of Bray, the story is well crafted and captivating. It is simply stunning how many readers this book will appeal to: it's got mystery, horror, suspense, the paranormal, great twenties historical details and lingo, strong yet flawed characters, multiple storylines, rebellion, romance... in short, there's something for almost everyone. If readers can get past the heft--and they should, it's totally worth it!--they're sure to be pleased.

King, A.S. Ask the Passengers. Little, Brown BFYR. Oct. 2012. p. 304.
     Astrid spends a lot of time on the picnic table in her backyard, looking up into the sky and sending the passengers on airplanes her love. She feels her love is useful to these strangers--but not useful to herself and her life as it stands. Astrid hates her small town, feels criticized and unloved by her mother, and resents her sister's decision to act like the perfect small-town girl her mother wants them to be, all while fighting against the small-town minds that force her to keep her best friend's secret. The thing is, this secret might be Astrid's, too; she just isn't sure yet. When everyone suddenly becomes interested in categorizing and labeling her, Astrid starts to feel like she's had enough. Only then, when she begins to understand and stand up for herself, does Astrid start to see that love is about more than just giving away. A.S. King tells a beautifully written and amazingly heartfelt story of a teenage girl who is frustrated with the world's attempts to put her in a neat little box, especially since she isn't quite sure how she would even define herself. Ask the Passengers is a story of acceptance, self-awareness, trust, love, and questioning--all themes familiar to any young adult, and which they will surely recognize in Astrid's strong voice. King also has a talent for showing just how complicated real teenagers' relationships--with friends, family, and significant others--can be. I cannot say enough good things about this novel. It's a coming of age story not to be missed.

Stiefvater, Maggie. The Raven Boys. Scholastic. Sept. 2012. p. 416.
     Blue has always lived with the paranormal--her mother and their housemates are all psychics, and Blue can amplify the psychic energy they use. And while her mother was never one for giving her rules, she's had one rule for herself for as long as she can remember: stay away from "raven boys," her term for the privileged prep school boys who spend their school year in her town. One group of raven boys may be different, though. Sure, Gansey and Ronan have tons of money; but with their less stereotypically prep-school friends Adam and Noah, they are on a quest involving ley lines and a legendary Welsh king. When Blue sees Gansey's spirit as one marked for death, she feels somehow connected to him; and as she gets to know him and his friends better, it looks as though their fates may all be entwined. With fantastic multi-character narration, a deep and intriguing premise, and several whopper realizations, Maggie Stiefvater once again tells a thoroughly engrossing tale that the reader cannot help but become totally caught up in. The only negative thing I can say about this book is that we'll have to wait for three more in the series to be able to have the story in full.

All books reviewed were advanced reader copies from the publishers; the final print versions may be different than the review copies.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Movies @ the Library

It's hot in Missouri in the summer. I was aware of that weather fact when, in late spring, I was finalizing my summer programming plans and scheduled four movie events. I had no idea, however, just how perfectly I had named these events until we had twelve consecutive days of 100+ temperatures. You see, I call these movie programs "Beat the Heat Movie Treat." How perfect.

On four Fridays during summer reading--two in June, two in July--I host the Beat the Heat Movie Treat programs. The premise is simple: show a movie from the library's collection for a program. This program format is directly in line with one of our programming goals, which is to utilize and promote the library's diverse collections. Just because movies are already popular, high-circulating items doesn't mean they shouldn't get a bit of programming time, too, I reason. Also, movie events like this make for some solid passive programming: minimal work, solid engagement and use of the collection.

To maximize the appeal of these programs, I chose to screen the four children's movies with the highest numbers of reserve requests (That's Puss in Boots, Hugo, The Adventures of Tintin, and Alvin and the Chipmunks 3: Chipwrecked for us). My rationale in choosing these movies is twofold: 1) they are obviously popular and are thus recognizable, easy-to-promote titles; and 2) with so many reserve requests, a family can expect to have to wait a month or more before getting to borrow the movie from the library. Beat the Heat Movie Treat provides a way to see some popular movies without the wait time (so long as the movies are covered by your public performance license, of course!).

Another big draw: we show the movie in a nicely air-conditioned room during the hottest part of the day. The large projection of the movie onto a big white wall makes the program akin to visiting the movie theatre, albeit for free. The movie is bigger than a viewer would get at home, the space is cool after a hot, humid morning... And we provide some snacks. Popcorn is a must, and lately I've been offering some small individually-wrapped candies or snack cakes, too, along with water and juice. As for seating, kids and their grown-ups decide whether they want to sit in chairs or stack sit-upon cushions on the ground in front of the screen. I also provide a selection of watch-alike films for check-out following the main attraction. Then, when the lights go down and the movie begins, it's 90-120 minutes of visual story, tasty snacks, and cool relaxation. Not a bad way to spend a library visit, I'd say.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Summer Outreach Story Time!

Smelly bears, animal motions, and a variety of trucks; that's what we've got going on at my library outreach story times this summer. I feel like creating program plans for summer story times can be difficult--kids have so much stimulation in the summertime that they don't necessarily have it in them to sit still for a thirty minute story time. What's a librarian to do, then? I opt for choosing stories that have high audience appeal and lots of opportunities for movement and interaction. Throw in some fun and familiar songs and rhymes, and maybe a craft and some bubbles, and all the little kids forget about the pool and the playground during story time.

Opening Song: "Open, Shut Them"

Story: Big Smelly Bear by Britta Teckentrup
     Big Smelly Bear is big and smelly, and he likes being that way. Sometimes he wishes he had a friend, but other than those moments he is totally content. Totally content, that is, until he gets a horrendous itch on his back that he cannot scratch by himself. A fluffy bear remarks that she might help Big Smelly Bear if he would bathe first, and after a bit of persuading, Big Smelly Bear hops in the lake to clean off. Now he has no itch, not stench, and a new friend. This is a great silly story that gets lots of giggles, and it also doubles as support for why baths are important. A timely topic for a dusty summer, I think.

Fingerplay: "Where is Thumbkin?"

Story: From Head to Toe by Eric Carle
     In lovely pictures with plenty of white space, Carle takes the reader through a list of common and popular animals and some of the actions they can do. The penguin can turn his head, the giraffe can bend his neck... and after each of these animals, the child is asked if he or she can imitate the movement. I like to have everyone stand up for this story, and we take our time going through it. By the end, we've made something of an animal action parade, with kids turning their necks, waving their arms, kicking their feet, and having all sorts of fun. Great story for wiggly ones, and it reinforces vocabulary along the way.

Rhyme: "I Am a Windshield Wiper" (modified from Storytime Katie)

I Am a Windshield Wiper
I am a windshield wiper (bend elbow atop other arm)
And this is how I go (move arm up and down like a wiper)
Back and forth, back and forth (continue wiper motion)
To get rid of the rain and snow! (complete motion)

Story: Tip Tip Dig Dig by Emma Garcia
     This book is fantastic on several levels. One, it has a variety of trucks, and in my experience almost all young children love trucks. Two, it has repetitive words and motions for each truck, so the reading is interactive as kids say the words and do the motions along with the reader. Third, the story has direction; the story starts with a messy field, and during the story the trucks work to turn it into a beautiful park. I love to show the opening and closing picture spreads after we're done sharing the story so kids can really see the work the trucks accomplished.

Craft: Garbage Trucks
     Sticking with the final trucks theme, I have coloring sheets showing a large garbage truck for each child. I have crayons and colored pencils out for each child to color his or her garbage truck, and I also have glue sticks and scraps of tissue paper so kids can glue "garbage" onto their trucks. Kids love the versatility and open-endedness of this craft, and they love crumpling up the tissue paper, too. Moms and teachers appreciate how relatively simple yet fun the craft it.

     For outreach story times that take place in the library branch, we often times conclude the story time by turning on our bubble machine. Kids flock to it, which means staff can begin to clean up after the craft. Since we use the bubble machine at the end of these sessions, it also signals to the children that story time is almost over--once the bubbles stop, they find mom or dad and head out into the library. The bubbles are lots of fun and help to frame the story time.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Book Bunch Picnic Lunch

Summer reading: the time of year when we encourage kids to meticulously count the number of books they read or the amount of time they spend reading. We mention that listening to audiobooks and listening to other people read aloud counts as reading, but does that option really register with them? What can I, the librarian, do to promote all sorts of reading among kids of all ages?

Recent reads at Book Bunch Picnic Lunch

Well, for one thing, I can read to them. Who says story times have to stop after preschool? (Although calling it "story time" post-preschool age is a surefire way to massively limit school-age attendance.) I love listening to books read aloud, and all sorts of folks--teachers, researchers, literacy specialists--emphasize that school-age kids do, too. That's why I offer a series of programs during summer reading called Book Bunch Picnic Lunch.

Our picnic area
Book Bunch Picnic Lunch is exactly what it sounds like: a bunch of kids and their grown-ups get together at lunchtime for a picnic, during which books are read. As the librarian, I do the reading. I also provide drinks and dessert, so kids need only come equipped with a sack lunch. I spread out a tablecloth on the program room floor (no ants), set out sit-upon cushions for comfort and personal space, and pick some treats--of both the sweet and story kind. Then, for a full hour, I read to the kids gathered around our picnic space.

I read a variety of things. I choose funny picture books that are guaranteed to get some giggles, and I read longer picture books that are nominated for the state award for first through third graders. I read chapters and excerpts from longer books, both fiction and nonfiction. I even read some of my all-time favorite things in librarian read-aloud history, including Miss Nelson is Missing and "The Great Mouse Plot" from Roald Dahl's autobiography Boy (I would be remiss if I didn't mention that reading this chapter aloud has been one of my librarian dreams ever since seeing Meg Ryan read it as the Storybook Lady in You've Got Mail). I always have a variety of books piled around me so I can offer the picnickers options. If they become bored of a tale, we move to something else; if they really enjoy another, they can all crowd around the pictures.

If you do as I do and buy drinks and treats from the dollar bin at the grocery store, this program provides a very effective bang for your buck. It is always such a pleasure to have older children sitting rapt with attention, so enthralled they stop chewing, at a story that has grabbed them; and parents are always keen to say what a luxury it is to have someone else do the reading for a change. Kids make recommendations for the sorts of stories I should read aloud next time, and sure enough, they're at the next Book Bunch Picnic Lunch to see if I've chosen their recommended titles. This program inspires a dedicated following of participants, and the kids actively look forward to the next session. They tell me they would still attend even if they didn't get to count the time as reading on their SRP booklogs. That's praise.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Lists and Librarianship

Librarians, I have found, love lists. There's something satisfying about an ordered compilation of information to those of us who are inclined to categorize and organize. To good librarians, though, lists are a lot more than attractive, accessible bits of information: lists are remarkably useful tools.

Lists have helped me to perform my job better on more occasions than I could reasonably expect to remember. I go to lists of Youth Media Award winners when I'm looking for outstanding children's media across the decades; I go to ALA's lists of frequently challenged books (organized by year, author, frequency of challenges, etc.) when I am preparing displays on censorship or for Banned Books Week; and I use the yearly Notables lists to assess my branch's collection and whether I am offering my young readers access to the best materials. In both the children's and young adult departments of my branch, we use the lists of books nominated for Missouri Readers Awards to order and display the books that local teachers encourage their students to read. And goodness knows we'd be in serious trouble if we didn't have in our collections the books on the weekly NYT and independent bestsellers lists! Without all of these lists, we'd have plenty of kids, teens, and adults coming into the library and then leaving empty-handed because we hadn't anticipated demand. Lists help librarians make sure we have what our customers want to read, and they help guide us in displaying these highly-desire items.

Lists do a lot more, however, than just inform collection development and influence where we display items. Lists are a HUGE help in providing quality readers' advisory services, especially when you work a shared reference desk. I read a lot of juvenile and teen literature, but I cannot rely on my own reading knowledge when an adult who loves mysteries comes to the desk asking for some reading suggestions. Instead, I look once again to lists: lists of Read Alikes from NoveList; genre awards lists; the LibraryThing book tag word clouds and recommendations for a favorite or recently-enjoyed title. The list of lists, as it were, could go on and on. All of these lists help me and my colleagues to serve our customers better.

Ah, customers. It always comes back to them, right? Have you noticed that customers love lists, too? I have tons of library regulars of all ages who will gobble up anything and everything that is on a list, so long as they deem that list reputable. They don't necessarily want to read everything on their aunt's best-reads list, but they will happily read everything that a favorite book blogger or author recommends. Knowing the sorts of recommended reading lists that are out there and offering them to your patrons can be a great way to engage voracious readers and reach out to customers who don't come to the reference desk to ask for help choosing a book (indirect RA, yay!). A few lists we're currently loving at my library:

Last but not least, lists can help librarians with more than just their books. They can help with ideas, with programming, and with all of the odds-and-ends bits of any library job. Online just updated their list of the 100 Best Blogs for School Librarians--and really, this list of phenomenal blogs, curated by broad topic, is applicable to anyone who works with kids and teens in any setting. I've only spent a small amount of time looking through some of the listed blogs, but already I've added a number of them to my Google Reader. There are some real winners on that list.

There are so many ideas for librarians out there, folks. All of that information and inspiration could easily become overwhelming, but luckily for us so much of it is compiled into organized, thoughtful, lovely, and accessible lists.

What are some of your go-to lists that help you shine at your job?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Bulk Book Reviews: Three Upcoming Picture Book Releases

I'm always on the lookout for great new picture books. With so many monthly programs and outreach story times, it's important to stay up to date and to keep things fresh! Here are three titles I'm looking forward to using in my story times once they're released.

Levinthal, David. Who Pushed Humpty Dumpty?: And Other Notorious Nursery Tale Mysteries. illus. by John Nickle. Schwartz & Wade. Sept. 2012. p. 40.
     Officer Binky the frog solves nursery crimes, from who broke into the three bears' house to who poisoned Snow White. With a noir voice and a healthy dose of fractured fairy tale humor, this picture book engages readers familiar with nursery stories in a new, funny way. The illustrations add their own brand of humor to the whole, making for a fun read-aloud for a young school-age crowd.

Smith, Maggie. Pigs in Pajamas. illus. by author. Knopf BFYR. Dec. 2012. p. 32.
     When Penelope Pig hosts a sleepover party, all her piggy friends don their pajamas and head to her house for an evening of fun. The gently rhyming texts is playful, and the emphasis of words beginning with the letter "p" will appeal to parents as well as preschoolers. The illustrations are a great combination of painting and photo collage, and young readers will get lots of enjoyment from trying to spot all of the "p" objects scattered throughout. Sure to be a great read-aloud.

Yaccarino, Dan. Doug Unplugged. illus. by author. Knopf BFYR. Feb. 2013. p. 40.
     Doug is a young robot who learns everything he knows via download. One day, as he is downloading facts about the city, he decides to unplug and follow a pigeon. Suddenly Doug is exploring the wonders of the city firsthand, and he enjoys every moment of it. Yaccarino's bright, fanciful illustrations perfectly suit the simple, joyous story of Doug's discovery of the world and what he learns in it. Pair with Boy + Bot for a fun robot-themed story time.

All three picture books were viewed through Edelweiss, an online interactive, multi-publisher catalog with ARC review capabilities for librarians and other professionals. Try it out!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Thinking Outside the Book: Bring the Celebrities!

Celebrities. They're the faces we all recognize, the folks who make our hearts flutter at the anticipation of seeing them. Imagine if a bona fide celebrity visited your library. People would flock to your branch, right? That's exactly what happened at my branch not that long ago, when we had one of the biggest celebrities make an appearance at an evening family story time.

That's right. We got Curious George.

They're so excited to see Curious George!
"Booking" celeb visitors for your library programs isn't actually all that difficult. You really just need to find a costumed character that your kids love and that your library feels you can afford. Lots of costumed characters come at a flat fee for about a week stay at your library; which means if your character visits several branches, the relative cost keeps going down, down, down. And when you consider just how many kids will show up, very excited, to see your celebrity guest? Yeah, it's totally worth it.

Building a program around a celebrity visit is pretty simple, too; after all, the kids are excited to get to the meet-and-greet portion of the program. Whenever a celebrity visits my library--Max from the Max and Ruby books has also made an appearance this year--I plan a simple three-step lead-in to the character's arrival. We always start with my opening song, "Open, Shut Them," since a room crowded with kids full of anticipatory fidgets can be quite noisy. Then I read aloud a (hopefully) brief story featuring our celeb of the moment (in George's case, Curious George Visits the Library, with a few pages paper-clipped together). Finally we sing a song, which usually gets loud enough to signal to our celebrity guest that it's time to come into the program room. When George visited recently, we had a rousing rendition of "Five Little Monkeys." Let's just say it's a good thing our quiet rooms are way on the other side of the library.

And then Curious George came in. Applause! Giggles! Waving hello! After I introduced George and helped him to his seat, I invited families to make a line to meet him and get a picture with him. Since we always have 50+ kids at these celebrity story times, I make sure to have plenty of activities to keep them busy until it's their turn to meet the character. With Curious George, we had tables with Curious George coloring sheets (from the PBS website), a yellow hat craft, and a swinging monkeys craft. Sure, there was a lot going on at once during that latter half of the program, but everyone was engaged and having a good time. And by the time the last child left the program room, having gotten a picture with Curious George and clutching a variety of Curious George craft swag, the program felt like a total success.

It's not every day you can have a whirlwind program resulting in so many happy kids with relatively little staff and materials cost. Just another reason to think outside the book and consider inviting your favorite characters to visit your library.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Bulk Book Reviews: Upcoming Middle Grade Fiction Releases

I've been reading a lot of middle grade fiction since returning from ALA. I picked up a variety of middle grade galleys, and my goal has been to read them before I give them away as prizes during an upcoming lock-in (more on that in August, I promise). I'd say I'm making good progress so far, especially considering how many of these titles I've been adding to my mock Newbery list. Take a look:

Stead, Rebecca. Liar & Spy. Wendy Lamb Books. Aug. 2012. p. 208.
     Georges and his family have just moved from his childhood home into an apartment, and the fact that the move has kept him in the same neighborhood of Brooklyn where he's always lived doesn't make it any easier. Georges feels picked on at school, but in his hours at home he befriends Safer, a boy his age who lives upstairs and who has undertaken a spy mission. As Georges gets involved in Safer's increasingly risky surveillance scheme, he starts to adjust to his new normal and learn what it takes to stick up for himself--with bullies, with classmates, with friends, and with his family. This wonderful story is equal parts funny, suspenseful, and heartfelt, and it is a superb coming-of-age tale that will appeal to both male and female middle grade readers.

Bauer, Joan. Almost Home. Viking. Sept. 2012. p. 272.
     Sugar is really enjoying her English class at school; her teacher, Mr. Bennett, is encouraging her to write, and her poetry has started helping her work through her less-than-perfect home situation. When she and her mother are evicted from their house, however, Sugar has to switch schools; the homeless shelter is too far from where she started the year. Things get much worse for Sugar before there is any hope on the horizon: after moving to Chicago and not getting a job she was counting on, Sugar's mother has a mental breakdown, leaving Sugar at the mercy of Social Services in this new city. As Sugar meets people who have her best interests at heart, her poetry takes on a whole new, strong voice. Sugar is a beautifully developed character, and her thoughts and poems had me absolutely spellbound. Readers who enjoy tales of triumph over hardship (think Love, Aubrey or Wonder) will surely enjoy this magnificent novel, which I'm pegging for Newbery consideration.

Oliver, Lauren. The Spindlers. illus. by Iacopo Bruno. Harper. Sept. 2012. p. 246.
     Liza's younger brother Patrick is acting strangely, and Liza knows what that means: the spindlers have stolen his soul. Her beloved babysitter, who first told Liza and Patrick about the spindlers, is away at college, so Liza must go "below" on her own in order to save Patrick. Along the way she encounters a number of fanciful creatures and threatening situations, all culminating with the difficult tests set in front of her by the spindler queen. This middle grade fantasy novel is full of adventure and themes of loyalty, and it has a decidedly Alice feel to it--in a good way.

L'Engle, Madeleine. A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel. illus. by Hope Larson. Farrar Strous Giroux. Oct. 2012. p. 392.
     "It was a dark and stormy night." To a children's librarian, these opening words are iconic. A Wrinkle in Time has long been a classic, and with reason: it is a suspenseful, compelling story about fighting for those you love as well as for yourself, and it includes some serious science without ever sounding dumbed down (L'Engle is famous for taking kids and their powers of understanding seriously). This graphic novel version of the classic Newbery winner captures all that is wonderful about the original while adding in beautiful, sometimes playful and sometimes ominous illustrations. This graphic edition will be well-loved by fans of L'Engle's Time Quintet, and it will help introduce Meg and Charles-Wallace Murray and Calvin O'Keefe to a variety of new readers.

Lin, Grace. Starry River of the Sky. illus. by the author. Little, Brown and Company. Oct. 2012. p. 294.
     Rendi has stowed away in a wine merchant's cart, but when he is discovered, he is forced to become the chore boy at the Inn of Clear Sky. He hates his situation until a mysterious woman comes to stay at the inn: Madame Chang, who tells beautiful stories. With the help of Madame Chang's folk tales and the kindness of his new living companions, Rendi starts to comprehend his own story--as well as his own role in it. With the help of beautiful illustrations, Lin creates a lovely narrative populated with short and wonderful folk stories. This novel is about discovering who you are deep down, and it also serves as a marvelous look into traditional Chinese storytelling culture. Perfect for middle grade readers who want to be transported to a new, yet not too fantastical, place when they read.

All books reviewed were advanced reader copies from the publishers; the final print versions may be different than the review copies.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Summer Reading Volunteers: We're Halfway Through the Program!

It's official: we're halfway done with our summer reading programs at my library. That means we've drawn the names of the winners of the Cardinals tickets drawing (an incentive for signing up in the first month), and we've started making serious dents in our boxes of prizes. And while we haven't seen the onslaught of families running to the summer reading station that we did that first week, we have had a steady stream of enthusiastic kids coming to claim their prizes and talk about what they've been reading. Participation is high, and there have been lots of people in the library. Which means we might have had total chaos if not for our summer reading volunteers.

I've been so impressed by our volunteers, who are all teens; they always act professionally and represent the library well. When our volunteers have had downtime--and that does happen for stretches of each shift--they've been doing a great job of staying engaged and not looking bored. I emphasize that summer reading volunteers can read during the slow times, counting that reading toward their own summer reading goals. I've had a few great what-I've-been-reading conversations with these volunteers in these quieter moments, and I was excited to get to promote some upcoming titles during these talks. (I even mentioned that some of the most coveted ARCs will be available as prizes at our upcoming district-wide TAB lock-in... Woot!)

A few volunteers who are skilled organizers and multitaskers have even taken on the responsibility of restocking SRP supplies and preparing program crafts for children's staff. Suffice it to say, these summer reading volunteers have been a huge help. They are very much earning the volunteer appreciation party awaiting them after the close of summer reading... And that's all I'll say about that reward for now. :)

First month's stats:
  • Total program registrations (children and teens): 1783
  • Total volunteer hours worked: 213
  • Number of volunteers helping with summer reading: 33

Monday, July 2, 2012

Crafting the Red, White, & Blue

I've seen lots of kids in the library wearing their American flag t-shirts lately. We've had a run on books about parades and Independence Day, and I've overheard at least one conversation about fireworks. Kids love the Fourth of July--have you noticed? There's something about being out of school, staying up to enjoy the long summer days, and the promise of pools and popsicles.

I try to notice when kids at the library are really into something. And then I work it into my programming. This week: patriotic crafts!

Patriotic Paper Lanterns
The take-home craft at my branch for July is a patriotic paper lantern. It's an easily adaptable craft, and it requires minimal supplies. Our craft packets, which customers can pick up as they check out their materials, include a full sheet of paper (in red, white, or blue), two small sheets of stars (also in red, white, and/or blue), and a sheet of instructions. All of the cutting and pasting happens at home. These crafts have been flying off the shelves. Must be because the demo is so cute! My colleague did a fantastic job of selecting a fun, simple, skills-promoting craft and making it look beyond appealing to everyone passing the library's circulation desk.

Patriotic Spinners
Our second crafternoon of the summer is a patriotic spinner. Didn't you love playing with spinners when you were young? You know, the kind with a bird on one side and a birdcage on the other, and when the spinner was spinning the bird was magically in the birdcage? I adapted that classic spinner to fit a patriotic theme for our walk-in craft. Our craft tables will be supplied with the spinner templates printed on cardstock; crayons for coloring them; scissors for cutting them out; glue sticks for pasting the two sides together; hole punches for punching holes; and yarn for creating the spinner handles. The goal for these crafternoons is to provide a craft that will engage and delight all ages of kids, from preschool through early teens. When you consider the relative simplicity of the craft combined with the sheer amount of enjoyment my staff have gotten from playing with my demo spinner, I would guess we have a winner.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

"Live" blogging #ala12

Remember how I mentioned looking forward to live blogging the 2012 ALA Annual Conference on the ALSC Blog? Due to a server outage, all of the blogs and wikis associated with ALA were out for the duration of the conference--so no one was able to share fun conference things on the blog during the conference.

Now that the blog is back up and running, I will be joining some of my colleagues in "live" blogging the conference and its highlights. For July 1 and July 2, the ALSC Blog will feature the posts we would have shared during the conference had we been able to. Click on over, you'll learn a lot!

And now, a few fun photos from the conference:

Daniel Kraus, Andrew Smith, Daniel Handler, me, and Jon Scieszka

YA librarian extraordinaire Stephanie, 2012 Printz winner Corey Whaley
(with his well-deserved award!), and me