Friday, August 31, 2012

Toys and Noise

Choo-choo! The train is coming around the bend!
I have learned that toys and noise go hand in hand. And I tell you, friends, that is a good thing.

Let me say from the get-go that I think it is extremely important to have toys available for children to interact with in the library. This philosophy applies to all child-utilized spaces in the library, both in programs and outside of them. As a result, I have toys available 24/7 in the children's area of my library.

As result, the children's area is usually not quiet. That's not to say there is screaming--tantrums are actually rather few and far between, and very few children fight over toys. Instead, my staff and I hear great noises. Kid noises. Learning noises.

Daddy! Look what I drew! A car!
Children develop by interacting with the world around them, and one of my goals is to provide plenty of opportunities for positive interactions in the library. Lots of times these interactions are with books and stories and librarian-mediated activities, but other times the interactions happen when children find things to explore just by looking around them. Noise in the children's area is evidence that learning can and does take place at any moment in the library--early literacy skills are constantly developing and sharpening.

Those happy noises of kids playing and enjoying themselves also betray the development of something else: a lifelong love of the library and the fun that can be had there. And if that's not worth an occasional outburst of the ABCs--sung preschool opera style, of course--then, well, you can shush me.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Head over to the ALSC Blog for a mad time!

I'm on the ALSC Blog today talking a bit more about my Alice in Wonderland program for the preschool and school-age crowd. Head on over and join the conversation!

I'll be back on Friday with a regular post.

Monday, August 27, 2012

What to do on a programming off-week: Take-Home Story Time Kits

Today marks the beginning of two story time program off-weeks in my branch. It's not unusual for us to have an off-week about once a month--that week off provides time for staff to regroup, recharge, and plan for the next three-week story time series. We're taking two full weeks off this time, though, for a number of reasons: summer reading was hectic and requires time to recover; we've got some early literacy trainings this week; and Labor Day closures affect the library's schedules. All good reasons to take a little break, I think.

But just because library staff are living by a different schedule for these off-weeks doesn't mean that our customers are. How do you meet customer demand for librarian-mediated story times when you're giving your staff a much-needed rest? Enter the take-home story time kit, available for regular check-out during programming off-weeks.

Every take-home story time kit I assemble includes two or three books loosely on a theme--think farm animals, things that go, princess stories, etc., whatever your kiddos are into. To top off the stories, I include a children's CD that includes music similar to what we might include in our traditional story times. These stacks of materials get bundled together and tied with a pretty bow. To finish off the whole appealing package, I add a bright label that gives the kit's theme and simple instructions: "Take twenty minutes to read these books and listen to or sing songs on this CD with your child. Talk about the books' pictures and what happens in the stories. Draw a picture about the theme when you're done!" Ta-da! Brief, simple instructions for an at-home story time.

I love several things about these take-home story time kits. First, they meet some of the demands of our customers for programming during those weeks when we're taking breaks from traditional story time programs--there's never complete radio silence between customers and story time providers. Second, they emphasize the importance of having story times at home, be they formal or informal. Third, they entreat caregivers to engage in ECRR-recommended practices with their children without ever sounding pedagogical. Fourth, they are pretty quick to assemble. And lastly, they are so pretty! Don't you think they're pretty?

Caregivers who frequent my branch enjoy knowing that they can rely on the library to equip them to provide literacy-positive activities for their young ones even when our program room doors are shut. And that's part of the whole goal, right? To empower readers and those who raise readers. My staff may be resting over the next two weeks, but the library kiddos are still very much engaged with stories.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Three Fall Picture Books: Reviews

My picture book collection is always growing! I'll likely be adding these three titles to the shelves this fall; they have great potential for children's enjoyment, read-aloud success, and classic story introduction.

Ziefert, Harriet. The Princess and the Peas and Carrots. illus. by Travis Foster. Blue Apple Books. 9 Oct. 2012. p. 40.
     Rosebud is a little girl who likes everything in her life just so: her bedroom, her outfits, her craft supplies, her Good Princess Rosebud costume, everything. Rosebud's preferences aren't always endearing, however, and after complaints about wrinkles in her socks, lumps in her oatmeal, and gravy touching her peas and carrots, her mother sends Rosebud--now Princess Fussy--to her room. After she throws a terrific tantrum, Rosebud calms down and gets some help from her parents in remaking her bed and finishing her supper. Her father tells her the story of The Princess and the Pea before bed (this fairy tale portion folds out of the book), and little Rosebud learns that to be a princess like the one in the story, she needs to stay calm and poised instead of throwing a fit when something isn't perfectly right. This story has great illustrations, and while it is likely a little too simplistic for many adults, the children they read it to will likely love it.

Shireen, Nadia. Hey, Presto! illus. by the author. Alfred A. Knopf BFYR. 13 Nov. 2012. p. 32.
     Presto and Monty are the best of friends, and Monty's smiling, garrulous personality combined with Presto's skills as a magician get them a show in a carnival. Monty lets the accolades and attention go to his head, however, and Presto gets fed up with his bossy friend and goes home. Only during his big televised magic event does Monty learn that not only can he not do magic without Presto--he doesn't want to do anything with his friend. This story, told with great vocabulary and lively illustrations, is a great look at sharing, humility, and friendship. I'll pair it with Silly Goose's Big Story for a light-hearted look at getting along with friends.

Comden, Betty, Adolph Green, and Carolyn Leigh. Flying to Neverland with Peter Pan. illus. by Amy June Bates. Blue Apple Books. 27 Nov. 2012. p. 36.
     The text of this lovely picture book comes from the stage musical Peter Pan; it uses a brief story introduction as well as the lyrics from two songs ("I'm Flying" and "Never Never Land") to tell the tale of the three Darling children meeting Peter and flying to Neverland with him. The illustrations are soft and enticing, rich with detail and movement as each spread demands. I'll use this picture book to introduce the story of Peter Pan and Neverland to young readers.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Trip to the Zoo Story Time

It's finally cooling down to a reasonable summer temperature here, which means more and more families are taking advantage of the great St. Louis Zoo. I decided to use that activity to inform my August Evening Family Story Time. Since this program can have attendees across a wide age range, I like to choose books and/or themes that are easily adaptable--that way I'm not stuck with all two-year-old books when the crowd is all age six. My program audience ended up being on the younger side, so the program plan below is what I shared with them:

Opening Song: "Open, Shut Them"

Story: We've All Got Bellybuttons! by David Martin
     I love the action options in this book. Starting a story time with an interactive story (stretching your neck, stomping your feet, having your bellybutton tickled by mom or dad...) always gets things off on the right foot.

Song: "The Elephants at the Zoo"
     This is a great interactive song to the tune of "The Wheels on the Bus." I found it on Erin's fabulous Falling Flannelboards blog.

Felt Story: Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell
     When I was in library school, I interned at a great library where I observed a handful of preschool story times. At one of these story times, the librarian told Dear Zoo using flannelboard pieces that included cut manila folders to look like the animals' boxes. This story is one of the first felt stories I've made from scratch, and it is great for all sorts of story times. Perhaps best of all, you can leave out animals if you start to lose your audience--but in my experience, they love to come up and find out what's in each box from the zoo!

Story: Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? by Bill Martin
     Usually kids are familiar with Brown Bear, Brown Bear, so this variation is a welcome addition to story time. The simple, bright illustrations introduce even more animals to the young readers, and the focus on sound leaves room to practice animal sounds.

Rhyme: "Five Little Monkeys Swinging in a Tree"
     I love this rhyme, and I use my Five Little Monkeys finger puppets and alligator hand puppet to make it even more fun. For smaller groups, I'll hand out monkeys to the kiddos so that they can swing around with them. This particular group was so amused by Mr. Alligator eating the monkeys that they would throw the monkey finger puppets and then run to mom for protection from the hungry reptile.

Story: Monkey and Me by Katie Gravett
     This is a fantastic story for calming everyone down. It has a great rhythm, and it asks for a lot of motion--enough to start to drain kids' energy. By the end of the book when Monkey and the child fall asleep following all their adventures, program-goers are reading for something quiet, too.

Craft: Zooscapes
     Making a zooscape can be as simple or as complicated as you want. I had sheets of blue construction paper at each child's seat, as well as a half sheet of green construction paper with its edge cut wavily. Kids used glue sticks to glue their rolling hills onto the sky background, providing a meadow for their animals. I had trays of stick-on foam animals for kids to add to their zooscapes, and I also set out crayons in case they wanted to add trees, the sun, or anything else. Some of the kids were into sticking as many foam animals on their page as possible, while others were more into coloring. Either way, everyone was engaged and enjoying their craft!

Other books I had on hand in case they were needed:
Zoo Ah-choooo by Peter Mandel
My Heart is Like a Zoo by Michael Hall

Monday, August 20, 2012

Airplane Science

Just in time to refresh kids' paper airplane skills before the school year begins... it's Airplane Science!

Now that summer reading is over and I have a full year at my branch under my belt, it's time to put into action the programming aspect of my science initiative: monthly science programming, alternating between school-age and preschool audiences. The first program in this new year-round series took place a week and a half ago. Here's what we did for Airplane Science:

To begin our program, I asked the kiddos what they knew about flight. What sorts of things can fly? How do they accomplish flight? I guided conversation toward airplanes specifically, and then I posed the major question: how do airplanes fly through the air? Kids offered wings, air, propellers, and engines as possible explanations for how airplanes fly, at which point it was my cue to explain (briefly) the science behind airplanes--and paper airplanes, our hands-on component for the program.

My simplified explanation was two-fold. First I showed them a diagram from How Stuff Works that illustrates the various forces at work on an airplane during flight: thrust, drag, gravity, and lift. We talked about the relationship of those forces for a minute, ending with the question of how the forces need to be balanced for flight to occur. Second, then, was an explanation of Bernoulli's Principle and how it relates to flight and airplane design. I showed a second diagram, but the kids found the physical demonstration more interesting: hovering a ping-pong ball with a hair dryer.

After a few minutes for lingering questions and my prompting the kids to think about how the shape of wings, size of wings, etc., might affect the flight of paper airplanes, I mentioned that the Wright brothers tested some of their airplane designs in paper first. Then I set everyone free to make their own test models. I had four stations set up with paper, markers for writing names and decorating, straws and tape (when necessary), and instructions on how to make four different paper airplanes: the arrow, the dart, the moth, and the hoop glider. I spent the next fifteen minutes of construction time moving about the program room helping kids as they requested assistance in their airplane-making. A number of the program-goers had parents in tow, and those parents were a huge help in assembling test planes, too. I encouraged the kiddos to think about how they might improve on the paper airplanes, and to make modifications to the design accordingly. At the end of our construction time, we had a huge variety of planes ready for testing.

We finished off the program with what I called our Airplane Olympics (the Olympics were in full swing at this point!). Before the program, I had set up a masking tape starting line and marked off 25 feet in one-foot intervals--perfect to measuring the success of our planes. All of the kids got a turn to throw each of their designs. I'm happy to say that at least one of every child's designs flew well--no one felt like their paper airplanes failed. Several of the planes did funny tricks or flipped back behind the thrower, and these trials got good-hearted laughs from everyone. Also, once everyone had seen a dozen or so flights, I started asking kids to predict what certain airplane models might do when thrown. By the end of our series of about 75 test flights, kids were able to guess which models would glide far and which might dive-bomb the spectators (and shield their eyes accordingly). Our top performer flew 24 feet.

We had a final plane toss with our top three models, and our top performer flew 24 feet. I then wrapped up the program by encouraging the kids to continue to refine their paper airplane designs for maximum flight time and distance. I had plenty of folding instructions and books on airplanes (of the paper and real varieties) available for kids who wanted to continue their science exploration at home, and many kids left with these materials in addition to the paper airplanes they had made and tested. I think this program was a great balance between the scientific principles of flight and fun, hands-on experimentation. I highly recommend giving this program, or one like it, a shot at your library.

Friday, August 17, 2012

YA Friday: TAB Lock-In

We have a really strong Teen Advisory Board at my branch. At any given meeting, it's no surprise to have upwards of 25 teens in attendance. They are enthusiastic, dedicated, and thoughtful--and they love the library. Turns out that several other branches in our district also have great TABs, too, and these various TAB members wanted to meet--somewhere cool, doing something epic. Thus the all-TAB lock-in was born.

We had quite a crowd show up!
Our all-TAB lock-in took place last Friday evening from 6 p.m. to midnight at a recently rebuilt large branch--complete with a children's wing and an adult services wing, a layout whose importance will be more apparent later. We had two requirements of teens who wanted to participate: 1) that they be an active member of their branch's TAB; and 2) that they have a permission slip signed by a parent/guardian (to legally protect the library and to ensure parents knew when to pick up their teens) and the participating teen (to acknowledge a behavior standard). Not huge requirements, and very reasonable for encouraging teens to attend an event unlike anything we'd ever hosted.

We had 62 teens show up. 62! Better than we had been hoping for! With 9 library staffers working the event, that made for a decent teen-to-adult ratio. At 6 p.m. we locked the doors, and for six moderately-scheduled hours, teens had the run of the lower floor of the library. Here's a break-down of our lock-in:

6:00 - 6:15 p.m.: Checking in teens
     Verifying permission slips, accepting a canned good for donation to a local food pantry as "payment" for participation (we weren't firm on the canned good, as some teens forgot theirs). All teens got a name tag that also listed the branch library where they are involved in a TAB.

6:15 - 6:30 p.m.: Ground rules and Ice breaker game
     Ground rules included establishing off-limits areas of the library building, not doing anything that would be destructive to the library, and maintaining a baseline of respect for all fellow TAB members. We also explained the schedule for the night.
     For our ice breaker, everyone sat in a tight circle with me starting in the middle. I introduced myself and said a fact about myself. At that point all other people in the circle about whom that fact is also true stood up, too--and then everyone standing had to scramble to find the seat of another standing person not located immediately next to them. The one person left standing after all the seats have been filled starts the process over again (introduction, fact, SCRAMBLE). This game is a great way to get energy up, start to introduce people by name, and demonstrate that we all have a lot in common.

6:30 - 7:00 p.m.: Dinner!
     Say what you will about Little Caesars, but those $5 hot-n-ready pizzas are crazy cost-effective when you're buying 22 of them. We also had a variety of chips, cookies, and sodas/water. A snack table stayed up throughout most of the evening, too, for grazers.

7:00 - 10:00 p.m.: Activity stations
     We had four activity stations going on simultaneously:
     1) Crafts: Shrinky dinks and friendship bracelets. Oh, my, did they love the shrinky dinks.
     2) Buffy Marathon
     3) Videogaming: We had two Wiis and an Xbox set up with a variety of games.
     4) Games: Our traditional games station offered three separate games, each of which took an hour. From 7 to 8 p.m. was a Book Cake Walk--essentially your standard school fun fair cake walk, except the walking squares showed YA book titles and the prizes were ARCs. From 8 to 9 p.m. was Book Bingo; all squares on the bingo cards were YA book titles, and bingos earned entries in a drawing for a $20 gas station gift card. Then from 9 to 10 p.m. was Minute to Win It, a variety of crazy and exciting one-minute competitive games; winners again earned entries in the gift card drawing.

10:00 - 11:00 p.m.: All-TAB Meeting
     TAB members are used to having meetings. For some of them, TAB meetings make up the bulk of their library participation. This All-TAB Meeting provided an opportunity for the TABs from all of the different branches to brainstorm and idea-share. What activities did they hear about that they want to try at their own branches? What would they recommend other branches try? Do they want to collaborate across TABs, and if so, how? We had a back-up plan in case the meeting fizzled and only took twenty minutes, but the teens were happy to spend the full hour talking about what their TAB does, what they enjoy, and what they want to accomplish. If you every doubt the capacity of teenagers to care about issues and make plans to address them, you should attend a library TAB meeting.
     Note: Two staff members who helped with the lock-in are not in charge of their branches' TABs; thus during the meeting they cleaned up stations to prepare for the final game.

11:00 - 11:50 p.m.: Glow-in-the-Dark Capture the Flag
Why, yes, that is me creeping with a Nerf gun.
     Remember how I mentioned the library layout--a children's wing and an adult wing with a central foyer--would come into play in this lock-in? Glow-in-the-Dark Capture the Flag is when that happened. We split the TABs into two roughly-equally teams--individual branches stayed together and combined with others--and assigned each a wing. All participants got glow sticks, and each team had a large glow stick flag to hide and defend. We explained the rules we would be using: if you're tagged on the other team's territory, you go to their jail; stay in jail until "jailbreak" is announced over the PA; the foyer is neutral territory; no carrying your flag around except to change its hiding location; and, my favorite, if you are hit by a dart from a staff member's Nerf gun, you go to jail (regardless of what team you're on!). After a few questions, we turned off all the lights on the lower floor (safety lights remained on for a bit of visibility without ruining the whole glow-in-the-dark aspect). Let the games begin!
     One team was definitely more coordinated than the other, so the first game ended after ten minutes. We started a second game, which lasted fifteen minutes. At that point we had the teams switch sides--would that affect the outcome? We didn't get a chance to definitively answer that question, as we had to call the game at 11:50 to wrap things up. The team that had won twice got to enter their members' names in the gift card drawing. Everyone said they had a lot of fun playing Capture the Flag.

11:50 - 11:55 p.m.: Group photo and Prize drawing
     It was surprisingly easy to get all of the teens in a mass to take their group photo. They were then centrally located to hear the drawing winner announced. Excitement all around!

12:00 a.m.: Teens picked up
     All the teens were picked up by their parents by 12:10 a.m., which means staff got to finish cleaning up quickly and were on their own ways home by 12:30. A successful end to a busy night.

Everything went very smoothly--even surprisingly so for a first-time big event. Since I was staffing the craft area near a phone, I updated folks about the schedule every hour via the PA system. Library staff mainly stayed around their activity areas, leaving teens free to go from place to place as they pleased. As far as I could tell, we had no behavioral issues. Everyone got along, no one tried to get into off-limits areas of the library... It was a rousing success, and a great way to top off the summer.

Teens are already asking when we'll do a lock-in again. The plan for right now is for our district to make the all-TAB lock-in an annual event--with the knowledge that excitement and participation will continue to grow. If you're looking to reward your hard-working teens with a fun, special activity, I highly suggest you give a lock-in some thought--especially now that you've got a program plan.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Grief is a Difficult Thing

While stories dealing with tragic historical events are useful in helping young readers mentally deal with the reality that bad things happen, stories dealing with young people's personal grief are a horse of a different color. Often readers find these stories--need these stories--after they have faced a very personal loss. That's a good thing, because sometimes we need to see a well-developed character work through his or her own issues before we can really confront our own. Two new titles make great additions to the myriad lists that seek to help young readers deal with the death of someone close to them.

Pitcher, Annabel. My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece. Little, Brown and Company. Aug. 14, 2012. p. 224.
     In this middle-grade/young adult novel by a British author, 10-year-old Jamie's life has turned totally upside down. After his older sister Rose was killed in a terrorist bombing in London five years ago, his family started to fall apart: his father began to drink a lot and became extremely xenophobic; his mother spent more and more time with Nigel from her grief group; and Rose's twin Jasmine became very insecure and introverted. When Jamie, his sister, and his father move to the Lake District after Jamie's mother leaves the family, Jamie hopes for a fresh start. Nothing really seems to have changed, however, except for the fact that Jamie makes a friend at school. There's just one problem, however: Jamie's new friend, Sunya, is Muslim, a fact that will not fly with Jamie's father since he asserts "Muslims killed his daughter." Jamie struggles not only with the death of a sister whom he barely remembers, but also with the death of his family unit as he knew it. With hope, perseverance, and a deep-seated belief that people are good, Jamie does his best to navigate his new normal with minimal help from the grown-ups in his life. The book is often heart-wrenching and always beautiful, and it will make a great resource for talking about grief as well as the recent prevalence of prejudice against Muslims.

Johnson, J.J. The Theory of Everything. Peachtree. Oct. 1, 2012. p. 320.
     Teenager Sarah was with her best friend, Jamie, when she died in a freakish accident almost a year ago. Since then, Sarah's world has been completely opposite what it was: she has not spoken to Jamie's family since the death, she fights with her own parents despite not meaning to, and the mysterious "snark box" that has replaced her mouth verbally assaults all the kids at school who would talk to her. Existence feels very difficult for Sarah despite the patience and kindness of a few people in her life, including her boyfriend. Sarah starts to make things better for herself, though, when she enters into an odd work arrangement with a loner janitor who grows Christmas trees. The physical work seems to bring Sarah some clarity, and she does her best to work through Jamie's death and reach out to those who love her and who also suffered. One such person is Emmett, Jamie's twin, whom Sarah could not previously bring herself to face. With eyes and heart truly open for the first time since Jamie's death, Sarah begins to figure out what it means to live the rest of her life. Johnson gives Sarah a remarkably poignant and real voice of a teenager going through something she never could have imagined. Doodled illustrations at the beginning of each chapter add to the great character development and make Sarah very relatable even as she lashes out at those around her. A great main character to lead a moving story.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Summer Reading Volunteers: The 2012 Wrap-Up

Hey, you guys! It's time now to officially close out the summer reading volunteers experience for 2012 with some appreciation, some reflection, and the final stats.

Having ravaged the sandwich and chips spread,
the teens commenced with movie-watching.
As a thanks for all of our teen volunteers' hard work and hours spent at the library over the summer, the library hosts an informal appreciation party between the end of SRP and the beginning of school. The 2012 Teen Summer Reading Volunteer Appreciation Party was a lot of fun. Teens enjoyed a spread of sub sandwiches, chips, cookies, and drinks. After some brief mingling time, we drew names for prizes; winners chose from our stash of Own the Night swag and ARCs (really good ARCs, folks). Then we popped in a movie (The Goonies!!!) and relaxed for the evening. Groups of volunteers would chat for a bit before returning their attention to the movie, so the whole event had a chill, social feel. Teens enjoyed the throwback movie and the chance to just hang out before homework kicks in again. Consensus was that the evening really made them feel--guess--appreciated. (Don't they just have the best sense of humor?)

I spent my quiet time during the movie reflecting on the whole experience of mixing teen volunteers with the behemoth that is summer reading. What I learned:
  • Training: I cannot emphasize enough how integral training is to empowering summer reading volunteers to perform well. (See earlier post.) Also, make cheat sheets with key program details and plaster them all over the summer reading desk. Staff also find these cheat sheets useful.
  • Scheduling: Teens will enthusiastically show up for their first shift. After that, most of them will show up most of the time approximately when they are scheduled to volunteer. If they know they can't make a shift, they may or may not call you ahead of time to let you know. This is true regardless of how much you stress punctuality. Thus it is very important to have all library staff trained on the program so that anyone can effectively fill these sudden program table voids.
  • More teens (and their parents) will ask to volunteer once they see other teens volunteering: This sort of contagious enthusiasm is great, but at a certain point the costs of training and scheduling a new volunteer outweigh what that volunteer can contribute during the summer reading program. My cutoff for new volunteers was two weeks into the program.
  • Discipline: At some point, you'll encounter a behavioral issue. If you're lucky, it will be a teen playing on a phone instead of reading during downtime. If you're less lucky, it will be a teen loudly using language unbecoming of a library representative (use your imagination). Regardless of the issue, I do two things: 1) calmly acknowledge the issue and why it is problematic; 2) state that volunteers are expected to act professionally and that said issue will not be tolerated again. That's it. No yelling, no blaming, nada. Teens are smart, and they are usually far more embarrassed about their problem behavior than I am angry about it. One brief, serious warning and they are good at self-policing.

All of my volunteers worked hard to enthusiastically engage kids and teens in the 2012 Summer Reading Program. I'm glad I have plenty of notes and experience from this year, which was very successful, and I will use them to inform how I utilize volunteers in summer 2013.

Final Summer Reading Program 2012 stats:
  • Total program registrations (children and teens): 3592
  • Total program completions (children and teens): 1549 -- 43% of registrations
  • Total volunteer hours worked: 454
  • Number of volunteers helping with summer reading: 36

P.S. Did you catch my Goonies reference right at the beginning of the post? That's dedication to a theme.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Three Great Audiobooks to Top Off Your Summer

I love good audiobooks. The best audiobooks help me to multitask--I read as I cook, fold laundry, clean up around my apartment, or drive. I love that I can get through several juvenile audiobooks in a relatively short span of time, and I simultaneously stay up-to-date on children's titles while storing away title names for audiobook readers' advisory interviews. Here are three fantastic audiobooks to top off your summer, all funny and featuring male protagonists.

Look, Lenore. Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things. Read by Everette Plen. Listening Library, 123 minutes unabridged.
     Alvin Ho is about to start the second grade, which would be fine if it weren't for the fact that he's afraid of school. He's so afraid that he cannot speak at all from the moment he steps off the school bus, which results in some amount of misfortune and teasing. Alvin Ho is also afraid of girls, which is unfortunate because his deskmate is Flea, short for Sophie, who is a girl--which is still bad even if she's a girl with a really cool eye patch. Needless to say, young Alvin Ho has a lot to deal with, from school and friends and family to the psychotherapist he sees because of his fear-induced mute episodes to the old lady down the street who gives piano lessons. Alvin encounters all sorts of average and hilarious situations that gradeschoolers will recognize, if not from their own experience then from that of their friends. This laugh-out-loud title is read perfectly by young actor Everette Plen, who gives Alvin Ho just the voice Look's story showcases. Alvin Ho features in several books in the series bearing his name.

Angleberger, Tom. The Strange Case of Origami Yoda. Read by Mark Turetsky, Greg Steinbruner, Jonathan Todd Ross, Julia Gibson, and Charlotte Parry. Recorded Books, 135 minutes unabridged.
     Main narrator Tommy has taken it upon himself to create a case file pertaining to incidents involving Origami Yoda--the origami rendering of Yoda that fellow sixth-grader Dwight wears on his finger and who dispenses Jedi-worthy advice to all who ask. Tommy and his classmates recount all of the instances in which they consulted Origami Yoda and discuss the results, and Tommy and his friend Harvey weigh in after each episode, giving a great structure to the series of first-person accounts of Origami Yoda's mysterious powers. Angleberger's characters are well-developed and their voices spot on, and the humor that pervades this often touching school story is outstanding. The use of multiple readers adds to the authenticity of the audiobook, as the listener really begins to feel the different kids emerge as their own unique selves. The Origami Yoda series continues with Darth Paper Strikes Back and the just-released The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee.

Hiaasen, Carl. Chomp. Read by James Van Der Beek. Listening Library, 371 minutes unabridged.
     Wahoo Cray isn't your average kid on his summer vacation. His father is a professional animal wrangler, and this summer Wahoo and his dad are hired to provide animal help for a popular reality tv show called Expedition Survival! The Crays need the money, so despite the tv studios controlling demands--and the even more annoying and needy star of the show, Derek Badger--they accept the job and all that comes with it. After a near-fatal run-in with Alice, the Crays' alligator, the foolhardy Derek Badger decides to film the rest of the Everglades episode out in the actual Everglades. With the Crays along for the shoot accompanied by a school friend of Wahoo's, things begin to spiral deeper and deeper into potentially-deadly chaos. After everything goes wrong, Wahoo's only hope for escape from a deranged tv survivalist, his friend's gun-toting drunk dad, and the natural threats of the Everglades is his own determination and skill. Wahoo is a great main character, and while Van Der Beek's narration isn't always consistent, Hiaasen's great writing carries the whole audiobook.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Campfire Fun at the Library

As a former camper and camp counselor, one of my favorite things about summer is a campfire. Why, I asked myself last spring as I was planning summer programs, should kids whose summers take place at the library not get the great experience of a campfire the same way that camp kids do? I decided a campfire program was indeed in order, and after making some modifications for library limitations (primarily the flammability of absolutely everything), I offered the following campfire program for school-age kids last week. It was a hit!

Campfire Fun

Craft: Campfire Craft from Wonderopolis
     A real campfire in the library = bad news. Thus I opened this program with a campfire craft, at which we all created individual campfires with the intention of using them to "light" our campfire circle for the rest of the program. I printed out on flame-colored paper the Campfire Craft Kit from Wonderopolis's Camp What-a-Wonder (love those guys!), and I assembled the necessary crafting materials on our work tables. The plan was to color the fires; cut out the pieces; glue necessary pieces together; then assemble the campfires. A good plan! We were momentarily derailed by a kiddo's exclamation that it would be so cool if this could glow in the dark! "Indeed," I thought, "that would be awesome," and then I scampered off to get our glow in the dark paint. A great idea with one problem: glow in the dark paint, like all paint, needs time to dry. Whoops. Our campfires were a bit messier and took a bit longer than I had planned. As everyone was thoroughly enjoying themselves, however, I broke out the wet wipes, amended the program plan, and went with it.

Snack: Walking S'mores
     One of the best things about campfires: s'mores! Sticky, sticky s'mores! In an effort to avoid too much mess (see above paint incident for evidence of hilarious failure), I opted to offer walking s'mores to the kiddos when we moved from the craft to our campfire circle. Walking s'mores are a trail mix-like mixture of Teddy Grahams (or other graham cracker cookie bit), chocolate chips, and mini marshmallows. I was anticipating at least a few grumbles about not getting "real" s'mores, but in reality all the kiddos were super excited about this twist on a favorite. It was easy to adapt for a participant who can't have chocolate, too, as I just poured her a cup of Teddy Grahams and marshmallows. Lots of happy munching going on as I moved to the next part of the program...

Campfire Story: "The Chicken in the Library"
     Because this program was advertised for all school-age kids, I decided to avoid any stories that were even remotely scary (save the eerie for the older kids in October!). Instead I chose a great, punny favorite that just happens to involve a librarian. Read it aloud to get the full effect of the joke!

Campfire Songs:
     No campfire is complete, in my mind, without great songs. I mentioned that I was a camp counselor, and as such I have a number of strange and goofy camp songs permanently etched in my brain. The thing about a library campfire is that, for the most part, kids have never heard the songs before--and as a result the song leader should choose simple repeat-after-me, repetitive, or cumulative songs to share with the group so everyone can get involved. I shared, to great enjoyment and loud giggles, the following three before it was time to go:

(this is a repeat-after-me song, so kids repeat the words and motions after each line)

Tarzan! (beat chest like Tarzan)
Swinging on a rubber band. (mime swinging on vines)
Tarzan! (beat chest)
Smashed into a frying pan. (clap hands loudly)
Ouch! That hurt! (rub neck)
Now Tarzan's got a tan. (rub arms)
And I hope it don't peel (shake hands for emphasis)
Like (clap hands above head)
A (bring hands down to shoulders)
Banana (shimmy and lower hands, like peeling a banana)

Jane. (twirl hair)
Flying in an airplane. (spread arms like wings)
Jane. (twirl hair)
Smashed into a traffic lane. (clap hands loudly)
Ouch! That hurt! (rub neck)
Now Jane's got a pain. (rub shoulder)
And Tarzan's got a tan. (rub arms)
And I hope it don't peel (shake hands for emphasis)
Like (clap hands above head)
A (bring hands down to shoulders)
Banana (shimmy and lower hands, like peeling a banana)

A cheetah! (mime claws)
A-boppin' to the beat-a. (snap fingers)
A cheetah! (mime claws)
Got eaten by an amoeba. (clap hands loudly)
Ouch! That hurt! (rub neck)
Now Cheetah's dead a-meat-a. (rub stomach)
And Jane's got a pain. (rub shoulder)
And Tarzan's got a tan. (rub arms)
And I hope it don't peel (shake hands for emphasis)
Like (clap hands above head)
A (bring hands down to shoulders)
Banana (shimmy and lower hands, like peeling a banana)

Shamu! (mime a dive)
Swimming in the ocean blue. (make swimming motion)
Shamu! (mime a dive)
Smashed into a red canoe. (clap hands loudly)
Ouch! That hurt! (rub neck)
Now he's black and blue. (rub head)
And Cheetah's dead a-meat-a. (rub stomach)
And Jane's got a pain. (rub shoulder)
And Tarzan's got a tan. (rub arms)
And I hope it don't peel (shake hands for emphasis)
Like (clap hands above head)
A (bring hands down to shoulders)
Banana (shimmy and lower hands, like peeling a banana)

"The Princess Pat"
(another repeat-after-me song)

The Princess Pat (mime walking like an Egyptian)
Lived in a tree (raise arms like branches)
She sailed across (mime wave motion with your arm)
The seven seas. (hold up 7 fingers, then make a C with your hand)
She sailed across (mime wave motion with your arm)
The channel, too (hold up 2 fingers)
And she brought with her (mime throwing a bag over your shoulder)
A rickabamboo. (shimmy)

A rickabamboo (shimmy)
Now what is that? (raise arms in question)
It's something made (hammer fists together)
By the Princess Pat (walk like an Egyptian)
It's red and gold (jazz hands to the right)
And purple, too (jazz hands to the left)
That's what it's called (hands to mouth as if to shout)
A rickabamboo. (shimmy)

Now Captain Jack (make a hook on one hand)
Had a mighty fine crew.
They sailed across (mime wave motion)
The channel, too. (hold up 2 fingers)
But their ship sank (point downwards)
And yours will, too (point at audience)
If you don't bring (mime throwing a bag over your shoulder)
A rickabamboo. (shimmy)

A rickabamboo (shimmy)
Now what is that? (raise arms in question)
It's something made (hammer fists together)
By the Princess Pat (walk like an Egyptian)
It's red and gold (jazz hands to the right)
And purple, too (jazz hands to the left)
That's what it's called (hands to mouth as if to shout)
A rickabamboo. (shimmy)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Results are In: Top 100 Teen Books

It seems fitting that the morning I open the branch at 5 a.m. for primary elections is also the morning NPR releases the results of its summer reading poll. The final list of the Top 100 Teen Books has some fantastic reads on it--books that I will absolutely be handselling to teens in my library. Eight of my personal top ten favorite YA titles made the final 100 list. Do you see your favorites? What are you surprised/disappointed to see or not see?

Also, kudos to John Green, whose entire oeuvre made the list. DFTBA!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Summer Reading is Over!

The 2012 Summer Reading Program IS OVER! Woo hoo! While all of the reading and excitement that goes on during the nine weeks of the summer reading program is fantastic, those nine weeks are also crazy hectic and time-consuming for all of the library staff. Everyone at the library is breathing a sigh of relief now that we know we've made it to the end of the summer. And while it will still be a few days before I tally the final statistics and recap the grand summer reading volunteers experiment, I want to join the trend and make a few basic reflections on the summer--before all my thoughts and suggestions are forgotten and thus don't factor into next year's planning.
  1. I love the idea to not have staff-led programming during the first and last weeks of summer reading. Since these two bookend weeks see tons of kids at the summer reading table, we could use as much staff support to sign kids up and hand out prizes--even with an army of teen volunteers on hand. In theory this programming lull will also help ease staff into the SRP.
  2. Series programming really seems to work well for a potential audience with the whole summer off. Both my picnic lunch and movie programs did consistently well this summer, and I will make sure to schedule both series into the Summer 2013 plan.
  3. Special programs fill up fast, especially if they have the word "party" tacked on the end. If I opt to include a party program in future summers, I will absolutely offer at least two sessions to accommodate demand. However, I'm currently not sure that I want to offer these planning-intensive and demanding-of-staff programs during summer reading, when we already have lots of featured performers who can reach a much larger audience. I'll have to ponder that thought.
  4. I need to rethink my summer craft programs. While the crafternoons were successful, I think there is significant room for improvement. This summer we offered two crafternoons--one in June, one in July--where supplies were available in the program room for a 90-minute period. A children's staff member was on hand the entire time to explain the craft, provide help when needed, and supervise. Despite the fact that our advertising said families could attend at any time in the 90-minute window, 95% of our participants showed up at the very beginning and were finished and gone fifteen minutes later. I want to figure out a way to meet the craft wants of my customers while utilizing staff and supplies more effectively. I'll be scouring blogs for ideas, but I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
  5. While we had great summer reading displays out in the main library area, we didn't have one for use in the programming room. As a result, at some programs we remembered to talk up summer reading and at others we forgot. I want to make some sort of mobile, attractive summer reading display that we can take into programs to promote the summer reading program at all library events.
Those are my thoughts for now as I look back on my first summer in charge of summer reading at my branch. I'm sure more ideas and criticisms will present themselves before it's time to plan for Summer 2013, when I'll also sit on the district-wide committee to plan the whole reading program. Until then, I know I join my staff in breathing a sigh of relief at having crossed the finish line.

Friday, August 3, 2012

YA Friday: Best-Ever Teen Novels

This summer's NPR "100 best" book list poll has gotten huge responses so far: it asks folks to vote for ten of their all-time favorite young adult novels, a clearly-loved genre by readers of all ages. I've seen mention of and links to the poll everywhere, from Twitter and Tumblr to blogs, newspapers, and all-staff e-mails. By all accounts NPR has already received massive voter input to whittle their list of 235 YA titles down to the top 100. Have you voted yet?
image from NPR
Since the run-up to the new school year is always a scramble for teens to read the assigned summer reading--some of which they enjoy, a lot of which they don't--I figured now is a good time to share a list of what I consider to be dependably-awesome YA reads. Here are the top 10 YA novels that I voted for in NPR's poll, in alphabetical order by title:

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
     I've said for years that I think every high-schooler should read this book. It's funny, poignant, and meaningful, dealing with issues of poverty, alcoholism, racism, prejudice, and entitlement without ever feeling heavy-handed. Alexie has a talent for making the experiences of one admittedly quirky kid, Junior, resonate with everyone--a talent in writing in any genre.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
     I'll be the first to admit that I had to work hard to get through the first 150 pages or so of this book, which is narrated by Death in a voice that can feel confusingly achronological. Once you get deeper into the story of Liesl, a young girl who finds herself with a foster family in WWII Germany, you get absolutely sucked in. Liesl wants more than anything to be able to read, and that innocent quest pulls her through the horrors of a brutal war.

The Giver by Lois Lowry
     Lois Lowry knows how to write a dystopian world. When Jonas receives his life assignment from his elders, his life takes a different turn from the placid normality he's been taught to expect. With the guidance of the Giver, he sees that his perfect world may not be so perfect after all. This story is compelling, intriguing, and so well written--it absolutely deserves its long-standing place on best-of lists.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
     This is perhaps an odd choice, as I don't know that many people have had access to Smith's I Capture the Castle. It is the story of Cassandra and her eccentric family, who have lived in a falling-apart castle in rural England since her genius father failed to produce a second novel after his hit debut. Cassandra confesses all aspects of her life to her diary, and when new, young neighbors move into the manor house next door, she puts her daydreams aside to witness the real-life romantic interactions that play out before her. A great voice from a remarkable narrator.

Looking for Alaska by John Green
     Every YA reading list needs a story set in a boarding school, and Looking for Alaska is one of the best. When Miles started school at Culver Creek, he wasn't expecting to meet anyone as interesting, alluring, or reckless as Alaska. The two become good friends, and all seems like normal teenage angst until an event that reshapes Miles's life forever. Fun fact: Looking for Alaska recently appeared on the NYT Bestsellers List--seven years after it was first published.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
     I once had a friend who loved unreliable narrators--thus she loved Charlie in this book. Charlie is that misfit high school freshman that we've all seen or been, and the year he falls in with a similarly-misfitting crowd, including Patrick and Samantha, makes all the difference in his life. Perks is chock-full of situations and scenarios real teens encounter, from romantic confusion to trying to fit in to discovering things about self.

The Pigman by Paul Zindel
     What starts as a prank for teens John and Lorraine turns into a surprising friendship with the older Mr. Pignati, a man whose collection of pigs is what first catches John's and Lorraine's eyes. This odd new friendship greatly affects the pair of teens, and they are left wondering how they can fill the void left by the Pigman when he dies. This story does not shy away from the fact that teenagers can do mean, stupid things, but it gives them credit for great kindness and feeling, too.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
     This is probably the only book in my top-ten list that regularly makes it onto school reading lists, and with reason. Not only is the story amazingly beautiful and impactful, it provides so much fodder for discussion. What is right? For what things should we as humans fight? Is there such a thing as doing good vs. doing evil? If you stop to think about it, teens face questions like these every day.

Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block
     Set in Shangri-L.A., this story is a bona fide urban fairy tale full of glitter, fun, and self-discovery. Weetzie and her friends were very unconventional characters for most readers when the book was published in 1989, and they are still kitsch-ily odd today. The group do things their way, form a family on their own terms, and always face the world together. To narrowly define this book as a fantastic LGBTQ read--which it is--might limit the enjoyment all readers will surely get from Weetzie Bat.

Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley
     In his debut novel, Whaley gives teens credit for being capable of reading--and enjoying!--a non-cliched story with complex themes. The summer that Cullen's younger brother goes missing is also the summer an extinct woodpecker reappears in his hometown. It is also the summer to which everything in Cabot Searcy's life has been leading. I could say I love this book for its strong male characters, or for its beautiful language, or for its truthful depictions of teenage ennui and familial love. This book is so much more than I can briefly sum up. Let's just say it deserves all the awards it has won, and more.


So there you have it, my votes in NPR's Top 100 Young Adult Novels poll. If you're looking for a book to finish out your summer, I hope you enjoy one of these.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Full Moon at the Library

Here's hoping your full-moon Wednesday at the library isn't too cuckoo bananas!

At 9 a.m. we opened the door.
The chaos started at 9:04.

Board books became a battleground
With high-pitched shrieks and crying sounds.

An angry child wailed to complain;
Her sister would not share a train,

And the dead-end track was suddenly
A tear-worthy catastrophe.

Another two began to fight,
Tugging puppets with all their might.

Moms seemed confused by the red-faced yells;
Their kids were under tantrum spells.

Then voices raised throughout the stacks
As mouths demanded, "Time for snacks!"

Next came hair-pulling, kicks, and screams
As actions reached terror extremes.

Parents dragged their kids away
Leaving the librarian to survey.

The damage appeared far and wide.
Shelves were trashed; rattled staff cried.

The ABC shelves, of considerable heft,
Were shifted two feet to the left.

And papers littered the children's room,
Remnants of the rage and gloom.

What had looked to be a quiet day
So massively had gone astray.

But things'll return to normal soon--
At least until the next full moon.