Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Day in the Life of a Children's Librarian

I have long loved Abby the Librarian's "Day in the Life" posts, which share the details of what she does on a random day in her job. I loved reading them back when I was still in library school--they helped me to get a sense of the crazy awesomeness I was getting myself into. I know that it can be helpful for current and future librarians to see what their colleagues do, so I am shamelessly copying Abby and writing about a day in my life as children's librarian at my branch. The following events took place on Monday of this week.

10:30 a.m. - Visit a local daycare for an outreach story time visit. Since the outreach visit started my day, I had packed my Story Time bag before leaving the branch on Friday afternoon. I grabbed a few extra books by some favorite authors, as this particular daycare can be a rough crowd as far as attention spans are concerned. I also brought my ukulele for some song time. That instrument is quickly becoming one of my favorite librarian accessories.

11:15 a.m. - Return to the branch and check in with staff who have been working since the library opened. Chat includes library news as well as details of everyone's weekends.

11:30 a.m. - Walk around the children's area of the library. I'm always a fan of doing a walk-through to see how things are going in the children's area, but I've been making more frequent visits since we implemented our new neighborhoods organization scheme. Customers have nothing but positive things to say about the change--it looks like we've really helped make their browsing easier.

11:45 a.m. - Do some work from my desk, including catching up on e-mails. I e-mailed some documents from my Preschool Science program series to a librarian who saw last week's ALSC Blog post; gave our district-wide volunteer head some feedback on our volunteer process; and finalized the event listings for our December-February children's programs at the branch.

12:45 p.m. - Put together a new shelving unit for our big books, which we have plans to catalog and make available for circulation in the coming months.

1:00 p.m. - On the reference desk. Our reference shifts are usually four hours long. In addition to responding to customers' reference requests during my shift, I also supervised a volunteer as she worked on display and withdrawal tasks; confirmed our November program visits from a group with therapy dogs; and put in some work on my I Spy board (another brilliant idea of Abby's).

5:00 p.m. - Dinner. I usually spend my breaks looking through Twitter and library blogs on my Google Reader. (Is anyone surprised?)

5:30 p.m. - Set up for our monthly Lego Club program. Our branch pages help get the room set up for the program, with two long tables, chairs, and a table for displaying our final creations. I make sure Legos are evenly distributed in the buckets, cut some paper for name placards, and set out markers. The pages also set out all the theme-related books a volunteer had pulled for the program.

6:00 p.m. - Lego Club! This is my first return to Lego Club after a hiatus of a few months, during which time a coworker ran the program. I chose the theme of Robots. (Full post, with photos, to come later this week...)

7:00 p.m. - Clean up after Lego Club. A colleague brought his sons to the program, and we chat about some outreach and early literacy things while I straighten up.

7:15 p.m. - Finish up my day back in my office. I enter program attendance statistics from the day, double check what is going on the rest of the week, and read the e-mails that had come in since dinner. I also check out a stack of books for my Cybils reading.

7:30 p.m. - Go home.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Annual Fall Festival for the School-Age Crowd

In the lead-up to Halloween, my branch celebrates all things autumn with an annual Fall Festival. While it's not technically a Halloween program--we don't want to cause any non-Halloween celebrators to feel excluded--there is plenty of candy and traditional autumn fun. Think sweets, black and orange, and not-too-scary things that go bump in the night. Our school-age program crowd has come to look forward to our annual Fall Festival, where they know they will encounter a few program elements that are always at hit. The general program elements at each fall festival are in bold; the details of the specific thing I did this year follow.

Treats -- Really, what is a festival without yummy things to eat? One of my staffers always buys a ton of candy to have for her preschool fall festival and to pass out in the branch on Halloween, and the school-age fall festivities benefit from her generous candy purchasing. I have yet to find a kid who is not a fan of Double Stuf Oreos.

Storytelling -- I like to tell a story whenever I have a group of school-age kids in a program; sometimes it's the only opportunity they have to hear oral storytelling. This year I opted to go with a cut and tell story: "The Little Orange House". I love cut and tell stories for two reasons. Reason number one is that it gives the more fidgety listeners something to focus on while they are listening; reason number two is that young listeners always seem fascinated at how a few simple cuts in paper could result in something story-related. Try it out.

Craft -- This year we made sack-o-lanterns, or carved pumpkin luminaria. I had paper sacks, black construction paper, scissors, glue sticks, and markers out on our tables, and the children were able to cut out whatever shapes they wanted to create their sack-o-lanterns' faces. Several children insisted that mine needed a mustache, so I obliged.

Team Game -- School-age program attendees are split pretty well in half into two categories: those who attend alone, and those who attend with a sibling or friend. I like to have a mingling, camaraderie-building aspect to the program so kids meet new people, so I try to always include a team game. For this fall festival, I had a ring relay race. The kid were split into two even teams, and each team had a set of 10 rings (either orange spiders or black bats). One team member at a time had to put on all ten rings, run to the other side of the room to tap a chair, run back, remove the rings, and then pass them on to the next team member. The first team whose members all completed the challenge first won. It was a close race, and we witnessed some very creative definitions of what it meant to "put on" the rings.

Candy Corn Bingo -- I am pretty sure that veteran Fall Festival attendees would mutiny if we didn't play Candy Corn Bingo. Using pieces of candy corn, kids mark custom bingo cards from DLTK that are decorated with fall-themed images as each image is called by the program leader. Whenever a child got a Bingo, he or she got to claim a fun-size candy bar or Blow Pop, clear his/her card, and start anew. We kept playing until everyone had won twice. These kids get really into Candy Corn Bingo, and ending our Fall Festival with the game is always a hit.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Halloween Safety Story Time Partnership

For the past few years, my library district has partnered with the county ambulance district to put on a series of Halloween safety programs for our customers. My branch's program this year, aimed at preschoolers and their caregivers, was a lot of fun. The program opened with an ambulance tour; two EMTs demonstrated the stretcher, heartbeat monitor, and lights on the ambulance, much to the delight of the kiddos.

Then we moved inside for a brief presentation about being safe on Halloween. Grownups, here are a few of the tips:
1. Make sure costumes are not too long; long capes, pants, skirts, etc., can cause children to trip and hurt themselves.
2. Always accompany children while trick-or-treating, regardless of their age.
3. Be visible. The ambulance district handed out reflective candy bags and glow stick bracelets for kids to use on Halloween, but additional reflective clothing is great.

After reviewing our safety tips, we moved into the story time portion of our program. I read one of my new favorites for the spooky season, Creepy Carrots. Have you read it yet? Illustrator extraordinaire Peter Brown made a great video about its creation, too.

Then it was time for crafts. I opted for one structured craft and one that was more open-ended. We made paper plate ghosts (thanks, Pinterest!), then I handed out blank sheets of paper for kids to draw themselves in their Halloween getups. I loved seeing the pictures they drew--they are so proud of their costumes!

Have a fun and safe Halloween, everyone!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Preschool Science on the ALSC Blog

I'm on the ALSC Blog today talking about a recent STEM Preschool Science success. During the program, we explored the concepts of strength and materials with the help of the three little pigs and some fun hands-on activities. Don't underestimate how much preschoolers will enjoy STEM programming--they are so engaged in stories and hands-on learning. Head over to the ALSC Blog to see how you can offer this program at your library!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Stories, Songs, and Dancing: A Program Plan for Twos

Please complete the following statement: Two-year-olds love _________.
     a) stories
     b) songs
     c) dancing
     d) all of the above

Did you select d) all of the above? Because it's true! Libraries traditionally focus on sharing stories in preschool programming, and while most program plans will involve some songs and maybe some dance, stories are definitely the main event. Have you ever considered a program where stories, songs, and dancing all have equal parts? Such a program can be lots of fun for kids and caregivers. Here's just such a program that was recently a total hit with two-year-olds at my library.

Opening Song: "If You're Happy and You Know It" + ukulele
     As each two-year-old came into the program, he or she got a name tag. I opened the program by welcoming each child individually by name and asking if he or she had a favorite animal. I wrote the favorite animals on our dry erase board. Writing down what children say helps them make the connection that written marks have meaning.
     After the first "clap your hands" verse of our song, we repeated it by going through our list of favorite animals. We had some repeats, so in the end we were giraffes (stretching our necks), elephants (making trunks with an arm), dogs (barking), and cats (meowing). This opening song got everyone loosened up and set the stage for a really energetic program.

Story: Is Everyone Ready for Fun? by Jan Thomas
     The cows in this story keep doing silly things on Chicken's sofa, like jumping and wiggling. Reading this story aloud invites lots of action, and it's a funny read, too.

Song and Dance: "Mahna Mahna" by The Muppets
     I passed out rhythm sticks for this song (as I saw done at the ALSC Institute), and we grooved to the silly song for a few minutes. We worked on tapping a rhythm on our sticks, then we moved on to tapping fast, slow, up high, down low, and (most difficult) behind our backs. There was lots of movement during this number!

Story: King Bidgood's in the Bathtub by Audrey Wood
     I love this story. It has great rhythm, is an easy-to-follow story with a repetitive pattern, and cracks kids up with its hilarity every time. Plus it's always fun to make the "glub glub glub" noises when the page lets all the bath water go down the drain.

Song and Dance: "Splish Splash" by Bobby Darin
     Go ahead, try to play this song and then not dance. It's simply a tune to be danced to! Our dance moves came from miming like we were taking a bath: washing our arms, legs, and hair. We also did some silly things like swimming in the bathtub and holding our noses.

Story: Dancing Feet by Lindsey Craig
     While we were still standing from our "Splish Splash" dance, I pulled out this great rhythmic story that includes lots of fun animals. We danced on our tippity feet, our stompity feet, and our very own feet.

Story: Go Away, Big Green Monster by Ed Emberley
     Whew! We needed a bit of a break at this point, so all the kiddos sat down while I read Go Away, Big Green Monster--a perennial October favorite. My two-year-olds were really getting into the groove of a participatory story time, as they chimed in to say "Go away!" toward the end of the story.

Song and Dance: "Monster Boogie" by the Laurie Berkner Band
     I love songs whose lyrics narrate their dance moves; Laurie Berkner is great for just such tunes. For this song, we stomped around the room pretending to be monsters, and we intermittently bared our teeth, wiggled, danced, and roared.

Craft: Make-your-own ribbon dancer
     Our craft involved three supplies: the cardboard tube from a dry cleaners' pants hanger; a length of fabric ribbon; and some duct tape. With some assistance from their caregivers, the children taped their ribbons to their cardboard tubes to create a ribbon dancer, perfect for dancing. We even danced in some bubbles after the craft was finished! We had a great time popping those bubbles and shimmying to some surf songs from Jan and Dean.


There you have it, a simple program that matches stories, songs, and dancing perfectly. I'm confident this sort of program plan would work really well for, shall we say, energetic outreach classrooms as well.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Welcome to the Neighborhood(s)

This is what it used to
look like, jumbled and
hard to browse.
For this, my 100th blog post here at the Show Me Librarian, I want to share with you my branch's new picture book setup.

Let's start back in June in Anaheim. I was at the 2012 ALA Annual Conference, and I was sitting in a program called "I WANT A TRUCK BOOK! Reorganizing Your Picture Book Collection to Meet the Needs of Young Patrons and their Caregivers." Gretchen Caserotti, she of Darien Library and LJ 2010 Mover and Shaker fame, was the first speaker, and she talked about her library's wildly successful reorganization of its "kidlit" collection--picture books for the under-5 crowd. It's safe to say that I was greatly intrigued by what Gretchen said. Organizing picture books in a manner that empowers both kids (i.e., pre-readers) and caregivers to really use the collection? YES! Where do I sign up?

Here's a look at some of our shelves in
Picture Book City following the reorganization.
I came back from Anaheim completely invigorated and full of excitement at the potential of reorganizing the picture books in my branch. I took a few days to work out the details of how I would proceed, and then I explained the concept and project plan to my branch manager. She agreed to let me shake things up after only three minutes of conversation--I never even had to break out my persuasive statistics. The next few months in the branch were spent a) confirming the categories we'd break our picture books into, and b) giving picture books a colored sticker to correspond with their category. Volunteers were a huge help in getting some of the straightforward stickering underway with the help of subject lists; I did the more time-intensive work of opening a picture book, reading enough of it to determine its category, then stickering it.

In progress--so many piles!
That's how we proceeded until last week, however. My branch was closed Monday through Thursday for some painting and electrical work, but staff were still assigned shifts to work while the public was not in the building. In those four days, thanks to a number of extremely helpful and hardworking staff, we finished our project. Monday and Tuesday consisted of stickering every remaining picture book in one of our eight categories, or neighborhoods as we now call them. Wednesday consisted of putting the books in each neighborhood in alphabetical order (some on shelves, some in piles), and on Thursday we scanned and shelved. Yes, we scanned every single picture book, then shelved them alphabetically within their new neighborhood locations. That's approximately 8000 books. In one day. With a team of five. I owe them treats.


When we opened again at 9 a.m. on Friday morning, our picture books were converted into what is now called Picture Book City (fun wooden sign to come, as soon as I make it). One of my staffers took pictures of our C-shaped picture book area and stitched them together for a sort of 180 effect; can you see the lovely rainbow? Each neighborhood begins with a sign explaining both the types of books in the neighborhood and the purpose of the Picture Book City neighborhood system. I also made handouts to explain our neighborhood categories.

One of my favorite parts of Friday--our first day with the new system, when people could have been really confused or upset by the change--was hearing so many caregivers express how simple and navigable our picture books now are. When I was in the children's section explaining the system to a mom and her son, I asked the young boy what types of stories he likes; he said "trucks," and literally within moments he was able to find all of the truck books. He and his mom were thrilled. These are the reactions I'm getting pretty much across the board. I cannot wait until our story times start again next week to see how our program-goers like it. I'm also looking forward to watching our picture book circulation statistics over the coming months. I'll report back.
Now that the ever-popular
transportation books are in
one place, I can tell I need
to buy more. Lots more.

I could not have reorganized the picture books at my branch without the support and physical labor of so many branch staff and volunteers. I am likewise indebted to Gretchen and the awesome team of children's librarians at the Darien Library; they planted the idea in my head, let me bounce my ideas for modifying their system off of them, and provided me with much-needed encouragement in the more stressful stages of the process.

Because, yes, it was stressful. And yes, it took a while. I shudder to think how chaotic it would have been to finish the reorganization had the branch not been closed. But all things considered, it's worth it. Kids finding books more easily?

Oh, it is so worth it.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Art in the Library

Over the summer, the art teacher at a local elementary school called me to chat. She said always displays students' artwork in the hallways at school, but would we consider displaying student artwork in the library? Her idea was that she'd take care of selecting students' artwork, preparing it for display, and bringing it to me at the library. My job would be to display it where it would be visible to library visitors. Each batch of artwork would stay up in the library for 5-6 weeks, at which point she'd bring me some new student pieces. She hoped more families from the elementary school would visit the library with the added "art gallery" incentive. It sounded like a great idea to me--a fun way to build a relationship with a local school, display the talents of kids in the community, and possibly draw in families of non-library users.

Our first batch of artwork has been up in our children's area for a little over a month at this point. When it came time to decide how to display the artwork, I opted for a simple setup: colored clothespins on string hold up the artwork, and a bent paper clip suspends the string from our ceiling tiles. Artwork is only displayed against a wall, minimizing the likelihood that it will turn and become unviewable. We have already learned that standard printer paper-size pieces display best, with larger projects working most of the time if they are portrait-oriented. Anything much bigger starts to curl at the corners. I haven't noticed too many kids coming to the library specifically to look at the artwork, but plenty of folks have commented on how it livens up the children's space. I'm excited to see what sort of pieces we'll get next!

Do you display children's artwork in the library? Are displayed pieces created in the library, or do you show children's creations from school or other places? How do you partner with schools in non-traditional ways?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Outreach Story Time: Dogs and Cats (with some fish thrown in)

I started my second set of fall outreach story time visits this week, and once again I included titles nominated for the Missouri Building Block Picture Book Award. I chose two of the nominated titles that include dogs, then I rounded out the story time with a few other favorite animals: cats and fish. Here's what I did:

Opening Song: "Open, Shut Them"

Story: Rrralph by Lois Ehlert
     Ralph has a special skill: he can talk! Throughout the story, the narrator asks Ralph questions; Ralph replies with words like "bark," "wolf," and "rough"--all words that sound like common dog sounds. Some of the kids may have been too young to get the word play joke, but the whole audience enjoyed imitating each of Ralph's sounds.

Fingerplay: "Two Little Puppy Dogs"

Two Little Puppy Dogs
Two little puppy dogs, lying in a heap.
extend two fingers
Soft and wooly and fast asleep.
pet fingers
Along came a pussycat creeping near,
extend finger on other hand
"Meow, meow," she cried in their ears.
say "meow"
Two little puppy dogs after one cat;
have two fingers chase one finger
Have you ever played tag like that?

Story: Dog in Boots by Greg Gormley
     After Dog reads the story of Puss in Boots, he decides that he wants shoes for himself. The shoe salesman gives him plenty of options, but no pair of shoes is equally good for all Dog's needs: digging, swimming, scratching, running... When the shoe salesman suggests Dog already has the perfect shoes--his paws--Dog realizes he has all the footwear he needs. The language in this book doesn't roll off the tongue quite as easily as in others, but the children seem to enjoy the story.

Story: Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes by Eric Litwin
     Pete the Cat was a huge hit last year, so I segued into stories with cats by reintroducing Pete to the kiddos. They really enjoyed seeing Pete do all of the school activities that they do when they are at school.

Fingerplay: "Two Little Kitties"

Five Little Kitties
Five little kitties in a row
extend five fingers
They nod their heads to the children so.
bend fingers toward audience
They run to the left, they run to the right;
move hand in each direction
They stand up straight to reach the sunlight
raise hand
One little puppy, he's in for some fun;
raise a finger on the other hand
"MEOW!" See those kitties run!
have dog chase cats

Story: Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons by Eric Litwin
     This is my favorite Pete the Cat story, primarily for the great message--buttons come and buttons go!--as well as the fantastic song. Whenever I've shared this book, kids get really into the rhythm of it. It's great to support basic math skills, too.

Story: This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen
     Klassen's I Want My Hat Back, with its open-endedness and dark humor, was one of my favorite books of 2011, so I was anxiously awaiting the release of This Is Not My Hat. If it's possible, I like this second title even more. It opens with a small fish confessing to having stolen a larger fish's hat; he knows stealing is wrong, but he wants it, so he has a plan to escape to a patch of seaweeds. As the small fish narrates, the illustrations often negate what he says: for example, when the small fish says the large fish he stole from probably won't notice his hat is missing, we see the large fish looking up to where his hat should be. The resolution is again darkly funny yet open-ended--let me know what ending you think happens.

Song: "If You're Happy and You Know It" + ukulele
     I have managed to master this song on my ukulele--well, "master" might be a strong word. At any rate, I accompanied our usual story time closing song with my ukulele, introducing the kiddos to the instrument and inviting them to say its name. We adapted the actions in the song to fit our story time theme: we sang verses of "If you're happy and you know it, be a dog" (with lots of barking) as well as " a cat" and " a fish." We ended the whole song with "If you're happy and you know it, wave goodbye," which perfectly signaled the end of our story time. I got lots of enthusiastic comments about the ukulele, and I will absolutely be working to learning more songs to share at my outreach visits.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Today is the last day to nominate for the Cybils!

Have you nominated your favorite reads of 2012 for the Cybils yet? Today is the last day that the general public is eligible to nominate one title (published between Oct. 16, 2011, and Oct. 15, 2012) in each of the 13 categories. So take a look at the titles currently nominated, then think over what you've been reading: What's missing? What great books deserve to be on the long list? Nominating is a simple process, and by adding your favorite titles to the list, you're making it easier for everyone to find great books to share with readers.

I know my fellow committee members and I are already furiously reading the nominations--I can't wait to see what titles get added to the long list before the clock winds down!

Friday, October 12, 2012

A Stupendous Way to Get a Reader's Attention... to talk about butts. I put this theory to the test during summer reading rallies last May, when I visited elementary schools to talk about our summer reading program and to book talk a few titles. I was able to command the attention of a school of 500+ whenever I talked about state award nominee Pierre the Penguin for one simple reason: I said that, unfortunately, this particular penguin had no butt feathers. That's right, I said "butt." And those readers were sold.

That's why I love what Artie Bennett is doing with picture book non-fiction. He is meeting young readers where they are, talking about real giggle-inducing topics like butts and poop. And while those topics in and of themselves grab young readers' attention, the content of each book is interesting and informative.

The Butt Book came out in 2010, and it takes readers through the fascinating world of derrieres. Throughout the rhymed text, we learn a lot about butts: what they are called in other parts of the world; that snakes don't have them; the number of things we can do only because we have butts. Mike Lester's bright and comical illustrations add another dimension of delight to the thoroughly enjoyable book.

Bennett's most recent endeavor is titled Poopendous! Can you guess its subject matter? With the help of Professor Pip Poopdeck, readers learn a myriad of facts about feces. We learn different names for different types of poop, the fact that different animals produce different shapes of poop (it's cubes from wombats--who knew?!?), and--perhaps most excitingly--the diverse uses for poop: fertilizer, building material, animal identification. Bennett shares all sorts of tidbits about poop that are sure to stick with kids long after their giggles have died down. Mike Moran's cartoon-y illustrations only make the whole book more fun.

Both The Butt Book and Poopendous! share a remarkable amount of information in a format that absolutely captivates young readers. Bennett's use of rhyme is excellent; his stanzas flow and exude joviality in a manner that few writers since Dr. Seuss have truly mastered. Simply put, these books are a joy. Even better for teachers, librarians, and caregivers: they inform as well as entertain. I'm willing to bet these books will be a hit with almost any crowd you encounter.

P.S. Artie Bennett seems like a really awesome, hilarious guy. Mr. Schu interviewed him this summer; head over to Watch. Connect. Read. to see what he had to say.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Baby Story Time Plan for the Tiniest Ones

For this week's Bouncing Babies story time, I had just one child registered for my 11 o'clock session: a 5-week-old boy. A year ago, I might have been intimidated by the prospect of a baby story time consisting of only me, the mom, and a mostly-sleeping tiny baby. Instead, I took a deep breath, dug into my book basket for some age-appropriate books to share, and got down to business.

My basic Bouncing Babies program format is easily adaptable for the tiniest library visitors. I try to work a variety of rhymes and songs into every session, many of which work just as well for rocking a baby as for engaging a 20-month-old in fine motor skills. I did decide early on to scrap the interactive music and free play portions of the program for this particular program scenario; I didn't see loud bells or tactile balls going over too well with a drowsy newborn. Instead, I focused more heavily on book sharing after our rhymes. Even with a lightly sleeping baby, rhyming and rhythmic stories, as well as sung stories, are calming and comforting. I chose three from my book basket: Itsy Bitsy Spider, a pop-up book from Richard Egielski, which I sang slowly and quietly; Baby Cakes, written by Karma Wilson and illustrated by Sam Williams, which has great, simple rhythm and invites cuddling; and Sleepy Me! by Marni McGee and illustrated by Cee Biscoe, which has plenty of happy-sounding, calming rhymes. I read the books as I would to any audience of babies--only in this case, since the baby was dozing, my audience was being rocked in mamma's arms during my reading. The whole atmosphere felt calm, inviting, and pleasant. I would venture to guess that such an atmosphere is appreciated by the mother of a 5-week-old.

Perhaps one of the best things about a program with low attendance--in this case, just one caregiver and child!--is the fact that the attendees have your total attention. I love being able to tailor my program format to my audience, and I always take the opportunity to share an early literacy message specific to the child. In this instance, I emphasized the great impact songs and rhymes have on even the tiniest pre-readers. The mom and I chatted briefly about calming songs, fun rhymes and rhyming stories, and ways to promote bonding when sharing these songs and rhymes with the baby (rocking, eye contact, speaking softly and directly to the child, etc.). After securing her sleeping baby in his carrier, the mom left with some practical ideas for at-home activities as well as excitement to come back to future programs. What could have been a difficult or awkward program with a tiny library patron turned into one of my favorite program interactions yet.

Have you ever done a program for just a few really tiny library visitors? What did you do? How did it go?

Monday, October 8, 2012

We're All Heroes: A Superhero Party Program

I think it is safe to say that superheroes have been of lots of folks' minds as of late. What with all of the big-budget superhero movies hitting theaters over the summer, the variety of superhero graphic novels coming out for early and middle grade readers, and increased interest in making superhero-themed picture books for the younger set, there seems to be large interest in all things superheroes. As a librarian, I want to consistently use my powers for good--and that recently meant offering a Superhero Party program. Here's what it looked like:

As children made their way into the program room, they saw tables set out with supplies to create their superhero costumes: blank face masks from our die cut machine; toilet paper tubes to be decorated and cut into wrist bands; and name tags ready to proclaim each child's superhero name. We spent a good twenty minutes in costume preparation--and let me tell you, the creative juices were flowing big time! I made sure to walk the room and engage each child in a conversation about his/her superpowers, costume choice, etc. Also, since the program began with our craft--a quieter activity--I was able to leave the program room doors open for the first twenty minutes. I had a handful of children come into the room for the program just because they peeked in and saw something they found interesting. I love getting walk-ins at school-age programs.

As children were putting the finishing touches on their costumes, I took the opportunity to talk about a few books in the collection featuring superheroes they might not have been familiar with. For the younger set, I book talked Wedgieman: A Hero is Born by Charise Mericle Harper and illustrated by Bob Shea. For older readers, I talked both a graphic novel series and a chapter book series: Lunch Lady by Jarrett Krosoczka, and The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey (complete with flip-o-rama demonstration).

After the book talks and a quick superhero photo break, we moved into our superhero skills training. Two games were available for our young heroes, both involving tossing balls. First was a knock-over-the-supervillains game, similar to what you might see at a school fun fair. I affixed some common comic book villains to the cans, and we used textured rubber balls as ammunition. The second game involved knocking some invisible villains out of a building--a.k.a. a large box I carved window-like sections out of and then painted. The ammunition for this game was soft spongy balls that are designed as pool toys. After hearing about the invisible villains, a few children modified their costumes with special invisibility-viewing capabilities. I love the young child's mind!

After a few rounds of skill practice, it was time for our final superhero endeavor: ridding the library of a deadly kryptonite contamination. *GASP!* For this game, we split into two teams. The kryptonite--balled up pieces of aluminum foil--was scattered around the far end of the program room, and the kryptonite could only be picked up with the assistance of two pencils--no touching the kryptonite! The goal was for each team to send one member at a time from their home base, where they had a decontamination bucket, into the contamination field to pick up and carry back a piece of kryptonite using their tools. Once the piece of kryptonite was deposited in the decontamination bucket, another team member could go to continue the collection. At the end of the game, the team with the most kryptonite collected would win. Since our attendees were toward the younger side of the school-age range, their pace for collecting kryptonite was not particularly quick; to help move things along, I let teams have multiple members out in the contamination field at a time.

Once all the kryptonite had been cleared, I reported that I, The Librarian, would need to count the kryptonite to determine the winning team. I suggested that they pass the tallying time by looking at the superhero books available for check-out--I had set up a table with a variety of options. Note: almost every book was checked out after the program; since they were looking at books as part of the program time, they were a captive audience and really looked at their options. When finally I announced that one team had edged out the other with a single piece of kryptonite, everyone was happy and had a book in hand.

The children walked out into the library in their superhero costumes after the program, and I made sure they left with my favorite superhero message as well as a book: use your powers for good. Based on the number of smiles on those masked faces, I'd say the whole event was a success.

Friday, October 5, 2012

YA Friday: Freedom to Read with John Corey Whaley

Corey visited my library in May.
Today, for a special Banned Books Week edition of YA Friday--it's young adult author John Corey Whaley!

His coming-of-age novel Where Things Come Back was awarded the 2012 Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature and the 2012 William C. Morris YA Debut Award. These are major literary accolades, but they have not made his novel immune to the challenges aimed at so many young adult books. I asked Corey--that's how he introduced himself at his book event at my library last May--a few questions about the freedom to read. Without further ado, here's what he had to say:

What does the freedom to read mean to you as a YA author?
Corey: The freedom to read has always been something I refuse to take lightly. When I first discovered, around 8th grade, that some books were banned around the world, in certain schools, and at different points in history, I immediately knew that I couldn't take my freedoms for granted and that I had the obligation to treat reading with the utmost respect. Being a YA author has only strengthened that emotion in me--I've seen first hand how easily and haphazardly a book can be misinterpreted or mis-categorized, how quickly a small group of people can try to take that freedom away from our young people. My first and most important mission as an author for teens is to be obsessed with the truth---to find new and creative ways to tell stories that, whether real or not, have some universal, meaningful truth that teenage readers can not only relate to, but through which they can also find comfort and understanding. The freedom to read is equal to the freedom to learn and to grow as a person, and those mean more to me than anything.

You taught middle and high school English. How did teaching young adults affect your perspective on censorship and the freedom to read?
Corey: There were several moments in my career as a teacher when I had to ask myself some very important questions. "Should my students be reading this?" "Should I skip over this section?" "Should I censor this author's words so I don't cause any trouble or offend anyone?" And, to tell you the truth, I probably made a few bad decisions and a few good ones along the way. It's a difficult thing, to judge for someone else what they can and can't handle, the things that their respective lives and upbringings make them sensitive to and so forth. I'd say my perspective was most affected when I realized, as a high school teacher, that a history teacher had been giving misinformation to my students and treating it as fact. She hadn't given them the option to question her, but had told them a lie and used her authority to make it their truth. So, I re-taught them the lesson in my English class...I let them know that they have to be careful who they get certain information from and why certain people, even figures of authority, don't always have all the answers. Maybe I digressed a bit there, but this experience led me to look at my role as a teacher in a new light--it made me realize that above all else, it was my duty to give my students the truth, be it difficult or not. So, I'd say teaching had a grandiose affect on the way I view censorship and the freedom to read and learn, even when certain truths make us uncomfortable.

What are some of your favorite frequently challenged or banned books?
Corey: Ah! There are SO many. Some of my favorites are definitely The Catcher in the Rye, Fahrenheit 451, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. These books changed the way I viewed literature as a young adult, and it pains me to think that other teens are blocked access from experiencing them.

What advice would you give teens whose parents or teachers tell them a book they want to read is off-limits for being "inappropriate"?
Corey: Great question. I've never been a parent, but my years as a teacher instilled in me that, first and foremost, it is a parent's job to protect and look after his or her child and make the tough decisions that affect that child. But, I also think that if teens disagree with their parents on certain books being "inappropriate," then they should perhaps use this disagreement as an opportunity to open up a dialogue with their parents. Teens could challenge their parents to read a book along with them, to discuss the difficult, possibly inappropriate topics and actually use this as a way to learn more about the harsh realities of the adult world. I think, if parents are open to it, this could actually be a very open and honest way of connecting with their children and, most assuredly, a way to learn a little something themselves.


Thank you, Corey, for sharing your perspective on the freedom to read. As a librarian who often fields questions from parents about whether this book or that book is "appropriate" for their children, I'm glad to hear at least one other person thinks that difficult or controversial stories can provide opportunities for discussion when read together.

Readers, celebrate your freedom to read and look for Corey's award-winning novel Where Things Come Back at a library or independent bookstore near you!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Cybils Award Nominations are Underway

As of October 1, nominations for the 2012 Cybils Awards are underway! Between now and October 15, anyone can go to the Cybils website to nominate their favorite reads published since Oct. 16, 2011. You can nominate one book in each of the ten (yes, TEN!) categories, ranging from book apps and picture books to graphic novels and poetry. I am a Round I panelist for the Middle Grade Fiction category, and I am already loving the list of nominated books that my esteemed colleagues and I will be considering. Please do your part to make sure the books you've read and loved this year don't get left out of consideration--nominate today!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Celebrate Banned Books Week!

Banned Books Week is one of my favorite weeks of the year. I love the sense of camaraderie it creates in the library--all sorts of customers stop to look at the display of library books that have been challenged or banned at some point somewhere in the country. More often than not, they recognize many of the books on the display as some of their favorites. "Why would someone have challenged/banned this book?" they ask; "It's so good!" Personally, I agree: many of my favorite reads happen to have been challenged or banned at one time or another. Go ahead, look at the lists of frequently challenged books; I'd bet you'll find some of your favorites there, too.

Our Banned Books Week
My library wholeheartedly stands behind the Freedom to Read Statement, and I am adamant that the statement applies to children and teens as much as it does to adults. Sure, it is still up to the parents or guardians to decide if a book is appropriate for their own children; but it is certainly not the place of the library to say what someone can or cannot read. I also like to consider something that Daniel Handler mentioned at ALA Annual this past June: while many great books may include moments of sex, rude language, diverse lifestyles, or any other number of things an individual may find objectionable, it is not those moments that make the book great. In fact, many young readers remember loving a book without ever really recalling those "objectionable" bits. They like these books because they are good books. End of argument.

And so I always make an effort to provide access to these fabulous books that have been challenged or banned--not because I think the lure of something racy will catch readers (although it sometimes does snare the reluctant ones)--but because I will go to any lengths to get great books in the hands of readers. If that means wrapping books with signage containing modified lyrics to one of the year's most maddening songs, well, so be it. Anything for a reader to fall in love with a beautiful story.

How do you celebrate Banned Books Week in your library? What are your favorite challenged or banned books? Bonus question: do you know why they were challenged in the first place?