Monday, December 30, 2013

The Real End-of-Year Must-Read: "It's Not Just Sexism" on Storytime Underground

I was all set to post on a completely different topic today, but I am postponing that piece so that, hopefully, more people will read an outstanding post by Cory Eckert on Storytime Underground.

We're rapidly approaching prime librarian accolades season, a time when many youth services librarians feel overlooked and undervalued by the profession at large. Regardless of where you weigh in on that particular argument--whether you want wider recognition, whether you don't, whether it's the principle of the matter--Cory's piece is a must-read. THIS is the sort of article that should be in American Libraries Direct, because then all sorts of librarians would read it. But this is the sort of article that never gets linked for all librarianship to read.

So many librarians are doing good work for the communities they serve; that accolade is not reserved solely for youth services librarianship. But when factors like privilege, race, and sex prevent the good work in the children's room from getting equal recognition to all the shiny new trends? That's a serious problem, for our profession as well as those we serve.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Preschool Science: Observation on the ALSC Blog

In case holiday festivities have kept you from checking your RSS feed these past few days, please allow me to direct your attention to my most recent post on the ALSC Blog. In the post, I share full program details for my most recent preschool science program, in which we explored the science skill of observation. Head over to the ALSC Blog to read the whole thing!

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Composer is Dead! A Musical Unprogram Adventure

Ever since I first read/listened to Lemony Snicket's The Composer is Dead, I knew I wanted to one day use it in a program. In my mind, The Composer is Dead is on a level with Peter and the Wolf in terms of using narrative to introduce instruments in the orchestra. Better, even, because MURDER. It just so happens that this book fits well with the Unprogramming model that Marge and I have been chattering so much about as of late. Which is great, because who wants to spend a million years creating a program when you can make something truly engaging and fun in a much shorter amount of time? Here's what we did:

The Book Component: The Composer is Dead by Lemony Snicket
     I read the story aloud, but I added peripheral elements that made the telling interactive and visual for the kids in the program. When kids entered the program, I passed out instrument cards on popsicle sticks. Each card showed a picture of an instrument featured in the story, its name, and the section to which is belongs (strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion). Then, each time a particular instrument or section was mentioned in the story, the children holding those cards would raise them up and shake them feverishly. I also put together a Prezi to accompany my reading; I mirrored the Prezi from my iPad to the HDTV in our program room, providing visual intrigue throughout and visual clues for what instruments were being featured.
     Fun fact about sharing this story with kids: The kids loved the premise that the composer has been murdered, and every section of the orchestra must be questioned to find the culprit. Toward the end, when the grand joke of the whole book is revealed, there's a whole two-page spread on which composers are listed, then immediately proclaimed, "DEAD!" The kids got really into shouting "DEAD!" after I named the composers, and they were particularly amused to see portraits of these composers, too (Thank you, Biography in Context!).

The Activities Component: The Orchestra app by Touch Press
     We had just over a dozen children in this program, a perfect size for exploring this really great app together. This app allows you to find out more about individual instruments in the orchestra, including 360-degree views, interviews with players, orchestra excerpts, and sound samples. We explored one instrument from each section of the orchestra, making note of the different ways things are played (buzzing like brass players was a particular favorite activity). We also tried to figure out the instrument that can play the lowest note, and the instrument that can play the highest. Favorite instrument sound for this group: the tam tam.
     We finished this activity by watching and listening to part of a performance of an orchestral piece. These performances show, in real time: the score, so we talked about reading music; panning clips of different instruments when they were featured in the piece; constant video of the conductor; and a great illustration showing dots for every player in the orchestra, with the dots expanding whenever a particular player plays. That illustration was particularly captivating to several of the kids.

Explore!: Make rubber band instruments
     I brought all sorts of recycled plastic and cardboard containers into the program, as well as tons of rubber bands (which are always in large supply at the library). After demonstrating my own rubber band instrument, and showing how tightening or loosening the tension in the rubber band can change the sound, the children go to work on creating their own instruments.
     We wrapped everything up with a short rubber band orchestra performance, which garnered rather a lot of applause from the attending caregivers. (They may have just been happy that rubber band instruments are quieter than that time we all made homemade kazoos, which are loud.)

Take things home: I put out other Lemony Snicket books, some nonfiction about music and instruments, and a few orchestral CDs. Several parents asked me about The Orchestra app, as a few of the kids stayed after the program to try out a few more instruments on it.

I was incredibly pleased with this unprogram. The kids enjoyed the longer story, they got into instruments and making their own music, and overall we enjoyed an evening of culture at the library on a cold night. Lemony Snicket may say something sarcastic here about the program, but I was pretty proud of it.

Friday, December 20, 2013

What to call my Kids Advisory Board?

I've been offering a monthly Kids Advisory Board program for about nine months now. The program is successful in essentials--a variety of kids ages 9-12 attend, we talk about books, we talk about what programs they want to see happen in the library, etc. The only problem is that, despite there being a variety of kids who have attended so far, only 2-3 children ever show up at any given program.

I've tried personal phone calls to past attendees as a reminder of upcoming meetings. I've tried all manner of promotional signs around the branch to recruit new members. None of it has worked, and so I think a rebranding is in order.

Really? You thought that program name would work?
When I brought up this issue at the December Kids Advisory Board program, both the attendees--one female, one male (if that even matters)--were totally on board with the idea of a name change. According to these children, nine- to twelve-year-olds don't always associate with the term "kids" anymore. In their experience, "kids" means young children, 2nd grade and younger. So calling the program the Kids Advisory Board is potentially missing my target audience. They also told me they don't identify with the word "tween," and that if some age signifier absolutely needs to be employed, they prefer "pre-teen." Also, I was informed that "advisory board" sounds like work and not fun.

So, "Kids" is out. "Advisory Board" sis. What to call this group, then?

I've been playing around with different program names that may somehow reflect the fact that this is a social group for older elementary students, and that books and library happenings will be discussed. Here are some of the names I'm considering, culled both from pre-teens' suggestions and my own browsing of library event listings and blogs:
  • The Idea Squad
  • Books and More
  • Library Club
  • Chatterbooks

Dear reader, do you possess insight or advice on this topic? Do you have a similar type of group/program at your library, and what do you call it? Do you have a good suggestion? Or may just an example of when you've rebranded a program to give it a new look? I'd love to hear any and all thoughts in the comments or on Twitter.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Circulating Ideas podcast explores Storytime

Not too long ago, Steve Thomas--he of Circulating Ideas podcast fame--talked to a whole slate of terrific children's librarians to really understand everything that goes into storytime. In addition to interviewing Julie from Hi Miss Julie, Anne from So Tomorrow, Anna from Future Librarian Superhero, and Dana and Lindsey from Jbrary, Steve talked to Cory, Kendra, and me about Storytime Underground and our storytimes. These interviews resulted in two podcast episodes, the second of which went live yesterday.

So, if you're anticipating some prime audiobook or podcast time in the next few weeks--while baking cookies, cleaning for holiday company, driving somewhere--I encourage you to check out these two storytime episodes of Circulating Ideas. My esteemed colleagues have some really profound and motivational things to say about this work we do.

Episode 34: Storytime - The philosophies and practices of successful storytimes.

Episode 35: Storytime (Part Two) - Paths into children's librarianship and recommendations for storytime books, crafts, and songs.

Bonus: In the second episode (Episode 35), you can absolutely hear my brain freak out as I try to process the ABSURD question "If you could only choose one book to read for storytime, what would it be?" Everyone else rationally shared their favorite storytime books, but of course I overthought the question. I'm sure you're all surprised.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Nutcracker Tea Party

Every December, I like to offer a festive seasonal program for our kiddos. Last year we did gingerbread houses, which is a wonderful STEAM program. Gingerbread houses will be back next year--I want to stay away from too many annual programs so we still have plenty of time to try new things. This year, we put on a Nutcracker Tea Party, which was a raging success. Here's what I did:

Program advertisement: Come dressed in your tea party finest to enjoy the story of The Nutcracker and some festive treats. Before we're through, we'll decorate magic wands and dance like sugar plum fairies!

Program supplies:
  • festive treats (I got mine at Trader Joe's, which always has small, fun, inexpensive goodies that you don't see at every grocery store)
  • drink options (I had both hot peppermint tea and cold juice drinks)
  • a copy of the story of the Nutcracker, either for a read-aloud or for oral storytelling
  • music from The Nutcracker ballet by Tchaikovsky, and a way to play it
  • supplies to make magic wands: chopsticks, stars on card stock, crayons, crepe paper, and book tape

Program audience: ages 3-6, or preschool (siblings of children falling in that age range may also attend)

Room setup: On the large side of our room, I created two long banquet-style tables by setting several of our moveable tables end-to-end and covering them with bright-colored tablecloths. Each place setting was set with a napkin and a small plate with pre-portioned treats (I kept ingredient information for interested caregivers), and crayons and scissors were set along the middle of the table for our craft.
     On the smaller side of our room, I set out our story time rugs to delineate our story space. I also set a table against a wall to use as our craft assembly station. Our CD player was on this side of the room.

Program schedule: The entire program was 45 minutes.

  • Welcome: When I opened the doors to our program room, I had each child check in with me before finding a seat. I took that opportunity to welcome and compliment each child on his or her lovely attire and how confident it made them. This was also when I passed out each child's drink. Every child could choose a cold juice or a hot peppermint tea; about 5 of the preschoolers opted for tea, which is more than I would have expected. I also had a stack of flyers for a January "ballet story time" sitting on the welcome table; almost every caregiver picked up a flyer.
  • Tea party snacks and chat: As the young partygoers enjoyed their treats, I moved from table to table to talk with each of my guests. Some were shy and just nodded demurely at my questions, but others were eager to tell me all about their party clothes, or their holiday plans, or the upcoming snowstorm.
  • Story: We headed over to the story time rugs for the read-aloud of The Nutcracker. I used the version by Susan Jeffers, which has great illustrations and is an appropriate length for a preschool group.
  • Craft: I handed each child a card stock star after the story, and everyone moved back to the tables to decorate and cut out their stars. I helmed the craft assembly station at this point, asking each child what color streamer they wanted for their wands. The star and streamer were book taped to the top of a chopstick for an easy, inexpensive craft.
  • Dancing: Our final activity was to dance like sugar plum fairies with our wands! I cued the CD to the Trepak, the energetic, Russian-style dance from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker. The children had lots of fun dancing however they wanted, with some twirling, some jumping, some marching, and some leaping about. To help bring down our somewhat chaotic dancing to finish the program, I invited all of the children to follow me into the library for a Nutcracker parade. Our single-file line went out one program room door, past the circulation desk, through the children's area, and back in the other program room door, at which point I invited everyone to find their grown-ups and thanked them for coming.

Reactions: So many parents thanked me profusely for offering a program like this in the winter. Several said that their children love to get fancy, but they just don't have many opportunities to indulge that. My coworkers said they appreciated the Nutcracker parade, as it allowed them to enjoy seeing the excited preschoolers all dressed up. The reactions to this program were overwhelmingly positive, which is saying something when your final attendance count is 50+ attendees. We'll be doing  a variation on this program again in the next few years, that's for sure.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Winter/Spring 2014 Publisher Previews, Part IV

Today I'm finishing my recap of a Winter/Spring 2014 Publisher Preview event I attended in mid-November; I've been sharing one book or series from each of the publishers who presented that I'm looking forward to sharing with readers. See also: Part I, Part II, and Part III.

From Hachette: My Teacher Is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.) by Peter Brown, June 2014
     It is no secret that I adore Peter Brown, and so do my kiddos. I am thrilled to hear that this next book of his will be perfect for early elementary readers. I've got an inkling that it may pair well with Miss Nelson is Missing, too.

From Black Rabbit and Amicus: Beginner Magic series by Stephanie Turnbull, January 2014
     I'm excited at the prospect of updating our easy magic books. With titles including card, coin, scarf and rope, pen and paper, dinner table, and mind and body tricks, I'm pretty sure one of my young readers will try tricks out on me once these titles come in.

From Scholastic: Minecraft: The Official Beginner's Handbook, January 2014
     We may not currently have a designated program for kids who are into Minecraft, but they are certainly into the game. This volume promises to be a useful introduction for those children who are new to the Minecraft world--and to their parents, who are often a bit baffled by the whole thing.

From Tiger Tales: I Can Do It! by Tracey Corderoy, illustrations by Caroline Pedler, March 2014
     What librarian hasn't heard a child loudly exclaim, "I can do it!" in the library? It's a universal experience of childhood: wanting to do things for yourself, but everyone rushes to do them for you first. I expect this title will make a great addition to our "Growing Up" neighborhood in our picture book section, and it will be a welcome title for families experiencing assertions on independence.

From Simon and Schuster: Noggin by John Corey Whaley, April 2014
     I cannot wait for my teens to get their hands on Printz-winner Whaley's newest book. The story follows Travis Coates, a teen with cancer, who chose a drastic treatment option: have his head removed and cryogenically frozen, then reattached to a donor body when the technology exists to do so. Travis thought it would take decades for him to wake up, but when he comes to just five years later, the landscape of life is rough. He's still 16, but his best friend and girlfriend are both 21; his parents have lived five years without him. How will he cope with this new reality of existence? Since Whaley is doing the writing, it's both moving and funny.


That's it for my recap of forthcoming 2014 titles. What are you looking forward to from Winter/Spring 2014 publications?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Guerrilla Storytime is Coming to Philadelphia #alamw14

Are you planning to be in Philadelphia this January for the 2014 ALA Midwinter Meeting? If you are, I hope you'll make plans to attend Guerrilla Storytime!

I've booked the Networking Uncommons, located in the Pennsylvania Convention Center--i.e., the heart of the conference proceedings--for an hour-long Guerrilla Storytime on Sunday, January 26, 2014, from 2-3 p.m. I'll be there with my cup of challenges to get the conversation rolling, but this event is all about the librarians who attend. It's about the storytime skills you want to share, the storytime questions you want to ask, and the storytime truths you want the rest of the profession to know.

Guerrilla Storytime is an opportunity for youth services librarians to gather at conferences to share their expertise with one another. Guerrilla Storytimes take place in a public space, like the Networking Uncommons, so non-youth services librarians can observe as they walk by just how much knowledge and energy goes into providing great storytimes. The original Guerrilla Storytimes took place back in June and July in Chicago at the 2013 ALA Annual Conference, and the initiative has been picking up momentum ever since. Check out the Storytime Underground for full details on what Guerrilla Storytime is and what's happened at Guerrilla Storytimes since the summer.

Monday, December 9, 2013

December Milk & Cookies Story Morning

The library gods must be watching out for me, because this past weekend's Milk & Cookies Story Morning could have been a logistic disaster. You see, that Saturday morning program has been consistently popular, filling my meeting room to the max. It just so happens, however, that our new children's dvd shelving couldn't be delivered last week as planned, and so all of our children's dvds are currently on tables in the back half of the meeting room. That meant coming up with an alternate plan for the story time, snack, and play time of my program.

Except then it turned out to be about 15 degrees outside Saturday morning, with a windchill just north of 0. The prospect of venturing to the library on the first frigid morning of the year was apparently unappealing, and my attendance numbers dropped to a minimalistic 13. Happily, that more intimately-sized program was completely doable with the temporary meeting room logistics. We were all in closer quarters than we might usually be, but everyone professed to having a great time.

December Milk & Cookies Story Morning

With this smaller group, I asked the kids if they wanted me to read from a chair or to sit on the carpet with them. They chose carpet, so I grabbed my first book and we got started.

Story: Six Little Chicks by Jez Alborough
     This rhyming book is quite a bit of fun, with a story that builds in anticipation as a mother hen worries about a fox in the chicken coop. There are a selection of animals whose noises you can mimic, there are opportunities for counting, and there are great spots for movement as kids copy the little chicks. The illustrations are bright and big as well, making this book a good choice for groups. I had quite a few kiddos helping me to finish the rhymes throughout the story.

Song: "I Know a Chicken" by Laurie Berkner
     I passed out egg shakers to our group--we had enough for every child to get two eggs--and we got really into the shaking of our eggs according to the song's instructions. One little girl in particular was way into some interpretive chicken-egg dancing, which helped get some of the more shy kids into the groove.

Story: Theo's Mood by Maryann Cocca-Leffler
     This book finds Theo at school on Mood Monday, and his teacher asks what happened over the weekend and how he feels. Theo shares that his mom just had a baby--a new baby sister--but that he doesn't know how he feels. His classmates help give him options of moods--happy, mad, jealous, proud, sad, and afraid--and ultimately Theo figures out how to express all the feelings he has as a new big brother. The pace of this quick story is perfect for inviting kids to uses their faces to express their different emotions; "Show me your afraid face" got some especially great facial reactions. This story explores a range of emotions in a safe, heart-warming way, illustrating that it's okay to feel all sorts of different things. I love that this story really shares vocabulary for the variety of things a preschooler might feel on a daily basis.

Song: "Grey Squirrel"
     Our song cube toss landed on "Grey Squirrel," so I handed out egg shakers once again to serve as acorns to our squirrels. To my great enjoyment, many of the dads in attendance got into this song with their little ones. Shake your bushy tail!

Story: The Little Red Hen by Byron Barton
     I think this version of The Little Red Hen is one of my favorites--the illustrations are just so kid-friendly. Together, we shared this story and acted out what the little red hen was doing, and at the end we talked about why it's important to help other people. Or hens, as it were.

Fingerplay: "Zoom, Zoom, Zoom"
     I found this simple fingerplay/song on Jbrary (don't you just LOVE them?!?), and I knew I needed to add it to my story time movement repertoire. It has easy hand motions throughout, and it includes counting backwards from five as well, helping to solidify those numeracy skills. Plus, what kid doesn't like to do sound effects for "Blast off!!!"?

Song: "We're Going to Kentucky"
     We sang this favorite a few times through, making sure to get a little bit faster and sillier each time.

Chant: "Form the Orange"
     With just two minutes left in story time, I pulled this chant out of my back pocket; a quick scan of the room reminded me that none of the children in attendance had heard me lead the rhyme before! We made some orange juice, mashed some potatoes, and went bananas. As one does in story time.

Milk & Cookies Time!
     On the menu was 2% milk and cinnamon alphabet cookies from Trader Joe's. I love handing out cookies that providing an opportunity for letter and number recognition, too.

Free Play Time
     With our more limited space for play this month, I pulled out just three sets of toys: large building blocks, our wooden cars and garages set, and a new alphabet puzzle. Several of the kids got really into solving the 24-piece puzzle, and we ended up finishing it, taking it apart, and finishing it a second time. I'll definitely be bringing out this puzzle again in future programs; it's great for letter recognition, vocabulary, visual problem solving, and cooperation as we solve the puzzle together.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Winter/Spring 2014 Publisher Previews, Part III

I'm in the midst of recapping a Winter/Spring 2014 Publisher Preview event I attended in mid-November; I'm sharing one book or series from each of the publishers who presented that I'm looking forward to sharing with readers. See also: Part I and Part II.

From Random House Children's Books: Lunch Lady and the Schoolwide Scuffle by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, January 2014
     This final volume in the Lunch Lady graphic novel series looks to pack a punch, with the school's budget eliminating our fearless lunch lady's job just as her previous villains return en masse to attack the school. Can she save the day?

From Abdo: Star Trek series by Mike Johnson, September 2014
     These original graphic novel stories pick up in the Star Trek universe where the recent movie, Into Darkness, left off, making them likely must-reads for young Trekkies. The series includes two separate stories in four volumes total: The Galileo Seven Parts 1 and 2, and Where No Man Has Gone Before Parts 1 and 2.

From Candlewick: President Taft is Stuck in the Bath by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen, March 2014
     I've got a handful of elementary schoolers who are way into presidential trivia, and I cannot wait to share with them this sure-to-be-hilarious picture book about President Taft and his unfortunate bathtub mishap. Is the story apocryphal? Does it matter?

From Disney Hyperion: Dinosaur Vs. School by Bob Shea, June 2014
     This latest installment in the adorable "Dinosaur Vs" series follows Dinosaur as he goes to school for the first time. I'm sure there will be plenty of roaring along with meeting the teacher, making new friends, and other common starting-school occurrences. This is a title I look forward to taking to preschool outreach.

From Charlesbridge: Feathers: Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen, February 2014
     This picture book for elementary audiences looks to be both gorgeous and informative. Feathers have long been used for a variety of purposes, both aesthetic and otherwise, and this picture book looks perfect for readers eager to explore collections and natural objects.


Look for Part IV, the final preview recap, next week!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

On Cheeky Book Displays

We've got a set of shelves in the children's area of my library that serves as a display space. My coworkers take turns populating these shelves with themed displays of their choosing, and the space has seen plenty of different display topics. We've had Picture Book Month, National Poetry Month, seasonal themes, award winners, focus on animals and science, focus on picture book biographies...lots of displays meant to highlight interesting and often lesser-known parts of our collections. These displays usually do pretty well, but occasionally one soars above our expectations.
That's the precise case with my colleague Erin's most recent display: "I don't remember the title, but the cover was red..."

This cheeky display theme works on quite a few levels. For kids, it's visually pleasing to see all these like-colored books in one place. The color also tacitly ties into the current festive mood without connecting explicitly to any one holiday or tradition.

For caregivers who like to check out our displays for new book-sharing ideas, the title elicits quite a few chuckles. What reader hasn't before encountered that exact experience of remembering nothing about a book besides its cover? The humor of this display works because readers are 100% in on the joke.

The display is eye-catching for sure, and it looks like it piques customers' reading interests as well: 20% of the items on the display have checked out in the few days this December display has been up. Let this serve as a reminder to me that a touch of humor can go a long way in recommending books to readers.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Winter/Spring 2014 Publisher Previews, Part II

I'm in the midst of recapping a Winter/Spring 2014 Publisher Preview event I attended in mid-November; I'm sharing one book or series from each of the publishers who presented that I'm looking forward to sharing with readers. See also: Part I.

From Chronicle Books: Here Comes Destructosaurus! by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Jeremy Tankard, April 2014
     I cannot wait to share this picture book in my outreach story times. It combines two of my favorite children's lit people: Aaron Reynolds and his terrific storytelling, and Jeremy Tankard and his bright, energetic illustrations. My guess is that this story about losing your temper will be a huge hit with young readers.

From Macmillan: The Pout-Pout Fish Goes to School by Deborah Diesen, illustrated by Dan Hanna, June 2014
     My preschoolers love the Pout-Pout Fish, and I have every reason to believe they will clamor for this newest addition to the series. The best part: it's premise of sea creatures going to school makes it a perfect hand-sell for all those kids who only ever check out Finding Nemo.

From Abrams: Pure Grit: How American World War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific by Mary Cronk Farrell, March 2014
     Just yesterday I had two different kids ask me for "good books about World War II," and while there are plenty of great titles available now, two aspects of the war still trail a bit behind: the Pacific theater and women overseas. This middle grade nonfiction text looks to do a lot to rectify that deficiency, and I anticipate that its combination of a captivating historical story--nurses who not only see battle but are captured--and archival photographs will entice readers.

From Sourcebooks: When Audrey Met Alice by Rebecca Behrens, February 2014
     Audrey is the first daughter, and she finds the security restrictive and the entire experience isolating. Until, that is, she discovers the diary of Alice Roosevelt, another first daughter who had a knack for mischief and a good time despite the expectations of her family. This middle grade novel looks to combine great hijinks with a premise of figuring out how to be yourself--even when you happen to live in the White House.

From HarperCollins: Panic by Lauren Oliver, March 2014
     This new standalone novel from YA favorite Lauren Oliver will have a substantial holds list, of that I'm sure. Its author isn't the only point of appeal; the thriller plot with strong storytelling would also do the trick, as would the fact that the rights to the movie have already been optioned by a major studio.


Look for Parts III and IV over the next few weeks!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Winter/Spring 2014 Publisher Previews, Part I

Last week, I was attended a Winter/Spring 2014 Publisher Preview event hosted by Baker & Taylor in my library district. This event for Missouri-area librarians included presentations from a whole host of publishers, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting a sneak peek at what readers can look forward to in 2014. Over the next few weeks, I'll recap what I saw at the preview event by sharing one book or series per publisher that I look forward to getting into the hands of the young readers I serve next year.

From Cherry Lake: What's It Like to Live Here? series by Katie Marsico, January 2014
     This six-book series aimed at elementary school readers brings the social studies home, literally: by reading about what it's like to live in a city, a fishing village, a mining town, a small town, a suburb, and a farm, children will gain perspectives on the variety of ways and places people live.

From Sleeping Bear: Hot Dog! Eleanor Roosevelt Throws a Picnic by Leslie Kimmelman, illustrated by Victor Juhasz, April 2014
     When King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited the United States in the summer of 1939, it fell to first lady Eleanor Roosevelt to decide how to recognize the event. In true Eleanor style, she decided to forego pomp and circumstance and instead host a picnic. This cheekily illustrated nonfiction picture book for older elementary students looks to combine history and great biographical personality.

From Scholastic Library: American the Beautiful, Third Series, beginning in February 2014
     It's been over five years since Scholastic last updated their series of state books, and they are in as high demand by young customers as ever. The combination of useful maps and illustrations, strong text about many aspects of each state, and the updated material make these titles must-haves for my library. All 52 titles will be released in 2014, with the first batch coming in February.

From Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: Hooray for Hat! by Brian Won, May 2014
     I love both hats and a bit of whimsy, and this picture book about animals who find a remedy for their bad days looks like it'll be filled with both. It appears this book will make a great story time addition, too.

From Penguin Young Readers: This Star Won't Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl by Esther Earl, Lori Earl, and Wayne Earl with an introduction from John Green, January 2014
     Esther Earl was a huge fan of YA author John Green, and her fight with and ultimate death from cancer provided some inspiration for Green's bestselling The Fault in Our Stars. This memoir includes snippets from Earl's own journals and letters as well as stories from her parents. A must for YA collections.

I'll have more previews of 2014 titles next week!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Fostering Writing on

Earlier this week, I expanded on strategies for fostering writing in the library in an online article for School Library Journal. For full details on what my library district does to promote writing among kids, teens, and adults, as well as some initiatives I'd like to try in the future, head over to

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Books You Can't Storytime (Because You'll Cry)

I was lurking in a Twitter conversation between Brooke (@berasche) and Kendra (@klmpeace) yesterday. They started out talking about read-alouds for older kids--around 3rd grade--and while that's a terrific topic for a future, more serious post, I was completely drawn in when one of them mentioned this fact of librarianship: she couldn't share such-and-such book because it would make her cry.

The scenario goes something like this. We start off reading great books (and showing kids the pictures, ahem):

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, something about the story blows up the dam and we lose it:

At which point it's all gasping breaths, snotty nose, wiping away tears, and trying to regain composure:

And maybe trying to turn the whole thing into an early literacy moment by talking about feelings.

Yep, that's what we're talking about: books you can't storytime* because you'll end up in tears. I'm about to share mine, and I hope you'll feel free to share yours as well--on your blog, in the comments, on Twitter, etc. What read-aloud stories make you cry, and why?

And, without further ado, the children's book that reduces me to a puddle of tears:

Charlie the Caterpillar by Dom DeLuise -- Charlie is a wee caterpillar who just wants to play with the other animals. Yet they all turn him away in disgust, saying cruelly, "We don't play with ugly caterpillars!" That line--even just thinking of that line when I'm still on the first page!--gets me every time. Every. Stinking. Time. Of course the story ends happily and it's a great tale of being friendly and not judging by appearances. But I only get to share that message if I can stop sobbing long enough to actually read the thing.

*why, yes, I did just use "storytime" as a verb.

Friday, November 15, 2013

New Book-Finding Resources

We're coming to that time of year when I would normally share some recommendations of my favorite books from the year, both for the sake of recapping the year in reading and for aiding those holiday gift-buying decisions. Committee work prevents me from doing so this year, however, but do not fret! As an alternative, I will be highlighting two resources you might consider when you want to a) find a book perfect for that niece or nephew; b) have handy lists at your reference desk for readers' advisory inquiries; or c) have a resource against which to check your library's shelves in order to make sure you've got great stuff in decent condition.

The SpotLit Collection, a new feature from Scholastic, offers librarians, teachers, and parents curated "best books" lists for preschoolers through middle schoolers. The lists were created by teachers, librarians, children's literature professors, and other experts, and perusing the lists demonstrates that these folks knew what they were doing when they created the lists. Each grade level list includes fiction and nonfiction, with a wide variety of genres and styles represented. For libraries looking to update or start offering grade-level booklists to customers, SpotLit is a great place to start. The suggestions are heavy on a variety of award-winners, too, as evidenced by this nifty info graphic:

The second go-to resource to consider is ALSC's recently-updated Graphic Novels Reading Lists. There are three different lists available for libraries to print in color or black and white: kindergarten through second grade; third through fifth grade; and sixth through eight grade. These lists feature both stand-alone and series graphic novel titles across a spectrum of appeals, so helping kids find the right graphic novel for them is streamlined. The lists come in the form of pretty snazzy-looking brochures, too.

What are your go-to resources for finding holiday gift books, making recent recommendations to customers, and spot-checking your collections?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Make Your Own Early Literacy Toy: Texture Blanket, from guest blogger Stephanie Smallwood

One of my favorite takeaways from the Missouri Library Association Conference in October was the idea of a sensory blanket, which Stephanie Smallwood--Early Literacy Specialist at Springfield-Greene County Library District--shared in her session focused on outreach. I asked Stephanie to elaborate on her texture blanket, and she graciously agreed to share details in the form of this guest post.


"What should I do with my baby?"

Families are always happy to learn that the best thing they can do with their littlest ones is talk to them. We know that talking to babies not only builds vocabulary and background knowledge, but also that all-important caregiver-child bond that is so important for all aspects of development. But sometimes we just don't know what to say to those little guys! Especially during the first few months, it can be difficult for new parents to know what to say to their child, so it helps to give them a conversation-starter so to speak.  We do that when we tell adults to talk about what they are doing or to describe everything they see, but there are certain things that babies are particularly drawn to. One of these things is textures.

A newborn is very sensitive to touch, and that sense stays strong throughout the baby years. This is good for adults, because there are lots of words to use to describe textures. We can use a variety to describe how they feel (fluffy, scratchy, rough, smooth), and we can compare and contrast familiar textures ("This denim feels just like Daddy's pants," "Grandma has a blanket that has satin edges like this."). So textures give us an opportunity to use a copious amount of words, and since baby's sense of touch is so sensitive, they are particularly open to learning at that moment. You know that wide-eyed look babies get on their faces when they are particularly interested in something? That is the most important time to talk. They are focused, interested, and their minds are especially open.

Stephanie's Texture Blanket

I use lots of homemade early literacy activities in my work with families, and one of the most popular is the texture blanket.  It is a basic fleece blanket with several different pieces of fabric sewn on it. Babies love it, toddlers love it, caregivers love it, and every time I use it with a family I get to show them that wide-eyed "That is so cool!" look on their baby's face. It is an excellent tool for modeling those simple interactions that are so important to a baby's development. Here are some points I make with families and babies of different stages.

Newborns: Choose the softest fabrics on the blanket to use with the littlest ones, they will be very sensitive to anything rough. Lightly touch baby's arm or hand with the soft fabric and talk about how it feels. Remember, newborns will be ready to move on in a relatively short time, so no need to overdo it.

Tummy Time Crowd: This blanket is so fantastic for tummy time, I can't fully express it in a post. You really just have to watch a baby doing it. Babies doing tummy time have something to feel and look at while they lay on their tummies. As they start creeping and scooting, they have a goal to reach for and explore. Talk about the different textures they touch.

Sitters/Crawlers: So much to explore! This is when we really start to see curiosity come through with babies. Sitting on a texture blanket gives them a big area to move around in and so many different things to examine. And yes, they will examine it with their mouth, so make sure your fabrics are secure and that babies are monitored.

Walkers: Even those bigger babies will still appreciate the textures. Take off their shoes and let them feel the fabric with their feet. They are beginning to make stronger connections between current experiences and things they have experienced in other situations, so this is a great stage to compare textures.

My texture blanket gets used pretty regularly in my outreach programming, but it would be ideal for baby storytimes or a baby corner in a children's department. Mine has been used monthly for three and a half years and is still in pretty good shape. It gets machine-washed after each use, and I line dry it. One of the great things about the texture blanket is that it is that it is portable--it is super easy to roll it up and take it to any of the locations where I work with families. It's truly a perfect activity!


Picture provided by Stephanie Smallwood.

Monday, November 11, 2013

November Milk & Cookies Story Morning

November marks my ninth monthly Saturday morning Milk & Cookies Story Morning, and the program looks to have developed quite a following. Month after month, I see a combination of familiar faces who express total excitement at the prospect of story time. I also continue to see plenty of new faces, usually accompanied by caregivers who tell me how grateful they are to have a Saturday library program option for their little ones. When I was in library school, one of my professors advised that any new program should be given at least a 6-month trial before deeming it successful or not; nine months in to Milk & Cookies Story Morning, I feel I can start to say that this program is something much needed and appreciated by the community I aim to serve.

Opening Song: "Open, Shut Them"

Story: Tiptoe Joe by Ginger Foglesong Gibson, illustrations by Laura Rankin
     This simple rhyming story invites audience participation, so we all stood up to follow Joe, a bear, as he tiptoed through the forest to share a secret with his friends. Page turns bring a new animal to identify, including a fun sound for the animal's footfalls. These animal sounds just beg to be acted out, and the kiddos are happy to oblige. Discovering Joe's secret at the end of the story doesn't fail to delight, either. Give kids some space to stand up and have their feet make different sounds when you read this one--a perfect opportunity for play.

Song: "Bluegrass Jamboree" by Hap Palmer
     Since we were already standing for the preceding story, we kept standing up to dance along to this song. It includes simple, fun actions as the song lyrics, and the strong beat of the song helps pump up enthusiasm.

Song: "I Can Shake My Shaker Egg" by Mr. Eric and Mr. Michael
     After passing out shaker eggs, I explained to the kiddos that we would try to shake our eggs along to the beat of the song--if the song was slow, we would shake slow; and if the song was fast, we would shake fast. The dramatic increase in tempo of this song set to a classical music staple provides a perfect background for reinforcing rhythm.

Story: There's Something in My Attic by Mercer Mayer
     Before I started this story, we talked about a few things. First, where in a house is an attic? Did anyone in attendance have an attic at their houses? We also talked about how things can happen in stories that cannot happen in real life. When I've got some younger kids in a program in which we're going to read a story that might be interpreted as scary, I always talk about how these stories are made up and that pretend things can only happen inside the pages. By the time we got to the end of the story, kids were twirling their pretend lassos with nary a nightmare fear in sight.

Song: "Five Little Ducks"
    Our song cube landed with the illustration of five ducks facing upward, which meant we would sing "Five Little Ducks." We all practiced showing numbers on our fingers, and we had great fun making big, huge quacking noises to bring the little ducks back home.

Story: The Gingerbread Man by Beatrice Rodriguez
     The simple, sometimes-silly illustrations in this version of The Gingerbread Man are quite delightful lend plenty of opportunity to talking about the pictures. Most of my attendees had not heard this folktale before--a fact that doesn't shock me as much as it used to, that kids aren't familiar with classic tales. By the end of our reading, though, they were reciting the refrain with me like pros. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: these folktales are classics for a reason, and their pacing and building of suspense are often exquisite. That, combined with the fact that kids need a basic knowledge of these tales to understand many, many things in life, is why I always strive to include a folktale when I can.

Rhyme: "Five Little Monkeys Sitting in a Tree"
     Together, we sang and told the story of the five monkeys in the tree and the alligator using Marge's terrific sign language version. Even the younger kids in the group caught along on several of the signs, and the excitement of seeing that alligator's jaws open wide was quite thrilling.

Milk and Cookies Time!
     We enjoyed Teddy Grahams and either 2% milk or 100% apple juice. I've learned to pour just a bit of drink in each cup to start in order to minimize both spills and waste.

Free Play Time
     Our four play stations for the day took advantage of the early literacy play kits currently residing at my branch for November. In addition to our perennial favorite wooden garage-and-cars station, we had foam building blocks; play fruit that can be slices with a play knife, a pencil, or other thin implements; and a variety of magnets (alphabet, dinosaurs, vehicles, animals) with magnetic boards. This variety of play items worked well with the age range of attendees. While younger kids veered toward the blocks and garages, older ones sliced and matched fruit and vegetables or created their own magnetic stories. I was lucky enough to get private readings of a number of these stories, and they were extremely well plotted.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Life-Size Chutes and Ladders

I've seen several blog posts from librarians who have offered life-size Candy Land programs for their preschoolers. As whimsical as these programs looked, I must admit I found the idea of transforming my library's multi-purpose meeting room entirely into Candy Land--then immediately tearing it down before the evening's homeowners association meeting--incredibly daunting. The idea of a life-size game really stuck with me, however, and I put it in my Google doc of back-burner ideas.

The meeting room turned into a
Chutes & Ladders game board
I finally figured out a life-size game that made sense to an unprogramming-inclined librarian like me: Chutes and Ladders! The game is a classic for kids, it's pretty self explanatory, and it doesn't require its own world for real enjoyment. Earlier this week, I offered our Life-Size Chutes and Ladders program to school-age kids in my library. We had a dozen kids participate--a perfect number for a first go at a life-size game. Here's what we did.

Room setup - With help from a page, I moved the tables to the back of our meeting room. With chairs along the walls for spectating caregivers, the bulk of the floorspace was wide open. I grabbed stacks of construction paper in red, yellow, green, and blue, as well as a roll of book tape, some yarn, and a roll of electrical tape. I used book tape on the back of construction paper to make the game board path. Chutes were made of yarn and connected two colored spaces on the board. Ladders were made out of electrical tape, and they also connected two colored spaces on the board. I set up the game board with 50 colored spaces, 4 chutes, and 4 ladders to start. (If you anticipate a bunch of kids or want shorter gameplay, decrease the number of spaces on the board.) I also set out a table with some of our books with kids' games.

How to play - As kids came into the program, I had them make name signs for themselves. Each sign had a number, starting with 1, and I asked the kids to wear their signs around their necks with the assistance of yarn and a hole punch. The numbers were so I could make sure everyone took turns in order. On a child's turn, he or she would spin a game spinner borrowed from Twister; the Twister spinner has each of the four game colors on it, and it told the child what game space to move to. If he landed on red, he moved to the next red space. If she landed on green, she moved to the next green space. Once on their new spaces, the kids looked to see if they found themselves on a chute or a ladder. If they did, they moved accordingly. Finishing the game meant spinning a color no longer left in front of you.

Keeping the game going - With a dozen kids all starting from the same space, the game was a big congested at first. After about three rounds of turns, though, the human game pieces were really starting to spread out. Everyone was a good sport about chutes (even the boy who repeatedly said, and I quote: "This is the worst day ever!"*), and ladders were very exciting. That said, it took about 30 minutes of gameplay before the first child finished the course. That child got to choose a book from a prize cart and then start back at the beginning. I also took this half-way point opportunity to do a few things: 1) tell the kids to stay on their squares, then give everyone a roll of Smarties for a Smarties break; 2) talk about how game designers test their games over and over again to make sure it's not too easy and not too hard; and 3) remove a chute and add a few ladders. We kept playing after the Smarties break, and as other children finished the course, I kept removing chutes and adding ladders. These modifications really excited the kids--where would there be a new ladder?!?--and also served to help move the game forward. By the time our hour for the program was up, every child had successfully finished the course and chosen a prize book to take home.

How it went - The Life-Size Chutes and Ladders game went really well. Kids stayed engaged throughout the process, and they didn't grumble about waiting their turns or sliding down a chute. They were all really excited to be able to make it to the end of the course, which kept them all motivated and engaged. Caregivers were into the whole experience, too, because the game was very low-key. There was no single winner, and thus no competition to sour attitudes or fighting to get loud. One caregiver even pointed out how the whole game was a sort of exercise in patience and delayed gratification, all wrapped up in a gameplay bow. Children were genuinely excited to see what their spins would dictate, and they relished choosing their books at the end.

Never underestimate the appeal of books as prizes.
If you want to do this program... I highly recommend it! I would encourage you to think about a balance between number of participants and length of the program; this program worked well for us with around a dozen kids so everyone stayed engaged over the course of the hour. I'd also encourage you to be very flexible with the chutes and ladders you create--having a free hand with adding and removing them during the game can help move things along nicely. Lastly, never underestimate the power of books as prizes. Use those leftovers from the summer reading game, or galleys, or whatever you've got--going home with a book to keep is golden.

*His mom told me he says that about at least three different things each day. When he finished Chutes & Ladders, he appropriately switched to saying it was the "best day ever!"

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

How I Came to Be a Librarian

Last week, Anna at Future Librarian Superhero shared her librarian creation story. She asked her readers to consider sharing their stories, too, and that's what I intend to do.

I first wanted to be a librarian after seeing The Mummy. You know that nineties movie with Rachel Weisz as her career headed upwards, Brendan Fraser as his career headed the other way, and that mummy face made of sand? That movie. In case you don't remember the movie as well as you should, Rachel Weisz's character is a librarian. And she can keep her cool and use her brain in the most ridiculous mummy-has-arisen situations, even when her male counterparts just shoot things and/or die. She was the best. Obvious career path.

That was middle school. In high school, I read a few articles* about librarianing. I learned about the Lipstick Librarian, whom I emailed to find out how I could become a librarian. I learned about Nancy Pearl and got her action figure. I bought a library community cookbook. I aided in the school library.

In college, it took me a while to land on a major. Second-guessing my major made me second guess my longtime career choice, but I kept librarianing in mind. Two realizations during the summer before senior year showed me I was meant to go to library school: 1) I spent my summers as a camp counselor keeping a shelf of middle grade books for campers to read during rest hour; and 2) I made several trips to different libraries during my semester in Scotland despite having no scholastic inducement to do so. All signs pointed me back to libraries.

In library school, I tried rare books (pretty interesting); I thought about digitization programs (not quite as interesting to me); but I LOVED doing children's services anything, whether it was in class or in my public library internship. It would appear that all has turned out for the best, as I still love doing anything children's services.

And that's how I came to be a librarian.

*Bitch magazine ran Abigail Leah Plumb's "Smarty Girl: Three Librarians on Film" in 2001; Bust ran Kat Long's "Revenge of the Librarians" in 2004.

Monday, November 4, 2013

When We Get the Wiggles

The number of outreach visits I'm making each season has skyrocketed, which means I'm really refining my bag of storytime tricks. Each month, I put together a new bag of stories, planned songs and rhymes, and maybe a puppet, but all that materials preparation doesn't completely do the trick--especially when a group gets the wiggles and sitting still is just not an option. What do I do when my story time crowds get the wiggles? These are some of the no-materials strategies I've been using in different levels of wiggle crisis:

Low Wiggle Crisis:

A brief song or rhyme interlude will suffice. My go-to is a wiggle-packed variation on the "Finger Family" rhyme.
Wiggle Your Fingers!
Wiggle your fingers up,
Wiggle your fingers down.
Wiggle your fingers all around.
Wiggle them on your shoulders,
Wiggle them on your head.
Wiggle them on your knees,
And tuck them into bed.

I'll add extra variations to that rhyme, too, including having kids wiggle their fingers by different parts of their bodies. My recent favorite variation is to have kids wiggle fingers to one side, then wiggle them on the other, back and forth, so that we have an opportunity to talk about the hula. That odd change of topic at the end of the wiggle rhyme seems to get them back into listening mode.

Another recent favorite for those low wiggle crises is the "Fruit Salad" song I learned at the first Guerrilla Storytime from Anna.

Fruit Salad (tune=Frere Jacques)
Watermelon, watermelon
hold arms over head in an oval
Papaya, papaya
move hands in two groundward bumps
Ba-na-na-na-nana, ba-na-na-na-nana
start with hands over head and move downward
Fruit salad! Fruit salad!
make a bowl with hands

We usually do this song twice: once to learn it, then a second time to get silly with it.

My last recent go-to favorite was taught to me during a Skype session with Cory of Storytime Underground:

The Peanut Song
A peanut sat on a railroad track
mimic holding a peanut
And his heart was all a-flutter
tap your heart
Around the bend came Number 10
move hand like train, then hold up ten fingers
Toot, toot!
mimic pulling a train whistle
Smash, smash!
clap hands
Peanut butter!
raise hands in an "oh, well" gesture

I should note that I learned these hand motions to go with the song when I did it with a particularly great preschool group--they taught me the motions that they do when they sing the song. (Their teacher also explains onomatopoeia when cowboy goes "Eeeeek!" in Let's Sing a Lullaby with the Brave Cowboy. Stellar!)

Medium Wiggle Crisis:

A sit-down wiggle song or rhyme just won't cut it, so we stand up for an action-packed song or two. I start with "Form the Orange" as demonstrated by the incredibly terrific Rick. I'll give you the words, but make sure you watch the video for all the motions.

Form the Orange
Form the orange. Form, form the orange.
Peel the orange. Peel, peel the orange.
Squeeze the orange. Squeeze, squeeze the orange!
[I ask, "What do you get when you squeeze an orange?"]

Form the potato. Form, form the potato.
Peel the potato. Peel, peel the potato.
Mash the potato. Mash, mash the potato!
["What do you get when you mash a potato?"]

Form the banana. Form, form the banana.
Peel the banana. Peel, peel the banana.
[after I explain what "going bananas" means, we do it again!]

Another medium wiggle crisis option is the ever-popular "We're Going to Kentucky," which many a librarian has recrafted to suit specific story time needs. I go for the original version I learned from Mel:

We're Going to Kentucky
We're going to Kentucky, we're going to the fair,
To see a seƱorita with flowers in her hair.
march during this first couplet

So shake it, shake it, shake it, as fast as you can,
Shake it like a milkshake, and do the best you can.

Shake it to the bottom
twist to the floor
Shake it to the top
twist back up
Turn around, turn around, turn around...

I particularly like Kendra's zoo version, which she uses in zoo-themed programs.

High Wiggle Crisis:

All hope is lost unless kids get to move their bodies and focus their attention on something they really enjoy. My strategy in these instances may seem counterintuitive, as we do not stand up to work out that energy. Instead, we tell stories with our hands.

Little Bunny Foo Foo - I preface this story by telling the kids that they need to be able to do a few things to help. They need to make bunnies; hop those bunnies; make a scoop; bop their knees; shake a finger like someone did something naughty; and make magic fairy fingers. From there, we start singing the "Little Bunny Foo Foo" story, with high emphasis on what this crazy thing called a "goon" might be. Our goons end up with us making the silliest/scariest faces we can.

Five Little Monkeys Sitting in a Tree - Marge shared this mind-bogglingly outstanding sign language version of the familiar rhyme at a Guerrilla Storytime. First she teaches the kids the signs for the important words: monkeys, swinging, tree, teasing, alligator, etc. Then she launches into the rhyme, saying and signing the words simultaneously. The repetition of the rhyme means that, by the time you're at three or two monkeys left, many of the kids have figured out at least a few of the signs. Then, as the grand finale, do the final "One little monkey" verse completely in sign. The tension builds and builds as the kids anticipate a big "CLAP!" as the last monkey gets snatched out of the tree. There is absolute silence in the room for that last verse, and everyone is fascinated.

*Bonus for these stories: teachers and caregivers are familiar with them, even if they haven't shared them with their kids, and so they are interested to see how the librarian does them. When they participate because they're interested in a story, they aren't talking amongst themselves and distracting the kids, which can create wiggle crises in the first place.


What do you do when your story time crowd has the wiggles?