Thursday, December 8, 2016

Preschool Storytime: Trees

Last week, I had a visit from a Head Start class and they requested a storytime about trees. I had never done that theme before and was surprised by the fun storytime books I was able to find. They were a great group and kept saying how much they loved the books I picked up. Bonus: they sang songs to me at the end of storytime to help prepare for their upcoming school program. Huzzah!

Here's what I did: 

Opening song: My Hands Say Hello

Book: The Apple Pie Tree by Zoe Hall, illustrated by Shari Halpern (Blue Sky Press, 1996). I started with this one because it gives a good overview of a tree going through different seasons. There's a lot to talk about in the pages of this book - we talked about the birds making a nest and what the apples looked like as they started out and how they changed as they grew.

Felt Rhyme: Five Little Monkeys Swinging from a Tree

I use the alligator puppet for this one as we snap the monkeys out of the tree! Doing this rhyme reinforces counting skills and lets children hear rhythm and rhyming words, which increase phonological awareness. 

Five little monkeys, swinging in a tree
Teasing Mr. Alligator, "You can't catch me! You can't catch me!"
Along comes Mr. Alligator, quiet as can be....
And SNAPS that monkey out of the tree!
(Repeat until all monkeys are gone.)

Book:  A Tree for Me by Nancy Van Laan, illustrated by Sheila White Samton (Knopf, 2000). This book has a repetitive, rhyming text that is a lot of fun to say and the kids enjoyed chiming in with me on the repeated bits. This would make a great felt story (I set Ms. T to work making one!) because with a little visual aid, I think the kids could chime in on the entire refrain. Again, the rhythm and rhyming words help increase phonological awareness. There are also some great vocabulary words in this book - "possum" and "quarreling" are two that I talked about with this group. This book features an African American family (we see them at the very end), so it's also a decent title for some everyday diversity in your storytime. 

Song with Scarves: Leaves are Falling

I like to do this song with scarves and we pretend the scarves are the leaves falling down and then blowing round and round.

I extend our scarf songs and rhymes with a few easy activities that you can read about at the ALSC Blog: Using Scarves in Storytime.

Here's the song we did: 

Book: There Was a Tree by Rachel Isadora (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2012). This take on a traditional song is set in Africa. I love Isadora's colorful illustrations and her African settings to add some diversity to my storytime. I wasn't sure how this would go because I had never tried a repeating song with a preschool group, but with the help of their teachers it went well. Singing in storytime is a great activity because singing typically breaks down words into syllables, so that activity helps kids hear that words are made up of smaller sounds.

Felt Story: Fall is Not Easy (based on the book by Marty Kelley - Zino Press, 1998). This silly story about a tree that keeps changing its leaves is just plain fun and it's always a crowd-pleaser. The rhyming text is usually drowned out by laughter.

Closing Song: Do You Know What Time It Is?

Additional Resources: 

I had pulled the book We're Going on a Leaf Hunt by Steve Metzger, illustrated by Miki Sakamoto (Cartwheel Books, 2008) to use with our felt leaves, but we ran out of time. The structure of this story is based on We're Going on a Bear Hunt, so you could read it and do actions with it and/or pass out felt leaves and ask kids to bring them up as you get to that color tree (red, orange, yellow, brown).

You can find more plans for storytimes about trees here:

Monday, December 5, 2016

How We Decorated for the Holidays

Um... we didn't. Kinda.

Let me start by saying that we are not a very decorate-y department in general. We *sometimes* (not always!) decorate for the Summer Reading Club, our biggest time of year. Just to give you an idea about how I prioritize decorations.

But for some reason, we are expected to decorate for the holidays. Patrons ask about it. Our library has typically put up multiple Christmas trees, including one in the Children's Room.

Not this year. (In fact, I gave away our Christmas tree, which has been a donation to us many years ago.)

This year, we decided to decorate with cut-paper snowflakes. And I love it. So much.

We recruited teen volunteers to get us started with some snowflakes and some of them got super into it and made us some very intricate designs. Then we turned our craft table into a snowflake table. This not only gives our young patrons a chance to join in the fun and help decorate the Children's Room, but it offers a chance to practice with scissors and further develop fine motor control.

One of my desk clerks is in charge of prepping the finished snowflakes for hanging (she's taping thread on the back and attaching each to a wire hook) and then hanging them when it's slow in the department.

What I love about these decorations:

1. They are seasonal, but not holiday-related. They don't exclude anyone.

2. They are patron-created, which gives our young friends a chance to take some ownership of their library and to be helpful in an easy, self-directed way. And it makes it EASY for staff.

3. They create a little bit of a festive air, which helps let patrons know that something special is going on: Winter Reading Club. We'll keep them up through January 31, which is the end of our WRC.

4. We're starting out with a flurry of snow, but by the end of our Winter Reading Club, hopefully we'll have many more snowflakes hanging and it will look more like a blizzard! (I just love how that mirrors our typical weather, although blizzards are very rare down here.)

It's enough to make things a little special without beating anyone over the head about holidays or risking anyone feel unwelcome. And I love that!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Stef Soto, Taco Queen

Stef Soto, Taco Queen by Jennifer Torres. Grades 4-7. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, January 2017. 166 pages. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.


Tia Perla huffs and wheezes and always looks a little bit grubby, no matter how clean she actually is.

Tia Perla leaves anyone who comes near her smelling like jalapenos and cooking-oil.

Papa had pretty much promised to stop bringing Tia Perla to pick up Stef at Saint Scholastica School.

But there always she is. Tia Perla. The family's TACO TRUCK.

All Stef wants is to be a normal seventh grade girl. She doesn't want to be the weirdo riding home in the taco truck after school every day, especially when she overhears her former friend calling her the Taco Queen. All she wants is for her father to have a normal job so she can stop being the Taco Queen once and for all.

But when the city wants to make new rules about food trucks, strict rules that could put her father out of business and end his chef dreams forever, Stef will have to figure out a way to make peace with Tia Perla and just maybe save the day.

My thoughts:

This is such a cute story, perfect for fans of contemporary fiction and foodies. Stef's story read like a Disney Channel movie, and I mean that in a good way! It's a sweet tween read about dealing with friends and pressure at school and, yes, some unexpected adventures that take some creative thinking.

I love food trucks and I really liked the descriptions of Mr. Soto's culinary creations, too.

Put this on your watch list now!


Readers looking for more stories of Latinx families may enjoy Ask My Mood Ring How I Feel or Confetti Girl by Diana Lopez.

Foodies should definitely pick up Tara Dairman's All Four Stars series for adventures with another "culinary queen".

Saturday, November 26, 2016

#ReadHarder Challenge 2016

After discovering the amazing site Book Riot last year, I jumped in to participate in the Read Harder Challenge this year and it was so, so fun. It stretched me to pick up some books I had been meaning to get to, books I wouldn't have otherwise picked up, and to be thoughtful about some of my reading without giving up control of ALL of my reading this year. I took advantage of the ability to find books that matched more than one category, although at the end of the challenge I realized that for some categories I had read several books that would fit. 

Here's what I read for the 2016 Read Harder Challenge. I am already looking forward to next year's challenge!!!

Read a horror book: Pressure by Brian Keene (also: Bird Box by Josh Malerman, which I enjoyed more)

Read a collection of essays: Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Handbook for Unapologetic Living by Jes Baker        

Read a book out loud to someone else: Olivia by Ian Falconer (read to my husband, though I read books out loud at work pretty much every week at least)

Read a middle grade novel: It Ain't So Awful Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas (also so, so many others this year)

Read a biography (not memoir or autobiography): Jim Thorpe: Original All-American by Joseph Bruchac (also Some Writer: The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet and Ten Days a Madwoman by Deborah Noyes and maybe more?)     

Read a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel: Plus One by Elizabeth Fama (also The Handmaid's Tale would fit here)  

Read a book originally published in the decade you were born: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (1980s)      

Listen to an audiobook that has won an Audie Award: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, narrated by Claire Danes (won the 2013 Audie for the Fiction category)     

Read a book over 500 pages long: The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson (also Roots by Alex Haley and Well of Witches by J.A. White)

Read a book under 100 pages: We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Read a book by or about a person who identifies as transgender: Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Love, Identity and So Much More by Janet Mock (also If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo and Being Jazz by Jazz Jennings) 

Read a book that is set in the Middle East: When the Moon is Low by Nadia Hashimi 

Read a book that is by an author from Southeast Asia: In the Country: Stories by Mia Alvar (Philippines) 

Read a book of historical fiction set before 1900: The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe (also Roots by Alex Haley and The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich and maybe more?)

Read the first book in a series by a person of color: Spirit Week Showdown by Crystal Allen (also The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich and Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel by Nikki Grimes and maybe more?)

Read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years: The Sculptor by Scott McCloud

Read a book that was adapted into a movie, then watch the movie. Debate which is better: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (I liked both, but I think I liked the book better)

Read a nonfiction book about feminism or dealing with feminist themes:  The Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt

Read a book about religion (fiction or nonfiction): Ask Me How I Got Here by Christine Heppermann

Read a book about politics, in your country or another (fiction or nonfiction): Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

Read a food memoir: Love, Loss, and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi

Read a play: Fences by August Wilson

Read a book with a main character that has a mental illness: When We Collided by Emery Lord (also History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera and Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall)

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Abby All Around the Interwebs

I know I haven't been here on this blog super frequently lately, but I have been working on some stuff around the internet, which I'd love for you to check out!

I'm in American Libraries, reminding librarians to think critically about providing holiday programming in your libraries. This is a conversation that has happened before and needs to keep happening! Never stop evaluating what you're offering and how it's really affecting your community.


In September, I had the honor of being a panelist for the SLJ/Permabound Webcast Better Together: Boosting Engagement by Pairing Fiction Series and Nonfiction. Click that link to view the webinar for free (you may have to still register for it).


If you subscribe to the free School Library Journal e-newsletter Be*Tween, you may have seen my Chapter Book Chat columns popping up on there over the past several months. It's been really fun to write and seek out amazing younger middle grade titles to share. If you're not subscribed, you're missing out, especially if you work with middle-graders. Here are the columns I've written for them:

In the spring, I wrote up a Field Notes column for Library Journal on running STEM programs for preschoolers: Preschool STEM Lab.

Catch me if you can! I've been all around the interwebs lately and I hope you find these pieces valuable!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Diversity Within ALSC Survey

Friends, the Diversity Within ALSC Task Force needs your help. In order to figure out what steps need to be taken to increase the diversity within our organization, they need to get a sense of what the current organization looks like.

I'm posting their message below. The survey literally takes only a few minutes. If you're a member of ASLC, have ever been a member of ALSC, or have thought about joining ALSC, please fill it out! 


The Diversity within ALSC Task Force is conducting a survey to gain a better understanding of the current ALSC membership as well as other youth services providers outside the membership.

The purpose of this survey is to discern where we stand with diversity within the children’s library services profession, and to determine barriers to joining ALSC. It is our hope that by discovering barriers we can work to break them down to create a more inclusive, diverse membership, and eventually, profession.

This survey is voluntary, confidential, and anonymous. No personally identifiable information is captured and all responses will be aggregated and summarized into a report.

We would like to compile as much information as possible, and we hope that you will consider participating in the survey.

Please feel free to share with colleagues in order to help us reach the greatest possible audience. The survey will be live until Tuesday, December 20th.

Link to survey:

Thank you,
Kendra Jones and Zareen Jaffery, on behalf of the Diversity within ALSC Task Force

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Reading Wildly: Gentle Reads

This month for Reading Wildly, my staff and I read gentle reads. What do I mean by gentle reads? We classified this month in three ways:

  • Teen books that do not contain mature language and situations
  • Books for young readers who are reading way above their grade level
  • Christian fiction 
I believe the genre originally suggested for this month was Christian fiction and I expanded it a little bit to include some more options. We ended up sharing books from all three areas that we considered gentle fiction. Of course, you can never guarantee to anyone that a book is going to be absolutely free of anything that might offend - it's impossible to know every thing that could potentially offend someone. 

One thing I was proud of this month is that when we went to make our suggestion list for each other last month, we had a lot of ideas for children's books and very few ideas for teen books. Most of the books we all ended up sharing at this meeting were teen books. Without my asking them, staff gravitated towards the area where we had less experience. That's exactly the idea behind this program!

I'm going to post two separate lists here: one for teens and one for children reading above grade level. These lists contain not only the books we read, but also books that were suggested by my staff last month. I included all of these titles in our Evernote lists and I've encouraged staff to add to the lists as they read gentle fiction throughout the year. 

Here's what we read and suggested: 

Gentle Teen Reads (includes Christian fiction): 

Books for Younger Kids Reading Above Grade Level
What would you add to our lists of gentle reads? 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Inquisitor's Tale

The Inquisitor's Tale, Or The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz, illustrated by Hatem Aly. Grades 5-9. Dutton Books for Young Readers, September 2016. 384 pages. Review copy provided by publisher.

Summary (from publisher):

1242. On a dark night, travelers from across France cross paths at an inn and begin to tell stories of three children. Their adventures take them on a chase through France: they are taken captive by knights, sit alongside a king, and save the land from a farting dragon. On the run to escape prejudice and persecution and save precious and holy texts from being burned, their quest drives them forward to a final showdown at Mont Saint-Michel, where all will come to question if these children can perform the miracles of saints. 

My thoughts: 

I loved this book so hard that I didn't want it to end, which is super high praise from me because finishing books and starting new ones is one of my very favorite things. 

The format reads like The Canterbury Tales with different narrators at a medieval inn trading off and telling the story of three children who are on a mission and who may or may not be saints (complete with miracles). It's a diverse group of children - Jeanne, a peasant girl who has visions of the future; William, a half-African student with super strength; and Jacob, a Jewish boy with healing powers. And each diverse role is specifically chosen to explore their role during the Middle Ages. This book says a lot about modern times while being exclusively set in the 1200s.

So, in addition to being a rollicking adventure story with good doses of humor and occasional bloody violence, this is really a philosophy book. There's the question of morality - when you know something is right or wrong, where does that knowledge come from? There's the issue of hating people that are different than you are, even people you have never really met, and what that means and what can be done about it. 

But even though this book is totally thought-provoking and asks some hard questions that may get young readers to think about things that had never occurred to them before, it's still a rollicking adventure story.

Tons of thought and research have obviously gone into this book. Man, I love it!


For readers wanting more about the Middle Ages, try Good Masters, Sweet Ladies by Laura Amy Schlitz or Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi. 

For readers wanting more of Gidwitz's blend of humor, adventure, and bloody violence, try his Grimm trilogy, starting with A Tale Dark and Grimm

For readers wanting a thought-provoking philosophy book wrapped up in an adventure story, try ????? I have no idea, as this is pretty unique in my experience. Suggestions?!?

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Video Booktalks!

In previous years, we've been able to visit our local schools frequently for booktalks, but since our staffing level was cut we've had to rethink our approach. For the past several months, my staff members have been hard at work on creating video booktalks and we were able to send out links to our first batch this week!

Here's the full playlist if you want to check them out:

We decided to make separate videos for each age group that we would typically booktalk to. So for this first round, we have videos for 2nd grade, 3rd grade, 4th grade, 5th/6th grade, and 7th/8th grade. We made five videos total, each under 15 minutes long. Each video features five great books that kids and teachers can check out from our library. This is patterned after our monthly class visits where we would spend about 15 minutes per group and feature 5-6 titles each time.

We started getting organized several weeks before we planned to send them out. I asked my staff to sign up with titles that they would like to booktalk for whichever grades. Once everyone had a chance to submit titles, I went through and narrowed each list down to five titles, making sure to keep a balance between formats, genres, and to include diverse titles.

Then we all recorded the videos for our assigned books. We used our flip camera propped up on a book truck and the microphone on the flip camera was sufficient. I asked everyone to record a brief intro, which we showed at the very beginning of each video, and I recorded a brief ending message to encourage kids to stop by and check out these books from the library.

We recorded each booktalk as a separate video and then two of my staff members edited them together, so we were able to repeat some of the books for multiple videos without a whole lot of extra work. For example, Funny Bones appears in both our second grade video and our third grade video. This is helpful, too, if we ever wanted to put together booktalk videos on a certain genre. We could edit all our our scary booktalks into one video, for example.

To edit the videos, my staff members used Filmora, a video editing software that we purchased. The music in the intro comes from Filmora's library of music. The software allowed us to insert images and the titles of the books. There's a lot more it can do; we're excited to play around with it more.

Once the videos were edited, we uploaded them to our library's YouTube channel and sent out the link to our teachers. I sent the videos to each of the teachers we had been visiting with regular booktalks and gave them first shot at sharing the videos and requesting the books. Then a couple of days later, I sent out the video links to staff at each of our elementary and middle schools and asked our Marketing person to put them on our website and Facebook page, as well.

We're still waiting to see what the overall response will be, but so far they've each been viewed a couple dozen times. The real test will be to see if the books get checked out!

We're planning on sending out another round of booktalk videos before Winter Break and there are a few things we'll do differently:

1. After speaking with our Marketing person, he volunteered to film the next round with the library's HD camera, which may provide a better and more consistent quality of video. We also may look at purchasing an external microphone for better and more consistent sound.

2. We recorded this round in our teen office with the blank wood wall background, but I'd love to look into recording videos in our teen and children's rooms so that kids can see the areas of the library they'd be using.

3. We talked about making our presentations a little more uniform - each starting the same way, maybe making our intros more consistent.

4. We talked about adding a title screen with the season and grade on it to differentiate once we have a more extensive library of videos.

I'm not sure if it will be possible to offer these videos monthly at some point. We're going to start out attempting them quarterly and see what the response is. Compared to the hours and hours we spent driving to and visiting schools, repeating booktalks over and over to reach all the classes at a school, this is MUCH less time-consuming. I think we'll get better at it (recording videos, editing, etc.) as we get more experience, so it's possible it will take even less time as we continue.

So the question will be: are the videos decently effective at reaching our teachers and students? And time will just have to tell on that one. We'll keep an eye on how many times the videos are viewed and how the books check out, plus consider any feedback we get from teachers. Ideally, I'd love to also be able to visit the schools in person at least once a year and that might give our videos more impact. We'll see!

Have you ever recorded video booktalks? What tips and tricks do you have to share? Or what questions do you have about how we did ours?

Monday, October 24, 2016

Audiobook Review: Ghost

Ghost by Jason Reynolds, narrated by Guy Lockard. Grades 5-7. Atheneum, 2016. 3 hours, 29 minutes. (192 pages.) Audiobook provided by my local library.


Castle Crenshaw calls himself Ghost and he knows he can run fast. Unfortunately, he knows this because of a terrible night when his dad got drunk and violent and running fast was the only way to get away. Life hasn't been super kind to Ghost - the kids at school make fun of him because he's poor, and he carries around the weight of his father's betrayal.
One day, Ghost stumbles onto a local track team practicing near his neighborhood and starts to watch. Those kids think they're so fast, but Ghost knows he can leave them in the dust. And when he shows off for those kids, Coach is watching him and invites him to join the track team.

Ghost has never done anything like that before. And he's never had a strong guy in his life to show him the ropes. Suddenly, Ghost is learning what it's like to be on a team, to have a Coach who really cares about him, to work at something and get better and feel proud. To stay on the track team, Ghost will have to steer clear of what his mom calls "altercations", which is not going to be easy. When kids start running their mouths and saying stuff about him, Ghost can't keep calm, he has to fight back. But he'll have to really watch it to keep doing what he loves. And then Ghost makes a decision. A bad decision. A decision that could cost him his track star dreams. Will Ghost lose the best thing that has ever happened to him?

If you like realistic stories, especially if you're into sports, pick up Ghost. 

My thoughts:

Oh man, you guys. THIS VOICE!!! Jason Reynolds is a master of voice and dialogue. His characters jump off the page with their realness. I could completely and totally believe that Ghost was a real kid who was sitting down and telling me the story of his life. If you have readers who enjoy strong, well-written voice (me, me, me!), push this book into their hands.

The narration of the audiobook absolutely heightens the story, too. Guy Lockard brings out every ounce of humor and tension in the story. His fully voiced performance did justice to the strong voices of the characters in the book. The words and voice of Coach, a taxi-driving curmudgeon with a heart of gold, are still stuck in my head, weeks after listening to this audiobook.

This book was a finalist for the National Book Award and I'm expecting to see some more shiny stickers on it, come awards season.


After I finished this audiobook, I immediately picked up Jason Reynolds's and Guy Lockard's other middle grade audiobook out this year, As Brave as You, which is also really good. Again, I think audio is the way to go with this title and Guy Lockard gives a masterful, fully-voiced performance.

For readers who love Ghost's strong voice, I would suggest other books with strongly-voiced characters: The Crossover by Kwame Alexander or Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage,

For readers who like the storyline of a kid dealing with Circumstances in the city, I would suggest Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth or Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri.

For readers looking for more sports stories, I would suggest The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (yes, again, I love this book!), Sasquatch in the Paint by Kareem Abdul-Jabar, or Izzy Barr, Running Star by Claudia Mills.