Thursday, November 12, 2015

Reading Wildly: Horse Books

For this month's Reading Wildly meeting, we read horse books! It was a great genre to explore because almost everyone (including myself) read their horse book(s) very reluctantly, which, yes, means it's a genre we need to push ourselves to pick up and explore from time to time. 

We kicked off our meeting with a discussion about our common text, the article "What Makes a Good Horse Book?" by Anita Burkham from The Horn Book. This article was helpful for mt staff and me because it gives some clear guidance as to what horse lovers are looking for in a good horse books. I know it helped me to pick up on these elements as I read my books.

Here are the horse books we read this month:

Next month, we'll be talking about fairy tale novels and reading a couple of articles about the fantasy genre: "Stepping Into the Wardrobe: A Fantasy Genre Study" by Maria Colleen Cruz and Kate B. Pollock (Language Arts, January 2004) and "Finding Fantasy: The Genre That Makes Difficult Topics Easier for Students to Discuss" by Robin Fuxa (Reading Today, October/November 2012). 

We'll also be choosing topics for our 2016 Reading Wildly meetings (exciting!!). We may repeat genres we have done before or add new ones. We're Youth Services now, which includes teens and expands our reader's advisory responsibilities. I'm excited to talk about the possibilities for next year! I know that in June & July we're going to do Reader's Choice and that in January we'll do kind of a variation on Reader's Choice using Becky Spratford's Staff Reader Profile that she posted on her awesome blog RA for All

Monday, November 9, 2015

Big Top Burning

Big Top Burning: The True Story of an Arsonist, a Missing Girl, and The Greatest Show on Earth by Laura A. Woollett. Grades 5 and up. Chicago Review Press, June 2015. 168 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.

Book Talk: [I start this one off by reading from the Prologue on pages 1-2.]

"Some say they saw the flickering of a small flame on the side of the wall of the tent just above the men's bathroom. At first no one moved; surely the circus staff had it under control. But by the time the circus workers reached the fire, their meager buckets of water had little effect. As the crowd watched, the flame grew, spidering up the tent wall. Then someone yelled "Fire!" and the panic began. A frightened crowd of 6,000 spectators began jostling down the rickety bleachers and across the grandstand toward the exits...

"The tent burned to the ground in fewer than 10 minutes, and 167 people died. It was one of the worst tragedies the country had ever seen. From the ashes, questions arose: How did the fire start? Was it an accident? Could a madman have set it on purpose?...

"The mysteries surrounding the Hartford circus fire are still being explored today, more than 70 years after the disaster occurred. Professionals and amateurs alike have examined the evidence and argued their theories. Now it's your turn."

Big Top Burning tells the story of a tragic fire at the circus in Hartford, CT in 1944. Even today, people aren't certain exactly what happened, but this book gives you the facts and lets you make your own conclusions. This is a great read for anyone who likes exciting, true stories from history or adventure series like I Survived.

My thoughts: This is a pretty riveting story about a disaster that I literally knew nothing about. Plenty of archival photos help bring the time period to life and the action starts very quickly. Much of the book concentrates on the mysteries that arose after the fire was over and survivors started to piece together the remains of the dead.

I would be hesitant to hand this to sensitive readers (and will warn them when I booktalk this title) because the chapter about families identifying the bodies of dead children was especially harrowing to me. However, I tend to be a little more conservative about things like that and it might fascinate rather than bother most children. (Pro tip: "warning" children about gruesome content can be a great way to get them to clamor to take the book home!)

I think that kids who enjoy disaster stories (like Titanic, I Survived, etc.) will eat this one up. A friend of mine said on GoodReads that this book is "well-suited to the budding true crime reader" and I couldn't agree more.

Readalikes: Kids who enjoy reading about true disaster stories might also enjoy the book Fighting Fire!: Ten of the Deadliest Fires in American History and How We Fought Them by Michael L. Cooper.

Kids who like reading about disasters might also enjoy the fictional series I Survived by Lauren Tarshis or the Survivors series by Kathleen Duey and Karen Bale.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Science Playground at the @alscblog

Today, I'm over at the ALSC Blog with a post about our recent Science Playground. Please click through and check out this easy, cheap, well-attended fall break program!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Is Reading Entertainment?

Laying in bed the other night, I put down my phone and told my fiance "Okay, I better be productive and read a book."

And he said, "That's not productive; that's entertainment."

And I was totally surprised that he thought that.

And then I was surprised that I was surprised.

Because of course reading is entertainment. Millions of readers all around the world read because they enjoy it. It's a hobby. It's FUN. That's what we believe and tell kids and grownups all day, every day at the library, right?

But the truth is that it sometimes feels like work for librarians.

Sometimes it legitimately is work; if you're serving on a committee, for instance, or if you're prepping for booktalks or if you're reviewing for professional journals. It might be fun work, but it's still work.

But what to do when all reading has started to kinda feel like work? What to do when you're surprised that reading is supposed to be fun?

It's not that I'm not picking up books I enjoy. But somewhere along the way, I've been more focused on hitting (and exceeding) my GoodReads goal. I've been obsessed with my ever-towering mountain of to-be-read books. I've been reading because it feels like an accomplishment to finish a book and mark it down. This is especially true if it's a library book because then I can return it back to the library.

Donalyn Miller had a really great post recently about those times when we take a break from reading or from writing. It got me thinking. Maybe I'm still in Committee Mode after serving on the Newbery Committee last year. I don't remember what a normal reading life is supposed to look like. I read a bunch on my recent Readcation, but I also kind of stressed out about it, which was not very conducive to, y'know, vacationing.

And when I think about other ways I like to relax - watching TV, playing games, taking walks and talking with friends - I never feel like I want to do those activities so I can "be productive" and finish something and mark it down. Not the way I do with reading.

So, I'm going to strive for more balance, and that may mean less reading. But I'm going to strive to be more thoughtful about what I'm reading and why.

Because reading should be entertainment. It should be fun, at least some of the time. Otherwise, what are we doing this librarian thing for?

Do YOU ever feel this way? How do you keep reading fun instead of allowing it to just become part of your job?

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Great Monkey Rescue

The Great Monkey Rescue: Saving the Golden Lion Tamarins by Sandra Markle. Grades 3-5. Millbrook Press, October 2015. 40 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.

Book Talk:

Okay, so first of all, how cute is this monkey?

This beautiful monkey is a golden lion tamarin and it’s sad to say that it’s an endangered species. Due to deforestation - the cutting down of trees in the tamarin’s home in Brazil - this species was in danger of becoming extinct.

This nonfiction book tells the true story of the scientists who helped bring the golden lion tamarins back from the edge of extinction. And they did it by building a tree highway to help the tamarins reach protected habitats.

You see, for the tamarins to survive in the wild, they need a large territory so they can find enough food during the dry seasons. The forests in which the tamarins can live are now separated by large pieces of land that have been cleared so cattle can graze there. The tamarins would not cross the open land to get to the next piece of forest. Even birds would not fly over the cleared area to travel from one forest area from another.

So scientists came up with the idea of making a special highway for the animals: a highway made of trees that connects the areas of the forest where tamarins can make their home.
To see how they did it and the other work scientists have done to save this cutest of monkeys, pick up The Great Monkey Rescue.

My thoughts: I have really loved Sandra Markle's science mystery titles (including The Case of the Vanishing Golden Frogs and others) and this one is also awesome. The books read a little bit like the Scientists in the Field series (which I also love) in that you accompany scientists attempting to help an endangered species and see what work and investigation goes into it. The reading levels are a little easier and the books are shorter while still including lovely full-color photographs. I think it's a little easier to find a readership for Sandra Markle's titles because of these formatting choices.

This particular title is so adorable that I knew I had to add it into my booktalking rotation and kids are going to be clamoring for it. I mean, look at that gorgeous monkey! How can you not want to know what's happening to him?

This book is a great one to suggest to teachers doing lessons about nonfiction text features since it incorporates photo captions, maps, and sidebars. Back matter includes an author's note, a timeline, a glossary, a list of further resources, and an index.

Readalikes: Don't miss Sandra Markle's other titles about animals in trouble:

Readers who are ready for more of a challenge may enjoy some of the Scientists in the Field books. Try one of my favorites, Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World's Strangest Parrot by Sy Montgomery. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

On Scheduling Vacation

This is how I envision vacation... Photo by Janne Hellsten
I posted earlier this year about taking vacation and here I am again. A couple of years ago, my library switched our vacation "schedule". Instead of taking your vacation time by your work anniversary date, we now have everyone on a January-December schedule. Employees here are awarded their vacation time January 1 and it must be used by December 31. A limited amount can be carried over each year, but I really try to encourage my staff to take their vacation time throughout the year.

One practice that has helped us with this is penciling in potential vacation time for the year at the beginning of the year. I know that in January not everyone is going to know every vacation date that they want for the whole year, so we are flexible about changing things around as we go. But having my staff look at the calendar and pencil in when they might want to take their time helps us in a couple of ways:
  • It helps me plan programming and school visits around folks' vacation time. I always want to give people the time they want off when they want to take it. We earn our vacation time and it's part of our salary. Planning ahead helps me give people the time they want off without driving everyone crazy because we scheduled a ton of programs when we're short staffed. 
  • It allows me to see where I have two or three people wanting the same time off (happens most often around the holidays) so I can figure out our staffing levels. If I have to tell someone they can't have the exact days they want, it gives us plenty of time to figure out who will get what and what is a fair compromise. 
  • It helps my staff be aware of the vacation time they have and it helps remind them to take it. My library is generous with staff vacation time, especially for staff that have been here awhile. If we go ahead and pencil in weeks for the year, even if they are kind of random weeks, it helps everyone remember that they can use their time even if they're not expecting to go out of town.
I prefer to make my staff schedule pretty far in advance. At the beginning of the month, I start working on the schedule for the next month, so we know our schedule up to 8 weeks in advance. Of course, as we get around to each month, situations may have changed. Staff may or may not want to take the time they penciled in 7 months ago, but I can check with them and make any changes. A couple of days before I start working on the schedule, I send everyone an email asking them to submit any time off requests that they haven't already put in. That has really helped cut down on the amount of times I need to make changes or redo part of the schedule once it's published.

I try with all my might to get staff to schedule their vacation (or at least pencil it in) BEFORE we plan major programs, which requires sending out some reminders. For instance, I just put out a call for winter/spring vacations since I'm about to schedule booktalks for the spring semester. Summer vacation requests must be in by March 1, etc.

We can almost always keep everything covered, but I make sure to maintain a good relationship with our circulation staff and our reference staff just in case we get in a jam and need someone to babysit our desk. Other departments are willing to help us out because they know we are willing to jump on the circ desk if there's a long line or send someone up to the reference desk to cover during a meeting.

How do you or your workplace handle scheduling staff vacations? Any tips or tricks for me?

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Readcation Update

Here's what I've been reading this week on my Readcation. I'm in the middle of Radioactive!: How Irene Curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World by Winifred Conkling, which is my favorite of the books I have tackled this week. The Christopher Pike book on top is for an upcoming episode of The Worst Bestsellers, on which I will be appearing next month!

And I also had a record-breaking week of walking. I walked 23 miles this week (!!), while listening to the excellent audiobook Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson. I have been on a big chef memoir audiobook kick lately and I'm enjoying this one a lot.

What have YOU been reading?!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

My Readcation

My staff and I pencil in vacation dates for the year when our vacation is awarded in January. I wrote up a whole big boring post about it, which will be coming sometime soon. But this is on my mind because 10 months ago, I penciled in a vacation week for myself this upcoming week. I was thinking we might go to Harry Potter World or somewhere else. Instead, we bought a house and so I am taking a Readcation this week (in my new house! So exciting!).

Last week was PERFECT timing for this awesome Book Riot post by Kelly Jensen on taking a readcation. I will definitely be following her advice, especially about UNPLUGGING, which is very hard for me (and a huge distraction).

I will pop back in at the end of the week and let you know what progress I made on these books (and others - my TBR "pile" is an entire bookshelf and it's absolutely out of control):

What are YOU reading this week??

Monday, October 12, 2015

Diverse Chapter Books

Diversity has been on my mind lately, and that's not going to stop. My staff and I have made it part of our departmental goals to include diverse material in our programming, including our many booktalks to school groups. It has been a challenge finding diverse chapter books to include for our younger patrons, but my staff and I have made a special effort to seek them out. Recently, a writer on Book Riot asked "What do I read to my 3-year-old that isn't just straight white people?" It's a legitimate question and one that I definitely was asking last year as I was starting third grade booktalks for the first time. Over the past year, my staff and I have come up with a list of diverse early chapter books, which I would like to share with you today!

I know there are series and titles that I'm missing and I would LOVE for you to add your suggestions in the comments!!

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look (and sequels). Alvin Ho is sure that he has what it takes to be a hero - he comes from a long line of Chinese farmer-warriors, after all - but first he'll have to conquer his fear of, well, everything.

Calvin Coconut: Trouble Magnet by Graham Salisbury (and sequels). Calvin doesn't go looking for trouble, but somehow trouble always finds him, including a run-in with the school bully on the very first day of fourth grade.

Dog Days by Karen English (The Carver Chronicles series). When Gavin accidentally breaks his sister's snow-globe, he has to earn the money to pay her back by walking dogs.

EllRay Jakes is Not a Chicken by Sally Warner (and sequels). When EllRay is getting picked on at school, every way he tries to deal with it gets him in trouble! Can he be good for one whole week to earn a trip to Disneyland?

Emma is on the Air: Big News by Ida Siegal (Emma is On the Air series). When Emma sees a glamorous news reporter on TV, she knows that's what she wants to do. But first, she'll need some news. When a kid finds a worm in his hamburger from the school cafeteria, Emma is right there to report it.

Freddie Ramos Takes Off  by Jacqueline Jules (Zapato Power series). Freddie finds a pair of new shoes delivered to his apartment and when he puts them on he can run super fast. Will his new power help him be a hero like his dad?

Katie Woo series by Fran Manushkin. Katie has adventures with her friends in the many books in this series.

Keena Ford and the Second Grade Mixup by Melissa Thomson (and sequels). Keena Ford always seems to be finding trouble, even though she's never looking for it. When a birthday mixup happens in her new second grade class, can Keena make things right?

Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same by Grace Lin (and sequels). Ling and Ting are twins and they share a lot of things in common, but they are NOT exactly the same!

Little Rhino: My New Team by Ryan Howard and Krystle Howard (Little Rhino series). Little Rhino is so excited to join his first baseball team, but will a team bully ruin it for him?

Lulu and the Duck in the Park by Hilary McKay (and sequels). Everyone can tell you that Lulu LOVES animals, but her teacher does not. When Lulu rescues an abandoned duck egg from the park, she's worried that it might choose to hatch in the middle of class, getting Lulu into BIG TROUBLE.

Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel by Nikki Grimes (and sequels). Dyamonde Daniel is the new kid at school and she really wants to make a best friend. But the only other kid who doesn't already have a best friend happens to be the grumpiest person Dyamonde has ever met.

Sofia Martinez: Picture Perfect by Jacqueline Jules (Sofia Martinez series). Sofia is sick of blending in with her two older sisters. What can she do to make herself stand out? This very beginning chapter book series includes some Spanish words, which are defined in the back of the book.

The Year of the Book by Andrea Cheng (and sequels). Anna Wang is having a hard year. Her friends are suddenly friends with a kind of mean kid in their class and most of the time Anna would rather read her new library book than hang out with them.

The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin (and sequels). The Year of the Dog is a good year for finding yourself, and that is exactly what Pacy Lin sets out to do. But where to start?

This list is a start, but I would love to hear what other diverse chapter books you would suggest. Please leave titles and series in the comments!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Leaf Rubbings on the @alscblog

Friends, today I'm over at the ALSC Blog talking about leaf rubbings. It may seem like a very basic, boring activity, but our Afterschool kids go crazy for it every year! Please click through and check it out.