Thursday, January 31, 2013

#stemlibrarian: Planetary Explorers

This year, we started our first STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) program series at the library. We're calling it Mad Science at the Library, aiming it to 3rd-6th graders, and examining a different topic each month. Here's what I did for our first Mad Science program:

Planetary Explorers

First of all, you want to wear the right clothes:

(This shirt comes from shirtwoot! and they have a bunch of other cool science t-shirts that I might have to collect to wear on Mad Science days.)

If you're not sure where to start, start with the collection! There are so, so many readable, fascinating nonfiction picture books on our shelves. I knew I wanted to feature some in this program. I knew I wanted to do a program on space, and one book jumped out at me: Boy, Were We Wrong About the Solar System by Kathleen Kudlinski. I decided to focus my program around how scientists have and continue to study the planets.

I started the program by reading Boy, Were We Wrong About the Solar System, paraphrasing several parts because I found it a little wordy for what I wanted to do. The book shows readers how what we KNOW about the solar system has changed as astronomers have made discoveries and more sophisticated tools have been developed. At the end, I stressed that the facts that we KNOW right now may turn out to be wrong someday as we learn more and more. (After all, kids: when I was your age, Pluto was a planet.)

After the readaloud, I had put together a Prezi with information (and lots of photos) about different spacecraft that have been developed to study the planets. We talked about Voyager I and II, Sojourner, Spirit & Opportunity, Curiosity, and Juno. We talked about the designs of Sojourner and Spirit/Opportunity and what was the same and different. I included fun facts like the fact that Curiosity was named by a 12-year-old girl (as part of her prize for winning the essay contest, Clara Ma got to sign Curiosity during assembly!) and I included photos taken by the Voyager spacecraft and by Spirit and Opportunity. I had a slide showing the Curiosity's Facebook page.

The readaloud and Prezi took about 30 minutes. I tried to keep both very interactive, asking the kids questions as we went through to keep their interest. All the kids who attended were eager to be part of the conversation and I love that they're so curious!

The table set-up for our hands-on activity.

After all this information, we did our own experiment. NASA has created an activity guide called Explore: Jupiter's Family Secrets and we did the activity called "Investigating the Insides". For this activity, you fill dark-colored, opaque balloons with a variety of materials and provide tools for the kids to do tests and try to guess what's inside the balloons. I filled balloons with buttons, paper clips, magnets, feathers, pom poms, or beads and provided the kids with a scale, magnets, and magnifying glasses to explore their balloons. I put the kids into pairs (and I had one group of three). Of course, the kids pretty quickly held the balloons up against the light and could fairly clearly see what was inside them, but they still enjoyed using the materials to do the tests.

After the kids had spent about 10 minutes exploring their "planets" and writing down their guesses for what was inside, they each popped their balloon and told everybody what was inside. Then we talked about how the tests they did were the same or different to tests scientists might be able to run on planets. Astronomers can't pick up a planet and look inside, shake a planet, or weigh a planet. But they can take photos and do magnetometer tests to get a clue about what's inside!

Of course, I provided a book display of related books and DVDs and I put together a handout with links to the websites I used to find the information (and other fun space websites).

I had some helpers for my program. One of our regular patrons is a high school science teacher and she and one of her students came to lend me a hand. It was great to have them there to chime in during the presentation and to go around while the kids were investigating their "planets" to ask them questions.

AND it turns out that one of the moms at the program is a life-science teacher at the other high school in our county and she was eager to help if we ever did a life-science program! This just goes to show that you never know what kind of resources you might have in your community. In my experience, people are eager to help when they can, so be open to the help you might have available. (And hey, approach your local science teachers!)

All in all, this was a super fun program with a great group of kids and parents. I'm excited already to do my next STEM program!

Need more STEAM programming ideas? Amy at The Show Me Librarian has some great posts about STEAM programs and ALSC's online class STEM Programs Made Easy will be offered again later this spring.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Somehow, I Manage

I've written about my experiences with library management before, but a lot has happened since then. I am far, far, far, far from being a perfect manager, but I feel like I am finally starting to get to where I want to be, manager-wise. We've had some staffing changes in my department over the last year, including a retirement and hiring an MLS children's librarian (the only MLS in our department besides myself). It's changed how I look at things, and so today I offer some tips from what I've learned.

First, a little background: I'm the Children's Manager at a one-library system in Southern Indiana (i.e. no branches). When at full staff, I supervise three full-time and two part-time employees (we have not actually been at full staff since last spring, but hopefully we will be soon!). We recently hired an MLS children's librarian who is full time, and at present one of my part-timers holds an MLS, as well (though she is not currently in an MLS position here and her experience is in law libraries). The other full-timers are paraprofessionals.

CC: terren in Virginia
Celebrate the achievements of your staff and challenge them to achieve more. When you're a manager, the job's not all about YOU developing an awesome new program. It's about what your department develops, how your department as a whole serves patrons and meets goals. This has definitely been a transition for me. I've had to change from thinking about what programs I have done to make myself look good, to add to my own portfolio, to talk up in potential future job interviews to allowing my staff to take ownership of their own programs. To guide, but not take over. To help brainstorm but not dictate ideas.

You know what will happen when you do this? Your staff (if they are awesome like my staff) will take stuff off your plate. They will have their own ideas, they will do it their way. And you'll find yourself with free time to develop NEW ideas. You will also realize that it is not the end of the world to turn a program over to someone else, even if it is a program you really like.

It's important to develop your staff. They need it. If you have new librarians, they're trying to build their resumes and portfolios, too. It might be for future jobs or it might be for committee work or leadership roles in library associations or other groups. So let them plan, let them execute, let them take responsibility.

CC: Phil_Parker
Train, train, train. In Indiana, we're required to earn Library Education Units to keep our certification, but that's not the only reason you should send your staff to training. Find out what your options are for sending your staff to workshops or meetings or bringing in trainers. Think about what areas you want to concentrate on over the next few years, what programs you hope your department will offer. Do you have new staff who need to take an Every Child Ready to Read workshop? Would your department benefit from someone taking an online class about STEAM programming? Make it happen. Ask your staff to share the information they learned with the rest of your department. Don't take all the professional development budget for yourself, even if your employees don't ask to attend conferences or workshops, or even if you are presenting at conferences. (Yes, I have been guilty of this!)

Deal with problems as soon as possible. Ignoring it will NOT make it better, but will only make it harder when you do finally have to deal with it. If you're noticing it, your staff is noticing it, too, and it's probably bringing down morale and productivity. It's sometimes unpleasant to deal with problems, especially if they concern people you like. Believe me, it's not going to be any more fun to deal with six months from now and it's not going to get better on its own.

Going along with that: document, document, document! It can be hard to see a pattern of bad behavior over a period of weeks or months unless you're keeping track.

Document the good stuff, too. We do yearly evaluations and it is always so helpful to be able to turn to my files and have examples at hand of good things my employees have done. This may also show you employees' strengths and weaknesses, which is helpful for when you consider moving duties around or taking on new projects. If you get compliments from patrons about your staff members, send 'em up to your boss. Not only is it a great practice to brag on your employees, but it reflects well on your department, too.

Go to your boss or a mentor for help. I am lucky to have a very supportive administration, including the new director we got a year and a half ago and a super human resources manager. You also might have a mentor or colleagues at your library (other department heads) or in your library community (another great reason to be active in state and national library associations!) you can turn to. I know not everyone is as lucky as I am, but if you find yourself with those resources, USE THEM. No librarian is an island and you don't have to deal with problems on your own.

CC: tanakawho
Plan, plan, plan. Last spring and summer we were dealing with some staffing issues and I felt like I was flying by the seat of my pants when it came to planning the Summer Reading Club. I sat down in May or so and planned the next 12 months, including programs and programming breaks, deadlines for Summer Reading Club tasks and program calenders, and agenda items for monthly meetings. It's hard to get us all together for meetings, but it's important to me to stay on track.

I started with the kick-off date for the 2013 Summer Reading Club and thought about how fan in advance I'd like each task to be completed so that I could make our deadlines. For example, we visit the schools to talk up SRC and distribute calendars in May, so our program calendar needs to be completed, proofread, and run off by mid-April. That means all our program assignments, dates, and blurbs need to be finished by the beginning of April, etc. Once I had deadlines for program calendars and SRC tasks, I went through month by month to outline agenda items for the monthly meetings. Of course, we add any additional agenda items we need to when it comes time for the meeting.

And yes, I wrote down in my plans when it's time to write out plans for the next year. ;)

Those are some of the things I've learned over the past year of managing my children's department. I am still (always) polishing my skills and striving to communicate clearly and often. I know there is lots of room for improvement. What other library management tips do you have to share?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Abby's Favorite Winter Books

Yup, winter is upon us (at least here in Southern Indiana). It's the perfect time to feature some winter books in your programs or on your display shelves! Here are some of my favorites:

Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner (Dial, 2002). This imaginative romp shows all the fun things that snowmen do at night while we're sleeping (no wonder they look so run down and melted the next day!). I love it because it's fun to share with a wide range of ages, preschool through early elementary. 

The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter's Wonder by Mark Cassino with John D. Nelson, Ph.D. (Chronicle Books, 2009). This is a beautiful and interesting book showing photos of actual snow crystals and talking about how they form and why they make the shapes they do. 

Soup Day by Melissa Iwai (Henry Holt and Co., 2010). On a cold winter's day, there's nothing quite like cozying up and enjoying a nice hot bowl of soup. This book takes the reader step by step as a young girl and her mother buy ingredients and cook vegetable soup together. 

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (Puffin, 1962). This is a beloved classic book and a perfect choice for sharing the magic of the season's first snow with a child. The text is quiet, hushed like footsteps on new snow, but it never fails to hold the attention of young listeners.

Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner (Chronicle Books, 2011). This book shows young readers what various animals are doing under the snow, while the world above is quiet and white. This is a great choice for early science learning, especially since many young children are crazy about animals. 

Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit by Il Sung Na (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2011). With colorful, whimsical illustrations, Il Sung Na explains what various animals do during the winter: some migrate, some hibernate, and some even change colors! The text is simple enough to share with young children and the illustrations are just delightful. 

Snow by Uri Shulevitz (Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux, 1998). Like The Snowy Day, this is a book that perfectly captures the feeling of first snow. Even when the radio and all the adults around him say we're not going to get any snow, the boy believes that it will snow... and it does! 

A Hat for Minerva Louise by Janet Stoeke (Puffin, 1997). Oh, Minerva Louise. She's a silly chicken and today she's exploring the farmyard in winter. Her constant mistakes will make young readers giggle as she tries to find a cozy hat to keep her warm. 

Those are some of my favorite books to share and feature in the winter. What are some of yours? 

Monday, January 28, 2013

ALA Youth Media Awards Announced!!!

This morning in Seattle, WA, the 2013 Youth Media Awards were announced by the American Library Association! Dozens of committee members worked their butts off reading and debating about books all year to decide on the best of the best.

My staff and I tuned in for the live webcast this morning. It's the first time we've done that as a department and we will definitely be doing it again! After holding our Mock Caldecott party last weekend, my librarians were particularly invested in the Caldecott winner and honor books, but everyone enjoyed seeing all the awards.

You can find the full list of award-winners on the ALA Youth Media Awards Press Kit.

The 2013 Newbery Medal went to The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate!

And the 2013 Caldecott Medal went to This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen! 

And the 2013 Printz Medal went to In Darkness by Nick Lake! (Which I have not read, but just bought for my Kindle.)

And the 2013 Sibert Medal AND the 2013 ENYA went to Bomb by Steve Sheinkin! (A Newbery honor, too! Hooray!) I'm particularly excited to see this book get so much attention because it was definitely one of my favorite 2012 books (maybe even my VERY favorite)!

And there were lots of other awesome books honored today. Another I immediately put on my Kindle to read is Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, which was littered with several honor medals today. 

It was a great experience to watch the webcast and I'm happy I could arrange for my staff to join me (we are generally pretty quiet in the mornings while school is in session and someone from Circ was able to cover our desk for an hour). I think my staff came away from the awards a bit more excited about children's and teen literature and adding some books to their TBR piles, too! (We'll be fighting over them now, but that's okay!)

Did anyone else watch the webcast this morning? Were some of your favorites recognized this year? 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Just One Day

Just One Day by Gayle Forman. Grades 7+ Dutton Juvenile, January 2013. 369 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.

When Allyson's parents give her a European vacation as a graduation present, it's supposed to be the trip of a lifetime. Somehow, once Allyson is over there... it kind of sucks. She dutifully goes on the tours, dutifully wears the expensive bulky watch her mother gave her, dutifully goes back to the hotel rooms to watch movies in the evenings when the other teens are going out to bars. Even the fact that her best friend Melanie is there with her doesn't help. Until Allyson meets Willem on their way back to London for the final leg. Willem sees something in her, something Allyson is not sure really exists: a spontaneous, courageous, fun girl. So Allyson decides to do something fun and courageous and spontaneous and go to Paris with him for just one day. And that, my friends, changes everything.

This is the story of that one day and also the year that happens after. As I was reading this book, I told my boyfriend the basic plot of the book and he immediately said, "Uh uh, no way. That would never happen." But that's actually kind of the point. Before going to Paris, Allyson was the type of person who would never have done that. Her day in Paris causes her to take a deep look at herself, at the life she's been living (or not-living, as the case may be). She's figuring out that she's not actually the person she wants to be. She's struggling to decide who she does want to be and how to get there. I identified with Allyson because it was right at her age that I started looking at my life that way, too.

It's great to see a YA book dealing with after-graduation and the first year of college, especially to see a protagonist who's struggling and still fighting to get out from under her parents' wings. The first year of college is not easy for a lot of people and this book is a great depiction of how it can be when it's not easy (and also that that's not the end of the world). I wouldn't call this a "new adult" title; I still feel like it's solidly YA, but definitely a story aimed at older teens who are starting to think about life beyond high school and what college may be like.

I was a huge fan of Gayle Forman's previous novels, If I Stay and Where She Went. When I heard the synopsis and saw the length of this book, I sighed. It sounded like a fluffy love story and possibly a little bloated (100 pages longer than her previous books). I'm happy to report that I was wrong on both counts. Just One Day is more than a love story and I definitely wouldn't call it fluffy. It was longer than Forman's previous books, but I couldn't put it down and didn't want it to end.

Gayle Forman captures the college freshman experience for a kid who's not used to making new friends, for a "good girl" who always goes with the flow, for a teen who's terrified because she's really not sure what she's doing. I was rooting for Allyson the whole way through.

Just One Day is on shelves now.


For the European setting, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins.

For the bittersweet-but-hopeful tone: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

For the whirlwind romance and travel aspect: Amy & Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Case of the Missing Marquess

The Case of the Missing Marquess (Enola Holmes #1) by Nancy Springer. Grades 4-8. Philomel, 2006. 214 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.

Enola Holmes has never been sure why her mother named her Enola. After all, it spells "Alone" backwards. But when Enola's mother mysteriously disappears on the day of her fourteenth birthday, Enola suddenly is alone. She calls on the help of her older brothers, Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes, but it soon becomes apparent that Enola's going to have to track down her mother herself. Luckily, her cipher-crazy mum gave Enola a book of codes as a birthday present and these prove very useful. It's not easy getting along as a young woman in a man's world, but Enola's determined and she soon finds herself swept up in an entirely different mystery on the dirty streets of London.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I am so glad I picked it up! This book has been recommended to me numerous times, but I don't consider myself a mystery fan and it took the powers of Twitter to get me to finally pick up this book for the genre challenge I'm starting with my staff. (I should have listened to Miss Julie  at the Barrington Library YEARS AGO.)

Enola Holmes is a quite capable, intelligent young lady and I never doubted for a second that she had the smarts and gumption to solve the mysteries she stumbled into. My problem with poorly written children's mysteries is that I want to shake the kids and tell them to go tell an adult. With Enola's father deceased, her mother run away, and her brothers determined to stick her in finishing school, I had no problem with Enola running off to do things her own way.

The language and strong setting also appealed to me. Enola's along-the-way commentary about the difficulties of being an independent woman added to the sense of time and left no question as to her indomitable nature. Details of life in late 19th century England and London are woven seamlessly into Enola's story, from the newfangled bicycle she rides to the constricting dress her brothers insist on.


For kids who dig the codes Enola has to break to crack the case, I'd recommend The Puzzling World of Winston Breen.

For kids who dig the Sherlock Holmes aspect, of course I might recommend the original Sherlock Holmes stories. For kids who might not be ready for those, there are several series to choose from:

For tweens and teens who dig the setting and time period, I'd recommend the Jacky Faber books starting with Bloody Jack by L. A. Meyer or Gail Carriger's new Finishing School series, starting with Etiquette & Espionage

I read this book for my staff genre reading project. We're Reading Wildly (and widely) in 2013 (and beyond!). 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

ALA: Why I'm Renewing

CC: Emily Laurel
My ALA membership expires at the end of January. And yes, it'll be a chunk of change to renew it (over $200 for ALA and my two divisions, ALSC and YALSA). But here's why it's worth it to me:

  • The connections. I have made some REALLY GOOD FRIENDS through attending ALA conferences. These are friends with whom I brainstorm for work, celebrate achievements, commiserate when we've had hard days, present with at conferences, and more. I've met people with whom I've connected on Twitter and blogs. These librarians are constant sources of inspiration and problem-solving to me! 
  • The education. Of course you can still attend ALA conferences if you're not an ALA member, but the lower the price and the more involved I am in the organization, the more likely I am to request to go (and get approved!). This year's ALSC Institute was one of the best conferences I have ever been to. I came home feeling totally exhilarated and inspired to do more than ever before at my library!
  • The professional opportunities. Over the course of my ALA membership, I've volunteered for committees, become a regular contributor to the ALSC Blog, and been asked to write for American Libraries (due to connections made through my work for the ALSC Blog). Not only has this been fun work, but it has helped me develop my skills and it looks great on a resume. (I'm not job hunting, but you never know!)
Of course, ALA's not the only way to get these things. If you don't feel you can afford ALA membership, you might want to look into membership in your state library association or seek out and join library listservs like PUBYAC or PubLib. Or check out this handout from my presentation on blogs, Pinterest accounts, and Twitter folks for programming ideas to get your own social media network started. 

ALA works for me because I work for ALA. Only by getting involved do I truly get out of ALA everything I want to get out of it. I've written before that ALA is Not Your Mom and I still think that's absolutely true. Nope, it's not a magic organization that's going to get you a raise, send you free books, or provide free conferences or trainings (you can access some archived webinars for free, but I do wish they'd provide more free trainings... guess I need to figure out how to make that happen!). But it is a group of people who care greatly about what we do and who are willing to help others to make America's libraries awesome. And I want to be a part of that. 

And that's why I'm writing that check to ALA. 

Full disclosure: I've been an ALA member since 2010 (plus one year as a student member in grad school). This post contains only my personal opinions. ALA did not ask me to write this post

Monday, January 21, 2013

Top Ten Picture Book Biographies: 9 Fascinating People and 1 Dog

Recently at the Nerdy Book Club, Alyson Beecher (Program Support Specialist for Reading & Literacy with the Pasadena Unified School District in California) posted her list of top ten picture book biographies. She points out that nonfiction picture books are a great way to give students background knowledge in a concise way. While her list is a great one, my taste is a little different, so I wanted to share my own top ten picture book biographies. 

I tend to favor brightly-illustrated books about cool people who are often unknown. So without further ado...

Abby's Top Ten Picture Book Biographies: 9 Fascinating People and 1 Dog 

Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade by Melissa Sweet (Houghton Mifflin, 2011). Millions watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade every year, but I bet not many of them know about Tony Sarg, American immigrant and inventor, who created the iconic floating balloon puppets. This is a great story to share around Thanksgiving time or any time!

Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman by Marc Tyler Nobleman, illustrated by Ty Templeton (Charlesbridge, 2012). Years of sleuthing by the author went into writing this book about Bill Finger, the almost completely uncredited writer and co-creator of the Batman comic books. Comic-style illustrations pair nicely with the subject matter to illuminate this unsung contributor. 

The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand New Colors by Chris Barton (Charlesbridge, 2009). Did you know that it's possible to INVENT A COLOR? That's just what Bob and Joe Switzer did when they invented fluorescent paint and the neon colors seen today in traffic cones, highlighters, and many other items.  

Harlem's Little Black Bird: The Story of Florence Mills by Renee Watson, illustrated by Christian Watson (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2012). Although there are no existing recordings of Florence Mills, she was a famous singer and dancer in her day, performing around the country and abroad (including performing for the Prince of Wales). It's speculated that if not for racial issues, Florence Mills would have been hailed as one of the great performers of the 20th century. 

I and I: Bob Marley by Tony Medina, illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson (Lee & Low, 2009). In striking verse and vibrant paintings, this book brings Bob Marley to life for new generations.

I, Matthew Henson: Polar Explorer by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Eric Velasquez (Walker Children's, 2007). Born in 1866, Matthew Henson traveled to China, Japan, North Africa, Russie, and Spain before embarking with Robert Peary, the man who "discovered" the North Pole. Henson's contributions to the discovery of the North Pole were downplayed because of his race, but he was posthumously awarded the National Geographic Society's most prestigious award in 2000. 

The Incredible Life of Balto by Meghan McCarthy (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011). Have you heard of Balto, the dog who lead sled teams to fetch medicine for the dying children of Nome, Alaska? Do you know what happened to him after that? Meghan McCarthy tells his story. I especially love her detailed author's note where she talks about tracking down facts amid conflicting reports. 

Mermaid Queen by Shana Corey, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham (Scholastic Press, 2009). Annette Kellerman was an Australian swimmer who invented water ballet and transformed the world of women's sports. I was drawn to this book for it's brilliant, colorful illustrations, and found a little-known bit of women's history. 

Of Numbers and Stars: The Story of Hypatia by D. Anne Love, illustrated by Pam Paparone (Holiday House, 2006). Hypatia was not like other fourth-century girls. At a time when few girls were educated, Hypatia's father taught her to read and write, and when she discovered mathematics, her interest was piqued. Hypatia became a respected scholar and a symbol of women's education for generations to come. 

Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald by Roxanne Orgill, illustrated by Sean Qualls (Candlewick, 2010). Ella Fitzgerald, raggedy and poor, wouldn't give up her dream of singing on stage. She had something inside her that made people want to get up and dance. The words of this book ring with rhythm and beg to be read out loud. It's a story about rising up from your circumstances and never giving up your dreams. 

And there you have my top ten picture book biographies. What are your favorites? 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

How to Host a Mock Caldecott Party

Last night, I threw a Mock Caldecott party for my staff and our neighboring youth librarians. A Mock Caldecott party is a great way to provide some professional development and encourage staff bonding and morale. We read a ton of this year's picture books and we had a ton of fun! Here's what to do (and what I would change for next year!):

Step 1: Invite everyone over.

We could have done this as a professional meeting at our library, but instead I chose to invite staff and neighboring librarians over to my home. I wanted this to be a fun, social event first (and sneaky professional development second). It's a chance to hang out with our neighbor youth librarians and get to know each other a little better. You could also extend the invitation to your local school media specialists, reading teachers, art teachers, or anyone you want to share some fun professional development time with.

Step 2: Picture books!

Starting about a month before the party, I collected as many eligible books as I could get my hands on. I checked them out on our children's department card so that patrons knew they weren't on the shelf and I left them on a cart at our reference desk for staff to look through. Then I brought them all back to my apartment for the party. 

Step 3: Add food and drink. 

This is a party, after all! We started the evening with make-your-own tiny pizzas on English muffins. It was a nice chance for everyone to chat, introduce themselves, and share some food before we got started. 

Step 4: Read the books!

After people had finished eating, I encouraged them to grab some books from the giant stacks and begin looking through them. Provide paper and pens for people to jot down notes or list their favorite titles. We went through the criteria so that people knew what to be looking for and we had a discussion about the audience for picture books, how picture books are not just meant for preschoolers or children who are just learning to read. 

In retrospect, I would have had my staff look through and choose a selection of 12-15 of their favorites to discuss at the party. Although it's fun to look through tons of picture books, it was way too many to meaningfully look through at the party, especially for those not in my department who hadn't had a couple of weeks of access to them already. I think if we had narrowed it down we would have had a deeper discussion about the books. 

Step 5: Vote for your favorites. 

We did two rounds of weighted voting. For the first round, I asked them to pick their top four and list them in order. Their first choice got 4 points, their second choice got 3 points, and so on. We had a pretty clear top five after this round of voting, with a tie for the top choice. So I pulled out the top five and we did another round of voting. This time, everyone picked their top two (again, weighted). 

Doing two rounds of voting was important, especially with such a large field to choose from. There were several books that only got one vote from someone, so doing the second round forced some people to consider totally different books than they had in the first round. 

Step 6: Announce your winners!

After two rounds of voting, we had a clear winner and a clear honor book. 

Our Mock Caldecott Medal went to Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger!

And our Mock Caldecott Honor went to Laundry Day by Maurie J. Manning!

And here is the list of every book that someone voted for over the evening: 

And Then It's Spring by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin E. Stead. 
Bear Has a Story to Tell by Phillip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead. 
The Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins. 
Brothers at Bat by Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Steve Salerno. 
Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Adam Rex. 
Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen.
Mice by Rose Fyleman, illustrated by Lois Ehlert. 
More by I.C. Springman, illustrated by Brian Lies. 
Mossy by Jan Brett. 
Nightsong by Ari Berk, illustrated by Loren Long. 
Ocean Sunlight by Molly Bang, illustrated by Penny Chisholm. 
One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by David Small. 
Red Knit Cap Girl by Naoko Stoop. 
Step Gently Out by Helen Frost, illustrated by Rick Lieder. 
This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen. 
This Moose Belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers. 
Z is for Moose by Kelly Bingham, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky.

Step 7: Gather your staff and get someone to cover the desk so we can all watch the live webcast of the Youth Media Awards together!

I doubt any of my staff have ever watched the webcast of the awards before, but this year we're all going to do it together. I've asked our Circulation Manager if someone from her department could watch our desk for an hour or so and she agreed. Now that we've spent time thinking about our favorite picture books, I'm excited for us all to watch the live announcements together and see if any of our favorites won! 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

In a Glass Grimmly

In a Glass Grimmly by Adam Gidwitz. Grades 4-8. Dutton Juvenile, 2012. 314 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.

Adam Gidwitz, author of A Tale Dark and Grimm, is back with another bloody, gross, action-packed fairy tale romp. As our intrepid narrator says: "Once upon a time... fairy tales were awesome."

This companion book to A Tale Dark and Grimm features cameos from many well-known and little-known fairy tales. Jack and Jill are cousins, each desiring something they can't have. Jack wants to be accepted and become friends with the boys who live in his town, boys who have made fun of Jack for as long as he can remember. Jill desires beauty, or at least her vain mother's approval. Rejected by the ones they care for most, Jack and Jill set off on a quest. And along the way they meet goblins and mermaids and giants and many other fantastical creatures.

I liked this one just as much as A Tale Dark and Grimm. It's filled with adventure and I really enjoyed spotting the tales I recognized as they are woven into Jack and Jill's story. Fans of the first book won't be disappointed. This volume also stands quite nicely on its own; the books don't need to be read in order.

I read this as part of Angela's Readers' Advisory Challenge for a horror book. While there were definitely some horrible bits, I don't know that I'd classify it as a scary book. Still, this might please some of the kids seeking "scary books", depending on what they're looking for. If horror to them means physical horror (blood & guts, that sort of thing), this will fit the bill. If they're looking for a ghost story, this might be a miss.


Obviously, I'd recommend A Tale Dark and Grimm to kids who have enjoyed this book. If they dig the fairy tale angle, I'd try a compilation of the original, gruesome tales like The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales. There are also lots and lots of retold fairy tales to choose from. Try Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu, Half Upon a Time by James Riley, or The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman.

For kids who dig the epic fantasy adventure aspect, I'd recommend another quest fantasy, like maybe The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, or Giants Beware! by Jorge Aguirre.

And for kids who like the characters of Jack and Jill and their friendship as they quest, I'd try A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snickett.

In a Glass Grimmly is on shelves now!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Fantastic Friday Revamp

CC: pinksherbet
I've posted before about our homeschooling program, Fantastic Friday, but guess what? We've totally revamped it! Last spring, one of our very active homeschooling parents asked to meet with me to share some information she'd gotten at a homeschooling conference and talk about how we might be able to tweak our program to make it better.

I'm going to quote from the notes she typed up for me here:

Homeschoolers need...

... the opportunity to be part of a group.
... the opportunity to perform, demonstrate, or present what they have learned.
... the opportunity to discuss and learn from their peers. 
... the opportunity to receive awards or other academic commendations. 
... the opportunity to expand their horizons past their teachers. 
... the know-how to become a self-learner.

Previously, we had offered a very top-down program, if you will. Librarians decided on a topic, planned stories and activities, and presented the program to the group. It was fine, but the biggest problem is that it was hard to engage kids across the age ranges. We'd most often have early elementary age children showing up, but it was inevitable that when we started to gear the program towards that age I would get questions from parents of older children asking what their homeschooling children could participate in.

We also were not incredibly organized about it and we'd announce the topics and activities on our program calendar, just weeks or maybe a month before the program was to happen. Our homeschooling mom reminded us that if we gave homeschoolers more notice about what our topics would be, homeschoolers would be more likely to incorporate our programs into their lesson plans.

With these suggestions in mind, we redesigned the program. Instead of having a librarian present a traditional library program, we decided that we would ask the homeschoolers to present to each other!

Each month, librarians select a topic (we've gotten input from our homeschooling parents about this, too!) and we ask the children to read a book and do a project on that theme. We provide a list of recommended books and a list of project ideas, but we stress that kids are NOT limited to something from the list. We also encourage them to take the project ideas and change them to fit their needs.

When the group gathers each month, I ask for volunteers to present. Kids come up and talk about the book they read and show or present about the project they did. I don't require anyone to present (although sometimes their parents insist that they at least try it!). If they'd rather come and listen to the other presentations, that's fine with me.

I was a little afraid of how things would go if we changed it up, but it's actually been going really well. The program is much, MUCH less work for us to do and the families have been very into it. Kids have done presentations about Mexican immigration to the U.S., survival on different planets from the Star Wars universe, and Christian symbols in Harry Potter. I've had kids dress up as characters from books and tell us about the story. I've had kids draw comic books or make posters about a special book party they had at home. I notice some of the shy children starting to come out of their shell a little bit. And since families can customize the projects any way they want, it allows for children of many ages to participate and creates a space for children who are reading above or below grade level.

I try to have a little something each month to share with the kids or talk about with them. For example, when we did "Survival" as our theme in November, I put together a short Prezi about Hurricane Sandy, showing some photos of the damage, telling them some facts about hurricanes, and giving them some tips about how to stay safe in a hurricane (didn't want to scare anyone, though we very rarely have hurricanes in Southern Indiana). When we did "Mystery" in October, I read one of my favorite mysteries, Miss Nelson is Missing by Harry Allard.

Deciding on themes and getting book and project lists done way ahead of time makes the program super easy for us to run. Here are the themes we've done or are planning to do:

  • September: Latino History Month
  • October: Mystery
  • November: Survival
  • December: Fantasy
  • January: Award Winners
  • February: Black History Month
  • March: Sports & Games
  • April: Around the World
  • May: End of the Year Party!

I'm planning on throwing a reception in May and recognizing the children and parents who have been coming throughout the year. I'm planning to make participation certificates and we'll probably have some tables set up with crafts, games, and snacks so that the kids can spend some time socializing. I might do some booktalks, too, since Summer Reading Club will be right around the corner. 

I printed up brochures that explain about our program and list the themes for the semester and we have those out at the desk along with the upcoming month's book and project lists. At each program, I put out a book display for the next month's theme so that families can get a start on it if they want to. I also have the sign-up sheet for the next month ready to go and I take the opportunity to promote any of our other upcoming programs that fit the age range. 

One thing I haven't done yet that I would like to do is to grab the library's display cases and invite homeschoolers to display their projects there. I would also like to get all our book and project lists on our website (waiting for a website redesign for that one). 

So far, it's been less work for us and I think our patrons are getting more out of it (at least attendance continues to be good... knock on wood!). 

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Strange Place to Call Home

A Strange Place to Call Home: The World's Most Dangerous Habitats and the Animals That Call Them Home by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Ed Young. Grades 4-6. Chronicle Books, 2012. 44 pages. Review copy provided by my local library

The inner sanctum of a cave, too dark for eyes to be useful. Deep inside a glacier, surrounded by ice. High on the mountains with little shelter from weather and wind. In the middle of a desert, buffeted by sandstorms. 

These are some of the dangerous places in which animals have adapted to live, and which are featured in Marilyn Singer's poems. 

Here's where I give you a caveat. I'm approaching this review from a nonfiction standpoint. WorldCat gives this book the subject heading of Animals -- Habitations -- Juvenile literature. The book's subtitle leads me to believe it's meant as an informational book. This review might be very different if I approached it as a poetry book. 

And this book was a definite miss for me. It's much better suited to be marketed as a poetry book, not an informational text, down to the fact that the only resource for further research is a link to a website on poetry forms. 

Spreads feature a poem about an animal living in a dangerous environment and an illustration by Caldecott-winning-illustrator Ed Young. Some poems have more information than others. They're done in a variety of formats and it's certainly intriguing to link an informational book with various forms of poetry. This book should be Common Core gold, but I found the informative aspect of the book to be weak. 

This book could work much better as a nonfiction text if facts (even brief facts) had accompanied each spread, not been grouped together at the end notes, particularly for the briefer poems. The illustrations, too, varied widely in their quality (a particular least favorite was the insane-looking mountain goat) and for the most part served this informational text poorly. For some animals, like the spadefoot toads seen from above, it's impossible to discern their actual shape from these illustrations. With many of these creatures so rarely seen and animals many kids may not be familiar with, photos included with the end notes would have gone a long way. 

Although facts are presented in the end notes (including the Latin names of the animals and the geographic area in which they live), no sources are cited and no author's or illustrator's note is included. A page with information about poetry forms, including listing the poetry forms used for some of the poems in the book, is included in the back matter.

Pick up this book if you're looking for a poetry book featuring different poetry forms. It could also be supplemental material to a unit on animal habitats and it may inspire students to do further research on the unusual animals discussed. But make sure you have other resources available for students, since this book provides no guidance on where to look for information. 

And hey, it's Nonfiction Monday, and Travis (one of our favorite guybrarians) is hosting over at 100 Scope Notes. Do go check it out! 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Around the Interwebs

Here's what I've been surfing this week:

The 2013 Comment Challenge has started! To bolster our sense of a book blogging community and strengthen our relationships as follow book-lovers, Pam of Mother Reader and Lee of I'm Here, I'm Queer, What the Hell Do I Read? are challenging us to comment on five book blogs a day for the next 21 days. It's great fun, so please click through for more info! (Commenting on this post can get you off to a good start!)

Um, so last week CareerCast listed "librarian" as one of the ten least-stressful jobs of 2013. Rita of Screwy Decimal has one rebuttal and Ingrid of The Magpie Librarian has another. I really thought that was enough said, but then Annoyed Librarian did the thing that Annoyed Librarian does and Ingrid wrote a kick-butt post in response (as did Rita). And all this back and forth is kinda stressing me out, so on to the next...

If you're on the hunt for a library job, do check out the article Common Misconceptions About Library Job Search on Library Hat. There's some great advice there. Thanks to @wawoodworth for the link.

Do you have resources to help new and expectant parents in your community? Anne of so tomorrow has posted a great compilation of pregnancy and parenting resources for librarians. This would be some great stuff to add to your website or create a flier to give out.

At Nerdy Book Club, Alyson Beecher posted about ten awesome picture book biographies. I love, love, love picture book biographies, so this is a list not to be missed! (I might have to come up with a list of my own favorite picture book biographies soon.)

Andrea of rovingfiddlehead kidlit posted this super cute food chain prop that would be great for a preschool or early elementary science program. One of these days we're going to add Preschool Science to our mix of programs, so that's definitely a link I'm keeping on file. Great idea!

Speaking of science, Sarah at The Reading Zone has Jen Bryant talking about the STEM research behind her own writing. Definitely worth a read.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Ask the Passengers

Ask the Passengers by A.S. King. Grades 9 and up. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, October 2012. 293 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.

Astrid Jones is not gay.
Astrid Jones is gay.
Astrid Jones is in love with a girl, but she's not sure if that makes her gay or not.

Since love is so complicated for Astrid, she often finds herself laying on the picnic table in her backyard, watching planes flying by high above and sending them her love (since at least then her love will be free). As she navigates junior year with a girlfriend? (sorta?), a boyfriend? (not really), a closeted best friend, and a family that seems to be falling apart since they moved from New York City to a small town, a philosophy class and the nameless passengers that Astrid sends love to are her only solace. But as Astrid starts to question the world around her and to demand answers to her own questions, she'll slowly start to figure everything out.

This is a coming out story, but more than that, this is a story about questioning. It's a story about paradoxes. It's a story about the pressure Astrid feels to put herself in a neat, labeled box. And it's about Astrid's fight to break down those walls.

Astrid is messy. Astrid is unsure. Astrid is telling lies, sometimes accidentally and sometimes on purpose. And that's what makes Astrid such a real character. Astrid is Everyteen, a girl dealing with pressure from her family, from her friends, from her girlfriend. She's in love, but she's not ready to have sex. Being gay is not all about the sex. She knows that her best friend is gay and might be able to help her through this, but Astrid needs to come out on her own time, her own schedule.

I just loved the characters. I loved that Astrid was questioning, not only herself but eventually everything around her. I loved that secondary characters get fleshed out well, too, especially Astrid's family. They may be a mess, but it's easy to see why, and it's easy to see that they're all trying (even if they fail sometimes).

This is a compulsively readable contemporary novel that will appeal to thinking teens as well as teens looking for GLBT (and especially "coming out") stories. But don't put this one in a GLBT box. It would make a great readalike for The Sky Always Hears Me and the Hills Don't Mind by Kirstin Cronn-Mills, but I would also suggest it to teens who love John Green, Libba Bray, and other literary YA.

Check out a dual-review of Ask the Passengers by Kim & Kelly at STACKED.

Ask the Passengers is on shelves now!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Tangle of Knots

A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff. Grades 4-6. Philomel, February 2013. 240 pages. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.

In a word... delicious.

In a world where many people have a Talent, a magical ability to do something really well, the orphan Cady has an extraordinary ability to bake cakes. She bakes a special cake, the perfect cake, for each child who is adopted from the orphanage (something that happens quite often since Miss Mallory has a Talent for matching children to adoptive parents). And Cady waits for her own perfect match, for her own Adoption Day when perhaps she'll bake a cake just for herself. But life is rarely straightforward and Fate has much in store for Cady.

This is a deliciously magical story told in alternating viewpoints by a whole cast of characters. The quickly alternating viewpoints will keep readers turning the pages as they figure out how all the characters are related to each other. Their stories are interwoven like, well, a tangle of knots, and everything comes together with a very satisfying conclusion.

Young readers will dig the quirky cast of characters, very different from each other and yet inextricably linked. Some are Talented, some are not. Some have secrets to hide, while others are trying desperately to figure out where they belong. There's someone for everyone to identify with here, but readers will surely be rooting for young Cady to find her way. She's full of heart, most often thinking of others, wondering what kind of cake would be perfect for them.

A Tangle of Knots is Savvy meets Pie with a hint of Greetings from Nowhere, and if you love any of those books I just named, make sure to grab Lisa Graff's latest when it hits shelves!

OH, and shoutout to Ingrid (a.k.a. The Magpie Librarian) whose I am Reading This So Hard Right Now post about this book totally bumped it up on my TBR pile and afforded me the joy of reading it that much sooner. xoxo

A Tangle of Knots will be on shelves February 12 (just in time to buy it for a kid you love!).

Monday, January 7, 2013

Reading Wildly: Our Staff's Journey to Great Readers' Advisory

CC: Stacy Ann
Or, Is Reading Widely Essential?

Recently, I put out a question to my Twitter followers. I was thinking about how I could improve my staff's Readers' Advisory skills, knowing that some of my staff members don't read children's books for pleasure (whether because of reading preferences or a perceived lack of leisure time or other reasons I might not think about). I put out the following question:

@abbylibrarian: Can you give good readers' advisory without reading widely yourself? Please discuss.

I got many, many responses (and here are some):

@LizB: theoretically, yes, but it requires reading the professional lit & being v. good at using resources like NoveList

@amyeileenk: ...even great resources like NoveList can be misleading; libs need personal background w a book

@classicsixbooks: Yes and no. I don't hesitate to rec a book I haven't read, but I am up on the background. Also rec books I didn't like!

@ReadingChick: you cant read everything, can you? but a staff that reads widely & openly discusses & shares the books they're rdg is good service

@bookgirlsb: absolutely! knowing how to do an RA interview, loving book reviews and reading lots of first chapters helps.

@catatonichic: I think you could GIVE 'good' RA, but I don't believe you could give great RA

@definitelyted: Without being too knee-jerk, I think the answer is an emphatic "no way."

@klmpeace: as a librarian who doesn't love to read chapter books, I have damn good RA skills. you need to know how to find a kid a good book and that doesn't mean having read a ton of them

@2nickels: I say yes if you're keeping up with reviews and talking to people about books a lot, but it's easier to do well if you read.

@catagator: you can do it with good tools but idk if it's as STRONG if the librarian isn't a reader.

As the discussion went on, it became clear that the general consensus was that librarians can perform good (or maybe adequate?) readers' advisory without reading widely if they are using professional tools like reviews, Novelist, book recommendations from colleagues, and other resources. But they can perform better readers' advisory (more personalized, more confident, more enthusiastic) if they are reading widely (and by "widely" I mean reading a variety of genres, formats, and reading levels). 

For me, personally, I find it hard to do readers' advisory if I haven't read the books I'm recommending (although I love the idea of reading lots of first chapters...). I find it really hard to remember any details about books that I haven't read and written about (which is one reason I blog and keep up my GoodReads account!). That's not to say I've never done that or that I never recommend books I don't like.

And also, I would think that keeping up with reviews and professional resources consistently enough to provide good readers' advisory is at least as much work as reading the children's books themselves. 

My next question to Twitter also yielded some great discussion. I asked if anyone had run or participated in a staff reading program designed to expand horizons and encourage staff to read widely. My first thought was to offer a program like the Summer Reading Club that we do for kids, offering some kind of prize to staff who complete it, but that was met with some strong opposition: 

@himissjulie: I don't think giving out prizes is the way to go. It's professional development. it's part of ALSC core competencies.

@Muffintruck: Everyone has aspects of their jobs that reach beyond work hours and time spent on-site ESPECIALLY those in youth services. For example, you go to Home Depot and ask for advice regarding a project, you expect the employees will have some expertise.That expertise is gained through their personal experiences. The store won't pay for them to learn how to find a wall stud.

Several people replied with programs that they've used with staff or participated in at their libraries: 

@ReadingChick: in the interview, potential staff must agree to read outside the workplace. it's the only way to get it done. The phrase is "do you agree to read widely in a variety of genres"? (and outside the workplace)...
@nelsonlibraries: Quite a few staff here are participating in Read Watch Play. January theme is 'reread'.

@MissReneeDomain: I've done shared RA at department meetings. I bring treats--everyone shares one book they've read recently with the group.

@gcaserotti: we've done general voluntary read 100 books/yr and keep in google doc 4 all 2 see. Most branch out genres. Acknowledge winner

@SharonGrover2: We do 2-minute book reviews at all of our staff meetings. Have an easy form to fill out and file (electronically) for RA.

Based on feedback and inspiration from all these wonderful librarians on Twitter, I've developed a reading program for my staff. I'm launching it today and our first book discussion will take place in February. It's called Reading Wildly and we'll read a different genre each month. Staff members are required to read one book from the genre and fill out a basic book review form, including thinking of two (or more) readalikes. We will have a brief monthly meeting (separate from our monthly staff meeting) to booktalk our genre books to each other and discuss the genre. I've created a GoodReads group and I'm required my staff to create a GoodReads account and log their titles to this group. I'm hoping this will be useful as a reference so that staff can easily access genre reviews from their colleagues when they have readers' advisory questions, but we'll see what staff think. If it's not useful for them, I won't require this aspect of the program.

I will also be bringing in a trainer from the Indiana State Library to do a training on readers' advisory for youth. I know some of my staff have had training before, but this will get everyone on board and it will be a good refresher for those of us (ahem) who haven't had training in awhile. 

I know that some of my staff don't feel that they have time outside of work to read, but I think requiring only one book a month is very reasonable. If they finish other work and are at the desk when it's slow, I will allow them to read (only books from our Children's Room!). And I've created lists with suggested resources for finding great books and book lists of possible titles for them to get started. I've included several titles available on audio. I'm hoping that this program will inspire them to continue reading children's literature either to be better at their jobs or (hopefully) because they truly enjoy it. 

I will be participating along with my staff and I'm hoping that this program will help me fill in some gaps in my reading and keep me picking up books that might not be my favorite genres. And, of course, I'll be sure to report back about how the program goes. I plan to post with our genres every month and add a tag to my reviews of the titles I read for this program.

I'm requiring them to read books from the Children's Room (not Teen or Adult, although I know that my staff and I like books from those sections, too). This program is about getting to know our collection better so we can recommend titles to our young patrons, so we need to read books that are in our Children's Room. Books must be chapter books, graphic novels, or nonfiction. I selected genres based on popular requests from our patrons and this year's genres will be as follows:

February - Mystery
March - Science Fiction
April - Adventure
May - Funny
June - A book on the New York Times Best-Sellers List (either Middle Grade or Series)
July - Reader's Choice (everyone can select a genre or title of their choice from the Children's Room because I know summer is so tiring!)
August - School Story
September - African-American Fiction
October - Scary (or slightly scary)
November - Nonfiction
December - Award Winner

I am not the only one challenging myself to read widely this year! Check out Angela's Readers' Advisory Challenge and you might choose to read along with her. Personally, I'm planning to read along with Angela's genre program, too. (But we'll see if I can keep up two genre programs all year...)

Have you done any kind of reading program or ongoing readers' advisory training with your staff? Have you participated in any at a library you've worked at? I would love to hear details in the comments!