Thursday, December 31, 2015

End of the Year Tasks

Photo by Dafne Cholet

Yesterday was my last day of work in 2015 and for the past couple of weeks, with schools out (no booktalks) and our winter programming break on, I've been concentrating on some end-of-year tasks that will have me in good shape when I return to work in 2016.

  • I updated my yearly meeting and program planning doc for 2016. I changed the dates, penciled in meeting agenda items, added dates for submitting program publicity to marketing and special tasks like booking summer performers and ordering prize books for Summer Reading Club. This way, as our department meeting approaches each month, I have a starting point to put together our agenda and I can make sure we have plenty of time to brainstorm program ideas, etc. 
  • I looked through our brainstormed list of book display ideas and penciled in twice-monthly display themes and started making the display signs. I think this is a task I may delegate to our new part-time person, so I only made the signs through March. While I love putting up book displays and I've found that we get the best results when we change them every two weeks instead of once a month, it was difficult for me to come up with display ideas on the spot. Planning them out and penciling in ideas helps, and of course we can always change it up if we have great ideas later in the year. 
  • We decided our monthly Reading Wildly topics at our last meeting and, together with one of my teen librarians, I have been finding and saving articles for us to read and discuss. 
  • As I completed annual evaluations with each of my employees, I made sure to print out a list of their goals so we can touch base throughout the year. 
  • I started working on compiling our 2015 statistics for the annual report we submit to the State. Of course, we were still doing programs yesterday so I don't have all the numbers yet, but I hope it'll now be easy work for next week since the bulk of the adding-up is done. (This year, I'm going to compile the stats monthly to share with stakeholders and to make it easier as we're putting together the annual reports next year!)
Unrelated, but still exciting: I finished our 2015 weeding this week, having discovered the magic of teen volunteers pulling weeding candidates. We're all working so many more desk hours now that we have two desks to cover that weeding has been a particular challenge for me. I'm hoping to spend more time in the stacks since we're getting additional part-time help this year. 

What end-of-year tasks do you find helpful? 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Reading Resolutions

I LOVE to make Reading Resolutions.

I am not the type of person who needs or wants to make a huge list of New Year Resolutions - I just feel guilty if I don't stick to them and it's hard for me to keep track.

But I love making Reading Resolutions. I love taking a little bit of time to look at what books I have read this year and how I feel about it. I think it's a great professional thing to do to decide where I need to expand my horizons and make some reading goals for the year.

In 2015, coming off my Newbery year, I did not make any Reading Resolutions. I didn't know how I would feel or what I would even be capable of reading after such an intense reading year. I ended up reading quite a bit more than I thought I would, although it definitely still sometimes felt like work.

As 2016 nears, I have been thinking about what kind of reading goals I might want to set for myself this year. In the past I have resolved to read more nonfiction (a habit that definitely stuck with me, as I now love reading nonfiction!), to read more books that I picked up through browsing rather that recommendations or reviews, and it seems like almost every year I resolve to read more adult books.

Our monthly Reading Wildly program helps kick me out of my comfort zone every now and then, so that will definitely continue. Here are the genres we're tackling in 2016.

I have a little bit of a sinking feeling about setting Reading Resolutions for myself this year. Life and work have been so busy lately that I feel like I've been neglecting this blog. I'm guessing and hoping that I'm in one of those fallow field periods that Donalyn Miller so eloquently wrote about. Lately I like the idea of reading and writing, but when it comes down to it I don't always pick up a book or log in to Blogger even when I have the time.

So we'll see what happens, but here are the reading resolutions I'm setting for 2016:

1. I'd like to read more Teen books. Now that our department is Youth Services, I'm working more directly with teens than I ever have and I got out of the habit of reading YA stuff with Newbery and all the elementary school booktalks we've been doing. In 2015 I read 38 books that I would consider teen and that didn't feel like enough, so in 2016 I'd like to read at least 50 teen books.

2. I sometimes have trouble picking up adult books since those are almost always purely for pleasure or my own interests and don't directly help me in my work. But since I'm trying to think of reading as entertainment, I'd like to read at least 25 adult books this year.

And I think that's going to be it for me this year. We'll keep it pretty loose and try to concentrate on having fun reading.

What are your reading resolutions??

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

15 Favorites for 2015

I couldn't post my favorites last year, so  this year I am definitely excited to share my favorites from this year. This is simply my from-the-gut favorites of the year with no attempt to balance and with the caveat that of course I have not read nearly everything that was published this year. You can see everything I read this year on my GoodReads page.

Anna Banana and the Friendship Split by Anica Rissi (Simon & Schuster, 2015). This transitional chapter book tells a friendship story, as so many do, but I was really impressed by how much the author showed about her characters in so few words.

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler by Philip Hoose (Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux, 2015). This is an exciting true adventure story that I just couldn't put down.

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate (Feiwel & Friends, 2015). This book made me feel all the feels. Katherine Applegate uses a deft hand to slowly reveal more and more about the situation and the characters' past.

Dumplin' by Julie Murphy (Balzer + Bray, 2015). The voice, the voice, the voice! I loved Dumplin's voice. This is the authentic fat-girl story I wish I had had as a teen (and as a 20-something).

Enchanted Air by Margarita Engle (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2015). The poems in this memoir are so carefully and beautifully crafted that I would not be at all surprised to see this collecting accolades at the YMAs.

The Great Monkey Rescue: Saving the Golden Lion Tamarins by Sandra Markle (Milbrook Press, 2015). This true story of scientists' quest to save the golden lion tamarins from extinction is a great book for animal lovers. I love the big, bold photos of these beautiful monkeys.

Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick (Random House, 2015). This graphic novel had me laughing out loud. It ends on a cliffhanger and you can bet I will be picking up the next installment.

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz (Candlewick, 2015). I know this book has come under some controversy (read the comments here), but the story seems almost tailor made for me and it's a perfect readalike for some of my all-time favorite books.

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste (Algonquin, 2015). Not only is the creepy take reminiscent of another favorite of mine (Doll Bones by Holly Black), but it has been SO MUCH FUN to booktalk and the kids at my library have been clamoring for it since I began taking it to schools.

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamison (Dial Books, 2015). This full-color graphic novel is full of girl power and a young protagonist who works hard to get what she wants. I love the storyline and the unstoppable main character.

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes (Dial Books, 2015). I could not stop reading this book. It's a gripping story and once I finished I couldn't help but push it into the hands of my friends.

Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson (Candlewick, 2015). Quite simply, I think this book is a masterpiece. It's at once a fascinating biography, a testament to the power of music, and a riveting WWII story.

Terrible Typhoid Mary by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015). This riveting biography reads like fiction. I love icky medical stuff and this book fit the bill nicely.

Untamed: The Wild Life of Jane Goodall by Christine Hepperman (National Geographic Kids, 2015). Here's another fascinating biography with tons of color photographs and sidebars that provide me interesting information. I'm sold.

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (Dial Books, 2015). I read this one waaaay back in January and it's stayed on my mind ever since. The way that Bradley shows us the characters is super impressive to me. This is my top Newbery contender.

We've all seen tons of "Best Of" lists for the year, but what were YOUR favorites this year??

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Reading Wildly in 2016

Yes, we will continue to Read Wildly in 2016! (More info on Reading Wildly, my staff reader's advisory training, here!)

Last week, my staff and I sat down to choose genres for our 2016 Reading Wildly meetings. I was really proud of the thought they put into it and I think we hit on a great mix of repeats (those genres many of us don't gravitate to naturally) and new-for-RW genres. Here's what we decided to explore this year:

January: Reader profile swaps (basically reader's choice, but you can read about what we're doing in this post)

February: Sports

March: Survival

April: Sad/Tearjerkers

May: Funny

June: Reader's choice, but Teen staff read something from Children's and Children's read something from Teen (and if you read equally, then you pick!)

July: Graphic Novels (always accepted, but my staff don't always choose them)

August: Transitional chapter books (2nd/3rd grade)

September: Nonfiction

October: Thriller

November: Gentle ("Clean" reads, although I hate saying "clean")

December: Fantasy

Watch my Reading Wildly page for updates on how these meetings go and what we read each month!

And what about you? What are the genres that are a stretch for you to pick up and read?

Friday, December 11, 2015

Reading Wildly: Fairy Tale Novels

Hello, blog. It's been awhile. Things have been a little crazy around here. But we are still reading! This month for Reading Wildly, my staff and I read fairy tale novels. Frozen, The Descendants... fairy tales are all around us and there are lots of opportunities to find readalikes for the books and media kids are loving.

Here's what we read: 

Confession: I missed most of our book discussion this month because I was at a meeting that ran way late. However, my staff were on the ball and shared their booktalks until I could join them. 

The second half of this month's meeting was spent discussing what genres and topics we want to tackle for next year and explaining the activity we're going to do for January's meeting. 

For January's meeting, I had asked everyone to fill out Becky Spratford's reader profile, as discussed on her awesome blog RA for All. I collected these before the meeting and at our meeting, we each picked one. I'm asking folks to work with their partners to come up with a list of at least 3 book suggestions by the end of next week. Then I'm asking everyone to read at least one of their suggested books for next month's meeting. I am hoping this will be a fun exercise and result in everyone having something enjoyable to read over the holidays and the beginning of the new year. 

I'm really excited to talk to everyone about their process in completing this activity and what they learned about themselves by filling out their own reader profiles. I typically leave January's Reading Wildly meeting as reader's choice since I know everything is so busy during the holidays and I think this is a great way to do that while still incorporating some RA practice and thought. 

We also discussed what genres we'd like to explore next year and I was really proud of my staff members for putting a lot of thought into this and making some great suggestions. Everyone was a little quiet at first when I asked what they'd like to feature next year, but once people started making suggestions, more and more came flying! 

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.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Reading Wildly: Scary Books

It's October, so it's time for another round of scary books for this month's Reading Wildly meeting. We explored scary books a couple of years ago, and it's such a perennial favorite that we brought it back this year. We were a little pressed for time at this meeting because we had to combine our department meeting and our RW meeting (happens sometimes, especially with Fall Break happening), so we didn't have a really in-depth discussion about our article. It was Are Goosebumps Books Real Literature? By Leslie Anne Perry & Rebecca P. Butler (Language Arts, Oct. 1997) and we did have a few takeaways:

  • Kids know what to expect when they pick up a Goosebumps book: an easy to read, slightly scary and exciting story. 
  • Scary stories, including the Goosebumps series transcend gender divides. As much as I really hate the idea of "girl books" and "boy books" (and I really do hate it), scary stories, for kids who like scary stories, are easy to hand to both boys and girls without objections from kids or parents. 
  • If we had had time, I would have liked to compile a list of scary story series that would be good for everyone to know, but alas we didn't have time for this. 
So, here are the books we read: 

For next month, we are reading horse books (Children's) and animal books (Teen). It was determined that teens didn't have an overwhelming interest in horse books, but my teen librarians did feel like animal books were something more teens were interested in. We'll also start to brainstorm genres that we'd like to explore next year and I'm excited to now have our teen librarians' input in this process! 

Horse books are definitely NOT my wheelhouse, so do you have any suggestions for me?!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Perfection Myth

Image from Indexed

I wouldn't call myself a perfectionist (there is a reason that I ask Ms. T to make all my storytime props - I know she'll take her time and do a better job than I would!). But I do take my work pretty seriously, and as a manager I really try to stay on top of things so that I can help my staff stay on top of things. I try to have my ducks in a row when it comes to scheduling and communicating and touching base with everyone about upcoming programs.

But sometimes I make mistakes.

I recently blogged about the new challenge of becoming a "Youth Services" department and the changes that has necessitated. We now have two desk schedules and lots more programs to keep up with. I now have additional staff to touch base with and coordinate with. We were promised an additional part-time Youth Services clerk, but that has yet to materialize (I am crossing my fingers for January....!).

And all this has meant that sometimes we don't have desk coverage. And sometimes that's just because we don't have the staff, and sometimes it's because I've missed something. A program didn't make it onto the schedule. I didn't realize how long an outreach visit would actually take.

There was a time that I would beat myself up for these mistakes, but I have come to learn that they happen. We readjust. We make notes for next time. We move on.

I am very lucky to have an extremely supportive and capable staff who are willing to change things around and help cover as needed. I can count on one hand the number of times that an organizational mishap has actually affected the people that we serve. (Although that happens occasionally, too! And guess what, people usually understand!)

As a manager, I think the best reaction when these mixups occur is to own it if it's your mistake. Let your staff know that you, too, are human. Be willing to laugh about it, apologize for it, and help cover what needs to be covered. If it's someone else's mistake, remember that it's probably not that big a deal. Address it once you're no longer annoyed and with a proactive mindset - what could be changed to avoid mistakes like this in the future?

The image in this post has been taped to my computer monitor at work since I started my job here six years ago. As a person in my first managerial position, I really put a lot of pressure on myself to get everything right. It's taken me until now, but as I accept this new challenge of managing additional staff and getting to know a new patron base, I have realized that everything's not going to be perfect right away. There's a learning curve here and that's okay.

And I know that one day this will all seem routine and I can go back to feeling on top of things once again.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

On Becoming "Youth Services"

There have been changes afoot in my library.

New Teen Scene!
Back in April, our Reference Services and Circulation/Media departments undertook a big move. They moved all the media materials (DVDs, CDs, etc.) and public computers upstairs and moved the Teen Scene downstairs. Basically, these sections flip-flopped in order to create a teen area that is MUCH bigger, allows the space for teens to talk and hang out, has teen-only computers (that we can actually enforce), is close to the Children's Room while still being a completely separate area, and has its own reference desk.

I LOVE our new teen area.

In June, we merged Teen and Children's Services to create the Youth Services Department, which I am now supervising (previously I was only supervising the Children's staff). It was a move that makes sense for us, although I know some librarians would argue for keeping Teen part of adult services or making Teen its own department.

Teens can actually make noise here!
The staff employed in Children's are a good fit to serve as back up and support for our teen librarians. Because the teen area is across the hall from Children's, it's easier for us to help patrons and work hours on the desk than it would be to bring someone down from Reference. Our middle schools have students in grades 5th-8th, so Children's and Teen were working together to serve them with booktalking visits anyway. We also work together on our Summer Reading Club offerings. It was a natural evolution to merge our areas of the library and all work together serving our young people.

It's been a very positive change, but it hasn't always been easy. We had to carve out office space for our teen librarians (previously their only work stations were at the public desk, which is just not super feasible for some kinds of work). We are now covering two desks with no additional staff, which means that everyone is working a lot more desk hours (including me! I am not used to this!). We're trying to make evening and weekend scheduling as fair as possible (hard to do with no additional staff), so everyone is working extra evenings and weekends for the time being.

Luckily, I have amazing, hardworking, talented staff. They have faced this challenge head-on with me and everyone has been extremely positive and flexible as we've made these changes.

Teen Reference Desk!

I have worked hard to get our Children's staff comfortable with working in the teen area. I brought in a trainer from our State Library to do a workshop on teen behavior and another trainer to do a Reference workshop. (Teens' projects can be a lot more involved than elementary projects!) We have been consciously scheduling "Children's" staff to work the teen desk so that everyone becomes familiar with where things are located and starts to feel more comfortable interacting with and helping teen patrons.

It's been a learning curve for patrons, too. For the most part, patrons LOVE our new teen area like I do, but we do have occasional complaints about the adult computers being moved upstairs. We have been fighting the good fight for our teens to have this dedicated space.

(I just want to tell all the adults that adults get the WHOLE WORLD, so they need to respect that we have carved out this one room just for teens!)

Students-only computers!
Adults are, of course, welcome to browse and use the teen collection and check out teen materials. They are restricted from setting up shop in the teen area (unless they are working with or supervising a teen, i.e. tutors or parents) and they are not allowed to use the teen computers.

Slowly but surely I am getting used to supervising additional staff (I am now supervising our Youth Services page, too), trying to figure out our crazy schedule, and making notes of changes we need to make, supplies we need to purchase and procedures we need to work out. I know it's difficult to change supervisors and that I manage a department differently from our Reference supervisor, so it's a new experience for all of us.

It has been a lot of work. It has taken a lot of my time and energy to take on this new challenge, but it is so, so worth it. Youth Services for the win!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Jump Back Paul

Jump Back Paul: The Life and Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar by Sally Derby, illustrated by Sean Qualls. Grades 4-7. Candlewick Press, September 2015. 128 pages. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.


Paul Laurence Dunbar was a poet. Now, when you think about poetry, you might think about strict rules for rhymes, for the number of syllables you have. You probably think about something that doesn't really sound like something anyone would actually ever just SAY or THINK.

That's where Paul's poetry was different. He wrote the way people actually talked. And his poems were not meant for you to sit quietly and read and study, they were meant to be PERFORMED! In fact, if you sit down and look at one of Paul's poems, you might find that the words look strange - they're not spelled right, they sometimes don't look like words at all.

[Do we have a very brave soul who would volunteer to read one of his poems? I'm putting you on the spot!]

But if you read it exactly as the letters spell out, you'll see that it sounds like someone just talking, the way people actually spoke.

Paul's poems captured a way of life, reading them is like getting a look back in time to how things were in his day. This book includes many of his poems, bringing a little bit of Paul's world to life. His father was born into slavery and escaped on the Underground Railroad. He left when Paul was a little boy and his mother worked night and day to support herself and her young children.

This is a great book for anyone who likes to learn about real people in history or who has a love of words like Paul Dunbar did.

My thoughts: 

Told in a conversational tone, this biography of Paul Laurence Dunbar is fascinating. I knew absolutely nothing about him when I picked up this book and had never read any of his poetry (although I did find that I was a little familiar with some of it once I started reading). The tone of the book makes for a really pleasant reading experience, like you're sitting down with your grandmother who's telling you about this interesting man she knows.

That same conversational tone can be a little tricky when it comes to nonfiction. There are several places where the author says "I imagine Paul felt like this..." or similar, which I'm not sure really can be grounded in historical fact. However, it didn't bother me enough to truly detract from the book.

I imagine that the audiobook of this title, narrated by one of my favorites Bahni Turpin, will be amazing. Many of the poems included in the book are written in dialect and all the poetry in the book lends itself to being read aloud.

Back matter includes a timeline, source notes, and a selected bibliography.

If for nothing else than exposing kids to Dunbar's poetry and life, this is a very worthy addition to library and classroom shelves. I am looking forward to sharing it in booktalks this year!


Those looking for more biographies of wordsmiths might enjoy Enormous Smallness: A Story of E.E. Cummings by Matthew Burgess or The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jennifer Bryant.

For those interested in the lives of African Americans after the Civil War, I would suggest The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch by Chris Barton or (fictional) Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Reading Wildly: Contemporary Fiction

This month for Reading Wildly, we read contemporary fiction. You may also call this realistic fiction, but we specify contemporary because we're talking about books set in the present day, not historical fiction. 

To kick off our discussion, we talked about the article "One Tough Cookie" by Carey E. Hagan, the Field Notes column from the September/October 2011 Horn Book Magazine. In this article, Hagan discusses her difficulties in getting boys to check out books that are perceived as "girl books". 

My staff had a lot to say about this article. We talked about how it was difficult to get not only boys but parents of boys to take home books about girls (sometimes, not always!). We talked about how dangerous this is - to encourage boys to check out and read solely books about boys is to tell them that the lives of girls are not something they have to care about or value.

We shared some strategies for combating this mindset. First and foremost, we must be cognizant that it's good to present boys and girls with books about both boys and girls. We, as gatekeepers, need to check that we're not booktalking a book as "for girls" or "for boys". Instead of emphasizing the gender of the characters, talk about what the characters do or what's exciting, funny, or interesting about the book. Solicit impromptu book reviews from young readers and file those away so that you can tell young readers "I know a boy who read that book and he said it was cool." etc. 

Just as we should be including diverse books in what we're booktalking and suggesting, we need to include books featuring protagonists of both genres. 

Here's what we read: 
For our October meeting, we'll be reading scary stories (and slightly scary stories!) and reading the article "Are Goosebumps Real Literature?" by Leslie Anne Perry and Rebecca Butler from Language Arts, October 1997. 

What scary books would you recommend for us to check out?