Monday, August 29, 2016

Series I Love: All Four Stars

I am NOT a big series reader. As a youth services librarian, I usually feel like reading the first book in a series is good enough. I get to know what the book is like and who I would hand it to. No need to read the rest of the books when there are so many more first books to read. Plus, it's hard for me to keep track of characters and plots for months or a year while waiting for the next book to come out.

So it's a special series that grabs my attention enough that I keep reading subsequent books. There are a few, and I want to write about them. I wrote about The Thickety a few months ago and today I want to make sure you know about:

All Four Stars by Tara Dairman
Gr. 4-7. Putnam. Review copies provided by publisher.


Gladys Gatsby loves to cook. It's her favorite hobby. She loves trying out new recipes, watching cooking shows, reading cookbooks... Unfortunately, Gladys has an incident with a creme brulee blowtorch, accidentally burning down her kitchen curtains and her parents ban her from the kitchen. Gladys isn't sure what to do with herself after that happens. Imagine if your parents banned you from video games or playing basketball or whatever it is you like to do in your spare time. 

When Gladys’s new teacher assigns them an essay about their future, Gladys pours her soul into her essay about becoming a restaurant critic, winning the class contest and the chance to submit her essay to the New York newspaper offering 500 dollars to the winner. But when Gladys’s essay arrives at the newspaper office, a tired intern mistakes it for a job application and sends it to the Dining Section. At first, when Gladys is contacted by the food editor about writing a review for the paper, she’s convinced it’s a prank. But it’s not a prank. And Gladys has a chance at her dream job… if only she can figure out a way to get into the city and eat at this restaurant and take notes to review it without her parents finding out.

This is a book for anyone who appreciates loves reading about - or eating! - good food!

Books in the series: 

1. All Four Stars by Tara Dairman (2014). 288 pages. 

2. The Stars of Summer by Tara Dairman (2015). 336 pages. 

3. Stars So Sweet by Tara Dairman (July 2016). 278 pages. 

Why I Love Them:

I am a person who loves watching cooking shows and reading foodie memoirs and such. I like to try my hand in the kitchen every now and then. This series, with its blend of humor and middle grade adventure and foodie descriptions is right up my alley. 

Gladys is a likeably flawed character; she's a girl very much trying to find her way in the world. Because she spends a lot of time by herself in the kitchen, she doesn't have very many friends. She is a smart girl with a sophisticated palette and doesn't feel like she has a ton in common with most of her peers. But she tries. And it's rewarding to read about a plucky young girl following her dream and figuring out a way to make this job happen. 

This is a sweet, fun series that is just delightful to pick up and each new story is like visiting with my friend again. 

Check out other Series I Love:  

Thursday, August 25, 2016

How our Walk-Around Log has Changed Desk Time

What is your job when you're working the public service desk?

That seems like an obvious question. Your job on the public service desk is to serve the public. But I know that it gets a little more complicated when you have a ton of tasks to get done and very little off-desk time to do it. Between customers, you'll often find your librarians completing other work.

I wanted something more for our desks. As a former Barnes & Noble bookseller, it was drilled into me to put the book in the customer's hand and I always walk customers back to the shelf. I always told my staff that they're not tied to the desk; I want them to be up and walking around.

Enter the walk-around log:

And yes, here's a link to a similar file I created for a walk around log. Feel free to download and edit to fit your needs.

Confession time: our walk-around log originated as a way to deal with some security issues we were having in our building. We exist in an old, sprawling building, and we cannot see everything in our Teen Room or our Children's Room from the desks.

So I created a log for each desk and made it a requirement of my staff to do a lap of the room at least hourly while they are on desk. I know how easy it is to get involved with a project you're doing on desk, particularly during those periods when we may go a few hours between patrons, and tune out to what is going on around you. That's not good customer service and that's not keeping the library secure.

When you take a few minutes to walk around your department:

  • You know who's in there. You know if there's someone back in the stacks. If you're paying attention, you become aware of any potential problems hopefully before they become actual problems. 
  • Patrons know you're there. They know that you see them. If it's a situation where they were thinking of doing something inappropriate, they may now rethink because they know you're not just zoned in on your computer screen. 
  • You can make sure your space is welcoming. You can make sure there are pencils, you can pick up the blocks, you can check the battery charge on the iPad stations, you can refill displays. You can take a few seconds to spruce up your room. 
  • (This is an important one!) You can offer help to folks who might not ask for it. Based on my years of customer service, I can tell you that there are some people who will not ask for help. But if you approach people proactively, often they do actually have a question. Or if they think of one they will be more likely to approach you or seek you out. It doesn't have to be pushy. When I do my laps, I try to approach everyone browsing in the department and say something like "Is there anything I can help you find today? No? Well, if you have any questions, you just let me know."
  • You're being healthy! It's healthy to get up and move periodically! Get that blood flowing! Get your steps in! 
Keeping up with our walk-around logs did help solve the security issues we were facing. It's also increased the number of reference questions we're answering. It also gives us a place to record any little notes we want to make, if there are any issues going on that I need to know about or future desk staff need to be aware of. 

I started out with consumable paper logs that I collected each morning to make sure my staff were remembering to do it. They did great and once I was confident that this was part of our new desk routine, I laminated a log for each desk and provided sharp point dry-erase markers to keep our logs. 

This is something that has worked well for us. What do you do to ensure your staff is providing good customer service at your public desks? 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

If I Was Your Girl

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo (Grades 7+). Flatiron Books, May 2016. Review copy provided by my local library.

Amanda is starting over. She's moved to a small town in Tennessee to live with her dad and fly under the radar as she completes her senior year of high school. She dreams of getting into NYU and leaving the South for good. She doesn't plan on making friends or going to football games or bringing any attention to herself whatsoever.

If the other kids at her high school knew the truth about her, Amanda's pretty sure she knows how it would go. If everyone knew that she was assigned male at birth and had only recently transitioned to female, she's pretty sure everyone would freak out. So she keeps her secret. And stays under the radar.

But it's not that simple. This is, after all, Amanda's first chance to really live the way she was meant to live. To live without being bullied, to live as her true self. And she finds herself making friends and going to football games and falling in love... knowing that as easy as anything it could all fall to pieces around her.

This is a powerful and important book. I know that Amanda's story is going to stick with me for a long time. At its heart, it's a book about first love, a book about finally finding the place where you fit in and you feel free. It's a book about being the new kid, albeit with a complication that most new kids may not have to worry about. It's also a book about a girl connecting with her father, the father who she never really related to, a father who is imperfect but trying to accept this new situation.

The author of this book is a trans woman and pieces of the story are based on her own experiences. Meredith Russo is able to incorporate some "teachable moments" (for lack of a better term) in a way that seems organic to the story. For example, when she eventually confides in a friend, Amanda is very clear about a few types of questions NOT to task (don't ask about genitals - it's none of your business, etc.).

I appreciate that Russo leaves us with two notes - a note to cisgender readers explaining that this book about a trans experience does not stand for ALL trans experiences and particularly outlining some points where she stretched reality to make the story work more smoothly. And she includes a note to trans readers, reaching out to let them know they are not alone.

This is Meredith Russo's first novel and I hope to see much more from her.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves realistic, contemporary fiction. I would also recommend it to folks interested in reading about the trans experience. This is an important book for us to have on library shelves and to display and to share with teens.


Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen by Jazz Jennings. In her memoir, Jazz shares her story of growing up as a transgender teen.

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills. Elizabeth was assigned female at birth, but she has always known she is a boy. When she gets the opportunity to do her own late night radio show, she decides to take the plunge and host the show as her true self, Gabe.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Keep an Eye Out

I have been enjoying some great upcoming books and, though they're not due out for a little while, I want to make sure that you have them on your radar.

Falling Over Sideways by Jordan Sonnenblick (Grades 5-9.) Scholastic, September 27, 2016.

This is classic Sonnenblick! You know when Truvy says that laughter through tears is her favorite emotion? This book has it in spades. It's both heartbreaking and hilarious. Claire is having a rough eighth grade year. Her best dancing friends have gotten moved up to a higher level class she's not ready for. She keeps getting picked on by her nemesis, the first-chair saxophone player in band. And then something happens that blows all that stuff away. Claire's dad has a stroke. She's the one to call 911, to save his life, but it doesn't feel like a big accomplishment since his life is not at all what it used to be. He can't really talk, has trouble feeding himself, and no one knows if he'll really get better. For all readers who have read and loved Sonnenblick's Notes from the Midnight Driver or Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie, do not miss this book. 

Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet (Grades 4 and up). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 4, 2016. 

I am a huge fan of Melissa Sweet's work and this is my favorite book she's done, which is SAYING SOMETHING. Her whimsical, colorful art pairs naturally with the story of E.B. White's life, a life steeped in literature and thought and nature. This book is a gorgeous masterpiece perfect for the Reader in your life.

At its heart, this is a love story. It's the story of Millie and Richard, who meet and fall in love, only the laws of their time made it illegal for them to be married, to be a family. This "documentary novel" tells a true story of the landmark civil rights case Loving Vs. Virginia, in which Mildred and Richard Loving fought fiercely for their right to love each other and to legally be a family. Prose poems narrated from alternating points of view (Mildred's and Richard's) delve into what the two must have been feeling. Scaffold this title with Selina Alko and Sean Qualls's beautiful picture book The Case for Loving.

California Dreamin': Cass Elliot Before The Mamas and the Papas by Penelope Bagieu (Grades 9 and up). First Second, March 2017. 

This is early, early warning, but if you have teens or adults who love 60s music, this is one to press into their hands. I have LOVED The Mamas and the Papas since I was in middle school and this biography of leading lady Mama Cass was so interesting and poignant to me. Also, if you're not familiar with The Mamas and the Papas, you should check out some of their music, especially if you're a Beatles fan. :) 

One of my favorites: 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Series I Love: Anna Wang

Here's another series that I love: Anna Wang. I was so sad to learn that the author passed away earlier this year and there will be no more Anna Wang books.

The Year of the Book by Andrea Cheng
Grades 3-6. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012. Review copies provided by my public library. 


Anna Wang wishes that she didn’t have to go to school. Not only does school take time away from Anna’s favorite activity - reading - but Anna’s having friendship problems this year. She HAD a best friend last year: Laura.  But suddenly everything is different this year. Laura’s started hanging out with a girl who’s kind of a mean girl and now Anna doesn’t have anyone to play with at recess or talk to during the day.

But even though Anna doesn’t have friends, that doesn’t mean that she’s alone. Anna always had a book by her side and that makes her feel a little less lonely. She can go on adventures in the wilderness with My Side of the Mountain or travel through time and space with A Wrinkle in Time. Anna reads SO MANY books this year, that that’s why this book is called The Year of the Book!

But even in this year of the book, reading isn’t everything and Anna will have to figure out her friends at school. Will Anna find a new best friend? Will Laura get sick of hanging out with mean girls and give Anna another chance?

I loved this book because Anna reads so many great books during her “year of the book” and I thought it was really neat to see what she thought about all these books. Since I love to read just like Anna, I have something in common with her.

This is also a great book for anyone who’s ever sometimes had trouble with friends (which is probably all of us!) or anyone who likes to read books that are character-driven, so books with a character you really get to know and love.

Books in the Series:

1. The Year of the Book (2012, 146 pages)

2. The Year of the Baby (2013, 176 pages)

3. The Year of the Fortune Cookie (2014, 176 pages) 

4. The Year of the Three Sisters (2015, 160 pages)

Why I Love Them:

Girl, Anna Wang knows angst like no elementary schooler knows angst. But in a good way. In the first book, we get to know Anna who is having trouble with friends and is feeling lonely a lot of the time. I found Anna to be so delightfully realistic - having those moods sometimes where you don't want to do ANY of the things you should be doing, but you can't really think of anything you WANT to do either? Yup. 

Plus, Anna is a reader. I am also a reader. It was delightful to read about the books that Anna was discovering and reminded me of when I discovered those books as a child. This is definitely a series that speaks to kids who are readers. 

And, while Anna struggles somewhat with her cultural identity, that's not the entire focus of the book. Anna goes to Chinese school, her family adopts a baby from China in the second book, and Anna welcomes a Chinese exchange student in the last book. Although I wouldn't call this a series about Anna's identity as a Chinese-American kid, details of her life are definitely there and feel realistic. 

Add it to the list: another series I enjoyed!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Serial Reader

Have you heard of Serial Reader?

Okay, so first of all, Serial Reader is not paying me to say any of this stuff. I am telling you about it because I love it so much.

Serial Reader is a free app for iPhone and Android (strike that - Android's in the works, still! - edited 8/22/16) that brings you 10-20 minute snippets of classic books direct to your phone each day. If you, like me, find your experience with the classics, erm, a little lighter than you would like, this app makes it really easy to tackle the classics without giving up your other reading or getting bogged down.

(I have to take a pause here to say that the books I'm calling "classics" are basically British, European, and American writing that's now in the public domain. I don't know the app developer's exact process for inputting additional books, but you can make suggestions for titles to be added to the app. Okay, back to it.)

I first read about it on Book Riot and decided that it was worth a try, if only to find out what it was. I didn't think I would stick with it. After I went through that phase of catching up on classics during summers home from college, I have been MUCH more about NEW books than old books.

But it's been about a month and I am completely loving it. I look forward to getting my issue of Wuthering Heights each morning and I purchased the deluxe edition of the app ($2.99) so that I could read ahead and unlock other features of the paid app, which include creating a list for future reading and syncing your reading across devices.

Each issue is a manageable length while giving enough of the story that I don't feel lost each time I pick it back up. For me, it really helps make my morning phone time a little more productive. I generally spend 20-30 minutes each morning on my phone as I'm waking up and getting ready: checking Facebook, looking at Timehop, seeing what's happening on Twitter. Directing 10-20 minutes of that time towards reading classic literature is way more rewarding than aimlessly surfing the internet.

Even though I FULLY support the right of people and myself to read whatever we want without judgment, I do admit that it makes me feel smart to be reading classics that I never got around to.

So, if you're looking to insert more classics into your repertoire, Serial Reader makes it really easy. Go forth and download!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Don't Forget Those Grownup Books

Last year, I posted about some awesome adult books I had been reading because - guess what?! - youth librarians can (and should!) make time to read adult books, too. It is so easy to get caught up in the feeling that everything we read has to be something we can use at work. Take a break! Read something that you love, not just something you would booktalk or program around!

Here are some of my favorite adult reads since I posted my last list:

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay (Harper, 2014). This collection of essays on everything from feminism to racism to competitive Scrabble made me feel like a smarter person for having read it. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by our girl Bahni Turpin (am I the only one who considers audiobook narrators who sometimes narrate children's books "ours"?). If you haven't read this one yet, do yourself a favor and pick it up.

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue (Random House, August 2016). I devoured this engrossing story while on my honeymoon this year. In the fall of 2007, Jende, an immigrant from Cameroon, feels incredibly lucky when he lands a job as a chauffeur to a rich businessman. But when the financial world comes crashing down, Jende and his family will have to figure out how to deal. I would especially recommend this title to fans of modern immigrant stories like Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie or Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok.

Born With Teeth by Kate Mulgrew (Little, Brown & Co, 2015). I love me a good celebrity memoir and this one is a cut above many. In addition to being a talented actress, Kate Mulgrew is a talented writer and she has had a fascinating life, living and working all over the world in theater, TV, and movies. I listened to the audiobook, read expertly by the author, and it was definitely a book that motivated me to get my workouts in!

The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe (Washington Square Press, 2016). This historical novel is right up my alley. Set in the 1890s at Vassar College, it fictionalizes the life of Anita Hemings, the first African American (passing for white) graduate of Vassar College. Because Vassar did not yet admit African American students, Anita had hide her true identity. I knew nothing about her and really enjoyed reading about her story.

In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero (Henry Holt, 2016). Here's another celebrity memoir with some meat on its bones. When she was 14 years old, this Orange is the New Black actress was left in America alone when the rest of her family was deported. Born in the US, Diane had to make it on her own, floating between family friends' houses until she was old enough to set out on her own. This is both a fascinating story and an important perspective on immigration in this country.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (Crown, 2011). Here's another great audiobook, especially if you are a player of or close to players of video games. Set in the year 2044, much of Wade's life happens in a virtual reality world known as OASIS where he is competing to solve a massive puzzle set by the game's creator. Wil Wheaton is an excellent narrator and since much of this story takes place "in game", the audiobook format works nicely.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson (Random House, 2010). I had had this book on my to-be-read list for a loooong time, but I felt daunted by it. A 500+ page nonfiction history book? Yikes... But then, wonder of wonders, my sister-in-law suggested this title for our book club, which gave me the motivation to pick it up. IT WAS WORTH IT, FRIENDS. Wilkerson weaves the stories of three different African Americans who ended up in three different places as she presents the history of this movement. This is a great choice for readers who like character-based novels and who are interested in history.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (Random House, 2016). Ohhh, save this one for when you need a good cry (maybe to release all the stress of Summer Reading Club?). This memoir was written by a neurosurgeon who, at age 36, was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. Suddenly, the doctor becomes the patient and has to face his mortality at a very young age. It's a beautiful slim book. Pick up a box of tissues, too.

What great adult books have YOU made time for lately?

Saturday, August 6, 2016

I Survived the Library

This was my favorite summer program this year:

I Survived the Library

I know, I know. I'm late to the party. While we still have kids who look for and enjoy Lauren Tarshis's I Survived series, the heyday of its popularity is starting to pass here. But I had some ideas, so I wanted to do this program anyway. And since SURVIVAL is a pretty popular topic ANYWAY, I had great attendance and it was a really fun time.

I aimed this program at kids in grades 3-5, thinking that was the age most likely to be familiar with the series. I ended up with about half the attendees familiar and loving the I Survived series and about half who had only casually read one or two of the books or who hadn't read any of the books. It didn't matter whether kids had previously read any of the books; this program was designed to appeal to everyone!

Here's what I did:

Reading time:

I chose three I Survived books to feature and came up with a related activity for each book. I started the program by reading just the first chapter of each book and booktalking some related titles in between. If you're not familiar with the series, each I Survived book starts with a bang - the first chapter is designed to hook the audience and present the drama of each disaster. That makes the first chapters perfect for booktalking and reading aloud to spark interest.

I read the first chapters of:
In between each reading, I booktalked related books, featuring a few books about volcanoes, Titanic: Voices from the Disaster, and the two nonfiction I Survived Titles: Five Epic Disasters and Nature Attacks.

Activity Stations:

After our readaloud, I opened the room up for kids to explore our activities. Since I did this as a drop-in program, having mostly self-directed activity stations was a great way to accommodate whatever number of kids I would have. I did have one additional staff member in the program with me to run our volcano station, which worked out really well. This could have easily been a teen volunteer if we didn't have a staff person available. 

Kids could choose between the following activities and spend as much or as little time at each as they wanted: 

  • Volcano Blast
This activity came from Amy Koester on the ALSC Blog and I had used it previously at a volcano program several years ago. I purchased play dough from the Dollar Tree (you could also make your own play dough, which might be cheaper) and we used half of toilet paper tubes instead of the prescription bottles because we always seem to have those on hand (and they make for smaller volcanoes and less supplies). 

I had Mr. S run this station just to keep the mess of explosions at a minimum and to make sure our baking soda and vinegar would last through the entire program.

  • Titanic Sinks
For this stations, I challenged kids to build a boat that would float while holding a passenger. I provided materials we had around our office: aluminum foil, craft sticks, pipe cleaners, modeling clay. You could use really anything you have on hand for this. I think my "passenger" was a little too light to really make this station challenging, but some kids really experimented a lot, trying out different designs and materials.

  • Lego Earthquake Challenge
The idea behind this station is to design a building out of Legos that would stand up to an "earthquake". I used the instructions from Scientific American for their Earthquake-Proof Engineering for Skyscrapers activity because I had all the stuff on hand. You can also try a similar activity with a mini-trampoline if you have one of those (or if a local fitness center or school would lend you one?)

Legos are always super popular and kids enjoyed building their creations and testing them out on the earthquake simulator. It wasn't very easy to actually stick the Lego buildings onto the base while it was attached to the simulator. If I tried it again I might take the base out for each new building, especially if I had staff or a volunteer to specifically man this station.

I was surprised at how many kids stayed for the entire program and spent a lot of time visiting the stations. Of course, I had a couple who blitzed through the activities and then left and I had some kids arriving halfway through the program, but since the stations were all self-directed that was fine.

And of course I put out a huge book display with lots of I Survived titles and other survival books that kids were encouraged to check out.

Of course, I am far from the only librarian to do an I Survived program. For more ideas and inspiration, check out these other great programs: 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Retiring the Summer Reading Club Shirts

It's a rite of passage. I've been wearing our CSLP Summer Reading Club shirts all summer long - a nice option for the summer when I may not have the brainpower left to pick out a whole outfit.

Now Summer Reading Club is over and it's time to put those shirts away for awhile.

Oh, I will get them back out again at some point, especially this year's shirts, which will make really great workout shirts at some point.

But immediately after SRC is over, I reserve the right to bury those shirts in my closet and pretend I never saw them. This summer has been especially difficult, so I just need some time to pretend like it didn't happen, to forget that summer will come eventually once again.

And after some time has passed, maybe after the heat of the summer is gone, I'll dig one out and put it on for my workout.

But for now, bye bye, shirts.