Friday, December 30, 2016

Reading Resolutions

It's that time of year again: time to reflect on our reading for the year and look ahead to what we hope to read in 2017.

I am a nerdy nerd who gets great pleasure out of thinking about what I will read next, planning out things to read, and making reading resolutions every year. Reading resolutions are, in fact, the only resolutions I stick with because they're the only ones I make. Of course I also want to do more yoga and keep my house clean, but reading resolutions are way more fun.

(Plus, they are good for my job!)

Last year, I set a few reading resolutions:

1. Read at least 50 teen books. Since I took over managing teen services last year, I definitely wanted to step up my reading of YA lit this year. I read 66 teen books this year, which more than meets my goal.

2. Read at least 25 adult books. Doing the Read Harder Challenge and participating in my book club definitely helped me with this one and I read 43 adult books this year.

I also participated in Book Riot's 2016 Read Harder Challenge, which definitely stretched me in some ways (I read a play!). I didn't put that down on last year's resolutions post because I wasn't sure that I would actually follow through with it, but I did and it was a lot of fun!

I'm proud of how I did this year, especially seeing how unsure I was going into the beginning of 2016 (and recovering from Newbery and planning a wedding). I read some GREAT books, including some that got me out of my comfort zone, and it was all great fun.

So, what to do this year?

I will definitely be participating in Book Riot's 2017 Read Harder Challenge and I've got a couple of my library colleagues doing it with me, so that should be a lot of fun.

I have a great love for nonfiction, but I realize that I haven't made it a priority this year like I have in the past, so I'd like to read more of that. And I still need to keep teen books at the forefront of my mind, I think. I think with doing Read Harder and my book club that I will have no problem incorporating adult books into my life this year. So my resolutions this year will be:

1. Finish the 2017 Read Harder Challenge. Some of these categories will be a stretch for me again (poetry! a micropress!), but it's fun to do a challenge with a group.

2. Read at least 30 children's or teen nonfiction books this year (that's a little more than 2 a month, definitely doable).

3. Read at least 50 teen books this year (and yes, nonfiction and fiction will count for this).

4. At least 25% of the books I read this year will be by authors of color. I started to track this and just tracking it really shifted my reading, so this *should* be a no-brainer for me. (Why would I track this? Read this post from Book Riot.)

AND I have one non-reading goal, which is to get more into Litsy this year. I am really enjoying that social media app for book lovers and I would like to be more active there. Are you on Litsy? Follow me @abbylibrarian or let me know your handle and I'll follow you. I would love to connect with more folks there!

What will YOUR reading resolutions be this year? 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Abby's Top 10 (Children's) Books of 2016

There are a ton of "Best Of 2016" book lists out there. Tons and tons. Well, here's one more. The caveats: I haven't read CLOSE to everything published this year. Out of the books I got to this year, these are my favorites. I made no attempt to balance this list for format, genre, or anything. These are my from-the-gut favorites of the year. They are in alphabetical order.

Without further adieu....

Abby's Top 10 (Children's) Books of 2016

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill (Algonquin Young Readers, August 2016).

This book starts out with a town that has to sacrifice a baby to the witch in the woods every year. And a witch who has to rescue a baby each year because a town, for no reason she can discern, abandons a baby outside their walls about the same time each year. It goes on to have a lot to say about point of view and who holds the power and the power of stories and the words you use to tell those stories. And there is a lot of magic and a hilarious baby dragon that tags along everywhere. This is a book with layers, is what I'm saying. It wasn't a quick read for me, but it was well worth the time invested.

It Ain't So Awful Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas (Houghton Mifflin, July 2016).

I love this one so much because it reminds me of the books I read and loved as a kid - Judy Blume, etc. Realistic fiction, sometimes funny, sometimes serious, and very character-driven. Cindy's adventures start out funny, but when things start to change for her immigrant family, she has to deal with more serious issues than her mom's funny English. This is a great choice for kids who like realistic, character-driven stories.

The Inquisitor's Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz, illustrated by Hatem Aly (Dutton, September 2016).

Modeled after the format of The Canterbury Tales, this is a funny, serious, adventure story of three kids and a dog in medieval France. There's a farting dragon. There are philosophical discussions about why people hate some groups of people. This is a book that has truly stuck with me. I can't stop pressing it into the hands of everyone I know (I made two of my employees read my ARC). Both kids who like adventure stories and kids who like to think seriously about their world will love this book. And that's no easy feat.

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows (HarperTeen, June 2016).

A wild romp from start to finish, this irreverent fantasy interpretation of Tudor history kept me on the edge of my seat and laughing out loud. In this reimagining, some members of the population have the ability to shape shift into an animal form, a thing that's caused a rift between  them and those who are solely human. It's a funny adventure story with a nice dose of (chaste) romance. The audiobook narration by Katherine Kellgren elevates the text - her performance is amazing here.

Bubonic Panic: When Plague Invaded America by Gail Jarrow (Calkins Creek, May 2016)

Who knew there was PLAGUE in AMERICA? Well, I didn't know, really. And Gail Jarrow brings the saga to life in her gripping narrative nonfiction tome. Seriously, this book reads like a crime thriller as it follows the history of bubonic plague and its infiltration of America via San Francisco. For those who enjoy gripping nonfiction and especially medical mysteries, this is a must.

Ghost by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum, August 2016).

This is another one that I keep pressing into the hands of everyone I know. It's a sports story with a GREAT voice. I am a huge sucker for great voices and Jason Reynolds is a master of voice. This is a story with a lot of heart and humor as the title character Ghost starts running track and learns what it means to be part of a team. The audio recording of this book, narrated by Guy Lockard, elevates it even further - I laughed, I cried, I added it to my booktalking roster forever.

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

I don't know if you know about my everlasting love for Melissa Sweet, but this might be my very favorite book by her. She brings beloved author E.B. White to life and the art! The art! Her gorgeous watercolor and mixed media art perfectly matches the nature-loving author. The illustrations and the text compliment each other so nicely.

Weekends with Max and His Dad by Linda Urban (HMH Books for Young Readers, April 2016).

Here is a book that knows how to show rather than tell. Although we're never TOLD the situation, Linda Urban paints a scene of a boy spending weekends with his dad during a time of transition for their family. This is a sweet story, a realistic book that will resonate with many kids who need it. It's never didactic. It doesn't give advice. It paints a picture.

Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie (little bee books, January 2016).

THIS is how you write slavery for children. THIS. There are no smiling slaves here, though the narrative is definitely aimed at a young audience. This picture book tells the true story of Congo Square, a place where slaves were allowed to congregate once a week, an event they counted down to all week. THIS is how you highlight brief moments of levity in slaves' lives without putting a smile on anything.

Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan (Scholastic Press, May 2016).

Here is a novel that I devoured in one sitting. I started it one evening and just couldn't put it down until I was done with it. Told in two voices, by two authors, this is the story of two boys who have nothing in common... except a common enemy. I keep shoving this at any kid who mentions that the enjoyed Wonder (which is a lot of kids here).

What were YOUR favorites of 2016?

Thursday, December 15, 2016


If you haven't been paying attention to the #OwnVoices movement on social media, it's time to sit up and take notice. This is something that I have become more and more cognizant about lately - the need to read not only diverse books but diverse books written by folks from that diverse community (i.e. books with African American characters written by African Americans, books with disabled characters written by people with disabilities, etc.).

Kayla Whaley has an excellent essay about why #OwnVoices titles matter and you should definitely start there if this is the first time you're seeing this hashtag.

For a long time, I felt satisfied with my reading if I was making sure to include books featuring diverse characters, but now I make sure to dig a little deeper and take note of who is writing the story. This is not to say that people can't write well outside of their own culture, but I'm now keeping track and making sure that I'm including plenty of #OwnVoices in my own reading. And you know what? This is not solely for my work (though that is reason enough), but for my own edification and enjoyment.

One practice that helps me read inclusively and pick up #OwnVoices titles is to surround myself with them. I make sure that my bedside table has #OwnVoices titles on it at all times. When I receive books from publishers or peruse catalogs and reviews for collection development, I make note of the #OwnVoices titles. I load my Kindle up from NetGalley and Edelweiss. I surround myself with diverse #OwnVoices books so that when I'm ready to pick up something new, I have lots of choices at the ready.

This means that when I pick up books or hear about books, I'm doing a little research about the author. It's something that started as something I had to really think about, but it's now become automatic.

(Does all that mean that I can't pick up a book I was really looking forward to by a white author? OF COURSE NOT. But it helps me obtain a balance. In all things, balance. That is not unreasonable to expect.)

Looking for a place to start with #OwnVoices titles? Check out the Twitter hashtag #OwnVoices, plus here are a handful that I have read and enjoyed recently. Please share your favorites in the comments!

Book Uncle and Me by Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Julianna Swaney. Grades 3-5. Groundwood Books, 2016. 149 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.

Yasmin loves her "Book Uncle", the man who runs a small leave-one, take-one book lending library on the street outside her apartment building. But when the town's mayor requires Book Uncle to pay for an expensive permit to run his library, the book stall may be shut down for good. Yasmin and her friends decide to get involved in the upcoming mayoral election to see if they can save their beloved books. This is not only a great book for kids who like to read, but it's a great story about civic engagement.

Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall. Grades 9 and up. Clarion Books, January 2017. 320 pages. Review copy provided by publisher.

Norah never leaves her house. She has agoraphobia and OCD, so she lives within the walls of her house, going to school online, sometimes leaving her home for therapy when she can manage it. But when a new boy moves in next door, Norah finds herself checking him out. And when he actually seems to like her (through the window and from the doorjamb), she starts to think about letting him in. But is she too crazy for a relationship?

In a letter in the front of the ARC, author Louise Gornall explains that this book started when she sat down one day to write about how things feel to her. This book puts you right into Norah's head so the reader can see how Norah's thoughts often spiral out of control.

Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and her Family's Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh. Grades 3-6. Abrams, 2014. Review copy provided by my local library.

This impressive book conveys a lot of big ideas in relatively simple language, just right for its child audience. When Sylvia Mendez's aunt went to register her and her brothers for the local public school in California in the 1940s, they were told that the children would have to attend the Mexican school. The separate "Mexican" school was in a run-down building with very few resources and teachers that expected kids to drop out by 8th grade. The Mendez family decided to fight school segregation and seven years before Brown Vs. Board of Education, they won the right to desegregate their schools.

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich. Grades 2-6. Disney Hyperion, 1999. Review copy provided by my local library.

The story of Omakayas, an Ojibwe girl growing up in a village in the woods, is a must-read for fans of Little House on the Prairie. It's loosely plotted, taking the reader through a year in Omakayas's life. Readers who like learning about how people did stuff "way back when" will really dig this - all the details about how Omakayas and her family built their shelters, found and stored food, etc. make for a really interesting story.

Press this into the hands of all your young Little House fans to give them a different and important perspective.

History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera. Grades 9 and up. Soho Teen, January 2017. 320 pages. E-galley provided via Edelweiss.

Oh man, remember that feeling of first being in love and how crushed you were when it ended? Yeah, be prepared to relive that here. Griffin has not only broken up with his first love Theo when Theo decided to move across the country for school, but now Theo has died. And Griffin is trying to deal with that and it feels impossible and his OCD isn't helping anything. If you're in the mood for a raw, real love story or if you know any teens who are suffering through their first heartbreak and wondering how they'll ever recover, this is the book.

What other #OwnVoices books would you recommend??

Monday, December 12, 2016

Winter Reading Club Updates

I've blogged about our Winter Reading Club at the ALSC Blog in 2013 (our first!) and 2014, but on rereading those posts I realized that we've made some changes that I want to write about.

The basic premise of our Winter Reading Club is the same: we aim to get families into the library and reading this winter, to help kids and teens clear their library cards of fines, and to keep everything low-key so staff don't go crazy.

We still use a gameboard (inspired by Angie Manfredi's Winter Reading Club) for the Children's program and they can read any five books to earn a prize. Last year and this year we started giving out a free book and fine bucks as their prizes. I absolutely love giving a book as a prize because it reinforces reading for fun. We've really worked hard to choose high-appeal books and a wide variety so that every kid and teen will hopefully find something they like.

The fine bucks continue to be a big hit for us - patrons love them and they cost us next to nothing. Patrons look forward to the times of year (winter and summer) when our reading programs are going on so they can earn more fine bucks!

Another development that we made last year is that instead of creating multiple displays and book lists to help families find books to fill boxes on the gameboard, we went to creating two simple displays where we could put a variety of books that fulfill WRC boxes.

I created simple bookmarks that say "Read me for the Winter Reading Club!" with a blank box below. As the display needs to be filled up, staff can pick out a book and write on the bookmark which box it would fulfill.

This is a simple and fun way to keep our displays full - it's fun for staff to seek out some of our favorite books to highlight. It's easier than keeping multiple genre displays full or repeatedly helping families find books from a book list. Plus, if families spot the displays they may inquire about the Winter Reading Club, so the displays help us promote the program, as well. 

Of course, we're still displaying Coretta Scott King Award winners and Pura Belpre Award winners with signs that give a little information about each award. 

I'm glad that we've maintained a low-key Winter Reading Club that's easy for staff to run and still fun for patrons. We don't have a huge turnout (especially compared with our Summer Reading Club numbers), but that's okay. 

Do you do a Winter Reading Club at your library? What do you do for it? 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Preschool Storytime: Trees

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

Here's what I did: 

Opening song: My Hands Say Hello

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

Felt Rhyme: Five Little Monkeys Swinging from a Tree

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

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

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

Song with Scarves: Leaves are Falling

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

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

Here's the song we did: 

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

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

Closing Song: Do You Know What Time It Is?

Additional Resources: 

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

You can find more plans for storytimes about trees here:

Monday, December 5, 2016

How We Decorated for the Holidays

Um... we didn't. Kinda.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I love about these decorations:

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

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

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

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

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