Thursday, April 23, 2020

Capitalize on your StoryWalk During Social Distancing

Photo of a frame on our StoryWalk outdoors in a park
About a year ago now, we installed our first StoryWalk. You can find more information using the StoryWalk tag here. It's been a super delight and has been much beloved by those in our community who have discovered it.

It is so nice to have a small place for the library out in the community, particularly during this time that our buildings are closed. We are promoting our StoryWalk to our patrons while cautioning them to distance their families from others and to avoid touching the frames if they visit the park. You may or may not feel comfortable encouraging your families to leave their homes and it's perfectly understandable if you don't. However, I know that quarantine can be super hard for families and especially for kids and visiting our local park is, I think, a low-risk activity if they practice social distancing. Our parks have closed the playgrounds, sports facilities, and restrooms, but currently our walking paths are open.

The StoryWalk is a fun activity that may still be appropriate to share with your community. It's also an opportunity to reach out to families and promote other collections and services that they have access to while your buildings are closed.

Photo showing a frame in our StoryWalk that promotes our digital services

As part of our latest StoryWalk, our marketing coordinator included some information about accessing our digital materials and our virtual programs. We have found that each story we've put in the StoryWalk has had fewer spreads than our 20 frames, so each time we have posted a new one, we've been able to devote a few frames to promoting other library activities or services.

Photo showing a frame in our StoryWalk that promotes our virtual storytimes
This time we are utilizing these frames to highlight digital services that folks can access from home. And, really, it's something that makes sense for us to promote all the time. I think we'll likely continue to promote digital services this way for the duration of the COVID crisis and probably forever. More and more folks are discovering our digital services who never used them before. 

Monday, April 20, 2020

Picture Book Roundup #4

It's been a little bit, so it's time for a picture book roundup! Here are ten new picture books I have been reading and loving lately.


Bear Goes Sugaring by Maxwell Eaton III (Neal Porter Books, 2020). We're a bit past maple syrup season, but grab this one to be ready for next year. It's a fun, cartoony look at where maple syrup comes from. This nonfiction picture book goes through all the details, from how does the sap get into the trees to the finishing steps to creating perfect maple syrup. This would make a perfect book to read before visiting a maple syrup farm and purchasing your local maple syrup. Or just pair it with a stack of pancakes.

Being Frog by April Pulley Sayre (Beach Lane Books, 2020). This poetic rumination on frog life features stunning photos taken by the author and wonderful vocabulary words (spelunk, lunges, gaze, mossy) making this a great choice for early literacy storytimes. In her author's note, Sayre explains that she and her husband often observe the local frogs and have learned to tell some of them apart. She gives the differences between this type of anecdotal evidence and the broader evidence that scientists use to study frogs as a species. This is a great book to include in STEAM units (particularly about frogs) and I love the combination of poetry and science as the book considers frogs as living beings, as animals, not just as characters in a story. Hand to lovers of science and poetry alongside books by Joyce Sidman.


Child of the Universe by Ray Jayawardhana, illustrated by Raúl Colón (Make Me a World, 2020). This is an affirming book, perfect for bedtime, that describes all the beautiful ways a beloved child is like the wonders of the universe. The illustrations are muted but dazzling and absolutely gorgeous.

Help Wanted, Must Love Books by Janet Sumner Johnson, illustrated by Courtney Dawson (Capstone, 2020). This darling bedtime story is perfect for young kids who are big fairy tale fans and I think it can span a range of ages. Shailey has a good routine going with her dad and bedtime, but when he starts a new job, time for bedtime stories gets cut down and Shailey fires him. But as she starts interviewing new candidates, it's harder than she thought to find a good fit. The applicants are all fairy tale characters from the three little pigs (scared off by the fierce competition) to the gingerbread man (runs away with the book) to Captain Hook (hygiene lacking). The text is simple enough for a preschool readaloud, but older kids who are more familiar with traditional tales will really get the jokes in the illustrations. Super cute. Pick it up for bedtime reading and share widely.


Lilah Tov Good Night by Ben Gundersheimer (Mister G), illustrated by Noar Lee Naggan (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2020). In this beautiful lullaby, a young girl and her family wish lilah tov (good night) to everything around them as they leave their home and journey to make a new home by cover of darkness. This can definitely be read as a simple bedtime story, but it's also got another layer as the family are presumably refugees (packing their belongings and leaving by cover of night, undertaking a long and dangerous journey in which they sleep outside). It's a quietly stirring book that will work with different audiences who are ready to understand different parts of the story.

One Earth by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Rogélio Coelho (WorthyKids, 2020). Add this to your storytime shelves for Earth Day or any time that you're exploring the environment. In simple, bouncy rhyming text, this book counts up naming plants and animals that are part of our Earth ("One wide sweeping sky / Two honeybees / Three bunnies in a nest / Four redwood trees") and then counts back down with ways that kids and families can help save our Earth ("Ten scraps of litter? Toss them in the trash. / Nine empty bottles? Turn them in for cash."). Short and simple enough for preschoolers and the potential for some great conversation starters as you're talking about ways that kids can help the environment.

The Paper Kingdom by Helena Ku Rhee, illustrated by Pascal Campion (Random House, 2020). Tonight, Daniel has to tag along with his parents at work as they clean a giant office building. There they start to tell him about the Paper Kingdom and the King and Queen who rule over the building and the dragons that make messes. This is a moving story about a hardworking family and a clever look at a modern office all in one.

Snail Crossing by Corey R. Tabor (Balzer + Bray, 2020). Ahhh, adorable! When Snail spies a field of plump, crisp cabbage across the road, he sets off to get him some, but a journey for one small snail across a big, busy road is not as easy as it may seem. This is a fun and funny book about determination and kindness and bugs and it would make a great readaloud. Grab this one for your next bug-themed storytime.

The Society of Distinguished Lemmings by Julie Columbet (Peachtree, 2020). The Society of Distinguished Lemmings is very old-school and very rules-oriented. So when Bertie brings back a bear for induction to the society, it causes quite a stir. With hilarious, detailed illustrations, this is  a book that kids will enjoy poring over. I loved all the funny little speech bubble comments from the lemmings as they contemplate adding a newcomer to their distinguished society. Wacky and funny, hand this one to fans of Tacky the Penguin or Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed.

When My Brother Gets Home by Tom Lichtenheld (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020). This is such a sweet and fun book about siblings eager to spend time playing together. A younger sister highly anticipates when her brother will get home from school, imagining all the fun things they will do together. This story perfectly captures that childlike excitement for after-school imaginative play and it celebrates a wonderful bond between sister and brother. If you're looking for books that model a positive sibling relationship, this is a great one.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Connecting Kids to Digital Books During COVID

Guess what? After a few years' hiatus, I'm back as a regular contributor to the ALSC Blog! And my first post over there is about Connecting Kids to Digital Books During the COVID Pandemic. I know that many libraries' physical locations are closed right now, so how do we reach out to kids and promote the great digital books we have on offer?

Click over to the ALSC Blog to find some ideas and comment to let me know how you're connecting kids to books right now!

Monday, April 13, 2020

A Day in the Life of a COVID Work from Home Librarian

The world's a bit wonky right now and I know many (most? all?) of us are out of our normal daily routine. The life of librarians during the COVID-19 Pandemic looks very different right now and there are librarians dealing with all kinds of situations. There are librarians working from home (like I am lucky to be able to do). There are librarians not allowed to work from home, librarians who are reconfiguring jobs now that they can't do the work they normally would do, there are librarians who are on paid leave or unpaid leave or furloughed or laid off. My experience is by no means representative of the librarian population at large, but I thought you might be interested to see what a work from home day looks like for me.

So here we go... tomorrow might look completely different...

6:30am - My husband's alarm clock goes off and we both get up and start getting dressed. I check personal social media and snuggle with my cat Howie for a little bit before getting dressed. Yes, I'm getting dressed, doing my hair, and putting on makeup and earrings every morning. It helps me feel a little more normal at a time when nothing feels normal.

Photo of a librarian taking an early morning walk around the block

7:30am - I walk around the block for a morning "commute" and then eat breakfast. It's been helping me to add some movement in throughout my day, so I try to replicate the approximate times I would be traveling to and from the library with a short walk in the morning, at lunch time, and in the afternoon when my work is done for the day.

8:00am - I get settled in my "office" and start checking emails. In addition to going through my own email, I'm periodically checking our general information email where we've directed patrons to contact us with questions or help getting connected to our digital materials. We have several librarians checking it throughout the day to provide responses as quickly as possible. I also check our library's Facebook page to check for any questions or requests for help that have come through on there.

Photo of my "office" - a corner of my library with an armchair and a reading lamp. It's not the most comfortable for long-term sitting, so I tend to move around my house throughout the day.

8:30am - Only a few emails this morning, so I start working on some blog posts. Our staff blog is one of the few ways we have to communicate with our patrons right now, so we're trying to update it daily-ish. During normal times we update it twice a week and I have a team who are scheduled to post. We've been getting a lot of questions about accessing our digital resources, so I write up a post about getting started with our digital services for easy sharing.

10:45am - I switch over to working on creating some Hoopla collections. We are preparing to run our Summer Reading Program virtually, so one thing I have been thinking of is how to translate our grade-level book lists to digital formats. So far, I've been working with Hoopla and I'll tackle Overdrive in the future, too.

12:15pm - Time for a walk around the block and lunch! I heat up some 5 bean chili and watch an episode of Kim's Convenience while I eat. That's been a nice, happy show for me during this quarantine.

1:15pm - Back the the grind with more emails. I check up on some emails to patrons, answer emails about ALSC committee work and our spring reading program.

Photo of my "coworker", my cat Howie snuggling on my legs as I work

2:30pm - Time to work on some purchasing. I am still ordering materials while we are closed, although we are having our physical shipments held until we get staff back in the building regularly. Of course I am ordering digital materials, as well. My director has just cautioned us to be careful with our spending since tax delays and a high unemployment rate may affect our funding and the timing of getting our cash draws. I've recalculated my weekly spending goals and I'm sorting my "Upcoming" carts by popularity to make sure that I'm prioritizing the more popular books coming out in the next month or so.

4:00pm - Time for a brief ALSC Membership Committee meeting via Zoom.

4:30pm - Our meeting's done, so I check email again and then "clock out" and head to the park for a stress relief walk. I have been walking up a storm to help keep my anxiety at bay and to get some movement in my day since I'm sitting all day now. I'm on the lookout for ducklings at my local park, but haven't spotted any yet. I'm sure there will be some soon!

Photo of a tree with white blossoms against the blue spring sky

5:30pm - Back from the park, I check all of the email inboxes one last time before unplugging for the evening.

5:40pm - I shower from my walk and start cooking dinner (tacos tonight!)

6:30pm - My husband and I eat dinner and watch the news, Wheel of Fortune, and Jeopardy (our normal routine).

8:00pm - I get started on some work for NoveList. I love my side gig writing readalikes as a NoveList contributor

8:00pm - WELL. The plan was to work on some NoveList work after dinner, BUT my amazing husband bought me a Nintendo Switch for our anniversary, so instead we spend the evening playing Animal Crossing. I'll work on NoveList stuff this weekend. ;)

10:00pm - Heading to bed with a book. I'm reading Parachutes by Kelly Yang (her YA debut) and I'm loving it.

10:30pm - I'm exhausted and it's time for lights out. Good night!

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Consent for Kids

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Consent (for Kids!): Boundaries, Respect, and Being in Charge of YOU by Rachel Brian. Grades 1-5. Little, Brown, 2020. 64 pages. Review copy provided by my local library. 

This is such a needed book that I read it and I'm immediately going to buy copies for all the special kids in my life. This is not a book that I would probably book talk, but it's a book that I would press into the hands of parents and teachers to use it with their kids to start conversations about what consent and respect means. Kids need to have access to this book, kids need to have this book lying around where they can discover it. Families may want to read this book together. This is a must-read and a must-buy for library and classroom shelves.

Written in a cute, funny graphic novel style, the book brings humor into a serious subject, making it fun and taking away the didactic tendency books on this topic can so easily slide into. A cast of largely gender neutral cartoon kids clearly explain what consent is, that friendships need to be based on mutual respect, how to assert yourself with other people (kids and adults), and what to do if someone violates your boundaries or you see someone violating someone else's boundaries.

This book covers a ton of topics, including some sticky ones like bodily autonomy when you're a child and there are some things that adults can make you do for safety. Examples are holding hands to cross a busy parking lot or getting a shot at the doctor's office. Author Rachel Brian talks a lot about boundaries and I especially like that she provides lots of examples of when boundaries can change and she emphasizes that it's okay to change your mind. She also provides examples of clear consent and hesitant or unsure consent. She explains that you need to get clear consent from a person and "If you're not sure, it's a NO".

At the very end of the book, Brian provides information for contacting the National Child Abuse Hotline for kids who feel unsafe or have had their boundaries crossed. 

Any kid could grow into someone who might hurt someone else or who might be hurt. Teaching consent from an early age can make a huge difference. And further than that, we need to be practicing consent, too. When I was a storytime librarian I made it very clear that no child needed to hug me (although I personally was okay with hugs from kids who wanted to give them). A high five was always offered and if a kid didn't feel like giving a high five, that was okay, too.

Go forth and buy this book for your library shelves! 

Monday, April 6, 2020

The Blackbird Girls

The Blackbird Girls by Anne Blankman. Grades 5-8. Viking, March 2020. 352 pages. Reviewed from galley provided by publisher. 


Oksana is a bully and Valentina is a Jew. They are not friends. In fact, they're more like enemies. But on the day that they wake up to an angry red sky, friends and enemies have to be put aside. Something has happened at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant where both their fathers work. At first the think it's just a fire, something that happens and can be quickly put out. But soon the whole town realizes that this is something much more serious. 

Valentina and Oksana are forced to evacuate the only home they've ever known and travel by themselves to Leningrad to stay with Valentina's grandmother. For Oksana, it's the first time she gets to know a Jewish family and she starts to realize that the things her father had told her about Jewish people were not true. For Valentina, it's the first time she gets to know Oksana and begins to learn about the abuse she's suffered at home and the reason behind her bullying. 

If you like a rich, engrossing historical novel with characters that feel real or if you, like me, are fascinated by the Chernobyl disaster, this is the book for you. 

My thoughts:

I loved this book so much. With characters that I really cared about and a fully engrossing 1980s Soviet setting, this was a book that drew me in and didn't let go. You'll see it compared as a readalike to The War That Saved My Life below and I do NOT say that lightly (it's one of my favorites). 

I went through a Chernobyl phase last year, devouring the adult nonfiction book Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham and the HBO docudrama Chernobyl, so I knew this was a book I was going to pick up. What I didn't know is that I would meet characters that felt real and had me rooting for them all the way through. The story is told in alternating perspectives and from the get go I knew I would sympathize with Valentina. Born into a Jewish family at a time when Judaism was forbidden, Valentina is the target of Oksana's racist bullying. But what I didn't expect is that I would grow to root for Oksana so hard. It becomes clear that there's a reason for her bullying behavior and that she's willing to change her mind. In fact, Oksana's character is one reason that I think The War That Saved My Life is such a good readalike. 

The Soviet setting was so well done, creating that air of mistrust and secrecy, the idea that any of your neighbors could turn you in for putting a toe out of line. I think it's written at an accessible and still engrossing level. Throughout the book, there's an alternate storyline of a young Jewish girl fleeing her home in Ukraine during WWII as Nazi soldiers grow closer and closer. Eventually, these timelines come together and you see how they're connected. 


The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (Dial, 2015). Both these books have unforgettable, strong female characters fleeing their homes for safety. While this novel is set in WWII England instead of Soviet Russia, both books share a rich, descriptive historical setting. 

Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene Yelchin (Henry Holt, 2011). Readers intrigued by the Cold War Soviet setting may also enjoy this book that shares a strong sense of place and time. Breaking Stalin's Nose is set earlier in the 20th century, but both books still share the unease and mistrust that permeated the Soviet era. 

Refugee by Alan Gratz (Scholastic, 2017). Readers who enjoy multiple narratives in a story and realistic historical fiction will enjoy both of these. Refugee ties together three stories of kids in different time periods fleeing their homes.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Virtual Bedtime Stories

Photo of a laptop screen showing a toddler reading an Elephant and Piggie story
COVID-19 has us coming up with all kinds of creative ways of connecting with each other, doesn't it? One of the most fun things I have been doing is FaceTiming with my nieces for bedtime stories each night. It started when I shared a video my library did of me reading a picture book and now we do a live reading each night. Even better, after I read them a story my three-year-old niece "reads" us a story. She has a fantastic memory and she loves holding the book so that we can see the pictures.

I recommend picture books to you all the time on this blog, but when push comes to shove, what are the books I actually reach for to read to my actual nieces? See below for the titles I shared for our first week of bedtime stories! 

A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin (Little, Brown, 2018). 

Chickens to  the Rescue by John Himmelman (Henry Holt, 2006).

The Feelings Book by Todd Parr (Little, Brown, 2005). 

I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry (Dial, 2010).

Where's My Teddy? by Jez Alborough (Candlewick, 1992).

And tell me, since one day I'm going to get to leave my house and go to the library again: what are your favorite bedtime stories?