Monday, March 30, 2015

Unlocking Achievements with Summer Reading

Today, I'm over at the ALSC Blog talking about the "Unlocking Achievements" card we're hoping will encourage our kids to keep reading and engaging with the library all summer long! Click on over to check it out (and add your ideas about how you keep kids engaged with the library over the summer)!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


Audacity by Melanie Crowder. Grades 7+ Philomel Books, January 2015. 400 pages. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.

twist, click.

Locked inside
a brick box

bile rises
lungs pump

workers shuffle
to their stations. 

Stools creak
heads bow

needles stabbing
bobbins banging
thread marching in




Breath settles
panic swallowed
footsteps click
stool creaks
my own head
bows down. 

(lock, page 143)

Imagine going to a job every day where you're locked in, not allowed bathroom breaks. You have to work long hours in a dusty, dark room, breathing in fibrous dust. The foreman can touch you, can yell at you whenever he wants. For this, you're paid barely enough to stay alive. You have no recourse for complaints. If you complain, you might get fired. If you're sick and can't come to work, you'll be replaced. For many working women at the turn of the 20th century, this picture was reality.

Clara Lemlich, an immigrant from Russia, couldn't stand it. She wanted to stand up for her own rights and the rights of thousands of working women and girls. It was not an easy fight. Although unions were forming for men, they did not allow women to join.

Based on the life of real-life worker activist Clara Lemlich, this is a novel in verse that brings history to fiery life.

My thoughts:

This novel in verse illustrates the terrible working conditions in the garment factories of NYC at the turn of the century and the struggle that women faced to get better working conditions. It's an engrossing story, starting with Clara's young-adult-hood in Russia and the family's journey to America.

Not only did Clara face violence and oppression in the workforce, she faced it at home, too. Her father forbid her to get an education, so Clara went against his wishes to read, learn English, and study, even though her father beat her for it. Crowder does an admirable job of making this a personal story firmly set within a larger historical movement. The reader clearly sees Clara's personal struggles - she gives up her dream of education and becoming a doctor in order to see her cause through. She's not afraid to face violence - she faces it at home from her father and she faces it on the streets as she speaks out for women's rights.

A detailed historical note lays out just what liberties Crowder took with Clara's story and talks about how lasting change came about only after the tragedy of the Triangle Factory fire.

This is a great choice for teens interested in American history, particularly women's history. 


Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909 by Melissa Sweet. Although this is a picture book aimed at younger readers, it could provide scaffolding for this novel and would work as a class readaloud. 

Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and its Legacy by Albert Marrin. This is a good choice for teens who are interested in the history of this book and want more information. 

Like Water on Stone by Dana Walrath. Although not thematically similar, this historical novel in verse may appeal to teens who enjoy the verse format and historical detail of Audacity. 

Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix. This historical novel examines the 1909 shirtwaist strike from the points of view of three different young women - two immigrants and a girl from a wealthy family.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Day in the Life of a Children's Librarian

One thing I love about my job is that every day is different! Last Tuesday (St. Patrick's Day!), here's what my day at work was like:

8:45am - Arrive at work, put stuff away, check email, touch base with staff member who is coordinating our upcoming volunteer luncheon.

9:00am - Print off staff schedules for the next couple of weeks, highlight upcoming programs and make notes about reminder emails I need to send.

9:15am - Set up program room for Mother Goose on the Loose - go over my books and songs, get out the bells, scarves, felt pieces, etc.

9:30am - Send reminder emails for this week’s booktalking programs and the programs coming up after spring break.

9:45am - Head out to Children’s Desk to wait for my babies to arrive. Everyone’s wearing green today!

10:00am - Mother Goose on the Loose. Today I read Higher, Higher by Leslie Patricelli and my favorite new song is Mama's Little Baby Loves Dancing, which I learned from the wonderful gals at Jbrary!

10:30am - Wind down storytime and bring out the toys for some play time.

10:40am - Time to clean up!

10:45am - Everyone’s out of the program room, I grab my stuff and put everything away. We have Toddler Time at 11am, so I have to get my stuff cleared out to make way.

11:00am - Get stuff together for this afternoon’s Afterschool storytime and booktalks. Put together my bags with books and crafts and practice my booktalks a few times.

11:20am - Put together a cart to order on Amazon - we need new foam blocks and I promised my staff a new pencil sharpener for the office.

11:40am - Work on some book carts and put in the PO requests for all my orders.

12:00pm - Time for lunch! During my lunch break, I start the fabulous debut novel The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart. (More on that at a later date.)

1:00pm - Back from lunch, place book orders.

1:05pm - Chat about our upcoming homeschool program with a potential volunteer. She is not able to help on that day, so I take some time to rethink my activity plans for that day.

1:30pm - Pull some books to fill up our Women’s History Month display.

1:40pm - Leave library and head to schools for a couple of outreach visits.

2:00pm - Booktalk to a class of fourth graders at one of our elementary schools.

I booktalk the following books:

The Case of the Vanishing Golden Frogs: A Scientific Mystery by Sandra Markle

A Strong Right Arm: The Story of Mamie “Peanut” Johnson by Michelle Y. Greene

Stay: The True Story of Ten Dogs by Michaela Muntean

How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O’Connor

The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus by Jen Bryant

2:30pm - Head to second school for Afterschool storytime.

3:00pm - Afterschool storytime for K-4th.

I read the following books:

Beware of the Frog by William Bee

Egg Drop by Mini Grey

This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

And I hand out small blank books made of printer paper stapled together and the kids make their own books. This craft has been a big hit with our afterschool kids. It's a big hit with me, too, since it is SO cheap and easy and it allows the kids to be creative. Win!

4:00pm - Arrive back at library, put stuff away, record stats for program and bring in a School Collection box to be checked in.

4:15pm - Open up box of Junior Library Guild books and evaluate for call numbers before I take them over to Technical Services.

4:30pm - Check mail and put a bunch of catalogs in the recycling bin. RSVP to the annual baby fair, which will be held at the local hospital in June.

4:50pm - Take the last few minutes of the day to clean off my desk - a tip I learned from Marge Loch-Waters’s youth services management class!

5:15pm - Time to go home!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

How I Use My Bullet Journal

This year, I wanted a better organizational system. We started using a new scheduling program at work and we have a million school visits that we're doing now and I was terrified that something was going to fall through the cracks. I am not unorganized and I have great attention to detail, but I had never really found an organizational system that I had stuck with. I tended to use something for awhile and then eventually stop updating it and flounder until I tried something else. Day planners, Google calendar, etc. all went by the wayside.

So in January, inspired by the awesome Jennie Rothschild of Biblio File, I decided to give bullet journaling a try. I had seen some discussions of it around the interwebs and I figured there wasn't any harm in giving it a shot.

Guys, I love it. And let me tell you why it works for me:

I think of it less as a calendar and more of a clearinghouse for my to-do lists. The beauty of it is that it is super customizable since it's basically just a notebook and you can design the planner aspect of it however you want. Prior to starting my bullet journal, I had scraps of paper with to-do lists flying all over my office. When I lost a note about a parent visit at a school and then had no idea what we had talked about the library doing at said visit, I knew it was time for a change. And so far bullet journaling has been the change that has worked for me.

Before I go farther, here is a short video from the creator of the bullet journal that outlines the basic principles:


You can find more information at

I don't do everything like the official bullet journal calls for. Let me show you what mine looks like. I bought a fairly cheap, cute notebook at Barnes & Noble. Some folks like Moleskin, there are also cute notebooks at Target:

I start off each month with a little calendar that I paste in and a to-do list for tasks to be accomplished this month. These are not day-to-day items, but bigger items that I will be assigning myself throughout the month. As a task is completed, I color in the box. Honestly, I don't find myself using the calendar spread very much, so I may take that out at some point. I also number the pages as called for in the official bullet journal, but that's also something that's not really useful to me, so I may stop.

Then, I write in each day. I typically give myself half a page for each day unless I'm off work, in which case it might be a third of a page or less depending on what is going on. 

I use different symbols for different types of tasks. Squares are tasks, circles are library programs, and triangles are meetings or social engagements. I write down my work shift to the right of the date. And I use the bullets to write down any extra info I want to. I don't always use the bullets, but I do sometimes. 

I don't use my bullet journal for super advanced planning. I still use the calendar on my phone when I need to schedule appointments way in advance and we have a huge master calendar at the library where we can schedule our programs and school outreach way out. Each month, after I make the monthly staff schedule, I transfer it into my bullet journal. 

I thought I wouldn't like the extra work of basically rewriting the entire schedule, but what I have found is that it helps me have a sense of what's coming up over the next couple of months. It reiterates to my brain what programs I have and what I'll be working on. I use a paper clip to keep track of where I am in the journal. I can easily open it up to the current week and flip back to the current month to check off larger tasks as they're completed. 

I started lists of Summer Reading Club items in the back and I have devoted pages to listing possible baby storytime books, possible summer readalouds, a wedding guest list, and blog post ideas. The great thing about doing this in a notebook is that the pages can be whatever you want, whatever is helpful to you. (This is where the page numbers and index are supposed to come in handy. We'll see.) All my to-do lists and random notes about things in one place.

And, of course, I bought some stickers and washi tape to give it a little color and make it more fun. :) 

Using the bullet journal has helped me keep track of what I need to do and it's made me more productive. I love the satisfaction of coloring in boxes as tasks are completed. I don't know if it's something I'll keep up forever, but I've been going strong since late December, so there's hope! 

Bullet journaling may not be for everybody, but this is how it's been helpful for me. Again, it's very flexible, so you don't have to do it any one way. Some people keep track of meal planning, household chores, etc. You can find tons and tons of ideas on Pinterest

Have you tried bullet journaling? What organizational system has worked for you?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Fatal Fever

Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary by Gail Jarrow. Grades 5+ Calkins Creek, March 2015. 192 pages. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.

Right from the start, this medical history grips the reader and won't let go. This book tracks down typhoid fever outbreaks, explaining how they started and why they were so devastating. Typhoid fever is a serious disease and it caused many deaths, especially of young people. In a time before antibiotics, there was little that doctors could do beyond managing the symptoms of the disease as it ran its course.

Gail Jarrow does a great job of presenting Typhoid Mary and explaining why it was so important that she be quarantined while also showing Mary Mallon's side of it. She was an immigrant to this country, distrustful of authority figures that had a history of taking advantage of immigrants, and she didn't understand how she could carry a disease when she had never been sick!

This book is not for the faint of heart and may have greater appeal to kids who enjoy a gross-out story. Typhoid fever is transmitted through human waste and, while it's never discussed in a graphic way, there's plenty of poo talk. You may want to choose something different to read over your lunch break, is what I'm saying. I don't mind icky medical details, so it didn't bother me, but I know some are more sensitive to that.

My one disappointment is the trim size of the book. I may book talk this to 5th and 6th graders, but the text is pretty solidly middle school and up and I know we'll have trouble getting teens to pick it up. It'd be an easier sell if it was a smaller trim size like an adult book.

The narrative moves at a fast pace and archival photos add much to create a sense of place and time. This is an engrossing story for fans of medical history.


Deadly by Julie Chibbaro. This fictionalized account of an assistant in the Department of Health and Sanitation artfully portray's the city's side of the hunt for Typhoid Mary. This would be a good choice for teens who like historical fiction.

Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never-Ending Search for a Cure by Jim Murphy and Alison Bank. This medical history focuses on the search for a cure and does a great job of illuminating the devastating effects of tuberculosis throughout history.

Red Madness: How a Medical Mystery Changed What We Eat by Gail Jarrow. This is another book investigating a deadly disease and it's also told in a gripping, fast-paced style, bringing in lots of case studies to bring the era and issue to life.

Terrible Typhoid Mary by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. This book comes out in August and I haven't read it yet, but it's definitely one I'm looking forward to.

And hey, it's Nonfiction Monday! Make sure you stop by the Nonfiction Monday Blog and check out what great nonfiction books bloggers are sharing this week.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

On Vacationing in the - Gasp - Summertime

Okay, weeks ago I stumbled into a Twitter conversation about public youth librarians taking vacation during the summer months. I've been wanting to write a blog post about it since then and since we're finalizing summer program dates this week, I thought it'd be a great time for this post.

You earn that vacation time. I think that as long as you're vacationing responsibly (i.e. not taking six weeks off during the summer when it's your busiest time) you should take it when you want.

Okay, okay, I know that summer has traditionally been seen as the bread and butter of the youth services world. The kids are out of school, summer reading club is going on, you're scheduling tons of programs and kids and families are coming in. It's not always the easiest time to get away.

That said, I think most youth librarians can overthink this. And I think we're a conscientious lot (at least, if you're reading youth librarian blogs, I'm figuring that you're a conscientious librarian). And as long as you're planning ahead, there's no reason to deny yourself (or your staff!) all summer vacations forever and ever.

You earn that vacation time. Your paid vacation time is part of your salary. In some library systems, your paid time off might be a significant part of your salary. You should be able to take some of that vacation time during the summer. And yeah, even if you're the only youth librarian at your library, I think that still holds true.

It definitely calls for some planning ahead. I ask my staff to have penciled in summer vacation requests by March 1 so that we can plan our programs around when folks will be off. I know if I've got a couple of folks out, that's going to be a light programming week for us. And that's okay. Patrons understand staff taking vacations - lots of them are taking vacations throughout the summer, too. If you're concerned about giving them something to do, look into providing some passive programming while you're away. And simplify your summer reading club so that other staff can step in and help you if you need it.

Now, to make this work during your busy season, it's perfectly reasonable to set limits for yourself and for your staff. I black out certain weeks when I know we're going to have a lot on our plate - the last week of school (tons of school visits) and the first week of summer reading club (busy busy in the department!). I ask my staff to keep requests to one week during the months of June & July. And if multiple people want the same dates, I may close those dates to additional requests off. Exceptions can certainly be made, but I set these ground rules so that everyone knows what my expectations are.

If you truly, absolutely feel like you can't get away during the summer, even for a special trip with family who might only be available in the summer months, I think it's time to think about some balance. This year, my staff and I have increased our outreach to the schools exponentially and it's been extremely rewarding and also exhausting. So I don't feel like summer has to be completely over the top. I am hoping that this is going to be the easiest summer in a long time.

And yes, I'll have some staff out on vacations at points during the summer. And yes, I will be gone for a week in June/July for the ALA Annual Conference. And we'll make it work. As we're finalizing dates for programs, I'm conscious of what our staffing levels will likely be at that point.

And yes, I too learned in grad school that no children's librarian would ever dare take vacation during the summer months and that August is for vacation-taking. But guess what? Our local schools are shortening summer break and our kids go back to school before August. August may no longer be a feasible time to take a family vacation.

So, what say you? Are you ready to take the plunge, do your family or friends (and your work/life balance) a favor and schedule some vacation time over the summer?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Roller Girl

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson. Grades 4-8. Dial Books, March 2015. 240 pages. Review copy provided by publisher.


Astrid is used to her mom’s “evenings of cultural entertainment”. She and her best friend Nicole have been dragged along to operas, art galleries, and poetry readings - usually stuff that bores Astrid out of her mind. But one night, Astrid’s mom takes her and Nicole to a roller derby… and Astrid’s life is changed forever.

Roller derby is a sport played on roller skates. It’s fast and INTENSE. The ladies on roller derby teams aren’t afraid to get knocked around and they all have cool roller derby names like Scald Eagle, Scrappy Go Lucky, and Rainbow Bite. As soon as she sees it, Astrid knows she wants to try it, and luckily the Rose City Rollers are holding a junior derby camp over the summer.

But Astrid's best friend Nicole isn’t interested in roller derby. Like, at all. In fact, she’s already signed up for ballet camp. So if Astrid wants to do this, she’ll have to do this on her own. And that will mean spending the entire summer away from her best friend.

To make matters worse, when Astrid shows up for camp, roller derby is NOT as easy as it looks. In fact, Astrid pretty much stinks at roller derby. Does Astrid have what it takes to see this roller derby thing through?

If you love the friendship story of SMILE by Raina Telgemeier or if you want to see what this crazy world of roller derby is all about, pick up ROLLER GIRL by Victoria Jamieson. 

My thoughts: 

What a great book! I am really excited to share this full-color graphic novel with kids at our book talks for 5th and 6th graders. We have a TON of Raina Telgemeier fans and I think this is going to be right up their alley. 

This is a great introduction to the sport of roller derby, something that a lot of young readers won't be familiar with. The reader learns about the rules and strategies of roller derby as Astrid's learning, so it happens organically throughout the story. 

This is a great story about middle school friendships and about girls starting to grow apart and get interested in different things. It's not an easy road to navigate, but as Astrid continues to attend derby camp, she learns about herself and how to deal with friends. 

One thing I really love about this book is that roller derby is not easy for Astrid. She's not a great skater and it takes a lot of hard work for her to even be okay at it. Because she loves it and because she looks up to the players on the ladies' teams, Astrid sticks with it. It's a great message for kids without being message-y at ALL. 


Well, definitely Smile by Raina Telgemeier. The themes of middle school friendships and learning about yourself are similar and the full-color artwork will likely appeal to similar audiences. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Earmuffs for Everyone

Earmuffs for Everyone!: How Chester Greenwood Became Known as the Inventor of Earmuffs by Meghan McCarthy. Grades 2-5. Simon & Schuster, January 2015. 48 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.

How do I love Meghan McCarthy, let me count the ways...

First of all, there are her super cute, colorful illustrations. I love those big round heads and eyes.

And then there are the subjects that she chooses to write about. One thing that I LOVE about children's nonfiction is that you're likely to run across subjects you never thought to think about. And this is one of those books.

Did you know that a town in Maine celebrates Chester Greenwood Day every year, celebrating the guy credited with inventing earmuffs?

Did you know that Chester Greenwood did not actually invent earmuffs?

Some claim that Chester Greenwood invented earmuffs as a teenager, but his patent is actually for "improvements on the ear muffler", meaning that Greenwood improved on an invention that already existed. So, why is Greenwood the one getting all the credit?

On the surface, this may look like a straightforward biography of the inventor of earmuffs, but Meghan McCarthy takes this book to the next level, investigating why Greenwood is credit with the invention and explaining how easy it is for facts to be lost or misinterpreted in history. These concepts come across in the simple text and are expanded in the substantial author's note where McCarthy provides more detail about how she searched for information as she researched this book.

This is not only a fun read for kids who are interested in history, biography, and inventions, but a book that can contribute much to classroom discussions on researching history and questioning sources.


Ain't Nothing But a Man: My Quest to Find the Real John Henry by Scott Reynolds Nelson and Marc Aronson explores the process of researching history for an older audience.

The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton and

Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum by Meghan McCarthy

These nonfiction picture books introduce children to the little-known inventors of Day Glo colors and bubble gum, respectively. Either would make a good readalike for kids interested in other off-the-beaten-path inventors.

Hey, it's Nonfiction Monday! Head on over to the Nonfiction Monday Blog to check out what other bloggers are sharing this week.