Monday, March 30, 2020

King and the Dragonflies

King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender. Grades 5-8. Scholastic, 2020. 272 pages. Review copy provided by publisher. 


King's brother is a dragonfly. 

At least, he's pretty sure. After Khalid died and a dragonfly alit on the coffin, King just had the strongest feeling that he knew where his brother was. Khalid has shed his first skin and is now living as a dragonfly. At least King can go down to the swamp near his house and visit. 

Things might be easier if King could talk to his best friend Sandy about how he's feeling. But right before Khalid died, he warned King to stay away from Sandy. Sandy had told King he might be gay and King didn't want other people to think he was gay, too, did he? King wasn't brave enough to stand up to his beloved brother and now the last conversation they had is eating at King's soul. 

But when Sandy disappears and the whole town shows up to search, King is the only one who can find Sandy and help him escape his abusive father... if he's brave enough. 

My thoughts: 

Oh, my heart. King's going to be with me for a long, long time. This book is a layered painting of emotion: King's grieving the death of his brother and dealing with how his family has changed in the face of grief. He's also dealing with his guilt over betraying his best friend and the pain and uncertainty of figuring out his own identity - and whether or not his parents will accept him. He thinks he knows what Khalid would have thought and that's another kind of pain and guilt. 

But although that's a lot of big emotions, the story never feels mired in them. King is a bright and loving kid and he keeps putting one foot in front of the other, even when he's not sure where the path will lead. The way that Callender looks at homosexuality through the lens of race is pretty unique in children's fiction, particularly in middle grade fiction. And this is a story that a lot of readers are going to relate to. It's ultimately a hopeful coming out story. 

The Louisiana bayou is a character in itself here. From King's forays to the edge of the swamp to wait for Khalid (and to cry, let's be honest) to the hiding place King arranges for Sandy, you can feel the muggy air and hear the buzz of insects. Readers who love a strong sense of place will be right at home alongside King here.

I know it's early in the year, but this is one of my favorite reads so far. Don't miss it. 


I would hand this book to fans of Jewell Parker Rhodes, particularly Ninth Ward for its evocative Louisiana setting. While Ninth Ward has more magical realism, there's a bit of it in King's story, as well. These stories both feature African American kids in Louisiana dealing with emotionally intense situations.

For another story of a gay tween boy dealing with the grief of losing a family member in the rural South, turn to The Whispers by Greg Howard. Here's another Southern tale with a touch of magical realism as Riley searches for magical wood creatures that will bring his mother back to him. 

And if the rich bayou setting draws you in, don't miss The Healing Spell by Kimberley Griffiths Little, a tale about Livie who blames herself for her mother's accident and seeks to find a spell that will help heal her mom. 

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Google Hangout Book Club

Photo from our book club meeting. A book, an adult beverage, and a laptop computer sit on a table.

Last night my Family Book Club met over Google Hangouts and it was just what my soul needed. After weeks of social distancing and after canceling our meeting, which was supposed to be last week, it was so great to see everyone and connect and talk about books and to just do something NORMAL. If you've been missing your book club, I recommend giving it a try!

Google Hangouts was pretty easy to manage, even for those who had not ever done one before. It did require some installation of apps and some troubleshooting for some of our members to get cameras all set up, so give yourself a little extra time when trying it for the first time. Go to and read this tutorial on starting a group conversation to get started. With Gmail, you can invite up to 10 people to a video call. To have a call with more than 10, it looks like you need to have a Google Business or Google Education account. 

You'll be able to see everyone at the same time with the person speaking being the main video and everyone else in thumbnails at the bottom of the screen. You can also click on one of the thumbnails to keep that video as your main video. That came in really handy when one of our club members gave us a tour of her new house! 

Now that we've got one Google Hangout under our belts, we're prepared for next month's book club meeting, should we need to continue meeting digitally. I realized that since I don't currently have access to my library and our digital copy of our next title has a hold list, I probably need to purchase the book. Support your independent bookstores, now more than ever!

While Amazon is taking weeks to ship stuff, your local stores are most likely going to be quicker and they need your support. I ordered our next book from my local indie, Carmichael's Bookstore, which is offering free shipping on orders over $50, plus free local delivery and free curbside pickup. 

Since I wanted it shipped, of course I had to add some storytime books to push it over the $50 limit. I've been FaceTiming with my 3-year-old niece for bedtime stories every night this week and I'm going to run out of picture books at some point, since I don't have access to my library. Now I'll be set up for another few days at least! 

It was so nice to do something that felt normal, to have my adult beverage in the comfort of my kitchen and to know that I'm being safe but I'm also getting to visit my friends. I hope you get to do something that feels normal (even if it's happening in an atypical way) this week. 

Monday, March 23, 2020

Self Care During COVID19

Last week, I posted about some of the things my library is doing to serve our patrons during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week I felt a great deal of panic. Our buildings were shuttered suddenly and we had never approached switching to an all-virtual model before. There was lots of figuring-out-of-things and I felt like it all had to happen yesterday so that our patrons knew that we want to help them and that we're here during this crisis.

I can't live long term at the stress level I put on myself last week, so here are a few things I have already learned in the brief time I've been working from home:

This is a photo of the solitary daffodil that grows in my garden.

Being accessible doesn't mean you personally being accessible 24/7. When our buildings are open as normal, we have regular hours. Some services are available 24/7 (like access to our databases), some services are available only during open hours (like resolving expired library cards). It's okay to continue that when we are serving our patrons virtually. No one is demanding that we answer their question immediately at every hour of the day. Do what is reasonable. Check as often as is reasonable and turn it off for the night at some point.

Take breaks, drink water, get outside. The first few days I was working on so much all at once that I was skipping some activities I need to keep me healthy and happy. Take a breath. It'll all get done. I need to get outside for a bit when the weather allows. It's okay to be a bit flexible with my at-home work schedule so that I can de-stress myself.

Keep in touch with colleagues. It feels like we're each working in a vacuum, I know, but connecting with my colleagues via text, email, or Facebook messenger has helped. I don't feel the need to micromanage, but I do feel the need to know that I'm not alone and to let my colleagues know they're not alone. I need folks to brainstorm with, to bounce ideas off of. And we can still have that even if we're not in the same building. I know this is going to become more and more important as we need to brainstorm additional innovative ways to reach our patrons in the coming weeks.

Work wherever works for you. We don't all have a home office (I don't, really). My husband's working from home, too. He's camped out in the basement, I set myself up in my armchair in my library. Set up a desk if that works for you, but if working on the couch with the TV in the background or in bed with your laptop works for you, do what you need to do.

Keep informed, but turn the news off every now and then. This speaks for itself. I've noticed that Facebook has been flagging some posts that have misinformation, which I think is really great.

FaceTime or video chat with family and friends. I miss my parents and my nieces so much! But it helps to connect with them and see their faces and talk to them every now and then.

Make some time for reading! With so much screen time each day and so much frantic activity, it's been hard to get my brain to focus and let me read some books. I need this! I am trying to take breaks from my phone and read each night.

What are you doing to take care of yourself?

Friday, March 20, 2020

Library Life During COVID-19

So, things have been a bit bananas lately, eh?

Virtual storytime! Photo shows my toddler nieces watching a video of me reading a book
My library closed to the public on Monday, March 16 and we had an all-day staff meeting (keeping appropriately socially distanced from each other - we literally were sitting at eight separate tables for our leadership meeting) to inform staff and come up with a plan. Leadership brainstormed all the things we needed to think about and make changes to for when we closed. We ended up officially closing our physical locations that night and are currently closed through March 30.

It's super important to note that as of this writing, not every library building is closed and there are many still expecting staff to report in ways that I think are really dangerous. The American Library Association has released a statement have recommended that academic, public, and school library leaders evaluate closing libraries to the public to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We can continue to serve patrons without demanding that staff risk their lives by reporting to work. If a library in your community is still open or still requiring staff to report, speak up to library Board members and funding bodies (county or city councils, mayors, etc.) and tell them that for the safety of all, library staff should not be reporting.

How are we serving our patrons while our physical buildings are closed? 

There's an important distinction to be made here. Our physical buildings are closed, but that does not mean that library service has stopped. Our digital collections are available and we're working on making virtual programming available.

Ensure Access

One big task that we have on our plates right now is to make sure that as many people have access to our digital materials as possible. I worked with our ILS this week to extend due dates and hold pickup dates for our patrons, including anything checked out since 1/1/19, even if it had gone to lost. We also extended card expiration dates to the end of the year.

At this time we do not want anyone blocked from access to our digital materials. We are already a fine free library, so for us this includes forgiving outstanding fees and finding ways to work around lost materials and staying accessible so that if patrons have issues with their accounts (don't know their PIN, expired card, etc.) we can help them resolve those issues as quickly as possible.

We also provide online borrower registration. Typically, that gives new patrons 90-day access to our digital material without having to come inside the building to get a card. We extended the 90 days to provide access through the end of 2020.

Be Present

Facebook is our main source of patron interaction and we're making sure to check notifications and messages frequently. We are also checking our general information email regularly and staff have been assigned to check our various voicemails and respond to patrons. We are also offering programming as best we can.

Behind the scenes at the library! Photo shows library staff recording a puppet show and song on the ukulele

For children's programming, that's included recording story readalouds and storytimes ourselves, as well as sharing resources that others are providing.

Many publishers are responding to the COVID-19 school closures by offering special permissions for digital sharing of their books. Author Kate Messner has been collecting these policies on her website, which you can view here. With publishers doing their best to meet us halfway while still honoring their legal copyright contracts, librarians need to be doing our best to hold to these copyright standards when sharing materials online.

Some publishers are stipulating that materials only be shared in a closed group, such as a Google Classroom, etc. that's only available to a subset of students. My library hasn't explored what this looks like for us yet - so far we have been concentrating on titles from publishers that have offered more flexible options for public libraries. But it's something we're thinking about!

To round out what we're able to offer to patrons, we're also frequently posting resources from other sources that parents and kids may find interesting and useful. There are tons of folks and organizations offering virtual programs right now. Some of my favorites include:

I'm sure our list of virtual programming will grow as we navigate the coming weeks. Working from home when you're used to serving the community is super weird, even for someone like me who is mostly behind the scenes at my job now. I have found that staying in touch with my colleagues is really helpful to me and keeping track of tasks I want to accomplish in my bullet journal is helpful to me. And I guess we'll just see how things go as we get used to a "new normal". 

How are you living your library life during COVID-19?

I'd love to hear about the things you're doing or planning. What struggles are you having right now? What innovative services are you coming up with? 

Monday, March 9, 2020

Seven Picture Book Biographies for Women's History Month

March is Women's History Month and it's a wonderful month to explore amazing picture book biographies about influential women. Here are seven of my recent favorites to get you started. Don't miss the Amelia Bloomer List, an annual book list of excellent books "with significant feminist content" for more ideas on books to explore in March (or anytime!).


All the Way to the Top: How One Girl's Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything by Annette Bay Pimentel, illustrated by Nabi Ali. Grades 1-4. Sourcebooks, 2020. Review copy provided by publisher. This is a fantastic introduction to the disability rights activism that led to the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. Jennifer Keelan was one of very, very few children who participated in the demonstrations, including the Capitol Crawl. In the Capitol Crawl, people with disabilities crawled up the steps of the Capitol, the building where laws are made, which at the time was completely inaccessible to people in wheelchairs. Jennifer writes the forward to this book and back matter includes additional information about disabilities, activism, and the ADA, as well as a bibliography. This is a particularly timely addition to your Women's History Month units since March is also Disability Awareness Month and this July is the 30th anniversary of the passing of the ADA.


Instructions NOT Included: How a Team of Women Coded the Future by Tami Lewis Brown and Debbie Loren Dunn, illustrated by Chelsea Beck. Grades 2-5. Little, Brown, 2019. When computers were first being developed, of course they didn't have instructions. And it fell to a team of women to figure out how to program the first computers. This book introduces three women - Betty Snyder, Jean Jennings, and Kay McNulty - whose work went on largely behind the scenes but without whose work, our lives would be incredibly different today. Hand this one to young coders.


Mother Jones and her Army of Mill Children by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter. Grades 2-5. Schwartz & Wade, 2020. Review copy provided by my local library. Written in the first person, this book is told in a voice that will grab readers from the very beginning: "I've seen coal miners in West Virginia, covered with soot, lungs filled with dust, hardly being paid DIDDLY-SQUAT..." Mother Jones spoke out for workers' rights and protested the terrible working conditions of the early 1900s. This picture book concentrates on her 1930 Children's March and the focus on the child labor issue give this book special appeal to young readers. Use this as a readaloud to introduce Women's History Month or units about labor or workers' rights.

No Steps Behind: Beate Sirota Gordon's Battle for Women's Rights in Japan by Jeff Gottesfeld, illustrated by Shiella Witanto. Grades 2-5. Creston Books, 2020. Review copy provided by my local library. Beate Sirota Gordon was an immigrant to Japan, arriving there as a child with her Jewish family after tensions rose in their European home. She noticed that women were not equal with men - some wives even walked three steps behind their husbands in public. After attending college in the United States during WWII, Perkins was hired by the US military as a translator and ended up being involved in developing Japan's new constitution after the war. She made sure that women's rights were explicitly laid out, using her seat at the table to accomplish what many Japanese women had been forbidden to do. When she returned to Japan much later in life, she was hailed as a hero. This is a powerful story about a woman using her privilege to accomplish positive change for other women.


The Only Woman in the Photo: Frances Perkins and her New Deal for America by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Alexandra Bye. Grades 2-5. Atheneum, 2020. Review copy provided by my local library. You've heard of FDR, but have you ever heard of Frances Perkins? Perkins was a shy girl who grew up wanting to protect and help people. She found her voice and used it to speak out against unfair labor practices and was eventually hired by FDR as his Secretary of Labor. She helped develop the New Deal of the 1930s with many programs that helped protect Americans, like Social Security and getting people back to work. In determined text and with quotable stylized sections that emphasize quotes from Perkins and her inspirational grandmother, this is a book that shows that women can bring about change.

Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom by Teresa Robeson, illustrated by Rebecca Huang. Grades 2-5. Sterling, 2019. Review copy provided by my local library. This wonderful biography, picture book winner of the 2020 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, introduces Wu Chien Shiung, a Chinese-American physicist whose work and discoveries helped several men win Nobel Prizes, although she was never credited or awarded herself. It's especially appropriate for highlighting during Women's History Month since Wu's contributions to science were hidden for so long.


What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?: The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jones by Chris Barton, illustrated by Ekua Holmes. Grades 2-5. Beach Lane Books, 2018. Review copy provided by my local library. Congresswoman Barbara Jordan took her big voice to law school and the Texas State Senate, and then to Congress where she used voice to speak out against injustice. It has bright, textured illustrations and a chorus that repeatedly asks "What do you do with a voice like that?" to move the narrative forward. In a world where young girls are still not sure that they can be leaders, this is a much-needed book to show that women can lead and make a difference.

Friday, March 6, 2020

What I Picked Up at PLA

The week before last, I attended the Public Library Association Conference in Nashville, TN and boy howdy was it a great conference! I was part of the team of ALSC live bloggers for the conference, so you can see some of my thoughts (and the thoughts of some of my wonderful blogging colleagues) at the ALSC Blog under the PLA 2020 tag

And, of course, I picked up tons of exciting advanced copies of books. Since this conference was in easy driving distance, I didn't hold back on picking up galleys (although I always try to be cognizant of how much I can feasibly read and I try to only take what I think I will read or want to bring back for colleagues). Tonight, I went through and posted a Twitter thread of the children's and teen galleys I was most excited to find. You can take a look at the Twitter thread and #PLA20galleys to find suggestions for your upcoming orders and/or holds lists

I know that it can be a pain to travel. I know that conferences can be really expensive and your library may not pay to send you. But attending a national conference is such an amazing experience. This was my first time attending an entire PLA conference and I don't think I can oversell it. With every session and every attendee centered around the public library world, this is one of the top conferences I've been to. This year's theme was centered around equity, diversity, and inclusion, so there were so many sessions that spoke directly to my interests. 

I'm still recovering from Conference (and catching up from Conference!). It takes awhile to get back in the swing of things. But I'm already looking forward to PLA 2022 in Portland, Oregon. Will I see you there?? 

Monday, March 2, 2020

Stand Up, Yumi Chung

Stand Up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim. Grades 4-7. Kokila, March 2020. 320 pages. Review copy provided by publisher. 


Yumi Chung's parents have some ideas about what a perfect Korean daughter should be like. Her hair should be permed (not cut in a sleek pixie cut like Yumi wanted to try). She should attend an elite private school like Winston (even if Yumi has no friends at school). And she should cheerfully go to summer school to prepare for the scholarship test since her parents' failing Korean restaurant means that they can no longer afford private school tuition (even though Yumi would much rather spend the summer working on her comedy routine and studying her favorite funny YouTubers and personal idols). 

But when Yumi stumbles across a stand-up comedy class for kids being taught by her YouTube idol Jasmine Jasper at the new comedy club in her neighborhood, she can't help but look in to see what it's all about. And when she's mistaken for an Asian girl who didn't show up for the first week of classes, Yumi kind of accidentally becomes "Kay Nakamura" and starts attending the class. She knows her parents would kill her if they found out. And she knows that it's wrong to take Kay's spot when she hasn't paid for the class. 

But Yumi also knows that she needs this. She needs this one thing to be hers, to really give comedy a try and see if she's got what it takes. To connect with a group of kids who are interested in the same things she is. Even if that means living a double life. 

Can Yumi keep her new stage presence a secret from her parents and her true identity a secret from Jasmine Jasper and her new comedy friends? And when her parents restaurant is really in trouble, can comedy save the day? 

My thoughts:

This is such a sweet, funny story with tons of kid appeal and a story about standing up for who you are, even if it's not what you're "supposed" to do. Yumi is a really likeable character; I was rooting for her from the start. I think middle grade kids who enjoy performing or comedy will find a lot to relate to in this book. Yumi's not awesome at stand-up right away. It takes her some time and practice to get it right and she works really hard at her art. Even though she's a shy girl, she takes to performing and she doesn't give up when she bombs. 


Dorko the Magnificent by Andrea Beaty (Amulet, 2013). Although Robbie Darko is a magician and Yumi Chung is a comedian, both tweens long for life on the stage and work hard to achieve their performance dreams. Both stories are told with a lot of heart and humor and unforgettable characters. 

Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy (Harper, 2019). Readers fascinated by funny tweens leading double lives may enjoy both of these middle grade novels. Sweet Pea writes a secret advice column while Yumi attends comedy class while her parents think she is studying for summer school.