Monday, April 12, 2010

Meghan's Book List: National Library Week

Things are feeling a little grim as we celebrate National Library Week. Budgets are being cut, rumors are swirling about lay-offs, and we're being asked to do more with less. Now is as good a time as any to take a look at the books in my collection that make me happy to be a librarian, a reader, and the person who puts the right book in the hand of the right reader. I still believe in Ranganathan and I still believe in the inherent value of public libraries.

 Now, on to the fun!  I know everyone has their favorites, but these are books I was able to pull from my collection in order to make a display.  Since we're writing about what we really do in our everyday professional lives, I figured I wouldn't solely list books I love.  Rather, I needed to put together books I am really using in this particular National Library Week display.

Read All About It! by Laura Bush and Jenna Bush

But Excuse Me That is My Book by Lauren Child

Maisy Goes to the Library by Lucy Cousins

Quiet! There's a Canary in the Library by Don Freeman (I love this one for class visits!)

Book! by Kristine O'Connell George

The Storyteller's Candle/La Velita de los Cuentos by Lucia Gonzalez

Library Mouse by Daniel Kirk

Lola at the Library by Anna McQuinn

Richard Wright and the Library Card by William Miller

The Boy Who Was Raised by Librarians by Carla Morris

Reading Grows by Ellen B. Senisi

Carlo and the Really Nice Librarian by Jessica Spanyol

Friday, April 9, 2010

Rachel's Program: Fun with Folding: Origami Programs for the ‘Tween Set

Want to hold craft programs at your library that will generate a lot of excitement?  Try starting an Origami club.

Figure 1:  Instructions to make this Kusudama ball can be found on the paper crafts blog Folding Trees.

The first step towards building an Origami Club at your library is for you to get comfortable doing Origami.  Maybe you’re already an expert folder, but if not, there are a lot of great ways to learn.  Books are a good start.  If you are looking at your library be sure to check both the children’s and adult collections to maximize your options. In terms of specific book recommendations, I love Kusudama Origami by Tomoko Fuse.  It’s out of print, but I know there are still a couple of copies floating around in my library system, so you may still be able to get your hands on it.  As with most crafts, the Internet is an excellent resource.  I’ve had a lot of success with The Origami Resource Center.  If you find it difficult to learn to fold new models using diagrams, try watching instructional videos online.  Sites like Origami Video.netHowcast or Youtube have lots to choose from.  Like anything on the web, the videos are of varying quality, so you may have to try a few before you find one that helps you learn to make something you’re really excited about. 

So now that you are an expert folder, you’re ready to hold your own Origami Program.  Below, I've detailed my tried and true method for doing Origami at your library.

Choosing Your Model
When most people think Origami, they think paper cranes, or maybe fighter jets or paper boats.   For library programs, I recommend instead doing modular origami projects.  Modular Origami is a form of paper folding where you use make several units (figure 1), and then you fit the units together into a larger model (figure 2).   The reason this works so well in a programming environment, is that folding the same unit over and over again gives the participants a chance to really master the folds.

Figure 2: The six units needed to make a modular origami cube

Figure 3:  The assembled cube 

When choosing which modular Origami project to do, mentally work through the steps imagining you are a clumsy fingered, fidgety ‘tween.  Did it seem too hard?  Were their folds even the adult in you had trouble with?  Then look for a different project.  It helps to be able to describe the steps in words, because some children are auditory learners. (If you aren’t sure what I mean by describing the folds in words, fold a paper crane, and try to imagine describing the process in words.  Tough, huh?)

The cool thing about having a “club” is that if the same kids tend to come to every meeting, the projects can build on each other, and get more complicated as the weeks go on.  At some libraries, I’ve called it a club, but had different participants every time, so I’ve had to keep the projects at a beginner level.  You’ll quickly see what is going to work for your library. 

Once you’ve chosen a model, practice, practice, practice.  You should be able to fold it with your eyes shut.

Origami programs basically sell themselves.  Make a sample of the project and tape it to a flier advertising the program, or even just put it on your desk.  Kids will start to ask you how to make it, and you can coyly tell them, “I can’t show you know, but if you want to sign up for the program….” Which brings me to the next point-

Take Registration
Origami programs have to be kept small because all the participants need to be able to see your hands while you fold the model. I recommend limiting the group size to no more than ten, unless there are two adults who know how to do the project. 

Taking registration is also helpful because you can ask kids for their ages ahead of time.   Unless the project is extremely basic, like a fortune teller (or, as it’s known in some circles, a cootie catcher) you should have a strict age requirement.  I usually say nine, but ten is probably even better if you think you can find an audience.

Prepping the Program
Origami Programs have a pretty painless prep.  Just make sure you have enough paper for everyone, (with spares for unfixable mistakes) and bring a finished model to show the kids at the start of the program so they can get excited.  Also bring enough units to make one more model, and leave it unassembled.  It’s also a good idea to pull all of your Origami books to bring into the program. I know we all always mean to have relevant books displays at our programs, but in practice there isn’t always time.  Origami Programs are easy to build displays for, because you can just hit the 736’s and pull all the books.

Lastly, it always pays to recruit one or two older teens to sit in and help during the program.  You can teach them to make the model ahead of time, but it isn’t necessary.

Running the Program
Give each participant, including the teen volunteers, a practice piece of paper.  You can use unpopular colors, or even scrap paper cut into squares.  Go through each step as the participants watch and follow along.  Between each step, have everyone hold theirs up, so you can check that they’ve done it correctly.  Fix any mistakes.  If there are folds that need to be done twice, one on each side, fix one, and have them fix the other.  If anyone’s practice unit is a little messy, (ok, they all will be) make sure to stress that in Origami, neatness counts.  Folds have to be crisp and exact, or the pieces won’t fit together.

Once the group has gone through one practice unit together, hand out the rest of the paper.  If the project requires five units, hand out five pieces to each kid.  If it requires six, give them six, etc.   Go through the second unit exactly how you did the first, making sure everyone is following along, and checking at each step.  Once everyone has folded one practice unit and one unit for their model, you can start letting the group move at their own pace.  Usually, the teens and one or two of the kids will “get it” at this point.  They might need to be reminded what the next step is, but they can do all the folds.  You should stop folding your own units, and move around the table, helping kids as problems arise.  Usually by the third or fourth unit, almost everyone will have it down, and you can stay by the students who are having the most trouble.  As kids start to finish, encourage them to help their neighbors.

Once everyone has all of their units folded, demonstrate assembling the model using the units you’ve prepared ahead of time.  Go slowly, and try to break it down into steps.  Be prepared- this is the hardest part, and you will probably end up assembling some, or all, of the participants models.  That is why it is so key to have it mastered before the program- you’ve got to be able to do it fast!  If you help the teens assemble their models first, they may be able to help you finish up the kids’.  As participants finish, you can give them each enough sheets to make another model to start working on.   Make sure to tell them they’ll probably have to finish it at home.  This is good way to work around the issue of people finishing at different rates.  Once everyone has a completed model and has enough paper to try again at home, you can send them on their way. 

Have fun, BE PATIENT and remember that the kids don’t care if their model looks perfect.  They will have a blast, and want to learn more.  Be prepared to answer the question of where they can buy origami paper in your neighborhood!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Stevie's Program: Holidaze or Library Programming for Crazy Ladies

First and foremost, I am a librarian and not a mother.  I like kids, mind you, but the thought of creating my own iggling-wiggling progeny makes me nauseous to say the least.  Secondly, I think I might have a problem with the holidays and in turn, the holiday programming that seems a logical consequence. 

The thing is, I love holidays.  Revelries.  Tea parties.  Birthdays.  Big.  Small.  Cool.  Not cool.  You see, I seriously would celebrate almost any occasion.  As is the case with such problems, I blame my mother.  She too loved holidays—with St. Patrick’s Day meaning a kick-butt pair of new green Guess jeans and Valentine’s Day meaning a dozen tacky yet fabulous Mylar balloons.  Which is all well and good—awesome even—except when your job is to ostensibly encourage a zillion screaming mites to attend a “library program”.

Then things can go very wrong in an infinite number of tiny and not so tiny ways.

Seriously, this is the scenario:  Halloween.  As Cady Heron so accurately surmised in my favorite movieMean Girls, “In the real world, Halloween is a night when children dress up in costumes and beg for candy…”; however in youth services librarian-land (a lovely place sparkling with confetti and communicable diseases), Halloween is the night when finds one self the night before fighting real moms over the last bag of snack-size Skittles.  It is ugly and I’m usually wearing sweat pants (which if you know me at all, I never do).

After the previous year’s Halloween Carnival debacle, when I literally drove myself insane trying to entertain seventy inner-city kids with wholesome booths devoted to an Old-Fashioned Good Time.  Apple bobbing, pumpkin decorating, touching the icky gross stuff in the bowl that feels like bloody eyeballs!  Who wouldn't want to touch the bloody eyeballs?  The answer:  no one.  Everyone in the entire neighborhood wanted to touch the bloody eyeballs, show off their costumes, and consume twenty bags of candy...  From 9:00 a.m. when I arrived early to perfect my own "Spelling Bee" costume until 6:00 p.m. when I finally left work to catch the train.  For nine hours, my entire purpose in life became to entertain a schoolyard's worth of children.  Don't get me wrong, the kids at my library were (and are still presumably) great but in my quest to create the perfect Old-Fashioned Good Time I created a no win situation for myself.  Super-fun party means a zillion kids means a crazy-lady librarian trying to explain to her custodian why the "program room" (that doubles as a store-room) looks like a bomb of candy wrappers and icky gross stuff that feels like bloody eyeballs went off.

As flashbacks of apple-bobbing danced in my head, this year I decided to keep it “simple”.

We would have a ghost-story time.  Outside.  We would make bat puppets.  Outside.  And then the kids would leave with their goody bags in hand. They would be smiling and happy.  GO, LIBRARIAN, GO!

I even purchased the supplies the week before…and I hadn’t wore my ugly sweatpants in at least a month.

And the thing is—it was fine.  The kids didn’t cut their pinkies off with the scissors (a constant fear of mine).  They didn’t complain (that much) about how it was way too cold to be having story time outside.  There was even enough felt to go around.

And yet, I was still exhausted afterward.  The search for the perfect buttons for bat noses!  The perfect stickers to decorate the goody bags!  The candy to be placed in said goody bags that said, "You are an appreciated child!"

During the long train ride home that night, I wondered why my mom did it and made a personal vow never to have another obsessive crazy-librarian-lady program again.

Until Martin Luther King Day and the “doves” anyway.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Meghan Reviews: Introducing Dinosaurs: Tyrannosaurus Rex

I don’t know if this is true for the majority of public librarians who serve children, but I have students in the first and second grade asking for non-fiction book all the time.  Recently, I had a teacher at a nearby school assign the kids to read five non-fiction books in one go.  Upon further questioning, both kids and parents insisted they didn’t care what the book was about per se; they just wanted a book their kids could read, one that would fulfill the assignment. Ultimately, parents wanted age-appropriate books that were interesting and easy-to-read.  That’s not necessarily a simple order when it comes to non-fiction, especially in my library where I have a lot of children who aren't strong readers or who are still learning English as their second language.

I think I found a winner with Introducing Dinosaurs:  Tyrannosaurus Rex by Susan H. Gray.  Gray adeptly explains what a Tyrannosaurus Rex is, what it probably (see Boy, Were We Wrong About Dinosaurs! for more on that) looked like, its habits, and how scientists came to these conclusions.  Robert Squier’s illustrations are clear and colorful and Gray also intersperses actual photographs of dinosaur bones and excavations, including Sue, the most complete, reconstructed T. rex skeleton at the Field Museum.  24 pages long, the book includes a table of contents, a world map indicating where T. rex bones have been found, a brief entry on fossil hunters, a glossary, and recommended books and a website (  The author should have included more on-line resources, as that’s where kids will inevitably look first. The Child’s World site requires the user to first input the book’s ISBN in order to go to their on-line resources.  No child is going to get over that barrier to entry, especially the target audience.  Publisher fail.

As my collection needs refreshing, especially for the younger grades, I will definitely order more in this series.  The Child’s World Introducing Dinosaurs collection features 12 titles: Allosaurus, Ankylosaurus, Apatosaurus, Compsognathus, Iguanodon, Maiasaura, Oviraptor, Spinosaurus, Stegosaurus, Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and Velociraptor.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Rachel's Program: The Less is More Rule of Programming

Last August I threw the requisite end of Summer Reading party at my branch.  It was an operation run with military precision, my cadets a troop of teenage pages who dutifully shepherded 70 odd children through snacks, gift bags, trivia games, and then back out the door.  As the teens and I cleaned up, we listened to music, and the kids watched us through the window of the programming room with their noses pressed against the glass.  I finally took pity on them and opened the door so they could come back inside.  It turned out to be a great idea.  We danced, sang, and took turns belting into a microphone that had been left behind after an earlier teen party.  I made an offhand comment about it being “phase two” of the party, and one of the kids shouted happily, “Phase two is WAY more fun than phase one.”  Phase two had no food, no prizes, no games, and most of all, had involved no planning. But he was right.  It was way more fun.  Not only were the kids having more fun, but I was too.

After that, I decided my new rule of thumb for library programming should be less is more.  Sure, we can’t always get out of finger-cramping stencil cutting and, with the increased emphasis on including science and math in our programming schedules, we’ve all become adept at creating tightly planned mini-lessons.  But when it’s time for non-academic, creative programming for school aged kids, I’ve found that that the less rigid the game plan, the more fun and less stressful the program will be. 

Here are some of my favorite low planning/high fun programs for school aged kids:

Draw Your Dream House
Ages: 6-12

Materials: Paper, pencils, erasers, markers.  You can include magazines, glue, and scissors if you want to add a collage element.

Instructions:  Ask the kids what their dream home would look like.  After brainstorming a bit, hand out paper, and have them sketch it out.  I always stress that even if you don’t like drawing, you can make squares for rooms and write what you’d like inside them.  Permission to fantasize is a great way to tap into children’s creativity.  A twist on this is a writing exercise where you ask kids what they would do with a million dollars.

Dress up your Snowman
Ages: 6-12

Materials: Markers.  A blank snowman for each child.

I use the draw function in MS Word to make the blank snowman, but if you aren’t comfortable with that, it would be equally easy to draw the outline and to photocopy the image.

Instructions: Snowmen may scream "winter", but you could easily do this craft in the summer under a “cool off at your library” theme.  To carry out the activity, simply tell the children to dress up their snowman! I find this activity works well as a contest.  Tell the kids that there will be prizes for the most creative snowman, and they really let loose!   The last time I did it, I got a cowboy snowman, a spaceman snowman, a mermaid snowman, and even a gangster snowman.  When it comes time to announce the winner, I would recommend the old, “they are all so creative, I can’t decide” route, and give a prize to everyone. While the thought of winning is a great motivator, there is really no need to crush their little egos over snowman drawing. 

Dance Party
Ages: 6-8

Materials: Ribbon, poster board, markers, music, and something to play music on.

Instructions: This program does require more prep than the above mentioned, but it shares the same relaxed vibe once the program itself starts. To prep, curl poster board into conical tubes, with a roughly 3 inch opening near the bottom, and a ½ inch opening at the top.  You’ll need one cone per child.  Next, cut 2-3 foot lengths of ribbon, four or five per child.  Tie a knot at the bottom of each piece of ribbon.  Once the program starts, have the kids decorate their tube with markers.  As they are doing this, hand out the ribbon, and show each child how to put the ribbon in the large opening of the tube, and pull it through the small opening in top, using the knot to anchor the ribbon in place inside the tube.  Once the craft is done, turn on the music, and let your teeny-weenie boppers dance around with their awesome, swirly ribbon accessories.  Throw in a little freeze dance, and you’ve got yourself a room full of sweaty, grinning children.  

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Meghan Reviews: All About Faces!

All About Faces! By La Zoo is an “everything but the kitchen sink” concept book about the face.  The book will appeal to parents who are already design conscious (think dooce, daddytypes or mightygirl) and are sure to like the adorable, distinctly Japanese illustrations. But from a librarian standpoint there's just too much going on to recommend it widely for libraries. 

Author Zoo uses the face as a mode of discussing shapes, facial expressions, and emotions.  Parents will want to read this one-on-one with kids since Zoo uses words like:  disdain, jubilation, and dissatisfaction. (They  might also want to have a thesaurus ready when trying to explain some of those listed emotions to little ones.)  Zoo then jumps to the anatomy of the face, with a lift-the-flap page showing bones (the general idea, not the Grey’s Anatomy version), eyes, ears, nose, and mouth.  On the next page readers get to check out some things that come out of ears (wax), eyes (tears), noses (boogers), and mouths (slobber).  This is sure to get some squeals and laughs.

And then we come to my least favorite part of this book:  the coloring page.  Zoo writes, “My mother’s face changes sometimes.  But my face doesn’t.”  What could the author be getting at here?  It turns out Zoo is talking about mothers who apply make-up and includes a page where the reader can draw "make-up" on a blank female child’s face with a crayon.  Instructions indicate that the crayon can be wiped off with a tissue from the slick surface of this particular page.  Frankly, I didn’t try because I can’t imagine crayon would be that easily wiped away.  From a librarian standpoint I really don’t want to order any book that invites readers to draw on even one page.  It’s pretty difficult to explain to kids why they can’t color on the rest…Thus, the coloring page is the single greatest reason I can't recommend it for the library.

After the coloring page, Zoo returns to facial colors (red with embarrassment); more emotions (smiling and frowning); ways to play pretend by changing your face (“Give yourself a mustache and pretend to be a grown-up.”) [Note:  I just waxed mine, but perhaps I’ll grow it out and see if the kids at the library will recognize me.]; expressions using the word “face” (A long face); the way a face changes as it ages; and, finally, a matching game (find the “twin sister” face in the crowd).  There is a lot of content and several concepts in All About Faces and some are more effective than others.  I think it would work for parents looking for a book about emotions and feelings, but young readers will want someone to read this with them to explain the big words.  It’s a terrific browsing book in terms of cool, funky illustrations and lots of bang for the buck – colors, feelings, shapes, patterns – but it just doesn’t hang all together effectively and, in my opinion, wouldn’t be a good fit on the library’s concept book shelf.  The perfect home for All About Faces! is probably with a sophisticated toddler with hipster parents and not the public library. 

If you sense some ambivalence, you're right.  I enjoyed flipping through this one and am so grateful Seven Footer was nice enough to give me a copy at ALA Midwinter, but...for many libraries this book just isn't a good fit.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Rachel Reviews: Mockingbird

I know it’s not very professional, but I always have to stifle a laugh when a kid comes up to me at the reference desk and tells me that their teacher wants them to read a book where “the main character has a problem.”  The punch line is, of course, that in every novel - whether it takes place in Brooklyn, at Hogwarts, or on the planet Xenu - the main character has a problem.   Snarky criticism of teacher’s phraseology aside, I know what the kids mean.  They are looking for realistic fiction where the main character has a big ticket problem, like Divorce, Drug Addiction, or Homelessness.  

Kathryn Erskine’s Mockingbird, told from the perspective of Caitlin, a fifth grader with Asperger’s syndrome who recently lost her brother in a school shooting, boasts two problems for the price of one. But, I can promise you a no didactics/no cheesy resolution guarantee.  Although books about characters with Asperger’s are increasingly prevalent (see: Cynthia Lord’s excellent middle grade novel Rules or Mark Haddon’s Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night), and you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a novel about a school shooting (see: examples too numerous to mention) Mockingbird doesn’t feel like a retread.  Erskine draws on her own experiences of having a daughter with a mild case of Asperger’s, and does a wonderful job of rendering Caitlin as a three-dimensional, sympathetic character.  Reading Mockingbird is a welcome glimpse inside the head of someone with a uniquely wired mind. 

People with Asperger’s generally have above average intelligence, but are very literal, and can’t read social cues.  They have to consciously learn many of the things that we take for granted, like when someone draws their eyebrows together, they are confused, or when someone says “I have a lot of work to do,” they are asking you to let them get back to work, not simply stating a fact.  In Mockingbird, Caitlin is devastated by the loss of her brother Devon, both because she loved him, but also because he was her interpreter.  Through him, the world was made understandable, and without him, it seems there is no one who Gets It. 

A major theme of Mockingbird is empathy.  Part of Caitlin’s symptomatology is that she doesn’t understand the feelings of others. Conversely, Caitlin’s dad, her teacher, and her counselor have just as much trouble seeing the world through Caitlin’s eyes.  In one of many heartbreaking moments, Caitlin’s father asks her what she would like to do for her birthday, and she replies that she’d like to go shopping at the mall with her brother.  Shocked, Caitlin’s dad explains what he thought Caitlin already understood; Devon can’t take her to the mall, because Devon is dead.  Caitlin is frustrated, because she knows this, but her father has asked her what she wanted, and she answered the question.  Neither father nor daughter understand why the other is saying what they are saying, and it eventually takes the school counselor to unravel the misunderstanding, and explain to Caitlin that her father wanted to know what to plan for her birthday, and to explain to her father that Caitlin does understand that Devon is dead, and in no position to take her to the mall, but that she wishes that he could.

Because it covers trendy topics and is poignant and well written, Mockingbird is classic award bait, but it is also a surprisingly universal story about finding a way to live after the worst happens.  I highly recommend this book to adult readers of children’s literature, and hope that teachers, librarians, and parents find a way to get it into the hands of young readers as well. With diagnoses of Asperger’s syndrome on the rise, who among us couldn’t use a little more empathy?