"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." Albert Einstein

17 January 2017

A Wish After Midnight

Elliott, Zetta. A Wish After Midnight. CreateSpace, 2016.

Genna wants to get out of Brooklyn and away from her bad neighborhood. She makes a wish in a fountain and her wish is granted - she is transported back to Brooklyn during the Civil War. She tries to survive in this new time, when she has significantly fewer rights. Eventually her boyfriend shows up in the past as well, and together they try to return to their own time period.

This book was extremely similar to Kindred, and I could easily recommend it to a teen who enjoys historical fiction or time travel. The insta-love between Genna and her boyfriend did not thrill me, nor did the fact that Genna returns to our time period on 9/10/01 - that date is mentioned specifically. I think the book itself had enough going for it that the reference to 9/11 was unnecessary.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: racial slurs, violence toward people of color
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Kindred, The Freedom Maze

12 January 2017

Afterschool Programming: Pokemon Club

Ever since the release of Pokemon Go last summer, my patrons have been begging for a Pokemon Club. At first we simply had too many other programs happening to squeeze in yet another activity, but room has opened up in our schedule and I am now running a monthly after school Pokemon Club.

Ages: I did not set an age limit on this group. Children under eight have to be accompanied by an adult or a teen sibling, so our group definitely skews more toward middle school than lower elementary, which is fine. If a younger child (and parent) wanted to attend, I certainly wouldn't stop them.

Activities: I leave space for kids to trade and discuss their cards, and most of the kids are perfectly happy doing just that. They come in with their boxes and binders and pockets brimming with Pokemon cards, and if they simply want to talk to other kids and show off their "special" cards, I have no problem with that. Some kids want to trade cards, which I allow as long as both parties are happy with the trade.

I also have a table or two set up where kids can play the game. I have a few game mats that the kids can use if they're new to the game, or they are welcome to play on the table itself. I took the time to learn the game before we started this club so that I could teach kids who want to learn, and I do have a few "starter decks" available for those who haven't assembled a playable deck or who aren't sure how to play.

Other than providing a few snacks and keeping an eye on everyone to make sure things are going well, that's about the extent of the program. It sounds simple, and it is very simple to set up, but it is a very popular after school option for our patrons, and I love that they are able to connect with other Pokemon fans here in the library.

Do you host any fandom-related clubs at your library?

10 January 2017

The Eye of the Hurricane: Interacting with Angry (Young) Patrons

She had had enough; I could tell by the look on her face that this wasn't going to end well. Taking the book from the counter, she screamed at her caregiver, "Well then I don't want to check out ANY BOOK AT ALL!" Child and parent then proceeded to chase each other through the children's department, and neither of them left happy.

I have seen many an angry or upset patron, both children and adults. There are times when crisis can be averted, but much of the time it's simply a matter of waiting it out. In the case above, the child wanted to check out a "fun" book in addition to her required book, and there was a miscommunication about when she would be allowed to do that. Had the child been mostly calm when she was at my desk, I would have said something like, "Well, next time you come in you can get that other book. I can't wait to find out what you think of this one!" Sometimes a calm, happy voice can solve all the problems.

There are other times when a person is fed up and simply needs someone to listen. This might be due to things that have happened at the library or could also be simply because they have had a bad day, and the fine they're trying to pay or book they want to renew is the last straw in a line of bad things that have happened. In that case, I allow the patron to rant, as long as they keep it civil. They are allowed to be upset. They are allowed to think I have made a mistake or that the library's policy is stupid or that our collection is horrible, etc. etc. When this happens I make sure to keep breathing and remind myself to stay calm. The person who is upset is most likely not upset at ME, but rather at the situation they are dealing with.

In the children's department, though, the most common angry patron is someone under the age of five. Young children can become frustrated when they can't communicate their needs or cannot do a thing they want to do. Sometimes this leads to a temper tantrum. If I can talk to them before they reach that stage, I often try to identify what's happening: "Wow, it looks like you're really frustrated because the scissors aren't cutting the paper the way you want." "Oh, it seems like you are really sad because Dad said it's time to leave the library and you want to play with the trains." Oftentimes just acknowledging that the child has feelings and is having a rough time helps.

Depending on the way the child responds to my statement, I might follow up with options: "Would you like a new piece of paper or would you like some tape to fix that one?" "Since you're going home now, would you like me to take a picture of you with your favorite train or would you like a sticker to take with you?" Options are great things. Given options, kids maintain some control over the situation and can often become calm.

If a child does begin a tantrum, other than making sure they are safe and are not harming themselves or anyone else, I generally stay out of the way. Children who have tantrums are almost always accompanied by a caregiver, and unless the caregiver has asked for my assistance, I will leave them to parent their child as they see fit. The same goes for arguments. In the opening example, the parent had already said the child could not take a second book, so I did not offer to check out both or suggest that Mom hold on to the "fun" book until her daughter finished the required reading.

When you encounter angry children in your library, how do you handle it?

05 January 2017

Running a TAB Meeting at the Library

When I started working at my current position, I inherited a fairly active teen advisory board (TAB). One of my very first solo tasks at this library was to run a meeting with my TAB. Having taught both junior high school and high school students, I knew how to work with teens in a classroom setting, but I wasn't sure what would work well in a library setting. However, I have learned a few things along the way about keeping a TAB meeting productive.

  1. Have an agenda. I always, always have an agenda printed out, which I hand to each teen. This way they know what to expect from the meeting, how long I expect each discussion topic or item to last, and how many things we need to do. We don't always stick exactly to the agenda, but it does exist.
  2. Allow for chatting. I give my teens ten minutes at the beginning of the meeting to chat (and eat) before we start the business of the day. The teens need a chance to catch up with each other, and acknowledging that by allowing them to chat will help to keep their focus on the business at hand later on.
  3. When brainstorming, accept all ideas (even if you don't plan to use them). My teens have come up with all manner of goofy ideas, but I have found that if I allow them to brainstorm, I do eventually get some good ideas from them. For example, we were tasked with decorating a window downtown for the holidays. After we got past a snow camel, a book burning scene, a summer parade, and a host of other silly things, someone finally suggested a scene involving favorite book characters all geared up for winter and reading. I wrote down every single idea, even the ones I knew I wouldn't use. This helped the teens to open up and actually share ideas so that we ended up with a dozen or more suggestions instead of only two or three.
  4. Set time limits. On my agenda I give estimates of how long an item will take. I then set a limit and allow the teens to discuss whatever it is for only that set amount of time. In the above brainstorm, I gave the teens ten minutes to discuss. When the ten minutes were up, I thanked them and we moved on to the next item. Otherwise you will spend the entire time on your first item and never get anywhere.
  5. Give out responsibilities. Are there things you can let your teens take ownership of in the library? I allow the teens, for a few minutes of our meeting, to redecorate our chalkboard in the teen area and to set different books out on display. This helps them to feel ownership over the teen area in the library (and sometimes causes them to check out more books, too!). 
  6. Leave time for fun. I find sometimes that we don't have much to discuss at our meeting. When that happens, I bring a board game for the teens to try. One time I brought a plastic wrap ball and we went around the room unwrapping it and keeping whatever emerged when it was our turn. Having fun makes you more approachable and helps the teens to know that the library should be a fun place, too. 
The teens at my library look forward to our TAB meetings because they are given a say in what we do at the library and they get to have fun. Any way you look at it, having a TAB meeting brings teens into the library, which is a win for everyone. 

03 January 2017

Taking a Break: Alternatives to Storytime in the Library

Every children's librarian and staff member knows that occasionally it is necessary to take a break from storytime. In addition to allowing staff to recharge their storytime batteries, as it were, a break allows time to plan the next season of library programming. At my library we take exactly three storytime breaks: May (to prep for summer reading), August (to recover from summer reading), and a few weeks of December/January (because of holidays and also to prep for the spring). In each case we have a span of two to four weeks where there is no storytime.

Storytime breaks are great for staff, but sometimes they are hard on families, especially when they have established a routine of coming to storytime every week on a certain day. Also, it's possible that a new family may come to the library to join your storytime, only to discover that you are on a break week. So, what can we do to make sure there's time to recharge our batteries but also serve our patrons?

My solution is a program I call Stay and Play. Stay and Play happens at the same time as storytime, in the same place as storytime, and involves many things we use during our storytime. I set up our storytime room with a couple of tables containing a simple craft or coloring page, set out our puppet stage with a few puppets, and place my flannel board and one flannel story out as well. These are things the kids are used to seeing during storytime, and it's always a fun and special time when they get a chance to use the flannel board themselves or tell their own puppet story.

All of the activities I set out reinforce literacy concepts, which is the same thing we do in storytime. Moreover, they give kids and their caregivers a chance to connect and work and play together, which is a great way for them to spend their morning at the library. And if a new family comes in, I can explain that we have a storytime break, but that there are all these special things for their kids to do in the same room as storytime, so they can still feel welcomed to our community and can establish a routine of coming to the library.

This program takes about five minutes to set up and about that much time to clean up. I do not have a staff member stationed in the room; kids who come to the library for storytime are expected to be supervised by their caregivers, so in this case the caregivers and their kids spend time together without me in the room. I get a chance to catch up on other duties and plan future storytimes and the storytime families get a chance to connect with each other and enjoy a relaxing play time at the library.

What kinds of things have you offered to caregivers when you go on a storytime break?