"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

30 January 2015

Book Clubbin'

In order to better serve the older kids in our library, I recently started two book clubs. I modeled them after some awesome book clubs that are happening at a library where I interned in Indiana.

I have two book clubs.  The younger group, the BookMunchers, is for 5-8 year olds, and we generally read picture books, although I have a couple of (very short) chapter-ish books on the list.  This month we read Lemony Snickett's The Dark. I really love Jon Klassen's illustrations, and I thought the story was adorable and easily lent itself to a discussion.  The kids were able to sign up for book club starting on the first of the month, and I set the limit at ten children.  They picked up their copy of the book and took it home to read.  I added a handout to each book which contained a reminder about the meeting time as well as a bit of explanation of what we would be doing.

The night of our meeting, I set up our program room with a circle of chairs for the kids who would be discussing the book, some chairs behind those for parents/siblings, and activity stations.  I knew I'd have at least a few older/younger siblings who would be joining us, and I also knew that sitting and discussing a book for an hour with 5-8 year olds wasn't realistic, so I split our time: we spent the first part of the hour introducing ourselves and talking about the book, then I explained the different activity stations and let the kids pick what they wanted to do.

Our questions for The Dark were pretty basic, although we did discuss what kinds of things are good to do if someone is afraid of the dark and needs to go to sleep, etc.  You can access the rest of the questions here. At the end of our discussion, I explained the idea of a 5-star rating to the kids and let them vote.  Most of the kids gave the book five stars, although one boy said he thought it deserved ZERO stars.  I told them it was okay not to like a book, and I put his "zero star" rating on our chart along with the five-star ratings.

Then it was time for activities.  I had four activities to choose from so that everyone could find something to do and no one had to stand around and wait their turn.  First, kids could draw a wanted poster for the dark. I  was interested to see how they would draw the dark as a character, but most of the kids just colored in the picture space with a black crayon.  If I had been thinking about it, I would have drawn one, too, as an example.  I also made a memory-style matching game the used pictures and their silhouettes.  One boy in particular really enjoyed this activity and his mother even threatened to make him walk home if he kept winning.

I also had a station for ring toss.  I bought glow bracelets from the dollar store to use for the rings, then glued a few paper plates to a piece of tagboard and wrote numbers in the plates for the scoring. I put the tagboard near the wall, added a strip of painter's tape as the line to stand at, and that station was set.

The best part, though, was the black light box. I brought in my black light flashlight (these are available online for maybe ten dollars, but I already had one) and cut a hole in the side of a large cardboard box. I made sure the rest of the box was light-tight and tipped it on its side so that the hole was on top. I taped the flashlight on top of  the hole, pointing into the box, then set white and yellow paper and a bunch of highlighters in the box.  The kids could turn on the black light and draw with highlighters on the paper.  Yellow highlighter on yellow paper is pretty much invisible, so it kind of works like invisible ink.  This was by far the most popular station.  I saw every single child go back to this one at least twice, and several also convinced their parents to join them in the box.

I made sure to have the sign-up sheet for next month, as well as next month's book, ready to go so the parents could sign up right away if they wanted to. I also pulled a cart of books - picture books, early readers, some nonfiction, and a few simple chapter books like Magic Treehouse - so the kids could choose more books to check out when they left. I basically grabbed any book that had dark, night, light, flashlight, blackout, etc. in the title.  About half of those were gone by the time the night was through.

The kids enjoyed the activities, and it looked like everyone tried each activity and had plenty to do. The parents and the kids both thanked me and said they would be back next month for our next meeting.  Discussing books in a smaller group like this is really good for kids' higher level thinking skills, and the variety of activities means there's something for everyone (even the kid who just wants to sit and read books after book club).  I loved watching the parents be involved with their kids in the activities, and I am already excited about our next meeting.

28 January 2015

The Carnival at Bray

Foley, Jessie. The Carnival at Bray. Elephant Rock Productions, 2014

Maggie's family has moved to Ireland so her mother can live with the husband-of-the-month. Maggie misses Chicago, her grandmother, and most importantly, her Uncle Kevin. Uncle Kevin is quite unconventional and continually encourages Maggie to live life to the fullest, including suggesting that she travel to Rome to see Nirvana in concert. When her uncle dies, Maggie decides to fulfill his wish and travel to Rome, no matter the cost.

I have mixed feelings about this book. The story itself is not a bad one, per se, and I appreciated the "follow your dreams" theme and the road-trip-esque portion where Maggie and Eoin go to Rome. I was glad that Maggie felt things deeply and decided to really live rather than just going through the motions and accepting her fate.


What I thought could have been better: Why did we need a setting of 1993? No teenager alive in 2014 would have been alive in 1993, which means this book is tipping dangerously into historical fiction territory a la Eleanor & Park. Would it not have been possible for Maggie's uncle to be obsessed with another band or type of music, etc., and for this same story to take place in the 2010s, with Maggie listening to her iPod instead of a Discman? I was also bothered by Maggie's first sexual experience (which occurs in chapter 7, if you need to take care and skip it). It's borderline rape; she's very drunk, she doesn't really pay attention to what's going on, so I wouldn't call that consent at all. Afterward she seems unaffected, which I found really odd. Also, the sudden appearance of this scene can be very triggering for abuse survivors. I know it's a good contrast to later events, but it was very abrupt and rather early in the story and I almost - almost - put the book down right then.

Bottom line: This will probably be an easy book to book talk to teens, but the mature content means I will only recommend it to older teens or to readers I know well enough to know they can handle it. This is not a "oh, the kid has a book report, let's grab this and be done with it" kind of book.

Recommended for: older teens, new adults
Red Flags: graphic sex scene in chapter 7, language (in both standard American and Irish slang), lots of alcohol use by kids and adults both; Uncle Kevin is a drug addict; Eoin's mother suffers from schizophrenia and attempts to kill him
Overall Rating: 3/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Eleanor & Park, Just Call My Name, Golden Boy,Charm & Strange

26 January 2015

The Darkest Part of the Forest

Black, Holly. The Darkest Part of the Forest. Little, Brown BFYR. 2015.

Hazel and her brother Ben live in Fairfold, a small town that is located in a forest filled with Fae. Locals know to always carry salted oatmeal and iron nails in their pockets and to wear their socks inside-out, but the tourists who flock to the town often make silly mistakes and end up injured or disappearing altogether. The tourists come to town to see the prince who sleeps in a glass coffin in the woods. In all their years in town, no matter what anyone does on/near/to the coffin, the prince has never moved. Then one day the town wakes up to discover the coffin smashed and no prince in sight. Hazel wakes up with twigs in her hair and dirt on her feet. Did she open the coffin? How? And what will happen now that the prince is loose?

This is a delightful fantasy story with one foot in reality and the other in fantasy. I enjoyed the magical creepiness of the story as well as the gaps where the reader just didn't know what happened and has to keep turning pages to find out. Another thing I appreciated was the fact that Ben is gay, but it's not a big deal. Not only is he already out, but he isn't teased, but his parents/family/town accept his orientation just as they would his eye or hair color. In fact, he and his sister often pine after the same guys. This is a great fantasy/adventure story that isn't very scary and would be an easy recommend to teens and tweens.

Recommended for: tweens, teens
Red Flags: the teens often party on/around the coffin, usually with alcohol; lots of making out and sex mentioned, but nothing graphic happens in the story itself
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Afterworlds, Belzhar, Hold Me Closer, Necromancer

23 January 2015

QR Codes

I love doing Reader's Advisory.  I really enjoy talking with patrons about what they're reading and what else they might enjoy or even about books they did not enjoy.  However, I am just one person and there are only so many hours in a day where I can sit at the reference desk or roam the stacks helping patrons find books.  For times when I am not there, I want the patrons to be able to find books anyway.  That's where my passive reader's advisory comes in.

I have already created book lists online in our system's OPAC, which can help patrons find the books they want.  There are links to these lists on our library's webpage. Unfortunately, this method assumes that the patrons 1) visit the library's website and 2) know to click on the links to the lists.  It's likely that many of them don't do that, or don't do that often. To be fair, the time when a patron might need a read-alike will be when s/he is browsing the stacks, not necessarily when s/he is at home looking through the OPAC (and how many people who are not library employees or library school students do that, anyway?).

But many of my patrons do have some variety of smartphone, and they do usually carry it with them when they are in the library. Thus, I created QR codes to lead my patrons to those very same lists.  I used an online QR code generator, saved the codes as picture files, then placed them on squares with words that described the list they led to. I printed them out so that the QR codes had a white background (to make sure the contrast was great enough that they could be read), but I backed them with colorful paper so they would be attractive.

The last thing I needed to do was place them in the stacks. I taped the cards to shelves near books that were similar to those on the list.  For example, I put the humorous list near the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. The codes have only been posted for a few hours, so we'll see how well they work. I'm excited to be able to observe patrons using the codes, and I do hope it helps them more easily locate more books they or their child would like to read.

21 January 2015

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole

Barnett, Mac. Sam and Dave Dig a Hole. Candlewick, 2014.

Sam and Dave decide to dig a hole in their backyard, and they are determined to dig until they find something spectacular.

This book is completely adorable. Klassen's illustrations - similar to those in Extra Yarn, I Want My Hat Back, and others, are simple, yet perfectly suited to the story.  Sam and Dave pass by several jewels, each getting larger and larger, and their dog notices what is going on but is unable to convince them to dig differently. In the end, they fall out of the end of the hole and return to their own yard. This simple story will keep kids interested in what will happen and frustrated at Sam and Dave for missing all of the obvious jewels. This would make a great read-aloud book for a story time or a read-alike recommendation for other Barnett and Klassen collaborations.

19 January 2015

The Glass Sentence

Grove, S.E. The Glass Sentence. Viking Juvenile, 2014.

The world has been fractured into different eras. What used to be North America's eastern seaboard is now part of the 1800s, while the arctic zones have reverted to an ice age. Sophia's uncle is a cartologer, and Sophia is staying with him until her parents return from a voyage. But there are some who would use her uncle's skills at map-making for their own desires. Soon Sophia is thrust into a world of brainwashed Sandmen, pirates, street urchins, and maps as she heads to the Southwest in search of answers.

This book was amazingly imaginative and quite creative. I really appreciated that the story solidly, even though there's obviously going to be another book in the series. I enjoyed learning about this world where different eras sit right next to each other, and I was genuinely surprised at the ending. This is a thicker book a la J.K. Rowling, but strong middle grade readers will be rewarded when they tackle it.

Recommended for: middle grade, tweens

Red Flags: "fantasy violence," including a couple of torture scenes. If the child/reader in question would not be scared by the fighting in the later Harry Potter books or the torture scenes in The Princess Bride, then s/he can handle this book.

Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: The Eighth Day, The Mark of the Dragonfly,Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy

16 January 2015

Professional Development

Way back when in caveman days when I was a teacher, I learned how important it was to continue to improve myself and keep up-to-date on pedagogy and technology, etc. etc. The same rings true for me now as a youth services librarian.  But what exactly do librarians do in order to continue to develop professionally?

  1. Online classes:  ALA offers more than a few online classes on various topics, as do its subsidiary organizations.  As I type this I am taking a course on helping children with disabilities in the library, a course that is offered through the Association of Library Services for Children (ALSC). 
  2. Webinars: Webinars are like a one-shot class, and often they are free as well. Some of them deal with library-related topics and some are previews of upcoming titles. 
  3. Professional journals: School Library Journal, Library Journal, Booklist, Hornbook, Publisher's Weekly - all of these organizations have professional journals that librarians can read.  This is in addition to all the ALA-sponsored journals.
  4. Websites and blogs: This is where I get most of my information, since websites are (usually) up-to-date and also allow me to read them at the same time as one of my peers, thus preventing me from waiting oh-so-patiently for the person ahead of me on the list to finish whatever journal happens to be circulating among the staff.
  5. Books: How could I neglect books?  The good news is that there are tons of books related to being a librarian and becoming a better librarian; the unfortunate news is that many of those books are VERY expensive.  I usually borrow mine from the library when I can, or I ask for them as gifts.  Occasionally, if the expense is worth it, I can ask for our library to purchase a copy.
  6. Conferences: ALA holds two conferences annually; most state library associations hold an annual conference, and some of the ALA subsidiaries have their own conferences as well.  It can be cost-prohibitive to fly halfway across the country to attend a conference, but it is a worthwhile experience once in a while. 
  7. Networking: This is sometimes accomplished through the websites, blogs, webinars, classes, and conferences.  I love talking shop with other librarians and finding out what they're doing at their libraries, especially if it's something I can take back to my own library. 
These are the main things I do to keep up professionally.  What kinds of things do you do? Do you have any websites/blogs/books/articles that you find especially helpful? 

14 January 2015

Laughing at My Nightmare

Burcaw, Shane. Laughing at My Nightmare. Roaring Brook Press, 2014.

Shane Burcaw was born with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), but rather than focusing on what he cannot do, Burcaw focuses on what he can do and has accomplished a lot in his twenty-one years. This book stems from his very popular blog of the same name and discusses his life so far, including learning to drive his wheelchair, going to college, dating, and Burcaw's views on facing adversity in his life. Burcaw's sarcasm and dry humor will be a hit with teens who want to read this book, and his intimate portrayal of life with a disability will serve as both a mirror and a window for readers. Recommended.

Recommended for: teens and adults
Red Flags: frank discussions of sex, how Burcaw uses the toilet; lots of profanity
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

12 January 2015

What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night

Tuma, Refe and Susan. What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night. Little, Brown, and Company, 2014.

Refe and Susan Tuma have started a tradition in their house.  November 1st marks the beginning of "Dinovember," a month when the plastic dinosaur toys come to life at night and make messes and do crazy things, only to be caught the next morning by the Tuma children, who have not lost the sense of wonder at toys that can come alive at night to break into cereal boxes or color on the walls. The pictures in this book are hilarious and demonstrate the ingenuity of parents in getting their kids to imagine and play and to keep the entire family wondering for an entire month each year. I am glad to see that their concept of Dinovember has spread to other locations and that people are allowing their dinos to romp freely as well.  With adorable pictures and equally hilarious captions, this book is sure to please.

09 January 2015

Telephone Conversations

I was recently scheduled to work our library's combined circ/reference desk for part of an afternoon.  One of my jobs at said desk is to answer the phone, which I don't really mind doing as long as I can be reasonably sure I'll know the answer to the person's question. Since about 75% of the questions have to do with our hours, I can handle this job.  Today, however, I got a question I honestly couldn't answer.  Actually, it wasn't even a question:

Me: Anytown Public Library. This is Jenni; how can I help you?
Patron: I'd like the mild wings with ranch sauce.
Me: Um, this is the Anytown Public Library.
Patron: Oh. [Pauses] I'm, I'm really sorry.
Me: No problem; have a nice day!

That was definitely my favorite question of the week.  My favorite all-time phone question, though, happened when I was still in library school:

Me: Anothertown Public Library. This is Jenni; how can I help you?
Patron: Well, we're in the middle of a Scrabble game, and we have a disagreement about a word. We wanted to see if you could tell us if it's actually a word or not.
Me: Sure, no problem.  What's the word? [Begins to pull up dictionary.com]
Patron: It's T-U-R-D. Is that a legal Scrabble word?
Me: Well, according to the dictionary, it's a legitimate English word, and it's not an abbreviation or a proper noun, so I'd say yes, it is a legal word.
Patron: [to someone else in his home] I told you it was a word; the librarian just said so!

If there's anything to be said about working in a public library, it's that it is never, ever boring.

07 January 2015

Subject Signage

Libraries are filled with signs.  There are signs designating particular areas of the collection, signs describing upcoming events, signs sharing reminders of rules and procedures.  One of the things I noticed about our juvenile nonfiction collection was the lack of signs.  There isn't even a sign that designates where exactly the juvenile nonfiction begins.

Also I've noticed that a majority of the questions I handle at the children's desk have to do with locating a particular item on the shelf.  I don't mind getting up and showing people the area where the book is at all, but it would be nice for our patrons to have the option for a bit more independence in their browsing.  Thus I created signage for our juvenile nonfiction.

Each sign has a clear, readable font with large letters with accompanying pictures for kids who are not yet reading independently. I printed the signs on cardstock, printing on both sides to they'd be readable from either approach, and had them laminated.  After that, it was just a matter of sticking them in the shelves where they go and letting the patrons know.  My conversations usually go something like this:

Patron: I'm looking for a book about papercrafts
Me: Well, let me show you where we keep our crafting books.  Our crafting books are right here, in this area, and they start with that sign there.  The papercrafts are on this shelf.
Patron: Thank you!

When possible/helpful, I also let them know the Dewey range for the book. I don't ever expect patrons to have Dewey memorized; I certainly don't myself.  But I do want them to know that nonfiction books are in numerical order by subject and that there is some sense in the groupings. The signs, though, ensure that popular sections - like the dinosaur books - are always easily find-able for those who want them.

05 January 2015

Wild Things

Bird, Betsy. Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature. Candlewick Press, 2014.

This book is the combined work of Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson, and the late Peter Sieruta. Chronicling the history of children's literature, the authors draw upon their extensive knowledge as well as exhaustive research (the bibliography itself is over twenty pages long) and present the seldom-seen side of children's literature: subversive messages hidden in books, the censorship/banning process, and what to do when Madonna writes a picture book. This book is a treasure trove of trivia for librarians and bibliophiles, and I was really disappointed when I discovered I was on the last page, so this book is definitely begging a revisit.  I would recommend this book to any current or aspiring children's librarian or literature/language arts teacher.

02 January 2015

Posting Reviews

Yes, this is a picture of the blog post you're currently reading.  Very meta, I know.
For much of 2014, I made it my goal to have a new blog post up every weekday.  Most of these were written and posted weeks in advance because I simply don't have the time every single day to work on my blog, but this assured that there was new material available and that my blog still looked "alive" even when I wasn't actively working on it. Looking back, I'm kind of amazed at the number of book reviews I was able to post, and more recently on the number of programming or library-work related posts I created.  And I like being able to look back at the previous years and see what kinds of books I read and enjoyed or decided to write reviews for.

I will definitely still be reviewing books in this new year, but since I have decided not to participate in the Goodreads Reading Challenge, I won't be reading as many books, which means I might have fewer to review. I certainly won't be racing through them like I did in the past. So I will still have reviews to write, but not as many as I have in the past.

Additionally, starting next month (is February really just around the corner?) I will be a member of the 2016 Stonewall committee, which means I will be helping to select the award-winning children's and YA books with LGBT+ characters and themes. I'm really excited about this opportunity, but one of the rules of the game is that while on the committee I cannot post reviews about the books we're discussing.  So, while I will still be writing reviews, the types of books I can review will change. 

I am also excited about posting more about programming and things I'm doing in my library, as well as the occasional cute kid story that will inevitably come up, since, well, I'm surrounded by kids pretty much all day long. 

So there will be reviews, but likely fewer of them, and more posts about programming and other library-related things. I do hope you'll stick around for the journey.

01 January 2015

2015 Goals

I don't even remember everything I read each year.

It seems like everyone is posting their resolutions and/or reading goals for the new year.  Some have chosen specific lists or types of books to read, or have posited that the Goodreads Reading Challenge creates too much reading-related stress and that they will not participate this year.

I have completed a Goodreads reading challenge for all three years that I've used the site. I've always read a lot, even before the challenge, and when I was in library school I had time to read even more, especially since much of that reading counted as part of my homework.  However, I've been setting my Goodreads challenge bar so high that I, too, have fallen victim to the stress of seeing my Goodreads page remind me that I am 1, 2, 5, 20, etc. books behind on my goal.  And even though I don't get a prize for finishing or experience any punishment for not finishing, I like to stay on top of things. Like others, I have found myself rushing through stacks of picture books and frantically adding them to my Goodreads page simply so that I can say I finished my challenge. Meanwhile, my "to read" list keeps piling up with starred review books, Newbery contenders, books featuring diverse characters, or whatever the latest children's or YA trend happens to be.

With all of these books sitting in my "I hope I actually read them some day" list, I've discovered something: I can't both enjoy reading and simultaneously keep up with a huge reading goal each year. And it's much more important to me that I enjoy reading and am able to share that joy with my patrons than that I read 500+ books a year.

So this year my goal is to read whatever I want.  I will still read titles with starred reviews, I will still probably participate in the Hub Reading Challenge (even if I don't finish it), and I will still definitely read books with diverse characters.  But I might also re-read Lev Grossman's Magicians series, and I might read a few adult paperback mysteries, and I might spend more than a week paging through What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night.  I might revisit the gajilliony-jillion books stored on my Kindle, or the stack of ARCs that currently takes up my desk at home. And maybe I'll take time off of reading so that I can play Agricola with my wife or binge-watch the episodes of Bones I keep missing because of my commute. And I'll probably be happier, since I won't be trapped in my car listening to yet another audiobook with a terrible narrator, just because I know I can finish one more book per week that way while I drive to and from my library.

So, what about you? Do you have any specific reading goals for the year, or types of books you'd like to focus on, or whatnot? Are you using the Goodreads Reading Challenge in 2015?