"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 May 2017

5, 4, 3, 2, 1 ... Blastoff!

It is that time of year again. School is ending and our summer reading program will be starting very soon. Because of this, my blog will be on hiatus until August or September. Check back in the fall for new material; for now, check out the categories listed on the right column for more programming or book review ideas!

04 May 2017

The Unbreakable Code

Bertman, Jennifer Chambliss. The Unbreakable Code. Henry Holt & Company, 2017.

Emily and James have hardly recovered from their adventures in Book Scavenger, and now they notice their teacher Mr. Quisling acting suspiciously. Following him leads to another book-related mystery. Can they solve this mystery before the mysterious arsonist beats them to the answer?

This book was very similar to Book Scavenger, a book I very much enjoyed and frequently promote at my library through book talks. While there are plenty of references to books in this story, is not nearly as literature or library-focused as Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library or its sequel. I loved watching the kids solve the puzzles and wondering if they'd arrive at the correct conclusion before the bad guys caught up with them. I did guess the ending correctly, but I'm not an 8-12 year old, so I don't consider that a bad thing.

Full of San Francisco color and history, this book is highly recommended for tweens, particularly those who are fans of mystery stories.

Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: "mild peril" - there are a couple of fires that happen and the main characters are occasionally in danger
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, Inkheart, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

18 April 2017

Storytime: Trains

I did a train storytime recently, and not only was it a lot of fun to read books on a very popular topic, but I had the opportunity to provide lots of literacy skills practice during our craft.

Opening Rhyme: Open Them, Shut Them

Rhyme: Two Little Blackbirds

Book: Trains by Patricia Hubbell

Song: "If You're Happy and You Know It"

Book: Train Man by Andrea Zimmerman

Rhyme/Game: Dinosaur, Dinosaur, are you behind the [color] door?

Song: "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes"

Book: Freight Train by Donald Crews

Closing Rhyme

Craft: For our craft, we made name trains. I found a train coloring page online and copied the engine picture, then shrank it to a quarter sheet. Each child colored an engine, cut it out, and glued it to their paper. Then we added square "cars" behind the engine with our name letters on them. This was a great opportunity for my young patrons to practice cutting, pasting, and writing, and they all pointed to the letters in their names and told me what they were. I love being able to demonstrate this type of activity for the parents and caregivers, as it models a literacy project they can do in their own home as well.

11 April 2017

Science Storytime: Three Little Pigs

After attempting, without much success, to bring my science club programming to my current library, I decided to begin incorporating science activities into my regular storytimes. This allows me to bring science programming to my preschool patrons in a way that doesn't require them to come to the library on an additional day for a separate program.

At my previous library, another librarian ran STEAM times for toddlers after their regularly scheduled toddler storytime. I decided that this method would make for a too-long morning for my patrons, so I adjusted my regular storytime and replaced the craft with our science experiment.

I did a standard storytime, complete with rhymes, songs, and of course stories, but for the stories I read two different versions of The Three Little Pigs. At the end of storytime, when I usually introduce the craft, I explained that we would be doing a science experiment instead.

I had three tables set out, and each table had a different item on it: standard drinking straws, craft sticks, or DUPLO blocks. The kids and their caregivers collected a worksheet from me and went to each table to construct a house and then attempt to blow it down. It was really neat to watch the kids and their caregivers working together on this project, and I will definitely do something similar again.

28 March 2017

LEGO Minifig Felties

I have enjoyed making felt characters for older kids to enjoy at my library, but there still are some kids who aren't interested in My Little Pony or Pokemon, so those felt characters won't engage them. LEGO bricks and characters, however, are nearly universally loved, so I thought I'd try to make some LEGO felt characters. They won't have that satisfying "snap" that holds LEGO bricks together, but I did want to make some pieces interchangeable.

I started with a standard minifig shape. I found this by Googling "LEGO minifig coloring page." After resizing it, I printed a couple of copies and separated the parts I wanted to make: head, hands, shirt, and pants.

I made several copies of a standard yellow head as well as yellow hands. Then I found the rest of my felt scraps and made shirts and pants in various colors and patterns. I haven't decorated any of the clothing yet beyond drawing the outlines. I did glue the hands to the shirts for added stability and to avoid choking hazards with the babies and toddlers. The faces all received different expressions.

The kids at my library will really enjoy these, and I'm especially hoping that younger kids - those whose parents deem too young to play with a standard minifig - will like playing with the felt versions. The facial expressions will work well for discussing emotions, too.

21 March 2017

Felt Board: My Little Pony

Besides Pokemon, My Little Pony is probably the most popular show among my young patrons. I created some felt characters so the older kids would have something to play with and talk about when they visit the library after school.

I started with the "Mane Six" - the six main characters of the show, as well as Spike the Dragon, who is Twilight Sparkle's assistant, and Gummy the Alligator, because he's my spouse's favorite. For each character, I cut out a base layer in their body color and then added a second layer for their hair, except for Rainbow Dash whose hair was painted on because it's, well, rainbow. I also added details to the ponies' hair, like Pinky Pie's curls:

14 March 2017

Pokemon Readers' Advisory, Part 2

About a month ago, I wrote a post about the Pokemon bookmarks I had started using in my library. These bookmarks were created as a way to keep kids coming in the library and to teach them about using our catalog to find the books they might like to read.

During the month of February, fifty bookmarks were completed and turned in to me. With each bookmark, I read the child's suggestions and then awarded them an envelope of Pokemon cards. We switched out the character on the bookmark every time we ran out of bookmarks. I never once mentioned these bookmarks at Pokemon Club or in front of any group of kids. They learned about them mostly via word of mouth, the signage on our circulation desk, or if they were here alone and bored and came to visit me in my office.

It is March 10 as I am writing this. I have 24 completed bookmarks on my desk from this month alone. We flew through the initial set of eight bookmarks I had made, so I created an additional eight bookmarks. I would definitely call this program a success, and I plan to keep it going as long as the kids show interest. I have, however, made a couple of tweaks to the program in order to make things run more smoothly:

1. Inform the Staff. I made sure my staff knew that the bookmarks existed, sure, but I didn't think to warn them about the number of kids who would be asking about them or who may need assistance locating books to put on their bookmarks. Many of my staff jumped right in and helped out where needed, even giving kids one-on-one lessons on how to use our library's catalog. I enjoyed watching this because it gave our kids a positive interaction with an adult and also empowered them to look up other books later on.

2. Adjust on Programming Days. Yesterday was our monthly LEGO Club. A few of the kids from LEGO club knew about the bookmarks and filled them out before coming to club. Then they walked in with Pokemon cards in their hands, and many of the others wanted to know where they got them. This led to kids leaving LEGO club to fill out a bookmark, which isn't really something I minded. However, we finished up one character's bookmark, which my staff then replaced with a new one. The rule for the bookmarks is that you can only complete each character once, so when some of the kids saw a new bookmark set out, they completed that one, too, and received a second set of cards for the day.

There were a couple of ways I could have handled this. I could change the rule to one bookmark per day. I could instruct the staff not to set out a second character on program afternoons. Because it had already happened by the time I noticed yesterday, I told the staff not to put out a third character, even if the second bookmark ran out, and came up with a solution for the next time: On days when I have programming after school, we will set out a large quantity (25 or more) of one character. This way, all children who want to participate can do so, but no one can complete the bookmark twice in a day. It would have been very easy yesterday to get ten children to complete all the bookmarks ad infinitim, and they would have happily cleaned me out of my stock of Pokemon cards.

This program has led to many great one-on-one conversations with my young patrons about Pokemon and books, two things I will happily chat about any day.

07 March 2017

Storytime: Families

Opening Rhyme: Open Them, Shut Them

Rhyme: Two Little Blackbirds

Book: One Family by George Shannon

Song: "If You're Happy and You Know It"

Book: The Family Book by Todd Parr

Rhyme/Game: Little Mouse

Song: "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes"

Book: A Family is a Family is a Family by Sara O'Leary

Closing Rhyme

Craft: Draw a picture of your family.

28 February 2017

Teen Program: Anti-Valentine's Day Party

The teens at my library have a tradition of holding an Anti-Valentine's Day party every year. As this was my first February with them, I had to ask the teens and scour the previous librarian's files to see if I could find out what exactly they'd done in the past at these events. I have discovered that I generally plan about twice as many things as we have time to do, so for this program I intentionally simplified things, which ended up working out really well.

Snacks: Traditionally, the teens have eaten "stinky" snacks, things that would make one's breath smell bad. I brought in shrimp-flavored chips (available at many Asian markets) and Fritos along with onion dip to fill in that category. I like to serve something sweet, too, and the teens LOVE candy, so we had gummy worms (leftover from another program) and these poop emoji fudge things, which were almost as much fun to make as it was to watch the teens eat them. We also had oranges, as one of my teens has specifically requested that we have fruit or a similar healthy item available, which I think is a fantastic idea.

Activities: I had a ton of ideas for activities, but I settled on two: one game and one craft. For the game, we played "heartbreaker," which is where each teen inflates a red balloon and attaches it to their ankle with a length of yarn. The teens then run around the room attempting to pop everyone else's balloon while protecting their own. The teens really enjoyed this particular game, both because of the competition and because popping balloons is, apparently, hilarious. I liked this game because the rules are simple and there wasn't anything to purchase in advance; the library already had balloons and yarn available.

Our second activity was stuffed animal taxidermy. I bought a bunch of plush animals at the dollar store: bears, gorillas, bugs (I think they were "love bugs"), puppies, etc. The teens cut off the heads and hot glued them to some wooden plaques we already had. This then degenerated (as I expected) into making franken-toys. The teens took the leftover bits and used our sewing supplies to make new creatures out of the leftovers. The creepiest one by far was wearing what the teen called "the skin of its enemies;" i.e., the leftover unstuffed body of another stuffed animal.

The teens had a good time, the clean up wasn't too difficult, and overall I would consider this program to be a success. If I were to do it again, I would probably eliminate the onion dip (since no one ate it) and make sure there were extra plushies and sewing supplies out, since the teens enjoyed creating their franken-animals.

21 February 2017

Storytime: Monsters

After our love-themed storytime last week, I decided to go in a different direction this week. Our theme is monsters, which could be interpreted in a lot of different ways. For my storytime, I'll be reading three monster books where the monster is not scary at all; I don't want any of my storytime kids to have nightmares! I could also see this theme working well with an older group, perhaps during an evening storytime.

Opening Rhyme: Open them, shut them

Rhyme: Two Little Blackbirds

Book: The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone

Song: "If You're Happy and You Know It"

Book: Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems

Rhyme/Flannel Game: Little Mouse

Song: "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes"

Book: Go Away, Big Green Monster by Rebecca Emberley

Closing Rhyme

The order in which we place our activities in storytime is just as important as the activities we do. In this case, I left the simplest book toward the end because the shapes listed can easily pave the way for the kids to make their craft: paper bag monster puppets.

14 February 2017

Storytime: All about Love

It's that time of year again, and again, instead of focusing on Valentine's Day, my story time theme this week was love. My commitment to being a #StorytimeJusticeWarrior this year means that whenever possible I am including diverse titles or books with nonwhite characters. With some themes this is more difficult than others, but it was easy to do this week.

Opening Rhyme: Open Them, Shut Them

Rhyme: 2 Little Blackbirds

Book: My Heart Fills with Happiness - The characters in this book are First Nations, and the simple words and colorful illustrations make it perfect for my young storytime audience.

Song: "If You're Happy and You Know It"

Book: Hands Say Love - The main characters in this book are all Caucasian, but I like how this book ties in with learning to say "I love you" in sign language.

Sign Language: Learn the sign for "I love you"

Rhyme: Little Mouse

Song: "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes"

Book: Love Always Everywhere - This is another book with simple text that features a diverse cast of young children.

Closing Rhyme

Craft: We made heart-shaped suncatchers with contact paper and tissue paper squares. This simple craft is a good one that allows children to practice small motor control as they pick up and stick the squares of tissue, but doesn't involve glue or lots of cutting.

Next week's theme is monsters, and doesn't lend itself as easily to including diverse characters, but the week after that is family, and again I have an opportunity to promote kindness and acceptance with my young patrons.

07 February 2017

Pokemon Readers' Advisory

I run a Pokemon Club at my library as part of a regular series of after school programs. The kids who come to my club are always very excited to be here, and they often stop by and talk about Pokemon or ask me when we'll meet again, even if Pokemon Club is weeks away. I am glad to have such a large group of kids who come to the library on a regular basis, but I wanted to find a way to keep them engaged with the library between meetings. I know these kids love their Pokemon and they love talking about them, too. So I wondered, would it be possible to do readers' advisory for a particular Pokemon?

I created bookmarks with a Pokemon on one side and a list of 3-4 books I think that Pokemon would like to read. I did this based on my (admittedly limited) knowledge of the different characters and their personalities. I made sure all the books I listed were part of my library's collection, and I added the call numbers after each one in case a child would want to find them on the shelf.

For the back side of the bookmark, I used a picture of that Pokemon's evolution and left a blank area for the patron to suggest books for that Pokemon to read. I set out one set of these bookmarks (ten copies of the exact same one, so that one child didn't stop by and try to "collect 'em all" by grabbing the set), along with a sign explaining what to do. Children were free to pick up a bookmark, choose books for that Pokemon to read, and write down the titles on the bookmark. Once completed, they brought it to me and received free Pokemon cards.

Our library has amassed a large collection of slightly random, mostly common Pokemon cards. I will admit that more than a few of these were from my own collection, as I thought it important to learn how to play the card game before we started our Pokemon club. I want the library to have a small collection of cards that I or a volunteer can use during club meetings so that kids who are intimidated by trading with other kids, but who still want to trade, can do so with me. However, in an average batch of Pokemon cards, there will be several duplicates. I compiled all the duplicates into several stacks by type and dealt them into piles so that each stack contained, for example, two fire Pokemon, two water Pokemon, etc. Then I put each stack in an envelope. Kids who finish the Pokemon bookmark receive one envelope of cards, which gives them an incentive to participate and also rids the library of all of its extra cards. None of the kids are receiving super-valuable cards, but the cards are still good for trading or playing the game.

I haven't even announced this passive program to my Pokemon club kids yet as we haven't had a meeting since I made the bookmarks, but in just the first 24 hours of the bookmarks being out, I already had six kids stop by my office to receive their cards. They informed me that it was easy to look up books on the computer and add them to their list of suggestions; I'm glad that they have a skill - looking in the library's catalog to find a book - that many of my patrons lack.

I was hesitant at first to try this program, as it seemed a bit labor-intensive, but it took less than ten minutes to create the envelopes of cards, and the bookmarks took less than an hour to create and not very much time to print, either. I only have eight different bookmarks made so far; if this program is as successful as I hope it will be, I will add more later on. If it fizzles out and is no longer interesting, then I won't bother creating more bookmarks.

You can access the bookmarks here. Enjoy!

UPDATE: The second part of this article can be found here.

02 February 2017

Felt Boards: Not Just for Littles

I have recently acquired a tabletop felt board for use in my children's department. The opposite side is a white board / magnet board and holds a collection of alphabet letters that kids and caregivers can play with. At first, I only put familiar stories on our felt board using premade sets, things like Goldilocks and the Three Bears or The Gingerbread Man. However, we get a fairly large crowd of school-age kids in my library afterschool, and although they will happily play with these familiar stories, there are other things they like more. Thus my Pokemon felties were born.

Koffing, Oddish, Psyduck, Gastly
Squirtle, Eevee, Polywag, Pikachu
Slowpoke, Jigglypuff, Togepi
Eggxecute, Charmander, Bulbasaur

I printed out pictures from the internet and traced them on the felt to create each character. Some characters received extra felt layers depending on their coloring. I used puff paint for the outlines and for some of the details.

Already I have noticed more school aged kids gathering around the felt board and discussing Pokemon. I will likely switch this board out for something more small-kid-friendly later on, but it's fun to have something for the bigger kids once in a while.

31 January 2017

Storytime: Robots

I haven't been posting my storytime lineups because I have been reusing themes I already did at my previous job, many of which I already posted on this blog. However, today was a brand-new theme for me: robots.

Opening Rhyme: Open Them, Shut Them

Fingerplay: Two Little Blackbirds

Book: Big Bot, Small Bot by Marc Rosenthal

Book/Song: If You're a Robot and You Know It by Musical Robot (We sang the song and I made the pop-up pieces in the book move as the kids did the actions.)

Book: Boy + Bot by Amy Dyckman

Rhyme: Little Mouse, Little Mouse

Song: "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes"

Book: Beep, Beep, Go to Sleep by Todd Tarpley

Craft: We made robot vests using paper grocery bags. Our local grocery store donated the bags, I had a volunteer cut out the head and arm holes, and the kids went to town decorating them.

You may have noticed that my lineup style has changed quite a bit from when I was at my previous library. This is because my patron base is quite different. In my last library, storytime was attended by mostly K-2nd graders with some younger siblings. Here, storytime happens during the school day, so usually the oldest children are 4 and many are 2 or 3. I've reduced my books from five to three and added in more action rhymes and songs, because these things hold the kids' attention the best. We also repeat the rhymes and songs each week, so they don't always (or usually) match the theme. This consistency helps my young patrons to become used to the routine and learn the songs and rhymes so they can participate more fully in storytime. 

26 January 2017

Passive Programs for Teens: Book in a Jar

It's been fairly simple for me to create passive programs for the children at my library. Scavenger hunts, coloring pages, animals to observe - these are all things children would enjoy doing at the library. It's a bit harder to figure out what can be done for teens, but I finally stumbled upon an activity that works for my teens (and any adults who might stumble upon it as well): book in a jar.

The concept is simple: find a weeded book (or purchase a Dover thrift edition if you'd prefer), shred the pages, stick them in a jar, and let the teens guess what book it is.

When I shredded my book, I made sure to leave out any parts of pages that had the title listed on it - one of the books I chose had the title at the top of each page. I also tried to use mostly pages that were completely covered in text. Blank strips do not help at all for guessing!

I tried using the office shredder to make my strips, but it turned the pages into mush, far too unreadable. Instead, I used our paper cutter and cut all the strips that way. I could cut 3-4 pages at a time, and this way I knew the strips actually had readable words on them.

For books, I obviously can use books we weed due to condition, but I also try to choose fairly well-known or popular titles. For December, I used Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. For this month I have chosen Through the Looking Glass, which is also the book the teens are reading for their book club.

I made sure to inform the desk staff of the answer, and I have left Hershey's kisses as a prize for those who guess correctly, but many will be intrigued by the mystery simply for the sake of guessing and may not care about any kind of prize. And even though I have not yet observed anyone actually using the book in a jar, I have been told that our patrons have been guessing and enjoying it, which was the whole point.

What kinds of passive activities do you set out for teens?

24 January 2017

Princess Princess Ever After

O'Neill, Katie. Princess Princess Ever After. 2016

Amira rescues Sadie from a tower and the two become good friends and go on adventures - defeating an ogre, rescuing a prince, and saving Amira from Sadie's evil older sister. This colorful graphic novel is full of action and fun and is sure to delight readers of all ages. I love that neither princess needed or wanted a prince to rescue her, and that they end up married in the end even though this is a book about their friendship and not their romance.

Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: some "fantasy violence" - Amira is kidnapped, etc.
Overall Rating: 5/5 stars

19 January 2017

False Hearts

Lam, Laura. False Hearts. Tor Books, 2016.

Tila and Taema were raised in a cult outside of future San Francisco. Conjoined twins, they escape the cult at adolescence and are surgically separated in order to save their lives. Now banished from the cult, they start new lives in San Francisco. But when Tila shows up on Taema's doorstep covered in blood and is immediately arrested, Taema begins to discover the seedy underbelly of San Francisco as she goes undercover to find out the truth about her sister and the man she murdered.

I picked up this book for lots of reasons: the main characters had been raised in a cult, which I found interesting; the setting of San Francisco was definitely interesting; and I enjoy both science fiction and mysteries, so I thought I'd like this one.

I did like it, although the mystery aspect is completely predictable. Fans of mystery stories will likely figure out the secret sooner than Taema as well. As with many mysteries, this one took a while to end, and I found myself skimming simply to confirm my suspicions. Also, most of the San Frnacisco details are spot-on; however, those familiar with the city will scratch their heads when reading that the protagonist was living near the panhandle and was able to see Grace Cathedral from her window. Nonetheless, this is a good read and was worth the time.

Recommended for: adults
Red Flags: violence, language, etc - this is a book for adults
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: Running Out of Time, My Life with the Liars, The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly

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?