"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

29 June 2015

Summer Learning Club Kickoff

How do you kick off your summer learning club (SLC)?  We hired a magician to perform at our opening event, then we kept it simple with a variety of carnival-style games for kids to play. This way families could come and go as they pleased, and there was plenty of opportunity to speak with families about signing up for SLC.

These are the games/activities we had:

  1. Giant bubbles with yarn and sticks for "wands"
  2. Water bead table
  3. Ring toss
  4. Bean bag toss
  5. Snacks
  6. Make a wind streamer craft

These six activities, plus registering for SLC and picking up snacks, made for enough things to give kids and families something fun to do that was more interactive than simply watching a magician. It took a while to set up all the stations, but the clean-up was not complicated and we did get more sign-ups for our SLC than we would have gotten on a regular day. 

How do you kick off your SLC? Do you do the same thing each year, or change up the activities based on your theme?

26 June 2015

Promotional Assemblies

The summer is nearly half done (!), and only now do I have time to discuss what we did to promote our library's summer learning club (SLC). We wanted to reach every child in the district with information about SLC and encourage them to participate, not only because this program is designed for them, but also because our budget is tied to the statistics we keep regarding participation in programs.  I won't cite all the articles about how reading helps kids not lose what they've learned when they get the summer off; the Google will show you how to find those.

But how do you give kids a spiel about SLC without it sounding boring? And how do you keep their attention long enough? We planned to do assemblies at each elementary school with a thirty-minute assembly for the K-2nd kids and a similar assembly for the 3rd-5th grade kids. Now we had to find a way to keep the attention of several hundred children of various ages and attention spans for thirty minutes.

Our department decided to do a skit for the beginning of our assembly. Our SLC theme is Read to the Rhythm, so one of my colleagues was cast as a rock star, one as the rock star's "roadie," and I was a bored kid (basically so I could wear my Minecraft shirt to work and call it good). The bored kid comes out from backstage and says, "I'm bored. It's summer, and my friends are on vacation, and my DS ran out of batteries" etc. etc.  The rock star then hustles out in a hurry.  S/he is on the way to the library, and the bored kid has a discussion with the rock star about what might be going on at the library. The skit concludes with the bored kid deciding that summer would not be boring if s/he went to the library.  It was fun and included silly jokes as well as information about all of our programs.

The second half of our assembly was a music guessing game.  We asked the teachers to send up one volunteer from each class, and the volunteers were asked to guess a piece of music based on the first few seconds of the song.  We mixed a variety of popular songs, classical pieces, instrumental movie themes, and silly songs (like The Chicken Dance, for example). We clapped when kids got the songs correct, and many times all the children would start singing along with the music.

We also made sure to leave flyers at the school so they could be distributed to the children that day. It was important that the information we gave also got home to the parents, since the kids may or may not be able to relay that information once school was over. Our school district requires all flyers to be approved before being distributed, so we had to finish the flyer about a month in advance and send it in to be approved before we could begin the mass printing of flyers.

In the end, it was completely exhausting to go to a different school every day for two weeks and to spend my entire morning in assemblies and schmoozing with principals and school staff, but it was absolutely worth it.  The kids got excited, and now I have kids coming up to me in the library (and at the grocery store and at the bank, etc.) saying, "I remember you! I saw you at my school!" and that allows me to start a conversation about SLC with them and encourage them to sign up.

What does your library do to encourage kids to sign up for your summer programming?

24 June 2015

Book Club: The Odd Squad Bully Bait

My Page Turners book club (9-12 year olds) read The Odd Squad: Bully Bait as their book last month. We had a good discussion about bullying and what to do if you're being bullied or if you see someone being bullied. I also asked the kids to suggest other books that are similar in style to this one.  I was hoping they would begin to understand that some kinds of books are easy to find, like these diary-style books with drawings in them. I would consider the Origami Yoda series, the Wimpy Kid books, the Big Nate books, and a few others to be very similar to the Odd Squad series. The kids came up with some great suggestions, and I got to do some book talking and readers' advisory on the side.

Then it was time for activities. I had trouble coming up with activities that related directly to this book, so I decided to do cooperative and friendship-building activities, and this means I brought out a few board games for the kids to use. I wanted to find things like Mouse Trap, where the kids would work together to build something, but we only had one Mouse Trap game, and the other cooperative games we have are a bit to advanced for this age group. I settled on Barrel o' Monkeys, Jenga, Mouse Trap, Candy Land, and Sorry! I was hoping that the kids would have the opportunity to play a variety of games and enjoy them.  Some of the kids did indeed try every game, but the most popular game by far was Mouse Trap. None of the children had ever played, so it was fun for them to work together and build the trap. I had to stop myself from interrupting them and doing all the work, because it was good for them to learn to follow instructions and determine how to fix the trap when it didn't work.

The games were very popular, and the kids didn't mind that there was no "make it, take it" style craft involved. I won't use this method every time we have book club, but it was definitely useful this week and with this particular book.

22 June 2015

Book Club: Binky the Space Cat

My younger book club (5-8 year olds) read Binky the Space Cat last month. It was the first time I had chosen a graphic novel format for the kids, but I want to expose them to a variety of formats and genres, and there are so many great graphic novels for children, I knew this would be a good way to get them to visit those aisles in the library.

We had a brief discussion about Binky, then there were four activities to do, two of which were very popular.

1.  Alien Match Game.  I found free clip art of aliens and printed them on cardstock. Kids at this age enjoy memory-style games, especially when they can play against their parents.

2.  Binky Comic Strip. I gave my clubbers a blank comic book page so they could continue Binky's adventures if they'd like.  Not many children were interested in this activity, probably because of the other two options.

3.  Astronaut Training.  Each child had a balloon they could inflate (or they could ask their grown-up to do it), and there were two hula hoops on the table. The child could practice keeping the balloon in the air using just their hands or just their head or just their elbows, then if they wanted "advanced" training they could ask their grown-up to hold the hula hoop for them to bat the balloon through. I intentionally created this activity to involve the parents, because I enjoy watching the parents and children play together.  This also, conveniently enough, is an activity the parents can do at home, so in one fell swoop I can give the kids an activity and also provide the parents with an easy and inexpensive game to play at home.

At one point there were three kids inside the box and three decorating the outside.
4.  By far the most popular station of the night involved building a rocket ship.  In the book, Binky builds a rocket ship in secret in his litter box. I brought in a few large cardboard boxes, cut round "portholes" in the sides, and set out markers for the kids to use.  I suggested they decorate the space ships or add dials and switches inside, but they really didn't need any instructions. This is also an activity many of the parents said they'd be doing at home at some point, because boxes and markers are cheap, simple toys that can keep kids occupied for hours with creative activity.

Overall, we had a great meeting, and the kids were reluctant to leave when time was up.  I consider any night like that a successful night.

19 June 2015

Do this, not that at #ALAAC15

Intrigued? See #4 below.
So you're in San Francisco for the first time (or the first time in a long time), and you want to see the sights, specifically the tourist-y sights that everyone sees in San Francisco, so when you go home and people ask, "Did you ride a cable car? Did you see that crooked street? Did you eat sourdough?" you can say yes and the conversation will be less awkward.

There are certainly some things you should see while you're in the city, but there are better ways to see/do/experience them than the typical tourist will find. Here are some suggestions for ways you can enjoy the city and experience all it has to offer without being trapped by the tourist trade.

1. Instead of visiting Joe's Crab Shack, go to Fisherman's Grotto. Joe's Crab Shack is a popular chain restaurant that is conveniently located on Fisherman's Wharf. There's a great view of the bay (and the Bush Man), and the food is good. However, for a uniquely San Francisco experience, go to Fisherman's Grotto and eat seafood that was caught that same morning and prepared five minutes before you bought it.

2. Instead of riding a cable car, go to the Cable Car Museum. Cable cars are cute and San Francisco-y and make people break out in Rice-a-Roni theme songs, but they are slow, expensive, and crowded. There is always a line to get on the cable car, and some tour guides suggest you skip this line by waiting at another cable car stop, but they say the same thing to EVERYONE, so the problem is still the same. Since the cars are so popular, they are really crowded, and you will probably be smashed somewhere in the middle, seeing nothing, rather than hanging off the side snapping pictures with your smartphone. A better alternative is the Cable Car Museum, where you can learn about cable cars, see old ones, see the actual cable the cars run on, and learn all about them without paying $6 to ride 9 miles an hour.

3. Instead of driving/walking across the Golden Gate Bridge, take a boat tour underneath it. Everyone wants to walk on the Golden Gate Bridge, or drive across it, or whatnot. It's the single most photographed structure in the world. Instead of driving across the bridge or facing the crowds and bicycles as you walk across, take a boat tour of the bay and see the bridge from underneath. Near Fisherman's Grotto and Joe's Crab Shack on Fisherman's Wharf, conveniently located in the same area as the Bush Man, are several boats that are licensed to give tours. The boat captains will call out the price for their tour and try to get as many people on their boat as their licenses allow, so bring some friends and fill the boat faster so the tour can start. This way you can see Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge from a different perspective.  It will be cold and windy, though, so dress accordingly.

4. Lombard Street has been hailed as the "crookedest street in the world," This tourist location is so popular that there are frequent traffic jams at the top and the base of this curvy hill. It is fun to see a strange curving road, especially one that is brick paved like Lombard Street.  However, if you want to see the real "crookedest" street, you need to visit Vermont Street. Vermont Street is the new home to the bring your own big wheel races held every Easter in San Francisco, and this hill has steeper curves than Lombard Street. You might even find someone willing to let you borrow their Big Wheel so you can race down the hill.

5. Instead of just eating sourdough, visit the a sourdough factory and learn about how it is made. Everyone wants to eat clam chowder out of a sourdough bread bowl when they come to San Francisco, but very few people know much about the process of making sourdough. Luckily, if you visit Boudin's on Fisherman's Wharf, you can do both. Boudin's bakery features a restaurant, a cafe, a shop, and an area outside where you can watch sourdough being made. Often times one of the employees will have a microphone and will explain what s/he is doing while making the sourdough, so you get to learn about the food and then go inside and enjoy some of it.

6. Instead of visiting the sea lions, make a morning or afternoon of it and see all the street performers. The sea lions are cool. They are large and loud and smelly and kind of mean, but it is neat to see how they have taken some of Pier 39 and made it their own. If you are in the city and facing Pier 39, go to the farthest left side, behind the last row of stores. There is a boardwalk back there that is not too crowded and will take you straight to the sea lions. Enjoy taking pictures of them, then head back toward the rest of Fisherman's Wharf and take in the various street performers. If you tip them, most street performers will gladly pose for a picture with you. This way you can see lots of interesting life native to the city, all in one day!

17 June 2015

Preparing for Pride at #ALAAC15

ALA is in San Francisco over the weekend of June 27th.  Pride weekend, including the pride parade, is also over that weekend. This will make the ALA conference a lot busier, sparklier, and definitely more interesting.  Here are my tips for surviving Pride week in San Francisco:

1. Prepare for Crowds. Do not, let me repeat, DO NOT drive into the city over the weekend.  If you are staying in the city, use public transit and leave your rental at the hotel. If you are staying outside of the city, park at a BART station and use BART to get into the city. Traffic will be a hot mess and it's not worth the headache to have your car with you.

2. Prepare for Delays.  It will be crowded, probably obnoxiously so.  If, like me, you do not like crowds of people, plan breaks into your day when you can duck into a coffee shop or get a breather somewhere quiet. Bring your headphones and listen to something calming.

3. Prepare for Sparkles. There will be lots of glitter and lots of flamboyantly dressed people celebrating Pride. There will also be people not wearing much of anything at all. You will see a wide variety of people, and I advise you to simply enjoy your day and have fun people-watching.  If, however, you wish to take someone's picture and they are not, for example, marching in the pride parade or otherwise put themselves officially "on display," it doesn't hurt to ask first before taking photos.  Most people won't mind, especially if they spent a lot of time on their costume, but it's always polite to ask.

4. Prepare for Sunburn.  You can and will get sunburned even if it's a little cloudy.  Bring sunscreen and wear it.  You'll thank me later.

If you want to join in on the Pride festivities, the bulk of the events will be happening near the main library and city hall.  I would be remiss if I did not also mention Trans Pride, which will be held at Dolores St. between 18th and 19th, and the Dyke March which will rally at Dolores and 18th.

It will be crazy. It will be crowded and loud and busy. The opportunity to see Pride Weekend in San Francisco is a once-in-a-lifetime thing for many people, though, so if you aren't planning to be back here in June next year, enjoy seeing the sights and watching people celebrate.  It will be a fun, sparkly, glittery, leathery weekend.

15 June 2015

Things to do Before and After #ALAAC15

So you've finally made it to the west coast, and either before or after ALA you have a day or so to spare.  Lucky for you, there are lots of things to do within an easy day's drive of the Bay Area!

1. Avenue of the Giants. You've heard of the giant redwood trees that grow in California, but you haven't really seen them until you've driven this fifteen-mile stretch of old highway that goes through the redwood forests. You will see tall trees, old trees, wide trees, trees that by themselves have been made into cabins, trees you can drive through. There are many places to pull off the road and just walk in the forest among trees that are hundreds of feet tall and very, very old.

2. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. Big Sur is at the lower end of the range of redwood forest, and the drive down to the park is absolutely breathtaking. The park itself boasts numerous hiking trails and is located very near the beach with purple sand. It's definitely worth visiting.

3. Gilroy. The town of Gilroy is the garlic capital of the world, but it is also home to a very large outlet mall as well as numerous roadside fruit stands. It's worth a drive to Gilroy just to stop at a fruit stand and eat fresh-picked strawberries or try chocolate garlic ice cream.

4. Jelly Belly Factory. I would be remiss if I did not mention the Jelly Belly Factory. There is a free tour available where you can learn about the process of making jelly beans, and there's also a sample bar where you can try any flavor of jelly bean that Jelly Belly produces.

5. Hillmar Cheese Company. The Hillmar Cheese company offers a tour and also cheese tasting at their factory, and they are located in a beautiful area surrounded by farms.

6. Cavern Tours. If you like caves, this is a great place to visit. It's far enough from the Bay Area that you will feel like you are in your own world and you'll get to commune with nature in a nice, cool cave.

7. Eureka. Eureka is a beautiful small town in Northern California which plays host to the Kinetic Sculpture Races every year. The races have already passed this year, but the town still has lots of cute shops and a beautiful waterfront.

8. Ghirardelli Factory. If you can't get enough chocolate, visit the Ghirardelli Factory in San Leandro. There is a small outlet store attached to the factory where you can purchase Ghirardelli chocolate at extremely low cost. This is a great opportunity to stock up on gifts.

12 June 2015

Things to Do Between Sessions at #ALAAC15

This is the Bush Man. He's worth a trip to Fisherman's Wharf.
So, the sessions are done for the day, or haven't started yet, or your chosen session got cancelled? Not to worry - there are plenty of fun things to do and see in the city.

1. Golden Gate Park.  Without hesitation, this is my favorite place to go in the entire city. The park is three and a half miles long, so there's lots to see, and if you start on the eastern end of the park (the "panhandle"), you can walk all the way through to see the ocean! Also, there are bison living within the park, but I leave them for you to discover.

2. Green Apple Books. Who doesn't love a good book store? Green Apple Books is a store that has expanded into two store fronts, and a visit inside will show that the store works a lot like Ron Weasley's house - there are lots of strange nooks and crannies and stairways and secret areas.  It's really easy to get lost in this store looking for all the treasures.

3. Popos.  Privately owned, public open spaces are available all over downtown San Francisco. Many buildings are required to have this type of space, be it a roof top garden or a lovely cafe, and you are allowed to ask to be shown the Popo in any downtown building.

4. Mini Parks and Slides.  Not every mini park has a slide, but there are scores of mini parks scattered throughout the city.  Some of them are squeezed between residential buildings, and if you don't know what to look for, you might miss them.

5. City Hall. Right across from the main library is City Hall, which at night will be lit with rainbow colors in honor of Pride Month. Inside, however, you can find the head of the original statue that stood at the peak of the city hall building before the 1906 earthquake.  It's in a case, and it kind of looks like the Face of Bo, even if it doesn't talk.

6. Vibrator Museum. Yes, you read that correctly.  At the Good Vibrations store on Polk Street there is a small museum dedicated to the history of the vibrator.  It's free, so why not check it out?

7. The Bush Man. The Bush Man, or more specifically, his successor, is a man who gathers tree branches, then sits in the middle of the sidewalk and scares people as they walk by.  No, I am not making this up.  If you go down to the Wharf, you'll see people lined up along both sides of the street, watching the Bush Man scare people. The original Bush Man worked this same area for years, and it's rumored he was able to finance his children's college education solely from the tips he received from tourists and other passerby.

10 June 2015

Getting Around in SF #ALAAC15

I don't recommend this form of transport. 9 miles per hour and $6 per ride. Not worth it.
So, once you arrive in San Francisco (aka "the city" but never, ever Frisco or San Fran), how do you get around?

1. Walking.  Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to walk.  The city itself is only seven miles by seven miles, and chances are pretty good that you won't have to go that far.  Be prepared for hills, though.  Some of them are steep enough that you'll wonder if you're going to fall over.  So if you don't want to walk, instead you could ride the ...

2. Bus.  The transit system in the city is called MUNI (MYOO-nee).  You can get pretty much anywhere in town using the buses.  Google maps will even tell you where bus stops are, what bus to take, and how many stops to ride until you reach your destination.  A ticket for Muni is $2.25, but you can also get a Muni "passport" that will allow you unlimited rides for a particular number of days. For ALA attendees, I highly recommend the Muni passport.  If you fly into the city, you can pick up a passport at the airport. And speaking of airport, to get from there to the city, you should take ...

3. BART.  This stands for Bay Area Rapid Transit, and it's kind of like a subway.  There are BART stops within the city, down the Peninsula, and into the East Bay. If you haven't figured out your hotel situation yet, find one near a BART station outside the city and take BART to come in.  You can purchase tickets for BART at any BART station, and the price varies depending on how far you are planning to travel.  It's very easy to ride BART, but it will be crowded during rush hour.  So if you're in a big hurry you can always hail a ...

4. TAXI. Call a cab.  Stick your hand out and wave one down on a busy street.  Or call for one.  The most common company's number is (415) 333-3333, which is really easy to remember. If you can tell them what intersection or hotel you're at, they'll come get you, and since the city is pretty small, it'll be fairly inexpensive to get where you're going.

I do not recommend driving within the city.  Parking is horrendous and there are lots of bicycles and pedestrians and buses and all manner of things to deal with. I live here and I still don't drive within the city unless it's unavoidable. If you think you'll have a lot of free books and other swag to carry, I recommend taking a cab or parking your car at a BART station outside the city and then lugging your things that way.

08 June 2015

Where to Eat at #ALAAC15

See #10 below for info on the Giant Donut of Doom.
The American Library Association's annual conference is finally going to be in my neck of the woods this year!  I am excited that I can attend ALA without having to travel and that librarians will be descending upon the Bay Area. The most recent edition of the American Libraries magazine even has an article suggesting places to eat in the city.  I'm sure they're good suggestions, but of the restaurants listed, I have only heard of one and I've never eaten in any of them.  Not only that, but those few restaurants will be very crowded if everyone from ALA decides to eat at them.  With all that being said, here are my suggestions of places you should eat if you come to ALA this summer in San Francisco:

1. Darbar. This tiny little restaurant has the best Indian food in the city. They have a weekday lunch buffet that is very reasonably priced, and they also offer carry out and dine in options for dinner. This is the one restaurant I take everyone to when they come to visit me in the city.

2. Giorgio's. Giorgio's is an Italian restaurant that serves big helpings of classic Italian foods. The restaurant is adorable, with its red-and-white checked tablecloths and friendly waitstaff. It's also conveniently located on Clement Street, which offers a variety of shopping and wandering options for those who wish to escape the ALA and Pride crowds.

3. The Tonga Room. Looking for something adorably kitschy? Look no further. The Tonga Room is located in the Fairmont Hotel and boasts a Hawaiian-themed menu and tiki-esque atmosphere. The restaurant is centered around the old hotel swimming pool, which now plays host to a pontoon where live music is played every night. The Tonga Room fills up quickly, though, so call for reservations now.

4. The Stinking Rose. If you like garlic and don't have time to visit Gilroy, the Stinking Rose is a good restaurant to eat at. They serve Italian food with a healthy dose of garlic, so make sure you have some mints in your pocket for afteward.

5. The Crepe House. This is a great place to stop for a quick savory or sweet crepe. It's also conveniently located on Polk St., which has a variety of coffee shops and small businesses and is a great place to wander off the beaten path.

6. Tony's Cable Car. Diner-style food in an adorable cable car, this is a cash-only restaurant, so make sure to stop by an ATM before you show up.

7. Toy Boat Dessert Cafe. Ready for dessert? Stop by the toy boat, a tiny ice cream shop located on the corner of Clement St. and 5th Avenue. The shop is decorated with vintage toys and is not to be missed.

8. Polly Ann Ice Cream. Speaking of ice cream, if you are indecisive, I recommend Polly Ann's Ice Cream Shop. Located on the corner of 39th Avenue and Noriega, this little shop has a wheel you can spin if you don't want to choose what flavor to eat.

9. Swenson's Ice Cream. The original Swenson's is on Hyde St., and the line that can stretch out the door is an indication of exactly how good their home-made ice cream is. This is a great place to stop by once you've visited Lombard Street.

10.  Bob's Donuts. I would be remiss if I didn't mention Bob's Donuts, another small donut shop on Polk Street between Clay St. and Sacramento St. In addition to the standard variety of donut, they also serve giant donuts, which are worth gawking at and possibly eating if you have some friends to share with.

There are also scores of tiny coffee shops and other hole-in-the-wall restaurants that are great to eat at. Each neighborhood in the city has its own flavor and style, and it will be easy to find a variety of places to eat when you are here. You will not find many fast-food chains within the city, and that's not a bad thing: while you're here, please sample some of the local cuisine.