"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

22 December 2016

It's the End of the Year as We Know It

My teens all insisted that we needed to have an end-of-the-year party in December, and I didn't necessarily disagree, although I didn't particularly want to go to the trouble of planning yet another special event. I could let the teens plan the event, but while they are great at coming up with ideas, their follow-through still needs some work.

What I did instead was allow them to make suggestions of things they would like at a party. This is the list I got from them:
hot chocolate
candy canes that are not peppermint flavored
chicken fighting
a bonfire
white elephant gifts

Many of these were reasonable things that I could accommodate in a library-sponsored event. Obviously a few of them had to be left off the final list. [Chicken fighting? Really?]

This is what we ended up with: I ordered pizza from a local restaurant and brought in hot chocolate, candy canes, and board games. We ate the pizza first, then did the "bobbing for candy canes" game that can be found on YouTube and is hilarious to watch. The scores from that game helped me pick the order for the white elephant gifts. After that we had plenty of time for more eating, playing board games, etc. It turned out most of the teens were perfectly happy chatting with each other and watching Epic Rap Battle videos on their phones. Some of them played Munchkin with me. Everyone had a good time, the food was all eaten, and no chickens were harmed. I call this a successful program.

20 December 2016

One Half from the East

Hashimi, Nadia. One Half from the East. HarperCollins, 2016.

Obayda's father lost one of his legs in an explosion, and his career as a police officer is over. Obayda's family moves to a small town to be closer to relatives. While there, Obayda's aunt suggest that Obayda become a bacha posh, a girl who dresses and acts as a boy. It's hoped that Obayda - now Obayd - can bring some good "boy luck" to the family. At school, Obayd meets another bacha posh and they both wonder if maybe they can just stay boys forever.

This was a fascinating story to me. I've never heard of the bacha posh practice before, and it was interesting to see it through Obayda's eyes as she was given freedoms suddenly and privileges like having the largest portion at meals and being free from chores. I can imagine it would be difficult to give all of that up and go back to presenting female again. This is a great look at another culture and would be easy to recommend to tweens and teens as well.

Recommended for: tweens
Red Flags: a violent explosion causes Obayda's father to lose his leg; there is a warload who basically runs the small town where they live and he often threatens violence toward others
Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

Read-Alikes: If You Could Be Mine, The Garden of My Imaan, A Long Walk to Water

15 December 2016

Star Wars Programming Jedi Training Camp

This year I was able to hold a Jedi Training Camp at my library. We did this in early December before the release of the newest Star Wars movie. I knew people would be thinking about and talking about Star Wars this December, so I planned this event even though there are lots of holiday-related things going on in the community.

Several months before this program, I contacted the 501st Legion to see if they could attend my event. The 501st is a group of adults who have movie-quality Star Wars costumes that they wear to parades, library events, etc. Their time is valuable, though, so I wanted to make sure to get my request in before they were booked.

The program itself cost very little. We used black butcher paper and some gold-foil stars that we already had to make a backdrop for a photo booth area. We also displayed our Star Wars books (all of which were checked out by the end of the day) and had a Star Wars themed scavenger hunt. I regularly do scavenger hunts in my library, so none of this was that unusual. A volunteer made giant origami Star Wars ships, which we hung from the ceiling. He also made us a giant origami Jabba, which we placed in the entryway. Again, none of this cost us anything - we just used materials we already had around.

For the day of the event, I cut pool noodles in half so that kids could make light sabers out of them. We wrapped one end of the pool noodle in grey duct tape to make a hilt, then I provided colored duct tape and electrical tape for kids to customize their hilt. I spent maybe half an hour cutting pool noodles in preparation for this event, and we bought the pool noodles at the end of summer when they were on clearance at the dollar store, so we were able to get two full boxes of pool noodles for about $12. We already had duct tape on hand for teen programming, so I didn't need to purchase any more.

I also created a "training course" for the kids to go through once they made their light saber. I used materials we already had in the library and didn't purchase anything special. First, kids had to walk across a series of boards single file, as that's the way that sand people walk. Then they had to crawl through the trash compactor - this was an area of our library that I filled with crumpled paper, balls from our toy collection, paper cups, and building blocks. I even threw in a monster puppet to be the trash monster. After getting out of the trash compactor, kids crawled through a tunnel to Yoda's Hut. I used the play tunnel we pull out during baby story time for this. Then they hopped on paper "rocks" I had taped to the ground so they could get out of the swamp. Finally, it was time to destroy the Death Star. The Death Star was a giant piece of cardboard cut in a circle and covered in grey paper. We cut a hole in it and kids threw beanbag "thermal detonators" at it to destroy the Death Star.

This is our trash compactor.

Combine the obstacle course with the light sabers and the addition of the 501st Legion, and we had a very successful program. Saturday mornings are usually very quiet for us, but our library was packed to the gills and everyone had a great time.

I highly recommend doing Star Wars themed programming, and doing so without purchasing a ton of supplies. Kids have great imaginations and are very happy with simple things. With a bit of creative thinking, you can turn your library into a training camp as well.

Even our visiting Jedi tried to destroy the Death Star.

13 December 2016

Weeding: It's Not Just for Books

Ah, weeding. Some librarians love it; some librarians dread it. It's important for us to weed our print collections so that there is room on the shelf for new books and so those new books are easier to find. This is something we're taught, directly or indirectly, at library school, and most libraries have a weeding schedule that they may or may not choose to follow in order to keep their print collections looking up to date.

But what about programs?

Like books, programs can be very popular when they are started, and like books, they can become dated. It's important to weed your programs just as you weed your books.

For example, My library has had a tween book club for several years. Kids in grades 3-6 can pick up a copy of the book, then once a month we meet together to discuss the book and do a related craft. Sounds fun, right? And it is fun. At the outset there were 8-10 kids who regularly attended this program, and that size group made it so that everyone could contribute to the discussion and enjoy the craft without being overwhelmed by crowds.

Then the numbers dwindled, and kept dwindling until we had only two kids show up for two months, and then only one kid for three months after that. I could have chosen to keep the program going. I do love book club, and I love discussing books, but I had to think about my community and whether this was the best way to serve them. I also had to consider the amount of time I invested into the program. A book club took a lot of my time: time to read the book, plan a craft, find appropriate discussion questions. I don't mind investing this time, but to do so when only one child will show up seems like a poor use of resources.

In the end I have chosen to eliminate the tween book club, even though it's one of my favorite programs, and we're replacing it with a Pokemon club, which has already sparked interest among our school-aged patrons. The same age range of kids will likely come to the Pokemon club, but hopefully I'll be able to serve more than one or two patrons at this monthly event.

Adding new programs to your calendar is a great idea, but make sure to remove old ones that aren't well attended anymore. This not only will save your time at work but will also make sure your patrons have good options to choose from when deciding whether to attend a program.

08 December 2016

Top Ten Books of 2016

It's that time of year again! In no particular order, here are my top ten books of 2016:

  1. Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake
  2. Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown
  3. Afterward by Jennifer Matthieu
  4. The Girl who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
  5. My Life with the Liars by Caela Carter
  6. Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray (the audiobook version of this is excellent!)
  7. Illuminae by Amie Kaufman (the audiobook version of this is also excellent!)
  8. Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian
  9. Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein 
  10. The Summer Nick Taught His Cats to Read by Curtis Manley
What about you? What is your favorite book from this year?

06 December 2016

Getting Judgy

In a former life, before I became a librarian, I was an English teacher. One year I came up with the idea that our students should have a Young Authors Contest at school where all junior and senior high students would submit a piece to be judged, and prizes would be awarded to the best works.

Then I realized someone would have to read all of these stories in order to choose the best one, and I nearly lost it because no English teacher on earth has time to spare for bonus reading like that. Thus I came up with a system that has served me well when I've had to find the "best of" or candidates for the "best of" in a pile of stories, books, artwork, etc.

I call it Judging via Sturgeon. Sturgeon's Law posits that "ninety percent of everything is crap," which seems to hold true, for the most part. There are very few stand out movies, books, etc. That's why the good ones stand out. I keep Sturgeon in mind when evaluating for awards because even if I have five hundred entries, only one (or two or whatever) will actually win.

When I was teaching, I was given an entire grade level's worth of stories to read. I was supposed to pick the top three or the top five or something like that, and someone else would read those and choose the best one. This means that 95% of what I was reading was not going to win. So I quickly eliminated stories that used poor grammar or had multiple misspellings or did not grab me in the first paragraph. This doesn't necessarily mean they weren't good stories, but they weren't the BEST, and I was supposed to find the best.

Now as a librarian I have served on ALA's Stonewall Book Award Committee. I am also a judge for the 2016 CYBIL awards. In both cases I have been handed a giant stack of books and asked to choose the best ones, and in both cases I have used Sturgeon's Law once again.

When it comes to books, I give them a fifty-page test. If the first fifty pages compel me to keep reading, that's good. If not, then they go into the "definitely no" or "probably no" pile. The "probably no" pile gets an additional fifty pages. If an average book, which is probably around 400 pages, can't keep my attention or compel me to read after the first 25%, it's unlikely that will change later on, and I'd hate to say to people, "This book is really great, but you have to get to page 243 before it gets there."

Since I'm reading to judge for awards and not for personal pleasure, a book has got to be pretty good to pass the one hundred page mark. For each of these awards I've read over one hundred books, and there's simply no time for me to completely read every single one of those books, but there will be some standout books that will require slow reading or rereading or perusing of reviews and opinions of others. Those few books end up on a shortlist, which I use to make my recommendations. This helps maintain my sanity and prevents my eyeballs from falling out of my head from overuse.

How about you? Do you have any tips for quickly eliminating books from a list? Let me know in the comments!

01 December 2016

Holding Up the Universe

Niven, Jennifer. Holding Up the Universe. Knopf BYR, 2016.

Libby was once called "America's Fattest Teen" and had to be removed from her house via crane because she couldn't fit through the door. That was several years and over 300 pounds ago, and now she's going back to high school. Jack is a stereotypically popular jerk of a guy who cannot remember people's faces and has managed to keep this hidden from those around him. Jack and Libby fall in love.

I agree with others that it's pretty much impossible to believe that Jack has hidden his prosopagnosia from his family, especially since he believes it began due to head trauma when he was young. The bullying and teasing and whatnot is believably typical. Other than that, this does seem to be a story where the two teens have problems just to make their romance more fantastic. Libby is not well-rounded enough, and Jack is too much of a jerk. It's a book where nothing happens and then nothing happens and then insta-love happens. My teens will love it, but I'm not impressed.

Recommended for: teens
Red Flags: bullying, fat shaming, underage alcohol and drug use
Overall Rating: 2/5 stars

Read-Alikes: All the Bright Places, Butter, 45 Pounds