Summer Scavenger Hunts

8 Aug
My avatar on summerreading.org.  If I look ticked off, it's probably because a cartoon barista slipped cartoon me a cartoon decaf.

My avatar on summerreading.org. If I look ticked off, it’s probably because a cartoon barista slipped cartoon me a cartoon decaf.

I am quite savvy to the fact that many of your Summer Reading programs across the U.S.A. are finished for 2014.  Here in NYC, we are just two ticks past the halfway point.  We’ll be in business until the end of August.

I have to say, however, that Summer Reading at my new branch has been downright….pleasant.  And manageable.  I actually took a little vacation time last month.  Gentle readers, in my 17-year career, I have NEVER taken a vacation during the months of July or August.  EVER.  Rather, my M.O. has always been to run myself ragged until September, and then after Labor Day I would say, ‘Sayonara, y’all.  See you in two weeks.’

Vacation in July.  A girl could get used to this…

I have been preparing a lot of children’s scavenger hunts this summer (I gave them a high-voltage name, The Extra-Awesome Williamsburgh Library Summer Scavenger Hunt Challenge!).  Every couple weeks, I issue a list of 10 items to track down.  Half of them are located inside the library, and the other half are either found at home or out in the neighborhood.  Working in partnership with parents and grown-ups is not only allowed, but encouraged.  Participants are instructed to return to the library with their completed lists to receive a prize (books and publishers swag that has been collecting around the branch).

What I especially enjoy about scavenger hunts– whether doing them or writing them– is that they get you to look more closely at your surroundings.  Your eyes are peeled trying to locate that yellow flower on your list, and along the way, you notice the pink flowers on the tree in the park or the Kleenex box with yellow daisies  on the top shelf of the corner bodega.  Scavenger hunts are also a dandy way to steer patrons towards what’s new and interesting in your library.

Here’s the scavenger hunt I released a couple of weeks ago.  As you can see, I the items on the list are a blend of the concrete and the open-ended.

Part One:  These items can be found inside the library or in library books located in the Children’s Room

1.  Find the library’s photocopy machine. (we got a snazzy new photocopier that week and I wanted to show it off).

This new machine does EVERYTHING.  The old one's cover was held in place by a paper clip.

This new machine does EVERYTHING. The old one’s cover was held in place by a paper clip.

2.  Find a portrait of a man with a beard

Our builder, Andrew Carnegie.

Our first benefactor, Andrew Carnegie.

3.  Count how many chairs are in the Children’s Room and write the number here   _______

Pick a book.  Any book.

Pick a book. Any book.

4.  Write down the name of any children’s book written in Spanish

______________________________
Name of Book

5.  Find a book with the word Picnic in the title and write down the name of the book and the author.

_________________________        _________________________
Name of Book                                                     Author

Part Two:  These items are found in your home or out in the community (but please do not go scavenger hunting out in the neighborhood without your grown-ups!).

6.  A fire hydrant.  What street did you find it on?  _____________________________________

7.  A paperclip.  Tape it in the box.

8.  A bottle cap.  Tape it in the circle.

A couple of completed scavenger hunts brought in by kids.  I am thinking of having them tape ketchup packets to the next one.

A couple of completed scavenger hunts brought in by kids. I am thinking of having them tape ketchup packets to the next one.

9.   Listen to the wind or a breeze go through some trees.  Write down one word you think describes that sound.  ________________________________ (I got the idea for this  from this post about a sound scavenger hunt inspired by Dr. Seuss.  Some words kids wrote in to describe this sound were, ‘whooshy’, ‘ ‘soft’, and ‘peaceful’.) 

10.   Find something with a tail.  What is it?  ________________________

Everyone wrote down 'dog'.  I was hoping at least one child would come in with 'iguana'.

Everyone wrote down ‘dog’. I was hoping at least one child would come in with ‘iguana’.  Oh well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve done some library instruction types of scavenger hunts in previous years and someday soon I’ll pull them out and share them here.  If you’ve done library scavenger hunts, share your ideas in the comments.  I’m trying to stay easy, breezy, and fun with the summer scavenging.  I also wanted to tie together library space and neighborhood space in my lists. You might be interested in dipping your toe into self-directed programming at your library.  A scavenger hunt is a great way to start.  Type it up, print it out, and pass around copies liberally (or just leave a stack somewhere eye-catching in the library) .  You don’t have to hand out prizes.  Give kids who complete it a high-five if that works for you.  Happy hunting!

~Catherine

We Aren’t Going Anywhere Until We Look at Some Links

22 Jul
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Hullo!  I hope everyone is managing through their Summer Readings, if not with grace and aplomb, then at least by taking advantage of the Fizz! Boom! Read! theme and making things explode.  I for one have pledged to set off at least one Diet Coke and Mentos geyser at my library before Labor Day.  If you want to join me, maybe we can set a date and time and do it together.  Coke Geysers Across America! Who’s in?

Anyone?

[crickets]

Anyway…

I believe it’s time for a good old-fashioned link roundup.  I’ve come across some interesting and weird stuff over the past few days, and I’m going to write it up before it becomes last week’s news.  Pour yourself a glass of sweet tea, find a nice shady spot, and enjoy!

*  Public Libraries and Summer Meals Programs: I learned back in April that my branch was chosen to be a NYC Summer Meals lunch site this year.  I was very pleased.  Besides providing mid-day nutrition to neighborhood kids during the summer months, I figured it would also draw children into the library who were not otherwise using it.  We could work with them on their library cards, sign them up for Summer Reading, steer them towards programming and self-directed activities, and just demonstrate that the library is a lovely and welcoming place where they can have fun and get fed, no questions or strings attached.  If you are interested in hosting a Summer Meals program in your library (or putting together a proposal you can take your library administrators), SLJ is on it.  Check out their article, Libraries Needed to Host Summer Meals Programs.  Here’s How to Help.

*  Stand By Your Summer Reading Lists!: There are a few people who work at the Brooklyn Public Library I would readily say are ‘feisty’.  Rita Meade makes the list, and that’s a compliment.  Here’s the skinny.  Local rag The NY Post publishes an editorial, The New York Public Library’s Pathetic Summer Reading List for Kids in which the author (1) waxes nostalgic for the classics of her youth;  (2) harangues about titles that feature diverse characters; and (3) simultaneously takes the list to task for being politicized, but also fluffy and unchallenging.  Enter Rita, who in this piece on Book Riot, combs through the  editorial paragraph-by-paragraph and thoughtfully refutes this so-called pathetic-ness once and for all.

*  Speaking of BPL…: We’re hiring some children’s and YA librarians.  If you’re in town this Thursday or Saturday, stop by one of our job fairs with your resumes and smiling faces.

blastoff*  The 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing is this week.  Back in May of this year, Brain Pickings had a fascinating post about a visionary picture book published in 1973.  Called Blast Off!, it is the story of an African American girl named Regina who wants to be an astronaut.  She gets some pushback, but only from kids in her neighborhood who don’t know what astronauts are.  No one is saying Regina can’t be one because she’s a girl or she’s non-caucasian.  Blast Off! was written by two women writers, Linda C. Cain and Susan Rosenbaum, and was illustrated by a husband-and-wife pair you may be familiar with…

blastoff4

blastoff7

Moon Over StarYup, that’s Leo and Diane DillonBlast Off! is long out of print, but I can recommend an equally heartwarming title set in July, 1969 that also features an African-American girl inspired by the Moon Landing.  I’m talking about The Moon Over Star, published in 2008 and written by Dianna Hutts Aston and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney.  If you never read it, your homework this week is to pull it off the shelf and prepare to wipe away a tear (or two).

*  I like to joke (at least in my head) that when you open the Books category in Buzzfeed, the posts break down as follows: 40% are about Harry Potter, 40% are about The Fault in Our Stars, and the remaining 20% covers everything else.  I’m going to cherry-pick a few images from this HP post, 22 Harry Potter Puns that Are So Bad They’re Good.  Because they cracked me up.  And because I am 10 years old.

HP Keeper

 

I am seriously considering doing this to the front door of my apartment.

I am seriously considering doing this to the front door of my apartment.

Chamber Pun

Some people think I have more coffee coursing through my veins than red blood cells.

Some people think I have more coffee coursing through my veins than red blood cells.

*  I am a longtime lurker and very rare commenter on the ALA Think Tank Facebook group.  Over the weekend, an ALATT-er posted this image:

Bukowski  Now the only things I know about Charles Bukowski are he was a Beat poet, he hung out with William S. Burroughs, he drank a lot, and Mickey Rourke played him in the movie.  However, I am well-acquainted with the work of  Bob Staake, and when I noticed he had a whole site devoted to these Bad Children’s Books, I went straight to Google.  Behold the weirdness (If you click through to the site, heads up. A lot of entries are not exactly…er…sensitive).  Here’s a (tame) sampling.

Bad Books 1Bad Books 2Bad Books 3

eloise-690*  I’ve obviously entered the realm of the bizarre, offensive and unsettling here, so I’ll wrap up this post with one more link in the same vein.  I give you Eloise: an Update by Carolyn Parkhurst, found on the New Yorker online.   Our girl is now 46 years old.  She no longer resides at THE Plaza, but has moved downtown, to the Crowne Plaza hotel in Times Square.  Skipperdee apparently was not one of those long-lived turtles because Eloise now shares her suite with a dog named McConaughey and her valet/personal assistant Manny. She still revels in hotel life and, being Eloise, has loads of friends to act amiably haughty towards.

Sometimes I talk to Mark-on-the-sidewalk, who sells fraudulent merchandise to tourists
I ask, “How’s business, Mark?”
and he says, “Hey, you want some comedy-club tickets? I can get you into Caroline’s, cheap,”
and I say, “Not today, thank you very much”
Ooh, I love love love Times Square!

Adulthood hasn’t been kind to Ms. E. (Defense Exhibit 1: she live in Times Square).  However, her exuberance and mischievous nature seem to be totally intact after 40 years.  I’ll leave it to you to decide if (a) that is too depressing to bear or (b) is something all of us who are staring middle-age in the face should celebrate.

If she were still with us, I think Kay Thompson would get a big kick out of this piece.

Until next time!

~Catherine

It Takes Blood, Sweat, and Pom-Poms to Re-Design a Children’s Room

23 May

As my legions 2 or 3 loyal readers already know, I left the children’s room of our Central Library in late October to take the helm of a branch library, the Williamsburgh Branch.  I decided almost immediately upon arriving that the children’s room was due for a major overhaul.  The space was crowded with furniture, practically none of it was child-sized, and the shelves were too high for children to reach the books they wanted.  It wasn’t comfortable or accessible and I noticed families were bypassing spending a lot of time in there.

True story.  I had a class of first graders visiting back in March.  As I shepherded them into ‘The Children’s Room That Should Look Like a Children’s Room, But Looked Like a Bank ca. 1913′ a boy in the class looked up at me and asked, “Isn’t this the adult room?”  Out of the mouths of babes, readers!  I told him to come back in a month or so to see how different the room was going to look.

I talk a lot about the library being a ‘destination’, a place valued within the community as somewhere to read, explore, discover, learn, be challenged, or find comfort and safety.  Talking is fine but it only goes so far.  What library patrons see and experience when they walk over the library threshold has a lot to do with how often they come back.  Granted, it’s not only space that bolsters these feelings of trust and value in the community.  It’s also having friendly, knowledgeable, and professional staff and volunteers.  And offering both core and innovative programs.  And making library services and policies clear and easy to navigate.  And the library experience can also be enjoyed digitally.  And…well the list goes on and on and on.

We’re dealing with space in this post, and it’s time for the big reveal of what we’ve done!  Below is the children’s room (yawn) as it used to be…

The Old Children's Room.  Ginormous tables everywhere you turn.

The Old Children’s Room. Ginormous tables everywhere you turn.

And here it is last Tuesday!  We still have some work to do, but it is definitely sporting more of a Children’s Room vibe.

Voila!

Voila!

Let’s go into more detail, shall we?

Shelves

Every shelf in the room was adjusted downward so children can see what they contain.  Previously, the bottom shelves were not housing books, but they were at least 18 inches in height.  It inevitably made the top shelves unreachable to all but the most vertically endowed.  Some of the top shelves were at my eye-level, and I am a tall lady, 5 foot 10.

A paper towel roll fills in here as a visual aid.

A roll of paper towels illustrates this shelf’s change of height.

After the downward shift, I whipped up shelf labels using a similar technique to the ones I made for the adult room.  I started with a rectangle in Microsoft Publisher which I gave a funky checkerboard border.  The lettering is Word Art where I removed the fill color and made the outlines thick and black.  Then I pulled out the colored pencils and went to work.

E Reader Sign

Picture Book Label

Shifting all of those shelves downward was strenuous enough.  Happily, we did not have to move the collections around too much.  We did weed the non-fiction to make room for the children’s DVD’s, which were previously shelved at the end of the adult DVD collection.  I’ve always wanted a DVD sign made with discarded DVD’s.

DVD shelves

DVD Closeup

Ooh, shiny!

Finally, we removed the parenting books from the adult non-fiction collection (I have big plans for adult non-fiction.  Stay posted!) and set them up in the children’s room.

Parenting Books

We kept these shelves at a grown-up height.

Furniture

The massive rectangular tables in the Before picture above were 3 feet by 6 feet and stood 3 1/2 feet tall.  They took up a lot of real estate in the children’s room and I wouldn’t be surprised if your average six-year-old perceived something like this upon approaching them…

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

We swapped out these tables for round ones with a smaller surface area.  One of our branches was renovating its own children’s room (Stone Avenue: take a look at this New York Times article for a history lesson and to see how beautifully it turned out).  We pounced on a couple of toddler sized table and chair sets they were giving away, and along with an Eric Carle carpet we already had, we created a First Five Years space by the picture books.  We plan to introduce more toys and sensory/literacy activities in the future.

FFY

More toys coming soon.

More toys coming soon.

Fireplace Reading Nook

Here’s the part of the re-design that I am most pleased with.  It’s an area in front of the fireplace that we turned into a reading nook.

Fireplace Nook

The couch and table were brought down from the staff area.  It is not the most charming couch out there in the world of library furniture, but it is sturdy and comfortable and it’s what we had on hand.

Don't hate on my couch.

Don’t hate on my couch.

The garland is images of books glued onto cardboard, and the lettering and stars are some glitter stickers we had lying around.

Fireplace Garland 1

Fireplace Garland 2

The items on top of the mantel are objects and mementos from well-known children’s books.  We have:

  • A framed picture of Beezus’ candy dragon from Beezus and Ramona.

Beezus Dragon

  • Jack’s notebook from The Magic Tree House series.

Jack's Notebook

  • Framed family pictures.

Fireplace Portraits

  • This Horton Hears a Who needlepoint sampler involved neither needle or thread.  It was all done on the computer!  I downloaded a free cross-stitch font and typed the words against this image, which I set as a background in my document.  Print in color and it looks just like you spent hours lovingly embroidering every stitch yourself (not really…)

Horton Sampler

Here’s an image of the PDF, without glare or the reflection of my big head in the photograph above.

Horton Quote

  • A Hogwarts House Cup.  This is a stainless steel bowl, an empty packaging tape spool, and a plastic container used to hold paintbrushes that were slathered with 3 (maybe 4) layers of glitter and Mod Podge.  Super-glue a crest and nameplate printed out from the computer, and Vernon’s your uncle.

House Cup 1

House Cup 2

The House Cup dismantled.

The Final Decorative Touches

  • Remember the boring green lampshades?  My colleague Hanna glued glass marbles on them.  Now they look like cute bejeweled apple trees.

Lamps

  • Hanna’s the plant person.  She brought these down from the staff area (a lot of the staff area is being repurposed in the coming months and all this stuff needs new places to perch).  All of the plants are well out of reach of curious toddler hands.

Flowers

Trees

  • Finally, the coup de grace, pom-pom garlands!  The entire staff reports when we work on Saturdays.  There’s a lot of downtime, and one of the things we’ve been doing to fill it is string these pom-pom garlands.  We managed to make three strings that span the width of the ceiling.  I helped our custodian Randell hang them on a Tuesday morning (he did 95% of the work).  We thought it would be a peaceful time to do it, but it turned out to be a morning of constant interruption.  We had a team installing new phones, the fire inspector dropped in, and every single vendor in Brooklyn, NY decided they needed to make their deliveries to us that morning.  No matter.  We got it done and I feel happy and cheerful every time I look at our pom-poms.

pom 1

Pom-poms abandoned.  The doorbell must have rung for the 75th time that morning.

Pom-poms abandoned. The doorbell must have just rung for the 75th time.

Ignore the peeling paint and look at the pretty pom-poms.

Ignore the peeling paint and look at the pretty pom-poms.

pom 4

pom 5

pom 6

I am so happy we got this done before summer started and I am super-proud of our staff.  They came up with some great ideas and were more than willing to roll up their sleeves and help out with the dirty, physical work needed to get the work done (shifting those shelves wasn’t easy!)  So far our patrons are loving the couch and we’re getting a lot of complements on how pretty the room looks.  I’m noticing more families coming in, hunkering down, and reading together.  We’ll be tinkering and adding to what we’ve done, and taking away (I hate faded and dusty artwork.  Tear it down and put up something new to look at).  Thanks for following along!

~Catherine

 

 

Update: ‘Operation Make the Children’s Room Look Like a Children’s Room’

24 Mar
The Children's Room on March 14, 2014.  Take a good look, because it won't be this drab the next time I show it to you.

The Children’s Room on March 14, 2014. The only pops of color are the signs that instruct patrons not to eat in the library.  Take a good look.  The drab is being shown the door.

You guyz!  I wrote in my last post about the how the children’s room in my new branch looks like a bank and is completely devoid of child-appeal.  Even that doyenne of early 20th-century children’s librarianship in Brooklyn, NY, Clara Whitehill Hunt, would clutch her pearls and intone, ‘How dreadfully unsuitable!’ if she could see it (*historical note: Your blogstress has no idea if CWH wore pearls or was prone to exclamations of this nature.  She is taking fictional liberties, not because she’s protecting the innocent, but because it is fun.)

I met with my mini-committee last week to start talking about overhauling the children’s room and we came up with some really good stuff!  It is going to make a huge difference.

I started by passing around an article from Library Journal’s ‘Library By Design’ blog, How to Design Library Space with Kids in Mind.  I asked them to read it, and I  highlighted some phrases that particularly resonated with me:

Children appreciate good design, subtlety, and nuance.

Create simplicity, directness, and light.

Children are…sophisticated about design…give them something at which to look.

Positive memories will increase learning and the desire to return.

Then we did an exercise where I had us mentally move everything out of the room that can be moved (There are a number of fixed pieces that we cannot do anything about.  We’ll simply have to work around them.).  After that, we mentally moved furniture back in, banishing anything too bulky and adult-sized, and swapping in some pieces from other locations in the building.  What we came up with are a series of cozy nooks, while also increasing both open space and the number of available seats.

I am so impressed with my appointed mini-committee members, Hanna and Kathleen.  They came up with some terrific ideas, and without even reading the article that I sprang on them at the beginning of our meeting, they demonstrated in a number of ways that they were simpatico with its major themes…respect for children and their spaces.  Some choice quotes that originated from them are:

“We need to create some circular spaces to break up all these aisles and straight lines”

“These spaces need to look and feel like a living room”

“Energetic and accessible.  Those are two words we should try to achieve with this project”

Amen, Hanna and Kathleen!  A-to-the-men.  Anyway, here’s a decidedly un-artistic and not-true-t0-scale rendering of our plans.  That’s a soy sauce stain on the right side of the page.  I do my best drawings while wolfing down a veggie lo mein.

J Room Plan While most of our meeting was about re-arranging furniture, we also talked about decorations and the collections.  The collection will largely stay put, but we are moving the shelves downward to a level more accessible to the 4-feet and under set.  Our parenting and children’s DVD collections will move into the children’s room (which I hope will help their circ).  And we’ve already made a lot of progress on sprucing up the joint with color and decor.  But nothing on that at this time.  I’ll save it for the big reveal once we’re finished.

I think I should note here that this is totally a DIY effort.  My organization does not have the cash for a re-design, so we’re using only what we have on hand.  I dearly wish my branch had a Friends group who could buy funky couches and beanbag chairs like they have in the article shared above, but we don’t.  I am embracing a Kevin Costner, ‘If you build it, they will come’ mindset to this children’s room re-design.  Nothing we are doing is un-doable, or firmly set in stone.  I fully intend to let it evolve and change, and to get neighborhood families involved in those conversations.  But first I think we need to demonstrate that we know what their children need in a library experience, and that we are savvy enough to make it happen.

                                               ~Catherine

Signs, Signs, Everywhere There’s Signs

12 Mar

When I began this blog over the summer, I was firmly entrenched as a children’s librarian.  Then in October I made a transition and became a branch manager.  I still read a ton of children’s books, and while I have written a number of bookcentric posts, I have never wanted this to become a literature blog.  The blogs I enjoy most are about children’s programming and pushing the envelope (ie. putting the z before the y) in this library-o-sphere we all inhabit, and that’s a conversation I wanted to contribute to.

But here’s the deal.  I haven’t been doing a heck of a lot with children’s services since I began my new position.  In fact, I haven’t been up to much of anything that would make for interesting blog posts (the day I post about preparing staff schedules is the day I shut this operation down and check myself into a home for the Chronically Boring and Bureaucratic).  Please bear with me.  My new location has a ton of potential, and I am talking a big game about it becoming a vibrant gathering place and indispensable partner within the community.  I’ll write about it as it unfolds, and that’s an ironclad promise.

A small project I have been chipping away at is replacing signs and shelf labels, particularly in the adult room.  I create them as text boxes in Microsoft Publisher, which I print on color paper, cut out, and rubber cement onto pieces of cardboard (a cereal box I brought from home).  The primary font I used, Rod, is one I stumbled across by accident when I began designing these shelf labels, and it has since become a favorite.  I want our signs to be noticeable and stylish, but at the same time, not too big or ostentatious.  As you’ll see below, it is difficult for me not to get a little cheeky and whimsical.

The bulk of the collection in the adult reading room is fiction, and there are now 11 of these puppies affixed to the bookcases.

Fiction Label

We have one bookcase of large print books.

Large Print Label

Below is the sign that initiated the whole sign-making spree.  When I first arrived, there was nothing to indicate where the holds were housed.

Holds Label

DVD Label

The next two labels are pretty mod, and they complement each other.  I am scheming to eventually bring the non-fiction downstairs from the balcony where it currently resides.  We’ll probably set up the New Non-Fiction over there once the move has been completed.

New Books Label

Saving my favorites for last.  We have three bookcases of romance paperbacks (which circ like hotcakes).  Here’s the label on the first bookcase.

Romance Pbk Label

Then I put up these arrows on the two remaining cases, because after all, the love goes on and on.

Romance Arrow

Finally, we have the graphic novels.

Graphic Novels Label

That ‘Kapow!’ is in 3-D.  I came across the idea while browsing library display ideas in Pinterest.  The source is the In the Children’s Room blog.

Kapow label

So that’s what’s new and nifty in the adult reading room.  My Adventures with Microsoft Publisher don’t end there, however.  I’ve only been at this branch for four months, and my experience has been that programs are not much of a draw here.  My fingers are crossed that business will pick up when the weather gets warmer, but we’re also trying out new ways to build interest and awareness in the community.

I found we had an extra flannelboard, which I commandeered along with an easel.  Then I made the world’s skinniest banner in Microsoft Publisher, taped it to the top of the flannelboard, and thumbtacked program fliers on it.  I set the board up on the easel and put it in the front entrance where it’s the first thing patrons see when they walk through the door.

bulletin board

The board hasn’t increased program attendance, but I do notice a lot of patrons stopping to peruse it.  I’m patient.  If all it does at this point is illustrate that this specific library offers a variety of programs, then I’m satisfied.  We’ll continue publicizing programs through community and school outreach, and try to get those numbers up.   I think we’ll eventually have to adopt more drop-in and stealth types of programming instead of relying solely on programming with fixed dates and times.  But that’s another blog post for another day…

I’ll wrap up this post with a sneak peak of an upcoming project, a project I have given the title…

Operation 1

Operation 2

Operation 3

Operation 2

Operation 4

I really do refer to it this way in meetings and emails, but sans glitter.  Some history: the children’s room used to be on the second floor, but a couple of years ago, when it became too difficult to staff two floors, it was moved downstairs.  Here’s what it looks like now.  Like a bank, right?  A bank with scary masks in the windows.

Childrens Room

I think we're stuck with these lamps because they are affixed to the furniture.  Nothing says we can't stick stuff to them, though.  Right?

I think we’re stuck with these lamps because they are affixed to the furniture. Nothing says we can’t gussy them up, right?

The masks are the only decoration in the children's room.  They're in the picture book area, and I wouldn't be surprised some children find them scary.

The masks are the only decoration in the children’s room. They’re in the picture book area, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some children find them scary.

I have put together a mini-committee of myself, our children’s librarian, and one of our clerical staff.  We’re going to have our first meeting on Thursday to toss around ideas and get the process rolling.  I can’t wait!

~Catherine

I Found It! My Favorite Middle Grade Book of 2013!

16 Jan

finally found itSince 2010, I’ve experienced an interesting phenomenon in my reading life.  I’ll be borrowing books, perusing ARCs, and acting like your friendly, neighborhood bookaholic when, BAM, BAM, BAM! it hits me.  I’ll start one middle-grade book and I’ll KNOW before I finish it that here, HERE is the book I will champion above all others published this year.  It may not show up on a lot of ‘Best of…’ roundups or Mock Newbery lists, but that doesn’t matter a whit.  I found THE book that I am fondest of above all others, and no one’s reviews or award committee rejections will make a dent in my esteem for it.

I was starting to worry about 2013.  Although I had read many titles I enjoyed, nothing had yet hit me between the eyes like this.  I wondered if the streak was going to die out after only three years.  It turns out 2013 was merely procrastinating, hiding under a rock, because I finally found my darling of 2013 in late November.  Before I reveal it to you, however, I want to tease you share my faves from earlier in the 2010’s.  Click on the cover images to get to plot summaries from publishers’ and authors’ sites.

2010

Cosmic

‘Cosmic’ by Frank Cottrell Boyce

And you thought your adolescence was awkward, melodramatic, and occasionally reckless.  Liam is twelve years old and over 6 feet tall.  He already has facial hair.  Oh, and he’s also careening through outer space in a rocketship and he’s scared he will never make it home again.

2011

'Pie' by Sarah Weeks

‘Pie’ by Sarah Weeks

I have a sweet tooth that won’t quit, but I am especially partial to pie.  It is the king, queen, and jack of all desserts as far as I am concerned.  Indeed, the memory of Aunt Polly’s pie-making brilliance wafts throughout the pages of Pie, not unlike the aroma of baking fruit and cinnamon in an oven heated to 400 degrees.  Add a mystery, thievery, grief, an overweight and cantankerous cat named Lardo, and a funny riff on the Newbery Award…well, I ate it all up and enjoyed every bite.

2012

"The Adventures of Nanny Piggins" by R.A. Spratt (U.S. edition illustrated by Dan Santat)

“The Adventures of Nanny Piggins” by R.A. Spratt (U.S. edition illustrated by Dan Santat)

Combine the glamor and overblown vanity of a Miss Piggy with a family dynamic straight out of Mary Poppins, and what you get are the Nanny Piggins books.  Actually, author R.A. Spratt’s voice and comic timing often brought P.L. Travers to mind as I tore through The Adventures of Nanny Piggins.  I wonder if it’s an Australian thing.  However, whereas  Mary P. can occasionally open up a mythical fantasy world to the Banks children, Nanny P. does not possess similar abilities.  She just has a knack for getting in trouble and eating a lot of cake.

So there we are, three favorite books for the 2010’s.  I’m ALMOST ready to reveal the title that will join this splendid list.  Before I do, however, I’d like to continue jerking your chains engage in a little exercise where I outline some themes shared between the three titles above.  Take a look-see at the table below.  It may help you guess this year’s winner:

* No one in 'Pie' thinks Lardo the cat is especially lovable.  To the reader, however (especially this one), he is so disagreeable that it starts to be lovable.

* No one in ‘Pie’ thinks Lardo the cat is especially lovable. For the reader, however (especially this one),  disagreeableness is charming when you don’t have to deal with it in real life.

Cosmic is obviously the outlier in this list.  The 2013 mystery title (which ISN’T a mystery, by the way),  shares the funny, quirky, and parent issues traits of Cosmic.  However, like Pie and The Adventures of Nanny Piggins, it also boasts an endearing animal character and sweet treats (although the ones in this book are fried, not baked).  Any thoughtsAny guesses?

Alright, alright.  I’m done with drawing out the suspense (assuming you’ve read this far).  The book I adore above all others written in 2013 is…

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(I know I’m being a jerk, but keep scrolling.)

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(FANFARE!  Here it comes!)

Flora & Ulysses: An Illuminated Advventure by Kate DiCamillo; ill. by K.G. Campbell!!!

Flora and Ulysses

Before 2013, I would say my favorite novel by our newly-minted Ambassador of Children’s Literature has been The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.  That title is still very dear to me, and someday I’ll re-read it and figure out how it holds up against Flora & Ulysses.  It’s hardly a state secret that I love the funny books above all others, and Flora & Ulysses is a hoot and a half.  Successful humor books (such as, say, Cosmic, Pie, and Nanny Piggins) don’t let the humor run off the rails.  The jokes don’t overwhelm the cohesiveness of the story or the reader’s ability to connect with the characters.  Flora, observant , somewhat cautious, and a  ‘natural-born cynic’, balances Ulysses’ split-second exuberance upon discovering poetry! and superpowers! and Flora! and doughnuts!  (K.G. Campbell’s cheerful, comic-book styled illustration do a superb job of nailing down Ulysses’ lovableness).  Let’s just say that I read Flora & Ulysses with a big dopey grin plastered on my face.  I have also added, ‘Holy unintended consequences’ to my arsenal of catchphrases.

Welcome to my obscure little list, Kate DiCamillo.  I am curious to discover which book will be tapped to represent 2014.  If anyone comes across something that meets 3 out of 5 of the themes on my table (Funny, Quirky, Baked Goods, Parent Issues, Winning Animal Character), please get in touch with me as soon as possible.  Did you read anything in 2013 that you can proclaim as your Favorite-with-a-capital-F’?  Share it in the comments!

              ~Catherine

Another Handful of Links

19 Nov

I posted a link roundup on Friday, but I have a few more I’d like to add.

What Ratzan does is illustrate how Junie B. Jones exemplifies four properties of language: (1) Language follows rules; (2) Language is constantly changing; (3) Language is learned at special times and in special ways; and (4) Language is a reflection of social power.  Using examples from the books, she demonstrates how Junie B.’s s0-called sloppy grammar is actually quite smart and astute for a child of her age and experience.

The article made me realize that Barbara Park was a freaking genius.  She created a voice for Junie that rang authentic to her readers, and Junie’s hilarious misuse of the English language was an ongoing joke between those readers and Barbara Park.  No wonder kids love those books so much, and will continue to do so for a long time to come.

  • Back in September, I posted a link to a shirt.woot tee inspired by Ylvis’ YouTube smash hit, “What Does the Fox Say?” (230 million views and counting).  I proposed the shirt be adopted as the official storytime uniform of 2013.  After all, we can all name books where we’re reading along, making the appropriate animal sounds, and then we turn the page and there’s an animal for which we have to admit to our  audiences, “I have no clue what they sound like.”
I keep meaning to ask the good people at shirt.woot for royalties.  By far, there have been more clicks on this link than any other on my young blog.

I keep meaning to ask the good people at shirt.woot for royalties.  There have been more clicks on this link than any other on ‘Z Before Y’.  By far.

What Does the Fox SaySimon & Schuster has put two and two together and inked a deal with the Norwegian group to turn “What Does the Fox Say?” into a children’s book, which will be released here in the U.S. on December 10th.  Some background on the song: Ylvis recorded it at Jay Z’s Roc the Mic studio here in New York kind of as a lark.  Their mission, they say, was to produce the stupidest song on the most expensive equipment in the history of the music industry.  It appears they are taking the book more seriously.  Says Vergard Ylvisaker, one half of Ylyvis:

“[the book is]…much more than just a spin-off from the video. We actually started the process with the illustrator before we even uploaded the video to YouTube. As we were working with the song it just felt like it had the potential of becoming an interesting book as well, mostly because all of a sudden we found ourselves wondering what does the fox really say?” (source: The Guardian)

Maybe in Norway animals make ding-a-ring-ding sounds when no one is around to hear them.  But here in the U.S., the frogs, owls, bears, and turtles seem to prefer either some variation on, “La-la-la-la-la” or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle catchphrases.  Jbrary (whose new website looks terrific!) is one of my go-to resources when I need new storytime material.  Here are Lindsey and Dana doing a widely-loved storytime song, “Mmm, Ahh Went the Little Green Frog”, complete with jazz hands:

Then they offer a variation with a brown bear and a turtle who says, “Cowabunga, Dude!”

And then they give us a version for fall storytimes with verses about a Little Brown Owl and a Little Red Squirrel.  Full disclosure: I am responsible for bringing the owl song to their attention, but the ingenious addition of the little red squirrel verse is 100% Jbrary.

Thanks for reading, everyone.  Enjoy the rest of the week!

~Catherine

Wake Up, Kitty Cats, and Look at Some Links

15 Nov
Ya-ww-n!  This is one lynx who is ready for some links (photo source: wallpaperswa.com)

Str-e-tch!  This lynx is clearly ready for some hot links (photo source: wallpaperswa.com)

Hullo!  I’ve been dumping articles and and addresses into WordPress for a couple of weeks, and now I will share the bounty with all of you.  Happy scrolling!

  • I am hardly a snappy dresser.  All of my clothes are black, gray, and blue, and I own very little in terms of jewelry and accessories.  I never even got my ears pierced, for pete’s sake.  Show me a Tumblr of outfits inspired by Nancy Drew, though, and suddenly I am looking online for a cute cloche.  These outfits aren’t directly inspired by the Nancy Drew books, by the way, but by a series of Nancy online games produced by HeR Interactive.  No matter.  They look like something Nancy would wear on the covers of the original books from the 1930’s, the ones with the yellow spines.  (via Buzzfeed)
Nancy Drew Outfit

Outfit inspired by a Nancy Drew online game, ‘Message in a Haunted Mansion.’ Look at those cute oxfords!

  • This one is from a couple of months ago.  The always eccentric Lemony Snicket was a guest-judge on an episode of Top Chefs Masters on Bravo.  In his 12-minute appearance, he serenaded the celebrity chef contestants with his accordion, shared with the audience that his nickname in high school was Blood Turnip, and made florid, over-the-top pronouncements on the dishes he sampled.  Frankly, the chefs and the host looked irritated with him, and thought he was a bit of a whack-a-doodle.  They obviously can’t appreciate him like we do, right?  Judge for yourself, you’ll find the video at this link.  Mr. Snicket’s segment is the first one after the opening credits.
  • Picture Book MonthNovember is Picture Book Month! As its website states, “Picture Book Month is an international literacy initiative that celebrates the print picture book during the month of November”.  Every day they publish a short essay from an author, illustrator, educator, and picture book enthusiast on why picture books are important.  We are halfway through the month, and we have already been treated to posts from the likes of Tomie dePaola, Rosemary Wells, and Laura Vaccaro Seeger.  Looking through the site has certainly motivated me to join the celebration and shine a spotlight on picture books at my library before the end of November.  Illustrator Katie Davis, a Picture Book Month co-founder, gives us this lovely video of authors and illustrators answering the question, “What is a picture book?”

  • I’m still milking my success with all things Yoda.  First on the docket, a mashup of Dr. Seuss and Star Wars.  (via Affectdad)

Yoda SeussThen, although it has nothing to do with children’s books or libraries, I submit for your viewing pleasure a photo of a pig with an image of Yoda on its forehead. (via Richard Wiseman).

Yoda Pig

I’m a vegetarian, so jokes about Dagoban ham and bacon, I WILL NOT MAKE.

Image Source: Tiny Tips for Library Fun

Image Source: Tiny Tips for Library Fun

  • I don’t order books anymore.  My library system does centralized ordering for its branches, and only the divisions of our Central Library do their own ordering.  I don’t miss it (yet), and I am mostly satisfied with how responsive our collection is to our patrons (although I have not seen a single copy of Rick Riordan or any title from the  Diary of a Wimpy Kid oeuvre in the 3 1/2 weeks since I started at my new branch).   When I was in charge of purchasing children’s books for the Central Library, I came up with all sorts of rules, systems, and axioms for getting the most bang out of our book budget buck.  Thanks to Marge at Tiny Tips for Library Fun, I don’t need to type them out here.  She lays out her top poor selection practices in two installments of, “Top 12 Ways to Be a BAD Selector” (post 1 and post 2).  I am not 100% in following Marge’s words of wisdom, however.  I’ll own up to not weeding books by Canadian writer Brian Doyle for the longest time because I loved them, even though it was clear Brooklyn’s young readers could care less.  That’s a flagrant violation of Rule #8.
  • Cover Grimms MarchenLast year, Philip Pullman published an English translation of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.  Now there is a German edition that has translated Pullman’s English translation back into German (stay with me) and it has been illustrated with sculptures by Shaun Tan.  You don’t need to know a lick of German to recognize how fittingly Tan’s use of basic elements (sand, metal, clay) represents the dreamlike and emotionally charged strangeness of these classic stories.  Take a look. (via Educating Alice)
Hansel and Gretel

“Hansel and Gretel”

"The Fisherman's Wife"

“The Fisherman’s Wife”

  • Warby Parker, purveyors of those librarian-chic eyeglasses that all cost just 95 bucks, gives us this handy chart of Reading Positions.  I can vouch that The Inchworm (fig. 7), is pretty darn comfy, while The Modified Beyoncé (fig. 10) gives burying one’s nose in a book a certain dramatic flair.  (via Swiss Miss)
  • Warby Parker
    tree octopus

    Taking a trip to the Pacific Northwest? Don’t forget your tree octopus repellent.

    A ‘Z BeforeY’ post is incomplete unless I link to my dearest of colleagues, Ingrid.  Check out this post in which she tackles an all-too-common presumption: that kids and teens are naturals at sniffing out inaccurate, biased, or sloppy information when they search online.  Not so.  The internet may have been around since before they were born, but they are not being taught to scrutinize the integrity of the information they encounter online (And I mean that as a sweeping generalization.  I know there are communities that offer rigorous information literacy training to their students, but those are too few and too far in between).   Ingrid’s post provides some excellent resources ( The ‘Save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus’ has long been my favorite hoax site) AND she blows the cover off the great Brooklyn Public Library/Disappearance of Agatha Ann Cunningham Mystery.  Folks, it was all made up.  It never happened.  It sure fooled a lot of people, though.  Heh, heh, heh.

  • I’m going to wrap up with a book trailer for a new title that boasts a SQUEEEE! Factor that is off the charts.  It is Newborn Puppies: Dogs in Their First Three Weeks by Traer Scott.  Mr. Schu included it in a roundup of titles for holiday giving.  If you can make it through the video below WITHOUT bellowing out some iteration of, ‘Awwww!’ or ‘PUH-PEEES!’, you are a much less of a mush than yours truly.

All together, now.  PUH-PEEEEES!!!!!

                                                                                    ~Catherine

Favorite Flukey Finds: Scary Books Edition

28 Oct

Well, looky here! Just in time for Halloween, it’s the Scary Books Edition of… Fluke

First, some F3 background.  Over a year ago, I created a system to stop myself from reading nothing but middle grade fiction. I borrow and read a quota of books from all areas of the children’s collection (and one token YA title).  The system (and its rules) are outlined here in Favorite Flukey Finds #1.  I have a new pile of books sitting on my freshly-swept apartment floor, photo below.  Click on the photo to see the complete list.

Click on the photo to see a list of these titles.

Click on the photo to see a list of these titles.

What I do in Favorite Flukey Finds is choose a theme, and then shine a spotlight on three titles that fit the theme.  All titles in these F3 posts started out as random choices in one of my book-grabbing sprees.  When I actually read the books, however, I wound up going gaga over them.  These books are the epitome of happy accidents.  As always, the Fluke Factor rates my awareness of each title, on a scale of 1 to 5 flukes, before I took it home. 

The more cute, flatheaded fish, the more flukey a choice that book turned out to be.

Read ahead if you dare, because these aren’t just scary books.  They are Boo-ooo-ks!

The Smoky Corridor

1.  The Smoky Corridor by Chris Grabenstein (Middle Grade Chapter Book)

The third book in Grabenstein’s Haunted Mystery series gets down to business in the first chapter when 11-year-old Zack Jennings is told a gruesome story of two brothers and a teacher dying in a fire decades ago at Zack’s new middle school.  By the end of chapter 2, a witness is rubbed out by a heartless treasure-hunter.  Then the school janitor disappears, and while the staff and students have no idea what happened to him, the reader gets to witness his transformation into a zombie and his hunt for sustenance (what else but for BRAAA-II-NNS?).

I was happy to discover The Smoky Corridor because it goes for visceral scariness instead of atmospheric scariness.  Blood gets spilled in Grabenstein’s books, body parts go splat when they hit the ground, and that’s exactly what a lot of kids are looking for in their scary books.  Grabenstein doesn’t go full Stephen King on his tween readers, however.  He tempers the creepiness with plenty of humor, and in the case of the doomed witness in chapter 2, leaving the really distressing action off the page.  That chapter ends with the villainous treasure-hunter cocking the trigger of his pistol and looking coolly into the eyes of his terrified victim.  And, scene.

By the way, Chris Grabenstein and I share the same hometown.  Buffalo, NY.  Go, Bills!  Stop Embarrassing Us, Sabres!

Five Tiny Flukes

Fluke Factor=5 Flukes (maximum flukage!).  Nothing else in the ‘G’s’ had struck my fancy, and Grabenstein was on the bottom shelf.  I always aim for the bottom shelf when I can’t make up my mind.

Beware of the Frog

2.  Beware of the Frog by William Bee (Picture Book)

Sweet Mrs. Collywobbles wears flowered hats and lives in a genteel British cottage complete with a thatched roof.  She is protected by her little pet frog, who sits on the doorstep.  Frog is a static presence with wide yellow eyes and innocent grin on his face.  When a goblin, troll, and ogre walk out of the dark wood with the aim of eating Mrs. Collywobbles, they scoff at her ‘Beware of the Frog’ sign and walk through the gate, thinking they’ll start off with a little green appetizer.  But that’s when Frog strikes…

Photo Source: William Bee Blog

Photo Source: William Bee Blog

Those body parts and pieces of clothing sticking out of his mouth (I assume before he makes that final swallow).  That flat expression on his face (which never changes throughout the book).  It’s gruesome, and pretty funny, too, thanks to Bee’s talent for deadpan British humor.  Without giving too much away, Frog meets an lamentable ending, and Mrs. Collywobbles reveals herself to be kind of a jerk.

Two Tiny Flukes

Fluke Factor=2 Flukes. A couple of colleagues had mentioned that the book was quirky and somewhat disturbing, so I pulled it off the shelf the next time I went hunting for my five picture books.

Cold Feet

3.  Cold Feet by Cynthia DeFelice, illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker (Folktale)

As I write this post, I begin to recognize that when it comes to the scary stuff, the titles I lean towards tend to feature disembodied limbs and humor.  If anyone wishes to analyze why that is, I invite you to have at it.  Cold Feet is a Scottish folktale in which a destitute bagpiper named Willie McPhee stumbles over a dead man while wandering through a cold and miserable wood late at night.  He wants to show proper respect for the dead, but he can’t help but notice that the corpse wears a handsome pair of boots (I invite you to read this line in your best Groundskeeper Willie brogue: “Och! They were fine-looking boots, they were!”).  Willie sensibly decides the boots will do him more good than the dead man, but when he tries to remove them, they won’t come off.  Fortunately, the dead man’s feet (disembodied limbs alert!) fall off with the boots still in them, so Willie, a practical and needy man, picks up both boots and feet and and continues on his travels.  Willie eventually uses them to play a trick on a stingy farmer by ‘feeding’ them to one of the farmer’s cows, making him believe the cow ate poor Willie.  Willie doesn’t get to enjoy his joke for very long.  As he relaxes in front of the fire in the farmer’s house (he and his wife ran away in fright), a footless stranger knocks at the door and demands Willie return his feet to him.  Uh oh.

Five Tiny Flukes

Fluke Factor=5 Flukes (maximum flukage!).  I had no idea this was a ghost story.  I just thought it would be interesting to read a Scottish folktale that wasn’t about a kelpie.

Happy Halloween, everyone!  If I dress up, it will probably be as a geeky, varsity, parochial school tennis player, complete with Martina Navratilova-style headband and striped tube socks.  How about you?  Also, what elements do you look for in a scary story?

~Catherine

“Hit the Road, Cath” or “Branchward Bound!”

16 Oct

I began to work at the Central Youth Wing of the Brooklyn Public Library sometime in August, 1998.  I can’t remember the exact date I started, but that’s of no consequence.  It works out, roughly, to 15 years and two months in a single location.  Hardly a 21st-career path, right?  Thursday is my last day.  I am still an employee of the good ol’ BPL, but I am moving into a new role, branch manager at our Williamsburgh Branch (You will encounter ‘Williamsburgh’ spelled either with or without the ‘h’ at the end.  My new colleagues seem to prefer retaining the ‘h’, and I personally find it historical and charming.  So ‘Williamsburgh’ it is).

The Williamsburg Branch in 1910 (Source: The Brooklyn Collection)

The Williamsburgh Branch in 1910, 88 years before I started working at BPL (Source: The Brooklyn Collection)

I have been trying to write this post for a week.  I believe I have erased what I’ve typed in around fifteen times, before starting all over again.  Fifteen years in one library.  That pre-dates Facebook and iPad apps, even Harry Potter (It’s true!  The Sorcerer’s Stone was first published in the U.S. in September, 1998.).  It makes one want to look back, reflect, and compose an eloquent treatise in defense of staying put (say, for 15 years), and crafting an argument that belies the career guidance you assume is routinely spooned out to new library school grads by their mentors and professors: change jobs every two years or so.

Then, when you have finally finished this first section of the essay (and WordPress shows that 600+ words have already been typed in) you will shift gears and dig into the second part of the post, the reasons why you are moving on.  And after that, there’s a third part, which synthesizes parts one and two, ending with a zinger in the final paragraph that simultaneously opens a fourth line of inquiry, which readers are invited to settle in the comments.

Here’s the thing: to get this post published, I cannot follow this plan.  I worked in one location for 15 years.  I was never bored, and I don’t believe I ever got set in my ways (except when the process was so perfect and clear that there was never a point in re-configuring it :-) ).

Now I am leaving and doing something new.  There are a plethora of reasons why, but I am not going to bore my dear readers with them.  I understand that I am in for many new experiences, but also that I am not completely without resources and foreknowledge.  This is what I know:

My new ride to work, the B44 bus.

My new ride to work, the B44 bus.

  1. I’ll be on a sizable learning curve while I adjust not only to a new location, but to how branches differ operationally from a Central Library.  Much advance thanks to my new colleagues.  You’re going to get sick of me asking questions.
  2. I will need to pay attention to adult services for the first time…ever.
  3. I won’t be responsible for ordering any longer, because while the Central Library does its own ordering, branch ordering is completely handled through our BookOps department.  Related: floating branch collections.
  4. My commute will be longer, which I am perversely looking forward to, because I’ll be able to read more.
  5. I have faith in myself as a supervisor, trainer, and mentor.
  6. I am a children’s librarian now and forever, and I will do my darnedest to keep up with providing those vital services.  Related: I won’t play favorites with you, but any children’s (and YA) librarians who work in my branch will never be treated, by virtue of your age speciality, like the poor red-headed stepchildren of the public library world.
  7. I am really looking forward to building Williamsburgh into a kickass branch.  I am organized, creative, and somewhat irreverent, and I will do all I can to lead my team into making this kickassedness a reality.  Related:  Am I also a little egotistical?  I’ll leave that to you to decide.

Totes

So here I am, all packed up and ready to roll.  Fifteen years.  Three totes (Which I’m actually disappointed about.  I thought for sure I would only need two.).  Stay posted.  It will be an adventure!

~Catherine (total number of words in this post, 707.)

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