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.


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!


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.



‘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.


'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.


"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…



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




(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!


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!


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!!!!!


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?


“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.


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.)

Just When You Thought It Was the End of Origami Yoda, This Happened

7 Oct

At the end of my last post, I alluded to an excellent turn of events concerning a little arts and crafts program I did over the summer.  Now that it has actually happened, I can finally fill you all of you in on the fun.  Ladies and Gents, on Wednesday, October 2, 2013, my library was paid a visit by none other than…

Angleberger Glitter

Photographic proof, 'Star Wars' shirt and all.

Photographic proof, ‘Star Wars’ shirt and all.

Yup, it’s true.  I tweeted him a handful of updates over the summer on our Origami Yoda progress, and when we reached our goal of 1,000 Yodas back in August, he sent me, via Twitter, an eloquent note of congratulations:Yoda CongratsThen, while I was on vacation in September, the head of our Youth and Family Services Department reached out to Abrams to share some pix of the Yodas and the video I made.  Their response was to inform us that Mr. Angleberger would be visiting NYC on October 2nd, and would it be okay if he dropped in to check out the exhibit?  Would it be okay?  WOULD IT BE OKAY!?!?  This was me after I heard the news…

Kermit Flail

Moving on.  We invited the stookiest 5th grade class from P.S. 9 and everyone eagerly awaited Mr. Angleberger’s trip to Brooklyn, NY.  On Wednesday morning, upon arriving in the Youth Wing, Tom’s first order of business was to view the 1,118 Yodas and take pictures, many of which he compiled into a trippy animated gif you can see here on his website (By the way, I love the comment SF_Firk made on this post, “NO SLEEP TILL 1000 YODAS.  Yep”.  Believe me, it kind of felt that way at times, SF_Firk).

Tom Takes Pix

Tom Takes Pix 2

Then the fifth graders arrived, and that’s when the morning busted open and became amazing!  Mr. Angleberger has a fantastic rapport with kids.  He jokes around with them, lets them have their say, and is an all-around-interesting dude to listen to.  He started out by drawing a picture of his home state which wound up looking like this:

Tom Draws Jabba

The Commonwealth of Virginia, aka ‘Jabba the State’.

Tom Angleberger has a schtick.  When he called on kids, he would ask for their names.  In spite of that, he wound up calling them all Larry, even the girls (this is a name-remembering trick I am totally going to steal).  He wrote out his full name on the easel and remarked that the ‘r’ in middle is vitally important to him, or else everyone would call him, ‘Tom Angle-booger’.  Then he folded a paper airplane using his favorite method, the Nakimura Lock, and had the crowd cheer, ‘For the Power of Origami!’ before sending it soaring across the room.  Basically, he had those kids eating out of his hands within 10 minutes of introducing himself.

So what else happened?  Well, he invited one of the fifth graders- named Larry of course- to draw a picture of New York State.  ‘Larry’ wasn’t having that, however.  Instead, his muse called on him to draw what he saw from the window, namely the front plaza of the library, and that’s exactly what he did.

Larry hard at work on his masterpiece.

Larry hard at work on his masterpiece.

Tom then gave ‘Larry’s’ picture the same treatment he gave to his own map of Virginia.  He turned it into Star Wars characters!  A pillar was transformed into Darth Vader, a shrub, into an Ewok, and an apartment building into Jabba the Hutt’s ferocious pet rancor.

Larry's drawing, Star Wars-ized.  Larry himself signed it 'Larry'.

‘Larry’s’ drawing, Star Wars-ized. ‘Larry’ himself is responsible for signing it ‘Larry’.

Turning over a new page on the easel pad, Mr. Angleberger then drew a picture of the hero of the Origami Yoda series, Mr. Dwight Tharp, and he invited the kids to speculate on why Dwight is so weird when Origami Yoda is so wise.  The tween Dr. Phil’s in the audience actually nailed it early on, that Dwight is probably quite insightful himself, but can only express it to others when he wears a finger puppet on his thumb.  The kids didn’t stop there, however.  Their theories on what makes Dwight tick became quite, um, inventive, and Tom obligingly drew them all onto the pad.  Without going into too much detail, Dwight somehow wound up with lobster robot arms.  I bet he would LOVE that!

The Dwight drawing in its early stages, minus robot lobster arms.

The Dwight drawing in its early stages, minus lobster robot arms.

Tom candidly shared with the group that his protagonist is the weirdest kid in the class because HE was the weirdest kid in HIS class (whereupon Ingrid and I nodded our heads in unison and mumbled, “We can relate.”).  Then he asked the kids who was the weirdest kid in their class, and the response was spontaneous and unanimous: Ronald.  Bless him, Ronald, decked out in a sport jacket and polo shirt, OWNED it, calmly avowing that yes, he was a weirdo and he was fine with it.

Ronald was invited up to participate in the interactive part of Mr. Angleberger’s presentation, teaching the class to fold Origami Yodas.  Let the record show that the group was shown by Tom Angleberger how to fold the Emergency Yodas from Darth Paper Strikes Back, whereas the 1,118 Yodas on the library wall are real deal ones, instructions found here and the final pages of The Strange Case of Origami Yoda.   Indulging in such Yoda snobbery is of no consequence, though, as Tom’s instructional approach is way cooler than mine.  After all, he possessed two ingredients I could never compete with:  (1) Ronald and (2) a gigantic sheet of green paper.

Ronald and Tom unfolding the gigantic sheet of green paper.

Ronald and Tom unfolding the gigantic sheet of green paper.

Yodas in progress.

Yodas in progress.

A roomful of 5th graders wielding their Origami Yodas!

A roomful of 5th graders wielding their Origami Yodas!

The piece de resistance: that's Ronald wearing the gigantic green piece of paper, now an Origami Yoda, doing a Yoda dance.

The piece de resistance: that’s Ronald wearing the gigantic green piece of paper, now an Origami Yoda.  He’s doing a debonair Yoda dance.

The visit was apparently going to wrap up with Tom autographing everyone’s Yodas, but the kids had other priorities. They wanted him to show them how to fold the Nakimura Lock airplane!  Within minutes,  hummingbird-sized planes were sailing throughout the room.  Then Tom signed his autographs, took photos with all of the 5th-graders, and a lot of library staff, and then it was time for him to catch a train.  Thank you so much for coming to look at our Yodas, Mr. Tom Angleberger!  Your visit has catapulted to the top of my “Coolest Stuff that Happened at Work” list, 2013 edition.  But why take my word for it?  While the class (to whom I said, “Bye, Larry.  Hope you enjoyed yourselves.”) headed out the door, Ronald the Yoda Dancer gushed at me, “This was the best day of my life!!!”  Indeed.


Tom A. and a bunch of my colleagues.  I am the second one from, who looks like she is trying to hide behind her Origami Yoda.  Ingrid is to my left.

Tom A. and a bunch of my colleagues. I am the second one on the left, who looks like she is trying to hide behind her Origami Yoda. Ingrid is to my left.

P.S.  Many, many thanks to Ms. Ingrid for taking all of the photos in this post! (minus the one above…I’m not sure who took that one).

Books for Baby Storytimes

30 Sep
sloth comic

This could be a depiction of me on vacation, except the guy in the cartoon is sitting upright (source: Toothpaste for Dinner).

My oh my, it’s been a couple of weeks since I posted, right?  Welp, I have a good excuse an excuse. I had turned myself over to slothfulness and only doing the slothful things I felt like doing while I was on vacation.  This boiled down to watching Law & Order, reading grown-up books, playing tennis, and knitting a sweater.  I enjoy working on this little blog very much, but it simply didn’t make the cut.  That’s neither here nor there, however.  I’m back, and I intend to resume my previous pace of posting at least once every five days.

Our baby storytime is called Babies & Books.  It is for ages 0 to 18 months, and it is my favorite storytime program to do.  I love to see the receptive looks on the babies’ faces as I read a rhythmic passage, show them a brightly-colored illustration, or sing one of those songs where they get lifted in the air.  They look so surprised and pleased when that happens!

Someday (soon) I will post some favorite baby songs and rhymes, and a basic outline I use for my programs.  What I want to do here– in the spirit of Abby the Librarian’s What to Read at Baby Storytime posts– is highlight a handful of books I enjoy sharing with babies and their grown-up caregivers.  These are in no particular order, but they are certainly winners with the hairless and toothless set!

Jazz BabyJazz Baby by Lisa Wheeler, ill. by R. Gregory Christie

“Mama sings high/Daddy sings low/Snazzy-jazzy Baby says “Go, Man, GO!””  A loving family takes a cue from clapping Baby and joins in with some snapping, scatting, tooting, and hip-hopping of their own. The text in Jazz Baby’s is rhythmic and bouncy and it is wonderfully appealing to baby ears.  Also, the words on the page are large enough that grown-ups in the room– infected by Jazz Baby’s lively pizzazz–will read along with you.  I should point out that I almost always skip the middle part of the book when I use it in Babies & Books.  The tempo slows down here, and the repetitiveness gets to be too much for baby attention spans.  Toddlers and Preschoolers are usually happy to stick with Jazz Baby from beginning to end, but I find that the babies lose interest.  To heap even more praise on Abby, she wrote a terrific post last week about shortening books for baby storytime programs.   In it, she wisely points out that when we skip pages, we are demonstrating to parents and caretakers that it is okay for them to do it, too.  If you haven’t read Abby’s post yet, do so!  Now!  Or as soon as you are able is okay, too.

Tuck Me InTuck Me In! by Dean Hacohen and Sherry Scharschmidt

Going through my outlines, I see I have read Tuck Me In! more than any other title in the past year.  What we have here is a collection of cutie-patootie baby animals getting tucked into bed.  Their ‘blankets’ are page flaps that cover them up to their chins.  It is a colorful book, and a cozy one, with the blankets and its repetitive, circular text (‘Who else needs to be tucked in?’  ‘I do!”  ‘Goodnight, baby [insert animal].  Who else needs to be tucked in?’, etc.).  Candlewick has kindly posted a sampling for us on YouTube.  Take a look.  Isn’t it charming?

My CarMy Car by Byron Barton

I usually preface reading My Car by saying something like, “If you’re looking for books that babies will like, you really can’t go wrong with Byron Barton.”  Newborns and small babies, who don’t see very well, will be attracted to Barton’s bold colors and unfussy layouts.  Older babies and toddlers are starting to learn the names of things, and some of them are embarking on car manias of their own (Or train manias, or boats, or planes.  Barton has done books on all of them).  Sam’s affection for his car, and the responsibility he takes as he drives it, are infectious.  And Sam’s mechanic is a lady mechanic, which I always point out when I get to the page where she’s giving Sam’s car an oil change.  According to the Harper Collins site, we are getting what looks like a sequel to My Car in Spring, 2014,  My Bus.

Finger Circus GameThe Finger Circus Game by Hervé Tullet

Most board books are too small to read to a group, but I try to include at least one recently published title when I plan my Babies & Books programs.  If it has tactile elements or shiny bits, I’ll mention how they promote curiosity and sensory development.  Lift the flaps?  Peek-a-boo is fun, and the flaps demonstrate cause-and-effect.  The Finger Circus Game is a unique, new offering by the author of Press Here.  It has dye-cut holes for adults and older children to stick their fingers through to portray members of the Earthworm Family as they perform in their circus, complete with flying trapeze and lion acts.  At the end, they all take a big bow, and I presume burrow back into the ground.  When I read The Finger Circus Game for a program, I draw little smiley faces on the tips of my pointer fingers with a Sharpie.

Birthday BoxThe Birthday Box by Leslie Patricelli

“Today is my birthday, and I got a box.”  Our diapered narrator is thrilled.  A box can be stood on or hidden behind.  Open it up and there is a new stuffed doggie pal to take on adventures with you, in a box that gets transformed into a ship, a rocket, and a robot.  Suspend your disbelief about baby’s ability to wield scissors, this is a charming story about the power of imagination and friendship.  I hear a lot of, “Aww’s” from the grown-ups whenever I reach the final page The Birthday Box.

I have other titles that didn’t make this list, but I will certainly followup this post with more Baby Storytime options.  I’ll be back later this week with what I believe will be a humdinger of a post.  Here’s a teaser: remember when I said my most recent Origami Yoda post would be my final Origami Post?  It isn’t, and the reason why is pretty exciting!



13 Sep
Kitty hunts rabbits on the Northern Tundra AND keeps up with his blog reader.

Kitty hunts rabbits in Northern Boreal Forests AND keeps on top of her blog reader.

This is the first lynx (I can’t be the first blogger making this joke) roundup I’ve done on Z Before Y, and before I dive in, I want to get something off my chest.  Putting this post together has been a weird experience, fraught with lots of second-guessing and doubt.  Am I striking a proper balance between professional and playful?  If I use links seen on Facebook or Twitter, wouldn’t I be upstreaming the posters before they can add them to their own links roundups on their own blogs?  Is this link old news?  Has it already made an appearance in lots of other blogs?  Gaa-rrrh!

I don’t have scads of sites to share with you in this debut roundup.  What I decided to do was trust my instincts here and go with the material  I can say something about.


fantastic beastsThe J.K. Rowling movie that will focus on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them author, Newt Scamander, will be at least partially set in New York City.  This Gothamist article quotes Rowling’s Facebook announcement where she writes.

“The laws and customs of the hidden magical society will be familiar to anyone who has read the Harry Potter books or seen the films, but Newt’s story will start in New York, seventy years before Harry’s gets underway.”  (emphasis mine)

Seventy years before the Harry Potter books?  So that puts us in the early decades of the twentieth century.  How picturesque!  And impoverished.  And perilous.  I have one request for Ms. Rowling as she writes her script: don’t forget  the outer boroughs.

We Give Books“We Give Books” Lets You Read E-Picture Books for Free

A joint effort between Penguin and the Pearson Foundation, We Give Books makes dozens of high-quality and recognized picture books available to be read for free over the internet.  Madeline is there, as are Max and Ruby, along with new favorites like Llama, Llama Misses Mama and No Fits, Nilson!  You’ll also find lots of non-fiction, as well as offerings in Spanish and Nepali.  Here’s hoping the collection continues to grow!  (via Pragmatic Mom)

Pete the Cat Play to Learn Program

In my library, we are all huge devotees of the Pete the Cat books.  In fact we have Pete and his groovy buttons prominently displayed on the windows that overlook the entire Youth Wing (if I weren’t on vacation, I would take a picture and post it here).  That’s why I’ve put the spotlight on this Pete the Cat Play to Learn program that Lisa from Libraryland posted in March, instead of the more recent Where Is the Green Sheep? program praised earlier this week in Storytime Underground. Such great ideas!  Such a thoughtful blend of fun, interactivity, and focus on early literacy skills!  Now I totally want to do my own Play to Learn program.  Luckily the Pete the Cat one is there for the taking.

Pete the Cat Collage

Four stations from Libraryland’s “Pete the Cat” Play to Learn Program.

A Banned Books Display the Magpie Librarian Way!

chocolate warOur 1,118 Origami Yodas are not the only display going on where I work.   Ingrid is crushing it with her Banned Books Display.  Some patrons may be taking the signage a little too literally, but censorship has definitely become a real-life Trending Topic in the Youth Wing (and not just among those who may need to adjust their irony antennas).  Also take a look at Ingrid’s earlier post about her colorful and thought-provoking Censorship Poster.  For the record, I have killed exactly zero flies.  They hadn’t infiltrated my part of the workroom by the time I left for vacation, so I wasn’t exactly being a team player in their slaughter.

Ingrid Poster

Speaking of Origami…

In a blog post titled Brooklyn Folds 1K Yodas!!!!!!!, Mr. Tom Angleberger posts on his Origami Yoda site the video I made.  I especially like the comment from Zacharosorigami: yoda overload lol!

Looking to the future, though, I’ve been talking about making “Let’s Fold 1,000 Origami Corgis!” my next campaign.  Tasha Tudor loved corgis, so there’s your tie-in to children’s books.  It will work.  Right?  Right?  Anyone?  (LinkHow About Orange?)


Microaggression in the Form of a Pink Ribbon?

You Can Do ItThe term ‘microaggression’ was introduced in the 1970′s by Harvard professor of psychiatry, Chester M. Pierce.  They are small acts of non-violent aggression, intentional or not, directed against those of different races, genders, cultures, etc.  The marvelous Betsy Lewin recently published an early reader title, You Can Do It!, in which a pink-beribboned girl alligator serves little other purpose to the plot than to bolster the confidence of the boy alligator protagonist.  I included the book in a new books presentation I did earlier this year, and I probably said something along the lines of, “It’s a great book, but that part isn’t cool.  Not cool at all” regarding this aspect of its character development.  Allie Jane Bruce, in a Children’s Book Council blog post, Microaggressions: Those Small Acts that Pack a Big, Negative Punchlays it out much more eloquently than I could.

“Ultimately, when analyzing for microaggressions (or, for that matter, macroaggressions), the question is “what effect does this have on its audience?” In this case, You Can Do It positively affected most of the children in my group, who enjoyed the fun, inspiring story. My impression of Charlotte, however, was that she seemed to feel devalued and type-cast. And this reaction—even if it was just Charlotte’s—is valid and deserves consideration”.

To Wear to All Your Storytimes…At Least Until the Next YouTube Sensation Hits

Fox ShirtAdmit it, children’s librarians.  You’ve been tempted to use Ylvis’ viral hit, What Does a Fox Say? in a program, haven’t you?  To make up for all those times you were flummoxed about what to do with those squirrels, rabbits, moles, and yes, foxes?  Well, the good people at shirt.woot have created the perfect shirt to wear when you do that program.  If you’re not familiar with shirt.woot, they blog a new t-shirt design every day.  If you buy it on day one, it costs a flat $12.00 (shipping and taxes included in the price).  After that, it’s $15.00.  If you go deeper into their back-catalog, it will cost you $18.00.  Not a bad deal at all!  I’d say about 2/3 of the shirts in my t-shirt drawer are products of shirt.woot.    

Well, that’s a wrap on my first links roundup.  It wasn’t so bad after all.  Have a great weekend, y’all!



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