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Summer Scavenger Hunts

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

My avatar on 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!



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!


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