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The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) is a network of more than 4,200 children’s and youth librarians, children’s literature experts, publishers, education and library school faculty members, and other adults committed to improving and ensuring the future of the nation through exemplary library service to children, their families, and others who work with children.
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1. My Parents Open Carry

  • My Parents Open CarryWhat obligation do public or school libraries have to purchase materials that present a range of views on controversial subjects?
  • Must every controversy be treated the same way?
  • How do our personal biases affect our purchasing decisions?
  • Should libraries take the opinions of their patrons or the ethos of their communities into consideration when making these decisions?
  • If there are no materials that meet our selection criteria, should we add materials of poor quality simply to ensure that all viewpoints are available?
  • Should well-known titles on controversial topics be retained once better-written books are available?
  • Is there a difference between adding donated materials and spending taxpayers’ money to purchase them?

These are a few of the questions which occurred to me in response to the recent discussions about MY PARENTS OPEN CARRY by Brian Jeffs and Nathan Nephew (White Feather Press). The publisher kindly sent me a review copy of the book in response to my emailed request and it arrived yesterday, giving me time to examine it carefully and to share it with my coworkers.

Though formatted as a picture book, the character whose parents “open carry” is a 13-year-old girl named Brenna. And despite the title, she doesn’t narrate the text. As the authors indicate in their, “…note to home school teachers: This book is an excellent text to use as a starting point on the discussion of the 2nd Amendment,” which suggests that they are hoping to reach a market with a broad age-range.

I was hoping the book would be well-enough written that I would find it a plausible purchase for our collection, but my hopes have not come to fruition. The text is tedious, the conversations are repetitious and attempts at descriptive writing fail to convey information.

Here are some examples of the writing:

“One morning, Brenna was sleeping and dreaming dreams only a 13-year-old girl would dream.” (p. 1)

“All in all, Brenna had a great day with her mom and dad. She again realized how much they loved her and how lucky she was to have parents that open carry.” (p. 21)

And then there are the creepier moments: “To increase Brenna’s awareness, her dad often tries to sneak up on her to catch her off guard; it’s a game they play.” (p. 15)

In addition, the robotic figures depicted in the illustrations with their stiff postures and eerie, fixed smiles are rather discomfiting.

I confess that the level of paranoia Jeffs and Nephew express to justify their need to carry guns in plain sight whenever they go out in public disturbs me, but I won’t debate the Second Amendment here. Whatever our personal opinions on the matter may be, we librarians still must grapple with the sorts of questions I’ve framed above.

I feel honor-bound, however, to point out that Jeffs and Nephew espouse the consumption of canned spinach and this is a sentiment that any right-minded person would find abhorrent. Fresh spinach is delicious and frozen spinach is an acceptable substitute in recipes calling for cooked spinach, but canned spinach is an abomination. The only proper use for a can of spinach that I can think of would be to aim at it during target practice.

But spinach aside, if this book had received a starred review, would you add it to your collection?

Miriam Lang Budin, ALSC Intellectual Freedom Committee

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2. Membership Suggestion Notice for Batchelder Award

ALSC Personal Members are invited to suggest titles for the 2015 Batchelder Award given to an American publisher for a children’s book considered to be the most outstanding of those books originally published in a foreign language in a foreign country and subsequently published in English in the United States during 2014. Please remember that only books from this publishing year are under consideration for the 2015 award. Publishers, authors and illustrators may not suggest their own books.

You may send recommendations with full bibliographic information to committee chair, Diane Janoff, at diane.janoff@queenslibrary.org. The deadline to submit suggestions is December 31st, 2014.

The  award will be announced at the press conference during the ALA Midwinter Meeting in February 2015.

For more information about the award, visit the ALSC website at http://www.ala.org/alsc/. Click on “Awards and Grants” in the left-hand navigation bar; then click on “ALSC Book & Media Awards.” Scroll down to the “Batchelder Award Page”

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3. Parents Just Don’t Know How to Play!

Toys scattered among the stacks, puzzle pieces askew, kids popping from mess to mess and over in a corner you see a parent on their cell phone or device. Does this scene sound familiar to you?

Libraries with play spaces often report that they have parents who seem disengaged from their children’s play. While this isn’t the majority of library users but seems to stand out because of the mess and noise children who are not engaged in meaningful play can create. While it is our intention that parents will use the play space to interact and play with their children, they often observe play or expect their little ones to discover the play on their own.

How do we teach these parents to use the play spaces provided as an interactive time to share with their little ones?

  • Model play! Library staff can often engage a parent by simply asking a question or starting a conversation with a child. When you see a child playing alone, ask them open ended questions that extend the play. When the parent sees the interaction they will become interested and then you can pull them into the play as well. We model how to share a book in story time, let’s model play on the floor.
  • Provide signage! Be simple with your signs and remember you are not posting rules but suggestions for play. http://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/2012/03/instructions-included/
  • Keep it Clean, Keep it Organized! While children can look at anything and find the play in it, somewhere adults loose that ability. Make your play spaces clean, organized and obvious. http://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/2012/04/keeping-it-clean/
  • Choose meaningful play! When selecting your play spaces and what is included think of what learning is going to take place and what values the parents will see in the play.

Your turn! How do you engage parents in play?

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4. Institute Tips: The Do’s and Don’ts of #alsc14

2014 ALSC National Institute

2014 ALSC National Institute (photo courtesy ALSC)

So you’re going to the 2014 ALSC National Institute in Oakland, California. Or…you’re not.

Either way, you can participate. The conversations that happen at the Institute will inevitably spill over into social media and that is a beautiful thing. We put together a do’s and don’ts list to help those participating on both sides: on-site and online:

Do: Check out this Steve Sheinkin video from the 2014 ALA Midwinter Meeting

Yup. He’s our Thursday evening opener!

Don’t: Be Timid About Becoming a Live-Blogger

We’re still looking for live-bloggers for the Institute! Don’t be shy. There are people out there depending on you to report your favorite programs, speakers, moments, places to eat, and exciting new ideas. You can participate by simply emailing ALSC Blog Manager Mary Voors.

Do: Join the Conversation

We’ll be tweeting, posting information to Facebook and live-blogging via the ALSC Blog. A few hashtags for your consideration: #alsc14, #alscleftbehind, #CCSS, #oakland. Also look for some pictures that we’ll post to the ALSC Facebook page.

Don’t: Miss the site selection for the 2016 National Institute

Already thinking about 2016!? Are you crazy? Nope, just preparin’. At the 2014 ALSC National Institute, we’ll be announcing the location for the 2016 ALSC National Institute. Keep an eye out for that announcement.

Do: Bring the ALSC14 Recommendation Map

The National Institute Task Force has done the dirty work for you. They’ve scoped out all the best restaurants, bars, coffee shops, etc. They put all of these great tips into the ALSC14 Local Recommendations map. Remember to keep this map handy and don’t miss everything that Oakland has to offer!

Don’t: Forget to Bring Your Pirate Gear

Friday, September 19 is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. There no will be no formal acknowledgement of this day at the Institute. But, please don’t that stop you…

Har! See you in Oakland!

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5. Exciting Changes for ALSC on Pinterest

More links and pins are coming to the ALSC and Día Pinterest accounts!

Photo by Katie Salo

Photo by Katie Salo

In an effort to increase the material pinned to the Pinterest account, all ALSC committees will have the opportunity to maintain their own boards and content. ALSC committees will then be able to share relevant blog posts, links, and resources that relate to their committee’s work and charge. Committee chairs that are interested in using social media should contact Amy Koester, chair of Public Awareness Committee at amy(dot)e(dot)koester(at)gmail(dot)com.

ALSC’s Public Awareness Committee will continue to maintain the Día page, but with more regularly pinned content. Look for new ideas and inspiration to bring your Día programming up to the next level.

We’re looking forward to the changes that will be taking place and hope that members will find loads of useful information about the work that ALSC is doing! If you have any suggestions for boards or pins that should be on the ALSC Pinterest board, please feel free to leave those in the comments.

Katie Salo is an Early Literacy Librarian at Indian Prairie Public Library in Darien, IL and is writing this post for the Public Awareness Committee. You can reach her at simplykatie(at)gmail(dot)com.

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6. App Advisory: Where to Start?

App-advisory can be intimidating, especially for those of us who are not heavily engaged in touch-screen technology in our personal lives.  Although I am excited to be a new member of the Children and Technology Committee, and this is a professional interest of mine, I must confess: I don’t own a smartphone or a tablet.  But I strongly believe that whatever your personal habits or philosophies, as professionals, we need to be willing and able (and enthusiastic!) to be media mentors, modeling responsible new media use and providing recommendations for parents and families.  With so many apps out there, many of which are labeled “educational,” we need to be able to provide parents with trusted recommendations and advice.  If you can do reader’s advisory, you already have the skills to do app advisory! Here are some suggestions, based on what we did at the Wellesley Free Library.

Get to know your material!  Read app reviews (see list of review sources below) and keep track of the apps about which you read. We use a Google spreadsheet, so that all Children’s Department staff can contribute.  This includes, when available, recommended age (though this is something significantly lacking in many app reviews), price, platform, categories, and our comments.  Keeping this information centralized and organized makes it easy to come up with specific apps to recommend to a patron, or to pull for a list.

Play around with the apps!  If you have money to spend (consider asking your Friends group for money for apps, especially if you will be using the apps in library programs), download some apps that seem interesting and try them out.  Even if you can’t spend money, you can try out free apps or download free “lite” versions of apps.  Playing with the app allows you to give a more in-depth description and detailed information in your advisory (consider the difference between recommending a book based on a review you read and having read the book itself).

Choose your method of advisory. App advisory can take many forms. There is the individual recommendation at the reference desk, there are app-chats (the app version of the book-talk), which have been discussed in an article on the ALSC blog by Liz Fraser, and then there are app-lists.  For the past year, we have created monthly themed app lists, mostly for young children between the ages of 2 and 6.  The themes have included: interactive books, music, math, letters, and more. Be sure to include free apps as well as apps available for non-Apple devices on your lists.

Provide advice, along with recommendations.  On the back of our paper app lists, and on the website where we post links to the app-list Pinterest boards, we offer advice to parents about using interactive technology with young children.

A year later, still without a smartphone or tablet, I feel much more confident about recommending apps to patrons, reviewing and evaluating apps, and building our collection, and you can too!  You already have the tools for evaluating media that meets children’s developmental needs and creating interesting and attractive advisory methods for families.  The next step is simply taking it to a new platform!

Some of our favorite review sources for apps:

Children’s Technology Review
Cybils Award
Digital Storytime
Horn Book App of the Week
Kirkus ipad Book App Reviews
Little elit
Parents’ Choice Awards
School Library Journal App Reviews

Clara Hendricks is a Children’s Librarian at the Wellesley Free Library in Wellesley, MA. She is a member of ALSC’s Children and Technology Committee.

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7. ALSC Member of the Month — Renee Grassi

Each month, an ALSC member is profiled and we learn a little about their professional life and a bit about their not-so-serious side. Using just a few questions, we try to keep the profiles fun while highlighting the variety of members in our organization. So, without further ado, welcome to our ALSC profile, ten questions with ALSC member, Renee Grassi.

1.  What do you do, and how long have you been doing it?

ReneeI am the Youth Department Director at the Glen Ellyn Public Library in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. I’m relatively new to this position, having started at Glen Ellyn in June of 2014. Previously, I was the Head of Children’s Services at the Glencoe Public Library for two years, and was a Youth Services Librarian at the Deerfield Public Library for four years.

2.  Why did you join ALSC? Do you belong to any other ALA divisions or roundtables?

One of the many reasons I joined ALSC was that I wanted to participate and advocate for the profession on a larger scale. What I particularly love about being an ALSC member is that I have so many opportunities to connect and learn from children’s librarians across the country. I have always appreciated ALSC’s commitment to innovation in the field of children’s library service, and I am continually inspired by the work that we as an organization do to enrich the lives of children. Besides ALSC, I am also a member of PLA and am a member of the ALSC Library Services to Special Populations and Their Caregivers Committee.

3.  Cats, dogs, or Butterflies?

Anyone who knows me knows I don’t even have to think twice about my answer–cats, for sure! One of my favorite things to do is to volunteer at local cat shelters. When I lived in downtown Chicago, you would often find me at Harmony House for Cats taking care of and socializing with the kitties. In my spare time, I enjoy the company of my two feline family members—Sanchez and Gus.

4.  E-books or Print?

Both. As much as we are hurdling towards everything digital, nothing will compare to the experience a child has holding a book for the very first time. For us as children’s librarians, I think it’s all about the balance between both.

5.  How do you prepare for the start of a new school year?

When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait for school to start. I was that kid who, mid-July, was just itching to go school supplies shopping, buy all of my notebooks and folders (and label them), and practice trying on my “first day of school” outfit. As of late, a new school year is synonymous with the end of Summer Reading. And as much as I just love Summer Reading and all of the exciting preparations that take place, there is nothing more enjoyable and therapeutic than taking all of the decorations down, cleaning off our desks, and starting fresh for the new school year.

6.  What do you love most about living and working in Illinois?

The librarian in me would respond by say that I feel so lucky to be in the company of countless incredible Illinois librarians, who continue to challenge and inspire me each day. We have strong support of libraries in this state and are fortunate to have such a fantastic Illinois Library Association as well. With Chicago being the epicenter of the American Library Association, we have the expertise of librarian leaders and powerhouses right at our fingertips. And the fact that the ALA Conferences always come back around to Chicago is pretty awesome, too.

The foodie in me would say one word: pizza!

7.  Are you a morning person or night person?

Night person, for sure. Some of my best ideas come to me at night, so I keep a journal next to my bed to jot them all down.

8.  Favorite tv show?

I have to choose one? Well, you will often find me tweeting about Glee, Parenthood, How I Met Your Mother, Sherlock, or The Big Bang Theory. And does the Tony Awards count? That’s like my Christmas.

9.  What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?

Chocolate. That was easy.

10.  What do you love about your work?

The variety. The challenge. The impact. The people.


Thanks, Renee! What a fun continuation to our monthly profile feature!

Do you know someone who would be a good candidate for our ALSC Monthly Profile? Are YOU brave enough to answer our ten questions? Send your name and email address to alscblog@gmail.com; we’ll see what we can do.

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8. Library Dance Parties

I love my Bibliobop Library Dance Party program. It might just be my most favorite program that I do. What could be better than dancing around with kids?

I started hosting our Biblibop program two years ago and the popularity has continued to build. During the summer, I host a dance party every month, but during the rest of the year, I host one every programming period (every three months). I decided on this format because I didn’t want to wear out our patrons, but I think I could host it every month and still get an audience.

The format is simple. I open up with a book about dancing or singing, tell the kids the rules (watch out for other dancers, big people dance too, and have fun!) and then we dance! I make a playlist of songs and we dance the morning away. Some songs have more instructions to them, like Greg and Steve’s The Freeze or Can You Leap Like a Frog? Others are free dance songs like Justin Roberts Great Big Sun or Ralph’s World Liesel Echo. I also have songs for scarves, instruments, and the parachute. I take a reading break about halfway through the program and then we continue to dance. The entire program lasts anywhere from 45 min-1 hour depending on the group.

I was using a CD player and CDs from our collection until our department got an iPad and portable speaker. Now I add the music to iTunes, make my playlists on the iPad and I’m good to go.

So why host a library dance party? Well, first of all, it’s fun! It’s a great chance to have adults interact and play with their kids. It’s a great way to get the kids moving and exercising. And it’s a fabulous way to highlight your music collection. It’s also a wonderful chance to expose children to creative movement and music.

So put on your dancing shoes and give a library dance party a try!

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9. Interview with Author Dori Hillestad Butler

    Ghosts add spooky suspense in this new mystery series, The Haunted Library, written by Edgar Award author Dori Hillestad Butler and illustrated by Aurore Damant.  In this interview, Dori Hillestad Butler shares the role libraries have played in shaping her work and the background behind these haunting books for young readers.  I received a complimentary copy of the first two books in this series before this interview.   

  1.       As children’s librarians, we often share just a little bit of detail about books with audiences to get them interested in checking out material.  What information would you share with children interested in learning more about The Haunted Library series?             

    Author Dori Hillestad Butler  (Image provided by Grosset & Dunlap)

    Author Dori Hillestad Butler
    (Image provided by Grosset & Dunlap)

It’s a series about a ghost boy named Kaz and a “solid” girl named Claire who work together to solve ghostly mysteries. Each book is a stand-alone mystery, but as the series goes on Kaz and Claire are also trying to find Kaz’s missing family. Kaz was separated from his family when their old haunt was torn down. The books are a little bit scary, not too scary. The ghosts aren’t dead people. They’re more like transparent people with superpowers.

  1.       What role did reading play in your life as a child? What types of books did you most enjoy?

I was a huge reader. I didn’t spend a lot of time with other kids outside of school. I spent most of my time curled up with a good book. I most enjoyed realistic fiction and mysteries.

  1.       What have you appreciated most about libraries throughout your life? How do you believe youth services librarians can best develop this appreciation in children?
The Haunted Library Book # 1 (Image provided by Grosset & Dunlap)

The Haunted Library Book # 1 (Image provided by Grosset & Dunlap)

If you’d asked me this when I was a kid, I’d have said, “all the books!” I couldn’t buy a lot of books when I was a kid. But I could take home as many as I wanted and keep them for two weeks and then bring them back and get MORE. How cool was that? But when I think about what it is I appreciate about libraries as an adult, I guess it’s still a variation on “all the books.” As an adult, I understand the library’s role in a community much better than I did when I was a child. A good library serves the needs of EVERYONE in the community. That doesn’t mean that every book in the library is one *I* want to read, but rather everyone in a community should be able to walk into a library and find a book they want to read. Given what a diverse nation we are, that is a pretty incredible thing. I think youth services librarians can help children develop an appreciation for libraries by showing them this diversity and reinforcing the idea that it doesn’t matter who you are, the library has materials for everyone.

4.     Youth services librarians see that many children gravitate to books that are part of a series as they build confidence in their reading abilities. What type of child reader do you think would most enjoy The Haunted Library series?

Kids who love ghost stories, of course. But I think the series might also appeal to reluctant readers, kids who don’t like to read. At least I hope it does. Ghosts are a high interest topic. I’d also like to see librarians hand a Haunted Library book to a kid who feels he’s not good at anything or a kid who’s really struggling to learn something. Kaz, the main character in The Haunted Library, is a ghost who struggles to learn his ghost skills. Even his little brother knows how to glow and wail and pass through walls, but Kaz struggles with every one of these skills. But he keeps working on his skills and as the series progresses, he has some success.

  1.        Your Ghostly Glossary defines some pretty spooky and cool ghost behaviors and could be used as a way for librarians to introduce this series to children.  How did the idea to include a Ghostly Glossary come about as you were developing these books?

 I planned on a ghostly glossary right from the start. I knew I was going to create a ghostly world and my ghostly world was likely to be different from other authors’ ghostly worlds. I knew I would invent vocabulary. The glossary grew out of that. I also like to think it’s a FUN glossary. And I know sometimes kids think glossaries and dictionaries can be boring. I want to demonstrate that glossaries (and even words themselves!) are fun and interesting.

  1.       Children’s libraries offer reading material in a variety of genres.  What role do you believe mysteries play in developing children’s reading interests and abilities?          

Mysteries reinforce problem solving skills. Readers learn to read carefully so they don’t miss any clues. They observe. They sift through the evidence and use logic to form hypotheses. And then they keep reading to find out whether they’re right. I think mysteries are a good way to reach the reluctant reader, too. Mysteries tend to have fast-moving plots. And readers feel “smart” when they’re able to solve the mystery alongside (or even before!) the protagonist.

The Haunted Library # 2 The Ghost in the Attic (Image provided by Grosset & Dunlap)

The Haunted Library Book # 2
The Ghost in the Attic
(Image provided by Grosset & Dunlap)

   7.  What makes ghosts so appealing to this young audience?

Because kids like to be scared…in a controlled environment. They feel brave when they read a scary ghost story, but they’re in control of the reading experience. They can put the book down whenever it gets to be too much. And then they can pick it up again when they’re ready for more.

8.     Have you met any children who believed there was a ghost in their library?  How do you believe libraries can best build children’s imaginations and develop their curiosity?

No, I haven’t. But if I did, I would ask that child to tell me all about the ghost. Who is the ghost? What does it look like? Where did it come from? What does it want? I think one way to build a child’s imagination and develop their curiosity is to ask them lots of questions, encourage them to ask questions, and show that you’re interested in what they have to say.

  1.       What advice would you give to children interested in becoming young detectives like Kaz and Claire?

To read LOTS of detective stories. There are so many good ones out there. Read Encyclopedia Brown! What’s great about Encyclopedia Brown is there are many mysteries to be solved in each book, and budding detectives can try and solve the case on their own before they turn to the solution. I’d also steer them toward some good nonfiction books about crime solving. In other words, I’d send them to the library!

10.  What adventures are next for this dynamic duo? Are there other children’s books you are working on at this time?               

(Image provided by the Penguin Group)

(Image provided by Grosset & Dunlap)

The Haunted Library #3: The Ghost Backstage comes out in October. The Haunted Library #4: The Five o’Clock Ghost comes out Spring 2015. The Haunted Library #5: The Secret Room comes out Summer 2015. And The Haunted Library #6, which is still untitled comes out Fall 2015.

Thank you for sharing these ghostly details about your new series and for your thoughtful perspective on the value of libraries for children!

Thanks again to Dori Hillestad Butler for appearing. For other stops on The Haunted Library Blog Tour, please check http://www.kidswriter.com/blog/.

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10. Book to film: The Box Trolls

boxtrollsLaika, the magical stop-motion animation studio behind such gloriously ghoulish fare as Coraline and Paranorman has a new movie coming out on September 26, and I couldn’t be more excited. The Box Trolls looks to be another impressive entry in this talented studio’s work for children and the interactive IMDb page is a hoot! The work done by this animation studio is simply top-notch, and we’ve hosted 2 successful Read, Watch, Discuss programs at my library based on their previous films. The kids are as awed by the special features (showing the minute details that go into creating these films) as the librarians are!

HereBeMonstersI was doubly excited when I learned, from an excellent Early Word post, that The Box Trolls was based on a book! In fact, it’s based on a children’s book I have not yet read, 2006′s Here Be Monsters! by Alam Snow. It seems the length of this book (544 pages) and decent but not spectacular reviews have kept it from becoming a juggernaut on its own. The movie is poised to change all that.

Watching the trailer, I was struck by several things. The humor that was present in Paranorman and even Coraline seems to be integral to the story this time out, which makes sense, as one review of Here Be Monsters! called it “inspired lunacy.” With it’s seemingly-classic plot of a child raised by outsiders, it should be easy enough for those unfamiliar with the source material to identify with the story. The idea of people disliking and distrusting others simply because they look or act differently from them is a powerful and important message for children, especially in our current cultural climate.

John Leonhardt/Focus Features, via the New York Times.

John Leonhardt/Focus Features, via the New York Times.

Finally, the look of this film, as always, is out-of-this-world amazing. Check out the scene where box trolls jump off the roof, or the physical comedy in the ballroom tongue-licking scene. Laika’s designs are so intricately marvelous they were recently featured in the New York Times! If the book is half as fun as the movie trailer, then patrons in our libraries may very well go nuts for it. I definitely ordered a copy, and look forward to reading it before the movie comes out!

Does your library own Here Be Monsters!? Are you planning on purchasing a copy?


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11. Applications Open for Penguin Young Readers Group Award

2015 ALA Annual Conference

2015 ALA Annual Conference in San Francisco (image courtesy of ALA)

Want to attend the 2015 ALA Annual Conference in San Francisco?

ALSC and the Grants Administration Committee are now accepting online applications for the 2015 Penguin Young Readers Group Awards. This award, made possible by an annual gift from Penguin Young Readers Group, provides a $600 stipend for up to four children’s librarians to attend their first ALA Annual Conference in San Francisco.

Applicants must be personal members of ALSC, as well as ALA members to apply. Deadline for submissions is Wednesday, October 1, 2014. For more information about the award requirements and submitting the online application please visit the Penguin Young Readers Group Award Web page.

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This month children’s librarians from all over the country will gather in Oakland, California for the biennial ALSC Institute. There are educational sessions including libraries’ roles in early education, better ways to connect our customers to information, tips on how to be at the “community table” and even, this time around, a trip to fairy land. It is an exciting and inspiring event; to be among so many people who share our passion and commitment.

The greatest value of the Institute though is the space and time to really connect to our colleagues. In the busy worlds of libraries today with the competing demands of customers, stakeholders and administration, made more urgent by shrinking budgets, most of us have little time to consider what drives us to this work. A weekend sharing knowledge and energy is just the thing to recharge.

Even if you can’t get to California, reaching out to like-minded colleagues is a wonderful way to find energy you are sure you just don’t have. ALSC is built on a tradition of mentorship and the street is gleefully both ways. In our modern environment of 24/7 virtual connections, even time zones can’t keep mentor from mentee and vice versa.

It isn’t always easy to get our heads around mentoring. Sometimes we feel we can’t possibly have anything of value to say to another professional. We haven’t been doing this long enough or we have been doing it too long. We aren’t experts. There are things we just don’t know. These perceived gaps of excellence are the very steps to connecting in meaningful ways to others. Ask a question. Offer to go to lunch. Send an email. Tweet passionately or Facebook someone who intrigues you. All of us can name a person who guided us in our lives. It all began, long ago or just last week, with a conversation. So speak up in whatever way works for you.

Mentoring is like friendship. To find one you need to be one. That is the real truth of it. While those of us in California may come away with new ways of thinking about our work, hopefully we will also come away with at least one new friend be it mentor or mentee. We are everywhere. You don’t have to be in fairy land to find us.

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13. Serving Adults with Special Needs in the Children’s Library

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about serving adults with special needs as a children’s librarian. I work at a large urban library and we have the luxury of having a specific children’s library area. Our policy states that you must be with a child or using children’s materials to be in the children’s library. This policy makes it clear that an adult with special needs can come into look for materials, but does allow for some grey areas. Here are a few related questions I’ve been pondering…

  • What if an adult with special needs doesn’t feel comfortable in the adult parts of the library and would rather hang out in the children’s area?
  • What if they want to attend a storytime that might be developmentally appropriate, but not age appropriate? How about registering for a developmentally appropriate summer reading program?
  • Should we let them use our children-only internet computers or play on our iPads and AWE touchscreens?
  • What happens if an adult makes a caregiver or child uncomfortable?

Serving adults with special needs can be difficult in many situations because the individuals without guidance are often in the most need of programming and services. In addition, some may be experiencing homelessness, adding another layer to the equation. Other barriers to providing targeted programming can include transportation, variety of developmental abilities, and marketing.

All of this makes me wonder…

  • How does your library handle the information and service needs of this special population?
  • How do you balance the needs and comfort of children/families with those of adults with special needs?
  • Do you have a designated person who provides programming for this population?
  • Do you have programs targeting this special population or do you make your regular children’s offerings more inclusive? (For an excellent example of targeted programming, check out the Sensory Storytime for Special Needs Adults provided by Durham County Library, NC.)

I don’t have the answers to these questions, as they are community-, library-, individual-specific. But I’m interested to hear how you handle situations such as these in your children’s areas. What other kinds of challenges or successes have you come across? Any words of advice for other librarians?


Amy Seto Musser Amy has her MLS from Texas Woman’s University and is a children’s librarian at the Denver Public Library. She is always on the look out for creative ways to incorporate the arts into children’s services and programming to extend books beyond the page. Check out Amy’s blogs: http://picturebookaday.blogspot.com/ & http://chapterbookexplorer.blogspot.com/

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

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14. Documenting Storytime

If you’re anything like me, you need help remembering things from time to time. Life is far too complicated to try and make our brains keep everything organized and tidy, so we’ve got to turn to other methods.

Of course, while this can be applied to anything I’m talking in particular about storytime. There are a lot of reasons to document and track your storytimes — for your own personal use, for your yearly evaluation, to help train new staff members, to share with colleagues, and more. Here are my top five tips for documenting your storytimes:

A box full of storytime plans, write-ups, and materials. [Photo courtesy of the author.]

A box full of storytime plans, write-ups, and materials. [Photo courtesy of the author.]

  • Start with a good plan. Since starting my new job, I’ve been in LOVE with Jbrary’s Toddler Storytime Planning Sheet. I’ve talked so much about the planning sheets that members of my Early Lit team have also switched over!
  • Write up a small “How It Went” immediately after the program. On the back of my attendance sheet, you can find little notes like “I Know a Chicken = STORYTIME GOLD” and “[Child] absolutely lit up during Babies on the Bus today”. These small write-ups take very little time, but remind me of what materials I should use again.
  • Take pictures. I take pictures of every flannelboard I’ve made and I took pictures of the crafts that I did. The flannelboard photos are organized on my blog and the craft photos mean I don’t have to keep containers full of example crafts. I can easily look at my flannelboard photos and remind myself of the materials I have available.
  • Organize your materials. Don’t leave them all boxed up. (The exception to that is if you’re moving or changing jobs, which is when that picture was taken!) I’m proud to say that my flannelboards, puppets, and documents are now all at work where I can access them when I need to!
  • Set your information free! I always remind friends and colleagues: I started my blog to keep a virtual record of my storytimes for me. So that I wouldn’t have a ridiculous paper trail and so I could access my storytimes from any computer with an Internet connection. If you haven’t thought about blogging for a personal record, now may be the time!

How do you document your storytimes? Does your library have a document/program reporting process? Any great ideas that I missed? Let me know in the comments!

- Katie Salo
Early Literacy Librarian
Indian Prairie Public Library

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15. It’s All in the Cards: School-Public Library Collaboration

Remember the credit card ad campaign that asked TV viewers, “What’s in your wallet?” It had a bunch of Viking-types doing all sorts of bold and daring stuff, empowered by a piece of plastic that put the world at their fingertips. Oh, the adventure! Oh, the intrigue!

Oh, I can do you one better:

Imagine those Vikings are the kids and teens we see every day at our libraries. When we shout out, “What’s in your wallet?” to their sea of smiling faces, and each and every one of them proudly exclaims, “My library card!”

Awesome, right? Now that’s an ad I’d watch the Super Bowl to see.

As public library professionals, we know we’re handing kids the world when we hand them library cards. The best part? Our school library colleagues know that, too. That makes September the perfect time to collaborate with the schools in your community. It’s more than just back-to-school business. It’s Library Card Sign-Up Month!

SPLC Committee WordleThe AASL/ALSC/YALSA Interdivisional Committee on School-Public Library Collaboration (SPLC Committee for short) presents this Top Ten list of ways you can work with your school library colleagues this September to make sure it’s all in the cards for kids:

  1. Schedule classroom visits at local schools to give kids the low-down on library card ownership. They’ll love seeing you in person on their turf!
  2. Arrange to send a library card application and welcome letter from the public library in every student’s take-home folder or backpack in early September.
  3. Coordinate library card sign-up events at schools, and make them a Big Deal. Think open houses, back-to-school nights, and book fairs where you’ll see lots of families as well as students.
  4. Create Library Card Walls of Fame at both school and public libraries. Incentivize sign-ups by posting the names of new library cardholders on dedicated “I Got My Library Card!” bulletin boards.
  5. Organize a library card photo shoot, snapping shots of students holding their brand-new library cards. Arrange to have the photos displayed in their school libraries. (Get signed photo release forms from parents if you want to use the photos at your public library.)
  6. Hold “How Many Ways?” contests in both school and public libraries, challenging kids to list as many ways as they can to use their library cards. See which library can come up with the most ideas!
  7. Arrange library card issue through elementary-grade teachers. Ask them to collect completed library card applications for you and verify students’ addresses through school records to make issuing cards a breeze.
  8. Target middle and high school students at lunchtime by passing out library card applications in the cafeteria or other areas where students gather during free periods.
  9. Invite students, teachers, and school staff members to share their “My First Library Card” stories at all-school assemblies or Family Reading Nights. Ask school librarians or even principals to emcee the events with you.
  10. Throw a Library Card Sign-Up Month celebration at the end of September, inviting all new library cardholders—and your local school librarians—to attend the festivities at the public library.

We bet you’ve got lots more creative ways to celebrate Library Card Sign-Up Month with your local schools. Let us know what we missed by leaving your comments below!


Today’s guest contributor is Jenna Nemec-Loise, Member Content Editor of the ALSC Everyday Advocacy website and Chairperson of the AASL/ALSC/YALSA Interdivisional Committee on School-Public Library Collaboration (SPLC). E-mail her at alsc.jenna@hotmail.com and follow her on Twitter (@ALAJenna).


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16. Storytime: What Is It Good For?

Photo by US Army, Cpl. Hwang Joon-hyun, Yongsan Public Affairs

Photo by US Army, Cpl. Hwang Joon-hyun, Yongsan Public Affairs

Why do you offer storytime at your library?

Is it just for entertainment? Is it to give kids and parents something to do? Is it to get them to step inside the library? Is it just because you’ve always offered storytime? Is it because storytime is what libraries have?

I really try to remain nonjudgmental about everyone’s library offerings for youth. Every community is different and libraries need to be doing what’s right for their community. It means that not every library will or should offer the same programs and services.

But the purposefulness of storytime is where I draw the line.

Every community with young children needs programs to help them succeed in school. And that’s exactly what storytime brings to the table.

I cringe when I hear a librarian say that his or her storytimes are for entertainment.

Yes, storytimes are entertaining. Yes, they give kids and parents something to do. Yes, they are generally something public libraries are expected to offer. But storytimes are so much more. And we need to be saying that at every opportunity to everyone who asks.

As I have educated myself and my staff about early literacy and child development, it’s become imperative that every early childhood program we’re offering at the library is based on developing early literacy and school readiness skills. Every activity we include is there for a reason and if a parent asked why we chose that activity, we could tell him or her what skill we’re learning or practicing.

We are professionals. You are a professional. Don’t sell yourself short.

And the best thing? The very best thing?? You’re already providing these skill-building activities in your storytimes. I guarantee it.

Singing? You’re developing phonological awareness – helping children hear that words are made up of smaller sounds. Teaching rhythm helps children learn to think spatially (math skills!).

Reading stories? You’re encouraging print motivation – getting kids excited to read by sharing fun stories with them. You’re demonstrating how a book works: how you open it, how you turn the pages.

Doing a craft? You’re helping young children practice fine motor skills that they will use when they learn to write. Maybe they’re practicing following directions. Maybe they’re unleashing their creativity.

Bringing out some toys for play time? Play is a wonderful learning activity for children. Playing with children encourages oral communication, which leads to children hearing and learning more and more words.

You’re already doing all these beneficial activities naturally in your early childhood programs. But many people (parents, community stakeholders, maybe your director, maybe your trustees) don’t know that having fun in storytime is actually an essential learning experience. It’s our job to tell them that. And that’s how we get to keep our jobs.

“Entertainment” can easily be found elsewhere. But free programs that build early literacy and school readiness skills don’t grow on trees.

We know we have the most fun in the library. But we’re not doing storytime just for the fun of it.

Not sure how to explain the cognitive benefits of your storytime program? Check out some of the following resources to get started:

What do you say when someone asks you why you provide storytime? How do you spread the good word about early literacy and school readiness in your library?

– Abby Johnson, Children’s Services Manager
New Albany-Floyd County Public Library
New Albany, IN

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17. Institute from near or far

2014 Institute LogoIt’s true: registration for the ALSC Institute has reached maximum capacity and is now closed. We’re very sorry that we weren’t able to accommodate the demand.   But not to fear: you can come right here for live blogging during the Institute!  And watch for a wrap up post next month, along with an announcement of the location for ALSC Institute 2016.

For those that will be joining us in Oakland, stayed tuned for local information on our website, as well as instructions for how to access online materials.  And… would you care to share with your colleagues? We are still recruiting live bloggers; just contact alscblog@gmail.com.

Here’s what’s happening in Oakland this week. See you all soon!

Nina Lindsay, ALSC Institute Task Force Chair, Oakland Public Library

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18. Andrew in Asia

Andrew Medlar getting ready for his trip to the Philippines

Andrew is reading Pedro and the Monkey by Robert D. San Souci, illustrated by Michael Hays (Morrow Junior Books, 1996) at the Dr. José Rizal sculpture in Chicago’s Lincoln Park. Dr. Rizal (1861-1896) “is the Philippine national hero, the ‘father of his country,’ the founder of its modern literature, the inspirer of its educational system” (Reines, Bernard. A People’s Hero: Rizal of the Philippines. New York, Praeger Publishers, 1971.).

The National Library of the Philippines is sponsoring an International Conference of Children’s Librarianship in Tagaytay City next month and I’m very excited to be attending to represent ALSC! The theme of the conference is “Connecting and Linking of Information through Transformed Children’s Libraries to the Digital Era,” and I’ll be giving a presentation on the first evening, October 13,  on the topic of “Envisioning a 21st Century Children’s Library.”

This topic is right up ALSC’s alley as our core purpose is creating a better future for children through libraries, and I’m looking forward to reaching out and sharing how we’re moving together into our association’s envisioned future in which “libraries are recognized as vital to all children and the communities that support them.”

I would love your help in telling this story! What is your vision of a 21st Century Children’s Library for your community? We’re talking collections, technology, programming, spaces—and anything else you can think of. What innovations in library service to children can you imagine developing in the 85 years still to come in this century, and what traditions and proven tactics will we be carrying forward?

Please share your ideas you’d like me to spread around the world by September 16 in the comments section below or by clicking and submitting them here. If you have a picture of something special you’re doing now that you feel represents the future and you’d be willing for me to include it in the conference presentation, please e-mail them to me at andrewalsc@outlook.com. You can also tweet pictures and any other thoughts using #21stkidlib.

And please follow me on Twitter (@ammlib) where I’ll be gearing up for the trip by exploring Filipino folklore (find my reading list here), practicing ordering coffee in Filipino (Higit kape mangyaring), and warming up my taste buds at some of Chicago’s delicious Filipino restaurants. And throughout the trip (October 10-16) I’ll be sharing my experiences and the amazing ideas of our colleagues across the globe using #andrewinasia.



Andrew Medlar is the 2014-15 ALSC Vice President/President-Elect and the Assistant Chief, Technology, Content, & Innovation, at Chicago Public Library.


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19. How to Conference Like a Champ

Thanks to the kind people at ALSC and Penguin Young Readers, I was able to travel to my first ALA Annual Conference this summer. Tennessee to Nevada travel would generally not be in my public library’s budget, so I was thrilled to have received a stipend help with the cost of attendance. (Thanks again, Penguin!) Here are my top Annual Conference tips from a newbie.

Stay at a conference hotel. I made the mistake of not booking my hotel the moment I knew that I was going to attend. (I was lost in the chaos that is summer reading planning). Transportation in Vegas was a challenge and those free shuttles would have been helpful. Fringe benefits of staying at a partnering hotel include: being surrounded by other attendees, sharing non-shuttle transportation costs, and being in closer proximity to social events.

It is okay to travel alone. I went non-stop the entire time I was in Vegas, sun-up to sun-down. (Isn’t the normal Vegas traveler’s schedule just the opposite?) I was able to hit the sessions and events of my choosing, not trying to divide and conquer with other staff members, and sometimes missing out on a session I am very interested in because another had already claimed it. I may be selfish, but with all sessions open for the taking, I felt like a kid in a candy shop.

Avoid temptation in the Exhibit Hall. As a children’s librarian, I am known to save various odds-and-ends in case I one day have a use for them. I never knew the extent of my hoarding tendencies until I was let loose in the Exhibit Hall. (Let’s be honest, there is no reason I would need enough paper-clip holders that I would have to add an extra baggage fee to my return flight home.) When faced with freebies, ask yourself: Do I need this? Can my library use this? If you can immediately answer ‘no’ to these questions, or if you hesitate coming up with a unique use for 890 temporary tattoos, practice politely saying ‘no, thank you’ to the swag.

Attend at least one session that is not directly applicable to your job. You may be surprised to find quite a bit of useful information that is helpful to you in your current position. As a children’s librarian, I am rarely asked my input on building projects, if it doesn’t directly impact the littles’ space. However, I attended “Environment by Design” session and left with some big ideas for future use of space.

Plan at least one day into your trip for sight-seeing.This is one of my biggest regrets of the trip. I learned so much valuable information, saw all kinds of great library related goodies, was entertained and educated by the speakers, but saw very little of Las Vegas. Luckily, I had an aisle seat on the flight in and caught a glimpse of both the Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam. I would love to visit again and take in the sights, but with my busy schedule, I will be hard pressed to find the time for this trip in my foreseeable future. One extra day built into my trip would have afforded me quite a bit of sightseeing.

Present right away! (Also, take good notes!).Present what you learned, or even a simple conference itinerary with highlights, to your director, board, and staff immediately upon return. I’ve been back in my library for two months now, and in the chaos that is Summer Reading, I still haven’t had a chance to present to the staff. While we are already implementing some program ideas brought back from the conference, with each passing day, I fear that I’m going to forget some great tidbit of information that I had hoped to pass on to our staff. Hopefully my notes will jog my memory!


Photo courtesy of Joey Yother Photography

Photo courtesy of Joey Yother Photography

Our guest blogger today is Amanda Yother. Amanda is the Children’s Services Coordinator at the Putnam County Library in beautiful Cookeville, Tennessee. She loves learning through playing and revisiting her favorite novels from childhood with her book club kids. Amanda was a recipient of the 2014 Penguin Young Readers Award. She can be contacted at amandayother@pclibrary.org.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at alscblog@gmail.com.

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20. Thoughts on the CCSS

How ironic that the more fluid the study of math and science becomes, the more rigid becomes the study of language and literature…

Solve for x

© L Taylor

…in which math becomes form and reading becomes function.

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21. Happy 20th Anniversary Early Head Start!

Did you know that Head Start was founded back in 1965, with Early Head Start joining the ranks in 1994? Both agencies promote the school readiness of young children from low-income families through agencies in local communities, making Head Start a perfect partner for the ALSC Liaison with National Organizations committee, and libraries in general. Head Start also promotes and enourages the role of parents as their child’s first and most important teacher, just like libraries do.Smiling kids

For the last two summers, I have worked with my local Head Start agency, which has 21 centers in Suffolk County, NY, to help promote the summer reading programs in our local libraries. One easy thing to do? If your library is part of the CSLP, you can share some of the great information on family literacy that promotes parents and summer reading.

A father reading to his daughter

Photo rights maintain by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC)

On a state level, the NYS Library maintains a website, Summer Reading at New York Libraries that offers tip sheets for parents and caregivers on the importance of reading aloud in multiple languages, and an early literacy manual to download for childcare providers. I made 21 copies of the manual to share with each Head Start center in Suffolk County; encouraging the Head Start staff to share information on local summer reading programs with their families before the end of the school year.  I also gave out any early literacy give-away item that I had purchased with our Family Literacy Services grant to both the public libraries and the Head Start sites. And, I have presented twice now at their yearly staff conference on topics such as “how to choose books for babies and toddlers” and “best books for early childhood.” The teachers and classroom aides really appreciated having a librarian come and share books that they can use in their classrooms.

A more extensive, and long term partnership has evolved over the last two years with our Head Start agency. They administered an early literacy pre-survey to families last summer for my office (I am the youth services coordinator for the Suffolk Cooperative Library System, with 54 member libraries). We provided the survey in both English and Spanish to over 1600 families, with over 900 being returned. Questions ranged from “I play with my baby or child every day” and “I know where my public library is in town” to “my baby or child participates in the summer reading program at our library.” It is our hope that we can administer a post-survey, asking the same questions, to returning families this September to see if we are creating change in early literacy knowledge and habits. Please feel free to contact me at lisa@suffolknet.org with any questions or comments about our local partnership with Head Start.

So help Head Start celebrate the 20th anniversary of its Early Head Start program this year by picking up the phone and making a call to your local site today. Because it’s never to early to start planning and building a partnership, one book and family at a time.

Lisa G. Kropp is the youth services coordinator of the Suffolk Cooperative Library System and a member of the ALSC Liaison with National Organizations committe and the Managing Children’s Services virtual committee. She also writes the First Steps column at School Library Journal.


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22. Happy Hispanic Heritage Month!

Ahhh, the fall. A sweet, sweet time for those in charge of booklists, displays, and story times. Back to school and fall books are perennial favorite subjects until it’s time to rediscover the fall and early winter holiday collection. However, if you’re not quite ready to break out your fall books collection, Hispanic Heritage Month is an ideal time to highlight or expand your collection of books that celebrate the diversity of Hispanic cultures. What started as a week-long celebration in 1968 is now a month long (September 15-October 15) of Hispanic history, arts, and culture.



(image taken from author website)

Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match captures the reality of many biracial children in an upbeat and endearing spitfire of a character. Marisol doesn’t see anything weird with mismatches: green polka dots and purple stripes, peanut butter and jelly burritos, or brown skin and red hair are pretty cool in her eyes. When Marisol tries to match, she finds that things are confusing and boring. Thanks to an intuitive teacher, she regains confidence in her unique viewpoint and look. This bilingual story is charmingly illustrated and told through a very realistic child narrator.


(image taken from HarperCollins website)

Arthur Dorros and Rudy Gutierrez’s Papa and Me is a loving, gentle, and authentic look at a father-son relationship. Papa is encouraging, wise, and just plain fun to be with. Spanish words are sprinkled throughout the story. (See also Mama and Me by the same author.)

tooth fairy

(image taken from Random House website)

As a huge fan of cross-cultural children’s books, The Tooth Fairy Meets El Raton Perez is one of my favorite Latino-oriented picture books.  When Miguelito puts his tooth under his pillow and falls asleep, two magical creatures appear in his room to lay claim to his tooth. The Tooth Fairy asserts ownership because Miguelito is in the United States, but El Raton Perez, the tooth-collecting mouse who collects teeth in Latin America and Spain, defends ownership due to family tradition. Thankfully, they both work out a compromise.  This is a fun and unique way of presenting a rite of passage in many cultures.



(image taken from Random House website)

What can you do with a rebozo (a long scarf)? You can accessorize a dress, play hide and seek, keep a grandmother or baby brother warm, use it as a blindford while attempting to burst a pinata…so many things! Not only is this is celebration of a close-knit family, but it’s also a tribute to creativity.  (See also What Can You Do With a Paleta? by the same author.)

What are your favorite picture books featuring Latino characters and culture? Tell us in the comments!


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23. Back to School Booklist – Humor

So, the kids are going back to school. Or are already back in school. Down here in Mississippi, this is the fourth week of school! Middle school is hard. The adjustments, the transitions. A lot of turmoil. So what I’m saying is that I think our kids deserve a laugh. If you need a quick display idea or just something to hand a kid who’s dreading going to school on Tuesday, here’s a list of really hilarious middle grade:


Source: Goodreads

Source: Goodreads

The Ginny Davis books by Jennifer Holm (of Babymouse fame!). These are old enough that your middle school readers might not be familiar with them, and they’re great. Filled with photographs, journal entries, and looking like a scrapbook, this colorful series will grab a tween’s attention–and make them giggle, too.

Source: Goodreads

Better Nate than Ever by Tim Federle – every single person I talk to about this book says “HILARIOUS” in all caps. Nate wants to be in a Broadway show so bad that he’s willing to risk pretty much everything to make it to an open casting call for ET: The Musical.  Hijinks and shenanigans ensue! Per my friend Jessamyn, a school librarian–if your kids like audiobooks, this is the one to hand them. Federle does his own narration and with his acting background, totally nails it.






Source: Goodreads



It says “funny” right in the title! But seriously, these books (including I Even Funnier and the upcoming I Even Funniest) are hugely popular in my library and I can often hear my tweens giggling at them in the stacks.







Source: Goodreads



A very nearly honorable league of pirates. A sailor’s daughter shipped off to finishing school who wants nothing more than to sail the seven seas. A talking stone gargoyle. Need I say more?






Source: Goodreads




A retelling of Rumpelstiltskin with a quest, a lot of magical creatures, and tons of butt jokes. Because his name is Rump. This one is adored by everyone I give it to.





One of the reasons that we read is to escape. Let’s remember that when giving books to stressed out tweens and teens.

Our cross-poster from YALSA today is Ally Watkins (@aswatki1). Ally is a youth services librarian in Mississippi, and has worked with ages birth-18 for the last 5 years.

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24. Youth Services Basics: Cross-Training by Building Confidence

Are staffers outside of youth services ever responsible for staffing your children’s desk in a programming pinch?  Would employees outside of your department feel comfortable and confident in providing this service or would they feel stunned like a deer caught in the headlights?

At our community branch library, information services staff members also staff our children’s services desk, and we receive a great number of children’s reference questions at our adult information services desk.  Staff members outside of youth services must be familiar with the needs of children and those that work with them. Being cross-trained to provide customer service to customers of all ages is a necessity, but how do we ensure that staffers receive the training necessary to handle the unique needs of our young customers?

My colleague recently presented training for library staff outside of youth services. Not meant as a substitute for advanced youth services training in reference or readers’ advisory, this overview highlighted many of the traditional questions staffers receive when they work in the children’s services department. This training served as a perfect introduction for those employees who may occasionally need to staff this service desk.

Where are the BOB books?     

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

During this youth services basics training, my colleague used questions that have been previously asked by customers as training examples. Just as when working in the information services department, training participants realized that questions are often not as simple as they appear.  The question, “where are the BOB books?” is a perfect example.  The answer could mean numerous things in our library system, depending on the needs of the library user, and could include a request for a standard beginning reader series; it could also serve as a request for the TV inspired books based off the popular Bob the Builder character, or the extremely popular Battle of the Books (BOB) competitions sponsored by our public school system.  Understanding how this one type of question, “where are your BOB books?” could mean various things to different people, was rated by attendees as one of the most valuable pieces of information they learned during the training.

Let’s Take a Tour

As part of the training, participants toured our children’s department at our Headquarters Library.  This touring component provided staffers with a close and personal look at our collection and was helpful to staffers from each of our branches as our youth services departments are structured similarly in each of our eight library locations.  By including this hands-on training component, participants were able to view exactly where items were located, from the juvenile biographies placed at the end of the children’s nonfiction collection to the difference among board books, picture books, and beginning readers.  Knowing our collection is critical in providing excellent customer service, and this tour helped our trainees gain confidence in providing that service for our young patrons.

Priorities of Programs and Services

Questions about children’s programming, and the specialized services offered within the children’s services department, are often questions asked by patrons.  Adults may frequently register their children to attend special programming, request information on how to duplicate the story time experience at home, or request tutoring resources. Staffers must be able to quickly address these questions while also being aware of the unique services offered within the children’s department, such as our picture book bundle service, where customers may check out a group of books organized by a specific theme. Children’s unique interests and needs must be understood by all staff, not just those librarians specializing in children’s services.

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

This training helped staff members without a background in children’s services to gain a better understanding of the interests and needs of our young patrons. Our goal is to prepare our colleagues to feel as comfortable and confident as they can when working with children and their families, instead of feeling caught like a deer in the headlights! What topics do you believe are important to introduce to staff members outside of your department if they were to staff your children’s desk? How do you ensure staffers are most effectively able to reach out to your customers?  Please share in the comments below!

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25. Chain Reaction Challenge

We’ve all seen Rube Goldberg machines: overly complicated machines that use everything from dominoes, to motors, to squirrels in order to complete a simple task. But have you ever thought about hosting a Rube Goldberg competition at your library?

Back in July, I hosted the Chain Reaction Challenge: an event where families were given supplies and two hours to construct a Rube Goldberg machine. I admit that I had my doubts about the program initially – especially since our target age was grades K– 5. However, I found that this is a great family program that emphasizes teamwork, critical thinking, and STEM!
CRC 1Interested in hosting your own Rube Goldberg program? Here are a few components you might consider:


Our theme was Rollin’, Rollin’, Rollin’, and the objective was to have a golf ball roll from one side of the machine to the other and trigger the next machine (creating the chain reaction). While having a theme is pretty optional, it’s imperative to have an objective so that the teams know what they’re working toward. I felt that the golf balls were an excellent choice for this age group, but there are other objectives you could do, such as:

  • Machines must have dominoes
  • Machines must incorporate gravity in some way
  • Machines must involve matchbox cars
  • Machines must start and end with catapults
  • Machines must start and end with a string being pulled
  • Machines must involve trained squirrels (okay, I’m joking on that one)


While many Rube Goldberg machines require motors and technical aspects, we wanted this to be a simple, age-appropriate program. We told families that they were welcome to bring supplies from home, but we also provided a lot of simple, everyday items:

  • CRC 3Paper towel and toilet paper tubes
  • Small cardboard boxes (such as tissue boxes, frozen dinner boxes, etc.)
  • Lots of duct tape
  • String, yarn, wire, pipe cleaners
  • Legos, tinker toys, blocks
  • Various other toys
  • Things that make noise (bells, chimes, buzzers)
  • Things that roll (cars, cylinders, balls)
  • Wooden dowels
  • Balloons
  • Rulers, crayons, markers, scissors
  • Just about anything you can find


Maker Know-How

I was lucky enough to partner with a local nonprofit organization http://tekventure.org/ that specializes in the maker movement. Therefore, we had engineers on hand to mentor the teams and give them some ideas and suggestions for how to build their machines.

But you do not need engineers to run this program! You can just as easily start the program with a slideshow to demonstrate some simple machines (such as ramps, pendulums, etc.). Or even have handouts with suggestions on it. As a matter of fact, the teams that participated in this program came up with most of the ideas themselves, and many of them had zero maker experience prior to the program!


We had awards for ten different categories, such as: tallest machine, most colorful, most musical, etc. This worked well for us because we had five teams that participated, so each team was able to get two awards! However, the biggest reward was watching the finished machines run. There was a great sense of accomplishment for both kids and adults to see that they created a simple, working machine.

(all photos courtesy Guest Blogger)


Erin WarzalaErin Warzala is a Children’s Librarian at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  She is passionate about early literacy, STEM/STEAM programming, books of all genres, and tea.  She blogs somewhat regularly at http://fallingflannelboards.wordpress.com/ and can be followed on Twitter at @fallingflannel.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at alscblog@gmail.com.


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