I, like every other children’s librarian in North America, have been insanely busy, and for me, I’ve been crazy busy even by usual summer standards. This was the summer I decided we really need to offer a ton of programs, and since all my staff feel programmed out when they do more then 4 or 5 per month, that left me. Friends, I did 29 programs in two months, not including an awful lot of outreach. So yes, I’m very tired, but it was definitely worthwhile!

Here are a few of my favourite things from this summer:

This program, which is making kaleidoscopes, and is really cool. It takes a lot more prep work than I would usually do for this kind of program, but is well worth it. Even the parents were really impressed by how well the kaleidoscopes worked. A note for those in Canada: the mirror board is available at Michaels (in the one-sheet-at-a-time scrapbook paper section), but in Canadian dollars it costs almost $4 per piece with tax, and I could not figure out how to get more than 7 scopes per piece, even with making some of the 3-sided pieces in 2, 3, or even 4 pieces, taped together. So it’s a pricey program compared to my usual free one-time programs, which usually just use whatever we have in the cupboards.

Wonderworks again, for the second summer in a row. This summer I did it as a straight drop in, and it was crazy popular, attracting anywhere from 20-50 people per week, which for an August program here, where almost everyone goes on vacation in August, is incredible. We did this one, Does It Absorb, and it was literally one of the best programs I’ve ever done. Everyone got damp but mostly not soaking, and cleanup was relatively easy (we have a hard floor and lots of plastic), and everyone had such a blast! Do a water program at your library next summer if you can, it’s fabulous!

We’ve also started having colouring pages and pencil crayons available at the Children’s Information Desk, and it’s really been awesome. Sometimes kids give us their art, and we hang it on our ugly and dull concrete pillars, which helps make the place look more child friendly, which we have a problem with. Our little kid room is nice and kid-friendly, but the rest is not, and we’re always having people forget that the whole floor is for children and teens, so a little messy colouring is really helpful!

I also realized something I’ve been inching towards, which is that while I love teaching technology to kids (3D printing, coding, Raspberry Pi, etc.), our normal program sizes are just too big. This summer I had two Robot Petting programs, where kids could play with Dot and Dash and Cubelets and Blue Bot, the first of which was 16 kids (which drove me insane, even with someone helping me), and the second of which was 7 kids (which was fantastic and fun). So I’ve decided never to run another technology program for more than 10 kids.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about this blog, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time I varied things a bit, so I’m going to start posting more often, but also more randomly, just about whatever I’m reading, or making, or enjoying, whatever it may be. Plus, I can have more photos if it’s my stuff (our program photos are mostly not shareable for me), which is more fun. So look out for hopefully weekly posts about more things!




Summer Reading

So, like other children’s librarians everywhere, I have been insanely busy with the summer reading program. We’ve still got almost a month to go, so no end in sight, but it’s going well–our file boxes of cards for registered kids are more full than ever, so we’re hopefully well up from last year. What are we doing? Well, we do our normal thing, kids register, read books in threes, tell us about one of each three, and get a little prize. It’s good, it seems to work well for most of our kids, but we’ve always got a few non-readers or crazy readers who finish in the first week (finishing is twelve books). So this year, inspired by many fine¬†blog posts from libraries about their redesign last summer, we added this:


We call it the Activity Path (and the usual model is the Reading Path). Kids can do it instead of or as well as the Reading Path, but we prefer that they not take both at the same time–start one, do a level, than start the other. If you’re going to be away all summer we’re happy to give you both, but if you’re coming back every week, we’d rather one at a time.

The Activity Path is somewhat popular as an alternative to the Reading Path, and very popular indeed after the Reading Path has been completed. I suspected that we were maybe losing people because reading twelve books was too little, and I think I was right. The Activity Path requires more actual work, if you’re a serious reader, because for pretty much everything you do have to do something; even if it’s reading, you mostly have to do something with your reading afterwards, like read a science book and then do an experiment based on the book–kids who are hoping to do it all in the library in one afternoon are disappointed, and I’m okay with that. Everything shouldn’t be easy ūüôā

We also have this adorable summer reading video, made by a design intern we had in the spring, and we have a 3D printed model of the mascot, who’s name (we had a contest) is Mr. Bruce Sparkington!

So yeah, work is really busy (because guess where the kids go if they aren’t in school/camp/on vacation), but pretty good. And I’m going on vacation soon!

Percy Jackson Readalikes

I’m sure we’re not the only library around that continually needs Percy Jackson and Rick Riordan generally readalikes. Such books are one of my guilty pleasures, so I’m here to share what I consider is a pretty good list. I read a lot of this kind of thing, and I enjoy it, so here goes. These are all highly readable, amusing, exciting, boy-friendly books, all of which share something with the Percy Jackson books. Undoubtedly you and your readers will be familiar with some of these, but hopefully not all! Links are to Amazon, because where else will you find so much information, useful and not?

Sorry if the spacing is off, it seems to work fine in some browsers some of the time, and others not at all!

Armstrong, Kelly and M.A. Marr, Loki’s WolvesLoki

Virtually indistinguishable from Percy Jackson except that it’s about¬†¬† Norse mythology and has more female presence (and may be slightly better written). It’s book one in an ongoing series.


SavageSadda, Charwat. The Savage Fortress

Indian myths and demons, for a nice change! All my Percy Jackson loving kids have gobbled this and the sequel right up!


Gregor the OverlanderCollins, Suzanne. Gregor the Overlander

Also really good for kids who want to read the Hunger Games, but their parents aren’t ready for all the YA stuff.

Gregor thinks he’s an ordinary New York City kid, until he’s contacted by giant cockroaches who live in a world under the city, and who believe he can save their world from destruction.


Pendragon  MacHale, D.J. The Merchant of Death

Bobby Pendragon is a pretty normal middle-schooler. Then he gets swept into a multi-  dimensional adventure and learns he may be the guy who has to save the universe.


Gods  Mebus, Scott. The Gods of Manhattan

Rory discovers the alternate world of Manhattana, where giant rats, kung-fu-fighting  squrrels, and long-dead people co-exist. However, the world of Manhattana is out of balance, and soon Rory’s world may be too, if he can’t rescue some trapped spirits and set them free.


Hound  Neff, Henry. The Hound of Rowan

Max McDaniels is a mostly ordinary kid, until he sees things in an old tapestry and then finds himself studying magic and combat at Rowan Academy, preparing to fight an ancient and incredibly powerful demon. Very Percy Jackson, but with an international cast of folkloric characters.


ShaUrsu, Anne. The Shadow Thieves

Cousins Charlotte and Zee must save the world from the denizens of the Underworld and a really nasty guy named Phil.


There are more, but those are my favourites, and those that work best for readers 9-14.

ALSC Institute

So I’ve been away, hence the silence. I was lucky enough, through a combination of library, family and personal resources, to be able to attend the 2014 ALSC Institute in Oakland, California. It was awesome. Children’s Services staff, I recommend it above all other conference and similar activities in terms of what it’s likely to do for your library. You will meet more people at a large conference, certainly you will have access to a trade show, which the Institute does not provide, but just think: two and a half days when EVERYTHING is children’s services related! You don’t have to go to that school library presentation that might be applicable to your job, or that really adult services session that might have a nugget. Everything is about what you do and how you do it (if you’re a children’s¬†staff member¬†in a public library; if you’re not, you probably won’t find it very interesting or useful).

I went to so many great sessions: STEAM Power your Library! Increasing Access to Books for Young Children! Inspired Collaborations! Dewey-Lite! Everything was so good, and so inspiring, I want to reinvent my department right away!

I also spent some vacation time with my lovely aunt in Berkeley, which is always lovely. If you’re from the northeast, whether Canada or the US, the sheer climatic awesomeness of California is kind of mind-blowing. It hardly ever freezes there! They¬†grow more kinds of tomatoes than I knew existed! You can grow cactuses in your front yard! (if you come from a warm place,¬†just let me say you have NO IDEA how mind-blowing the thought of no ice and snow is, much less cactuses outside all year).¬†¬†Every time¬†I’m in Berkeley, I almost have a heart attack when I see the narrow, winding streets, but of course, if it doesn’t freeze much and never snows, your roads don’t need to be particularly wide or straight. Ours have to¬†accomodate¬†metre-wide snowbanks for about¬†half the year and be driveable with ice and snow on them (which means the straighter the better), theirs don’t (another awesome thought). The Bay¬†Area is not the¬†California of legend–not acres of beaches and year-round sun–but it is awfully¬†beautiful and full of lovely things¬†to see (and to¬†eat!). Go if you can.

Summer Reading is over!

Yay! No stats available yet, but we were up in July (by quite a bit), so I’m hoping we’ll be up overall. Summer Reading in Canada is (in my limited experience) a smaller deal than in the US, but it’s still kind of a big deal–other than story times, it’s the one thing that everyone knows we do, and also (sadly) it’s also the one thing that everyone feels free to tell me how they think it should be run. Sigh. Anyway, we do it pretty simply. We do take part in the TD Summer Reading Club, and we awared small prizes for every 3 books a child reads, up to 12. I’m hoping that next year we can extend to something a little more activitity based, especially for the younger readers, and also maybe have¬†fewer junk prizes, but I do have to say, our kids sure do love them some dollar-store-type toys!

Story Time Dilemmas

When I started my current job, I was used to doing a lot of massive, all-ages kinds of story times. At best, I had a mostly babies and toddlers (under 2) model, and an everyone else model, and I was used to doing each at least twice a week. That was in the urban US. Here in suburban Canada, we like to make our story times as age-specific and small as possible, and hold them as little as possible, a model which I do not like, but have learned to live with. My responsibility is the two-year-old story time, which I do in chunks of two to eight week sessions, depending on the time of year (Fall is eight weeks, summer is two, Spring and Winter are usually six). I hope some day to be able to change this (I think drop-in story time at the same time pretty much every week is an important service; but my staff and boss would probably have heart attacks if I tried to implement that). I am used to improvising, flying by the seat of my pants, and my staff are not. Carefully planned story times may be educationally superior (if planned well), and certainly a lot of people here appreciate them, but I often wonder how much more they would appreciate it if we said: “there is story time every week on Thursday mornings and as many of you as we can cram in are welcome whenever you want to come”, instead of what we currently say, which is: “12 of you may come to story time for a few weeks at a time if you remember to sign up in the appropriate (complicated) manner and your kid and you don’t get sick or something and have to miss several weeks”. Yes, a small group whose names you know is awesome in many ways, but do the benefits out weigh the complicated stuff, and the fact that you may only get a month of story time once a week every six months? I wish I knew, and I wish that even if I did know for sure that my way was better, that I could change it, but I know I really can’t, not in the time I’m willing to spend doing this job.

Flannel Board Stories

A lot of people seem to find flannel boards terrifying. The thing to remember about flannel boards is that the flannel is kind of irrelevant–what matters is whether you can tell a story or not. That might make it sound even more terrifying, but it isn’t really. A little practise, a lot of funny voices and a few of your own phrases, and you too can tell flannel board stories. I have a couple that I’ve made myself, but mostly I just use pre-made ones–whatever my current library happens to own. I have a few rhymes and songs, but mostly folk and fairy tales. Here are a couple of things I learned from a wonderful and now retired librarian in Washington, DC, who was a storyteller par excellance and a few I’ve learned on my own:

1. Be flamboyant.
2. Be noisy (remember that story time is the one place that quiet never applies, at least for the person who’s presenting/performing it).
3. It’s perfectly okay to ‘cheat’ on your pieces–you are not expected to be the Rembrandt of felt board artists: cut them out of discarded books and glue felt on the back or trace shapes on to felt (or use an Accucut or similar machine, if you are lucky enough to have access to one–I have a lovely five little snowmen made mostly with an Accucut and glitter glue).
4. Repetition is never a bad thing. So what if you did it two weeks ago?
5. If you forget, make it up–just do it with confidence, and your audience will think it’s intentional.

Most of all, remember: chutzpah is your friend!