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 🙂

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!


The everyday life of a children’s librarian

Something a lot of people wonder about libraries is what on earth library staff members do; I mean, all there is to do is check out books, right? Well, no (this is akin to people thinking that my mother, who’s a priest, does nothing but show up to church on Sunday and preach). And actually, checking out books is not part of the duties of post librarians who work in mid-size to large libraries–it’s a different story in a small library. So what do we do all day? Well, different things. One of the lovely things about being a librarian is that no day is exactly like any other, and most days are full of many different things to do. So here’s a Friday a few weeks back, just in case you’ve ever wondered what we do!

9:00: arrive.
9:05-9:10: participate in staff circle time, where we share what’s going on that others might need to know about.
9:15-9:30: pack props and select books for outreach I’m doing later.
9:30-10:00: answer email, make sure I’m on top of my phone messages, talk with colleagues about CAD training we’re running later this month.
10:00-10:20: Go through a publishers catalogue to make sure we have all the new, hot books on order already (and we do; I rock!)
10:20-10:35: Coffee break
10:35-11:00: Drive to my outreach, to the children’s classes at the Welcome Immigrant Centre (to those of you who are not Canadians, this is a federally-funded centre which offers language classes, job search help, recreational classes and many other kinds of help to newly arrived immigrants, and also child care so that the parents can take the classes and so on)
11:00-11:45: Storytime with a class of 8 children, none of whom have been in North America for more than six months; they are awesome, and it’s truly delightful to share “The Wheels on the Bus” or some other well-worn classic with someone who has never heard it before.
11:45-1:00: Lunch and travel back to the library (and spend ten minutes finding a legal parking spot!)
1:00-3:00: on the Children’s and YA Info desk, giving help to anyone who needs it, reading professional journals and blogs and planning my summer programs if no one needs help.
3:00: Off to our program room, where I will plug in our 3D printer and start printing off some sample items for an upcoming program, then go through the craft supplies and see what we need that we don’t have for summer programs.                                           3:30: Meet with manager to discuss various things.
4:15: Afternoon break
4:30: Read local papers (part of my job duties) to keep on top of local issues.
4:45: Make sure the staff who are closing are doing okay–sometimes it needs lots of people to get everyone out on time!
5:00: Head home.

My exciting new fantasy booklist

We’re redoing the booklists at my library, and finally my manager had the sense to assign me the fantasy and sci-fi ones (in both genres I am the queen of readers’ advisors for middle grade/middle school/YA). So I’m going to cheat and share my fantasy list, because it’s really so awesome (IMHO, at least).

Alexander, William. Goblin Secrets

Rownie is the youngest child among Graba’s stray children. Graba is a witch with mechanical chicken legs, and she uses the children to run errands for her. Rownie is stray because his older brother, Rowan, disappeared after performing in a play. Acting is illegal in Zombay, unless you’re a goblin, one of the Changed, because acting changes who you are, as the Change does. Rownie sees a goblin play while on an errand for Graba, and finds himself on stage, as a giant who turns into a bird. When the goblins promise to teach him their secrets and help him find Rowan, he leaves Graba and her strays behind, and starts a quest to discover Rowan and the secrets that lie in the heart of Zombay.

Fforde, Jasper. The Last Dragonslayer

In the old days, magic was freely available, magic users (wizards, sorcerers, soothsayers, etc.) could do spells without even thinking about it, and everyone used all the magic they liked, any time they liked. Until the magic started draining away, no one knows why. Now magic is strictly regulated, and can only be used if you’ve received the proper approvals. Jennifer Strange works for Kazam, an employment agency for magic users. Need a Soothsayer or a Magic Carpeteer? Call Kazam. But strange things are happening at Kazam and in the world around them. The soothsayers are predicting strange things, and even people who don’t usually see visions are seeing them, and all of them make it clear that something big will happen soon, something involving Jennifer and lots of Big Magic, magic of a kind for which you definitely can’t get approval!

Goodman, Alison. Eon: Dragoneye Reborn

Eon has a secret. On the surface, Eon is a twelve-year-old boy with a limp who can see the Imperial Dragons and who therefore, limp or not, can enter the contest to become a Dragoneye, apprentice to the human embodiment of one of the twelve dragons, and one of the most powerful men in the empire. But what no one must ever know is that Eon is actually a sixteen year old girl, not a twelve year old boy. There are no female Dragoneyes, but nothing can change the fact that Eon sees the twelve dragons better than anyone else, so she must enter the contest as a boy. Magic is uncertain, perhaps Eon can be chosen, girl or not. If she isn’t, certainly there’s not much to look forward to in life as a servant girl with a limp.

Grove, S.E. The Glass Sentence

Almost a 100 year ago, the Great Disruption occurred. The world, which in 1799 had all been moving along normally, suddenly broke apart, and now countries and even entire continents are moving in different times. You might find yourself among the dinosaurs in one country, only to encounter the year 3005 in the next. Sophia Tims comes from a family of renowned explorers and cartologers (map-makers of the post-Disruption world), and so knows these difficulties well, especially since her parents disappeared on their travels between worlds and times. Now she lives in Boston, with her uncle Shadrack, the most famous Cartologer of them all. Unfortunately, someone sinister seems to need a cartologer, and that someone has kidnapped Uncle Shadrack. Now with only the help of Theo, another child, a refugee from the West, Sophia must try to rescue her uncle and save the world from the power of the Glass Sentence.

Haskell, Merrie. The Princess Curse

Reveka, a herbalist’s apprentic,  is drawn into a mystery which involves twelve princesses, a charming and unsettling stranger, and a dying land. Can she save the princesses, the land and live happily ever after? Only if she can break the mysterious curse that lies on the land and the stranger, and that could take everything she values from her, and still not allow her to win. A wonderful mix of fairy tales and myths with a fabulous heroine and an excellent romance.

Ibbotson, Eva. The Secret of Platform 13

Platform 13 is an ordinary train platform in King’s Cross station, London, England. Or is it? Actually, it’s a long-forgotten doorway to a long lost magical land. And if you encounter it on the one day in every nine years when it opens, you might meet a wizard, an ogre, a witch and a fairy who have come looking for a young prince, who was stolen the last time the gateway was open. Unfortunately, since then, the prince seems to have become a horrible brat named Raymond, and it’s going to take all the magic this quartet can call on to take him back to the lost island and make him behave like a fairy tale prince!

Meloy, Colin. Wildwood

Prue (Prudence) McKeel is an ordinary kid with an ordinary life. Until her baby brother is kidnapped by a crow and carried off to the Impassable Wilderness that surrounds Portland, Oregon. The worst thing? It’s kind of Prue’s fault. So of course Prue sets off to rescue her brother, with the help of a boy named Curtis. What they find in the Impassable Wilderness is impossibly wild: magic both good and bad, talking animals both friendly and not, and some very exciting bandits. A fabulous, scary, intriguing adventure! Book 1 of an excellent trilogy.

Nimmo, Jenny. Midnight for Charlie Bone

Charlie Bone is a normal kid, except that he isn’t. He comes from a long line of magicians, and when his father’s family discover that Charlie has magic of his own, they send him to Bloor’s Academy, a school for wealthy smart people, but also for magicians in training. Suddenly appearing at a wealthy genius school when everyone knows you’re poor and thinks you’re stupid isn’t easy, but mysterious voices are telling Charlie that he has a quest to fulfill, and so clearly the only thing to do is ignore everyone and get on with learning magic so he can complete the quest. Book one in a fabulous eight book series that is the perfect thing to read if you couldn’t get enough of Harry Potter.

Pratchett, Terry. A Hat Full of Sky

Tiffany Aching is a witch, or at least she will be when she’s been trained. Unfortunately, the nasty things that lie in wait for girls who have untrained power aren’t going to wait. When one of them takes over Tiffany’s body, she’s very much left out in the cold, and it isn’t clear that even with the help of some real witches and Tiffany’s notorious but loyal friends, the Nac Mac Feegle (little blue fairies with Scottish accents who love fighting and stealing), that Tiffany will ever get herself back.

Valente, Catherynne M. The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making

When the Green Wind comes and offers to carry September (a girl from Omaha) to the gates of Fairyland, of course September says yes (wouldn’t you?). Whatever September expected (and she isn’t sure what that was) Fairyland isn’t it. Fairyland has rules and regulations, forms that must be filled out, and procedures that must be followed, or at least it does since the Marquess took over. September is not a rules and regulations kind of girl, especially not if they include chaining the wings of her new friend A-L, a Wyvern (cousin to a dragon), because only leopards and licenced ragweed stalks are allowed to fly in Fairyland under the new rules. So of course, September decides to rescue Fairyland from the Marquess, and of course, she meets new friends (and a few enemies) and has many adventures, which continue in books 2 and 3 of this fabulous series.

A few of my favourite (story time) things: If you’re happy and you know it

All right, I’m starting a series: A few of my favourite (story time) things. Here’s number one!

Variations on “If you’re happy and you know it” and other songs that everyone knows. You can literally sing virtually anything them–I’m not saying you won’t have to reorganize the words sometimes, but still–and everyone knows them already, so you don’t have to go through new song shock. I have invented songs for almost every story time theme I’ve ever used that you can sing to “If You’re Happy and You Know It”, “The Farmer in the Dell”, “London Bridge”, etc., and while a lot of them are highly forgettable, some of them are rather good! For example (to “If you’re happy…”):

There’s a mouse on my toe, brush it off!
There’s a mouse on my toe, brush it off!
There’s a mouse on my toe, and I wish that it would go,
There’s a mouse on my toe, brush it off!

There’s a mouse on my knee…
I wish that it would flee

There’s a mouse on my belly…
I wish it weren’t so smelly

There’s a mouse on my arm…
And it’s feeling rather warm

There’s a mouse on my chin…
And it’s making me grin

There’s a mouse on my nose…
It doesn’t smell like a rose

There’s a mouse on top of my head…
I think I’ll run away to bed.

Not profound stuff, but the kids love it, especially if you brush it off with great drama! And you can vary it with flies, spiders, ghosts, fleas, bugs, and anything else you like!

I always use this very simple song for playing with the parachute or scarves, to the tune of London Bridge:

We are waving up and down,
Up and down, up and down,
We are waving up and down,
My fair lady (or my dear baby, if you’re doing baby storytime)

We are waving very fast…(very popular, you have to repeat this one several times).
We are waving very slow…
We are waving way down low…
We are waving way up high…(at this point, if you are using a parachute, all the kids will get underneath so you might as well give up and play parachute peekaboo for awhile).

Reflections on 3D printing outreach

So, we’re all done our 3D printer outreach to the schools for now. Seven schools, about 1500 kids, and a lot of PLA filiment later, here are a few things I wish I’d known when we started out, and also some random interesting stuff!

1. Age: we ran this program for grades 2-8, because we assumed the technology was a little over the heads of anyone under age 7. It totally is (in fact, it is over the heads of anyone under age 9 at least), but the younger grades still had a blast, even if they don’t get it. I will definitely be offering it to K and Grade 1 as well in the Autumn. Also, the grade 8s, and to some extent the grade 7s, were pretty lame. With the exception of a handful of nerds, they are far too cool for 3D printing (although you can see when they come watch the printer up close that it’s just a pose, as you would expect!), and it’s pretty hard to get them interested in designing a mascot on 123D Sculpt. I’d probably skip that part with grade 8s in future, and maybe just give them a CAD lesson.

2. Male teachers are such a pain with a technology program! No offense, men, but if you’re in charge of a group of kids, it’s your role to sit back and make them behave themselves if necessary. Not ignore them and try to hijack the whole program and make it in line with your interests! (a couple of women did this too, but all the men did, and since we saw 6-8 male teachers vs about 45 female, that’s telling)

3. I did know this, but I wish I’d thought about it more: schools vary widely in the availability of technology and their willingness to try to help you/allow you to use it. We needed a projector and screen (or a smart board), wi-fi if possible and at least two outlets to plug the laptop and the printer into. This was made very clear when we sent out the invitations, and again when we booked and confirmed the visits. I would say about half of the schools made an effort to provide everything we needed. 1/4 of the others let us know in advance what they couldn’t provide, and the others made no effort at all, so we spent the first 10-15 running around getting everything organized, finding projectors, extension cords and so on. And several of the teachers didn’t believe they could log us onto the wi-fi, even though they were on the school board network that we’d been logged into in dozens of other classes!

4. If I were organizing it again, I’d want to send an interest survey out to teachers, to try and find out how interested their kids were, and so schedule the right amount of time. Yes, I know, at least 80% wouldn’t have time to fill it out, but if we’d known that for even a few classes, it would have been a big help. We asked for an hour, but in some cases we got as little as 25 minutes, and invariably, those were the most passionately interested classes!

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.

Still weeding but…

We’re still weeding (although it should be done soon), and now we’re madly busy touring our local schools in the company of a Makerbot Replicator Mini!


Yes, we’re bringing 3D printing to the scholastic masses, and I highly recommend it! How are we doing it? Like this (much of this program was borrowed from Innisfil (Ontario) Public Library, many thanks to the staff there for sharing with us!):

We contacted all our elementary schools about two months ago, and asked if they’d like us to come and visit some or all of their grade 2 + students with a 3D printer. About 80% of the possible classes said “Oh yes, please”, so we’re going to be doing this every spare minute till the end of March.

We (2 children’s services staff) go into the classroom with the 3D printer, a laptop (since the Replicator Mini doesn’t do anything without a computer attached), and an ipad mini. We plug everything in, connect to the school wifi (or use our Bell stick if they don’t have wifi), start the printer printing something simple (there are lots of good 20-minute bookmark designs), and start talking about the printer and 3D printing generally–how it works, how you can find/make designs for printing, and Library-specific stuff like how much it costs and our guidelines (no weapons, nothing inappropriate, no intellectual property violations). We also invite the students to come up and watch the printer  When we’ve done that (20-30 minutes, including a brief tour of Thingiverse and free CAD programs), we plug the ipad into the projector, and walk the class through designing a class mascot with 123D Sculpt. Then we pry the bookmark off the printer and give it to the teacher, email the mascot design to ourselves, and more onto the next class. The mascot design is juggled for printability once we’re back at the library, and then we’ll print them and deliver them back to the school within 2-3 weeks.

The students adore it, even the ones who have seen a 3D printer before. They love having it in their classroom, being able to see it working up close, and designing something for it as a class. The teachers love it because it’s a class visit from the library which is interesting, different, and suitable for even the oldest elementary students (it’s hard to sell summer reading to Grade 8 teachers), plus lots of STEAM connections!

Our administrators/management/etc. love it, it sounds so current and topical, and although I doubt it’s as good for the kids as going in and reading to them, or talking about databases, you have to keep the senior people happy!

And do we love it? Yes, we love doing anything that anyone enjoys as much as this. We don’t love the fact that we will be insanely busy for the next month and a half (busy is good, but insanely busy for that long is tough), and that nothing much except 3D printing visits will get done, but that’s life–come June, we won’t do anything much except Summer Reading through until August, when we won’t do much except Back-to-School stuff, and so on and so forth.

If you’re wondering about cost and technology, we have 2 Makerbot 3D printers, a Makerbot Replicator 2 and the Mini; we got a grant for the 2 (which we’ve had for two years) and IT stumped up for the Mini last year (which costs about the same as a Macbook Pro). Our ipad was liberated from Adult Services, who had two for showing people how to use them, and we decided that one was more than adequate for that, and we have several laptops for programming and webinars and things, so we just borrow one of those. We are well-funded by our community, but not outrageously so, and the actual money we spent on technology specifically for this program was the price of two cables for plugging the ipad into projectors and smartboards, so we can allow the classes to see what their mascot looks like!

Weeding and weeding and more weeding

I have not been blogging because my working life has recently become a race to see how many carts of Children’s materials I can weed (decide whether to remove from our collection) in each day. See, we’re going RFID, and we weren’t really given enough notice (at least not those of us who actually do the on-the-ground stuff), so now it’s a race to see if we can get it all done before the company that’s doing the tagging leaves the building! I will return to at least once-a-week blogging when the weeding’s done, but right now I have half the hardcover easy readers still to go, to say nothing of children’s fiction (but children’s non-fiction is done, yay!)

And in case you’re a worried, we sell (on our book sale shelf) or send to Better World Books everything we weed that isn’t literally too disgusting or wrecked!

A fabulous program

Not much time to blog currently, but if you do craft programs at a library, please consider this program:

I tried it on Thursday, ran it after school and called it The Fairy Godmother Workshop, and it was totally awesome. You will want to charge a small fee if you can, it’s a program that rises or falls largely based on how good your craft supplies are, so I charged $5 per kid and bought some really fabulous stickers, fancy paper, ribbon and netting, as well as raiding the library’s supply of lace and ribbon. Some things I learned:

You need at least two staff people who know exactly what they’re doing, no matter how many parents and helpers you have.

Doing dresses and crowns is too much, one or the other would be plenty.

Allow at least 2 hours for this program (I didn’t, and very much regret it).

Remind everyone at least three times that they have to leave the holes clear for lacing it up!

Have fun and be glamorous!